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When it is said in dependent origination that "sankhara conditions consciousness", in what way and how does sankhara condition consciousness?

And also, how is consciousness conditioning nama rupa? And then nama rupa conditions salayatana again how?

Also, nama rupa -- I have heard many different descriptions of what it is, so i would be happy if someone could give the right meaning of nama rupa.

Going back to "sankhara conditions consciousness", what consciousness are they refering to -- is it the pure consciousness or limited consciousness?

And how can avidja or ignorance and sankhara come before consciousness in dependent origination (because i must first be conscious before i can have ignorance and do sankharas!)?

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  • 1
    This question was asked very well, which made it very easy to answer. Aug 15 '19 at 1:12
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+25

D.O. is a deep topic that is very hard to understand. Even when someone claims that they understand it, you should take their answer with a VERY BIG grain of salt.

In theory my understanding "could" be wrong too. In my defense, I have specifically studied this topic for years, going over much literature, both in Pali Canon and in Mahayana. I also took into account the (written down) verbal teachings of renowned teachers in the Kagyu lineage.

One thing that is absolutely clear to me is the overall high-level meaning of D.O. Overall D.O. is about gradual emergence of differentiated experience, that is, arising of a subjective experience of a world consisting of separate objects and a "self" acting in the world in pursuit of its objectives. This is clear to me as day, and confirmed by many, many texts and teachers.

It is 100% clear to me that the part of DO from Ignorance to Namarupa speaks about arising of the overall sense of the world, and then the rest of D.O. from the Six Sense Doors speaks about arising of the sense of self.

Now let's zoom in on "arising of the overall sense of the world".

This part is "pretty clear" to me. Not "clear as day" but not "I'm guessing" either. The overall mechanism is as follows:

First, there is accumulation of sankharas. Roughly speaking, in modern terms we can say there is accumulation of patterns or tendencies. Meaning, when similar things happen again and again, they add-up and their results tend to accumulate. (You see, this sounds very abstract, almost impossible to follow - and that's the problem with D.O. This why Buddha said it was deep and hard to grasp. You must be in a certain mindstate to be able to focus and understand it.)

Once enough patterns have accumulated, from these patterns arises ability to recognize and anticipate. This is vijnana or basic consciousness - recognizing and anticipating things as they happen.

Once there is recognizing and anticipating develops enough, there emerge the notions of individual "things". These are namarupa, distinct delineated objects.

Overall this seems clear enough. I definitely understand the overall mechanism, what's left to be clarified are the details of the process and the exact definition of terms used in the old texts.

When it is said in dependent origination that "sankhara conditions consciousness", in what way and how does sankhara condition consciousness?

Sankhara condition consciousness in the sense that the accumulation of tendencies or repeated patterns is what grows or develops into consciousness. The consciousness literally emerges from sankharas, so whatever shapes and forms that those patterns and tendencies have, is what's going to become the shape and form of consciousness. In this sense, accumulation of certain sankharas is the force that shapes or conditions the emerging consciousness.

And also, how is consciousness conditioning nama rupa?

Consciousness was defined above as basic ability to recognize and anticipate phenomena as they happen. It is very important (critical!) to understand that phenomena are not inherently separate from each other, not inherently delineated. Instead, delineation emerges gradually, as a result of accumulation of sankharas and development of the ability to recognize. Clear delineation of objects is culmination of development of consciousness. The process is kinda cyclical: the more sankharas accumulate, the better the ability to recognize, the clearer the consciousness -- and as the consciousness gets clearer, it gets better at discernment/delineation, and so the objects become more well-defined, enabling more meaningful activity, which in turn helps new sankharas to accumulate even faster. The process automatically supports and feeds itself forward.

And then namarupa conditions salayatana again how?

As I understand, delineation of objects enables delineation of "outer" vs "inner" (that vs this). Salayatana (literally "Six Doors") is a phase when this separation of outer vs inner begins to emerge. This part is less clear to me.

Also, nama rupa -- I have heard many different descriptions of what it is, so i would be happy if someone could give the right meaning of nama rupa.

