PratItyasamutpada Buddhism


Conditioned coproduction, sometimes called conditioned coproductionen (pratītyasamutpāda प्रतीत्यसमुत्पाद, in Sanskrit, pronounced /prətī:tyə səmŭtpα: də/; paṭiccasamuppāda पटिच्चसमुप्पाद, in pāḷi; "conditioned origin") is the Buddhist concept of conditionality, dependence, reciprocity.

The essence of the concept lies in the notion of interdependence. Thus, in Buddhism, all phenomena are composed and interdependent, whether they are physical objects, sensations, perceptions, thought or consciousness.

According to the Buddha, these five "foods, or aggregates" (skandhas) condition the maintenance of "the existence of living beings".

Conditioned coproduction is valid for everything, but is often presented to explain the origin of suffering (dukkha). It is presented as a set of twelve links, the twelve nidānas, forming a cyclical sequence, which some Buddhist schools consider to be continuously traversed by human beings in samsara.

Conditioned coproduction is an extensive concept in Buddhist literature, both in the Buddhist canon and in the scriptures and commentaries of the various schools, such as in the Lalitavistara, a Mahayana Buddhist text describing the life of the Buddha and, in particular, his discovery of the truth of conditionality at the time of his attainment of enlightenment.

It is a theoretical concept linked to a practice, in particular that of meditation, which aims at attaining nirvāna through the observation of phenomena as they are.


There are several formulations, more or less classical, of the principle of conditioned coproduction.

The short formulation

In the original texts, the short formulation is as follows:

"Imasmim sati, idam hoti [bhavati] ;
imassuppâdâ, idam uppajjati.
Imasmim asati, idam na hoti ;
imassâ nirodha, idam nirujjhati."
It is usually translated into French thus:

"When this is, that is;
This appearing, that appears.
When this is not, that is not; when this ceases, that ceases;
When this ceases, that ceases.

However, according to Dominique Trotignon (of the European Buddhist University), this translation poses a problem, insofar as, in the original texts, the same formulations are not used for the verbs in both parts of the sentence.

Moreover, it does not emphasize the idea, widespread in ancient Buddhism, of multiple conditions as opposed to the idea, more present in later interpretations, of cause (referring to the idea of main cause and chronology).

A translation more faithful to the original texts could therefore be:

"This being, that becomes ;
this appearing, that is born [grows, is built].
This not being, that does not become;
this ceasing, that ceases to be born [to grow, to be constructed]."

In these two formulations, one reading - among others - consists in highlighting the two parts of each sentence. The first parts referring to reality, as it is, and the second parts to the Saṃsāra.

For Ajahn Brahm, these formulations join what is also known in logic as the "necessary condition" (when this is not, that is not) and the "sufficient condition" (when this is, that is).

The long formulation: the twelve nidānas

A longer formulation appeared fairly quickly in the history of Buddhism. It introduces several modifications with respect to the ancient texts, notably a causal chain, and then - in the Mahayana - a material dimension.

The conditioned coproduction is thus presented as a set of twelve links, the twelve nidānas, forming a cyclical sequence, which some Buddhist schools consider to be continuously traversed by human beings in samsara.

In this presentation, these conditions participate in the origin of dukkha. In the Mahā-tanhāsankhaya-sutta and the Acela-sutta, at the end of the exposition of the law of conditioned coproduction, it is thus specified: "such is the appearance of this whole heap of dukkha".

These links are (terms preceded by 's.' are noted in Sanskrit, preceded by 'p.', in pāḷi):

Blindness, ignorance (s. avidyā, p. avijjā);
Mental creations (formations, constructions) (s. samskāra, p. sankhāra);
Discriminating consciousness (s. vijñāna, p. vinnāna);
Name and form (s., p. nāma-rūpa);
The six sensory "spheres" (s. sadāyatana, p. salāyatana) ;

Contact (s. sparśa, p. phassa) ;
Sensation (s., p. vedanā);
Thirst (s. tṛṣna, p. tanhā);
Attachment, appropriation (s., p. upādāna).
Becoming (s., p. bhava).
Birth (s., p. jāti) referring to the process from conception.
Old age and death (s., p. jarā-maraṇa) denoting existence from birth to death

This formulation has a tendency to present conditioned coproduction as a chronological sequence, a causal chain. However, this interpretation is not present as such in the earliest texts.

