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6 -7. With the sixth nidāna, phassu, we pass from potentiality to actuality. Phassa literally means "contact" or `"touch." It refers to all experience that, under particular stimuli, begins to burn or blaze up in each of the six sensory fields we have men­tioned. For this reason the next nidāna is vedanā, feeling, the affective coloring of the perceptions, sensation as a whole. Here a new development begins, which we may regard as the manifestation, the igniting, of the, so to speak, transcendental mania that appears in the guise of that particular desire or attachment forming the substratum of a given being's experience in given surroundings.

8. The nidāna that immediately follows feeling is therefore thirst, tanha. This awakens in the various sensory fields, and is nourished by contact, exactly like the flame that-according to a text we have quoted-burns in every sense and includes the object, the sense organ, the contact, and the impression that follows from it, even when it is neither pleasurable nor painful but neutral.

27. Cr. H. C. Warren, Buddhism in Translations (Cambridge. Mass., 1909). p. 212.

28, Dahtke, Buddh, als Weltansch., p. 61 [ [Buddhism, and Science. p. 55].


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  1. And as "to burn" on this level is the same as "to be," but since the flame, in order to burn, needs material and depends on material and must have material, there follows the ninth nidāna, upādāna. The term, literally, means "to embrace": it is an acceptance, a coming into possession in the sense of attachment or dependence. Thus many have translated the word by "will" or by "affirmation" (anunayo), which is the opposite of detachment or rejection (vinayo). Therefore, just at this point the ahamkāra, the general category of the "belonging to self," adhyatmika (Pāli: ajjhattika). arises and comes into being: there arises the feeling of "I" or of the "per-son" (sakkāya) defined, by reference to this or that object, by the formula "this is mine, 1 am this, this is my self": here, then, take place the aggregations, the forma­tion of the personality based on the five groups, which are once again: the group of materiality (rupa ), including all that falls under the dominion of the senses; the group of feeling (vedanā); the group of perceptions or representations or mental forms (sannā); the group of formations, tendencies, and, in general, volition (sankhāra); finally, the group of consciousness itself, in so far as it is determined, conditioned, and individuated (vinnana). It is said: "Attachment (upādāna) is not the same as the five groups of attachment; and neither is attachment outside the five groups of at­tachment. That which, in the five groups, is the cause of will, is affirmation, that is attachment."29 Thus samsāric personality is not made up of these five groups, but of that which in them is "craving of will,"30 of that which proceeds as the result of the fundamental element of the whole process, namely, thirst. This now joins with the craving of the "daemon," and, at the moment of satisfying itself through the contacts, determines dependence; while from dependence, in turn, proceed the anguish, the restlessness, and the fundamental fear of those who have not in themselves their own principle and who desperately cling to sakkāya, to the person, to the "1." On the subject of "attachment," there is said to exist a kind of brooding and watch over the feelings that are experienced, be they pleasant, unpleasant, or neither unpleasant nor pleasant, and a clinging to them. With this brooding and watch over the feelings and with this adherence to them, there arises satisfaction (in a special, transcenden­tal sense for, as we have seen, the feelings may be entirely neutral); this satisfying of the feelings is attachment. Through this attachment originates "becoming."31

  2. In fact, all the necessary conditions for the establishment of the person are

  1. Ma h.. 109.

  2. Ibid.. 44.

  3. Ibid., 38. In this connection we may here explain two important Buddhist notions! that of sāsavā and that of prāpti (Skt.). Sāsavā, from āsava, means the co-intoxicant, or everything that lends itself to a develop­ment of "mania" or original "intoxicarion"; it is extended lo inctude both "good" and "had" states, and only "that which is not Included" and is not cointoxicant. and has the nature of pure transcendency (cf. Dhammasang.. 1103. 1104). As for prāpti, this signifies assumption or incorporation: it is the primary adhesion by which a tendency that one has acquired exists potentially, only awaiting the opportunity for appearing again, even when. through satisfaction, it seemed to have disappeared. Cf. betow. p. t97-98.