As with any explanation of D.O. there is no consensus among on what Namarupa means. The Pali Canon literalists keep on quoting the suttas that define "nama" as "mental" and "rupa" as physical, combining together to form the whole person. As you can see from above, my understanding is completely different. I think namarupas are our ideas of distinct entities or objects, "identified forms" or "names-and-forms". You can search this site for dedicated questions focusing specifically on namarupa.

Going back to "sankhara conditions consciousness", what consciousness are they refering to -- is it the pure consciousness or limited consciousness?

As you can see from my explanation above, it is the discriminating consciousness is what's meant here, the tainted consciousness that naively assumes its experience of the world-of-objects to be the reality of how things are.

And how can avidja or ignorance and sankhara come before consciousness in dependent origination (because i must first be conscious before i can have ignorance and do sankharas!)?

Not at all. Ignorance refers to the lack of differentiation. Imagine some kind of computer-based vision system before it was trained to recognize objects. This is basically what ignorance is. Once it accumulates enough data (sankhara) it can recognize (vijnana) objects and label them (namarupa).

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    This is great Andrei and makes me want to study D.O. more. Feb 7 '20 at 17:34
  • It's a cool topic. There's a reason the Buddha called it the gist of Dharma.
    – Andrei Volkov
    Feb 7 '20 at 18:17
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[1] "When it is said in dependent origination that 'sankhara conditions consciousness', in what way and how does sankhara condition consciousness?"

This question is answered by better understanding of the terms themselves:

When it is said in the Paticca Samuppada (rebounding conjuration) that "sankhāra paṭicca viññāṇa" (own-making results in consciousness - (which should be thought of as 'sense-consciousness'), in what way and how does identification with the intent to create personal experience of pleasure through acts of thought, word, and deed, (sankhāra = own-making, for short) and the resulting identified-with experiences result in consciousness?

It cannot be answered in the way requested. You are asking about the mysteries of creation. The Paṭicca Samuppada is not about the details of the creative process or cause and effect as it is so often stated. It is about association and the forces driving such association. It is not that Sankhāra conditions anything, it is that own-making is identification with (the conscious thought that a thing is or belongs to one's self) the object so created.

Do this: Think about standing up. Then stand up. The world you experience standing is now the world you are identifying with and you are conscious thereof. This is not about how it worked, it is about the fact that it happens when you combine various elements. Intent and act.

Make a cup of tea. That requires a cup, tea, water, a pot to boil water, a source of heat, and the effort of a man and virtually the entire universe in back of that. The effort of a man without tea would not cause a cup of tea. Tea itself cannot create a cup of tea. The same thing can be said of any individual ingrediant. A cup requires clay and a wheel and a kiln ... etc. No single element is the cause of a cup of tea appearing in one's world. We cannot know all about how the ingrediants resulted in the cup of tea, but we can know that with the conjunction of the basic ingrediants, they do, and also that there is preventing the process by the elimination of one or another essential: the tea, the water, the effort.

[2] "And also, how is consciousness conditioning nama rupa? And then nama rupa conditions salayatana again how?"

And also, how does consciousness result in named-forms? And then named-forms result in the six-realms-of-sense?

Again, asking how is not helpful. Accepting the fact when the terms are clear is helpful.

Consciousness does not condition nama-rupa. Consciousness (really 'sense-consciousness') results when there is a conjunction of object and its identification, with consciousness thereof. (Think of consciousness as an element - one of the six great elements, not something unique to your brain, but something that arises in association with formation of named objects. To end kamma or pain, we do not need to know 'how'; we need to know that it happens and that to stop it from happening we must in some way stop the conjunction of consciousness with consciousness of named-forms.

The second part of your question is answered in the same way. Consciousness of named forms is consciousness of sense experience or the experience of the six realms of sense. Again, 'how' is not helpful; seeing the fact and realizing that the job is to end the association is the job at hand, not understanding the process.

[3] "Also, nama rupa -- I have heard many different descriptions of what it is, so i would be happy if someone could give the right meaning of nama rupa."

The meaning of nama-rupa is: named-shape or form. Every existing object is the result of consciousness of a named-shape, even thoughts.

