Paṭilōma Paṭicca Samuppāda – Key to Nibbāna

March 15, 2019; revised January 10, 2021

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

Introduction

1. Just before his Enlightenment, the Buddha figured 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 own thought processes (saṅkhāra) based on the level of avijjā (ignorance of the real 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) in order 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 quite familiar with how suffering originates with 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 just go backwards: 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).
  • In fact, if one really contemplates on this process, one can get some deep insights.
Nirōdha Means “Stop From Arising” – Not Destruction of an Existing Entity

4. It is quite clear that in order to stop “the whole mass of suffering”, one MUST stop each of those 10 factors (jāti, bhava,upādāna,  taṇhā, vedanā, phassa, saḷāyatana, nāmarūpa, viññāṇa, and saṅkhāra) from arising.

  • Thus one can clearly 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 in order to stop future suffering from arising we must stop those 10 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 in particular 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 discuss briefly 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 lead 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 at, “Viññāna Aggregate“.

9. Another confusing step could be “nāmarūpa paccayā salāyatana“, where “salāyatana” or “six āyatana” are normally 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 use 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 sense inputs are evaluated with a defiled mind, one generates “mind-made vēdanā” or “samphassa jā vēdanā“. These are greedy, angry, jealous, types of vēdanā generated due to the defilements in the mind.

  • Such “defiled and mind-made vēdanā” are 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 the 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 explained in detail in the post, “Vēdanā (Feelings) Arise in Two Ways“.

12. The next 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 jāti originate via abhisaṅkhāra (one’s own 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 own abhisaṅkhāra. We are humans in this life because of good abhisaṅkhāra cultivated in a previous life.
  • If we do bad (or apuñña) abhisaṅkhāra in this life, we may be born as animal 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, there in no birth in the 31 realms that can bring a permanent state of happiness. Any Deva or Brahma existence will come to an end, and then one could be 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. In the “Living Dhamma” section there is an attempt to provide a systematic approach to learn and practice Buddha Dhamma (of course, with more details in other sections).

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