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now present, and with its actual becoming there occurs the act of synthesis for its definite solidification as an individual being, and of its "existence" in a literal sense: to stand or come out in an exteriorized existence. This constitutes the tenth nidāna, bhava, which literally means "becoming" and which has as its counterpart the next nidāna.



  1. Birth, jāti, is often thought of also as a "descent."32 From the fifth to the tenth nidāna we are concerned with states that develop in a complementary manner to embryonic life, starting from conception, with the determination of what in modern philosophy would be called the a priori categories of experience, that is, the modes in which this experience develops in space and time or in other conditions of exist­ence. t is noteworthy that the doctrine in question does not limit itself to the case of human and terrestrial birth. Although it is evident that Buddhism has formulated the theory of conditioned genesis for this case in particular, yet, in general, the possibil­ity of a birth-jati, the eleventh nidāna-must be considered not only on the plane of animal generation, but also on that of "pure forms" (rupa) or on the plane "free from form" (arupa).33 In dealing with these cases, however, a modification of the preced­ing exposition is necessary here and there so as to conform to the different circum­stances. It must be emphasized, however, that the Buddhist doctrine, like every really metaphysical teaching, goes far beyond the singular narrowness of outlook prevalent in the West, and considers that the human being is only one of many pos­sible states of conditioned existence, just as individual human existence is only one of many possible forms of individual existence and, in itself, is simply a section of a current, of a santāna.

  2. The last nidāna is jarāmarana, that is, decay (jarā). in this particular case meaning "old age") and death (marana). The inseparable complement to birth (jāti) is decay and death. Omnia orta occidunt et aucta senescunt: "becoming generates, the become grows old and dies."34 According to the texts, not theoretically, but by direct experience, by an absolute liberating vision, the "clear, immaculate eye of truth" apprehends at a particular moment the meaning hidden in these words; "All that has origin has also an end.""

The chain of conditioned genesis has now gradually brought us to the world of contingency, of eternal impermanence, of agitation, of individuality, which is an illusion and purely a name, of life, which is mixed with death and which is parched by anguish and by radical privation or insufficiency; to the world in which there is no liberty, in which beings, in the grip of craving, either "leap hither and thither like

  1. Samyutt., t2.2.

  2. Cf., e.g.. Majjh., 9.

  3. Ibid., 1.

  4. Ibid.. 56; 74; Digha, 2t.2.10.

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hares caught in a snare,"36 or are lost, as "arrows shot by night." In these terms, he who declared that he was able to "explain all life from its foundations"37 has ex-pressed the teaching that comprises the first two truths of the Ariya, that is dukkha, agitation as the root of all suffering, and its underlying tanhā, craving or desire.

Now that we have referred to the various possibilities of "birth," we must em­phasize that while Buddhism recognizes the existence of another world, or rather, of other worlds, of other conditions of existence beyond this world, these celestial worlds are also considered subject to dukkha. Divine entities (deva) exist in their hierar­chies like those of the angels of Western theology, but they are not immortal beings. Although their existence may he indefinitely long compared with the life of a man (devia dīghāyukā) yet even for them there will be jarāmarana, decline and dying. This is to be understood in the sense of the general Hindu teaching on the cyclical laws of the cosmic periods in which was put forward the alternate reabsorption and emanation of all manifested forms, including the highest, into the unmanifested prin­ciple, superior and anterior to them all. We know also that the ancient Western tradi­tions, with their doctrine of the aeons, of the saecula and of the cosmic years, were acquainted with similar views.

