"if this exists, that exists" etc


Interesting video about how machine learning is evolving to investigate causality.



What is SCV? I can’t find a definition that seems relevant.



Wow. That’s cool.


Very interesting. I have, in fact, just completed watching a series of video lectures presented by Hector Zenil, who is referenced at the end of this video, on this very subject. It’s based on so-called Algorithmic Probability, which is way off topic in this forum :slight_smile:. Here’s the link if you’re interested: Complexity Explorer.


It’s also available in audio form via Amazon Audible. I often use this medium for listening to book while I’m driving. Here’s the link: The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect (Audible Audio Edition): Judea Pearl, Dana Mackenzie, Mel Foster, Brilliance Audio: Books


What about using the word “conditionality” or “nutriment”? They still give a sense of anatta-ish-ness, which I think perhaps “pattern” gives… But they also highlight the more intimate, sometimes two-or-more-way impactful nature of the relationships that can, and potentially can, exist between phenomena.

Also, in terms of practical application, if it were a toss up between “pattern” and “cause”, I reckon I’d go for cause. Yes, there is a feeling that “causing change” is similar or the same as “creating patterns for change”. But I think “cause” has more of an active sense to it - in using the word “pattern” you have to add more words to a sentence/phrase to make it less passive. I think “cause” is more in line with the active nature of the 8FP and is more in line with words like “intention”, “motivation”, “volition” and “choice”.

And in the end, a “practical application” has to appeal to our sense of self and its agency and potential to effect change. Here I’m reminded of that saying: “be the change you want to see.”

Apologies for any repetition etc. as I haven’t read the whole thread. Also, I think there might have been some sutta references to the OP topic here and also here…but I can’t remember for sure… :slight_smile:


Bhava - ‘be’
atthi - the [exist]
cetana - change
atta - you
canda - want
rupa - see … now who can convert that into a complete pali sentence!?


Been mulling over this a bit…

While I still mostly stand by this… I’m a little swayed… I’m a little bit in a state of disagreement with my own statement.

Perhaps the passivity in the use of the word “pattern” is actually a good thing. I know Ajahn Brahmali is often encouraging us to not ‘force’ anything and teaches often about the Gradual Training. The good thing about using a less active word, is that it might actually encourage a gentler, more patient and less hands off approach - a more subtle activeness, as perhaps more often than not, this is what is required.

I do appreciate that reading this discussion has clarified this a bit more… However, I still prefer ‘cause’…well…for now anyway… :slight_smile:


In reading your post, I reflected that the word “cause” normally implies singular causation. Yet when analyzing disasters, one normally seeks multiple contributing factors. We have for example in the Challenger disaster, o-rings, temperature, decision processes, etc. These all contributed to an outcome. And if multiple contributing factors are the norm for disasters, then it might be an over-simplification to talk about “the cause of Y” or say that “X causes Y” for outcomes in general. In fact, singular causes are, more often than not, scapegoats. One conventionally seeks a "cause"in order to blame or join. The nice thing about patterns is that they are suggestive but not conclusive–many things fit a pattern or even an incomplete pattern.


Yes, and I’m reminded that the Buddha stated that the workings of kamma are very complex and difficult to untangle and work out (not his exact words I think!!).

Nevertheless, in terms of our personal experience - and here we come to practical applications - we can sometimes, in the act of investigating, sitting with something, sometimes see the connection with some, for example, emotional state and some other phenomena. I think for that to happen, perhaps though, the very nature of how our mind works comes into play; consciousness can only be with one thing at a time. Perhaps this is why “cause” is a useful word.

Sure, we can’t actually “see” this “cause” leading to that “effect”; because we can only be conscious of one thing at a time. But we can surely experience how this energy, this volition, traces back to that or watch as it leads on to something else.

It doesn’t mean that there aren’t multiple conditions bearing down upon phenomena - and not just those attuned to the law of kamma, also biological and physical laws and perhaps even random chance. But it does suggest that for the purposes of meditation and meditation based exploration, and even more specifically, for the purposes of reducing hindrances, achieving jhanas and experiencing (not thinking about) the tevija, we ought to keep things simple and look at our own hearts, being present to our experience, one experience at a time.

