Paccaya; is the cause actually the effect? (proof by contrapositive in DN 15)

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Suppression (tadanga pahana) of ignorance is complete, at stream entry- resulting in a pretty comprehensive cessation, which is the only type possible if one is to attain that state of extinguishment.

When it returns following the attainment of ‘phala’, some degree of ignorance obviously has to have fallen away, at least in terms of view (perversions of view/ditti vipallasa is removed, and right view of the 4NTs are seen, though they might not necessarily be able to clearly categorise and present their insight in a such orderly manner). Seeing the causally arisen nature of phenomena and hence, the world, impacts to some degree when trying to grasp at that which can be only obtained from killing one’s mother, father etc the anantariya papa kamma, ie. one doesn’t in the cost-benefit balance, think anymore that such an atrocious act of murder is worth anything that could be gained from it (as the world has now been seen to be an empty and intangible mirage) and also it becomes an entire betrayal to the training and purity that has led that person up to that point of experiencing Nibbana. Yes, ego, keeps one’s precepts. ‘Others will break it, yet I wont break it’, and all that.

Apart from that they fact that they are likely to keep their precepts very well in the future is going to dilute any negative acts and stop any negative futures from happening to them, in fact guarantee positive ones. This is likely to be the main cause of stopping rebirth in hell, animal and hungry ghost realms. I think it is possible that a stream entrant would come back to earthly life, to complete their training, as it would be much shorter, much like the bodhisattva coming from Tusita to Earth to become the Buddha.

Considering the causes of ‘becoming’, bhava (in that above sutta) ignorance is partially reduced. Therefore they will not create any kamma that will lead them to be born in a plane of deprivation. They will not crave for it (behaving like wild animals) or create becoming through clinging, upadana (sila upadana and silabbataparamasa: see cow duty and dog duty ascetics) for such a place either.

with metta


It doesn’t appear so to me. But perhaps you would like to elaborate a bit?


Hi Bhante

I’m thinking of another Sufficiency operation at work in “āsavānaṃ khayā”. There’s also “kāyassa bhedā”. The ablatives here look to be Ablatives of Cause, guaranteeing the sequel.

Apologies for the rushed answer. We must frantically prepare for the New Year tomorrow and whip up dinner for tonight.

Have a happy new year!


Here is a book that might be relevant to the topic of this thread, “Necessary Conditions: Theory, Methodology and Applications” by Goertz and Starr.

It’s a methodology book for social science, that goes into the details of the difference between necessity and sufficiency in the theory, logic and methodology of social science, (p. 7):

One common definition of cause uses the necessary condition idea in a counterfactual logic: Z is a cause of Y if Y would not have occurred without Z.

Another popular option defines cause in terms of sufficient conditions: if Z then Y.

While both positions are quite defendable, they are clearly not the same.

If we compare different causal sequences in the suttas:

(DN 15) ‘Rebirth is a condition for old age and death’—that’s what I said. And this is a way to understand how this is so. Suppose there were totally and utterly no rebirth for anyone anywhere… When there’s no rebirth at all, with the cessation of rebirth, would old age and death still be found?” “No, sir.” “That’s why this is the cause, source, origin, and condition of old age and death, namely rebirth.

To me this looks like counterfactual logic; rebirth is a cause for old age and death, because old age and death would not have occurred without rebirth.

However, take the causal sequences suttas such as AN 11.2 and SN 46.2:

(AN 11.2) “For a person endowed with virtue, consummate in virtue, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May freedom from remorse arise in me.’ It is in the nature of things that freedom from remorse arises in a person endowed with virtue, consummate in virtue.

This seems to me to be sufficiency logic; if virtue then ‘freedom from remorse’, and so on.

(SN 46.2) At Sāvatthī. “Mendicants, this body is sustained by food. It depends on food to continue, and without food it doesn’t continue. In the same way, the five hindrances are sustained by fuel. They depend on fuel to continue, and without fuel they don’t continue.