It is not known when this twelve-element formulation was fixed, for only eight are consistently present from the beginning: ignorance, mental constructs, discriminating consciousness, contact, feeling, "thirst", attachment, and existence. The four late elements are therefore: name and form, sensory spheres, birth and finally old age and death.

From the chronological point of view, we can distinguish the conditions belonging to the past (ignorance and mental constructions) from the present (the eight remaining ones, either as a consequence of the past or as conditions for the future).

From the "causal" point of view, we can differentiate between the defilements (ignorance, thirst, attachment), the acts (mental constructions, existence) and the fruits (discriminating consciousness, name and form, meaning, contact, feelings, birth, old age and death).

According to Dominique Trotignon, these two readings lead to a material interpretation of the four additional conditions. He adds that the conscience becomes then :

"envisaged, no longer as an "act of discriminating consciousness", but as a "medium of rebirth" - an interpretation that has also become "classical", both in Buddhaghosa and in the Sarvâstivâda school."

This formulation undoubtedly arose from the need to teach the law of conditioned coproduction, since language does not allow for a chronology. However, many commentaries caution against interpreting conditioned coproduction in this single way.

For example, Buddhaghosa gives a long warning to the reader in the 17th chapter of his Visuddhimagga, as early as the fifth century CE, to consider conditioned coproduction as follows:

"This meeting, which produces a common effect when none of the factors is missing, is conditional because it brings the factors face to face in full. This meeting is called co-production because it produces simultaneous factors that do not exist independently of each other."



In Theravada Buddhism, blindness is not the only cause of creations; there is not one cause and one effect but many causes and many effects.

In Theravada, there are two different interpretations of conditioned coproduction: one that implies three times (or three successive lives), the other that states that everything happens in the present.

In the first interpretation (which is also that of the Abhidhamma), Theravada recognizes in conditioned coproduction three times; the second link, voluntary activities (sankhara), are production of kamma belonging to the past, while the third link, consciousness, vijnana, is a present effect.

Similarly, thirst, attachment and karma are present causes, while the last two links are future effects.

Ajahn Brahm gives the following comparison: if one has money and desire, one can buy a piece of land and build a house on it, and then move there. The money represents karma, the desire is thirst, the house is "bhava" (becoming), the move is rebirth.

In the second interpretation, which is, for example, that of Buddhadasa, conditioned coproduction expresses a law of interdependence that is neither eternalist nor nihilist and that lies between the idea of the existence of a self and the idea of total absence of a self.

It should not be taught as if the evolution of an individual was spread out over three lifetimes: all the stages of conditioned coproduction can be traversed several times almost instantaneously. Its practice is a matter of attention at each moment (sanditthiko: "here and now"):

Attention must be present to control the sensations when there is contact between the senses and an object. Desire and attachment must not be allowed to arise.

Similarly, Nanavira Thera (en) rejects the three-step interpretation as "totally inadmissible". For him, karma expresses the fact that "what one is depends on what one does", and conditioned coproduction is immediate and timeless (sanditthiko akaliko):

Any interpretation of paticcasamuppāda that involves time is an attempt to solve the present problem by referring to the past or future, so it is necessarily wrong.


In the Theravada, there are twenty-four types of conditions (pāḷi: paccaya), although some are posited by Buddhaghosa as synonymous. The study of conditions leads to an analytical approach to coproduction: at each stage it is a matter of detailing precisely what is conditioned. For example, it is the pleasant sensation that conditions thirst and not the other types of sensation.

The complete exposition of the conditions and their application to all mental and physical phenomena lies in the Patthana, the last - and gigantic - book of the Abhidhamma pitaka, comprising six volumes. This book has not yet been translated into the European language.

These conditions are posed as the sine qua non for understanding conditioned coproduction. Thus, according to Nyanatiloka: "To fully understand the Paṭiccasamuppāda, one [...] needs to know the main modes of condition or relationship. "

The conditions themselves are discussed and discrepancies in interpretation seem to take place within Theravada. Buddhaghosa details conditions which he posits as synonymous but which nevertheless bear a different name.