In passing, it is worth mentioning that there occurs in Buddhism a personifica­tion of the princeps hujus mundi in the shape of Māra. If Māra is etymologically derived from Mrtyu, the ancient god of death, here he appears as the power that stands at the root of the whole samsāric existence, asserting himself wherever there is passive identification, attachment, bond of desire, satisfaction, on whatever plane of existence or in whatever "world," even, therefore, in the spiritual world,38 Māra, who has three daughters-Tanha, Rati, and Arati, that craving, love, and hate-is he who sows the pastures where beings, once enticed, satisfy themselves; hut in the moment of their satisfaction they fall into his power39 and, paralyzed by mania, reen­ter without rest the flux of transient existence." Māra is also an incarnation of the ephemeral character of samsāric existence, and therefore, as the god of death, when the moment comes he surprises people and carries them off, while they are busy with this or that, "like the inundation of a sleeping village.''41 Māra is closely related to "ignorance." He can act so long as he remains unknown. "This man knows me not"-this is the condition under which he works. The moment the unclouded eye perceives him, however, his power becomes paralyzed.42



  1. Dhammapada. 342

  2. Majjh., 11.

3g. Samyutt., 22.63: 35.t14: Mahavagga (Vin.). 1.11.

  1. Itivuttaka, 14.

  2. Majjh., 25.

41 Dhammapada, 287

42. Mahāvagga (Vin.). 1.11.2; 1.13.2; Majjh., 49, etc.

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The great practical significance of the doctrine of paticca-samuppāda lies in the fact that, through it we see that the conditioned and contingent world does not exist as something absolute, but is itself, in its turn, conditioned, contingent; it is the effect of a process in which extraneous causes do not figure; a change, therefore, or a removal or a destruction ts always possible.43 Created by deeds, the conditioned forms of existence can be dissolved by deeds. Buddhist teaching considers, besides the descending series of the "formations" from ignorance-called the "false road"----the ascending series of the dissolutions, called the "right road."''' While in the first series, resulting from ignorance the sankhāra are formed, and from these, "conscious­ness," from consciousness, "name-and-form," and so on to both, decline, suffering, and death-in the second series, when "ignorance" is destroyed, the ,sankhāra are destroyed; when the ,sankhāra are destroyed, "consciousness" is destroyed, and so on to the conditioned removal of the ultimate effects, that is, of birth, decline, suffer­ing, and death, or in other words, the law of samsāric existence.45



t can now be understood why the attainment of the truth of conditioned genesis by Prince Siddhattha-the truth, that is, that samsāra "is" not, but "is become"-was conceived of by him as a liberating illumination: "'t is become, it is become': as something never heard before, this knowledge arose in me, vision arose in me, intu­ition arose in me, wisdom arose in me, light arose in me." And it was also said on this same occasion: "When the real nature of things is made clear to the ardent, meditat­ing ascetic, then all his doubts fall away, having realized what this nature is and what is it cause."46 And again: "When the real nature of things is made clear to the ardent, meditating ascetic, he arises and scatters the ranks of Māra, like the sun which lights the sky."47 At this point the samsāric demonism comes to an end.

Now that the descending chain of the twelve nidāna has taken us to the plane of samsaric existence lived by a finite being, we can consider the other interpretation of these same nidāna that we have called "horizontal." We must now subdivide the twelve nidāna into four groups and refer them to more than one individual existence. The first group will then consist of the first two nidāna (avijja and sankhāra), which correspond to a samsāric heredity come to a particular being from another life. Avijjā, unawareness, then refers to the "four truths," and it means the unawareness both of the contingency of the world and of the way out of it, while the sankhāra arc the predispositions created in a previous life lived in this ignorance. The second group refers, instead, to present existence and includes the three nidāna, "consciousness,"