And what fuels the arising of sensual desire, or, when it has arisen, makes it increase and grow? There is the aspect of beauty. Frequent improper attention to that fuels the arising of sensual desire, or, when it has arisen, makes it increase and grow…

Bhante @brahmali, would you agree that this language seems close to “necessity and sufficiency” regarding causation?

Let’s say that X is ‘frequent, improper attention to the aspect of beauty’, and that Y is sensual desire.

From “… without fuel they don’t continue”, we get the ¬X ⇒ ¬Y; no fuel, no sensual desire; i.e. fuel is necessary for sensual desire, because if there weren’t fuel, there wouldn’t be sensual desire.

In addition to this, there is the description of 'when X has arisen, it ‘fuels’ Y into existence, or makes it increase and grow.

This is something we could study in a quantitative psychology paper; ask people how much time they spend on X, ask them how much they Y they feel, do a multiple regression analysis to confirm the ‘more X, more Y’ correlation relationship.

It seems to me that, at least, the Buddha may be emphasizing different aspects of causality at different times, which I think is in line with being practical rather than philosophical/metaphysical.

What do you think, bhante? And how important are these ideas about causality for actually understanding dependent origination in sense of personal experience and liberation?

For those who are interested, here are some examples of necessary condition analysis (a different way of thinking about causality than implied by standard regression analysis) in social science:

Dul, 2016 – “Necessary Condition Analysis (NCA)
Logic and Methodology of “Necessary but Not Sufficient” Causality”

Karwowski et al., 2016 – “Is creativity without intelligence possible? A Necessary Condition Analysis”

Karwowski et al., 2016 – “Intelligence in childhood and creative achievements in middle-age: The necessary condition approach”



Yes, this is no doubt true, since the Buddha’s purpose was pragmatic. And I think this is why we should not see the conditionality of DN 15 – which emphasises necessity – as a final say on conditionality in DO. I do not think DN 15 is meant to exclude sufficient conditionality in DO.

Not really all that important. For those with a sufficient degree of confidence, I am not sure you need to contemplate dependent origination at all. Focusing deeply on any of the three characteristics of existence should be enough for such people to see the Dhamma. Insight into dependent origination will follow as a matter of course.

The main point about dependent origination, I think, is that we agree on the necessity of removing delusion (avijjā) to bring suffering to an end. Precisely how we defend this from a theoretical perspective probably does not matter much.

At the same time, it is possible that some people require a proper grasp of the mechanism to gain confidence in the teaching. If the whole thing can be explained logically, I believe this can sometimes help people overcome initial hesitation.

Let’s take DN 15 again. As you rightly point out, birth is here described as a necessary condition for old-age and death. In the absence of birth, there can be no OAD. Yet if this is the only type of conditionality that applies, then it is conceivable – at least from a purely logical perspective – that there might be other necessary conditions for OAD. If any of these other necessary conditions were removed, it would follow that there would be no OAD – quite regardless of the presence of birth. In other words, it would open up alternative ways of resolving the problem of suffering. If, however, birth is taken as both a necessary and sufficient condition for OAD, this possibility is closed off. This follows because if birth is a sufficient condition for OAD, then there can be no necessary conditions for OAD apart from birth. Only the removal of birth will ensure the ending of OAD.

I am taxing my poor little brain here, but I feel the end result is quite satisfactory. And I believe this is what the Buddha was trying to convey with his general statement on conditionality: “When this exists, that comes to be …”.


I agree. It makes sense to me that the Buddha emphasizes this aspect without meaning to get into the philosophy of causality.

I agree. If you don’t mind some questions, Bhante:

I wonder though, how is DO actually used in practice, e.g. by monastics?

More specifically, what kind of experience-data does one need to understand it in an insight way?

Is it enough with samadhi, or is knowledge of previous lives required?

Basically, how is DO used in the mind for the sake of liberation?