Then he proposes to apply the appropriate conditions to each stage, according to the logic of Patthâna: first, he details, for example, which creations condition which states of consciousness, and then in what way.

Causal condition

It is both a condition and a cause, and this pattern holds for each of the conditions. The causal condition represents a foundation. According to Buddhaghosa, "Causes provide a foundation in the sense that they provide a good basis, not because they convey their nature" (Christian Maës translation).
Object condition

The agent that helps another by serving as an object: just as the weak man cannot walk without leaning on a cane, states of mind need an object to manifest themselves.

Condition of predominance
The agent who helps another by dominating him.

Condition of immediacy
The agent that helps another by its temporal proximity.

Condition of simultaneity
The agent who helps another by appearing simultaneously, "like the lamp for the light".

Condition of reciprocity
Agents that support each other's consolidation "like the legs of a tripod".

Condition of support

The agent that helps another by serving as a support, a base.

Condition of strong support
Same as above

Condition of anteriority
The agent who helps another by appearing first

Condition of posteriority
The non-physical agent that reinforces an earlier physical agent.

Repetition condition
The non-physical agent that is merely a repetition of an earlier non-physical agent.

Kamma condition
This condition describes an intentional effort.

Result condition
A peaceful and serene state of mind helping the next state of mind to be peaceful and serene.

Input condition
The food conditions the physical.

Condition of faculty
When faculties condition non-physical agents - e.g. the eye faculty conditioning visual awareness.

Dhyana condition
A Dhyana conditions its associated factors, among Vitakka, Vicara, Piti, Sukha, Upekkha and Ekaggata.

Condition of path
The factors that help to get out of Samsara.

Condition of association
Non-physical agents that associate with the same object (see: Skandhas).
Condition of dissociation

In contrast to the previous condition, the non-physical agents reinforce each other by not being associated with the same object.

Condition of existence
An agent that reinforces another, similar one.

Non-existence condition
The non-physical agent that helps another to appear by disappearing.

Condition of disappearance
Same as previous condition.

Non-disappearance condition
Same as existence condition.


Blindness conditions creations
The absence of a correct view of the nature of things and the characteristics of conditioned existence (impermanence, dissatisfaction and lack of essence) is the cause of acts, words or thoughts that produce karmic impregnations.

Blindness conditions meritorious creations as an object condition and a strong support condition.

It conditions demeritorious creations as a condition of object, object predominance, strong object support; as a condition of immediacy, full immediacy, strong immediate support, repetition, non-existence and dissociation; as a condition of causation, simultaneity, reciprocity, support, association, existence and non-dissociation.

Finally, the blindness conditions the neutral creations in one way only: as a condition of strong support.

Creations condition states of consciousness
Two cases are distinguished in the course of life and at the particular moment of the "link-of-rebirth" (pali patisandhi). During life, past creations disturb discriminative cognition (and on this occasion reinforce themselves). At death, their result is a "karmic force" that causes rebirth consciousness.

In the same way, water is lodged at the lowest place; in the same way, mental creations have karmic effects and therefore condition the level of consciousness.

For Buddhadasa, this cannot be rebirth consciousness (patisandhi-viññāna), but it is the six types of sense consciousness (visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and mental), classically defined in the Pali canon.

States of consciousness condition physical and mental phenomena
During life, states of consciousness constantly have an impact on the body and mind that constitute the individual (for Buddhism, the physiological and the psychological are inseparable). At death, rebirth consciousness animates a fertilized egg and is the source of a new existence.

Another interpretation is that consciousness separates the world into subject and object, and that from this separation comes namarupa. Each moment of consciousness takes a specific physical or mental form.

A resulting state of consciousness conditions the psychic in nine ways: condition of simultaneity, reciprocity, support, association, result, contribution, faculty, dissociation, existence, non-disappearance.

A resulting state of consciousness conditions the physical in nine ways at rebirth, punarbhava: condition of simultaneity, reciprocity, support, result, contribution, faculty, dissociation, existence, and non-disappearance.

Physical and mental phenomena condition the six sensory spheres
With the physio-psychological individuality, appear the senses, which are necessary for him to live and develop, by communication with his environment.

At the time of rebirth, punarbhava, the psychic conditions the mental realm as a condition of simultaneity, reciprocity, support, association, result, existence, and non-disappearance.