  1. Samyutt., 12.1ff,20

  2. Ibid., 12.3.

  3. Mahāvagga (Vin.), 1.t.2.

  1. Ibid., 1.1.3.

  2. Ibid., 1.1.7.

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"name-and-form," and "base of the six senses." all connected with the formation and development of the new life that takes on this heredity. The third group consists of the four nidāna: "contact,''sensations, " "thirst," and "attachment" and refers to the normal life of the average man insofar as this confirms the samsāric state of exist­ence by nourishing the preexisting craving on further craving and by generating, through thoughts and actions, energies that will appear in a new life. Finally, the last three nidāna: "(new) becoming," "birth," and "decay and death" refer to this new life being, as it were, effects.48 In regard to this interpretation, individual explana­tions of some of the nidāna are as follows: ignorance is ignorance of the four truths; the ,sankhāra are the formations or predispositions manifesting in the three fields of deed, word. and thought; consciousness-vinnana-is the consciousness that relates to the sixfold base (to the six senses); "name-and-form" is the psychophysical whole of the living man; contacts and feeling again refer to sensory experience; finally, upādāna is attachment to desire, or opinions, or belief in the "I," or belief in the miraculous efficacy of rules and rites.49

Although this "horizontal" interpretation should be kept in mind in order to clarify certain canonical contexts, it must be remembered that in character it is lower and more external than the other vertical and transcendental interpretation, since it refers exclusively to the samsāric plane; nor can it claim to be completely coherent. For example, it is difficult to see why "becoming," "birth," and "decay and death" are not included in the middle group, which refers to present existence, but apply instead to a successive existence, almost as if they were not valid either for the present life or for that in which ignorance and the sankhāra are placed; as if the successive existence did not again contain ignorance and the .sankhāra, conscious­ness, sixfold base, etc., that is, the nidāna that are referred only to a previous exist­ence or to the present existence that takes its heredity from the previous existence. The fact that the majority of Orientalists, in spite of this, have halted at this second interpretation without becoming aware of these incoherencies, only shows the su­perficiality of their minds and their complete lack of metaphysical sensibility.

Once the doctrine of paţicca-samuppāda has been understood as indicating the conditioned nature of samsāric existence, then, as we have said, the third and fourth truths of the Ariya follow directly. The third postulates the possibility of destroying the state generated through the twelve nidana; and the fourth concerns the method by which this possibility can be realized and leads up to the achievement of awaken­ing and illumination.

As a practical ascetic presupposition, the principle of immanence is valid here.


  1. This is the interpretarion mainty followed by Nyanatiloka in his edition of the Anguttara-nikāya, vot. I. p 29 I.

  2. Samyutt.. 12.2.

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It is suggestively expressed in an allegorical story about the "world's end." One of the Buddha's interlocutors says that he was once carried-with magical rapidity-further and further on without succeeding in reaching the end of the world. The Bud­dha replies: "One can not, by walking, reach the end of the world"-and immedi­ately passes to the symbolical significance by adding: "where there is no birth nor decadence nor death nor rising nor perishing." By walking, by going-that is, along samsāra--one does not find the end of the world. For it is in oneself. The world ends when the intoxications or manias, the āsava, are destroyed. And here the principle is stated; "In this fathom-length body, furnished with perception and consciousness, there is contained the world, the arising of the world the end of the world, and the path which leads to the end of the world."50 The body taken as a whole is the concrete center of the samsāric experience of the world, yet both in its physical and in its invisible, hidden sides all the nidāna are immanent. We can, however, find the roots of this experience and, furthermore, the powers that can eventually cut off these roots, and are thus enabled to transform one mode of being into another.

In this connection the power of the "mind" is often emphasized; mind, that is, in a general sense, and not just psychological faculties. "What we are is the result of our thoughts mind is the foundation of all our conditions; they are mind-made."51 "The world is guided by consciousness, drawn along by consciousness, subject to the power of consciousness that has arisen."52 It is the mind that "deceives man and kills his body." Because of it, there "exists all that has a form." "The mind, our destiny, and our life, these three things are closely connected. The mind directs and guides, and determines our destiny here below, on which depends our life: thus, in a mutual perennial succession."53 But the mind depends on the man: it may lead him to the world of agitation and impermanence, yet to it Prince Siddhattha owed his awaken­ing. his becoming a Buddha.54

We have now discussed all the necessary assumptions for the Buddhist ascesis, both as ascesis in general and as the Ariyan Doctrine of Awakening.



