Paṭilōma Paṭicca Samuppāda – Key to Nibbāna

Paṭiōma Paṭicca Samuppāda is the “reverse of the standard Akusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda process. That means it is the way to Nibbāna.

March 15, 2019; revised January 10, 2021; December 23, 2022


1. Just before his Enlightenment, the Buddha figured out how beings are born endlessly due to their own way of thinking. That knowledge is embedded in Paṭicca Samuppāda, translated as “Dependent Origination.”

  • It describes the origins of different types of living beings according to their thought processes (saṅ­khā­ra) based on the level of avijjā (ignorance of the fundamental nature).
  • Anulōma Paṭicca Samuppāda describes the forward progression of events leading to eventual suffering. Paṭiōma Paṭicca Samuppāda describes the backward progression to see that, indeed, avijjā must be removed (by cultivating wisdom or paññā) to stop future suffering from arising.
Anulōma Paṭicca Samuppāda and Paṭiōma Paṭicca Samuppāda

2. “Paṭha­ma­ Bodhi Sutta (Udāna 1.1)” and “Dutiya ­Bodhi Sutta (Udāna 1.2)” state how the Buddha comprehended anulōma and patilōma Paṭicca Samuppāda during the night of the Enlightenment.

  • Most people are familiar with how suffering originates with the saṅ­khā­ra generation due to the ignorance of the Four Noble Truths (avijjā), and then go through the familiar steps: “avijjāpaccayā saṅkhārā, saṅ­khā­ra­pac­cayā viññāṇaṃ, ..and ends with “.. Evametassa kevalassa duk­khak­khan­dhassa samudayo hotī” ti OR “the whole mass of suffering.”
Paṭiōma Paṭicca Samuppāda

3. It is also important to trace the steps backwards and see how future suffering can be stopped by cultivating paññā: “avijjānirodhā saṅ­khā­ra­nirodho, saṅ­khā­ra­nirodhā viññāṇanirodho, viññāṇanirodhā nāmarūpa­nirodho, nāmarūpa­nirodhā saḷāya­tana­nirodho, saḷāya­tana­nirodhā phassanirodho, phassanirodhā vedanānirodho, vedanānirodhā taṇhānirodho, taṇhānirodhā upādānanirodho, upādānanirodhā bhavanirodho, bhavanirodhā jātinirodho, jātinirodhā jarāmaraṇaṃ soka­pari­deva­duk­kha­do­manas­supāyāsā nirujjhanti. Evametassa kevalassa duk­khak­khan­dhassa nirodho hotī’ti.

  • By stopping jāti, it is possible to stop suffering from arising (at the end).  Now we go backward: Jati (births) stopped by stopping bhava, which is stopped by stopping upādāna,  taṇhā, vedanā, phassa, saḷāya­tana, nāmarūpa, viññāṇa, and saṅ­khā­ra. When one gets to the first step: saṅ­khā­ra cannot be stopped from arising without eliminating avijjā (and thus getting rid of ALL gati).
  • If one contemplates this process, one can get some profound insights.
Nirōdha Means “Stop From Arising” – Not Destruction of an Existing Entity

4. It is clear that to stop “the whole mass of suffering,” one MUST stop each of those ten factors (jāti, bhava,upādāna,  taṇhā, vedanā, phassa, saḷāya­tana, nāmarūpa, viññāṇa, and saṅ­khā­ra) from arising.

  • Thus one can see that nirōdha means “stop from arising.”
  • One can also see that can be done ONLY by removing avijjā, which is the same as cultivating paññā.
  • The removal of avijjā (and cultivation of paññā) is done by following the Eightfold path, which has two components; see, for example, “What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma?“. There are no shortcuts!

5. We concluded in #4 above that to stop future suffering from arising, we must stop those ten terms from arising. This appears not to make sense with some of those terms when we try to reconcile that with the fact that an Arahant has stopped those from arising.

  • In particular, one could object that vēdanā, phassa, viññāna, and saṅ­khā­ra still arise in a LIVING Arahant.
  • As I have explained in many posts scattered throughout the website (especially in the “Paṭicca Samuppāda” section), those terms are in the “uddēsa” version. This is explained in detail in the post, “Sutta – Introduction“.
  • Let us briefly discuss a few of those terms.
Need for Detailed Explanations

6. Basically all current English translations just provide word-by-word translations of that “uddēsa version” without any explanation. For example, the English translation of the first sutta in #1 above states, “..because of consciousness: mind and body, because of mind and body: the six sense spheres, because of the six sense spheres: contact, because of contact: feeling, because of feeling… because of continuation: birth, because of birth: old age, death, grief, lamentation, pain, sorrow, and despair all arise, and so there is an origination of this whole mass of suffering.”.; see, “The First Discourse about the Awakening Tree (UD 1.1)“.

