Jayarava on Dependent Arising

@Jayarava has recently published two interesting and thought-provoking essays on the topic of dependent arising:

Jayarava's Raves: Dependent Arising: Presence And Time

Jayarava's Raves: Dependent Arising: Nidānas

Let’s discuss?



In his first essay he states:

“time is continuous rather than discrete; and time is finite in the past.”

I did some search about it but didn’t find anything confirming those as being hard truths about time.

Does anyone know what he may be alluding to here?

I found the first essay quite difficult to follow, but I think his argument against momentariness relates to the two main modes of conditionality referenced in the article:

“While the condition exists, the effect exists. ( 1 )
From the arising of this condition, this effect arises. ( 2 )
While the condition does not exist the effect doesn’t exist. ( 1 )
From the cessation of this condition, this effect ceases.” ( 2 )

The first mode is synchronous and argues against momentariness, since condition and effect co-exist continuously through time. The second mode is sequential, since effect follows condition - though IMO this mode would allow for momentariness, since presumably the condition can cease as soon as the effect occurs.

I will try to think of some practical examples.

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It is interesting, couple of remark though

In Part 2, the article state

imasmim sati formula does not describe the conditionality of the nidāna doctrine

However, searching SuttaCentral, the formula occasionally used to describe nidana link

In Part 1, the imasmim sati formula is translated as

1- This being, that becomes.
2- While the condition exists, the effect exists.

The first translation is similar to how Ven. Bodhi and Ven. Sujato translate the formula in SN 12.49.
While the second agree with

It says that the condition must be present for the entire duration of the effect.

the first translation do not have that limitation. I cannot assess the accuracy of both translation though, not having training in pali.


I do tend to find @jayarava’s stuff interesting and thought-provoking. I also don’t entirely follow all of his arguments here. A lot seems to depend on his particular understanding of that four-line passage.

One thing I didn’t quite get was that, while he seems to argue that a cause is both necessary and sufficient for the effect in his reading of this passage, this then doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense for transcendental dependent origination, which he also says fits this four-line passage better than the nidana sequence.

If faith leads to rapture and so on to the liberation, then surely faith doesn’t always lead all the way to the end step? Necessity is IMO reasonable enough in that sequence (later factors depend on earlier factors) but sufficiency doesn’t appear to be a given (earlier factors may not always lead to later factors).

I suppose the overall point in these types of sequences is (in the negative) suffering has a cause (or sequence of them) and the ending of suffering (in the positive) also has a cause (or a sequence of causes too). Though perhaps that’s the general type of point he’s building to in part III (maybe these sequences aren’t really meant to be pushed to some kind of logical extreme).


Interesting. I’m busy cooking for the holiday now, but will write more later. For now, I will just say that rather than looking to the spiral path as a way of filling in the detailed content of paticcasamuppada, consistent with the requirement of what Jayarava calls “presence”, I would like to consider the hypothesis that it was intended to apply to a more limited set of nidanas, and that the 12–link list was, as he considers, the later fusion of different lists that don’t go together.

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Jayarawa seems to favour a Sarvastivada explanation of all previous causes being present. Practically impossible.

He has derived the meaning of imasmin sati based on Pāli rather than understanding it meaningfully from the examples of the 12 nidanas.

A cyclical DO has been considered. This would mean that that the Buddha would have to attain enlightenment again. Such unlikely models should have been discarded to begin with.

Buddhism has a veneer of respectability as metaphysics but it is thin and getting thinner.

It’s filled with personal opinions like the one above, based on his inability to come to a useful conclusion.


This reminded of the following :


Well, in fairness to him, he is trying to do a kind of reductio ad absurdum. I think he buys into the Sarvastivada explanation no more than you or I (that it is absurd is his essential point; the same goes for cyclical DO). I think he is trying to show that the four line DO passage fits well with the upanisā sequence but not the nidāna chain, so I suppose a key argument of his is that we should not be trying to be “understanding it meaningfully from the examples of the 12 nidanas” in the first place. I think he is attempting to do something interesting here (though I don’t think he succeeds).

I can’t really comment on his Pali translation (given my lack of Pali :slight_smile: ). Nevertheless, even assuming it correct, I can still see two problems with his argument.

The first is the issue I alluded to earlier. Logical necessity seems reasonable enough from his translation. However, logical sufficiency is more an assertion on his part. And sufficiency IMO doesn’t fit very well with the transcendental DO chain: suffering to faith to joy to rapture to tranquillity etc.