I personally find the logical nature of DO and other causal sequences incredibly impressive. I mean, the Buddha obviously knew what he was talking about, I can’t ignore that.


Then the thought occurred to Ven. Channa, “I, too, think that form is inconstant, feeling is inconstant, perception is inconstant, fabrications are inconstant, consciousness is inconstant; form is not-self, feeling is not-self, perception is not-self, fabrications are not-self, consciousness is not-self; all fabrications are inconstant; all phenomena are not-self. But still my mind does not leap up, grow confident, steadfast, & released[1] in the resolution of all fabrications, the relinquishing of all acquisitions, the ending of craving, dispassion, cessation, Unbinding. Instead, agitation & clinging arise, and my intellect pulls back, thinking, ‘But who, then, is my self?’ But this thought doesn’t occur to one who sees the Dhamma. So who might teach me the Dhamma so that I might see the Dhamma?”

Then the thought occurred to Ven. Channa, “This Ven. Ananda is staying at Kosambi in Ghosita’s Park. He has been praised by the Teacher and is esteemed by his knowledgeable fellows in the holy life. He is capable of teaching me the Dhamma so that I might see the Dhamma, and I have sudden trust in him. Why don’t I go to Ven. Ananda?”

"Ven Ananda: Face-to-face with the Blessed One have I heard this, friend Channa. Face-to-face with him have I learned the exhortation he gave to the bhikkhu Kaccayanagotta:

“'Everything exists”: That is one extreme. “Everything doesn’t exist”: That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle: From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications…[etc]. Channa Sutta: To Channa

Tilakkhana isnt adequate sometimes, as seen in the case above of Ven Channa. As long as someone believes reality exists, it will be hard to fully appreciate the illusory view of the world the DO provides.

If we can believe (or see) that images and the eye gives rise to eye consciousness, etc we can see causality right there- and see how it creates reality one stimulus at a time. Many times over and fast speeds we are left with a 3 dimensional world. But it is more one set of five aggregates (inclusive of contact) arising one at a time. Before one aggregate arises the previous one fades away. This can be seen with EBT based vipassana. To see the arising and passing away of aggregates is to see causality. It gives rise to knowledge as it really is. Of course, this is possible only for what is happening in this life. Inferential knowledge (anvaya) will be required to understand that it is universally applicable.

with metta


In a number of ways. Let’s start with the second noble truth, that craving is the cause of suffering. If suffering is to end, craving needs to be eliminated. Yet although the Buddha gives instructions on how craving can be reduced, it is only when you eliminate delusion, avijjā, that craving is altogether eliminated. This deeper aspect is seen when DO stands in for the usual phrasing of the second noble truth, for instance in AN 3.61. This adds an important dimension to this truth, for without it it would not be clear how you could make an end of suffering. The elimination of delusion, of course, is a core aspect of what meditation is all about, as in samādhi being the condition for seeing things according to reality.

The above might seem to belong to theory, not to practice, but I don’t think it is always possible to distinguish between the two in absolute terms. You need a proper framework for the practice to make sense. And you need a framework that expresses the Dhamma in such a way that people practice it all the way to the end of the path. If you don’t have a complete picture of the path, the real Dhamma will soon be lost.

There are number of ways in which DO provides such a theoretical-cum-practical framework. I will only be able to give you a taste of the possibilities, since this is really an enormous topic.