  • According to the second sutta, all those terms (consciousness, six senses, contact, feeling) should not arise in an Arahant!
  • Furthermore, it is not clear what is meant by “continuation” (for bhava), which leads to jāti (births) and thus “this whole mass of suffering”.
Detailed Explanations of Terms in Paṭicca Samuppāda

7. For example, the step, “avijjā paccayā saṅ­khā­ra” really should be “avijjā paccayā abhisaṅ­khā­ra“.

  • As is explained in the post, “Sankhāra – What It Really Means,” an Arahant generates saṅ­khā­ra, but NOT abhisaṅ­khā­ra.
  • It is such abhisaṅ­khā­ra that leads to future births and, thus, future suffering!

8. The next step is written in suttā as “saṅ­khā­ra paccayā viññāna,” and that is the uddēsa version.

  • It needs to be explained as “abhisaṅ­khā­ra paccayā viññāna” where viññāna means “defiled consciousness.”
  • An Arahant would have “purified viññāna” and NOT “defiled viññāna.” This is explained in “Viññāna Aggregate.”

9. Another confusing step could be “nāmarūpa paccayā salāyatana,” where “salāyatana” or “six āyatana” are typically translated as “six sense faculties.” Of course, a living Arahant has perfectly good sense faculties (indriya). 

  • Those six indriya (or sense faculties) become salāyatana when one acts with avijjā and uses them to accumulate “san“; see, “Nāmarūpa paccayā Salāyatana.”

10. In the next step of “salāyatana paccayā phassa,” it is really “salāyatana paccayā samphassa.” When those indriya are used as āyatana, one “makes contact with a defiled mind,” and that defiled contact is “samphassa” (“san” + “phassa“).

11. Now, when those sensory inputs are evaluated with a defiled mind, one generates “mind-made vēdanā” or “samphassa jā vēdanā“. These are greedy, angry, and jealous types of vēdanā generated due to the defilements in mind.

  • Such “defiled and mind-made vēdanā” is absent in an Arahant. An Arahant will, however, generate vēdanā due to the contacts with the six indriya.
  • For example, if someone hits an Arahant, he/she will feel pain. Spoiled milk would taste bitter, and a piece of cake would taste sweet, etc. But an Arahant would not generate angry thoughts about someone offering spoiled milk and would not generate cravings for the cake.
  • This is explained in detail in the post, “Vēdanā (Feelings) Arise in Two Ways.”

12. The subsequent confusion is at the step, “bhava paccayā jāti,” which is translated in #5 as “because of continuation: birth.”  I am not sure what is meant by “continuation” there.

Stopping Abhisaṅ­khā­ra Is the Key to Nibbāna

13. If one can spend some time reading those posts and the links given in them, one should be able to get a good idea of how different types of jāti originate via abhisaṅ­khā­ra (one’s thoughts).

  • The Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna is attained by getting rid of the wrong way of looking at one’s body (and actions) are due to an unchanging “soul.”
  • However, one’s bhava and jāti arise due to one’s abhisaṅ­khā­ra. We are humans in this life because of good abhisaṅ­khā­ra cultivated in a previous life.
  • If we do evil (or apuñña) abhisaṅ­khā­ra in this life, we may be born as animals or worse. If we do good (or puñña) abhisaṅ­khā­ra in this life, we may be born as devas, Brahmā, or humans again.
No Birth Among the 31 Realms Will Stop Suffering

14. However, no birth in the 31 realms can bring a permanent state of happiness. Any Deva or Brahma existence will end, and one could be subsequently born in the apāyās.

  • A permanent state of happiness (which means the absence of ANY suffering) is attained by stopping this never-ending rebirth process. That is the key message of the Buddha.
  • When one truly understands that, one has the “vision” of a Sōtapanna, i.e., one would have gotten rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi (and vicikiccā and silabbata parāmāsa all at the same time).
Further Information

15. More details can be found in the “Paṭicca Samuppāda” section. The “Living Dhamma” section attempts to provide a systematic approach to learning and practicing Buddha Dhamma (of course, with more details in other sections).

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