Necessity seems reasonable enough. If faith fails, then it seems natural that all the subsequent factors in the chain would also cease. However, does the converse really follow? If tranquillity fails, then do all earlier factors also cease? That’s what his logic requires (if sufficiency is assumed). Furthermore, sufficiency also implies faith must lead inevitably all the way to liberation (causes must lead to their effects). Therefore, I don’t think sufficiency is really tenable for the upanisā sequence. Without sufficiency, if a step fails, then just itself and the later steps cease, not all prior steps in the chain.

However, if we assume just logical necessity for the 4 line DO passage, then it does seem to fit very nicely with the transcendental DO sequence. So perhaps his argument about the nidāna sequence not fitting well with this still holds?

Well, my second issue with his argument is I don’t think infinite chains back into the past are even necessary.

A far simpler model would be one with just 12 stages rather than an infinite number! :slight_smile: For a life, my understanding of DO is that there is supposed to be a progression along the 12 DO stages. However, at death, some of the conditions fail, e.g. perhaps nāmarūpa and, consequently, all later steps. The chain of causality retreats back to a much earlier stage, maybe saṅkhāra or viññāṇa, and then, when conditions permit, starts progressing along the same chain yet again (for another life; or in a case where a child dies in the womb, a lesser number of steps). Hence, in this view, we have a kind of advancing and retreating chain of causation, but limited to just 12 way stations. That’s all possible, I think, without the assumption of sufficiency. With sufficiency, there cannot be any retreat in the chain (so ever onward). So one ends up having to stack an unending sequence of 12 step chains back into an infinite past just to make things logically work.

IMO the nidāna sequence does fit fairly well with this advancing/retreating causation theory. Generally, like in transcendental DO, when earlier steps cease so do later ones. Though the case of an arahant may not fit into it so neatly. When ignorance is cut off at the root, then the remaining steps nāmarūpa etc. don’t just immediately vanish in a puff of smoke. So maybe the upanisā sequence still is a somewhat better fit for Jayarava’s translation of this 4 line DO passage than the nidāna chain (or perhaps the 12 step chain was a later composite of shorter chains as some commentators have claimed).

[EDIT: Come to think of it, the steps in transcendental DO aren’t necessarily instantaneous either; it may take time to progress through the steps (and the progression may not even happen). The time delay is no different to the nidāna DO. Birth occurs hand-in-hand with the conjoined consequence of future death, which is inevitable, unlike progression for the upanisā DO; it just needs time to work out). I suppose for an arahant their bodily death is simply the inevitable consequence of the ignorance they were born with (when the DO chain retreats at their death, rather like the tide going out, then it retreats until there is no chain, or wave, at all left in this view).]

I think Jayarava’s argument is logical given its premises. However, one of his premises is logical sufficiency in the causal chain [EDIT: also any requirement of condition and effect being instantaneous and occurring at the same time in either DO sequence seems a bit shaky]. I suspect he’ll press on in his reductio ad absurdum argument in the upcoming part 3 (holding onto this premise). However, maybe it’s this premise itself that should be questioned.

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I really appreciate your considerations. That’s the spirit of discussion I wanted to trigger by sharing the link to @Jayarava’s essays.

I really enjoyed the out-of-the-box ideas you share on the topic of DO!



Probably a bit leftfield alright! :wink: Rather than the usual infinite dominoes model, I seem to be going more for the picture of waves going in and out on a seashore. Or, to be more fun, alternatively I could reformulate it as the grand “bathtub” theory of dependent origination. :smile: The bath is the surrounding universe. The bath plug is ignorance. The water represents volitional formations, and the waves lapping up and down and splashing about are the rest of the DO steps. The arahant is someone who yanks on the chain and fully pulls out the bath plug (though it still takes a while to empty). So I guess , in this metaphor, a non-arahant noble one is someone who gives a weaker pull and just manages to upset the seal a bit (will still empty though but may take longer). :slight_smile:


The Buddha didn’t think necessity or sufficiency was important to understand the DO. Sufficiency would require omniscience to determine and therefore again not necessary.

