BUDDHIST WHEEL OF EXISTENCE
The Psychology of Confusion and the Path of Liberation

The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination

Understanding dependent origination – namely, that all phenomena of both samsara and nirvana are nothing but illusory appearances that manifest interdependently – will bring freedom from deceptive beliefs about reality. Establishing that our perceptions of reality are dependent constructions dispels the notion of a solid reality. Moreover, seeing how our attitudes and actions contribute to these constructions creates a motivational basis for ethical action as the conditions for a good, and ultimately, meaningful life.

Past Life
Present Life Past Linked
Present Life Future Linked
Future Life
1

Ignorance (avidya)
Image: A blind person with a stick blundering forward, unable to find the way.
Symbol:
Lack of insight into reality manifested in actions of body, speech, mind.
Meaning:
This symbolizes the innate ignorance of confusion which imputes a solid reality upon appearances. This is the basis for the mistaken belief in a true self and other.

2

Mental Formations (samskaras)
Image: A potter shaping clay objects.
Symbol: Deliberate activities akin to those that shape life and daily existence. Also called Volitional Actions or Karmic Formations.
Meaning: Based on the belief in a true ‘I’ there follows mental inclinations, leading to actions that produce either pleasant, painful, or neutral experiences.

3
Consciousness (vijana)
Image: A monkey in a tree restlessly scampering about picking fruit at random.
Symbol: Uncontrolled sense-consciousness jumping from one object to the next.
Meaning: Consciousness as a continuity of actions has two aspects, the moment of causal action and the moment of resulting experience.

4

Name and Form (nama-rupa)
Image: Two people in a boat, a third steering.
Symbol:
Human psychological and physical elements are dependent and inseparable. Together they float on the stream of existence.
Meaning: Name refers to the four aggregates that constitute a sense of individual identity – feeling, perception, conditioning factors, and consciousness, while form refers to the physical form.

5

Six Senses (shadayana)
Image:
A house with five windows and one door.
Symbol:
The windows represent the five senses and the door the mind. These are the organs by which the outer world is perceived.
Meaning:
These are the five faculties of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, as well as the mental faculty.

6

Contact (sparsha)
Image: A man and woman embracing.
Symbol: The senses are making contact with the wworld. The mind and body interact in sensual perception.
Meaning:
The meeting of the senses and their objects, producing the experience of phenomena.

7

Feeling (vedana)
Image: A man with an arrow in his eye.
Symbol: The swiftness and accuracy of the arrow symbolizes the power of outer reality making powerful contact with inner reality.
Meaning: The feelings of pleasure, displeasure, or neutrality arising when objects are encountered.

8

Craving (trashna)
Image: A man eating and drinking.
Symbol:
Illustrates desire stimulated by perception and emotions that lead more attachment to the world of appearances.
Meaning: Subsequent to feeling there is the desire to experience pleasure and avoid displeasure.

9

Grasping (upadana)
Image: A person plucking fruit from a tree.
Symbol: Desire for the fruit leads the person to climbing the tree and grasping for the fruit. The fruit represents impermanent matter.
Meaning: The impulse to seize the desired object once craving arises.

10

Becoming (bhava)
Image: A woman moving towards her lover, sometimes a pregnant woman.
Symbol: The action symbolizes bringing into existence, continuation and sensation.
Meaning: A new existence arises as a result of craving and grasping.

11

Birth (jati)
Image: A woman about to or giving birth.
Symbol: Birth arises from becoming. It is the beginning of the suffering. Birth is a metaphor for all new arisings, mental or physical.
Meaning: Due to the above causes and conditions, consciousness takes birth in one of the six realms.

12

Old Age and Death (jara-marana)
Image: A man carrying a wrapped up corpse.
Symbol: Old age and death are the inevitable consequences of being born.
Meaning: When the causes and conditions that sustain the physical form are exhausted, death occurs. Yet, as long as there is still ignorance, these links continue to inter-dependently perpetuate samsara and its sufferings.