There is a sort of riddle found in 'The 10 Questions' question #2:
http://buddhadust.net/dhamma-vinaya/pts/an/10_tens/an10.028.wood.pts.htm
"What is 2?" The answer is: "There is nama and there is rupa". The idea here is to see that by thoroughly understanding just these two things in their broadest and deepest nature, seeing them as they are as transient, painful and not-self, dukkha, or pain can be eliminated. All existing things are nama/rupas or combinations of them.

[4] "Going back to "sankhara conditions consciousness", what consciousness are they refering to -- is it the pure consciousness or limited consciousness?"

Answered above: "Identified-with personal experience of sense-consciousness."

And how can avidja or ignorance and sankhara come before consciousness in dependent origination (because i must first be conscious before i can have ignorance and do sankharas!)?

The PS is not a ladder as Rhys Davids would have it whether a three stage one or a single path. Neither is it a circle. It goes round and round. The Buddha tells us that there is no known beginning to personal experience, so it is natural that in pointing out how to stop the process, a fully developed being is postulated as the beginning of the method for detachment.

Think about it. The Buddha is telling you of a way to escape the pains of existence, kamma. That 'you' that he is instructing is a fully developed existing being. Where else would you start? This is about you, now, escaping kamma, now. It is not some theory to be pondered in the ivory tower.

One of the benefits of this system is the freedom from the question: "How? How?"

You would be well advised to read the several translations of Digha Nikaya 15: The Mahā Nidāna sutta paying special attention to the part where the Buddha states that it is only in-so-far as there is a conjunction of consciousness with named forms that it is possible to speak of an existing being.

You can find several translations of this sutta here:
http://buddhadust.net/backmatter/indexes/sutta/dn/idx_digha_nikaya.htm#p15

My say.

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When it is said in dependent origination sankhara conditions conciousness in what way and how does sankhara condition consciousness

If you use hair shampoo & hair conditioner, this conditions your hair so your hair becomes soft & shiny. It does not create your hair. It only conditions it.

enter image description here

In the same way, sankhara conditions consciousness so to make consciousness: (i) pre-occupied with & (ii) polluted/tainted/dirtied by; those ignorance sankharas.

For example, the Pali suttas refer to consciousness 'landing' on & getting 'involved with' objects, as follows:

As long as consciousness remains, it would remain involved with form (feeling, perception, sankhara, consciousness), supported by form, founded on form. And with a sprinkle of relishing, it would grow, increase, and mature.

SN 22.53

Also, imagine consciousness is like a clear window and sankharas are like dust & dirt on the window.

For example, you try to meditate and watch your breathing but you cannot because distracting thoughts keep arising and all your mind is conscious of is those distracting thoughts.

Those distracting thoughts are 'sankhara' and they condition consciousness by causing consciousness to become pre-occupied or involved with those sankharas; as well as tainted/soiled by those sankharas.

and also how is conciousness conditioning nama rupa (also nama rupa I have heard many different descriptions of what it is so i would be happy if someone could give the right meaning of nama rupa)

The Buddhist (redefined) meaning of nama-rupa is mentality-materiality or mind-body. It is not 'name-form' (which is Brahminism). Consciousness conditions nama-rupa when consciousness remains pre-occupied with ignorant sankharas therefore the nama-rupa also becomes affected by those ignorant sankharas and gives inappropriate attention to those sankharas and forms intentions that incline with the power/direction of those sankharas.

The Pali suttas (MN 9; SN 12.2, etc) define nama-rupa as feeling, perception, intention, contact, attention and the physical form composed of the four elements of earth, wind, fire & water.

Therefore, when consciousness is conscious of a sankhara; what happens is nama then feels, perceives, has contact with and makes intentions towards and gives attention inappropriately to those sankhras.

Also, the body (rupa) is affected by those sankharas. The body becomes agitated and moved by those sankharas; such as when a person cannot control their bodily movements when the urge of an addiction arises. In this picture, the lady is trying to control the inner urges controlling her nama-rupa; to give up the ignorant choice and make the wise choice; but the ignorant choice is tormenting her nama-rupa, inwardly:

enter image description here

Its not rocket science. Just look inside.

and then nama rupa conditons salayatana again how??

