In the twelve nidanas in the dependent origination it is said that through ignorance arises constructive activities (Sankskara). I do understand that. But the fact that I am still having trouble understanding is how Sankara causes the consciousness to arise and how consciousness cause the name and form to arise.

I do understand that cause of name-form the consciousness arises as these two are very interdependent. But my question is as the above.

  1. How does Sankskara cause consciousness to arise?
  2. How does consciousness cause the name-form to arise?

Taṇhā (craving) and upādāna (clining) creates saṅkhāra (fabrication) to experience the karmic result of what you craved for. To experience past fabrications when they materialise in the present a particular viññāṇa (consciousness) should arise, e.g. fabrication to experience pleasant taste now due to past conditioning you need tongue consciousness hence also a tongue and tasty food. Since consciousness cannot arise on its own, i.e., there cannot be tongue consciousness without an tongue, arises nāmarūpa (name form) with saḷāyatana (sense bases / faculty) so the particular experience can be felt. Since particular experience does not arise without phassa (contact) this should happen giving arise to Vedanā (feeling) so that the Karmic experience is completed, but base on your reaction of craving and clining you create Bhava (becomming / exsitance). Avijjā (ignorance), i.e., not knowing the 4 Noble Truths, what make you react with craving and clinging hence creating fabrications and consciousness. Also the experience any residue of fabrication, Jāti (birth) must happen and if so Jarāmaraṇa (old age and death) follows.

In other words, past fabrication to experience creates the experience, to which contact, faculty, consciousness should be in place, and for faculties to be in place a live being with a body and mind needs to be in place. Also if you do react to sense stimuli with craving and grasping you continue your existence, and if not you cease existence.

  • It may have taken some time since the time I asked this question I was a beginner to understand DO. But your explanations where you state " To experience past fabrications ....." and such, it made much more sense on how name-form arises from consciousness. Rather than the explanation of Ignorance causes Fabrications to arise and so on, The explanation of Tanha and Updana creates Sanksara (Since cause of suffering is Tanha, the 2nd truth and not understanding 4NTs is Ignorance) is a good explanation. – Akila Hettiarachchi Jun 16 '17 at 5:33

Paticcasamuppada (the Law of Dependent Origination) is fundamental to the teaching of the Buddha. Emphasizing its importance, the Buddha said: “Yo paticcasamuppadam passati, so Dhammam passati. Yo Dhammam passati, so paticcasamuppadam passati.” One who sees paticcasamuppada sees the Dhamma. One who sees the Dhamma sees paticcasamuppada. Paticcasamuppada sets forth the arising of experiences as a succession of items each coming to an end before the next appears (Imassa nirodha idam uppajjati). The reason for the continuous birth – death cycle is delusion or ignorance (Avidya) which doesn’t allow one to comprehend the Four Noble Truths is this. It destroys one’s perception and blinds him; which leads him to see morality as sin and immorality as virtue.

Delusion or ignorance (Avidya) leads the being to collect merits & demerits (volitional fabrications /Sanskara) (bodily, verbal & mental fabrications). Merits & demerits lead to consciousness (Vinnana) (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body & intellect consciousness). Consciousness leads to mentality & materiality (Nama rupa). Feeling, perception, intention, contact & attention are called ‘name/mentality’ or nama and the body dependant on the four great elements (Earth, fire, water & air - ‘Patavi’, ‘Apo’, ‘Thejo’, ‘Vayo’) is form/ materiality or rupa). ‘Name-form’ leads to the six sense media (Salayathana) (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body & mind). ‘Nama’ and ‘rupa’ are linked together like flowers and their scent. They are born together.

Sankhara is a key word in the Dhamma. The Buddha chose to use it in his last words, to summarise 45 years of teaching: Vyadhamma sankhara, Appamadena Sampadetha: it is the nature of sankhara to disappear, strive unremittingly. Sankhara do not just disappear (Sankhara Nirodha). If it were the case, the Teaching would be pointless. Sankhara is translated as ‘formations'/ ‘fabrications’. For most of us sankhara is Kamma (action) - by reversing the statement: It is intention that I call Kamma. In some contexts, sankhara does mean 'intention' (Cetana). While all cetana are Sankhara, all Sankhara are not cetana, as for example Ayu-sankhara.

Sankharas are the kammically active volitions responsible for generating rebirth and thus for sustaining the onward movement of samsara, the round of birth and death. In this context sankhara is virtually synonymous with kamma. Sankharas in dependent origination is put into three types: bodily (inhalation and exhalation), verbal ( Vitakka-vicāra: 'thought-conception and discursive thinking'), and mental [feeling (vedanā) · perception (sañña) ]. Sankharas are divided into the meritorious and demeritorious. Sankharas, propped up by ignorance and fueled by craving drive the stream of consciousness onward to a new mode of rebirth, where consciousness becomes established determined by the kammic character of the sankharas. With good deeds the sankharas or volitional formations will propel consciousness toward a happy sphere of rebirth, and with demeritorious deeds, the sankharas will propel consciousness toward a miserable rebirth.

