What Does “Paccaya” Mean in Paticca Samuppada?

Revised April 27, 2016

Before we start discussing the various forms of paticca samuppada (let us abbreviate it as PS), it is important to be clear about what is meant by “paccaya” (pronounced “pachchayä). This is fully explained in Pattäna Dhamma, and we will introduce the concept here.

1. The PS cycle starts as: “avijja paccaya sankhara, sankhara paccaya vinnana, vinnana paccaya nama rupa, nama rupa paccaya salayatana,….”.

  • And since PS describes the “cause and effect” in Buddha Dhamma, most people think “avijja paccaya sankhara” means “avijja causes sankhara” or “ignorance causes one to acts that generate bad kamma”.
  • Even an ordinary person has avijja, he/she will not ALWAYS act accordingly; most of the time, people act appropriately or morally. However, as long as avijja is there, it is LIKELY that at times one WILL act with avijja and do inappropriate or immoral things.
  • Similarly, many people think that “sankhara paccaya vinnana” means “sankhara causes vinnana” or “bad kamma lead to corresponding consciousness”, and so on down the whole PS cycle.

2. It will clarify a lot of things down the line if one understood that PS does not refer to a “direct link”: Just because we have done many bad kamma (sankhara) DOES NOT mean they ALL lead to kamma vipaka causing either a rebirth vinnana or a “pavutti vinnana” during a lifetime.

  • This was pointed out in item #5 in the previous post “Paticca Samuppada – Overview”. But in case the point was missed, I wanted to emphasize the point in this post.
  • Any effect must have a cause. But there can be possible causes without leading to any effects. Otherwise, Nibbana would not be possible. This needs some contemplation, and I will give some examples below.

3. The easiest way is to consider the following example: The causes for bringing up a new tree are embedded in a seed. But just because a seed is there, a tree is not going to appear. If the seed is kept in a cool, dry place, one could keep it that way for a long time. Or one could burn or crush the seed, and it will not bring up a tree.

  • In order for causes to bring about corresponding effects, SUITABLE CONDITIONS must be present. That is what paccaya means.
  • When such suitable conditions are present, causes WILL bring about corresponding effects. Thus when some effect is brought about, it is called “paccuppanna“, i.e., born (“uppanna“) via suitable conditions (“paccaya“); of course if the root causes must be there to begin with).
  • In the above example, if one plants that seed (cause) in a the ground and provides water, nutrients, and sun light (suitable conditions), then the seed could germinate and grow to a tree (effect or the result).

4. When causes are there, corresponding effects (results) are LIKELY if suitable conditions for the effects to take place. This is why kamma is not deterministic; see, “What is Kamma? – Is Everything Determined by Kamma?“.

  • However, the key point in PS is that the effect – IF AND WHEN IT HAPPENS – is in accordance with the cause, and also the cause was one’s own choosing: “pati ichcha” leading to “sama uppäda” or stated in a simple way: “when one gets attached, that leads to a new birth of similar characteristics”. If and when the causes bring forth the consequences, they will be of the corresponding nature.

5. It is not necessary to get into further details unless one is interested in “digging deeper”, but there are 24 “paccaya” or “conditions” that can actually cause the effect to materialize; these are called “Pattäna Dhamma“).

  • Let us briefly discuss three such paccaya, “hetu paccaya“, “annantara samanantara paccaya”, and “annamanna paccaya” to see what happens.

6. Nothing happens without a root cause or a hetu (pronounced “hãthu“; see the pronunciation key in “Pali Glossary“).

  • For example, a bomb causes damage because of the explosives in it; but someone has to trigger it to go off. If the bomb sits somewhere for a long time, its explosives may degrade and then the “cause” may disappear; most kamma seeds are like that too.
  • Thus, without the root cause there will not be an explosion. This is “hetu paccaya“.

7. My favorite example of the “annantara samanantara paccaya” is the germination of a seed that I discussed above in #3. Just because there is an apple seed, it will not cause an apple tree to appear.

  • An apple seed can be kept for many years without germinating in a cool,dry place; but if it is planted in the ground with water and sunlight present, it will germinate and give rise to an apple tree; see, “Annantara and Samanantara Paccaya” for details.
  • Of course, just like with the bomb, if the apple seed sits there for too long it may lose its potency and may not yield an apple tree at all; thus the hetu paccaya must always be satisfied.

8. Third one, “Annamanna paccaya”, means dependent on each other: For example, Vinnana and namarupa depend on each other:

  • Normally it is stated that “viannana paccaya nama rupa” or ‘depending on the vinnana, nama rupa arise”. For example, vinnana of the cuti citta at the moment of death causes a matching nama rupa to rise in the next birth: a hateful thought could lead to birth in the niraya or the animal realm.
  • However, vinnana in turn depends on the type of nama rupa: with the nama rupa of an animal, it is not possible to get into jhana. Only certain types of nama rupa can “support” certain types of vinnana.
  • Depending on the situations one or more of 24 paccaya (or conditions) can simultaneously come into play. We will discuss this in future posts.

9. I just wanted to give a brief introduction to the complex “Pattäna Dhamma” which describes 24 such “paccaya” involved in paticca samuppada. In other words, the relationship between cause(s) and effect(s) can be complex. We can only discern the major relationships. Only a Buddha can sort out all such complexities.

  • But there is no need to analyze everything in great detail in order to understand the message of the Buddha. One can become a Sotapanna just by comprehending the Tilakkhana: anicca, dukkha, anatta.

10. So why am I also providing information on these complex topics? It is for three reasons:

  • One is that it helps build saddha (faith) in Buddha Dhamma, because anyone who takes time to examine these concepts can see that it provides a COMPLETE explanation for everything that we experience and more.
  • Secondly, it is intellectually satisfying to see how all pieces nicely fit into the “big picture”: I hope I have been able to give the sense of joy that I have experienced in “seeing how these pieces fall into place”.
  • Also, this “self-consistency” is critical in the process of sorting out which version of Buddha Dhamma is the correct one. As the Buddha himself pointed out, any version that is not self-consistent should be discarded; see, “Saddharma Pundarika Sutra (Lotus Sutra) – A Focused Analysis“.

Next in the series, “Annantara and Samanantara Paccaya“, ..

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