When nama-rupa inclines or is enslaved with the power/direction of those sankharas, then the salayata also incline and become activated by the power of those ignorant sankharas.

The picture below shows bulging eyes, which are salayata conditioned by ignorant sankharas. The nama-rupa (mind-body) of the men are also aroused by the ignorant sankharas.

enter image description here

For example, an ignorant sankhara may arise of wanting to eat chocolate. This causes the salayatana to become aroused to look for chocolate, such as to walk to the cupboard or fridge to look for, hold and eat chocolate.

Going back to sankhara conditions consciousness what conciousness are they refering to is it the pure conciousness or limited conciousness and how can avidja or ignorance and sankhara come before conciousness in dependent origination because i must first be concious before i can have ignorance and do sankharas??

Consciousness in Dependent Origination is defined as the six types of consciousness (MN 9; SN 12.2, etc). However, this is merely a general explanatory principle, because the Buddha is listing 12 conditions that may not arise in that exact order. However, what is certain is what I explained previously, above, namely, the whenever ignorant sankhara arises then mind-consciousness (mano-vinnana) will become pre-occupied with those ignorant mental sankharas.

Its only later, when eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, etc, may arise, because there must be an 'external' object for the arising of these consciousnesses.

But 'sankhara' in dependent origination as an 'internal' object therefore the arising of the internal (mind or body) consciousness will occur after the arising of the sankhara.


While more complicated, sankhara also includes the breathing, which is called 'kaya-sankhara'. When the mind has concentration, it can be aware of the breathing in meditation. Sometimes in concentrated meditation, an ignorant impulse can arise and be felt in the breathing. If this occurs, the consciousness knowing the breathing affected by an ignorant impulse is both body-consciousness (which knows the breathing) & mind-consciousness (which feels any mental quality of that impulse).



In conclusion, it is not rocket science, if you have a determined meditation effort to examine internally what the Buddha taught. But if you wish to learn something from a book, it will never be truly understood.

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The five grasping aggregates are circular in their conditioning.

SN12.65:2.16: ‘When name and form exist there’s consciousness. Name and form are a condition for consciousness.’

Grasped in ignorance, the aggregates grow through craving as described in detail by dependent origination. With ignorance, hypotheses sprout like weeds (e.g., "she like me, likes me not") and consciousness emerges to deal with all the hypotheses. Names and forms also emerge (e.g., "my hair should be like this, my clothes like that"). The ensuring suffering leads to more hypotheses, etc. It's the hook of intermittent reinforcement.

SN12.23:8.1: In the same way, ignorance is a vital condition for choices. … Freedom is a vital condition for the knowledge of ending.”

Abandoning ignorance, the aggregates freely operate on their own without choices. There is awareness of disparity of look without any personal attachment. With ignorance, one might be limited to consciousness of fashion. Without ignorance, one would be purely conscious that donning a jacket is sensible on a cold day.

Lastly, ignorance and sankhara precede consciousness because consciousness grows to deal with and address the grasping of "I want something". The purpose of consciousness is to make choices. Limited consciousness grasps. Pure consciousness lets go.

The Noble Eightfold Path is conditioned, grasping at the end of suffering, we learn to let go.

DN33:1.11.200: They live without wishes in the present life, extinguished, cooled, experiencing bliss, having become holy in themselves.

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Sankhara has the seed to attached a future experience. For this to happen you need consciousness. For consciousness to arise you need a being which is nama-rupa. A being automatically gets sense bases without one cannot experience.

This is like a painting canvas. Without the canvas, there cannot be painting in thin air. Likewise, consciousness cannot exist without nama-rupa. Nama-rupa always gives rise to sense bases. When there are sense bases there will always be contact.

Nama-rupa is mind and body of a being (Satta).

Sankara is created due to the need to experience, which intern gives rise to conciusness to experiance the external world though the faculties.

Having, ignorance is what relates conditioning or Sankhara. Without ignorance, one will not create Sankhara.