Well, my post really wasn’t about actually understanding DO. Jayarava was, I think, trying to show that, in particular, the nidāna sequence was logically or philosophically incoherent in terms of the type of DO expressed in that four-line passage. He was using the language of mathematical implication/consequence to do that. My post was just pointing out what I think are some problems/holes with his argument (it seems logical enough but some of his basic premises/assumptions are a bit questionable). I believe you can actually fit the nidāna or upanisā sequences into a framework like the one Jayarava was using if you change the premises a bit. I suppose all that shows is that the DO concepts are not necessarily incoherent in the way Jayarava was trying to demonstrate.

It’s still all a far step from knowing DO to be true or having penetrative insight into it, which most likely has nothing to do with familiarity with concepts like sufficiency or necessity! :slight_smile:


Could you elaborate a bit more?

Which ones did you mean?

I think we are peeling the banana the wrong way. There are suttas that show there is a logical analysis (‘the cause of x is y, without y there wont be an x, the cause of y is z. and so on…’) and a direct experience of sense bases giving rise to contact, giving rise to feeling, craving, attachment, bhava etc.

@Jayarava’s third article in his DO series is up. IMO it’s the strongest of the three (makes some good points).

Jayarava seems weakest to me when playing around with the Sarvāstivāda and logical consequence stuff.

Transcendental DO seems to naturally fit a causal chain with the property of necessity. Earlier factors are a necessity for later factors to develop. However, earlier factors may not suffice to lead to later factors.

So in the DO chain:

  1. Faith (saddha)
  2. Joy (pamojja)
  3. Rapture (piti)
  4. Tranquillity (passaddhi)
  5. Happiness (sukha)
  6. Concentration (samadhi)
  7. Knowledge and vision of things as they are (yathabhutañanadassana)
  8. Disenchantment (nibbida)
  9. Dispassion (viraga)
  10. Emancipation (vimutti)
  11. Knowledge of destruction of the cankers (asavakkhaye ñana)

So suppose we get to step 6, concentration, and step 3, rapture, fails, then, presumably, factors later than step 3 fail also and we are back to step 2, joy. So it’s a kind of advancing and retreating sequence. Though, I suppose if one gets to step 11, then our the wave no longer retreats anymore (the tide permanently comes in :slight_smile: ). So all earlier factors must be simultaneously present for a later factor to develop. That seems to be his core understanding of the four-line imasmim sati formulation. In fairness, if we ignore his references to logical sufficiency, this does seem a close fit to the transcendental DO sequence.

For the nidāna model, Jayarava stacks up the cause and sequence effect like an infinite line of dominoes (I assume he means repeated stacks of the 12 factors in an infinite line backwards of rebirths). I don’t understand why he has to do this. Why can’t we have an advancing and retreating wave model for the standard DO sequence just as for the transcendental DO version?

That works fairly well for the first 8 or 9 factors, from ignorance up until clinging or so. I suppose earlier factors are necessary for later factors to occur (have to be simultaneously present). I suppose one could imagine an advancing and retreating wave, with at death and the destruction of nāmarūpa, the wave retreating back to very early steps to advance yet again in another life. This time when the wave retreats until ignorance is no more, it doesn’t advance ever again (parinibbana).

This doesn’t work very well for the final few steps though (things break down a little). Birth seems to have happened earlier in the sequence (seems implied by nāmarūpa) and is happening yet again for the penultimate step.

Or, alternatively, if one starts off at step 8, craving (acting rather like ignorance as the root of the problem in the first sequence), going to clinging, bhava (a bit like volitional formations), jāti (something like rebirth consciousness) and jarāmaraṇa (rather like nāmarūpa and the dukkha associated with it and the inevitable destruction of name-and-form), an advancing/retreating causation models works pretty well also. Though I suppose Jayarava does have a point that birth being a condition that must be simultaneously present for death isn’t quite a natural fit for his interpretation of the four line passage as, say, transcendental DO (not without a bit of hand waving).

Maybe there’s something to the overall 12 step DO sequence being a composite (though, on the other hand, it does seem fairly early and is it really likely a core point of doctrine would be changed around like that).

Some of the subsequences of the nidāna DO chain seem like straightforward enough cause and effect. It’s when you put things all together that things get a bit more complex (need more complex theories like the three-lives model to explain things).

In the third article, Jayarava goes on about how DO is incoherent as metaphysics and maybe it should be treated as a kind of epistemology. This third article seems quite strong. He mostly stays away from the cause-and-effect stuff.