The next domain where sankharas apply is among the five clinging aggregates (the aggregate of volitional formations). There are six classes of volition - volition regarding forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile objects, and ideas. Though these sankharas correspond closely to those in the formula of dependent origination, the two are not in all respects the same, for the sankhara-khandha has a wider range. The aggregate of volitional formations comprises all kinds of volition. The word sankhara also occurs as a designation for all conditioned things. Buddha said that all sankharas are suffering (sabbe sankhara dukkha) as they are transient. "Having arisen they then cease," and because they all cease they cannot provide stable happiness and security.

"Now suppose that a man desiring heartwood, in quest of heartwood, seeking heartwood, were to go into a forest carrying a sharp ax. There he would see a large banana tree: straight, young, of enormous height. He would cut it at the root and, having cut it at the root, would chop off the top. Having chopped off the top, he would peel away the outer skin. Peeling away the outer skin, he wouldn't even find sapwood, to say nothing of heartwood. Then a man with good eyesight would see it, observe it, & appropriately examine it. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in a banana tree? In the same way, a monk sees, observes, & appropriately examines any fabrications that are past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near. To him — seeing them, observing them, & appropriately examining them — they would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in fabrications (Saṅkhāra) These three are fabrications: bodily fabrications, verbal fabrications, mental fabrications.

'Consciousness' is a difficult one. Consciousness is mere presence; and since there cannot be presence without something being present, it is what distinguishes living from non-living, such as tables and chairs. Paticcasamuppada (dependent arising) 'boils down' to Vinnana paccaya (conditioned by consciousness). No one can be conscious of consciousness. It cannot be syringed out to look at it, without by consciousness. There are no states of un-consciousness. Consciousness is discontinuous - like a monkey swaying through trees, holding a branch here, letting it go, and grabbing another... Consciousness is nothing but a conjuring trick (Samyutta 22.95).

"Now suppose that a magician or magician's apprentice were to display a magic trick at a major intersection, and a man with good eyesight were to see it, observe it, & appropriately examine it. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in a magic trick? In the same way, a monk sees, observes, & appropriately examines any consciousness that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in consciousness?

"Seeing thus, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones grows disenchanted with form, disenchanted with feeling, disenchanted with perception, disenchanted with fabrications, disenchanted with consciousness. Disenchanted, he grows dispassionate. Through dispassion, he's released. With release there's the knowledge, 'Released.' He discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'"

Chain of Dependent Origin Forward Order is…
Sankhara paccaya Vinnana -Dependent on ignorance, reaction (conditioning) arises;
Namarupa paccaya vinnana -Dependent on reaction (conditioning), consciousness arises;
Dependent on consciousness, mind-body arise; etc. etc.

Reverse Order is…
With the complete eradication and cessation of ignorance, reaction (conditioning) ceases;
with the cessation of reaction (conditioning), consciousness ceases;
with the cessation of consciousness, mind-body cease.

Sankhara paccaya Vinnana would come to mean – to better understand the interlink - “Sankhara - Immoral/unfruitful actions and thoughts as root condition for ‘Vinnana’ - defiled consciousness”. So Vinnana can be taken as consciousness contaminated with immoral mental factors such as greed and hate. The more sankhara that one generates, the more that one will keep “feeding the ‘vinnana’. The stronger the vinnana gets, one is more likely to engage in same kind of acts, i.e., sankhara.

“Namarupa paccaya vinnana“, happen, together with “vinnana paccaya namarupa”. This is referred to as an “annamanna paticca samuppada step”. Here “annamanna” means “inter-dependent”. Thus nama rupa is conditioned by vinnana and vice versa. Just as vinnana gives rise to nama rupa, so also nama rupa leads to vinnana. Although vinnana and nama rupa are interdependent, the former is the determining factor and, hence, it is described as the cause of nama rupa. In fact, when vinnana arises because of sankhara, its concomitant cetasikas as well as the rupas resulting from sankhara come into being at the same time. So vinnanas and nama rupas arise together from the moment of rebirth.

"Form... Feeling... Perception... Fabrications... Consciousness is inconstant, changeable, alterable. - with the actual seeing does there come a dramatic shift during one's life and one's relationship to the Dhamma. One who has conviction & belief that these phenomena are this way is called a faith-follower: one who has entered the orderliness of rightness, entered the plane of people of integrity, transcended the plane of the run-of-the-mill. One who knows and sees that these phenomena are this way is called a stream-winner, steadfast, never again destined for states of woe, headed for self-awakening.


In my interpretation (which is a product of my own vipassana), the translation and interpretation of nidanas is a little different. I tend to think of nidanas in terms of developmental psychology:

  • Avidya is innate ignorance, so far so good.
  • Sankskara is "imprint that creates subsequent tendency to react in a certain way". Kind of like memory but at a lower organizational level. So when there is ignorance, the interaction of primordial nature with itself leaves traces, which, given enough repetitions, eventually accumulate into tendencies and expectations.
  • These tendencies and expectations get progressively more robust and integrated until they connect into full-fledged continuous experience ('vijnana'). This experience is not reality itself though, but an interpretation/projection assembled from the tendencies and expectations.
  • Through the same process of accumulation of sankskaras (which remain the underlying fabric comprising the experience) the whole process keeps on maturing until some of the tendencies and expectations crystallize to the status of objects ('namarupa'). These objects are second-order constructs - the signs (nimitta) that make up the original experience are further interpreted up the chain of abstraction.