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Many thanks for these brilliant questions.

Through careful introspective mindfulness, the practitioner will note that consciousness can never be found. All that can ever be known are objects of consciousness. Consciousness can only be understood. With this clarity, consciousness can be seen to be the result of observing objects. Without objects, there can be no consciousness.

Thus consciousness is the result of an object, a process dependant on the act of observation. That is to say, an activity. This activity is a process, though this process in and of itself knows nothing about its own intrinsic nature. Not only can it be said to be ignorant, but additionally, the corresponding consciousness does not know this either and takes no account of it, focusing instead on its object of awareness.

If Nama-Rupa is understood as Subject-Object it follows logically from consciousnesses dependance on an object.

Nama-rupa conditions salayatana in the sense that salayatana is dependant on nama-rupa. Salayatana differentiates the objects of Nama-Rupa and in this way is dependant.

An object arising within the field of a sense base gives rise to a stimulus or activity. This activity, without knowing, enables consciousness to manifest. This consciousness is limited to its object and is of six types corresponding to the appropriate sense base.

Avidja and Sankara come before the next or some future arising of consciousness. The currently running consciousness of a stream-winner can indeed discern avidja and corresponding subtle sensations or activities through the diligent practice of mindfulness.

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To better understand your main question… (in what way and how does sankhara condition consciousness?) we have to get to know what ”paccayā” means in sankhāra paccayā viññāna. It means “with sankhārā as condition viññāna arise.” – that is… without suitable CONDITIONS, causes (kamma) cannot automatically bring results (vipāka). Thus SUITABLE CONDITIONS must be present for causes to bring about corresponding effects. That is what paccayā means. In the Doctrine of Conditioned Arising or Dependent Origination (Paṭiccasamuppāda – [PS] ). The Buddha showed that all such volitional constructs were conditioned by ignorance of the reality behind appearance. For sankhārā as condition, viññāna to arise, there are 24 “paccayā” or “conditions” that causes the effect to materialize.

For you to know these 24 conditions, you must refer to books such as the Vibhanga-Prakaranaya, Pattāna-Prakaranaya and Patisambhidhā Magga Prakaranaya. They are all prakarana books that were compiled during the First Dhamma Council, edited, reorganized, and assigned as a segment of the Abhidhamma. Prakarana books discuss only the pure deep dhamma (abhidhamma) which is taken apart and broken down for easy comprehension but excludes the usual narratives, anecdotes, examples and model stories.

Of the 24 conditions, 16 conditions are found in the Akusala Mǔla Paticca Samuppāda Dhamma (that leads to suffering). The other eight conditions are found in the Kusala Mǔla Paticca Samuppāda Dhamma.