He summarizes things at the start:

The imasmim sati formula says that the condition must be present for the duration of the effect, which contradicts all modern accounts (though it does fit the defunct Sarvāstivāda). Despite the traditional association, this is not the conditionality of the nidānas; rather, it is that of the upanisās (or Spiral Path), a lesser-known doctrine that is well attested in Pāli and Chinese.

The first line seems fair enough to me. I’ve my doubts as to though whether it necessarily has to lead to the Sarvāstivāda position. Also, I’m not sure it necessarily has to contradict the nidāna sequence (maybe he has a point about the full sequence, but subsequences within this seem to work well enough). Certainly, the upanisā transcendental DO sequence seems a very natural fit for the imasmim sati four-line formula (taking just the first line above as his core point and ignoring anything he says about logical sufficiency). He may well a point that it seems more of a struggle to do this for the full nidāna sequence (even if I don’t agree with all his arguments)


I enjoyed the third article more than the first two ones. I agree with some of that I read there:

“We may argue that the epistemic reading is more authentic, provided that we do not overlay it with a modern epistemology.
The idea that Buddhism makes a contribution to the understanding of reality, or the nature of reality, i.e., to ontology or metaphysics, is not authentic, in the sense that such claims are inconsistent with the earliest forms of Buddhism that we have access to.
And this becomes increasingly obvious. Buddhism addresses the subjective, epistemic, phenomenological, experiential world; that part of the world which is an internally-generated virtual model; what Thomas Metzinger has called the Virtual Self Model.
In this domain Buddhism retains some sense and usefulness.
Still, this is not an easy adjustment for anyone used to thinking that they are on the trail of ultimate reality via Buddhism.
Buddhism is strongly connected with subjectivity.”

And I really like the way I was challenged by the below:

"The history of Buddhism Studies is littered with the detritus of naive attempts to reconstruct the “original Buddhism”.
It is almost always a mistake to assume that we can get back to Buddhism before it is presented in early Buddhists texts, even though it is apparent that the early texts represent a rather advanced stage of development.
We can only get so far in reconstructing history from texts when there is no corroborating evidence from elsewhere.
We can see a progression in the Canon: some texts have a more epistemic approach and some a more metaphysical approach.
And we know that there is a general trend toward exploring metaphysics amongst Buddhists that does not fully manifest until really quite late in the development of Buddhism, i.e., well into the Common Era.
Thus we expect an epistemic approach to be more prominent in early texts.

The texts were composed over several centuries and we have no way, at present, of stratifying most of them.
It is a matter of relative rather than absolute chronology.
Also, we do not, and cannot, say anything about what the Buddha taught or thought.
We just do not know how these texts relate to the legendary figure of the Buddha."



One more general thought. There seem to be basically 3 logical sequences/progressions in the nidāna DO model. Two of them show how we go from craving to nāmarūpa and one shows how we go from nāmarūpa back to craving.

The two sequences: steps 1-4 (ignorance to nāmarūpa) and steps 8-12 (craving to jarāmaraṇa) are essentially just mirror images of each other. They show how the fundamental base problem, craving (ignorance also centres on the four noble truths, which has its core craving), results in nāmarūpa (with associated inevitable dukkha and death). Sure, Jayarava points out the niggly problem going from step 11 (birth) to step 12 (death). However, if we just lump steps 11 and 12 together, the the four-line imasmim sati formula works perfectly fine for both.

By itself, this imasmim sati formula also works perfectly well for steps 4 to 8, showing the process of how craving is produced in a living being involving contact and feeling and sense bases. Lop off earlier factors and later factors in this subsequence stop.

I suppose the key reason why the imasmim sati formula doesn’t work in totality for the 12 step DO formula combining all subsequences is that the two types of subsequences have a different mechanical relationship to craving.

If we view ignorance/craving as a lake, then first type of subsequence kind of metaphorically shows how a living physical being forms from and steps up out of this lake (like one of those creation myths) of craving. The second subsequence is more about that being then taking a bucket or just a hose pipe :slight_smile: , getting some water, and emptying it into the lake (adding to the lake a bit more). When the being dies, this source of water stops. The lake doesn’t vanish though. Perhaps the task of a noble one is a more substantial engineering project (cutting a drain channel into the side of the lake :smile:).