For starters, the sequence avijjā-saṅkhāra-viññāṇa (delusion-intentional activities-consciousness) provides an in-depth analysis of the causes and results of kamma. In brief and much simplified, because of avijjā, we mistakenly think we should pursue worldly happiness and we see ourselves as agents capable of procuring such happiness. Because of this cognitive distortion, we set out to secure this happiness for ourselves, which is what saṅkhāra, intentional activities, are all about. As we do so, and depending on our commitment to morality (which is also affected by our degree of avijjā), we engage in activities that are both wholesome and unwholesome. The sum of these actions affects our mind/consciousness (viññāṇa). If we predominantly do good, we feel good/better about ourselves and our mind brightens up. If we do a lot of bad, it will have the reverse effect. In this way we are stationing our consciousness at a particular “level”, a level that will tend to continue when you pass away. In this way, the limits of nāma-rūpa are set for your next existence, which is equivalent to being reborn in a particular realm. This, then, shows how intentional activities are the result of delusion, and how these activities in turn affect our minds and therefore also our rebirth.

Then there is the interesting mutual conditionality between viññāṇa and nāma-rūpa, consciousness and name-and-form, as seen in DN 15. This is in many ways the critical insight the Buddha had into the non-self nature of the mind, which provided the basis for his rejection of the Vedic eternalist philosophy. The way this mutual conditionality provides a middle way between eternalism and annihilationism is beautifully set out in the Kaccāna-gotta Sutta, SN 12.15.

Then there is the linkage between consciousness, name-and-form, the six sense bases (salāyatana), and contact (phassa). DN 15 has interesting variation on these four factors, where the six sense bases are left out. The Buddha then proceeds to show how contact is dependent both on the physical impact of an object on the sense organ (paṭigha-samphassa) and on the mind’s interpretation of that sensory input (adhivacana-samphassa). This shows nicely how our perceptions of the world are in large part fabricated by the mind. As we develop our minds, the world changes.

Then there is the process of craving, uptake, and existence (taṇhā, upādāna, and bhava). Craving makes you take up various pursuits: getting an education, getting a job, finding a partner, living in a house, becoming a Buddhist, etc. You take these things up because they help satisfy your cravings. But the effect of taking things up is that your life takes a certain shape, you exist in a certain way. You can tell the nature of your own existence by listening to your mind and seeing what it is preoccupied with. For most people, their preoccupation will be related to the sensual realm. As your meditation deepens, your interests will change accordingly.

These are some of the interesting psychological insights that can be gleaned from DO. All of them have real, experiential equivalents, all of which are useful, often very useful, on the path.

Many of the above linkages can be experienced in a fairly straightforward way. Take the first three factors: you can easily see how your pursuit of happiness in the world gives rise to wholesome and unwholesome actions, which then have direct effect on how you feel about yourself. What you are seeing is the kammic link between intentional activities and feeling. Once you see this clearly, you get a powerful motivation to live well.

If what you mean, however, is the full insight into the core mechanism of DO, that is, how craving gives rise to suffering/rebirth, then this only happens with streamentry. Streamentry is defined as the full insight into the Dhamma, including seeing the five khandhas (the five aspects of personality) as suffering. When you see this, all tendencies to crave will cease (temporarily), because you cannot crave for suffering. When you see the full ending of craving – like a frog seeing water when emerging from it for the first time – you also understand its power to keep the round of rebirth and re-death going indefinitely.

Samādhi is enough. Insight into previous lives is not the same as seeing DO. In other words, you can see your past lives and still lack this insight. Insight into DO is insight into causality, that is, as long as you crave you will continue to exist, including being reborn.

Have I answered your questions? Have I made any sense? Good communication is just so hard! :slightly_smiling_face:


That’s a great and practical description of the Dependant origination @brahmali! AN3.61 and the Kaccayanagotta Sutta- SN12.15 are among my all time favourites. Developing a well reasoned Right view is essential for later practice and seen in SN56.42 and it seems like a basic training. SN12.39 is also a good one.

With metta


Might it be simpler to say that both ignorance and feeling need to be present for craving to arise? So feeling is a necessary but not sufficient condition for craving.


Yes, or you could say that when A occurs or is present, then B must occur or be present.


We may need some other factors for craving to arise such as time, proper conditions…Since I do not see DO simply as cause and effect, I cannot say that A is sufficient cause for B.

