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

Ignorance (avidya)
Image: A blind person with a stick blundering forward, unable to find the way.
Lack of insight into reality manifested in actions of body, speech, mind.
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.


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.

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.


Name and Form (nama-rupa)
Image: Two people in a boat, a third steering.
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.


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


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.
The meeting of the senses and their objects, producing the experience of phenomena.


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.


Craving (trashna)
Image: A man eating and drinking.
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.


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.


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.


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.


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.