I suppose the nidāna DO sequence is a nice composite of different parts of the Buddha’s teaching. The imasmim sati formula does work for all parts of it individually. However, I suppose the reason it doesn’t work for the sequence in totality is there’s a kind of mixed metaphor problem going on. The two sequences for steps 1-4 and steps 8-12 are talking about foundational lakes of craving/ignorance, whereas the sequence for steps 4-8 is more about a more temporary hosepipe of craving going the other direction and feeding back into the lake! :wink: And when the hosepipe is cut off the lake is still there. It’s a two-way circular feedback process (craving :repeat: nāmarūpa) but not really a fully symmetrical one. The imasmim sati formula works all the way from craving to nāmarūpa in one way and works from nāmarūpa back to craving in another different way, but not in an identical coherent manner for the whole circular process.


I would say that there is no being, being produced in the DO. There’s no ‘who’ in the DO which is the point. I like the idea of mirrored sections that you wrote!

Sections 4-8 is the key to overcoming the DO.

Seeing sight, sound, sensations (sense doors) or form, feelings, perceptions (aggregates) arising and passing away, ignorance is abandoned.

“Bhikkhu, when a bhikkhu knows and sees the eye as impermanent, ignorance is abandoned by him and true knowledge arises. When he knows and sees forms as impermanent … When he knows and sees as impermanent whatever feeling arises with mind-contact as condition … ignorance is abandoned by him and true knowledge arises.

“When, bhikkhu, a bhikkhu knows and sees thus, ignorance is abandoned by him and true knowledge arises.” SN 35.79: Abandoning Ignorance (1) (English) - Saḷāyatana Saṃyutta - SuttaCentral

“Bhikkhu, when one knows and sees the eye as impermanent, ignorance is abandoned and true knowledge arises. When one knows and sees forms as impermanent … When one knows and sees as impermanent whatever feeling arises with mind-contact as condition—whether pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant—ignorance is abandoned and true knowledge arises. When one knows and sees thus, bhikkhu, ignorance is abandoned and true knowledge arises.” SN 35.53: Abandoning Ignorance (English) - Saḷāyatana Saṃyutta - SuttaCentral

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Sure, I guess the usual non-self provisos apply to use of terms like “being” and steps 4 to 8 are the active domain, i.e. the only section where humans get to “choose” and where the path has any meaning.

I’m finding it fun to play around with different angles on this at the moment.

Actually, I figured out one possible way that the 4-line imasmim sati formula work might be made to actually work with the entire nidāna DO sequence.

This approach takes kamma as the starting/ending point. If we assume saṅkhāra and bhava are essentially synonymous (saṅkhāra as representing “kamma past” and bhava as “kamma present/future” but both really referring to the same reservoir of kamma), then we can use this as the start/end point of a basic DO cycle.

Then the key sequence is composed of saṅkhāra (step 2) all the way to bhava (step 10):

  1. saṅkhāra
  2. viññāṇa
  3. name-and-form
  4. six sense bases
  5. contact
  6. feeling
  7. craving
  8. clinging
  9. bhava (becoming)

That looks like a fairly unproblematic sequence to me in terms of the imasmim sati formula: if an earlier factor fails then surely the later factors also must fail. The first steps represent birth and taking on form (prompted by this kamma pool). Then sense bases, feeling, craving etc. and new kamma generation kicks in (feeding back into this kamma pool). Death is, I guess, a failure of steps 3 and 4 (viññāṇa and name-and-form) and so the sequence retreats all the way back to step 2 and our basic kamma resevoir, where it can then start progressing along this chain yet again for another life.

What about the steps I’ve left out (the two appendages at the start and end)? One could view them as merely repackaged forms of steps already in this core cycle. In this theory, ignorance (step 1) is merely another name for steps 8 and 9 (craving and clinging) and represents the tail end of the previous cycle (so a kind of three-life theory is creeping back in here). And, similarly, steps 11 and 12 (birth and jarāmaraṇa) are really equivalent to steps 3 and 4 (viññāṇa
and name-and-form) and represent the next cycle (but there’s nothing really new in these appendages).

Anyway, I’m probably starting to bore people at this stage :slight_smile: but the above looks fairly compatible to me with Jayarava’s understanding of the imasmim sati formula conditionality.

I still don’t understand Jayarava’s assertion on this point. It’s true for the synchronous mode ( “When this is, that is” ), but the sequential mode ( “When this arises, that arises” ) appears to allow for the the first thing to cease once the second has come into being. Or to put it another way, the synchronous mode applies to states and processes, while the sequential mode applies more to events.