How does Dependent Origination work

Short overview of The twelve links of Dependent Origination:

Ignorance – Not understanding the Four Noble Truths

Formations – verbal, mental and physical



Six Sense Base





Being / Habitual Tendencies


Aging and Death – the entire mass of suffering

Dependent Origination in ordinary people

With Ignorance as condition, the Formations that arise are already fettered with craving and sense of self. With these Formations as condition, Consciousness that arises, is taken to be “mine” and then the six Sense base is also taken to be “mine.”

The Mentality-Materiality link is where concepts take hold, and one is then identifying the sense of self with those concepts, checking through the self and other, or the world. The world is made to be experienced through the senses, with Mentality-Materiality as the operating system.

When anything is experienced through the six Senses, Contact arises. When Contact arises, Feeling and sense Consciousness arise. Now, even before the Craving of “I am”, one has already considered self in the Senses, Contact, Feeling and Consciousness. Thus, this produces a painful or pleasurable feeling to “me”.

 Going back to the Feeling; this identification of that Feeling is Craving.

 The Clinging aspect is where self has now taken complete hold. Here, one “owns” the feeling and will not let it go. This is an instinctual grasping, that causes one to become fully established in the sense of self. It is a result of a deep sense of survival, from where the illusory sense of Craving for Existence arises.

Bhava [Being; Becoming; Habitual Tendencies] is the establishment in that illusion. It is the storing up of experiences that stick to a mis-perceived sense of self. It is the sense of comfort that exists for, and in, the delusion of self. Here, Kamma ripens.

For example, one eats chocolate ice cream. One craves it by identifying with it, by liking it. It pleases “me”. Now, one has grasped onto that Feeling and made chocolate ice cream a part of the self, of an identity. Here, if one is given anything other than chocolate ice cream, one is not fully satisfied as the self would see it. This is Bhava. These are the Habitual Tendencies where self has taken hold, and is then Born through an action, words or thought, causing suffering to the self. 

 Bhava is the reactionary aspect of self that causes Kamma.

Dependent Origination in a fully Awakened being

With Ignorance destroyed, no tainted Formations arise. Consciousness occurs without Craving or self. Nama-rūpa [Mentality-Materiality] has become reformatted as it were, to use the OS analogy. Here, the Senses are pure. When then the Feeling arises, it is taken to be an occurrence, and not belonging to a self. Thus, Craving cannot occur. Craving gone, how can one Cling? When one doesn’t Cling, how could any self become established? With no reaction occurring in Bhava, Kamma cannot stick. Suffering cannot take hold.

The pure Mind of the Arahant

In such a mind, there is pure occurring. Pure action, void of self. Tendencies have been rooted out, because Ignorance has been uprooted. This whole mass of suffering has been seen, and its machinery has been seen. How then can one continue to see self, or permanence in anything?  Here, Bhava can no longer have an establishment. Hence, there is the birthless. Hence, there is the deathless. Hence, there is the Unconditioned, Nibbana.

Category: Sutta Explanations
Tags: 6 Sense doors, arahant, attachment, Consciousness, Defilements, delusion, Formations, Four Noble Truths, Kamma, Nibbana, Perception, rebirth, sutta, Three Characteristics, wisdom