  1. hētu paccayā - the root cause must always be satisfied. all karmically wholesome and unwholesome mental states are entirely dependent on the simultaneity and presence of their respective roots.
  2. ārammana-paccaya - as object, forms the condition for consciousness and mental phenomena. Thus for example the physical object of sight consisting in colour and light ('light-wave'), is the necessary condition and the sine qua non for the arising of eye-consciousness (cakkhu-viññāna).
  3. adhipathi-paccaya - Predominance-condition is the term for 4 things. namely: concentrated intention (chanda), energy (viriya), consciousness (citta) and investigation (vīmamsā).
  4. anantara paccayā - for example the presence a seed (to germinate) - “An” means food or in this case the kamma seed; “antara” means in storage, waiting to bear fruit.
  5. samanantara paccayā - for example the presence fertile soil (to germinate). Thus all potential kamma seeds are waiting in annantara and can bring about instant results when right conditions (samanantara) appear.
  6. sahajāta-paccaya - Co-nascence condition i.e. condition by way of simultaneous arising, is a phenomenon that for another one forms, a condition in such a way that, simultaneously with its arising, also the other thing must arise. Each of the 4 physical elements (solid, liquid, heat, motion) is such a condition for the other 3 elements.
  7. aññamañña paccayā – can be taken as “forward and backward condition” or Condition by way of mutuality.
  8. nissaya-paccaya - Support-condition; phenomenon which is aiding other phenomena in the manner of a foundation or base, just as the trees have the earth as their foundation.
  9. upanissaya-paccaya - can be taken as 'decisive support' or 'inducement' by way of object, by way of proximity, and natural decisive support. Evil things, by wrong thinking about them, become an inducement to immoral life; by right thinking, an inducement to moral life. Faith, virtue, etc., produced in one's own mind, or the influence of climate, food, etc., on one's body and mind, may act as natural and decisive support-conditions.
  10. purejāta-paccaya - Pre-nascence-condition refers to something previously arisen, which forms a base for something arising later on.
  11. pacchājāta-paccaya - Post-nascence-condition refers to consciousness and the phenomena therewith associated, because they are - just as is the feeling of hunger- a necessary condition for the preservation of this already arisen body.
  12. āsevana paccaya” - Asevana means to “associate with”. Or as in learning by heart, through constant repetition, the later recitation becomes gradually easier and easier.
  13. kamma-paccaya - Kamma-condition is the generating condition (cause) of the 5 sense-organs, the fivefold sense-consciousness, and the other karma-produced mental and corporeal phenomena in a later birth.
  14. vipaka-paccaya - The kamma-resultant 5 kinds of sense-consciousness are a condition by way of karma-result for the co-nascent mental and corporeal phenomena.
  15. ahāra paccaya - For the 4 nutriments… for example food for viññāna.
  16. indriya-paccaya - Faculty-condition.
  17. jhāna-paccaya - Jhāna-condition.
  18. magga-paccaya - Path-condition.
  19. sampayutta-paccaya - Association-condition.
  20. vippayutta-paccaya - Dissociation-condition.
  21. atthi-paccaya - Presence-condition.
  22. natthi-paccaya - Absence-condition.
  23. igata-paccaya - Disappearance-condition.
  24. avigata-paccaya - Non-disappearance-condition.

Yo paticca samuppādan passati, so dhamman passati is Buddha Dhamma. (Yo paticca samuppādan passati = Yo -any; paticca- strong mental urge (for liking and disliking); samuppādan= sam + uppādan; sam – rāga, dvesha and moha tendencies; uppādan – arising; passati –gain precise knowledge by experiencing it penetratively; so – one who goes through this; dhamman – dhamma; passati – gains precise knowledge by experiencing it penetratively).

I have not gone into detail of the Kusala Mǔla Paticca Samuppāda Dhamma part – the last 8 points above. We live at a time when wisdom (dhamma gñana) is in short supply, the Kusalamǔla paticca samuppāda dhamma, as elucidated in the Vibhangaprakarana book of the Tripitaka dhamma, is today concealed and has became dormant. Buddhagosa, when writing Visuddhi Magga, admitted that he did not have the knowledge or accurate comprehension of paticca samuppāda dhamma and attempted to interpret only the akusalamǔla paticca samuppāda dhamma.

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First need to understand, " awareness"::
that which makes one able to act/react/response such that "nirodha" occurs.

Dukkha:: arose due to birth of itself(dukkha).

birth:: arose due to "happenings" of certain conditions and causes.

happening:: arose due to excess of OR sufficient of fuel to such process OR such state of happening leading to such causes & conditions.

fuel to such:: arose due to hold-on and desire for occurence of such processes.

hold-on & desire:: arose due to running along with OR eating sensations.

sensations:: arose due to contact between somethings.

contact:: "facilitated" by sense bases.

sense base:: arose due to causes and conditions of accumulation of certain energy states which later "be-come" to take "form".

accumulation --> form:: arose due to conciousness OR tendency of energy to distinguish, categorize various energies as different by their properties.

conciousness OR ten•••:: arose due to accumulation of finest possible energy states with properties.

accumulation of energy:: due to un-awareness.

Note:: there seems to be a linear relation but it is actually a graphical relation between these.
For eg. un-awareness plays role at sankhara and conciousness level both.

It is due to un-awareness that energy considers "various energies" to be different from itself...... leading to the arise of various self-contradictory perceptions also(now, this consciousness is related with perception too).

No confusion, hmm!
(see ya all later)

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