Thanks for your comment, this has been fun to tease out!! :slight_smile: :pray:t5:


I wonder if that leads to a sense of a single cause? That might not be a negative thing as I thought of the word_idapaccayata_ often translated as ‘specific conditionality’. It’s supposed to mean that a certain kind of arising (say consciousness) exclusively gives rise to another kind of phenomena (Nama-rupa). This is a sort of a fixed and specific relationship. I can’t see the term in SC. I wondered if the concept is at least mentioned ‘specifically’ in the EBTs!

‘Cause’ projects the sense of causality clearly while ‘pattern’ projects the sense of anatta very well! I’m not for the term ‘conditioned’ as then the reverse (cessation) doesn’t seem possible. If the causes ceases the effects must cease as well. Ignorance says we exist, make choices and is subject to rebirth. Insight says these are merely patterns of phenomena arising and passing away and when this is seen clearly with insight, the pattern ceases.

The stream entrant has seen that there is no self in the aggregates yet go about their daily life like before - their cravings and aversions intact. There’s even a sutta which says despite the insight there’s no confusion. It’s a bit like always thinking jewellery contains genuine diamonds to only find out that they weren’t authentic at all , yet they are able to ‘function’ like before.

Interesting thoughts!


I think there’s a third option that can be inserted between these two sentences.

We need to move from that recognition of delusion etc. (at whatever level) towards that experience of something ceasing. This is the place where Practise happens, where bhavana happens and the 8FP is actively lived and experienced and mulled over and questioned and so on… We have to put these causes in, and yet in doing so we’re recognising the potency of particular patterns!

Yup!! :slight_smile:


I looked for idapaccayata and could not find it. Wow.

SN12.23 uses upanisā which Bhante Sujato translates as “vital condition” with the understanding that removing a vital condition results in cessation. And this is exactly in the sense that Challenger would not have exploded on a warm day (even with all the other conditions such as poor process and accountability and o-rings).

It seems that paccaya itself is for foundational and perhaps singular cause, with the ida being an emphatic of singularity. Perhaps idapaccayata is abhidhammic. But let’s look at the suttas themselves.

The term “paccaya” seems to be used more generally to many audiences. The term “upanisā” is used more specifically in advanced suttas led prominently by SN12.23. What is interesting is that SN12.23 does not use paccaya. The use of upanisa here is interesting because it has a connotation of “nearness” as in “closely related” or “directly correlated”. My inference is that “paccaya” corresponds to what we conventionally use for “cause” in the “I hit you 'cause you hit me” non-discerning sense of singular cause and blame. The term “upanisā” introduces “nearness” in the context of multiplicity.

We have an electric stove. It heats the water when I push the switch. The switch is a vital condition, a controlling condition. The switch is “upanisā” and “paccaya”. Yet the stove does nothing without electricity, which is ALSO a prerequisite, but not the vital one. Conventionally, one would say that the switch causes the stove to heat the water (paccaya). Analytically, we observe multiple conditions, with the vital/controlling one being the switch (upanisā). With paccaya there is action/volition/blame. With upanisā there is statistical correlation, a pattern, “when this is, that is”.


Bhante @sujato and Ajahn @brahmali,

What do you both think of @karl_lew’s interesting comment here?

Thanks Karl, by the way! :slight_smile:


Try idappaccayatā.

Yes, paccaya refers to a “stronger” form of conditionality than upanisā. Bhante @Sujato’s translation “vital condition” for upanisā implies necessary conditionality: without the condition the effect cannot happen. But the conditionality is not sufficient: the effect does not invariably follow from the condition.

For example, in the sequence of dependent liberation samādhi follows sukha. Sukha is then a necessary condition for samādhi, in the sense that without sukha there can be no samādhi. However, sukha is not a sufficient condition for samādhi. In other words, it does not follow that samādhi invariably arises whenever you experience sukha. So you are quite right, @karl_lew, that in this case other conditions also need to be present to ensure that samādhi happens.

With paccaya, however, the relationship between two phenomena is both one of necessity and one of sufficiency. Avijjā, ignorance, is a necessary condition for saṅkhāra. Without avijjā there are no saṅkhāras. But avijjā is also a sufficient condition for saṅkhāra. If there is avijjā then saṅkhāras must always follow.