  1. Angutt 4.45; 4.46; 9.33.

  2. Dhammapada, I.

  3. Angutt., 4.186; Samyutt., t.7.

  4. Mahaparinirv., 64.

54. Ibid.

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7



Determination of the Vocations

The Buddhist Way, as a whole, is signposted by samatha and vipassanā. Samatha must be understood as an unshakable calm, which is gained with the help of various disciplines, particularly of mental concentration and control of thought and conduct; in attaining it, we still remain in the domain of an ascesis which, as we have said, need not in itself imply any transcendental realization and which, therefore, may also be regarded as a form of mastery and as an acquisition of strength for one who remains and acts in the world. Vipassanā, on the other hand, indicates "knowledge"-clear perception, making for detachment, of the essence of samsaric life and of its contingency and irrationality: the noble, penetrating knowledge "which perceives rise and fall." If to this "knowledge" is added the calm and the control of samatha, then its development is assured and transfigured, and the resut is the ascesis that leads to awakening. In any case, these two factors are such that they reciprocally integrate each other.' Vipassanā is the indispensable condition for liberation.

The point of departure therefore consists in arousing this "knowledge" to some extent. In this connection we can speak of a real and positive determination of voca­tions. It is a widely held opinion that Buddhist "preaching" had a "universal. charac­ter, This is an error-it may he true superfīcially, and of later and altered forms of the doctrine, but not of essentials. Buddhism is essentially aristocrafic. We can see this in the legendary story in the canonical texts where the divinity Brahma Sahampati, in order to induce Prince Siddhattha not to keep to himself the knowledge he had obtained, points out to him the existence of "beings of a nobler kind" capable of understanding it. The Buddha himself finally recognizes this, in these terms: "And I saw, looking at the world with the awakened eye, beings of noble kind and of com­mon kind, acute of mind and obtuse of mind, well endowed and ill endowed, quick to

I. Cf. Angutt., .5.92-94

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understand and slow to understand, and many who consider that enthusiasm for other worlds is bad." There foflows a simile: as some lotus flowers grow in deep. muddy water, as others push up toward the surface of the water, yet others "emerge from the water and stand up, free from the water"-thus there are, in contrast to the mass of people, beings of a nobler kind .2 They are, in other words, those who hold fast, who have not been entirely blinded by "ignorance." but who preserve a memory of the origins. Water, moreover, is a general traditional symbol of inferior nature that is bound to passion and becoming-whence, be it noted in passing, is derived the sym­bolism used by Buddhism of the man who walks on the "waters" without sinking down in them, or of the man who crosses the waters.



It is, then to an elite that Buddhism originally addressed its Doctrine of Awaken­ing; a doctrine that is, in fact, a touchstone. Only the "noble natures," the "noble sons" react positively. This is now the place to discuss the problem of the "vocations."

Let irs consider first the idea of "renunciation,. which is. in some ways, the key to the whole ascesis. "Renunciation" may have many different meanings, depending on circumstances. There is a renunciation of an inferior kind, which is the one that-as we said at the beginning-recurs in the ascetic forms that have developed in the West since the decline of the ancient classical and Aryan world. This renunciation signifies "mortification"; it means painful separation from things and pleasures that are still desired; it is a kind of masochism, of taste for suffering not entirely unmixed with an ill-concealed resentment against all forms of health, strength, wisdom, and virility. This kind of renunciation, in fact, has often been the strength. born of neces­sity, of the world's disinherited, of those who do not fit in with their surroundings or with their own body or with their own race or tradition and who hope, by means of renunciation, to assure For themselves a future world where, to use a Nietzschean expression, the inversion of all values will occur. En other cases, the motive for renunciation is mainly supplied by a religious vision: the "love of God" induces renunciation and detachment from the joys of the world; a detachment that even here keeps, in the most favorable circumstances, its painful and almost violent character with regard to all that one would naturally tend to wish and desire. The fact that asceticism is generally associated, in the West, with such attitudes is one of the many consequences of the low level to which, as we have already mentioned, the "Dark Age," kali-yuga, had fallen.

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