Wikipedia's Bhavacakra (Within the Theravada tradition) article includes this picture of the wheel:

enter image description here

From inner to outer, it has four rings:

  1. Past, Present, Future
  2. Active and Passive
  3. ?
  4. Twelve Nidanas

My question is, what's the third ring? Assuming I know approximately what each word in the third ring means, why are those words in particular placed in those segment of the third ring? What's the relation between the third ring and the other rings? What is the lesson or advice, how is understanding this ring useful/usable towards enlightenment?

3 Answers 3


Craving, attachment in the present lead to becoming and fabrication due to ignorance. Ignorance is included and if it is not present there is no craving and clinging to feelings hence no fabrication.

What is subjected to birth decay and death (in the future) is a being composed of the 5 aggregates due to fabrication and ignorance in the present.

Craving, clinging in the past due to ignorance hence leading to becoming and fabrication creates the rebirth, mind and matter, 6 sense bases, contact and feeling in the present.

  • Is the answer that the 3rd ring is the condition in which the 4th ring can progress? E.g., "If there is craving, attachent, and becoming, then ignorance can become fabrication"? And "If there is ignorance and fabrication, then craving can become attachment can become becoming"? And "If there are the five skandhas then birth can become decay and death"?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 20:25
  • Not necessarily. E.g. if there is craving and clinging (due to ignorance) there is becoming and fabrication now. The new fabrication now lead the 5 aggregates later. Due to craving and clinging due to ignorance creates becoming and fabrication in the past which leads to consciousness ...... This is just a parallel with other related concepts. Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 20:41

It's not to be looked at ring by ring but slice by slice so that the components in the inner rings can be combined with those in the outer to complete the picture. According to the Pali exegetical tradition, Dependent Orginination can be looked at in 2 ways (ref: "Connected Discourses" - NidanaSamyutta - Bhikkhu Bodhi):

  1. 3 Periods/12 Factors: 3 slices - 1st, 2nd, and 4th rings
    Past life slice: 1st ring: Past; 2nd ring: Active side; 4th ring: Avijja and Sankhara
    Present life slice: 1st ring: Present; 2nd ring: Active+Passive sides; 4th ring: Vinnana, NamaRupa, Salayatana, Phassa, Vedana, Tanha, Upadana, and Bhava;
    Future life slice: 1st ring: Future; 2nd ring: Passive side; 4th ring: Jati and Jara-Marana;

  2. 20 Modes/4 Groups: 5 past causes, 5 present effects, 5 present causes, 5 future effects - 4 slices - all rings combined.
    5 past causes: 1st ring: Past; 2nd ring: Active side; 3rd + 4th rings: Avijja, Sankhara, Tanha, Upadana, and Bhava.
    5 present effects: 1st ring: Present; 2nd ring: Passive;3rd ring is empty; 4th righ: Vinnana, NamaRupa, Salyatana, Phassa, and Vedana


The third ring appears to be stating: (a) the five aggregates are 'passive' or 'neutral' (per the Khandha Sutta, which describes neutral/mere/pure aggregates versus defiled aggregates subjected to clinging) & (b) it is the activity of ignorance, sankhara, craving, attachment & becoming that actively keep the 'wheel of life' spinning.

This two-fold distinction of the illustrator is based on the premise that 'birth' & 'aging-&-death' refer to physical birth & aging-&-death (rather than psychological 'birth' & 'aging-&-death').

It is also based on the premise than 'sankhara' refers to 'volitional formations' (rather than the kaya, vaci & citta sankhara as described in MN 44).

It also appears to infer the 3rd to 7th links are not 'activated' or 'disturbed' by ignorance.

  • Thanks for answering. I think I understand your first and maybe your last paragraph, but not the middle two: 1) how can you tell (or what is the evidence) that the illustration is based on the premise of a specific (physical rather than psychological) interpretation of birth and aging and death? 2) Are you saying that "volitional formations" is a wrong premise or wrong translation and is not what's described in MN 44? I thought that, or am I wrong, that "formations" were also known as "volitional formations" and that this includes mental and verbal formations?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 15:20
  • Birth & death are obviously 'physical' because they are 'passive'. The illustrator appears to be inferring 'active becoming' predetermines a physical birth in a future life over which there is no control. Where as 'birth' as 'self-identity' is something 'active'; that can be changed. Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 20:06
  • I believe 'sankhara' here is almost universally mistranslated. 'Sankhara' is defined in SN 12.2 as kaya, vaci & cita sankhara (also found at Anapanasati steps 4, 7, & 8), defined in MN 44 as the breathing in & out; applied & sustained thought; and perception & feeling. The term 'sankhara' here means 'conditioner' or 'fabricator' rather than 'condition' or 'fabrication'. MN 44 states thought is the verbal sankhara because by 1st thinking, one (2nd) breaks out into speech. Thus the sankhara is a cause rather than an effect. Thanisarro describes it well in examples in PDF 'Shape of Suffering'. Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 20:10

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