Ajahn Brahmali, thank you for your well-considered and clearly articulated reply. :pray:

Thank you, here are the 2 suttas with idappaccayatā

And the Buddha does say this, which is indeed what you said:

Ignorance is a condition for choices.
avijjāpaccayā, bhikkhave, saṅkhārā
Whether Realized Ones arise or not, this law of nature persists, this regularity of natural principles, this invariance of natural principles, specific conditionality.
uppādā vā tathāgatānaṃ anuppādā vā tathāgatānaṃ, ṭhitāva sā dhātu dhammaṭṭhitatādhammaniyāmatā idappaccayatā.

I confess that I may need some more help with my understanding of saṅkhāra.

My current understanding is that saṅkhāra has broad meaning that includes many things, but for this discussion:

  • possibilities (e.g., the theoretical unbiased possible outcomes of a dice roll)
  • sankhara-khandha kammic volitional preference for a particular possibility (e.g., “I favor six because it’s my lucky number and that’s just the way I roll with life”).

In common experience, the existence of possibilities is itself an indication of ignorance. This is literally the “which way?” experience. It is also clearly paccaya as you have stated.

However, I feel less certain asserting that avijjā must always result in sankhara(-khandha). This hesitancy stems from understanding that:

When the Buddha was ignorant of his past lives, he directed his fourth jhana awareness to the issue of past lives. In doing so, his ignorance of past lives dissipated and knowledge arose. In this context, I believe there was no sankhara(-khandha).

In my own profession I often am faced with challenges that deposit me into a field of ignorance. Painful experience has taught me that in a field tainted by ignorance any choice is often perilous, especially if it is based on any sort of attachment or preconception. I have learned to simply observe my own ignorance and let knowledge arise on its own. Ignorance in the evening somehow leads to morning insight. The morning sun bring an end to possibilities and ignorance. Here too, I believe avijjā need not necessarily lead to sankhara(-khandha)

Because of this, I am inclined to think that the relationship between avijjā and saṅkhāra is subtle and might be either paccaya or upanisā according to context. If avijjā arises, we need not walk into it.


Does this mean that with no avijja there is no craving or aversion, therefore no like or dislike, and therefore no choosing or willing of a preferred option ( sankharas )?


Thank you. That worked…!

Idapaccayatā seems to mean the imasmin sati formula with exclusivity of causal connectivity. Bhava giving rise to birth, for example. Bahava isn’t a cause for any other dhamma as AFAIK. Such an exclusivity is necessary for a teaching like the DO to be taught. Is this a principle of ‘nature’ which is unchanged.

Could food being necessary for the health of the body be considered ’upanissa’?

Avijja is necessary for sankhara. If we take sankhara to mean intention (or kamma) we might have to bring in various intensities. Avijja of low intensity might just result in sense perception that is sensuous while high intensity might lead to intention and actions (with lobha & dosa) for example an action acted out because of conceit. Also there is a need for a body to have avijja. The body can be thought as ‘upanissa’ here. I don’t think avijja alone is sufficient unless we limit this connection to those times when it it is intense enough for sankhara to actually form.

Mindfulness is the main cause for Samadhi I think.


I would agree with you.

Oddly, DN33 uses neither paccaya nor upanissa. It uses ṭhitikā :

‘All sentient beings are sustained by food.’
Sabbe sattā āhāraṭṭhitikā.
‘All sentient beings are sustained by conditions.
’Sabbe sattā saṅkhāraṭṭhitikā.

Upanisa is the weaker condition. Since it is more universal, it would also apply to food/conditions in the sense that without food we die (lack of vital condition).

I grow plants using hydroponics:

  • without food, my plants die (upanisa)
  • nothing grows in nutrients without a seed, so food is not paccaya for plants (or me)

The trickier one is sentience and conditions. My unsubstantiated opinion is that the second statement is stronger than upanisa, I feel that it is paccaya. I have this feeling that AI sentience is a very real possibility, in fact, inevitable. This is an opinion, a hypothesis. I think the second rule is paccaya. My hypothesis is that the growth of consciousness leads to sentience, which I have come to associate with creation of identity view. It also leads to suffering and beyond as per SN12.23. I will also note that self-driving cars are definitely more sentient than the drunk drivers they carry.