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.