If birth is sufficient for death then with the arising of birth, death must arise without the need for any other factors. Therefore, when you are born, you should be death right after that. However, this is not the case since we may need other factors for death to occur (such as time, sickness or accident…)


I think sufficiency here just means that death is inevitable eventually.


“Eventually” implies time. When water reaches 100 degree Celsius (sufficient condition), the water should start boiling and there is no need for more time or other factor.


In that example it will presumably take time to heat up the water. But the key principle with sufficient conditionality is the inevitability, ie when A occurs or is present then B must occur or be present.

I have phrased this “occur or be present” to encompass the two modes of conditionality in dependent origination:

  1. The synchronous mode: “When this is, that is…”, ie the presence of one state or process depends upon the presence of another. For example the presence of suffering depends upon the presence of ignorance.
  2. The sequential mode: “When this arises, that arises…”, ie the occurrence of one event depends upon the occurrence of another. For example the occurrence of feeling depends upon the occurrence of contact. This mode applies to your water boiling example, where the conversion of water to steam depends upon the temperature reaching 100 degrees C.

These two modes can act as both sufficient and necessary conditions in dependent origination. The tricky bit is working out which applies where.:slightly_smiling_face:


As I understand your logic, by ignorance when I first see a beautiful girl, pleasant feeling arises in me then I must (eventually) crave, cling to her and suffer. Not sure if I understood correctly?


While ignorance is present, then feeling leads to craving and suffering. When ignorance is absent, feeling doesn’t lead to craving and suffering. The Arahant still experiences pleasant and unpleasant feelings, but craving and aversion don’t arise, therefore suffering doesn’t arise.
So feeling is a necessary but not sufficient condition for craving.


Yes, this makes sense, thank you for taking the time to type it out :anjal:

I wonder though – assuming the way Ajahn Brahm teaches meditation – is giving up the ‘doing’ to get into deep meditation the same as giving up the volitional formations in DO?

The five hindrances are the fuel to delusion (AN 10.61), which I assume is the same delusion as in DO. But the five hindrances are also the barrier to deep meditation.

So if the lack of five hindrances cause delusion to go away and cause deep meditation, what’s the relationship between non-delusion and the states of jhana?

For example, in the terms of DO, the first jhana could be seen as small delusion -> small will -> small nama-rupa -> small sense base (only mind) -> small contact (only rapture etc. from first jhana pericope) -> … -> small suffering.

So the jhanas could be seen as a way to directly experience the different links of DO. On the flip side, DO provides a way to think about jhana meditation experience as a selfless process.

Or does DO-volitional formations strictly refer to the will that creates the next existence and consequent rebirth into it?

To sum it up, are the jhanas a way to directly experience the causality of DO, or is there something else going on?


You said “While ignorance is present, then feeling leads to craving and suffering”

Back to my example, By ignorance, when I first see a beautiful girl, pleasant feeling arises in me. Because I am not an arahant, I am fully ignorance, therefore, by your logic as I understand, that feeling will lead to craving and suffering (ignorance is present when that feeling arises). So, I must crave, cling to her and suffer after that. What am I missing?

Moreover, by your logic, suffering doesn’t arise for the arahant because ignorance is absent. Therefore, you cannot say birth is sufficient condition for dukkha in this case. Otherwise, the arahant must suffer(dukkha) if he is still alive.


Arahant’s phassa lacks avijjā, therefore vedanas born of this phassa don’t generate more taṇhā.

Puthujjana’s dukkha is pañcupādānakkhandha. This dukkha is gone with arahantship. What’s left until the end is pañcakkhandha, which contains dukkhavedanas, but this is not dukkha which sekkhas strive to put an end in this life by practicing ariyamagga.

Actually living without dukkhavedanas is really dangerous. There’s condition called congenital insensitivity to pain, in which a person cannot feel a physical pain. Usually people with this condition die in childhood because of injuries they unknowingly inflict to themselves.