So in my interpretation the twelve nidanas describe the natural process by which the primordially impersonal becomes (first aware and then) personal.

  • @Dhammadhatu is it good way of telling that nama-rupa is mind-body? since mind and body are two senses that arise conditioned by nama-rupa. I see nama-rupa as more like a mentality-materialistic kind of a thing. What do u think? – Akila Hettiarachchi Apr 24 '17 at 7:15

Buddha has stated to bhikku Ananda that Paticca Samuppada is not simple to understand and that it has great depth.

However, may I point out to you a paradox that may exist in your question.

Let's say I like apples and you ask me

Why do you like apples

I can say

I like apples because they are tasty to me

If you now ask me

Why do you like apples because they are tasty

That is something I am not able to interpret as a question or answer.

The reason I can't answer is, that it is close to an ultimate.

It could be that Lord Buddha explained Paticca Samuppada to be understood as reasons for certain conditioning to happen. However, maybe we are supposed to understand the reasons rather than ask "What is the reason for the reason?".

How does consciousness (Vinñana) arise? (What causes Vinñana)

Due to Sankhara

How is the Sankskara causes consciousness to arise?

This is the answer (likely an ultimate) re asked in a manner of question. (Try this: Why is the boy crying? Because I hit the boy. Why is he crying because you hit him? Because it hurt the boy. Why is the boy crying because it hurt? Because the boy is weak.... So on and so forth but sooner or later you'll reach an ultimate).

The matter gets more complicated because in one place Buddha says Vinñana causes Nama Rupa, and Nama Rupa causes Vinñana.

The reason Sankhara causes Name and Form is, I believe Karma. If Vinñana doesn't root itself through the help of Sankhara, I believe that is the state arhatans be. (


"How does Sankskara cause consciousness to arise?"

This is my personal understanding, not necessarily any traditional interpretation:

Sankhara being the active tendency onward, the driving force to seek something or another state (as per our dissatisfaction), is the terrain that makes it possible for consciousness to arise, since consciousness is the basis for coming into contact with anything.

When that force is calmed down, there's no interest in "reaching out" (or "reaching in", or simply "reaching"), so consciousness does not get established.

"How does consciousness cause the name-form to arise?"

In DN 15, the Buddha explains the dependency of namarupa on consciousness in the context of a person being born & growing:

  • when namarupa does not find consciousness persisting in the womb, namarupa does not develop.
  • when consciousness depart from namarupa in the womb, namarupa would not come to secure a birth.
  • if consciousness of a young boy or girl were cut off, namarupa would not grow up and develop.

Also, consider SN 12.39:

“Bhikkhus, what one intends, and what one plans, and whatever one has a tendency towards: this becomes a basis for the maintenance of consciousness. When there is a basis, there is a support for the establishing of consciousness. When consciousness is established and has come to growth, there is a descent of name-and-form. With name-and-form as condition, the six sense bases come to be; [...]

“If, bhikkhus, one does not intend, and one does not plan, but one still has a tendency towards something, this becomes a basis for the maintenance of consciousness. When there is a basis, there is a support for the establishing of consciousness. When consciousness is established and has come to growth, there is a descent of name-and-form. With name-and-form as condition, the six sense bases come to be…. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering.

“But, bhikkhus, when one does not intend, and one does not plan, and one does not have a tendency towards anything, no basis exists for the maintenance of consciousness. When there is no basis, there is no support for the establishing of consciousness. When consciousness is unestablished and does not come to growth, there is no descent of name-and-form. With the cessation of name-and-form comes cessation of the six sense bases…. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering.”


"Consciousness" is a broad term with many different contexts. The vinnana following sankhara in the DO formula is the kammic-consciousness/KammaVinnana, a connecting thread of personal continuity through sequence of rebirths, as described in the commentary to SN 22.3 (Ven. Bodhi's footnote in "The Connected Discourses"):

I follow the reading of the text in Se and Ee, rūpadhāturāgavinibaddhaṃ , also supported by Spk (Be), as against Be -vinibandhaṃ. Spk resolves the compound, rūpadhātumhi rāgena vinibaddhaṃ, and explains this consciousness as the kammic consciousness (kammaviññāṇa). The passage confirms the privileged status of consciousness among the five aggregates. While all the aggregates are conditioned phenomena marked by the three characteristics, consciousness serves as the connecting thread of personal continuity through the sequence of rebirths. This ties up with the idea expressed at 12:38-40 that consciousness is the persisting element in experience that links together the old existence with the new one. The other four aggregates serve as the “stations for consciousness” (viññāṇaṭṭhitiyo; see 22:53-54). Even consciousness, however, is not a self-identical entity but a sequence of dependently arisen occasions of cognizing; see MN I 256-60.

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