It can condition it as an input or causal condition.
In the course of life, the resulting psychic represents the same conditions. The nonresulting psychic represents six conditions: simultaneity, reciprocity, support, association, existence, and non-disappearance, and also constitutes a causal or contribution condition.

The resulting psychic conditions the other five spheres as a condition of simultaneity, support, result, dissociation, existence and non-disappearance; sometimes as a causal condition and a condition of contribution.

The six sensory spheres condition contact
The six bases of the senses allow contact with the objects of the senses (the six internal bases come into contact with the six external bases that correspond to them).

The five physical sense spheres condition physical contact as a condition of support, anteriority, faculty, dissociation, existence and non-disappearance.

The resulting mental realm (Pali: Vipaka) conditions the resulting mental contact as a condition of simultaneity, reciprocity, support, result, contribution, faculty, association, existence and non-disappearance.

The visible domain conditions the contact with the eye as an object, as a condition of anteriority, existence and non-disappearance. And the other "external fields" condition in the same way, for example the sound for the ear.

The outer realms condition the mind as an object. But Buddhaghosa adds: or as anteriority, existence or non-disappearance, without deciding.

Contact conditions sensations
Contact with the objects of the senses produces a sensation that will be integrated by the organism and felt as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
Sensations condition thirst

Only the "resulting" (Pali: vipaka) and pleasant (sukha) sensation is taken into account: unpleasant and neutral sensations are not taken into account. The resulting pleasant sensation conditions the thirst as a condition of strong support.

Pleasant sensations call for repetition and abundance, in an aspiration to always experience more, while unpleasant sensations provoke flight and repulsion. The second noble truth identifies thirst as the cause of dissatisfaction.
Thirst conditions attachment

While thirst is a reaction, attachment is a powerful "grasp" (sustained by thirst) that operates at the unconscious as well as the conscious level, and which binds the individual deeply to the wheel of phenomena. "Attachment is imprinted in the bodily structure of our being. It is an emotional tightness." (Stephen Batchelor)

Attachment conditions existence
Attachment determines becoming, it weaves the fabric of days. The totality of attachment ties form the karmic vectors that produce becoming. Ajahn Brahm explains that the attachment created by thirst is the "fuel" that propels from life to life.

Attachment comes in four forms: attachment to sense pleasures (kāmupādāna), opinions (ditthupādāna), rules and rituals (silabbatupādāna), and the concept of "I" (attavadupādāna).

Existence conditions birth
Successive births (and at each moment one is born and dies) are connected by the process of becoming. Becoming will produce a new birth.

This birth can also be interpreted not as a physical birth, but as the birth of the concept of "I" that can occur at any moment, the sensation of being someone or something permanent.

Birth conditions old age and death
From moment to moment one moves towards old age and death. Only those who are "unborn", who have "reached" the Absolute, can no longer experience old age and death.

Leaving the cycle

The Upanissa sutta presents the formulation of the cycle that leads to liberation from dukkha, which is thus the first link in the cycle (the list presented is based on Thānissaro Bhikkhu's translation:

pleasure ;

knowledge and vision of things as they are;
disenchantment ;
knowledge of liberation.

This formulation includes some of the "factors" of samatha practice, as well as some of the stages of vipassana as described by Theravada Buddhism.


Mādhyamika Buddhism presents an original interpretation of conditional coproduction.

Nāgārjuna writes in the Mulamadhyamakakarika:

"Wherever they are, whatever they are, neither of oneself nor of others, neither of the one nor of the other, nor independently of the one and the other, things are never produced." (translation by L. Biton)
Nothing is ever produced:

"Conditioned production concerns inconsistent, insubstantial phenomena, which escape the four alternatives of "being", "nothingness", "being" and "non-being" at the same time and "neither being nor non-being"." (Philippe Cornu).

The conditioned coproduction is only emptiness, which is the specificity of its understanding by the Madhyamaka. It is only a conventional truth (saṃvṛti), it is not an inherent causality that would actually exist.


According to the Cittamātra school, conditioned coproduction is "nothing but mind". This is not to say that everything is illusory, that mind does not exist, but to reduce all other phenomena to that of consciousnesses, vijnanas.

According to Asaṅga:

"The twelve-membered pratîtyasamutpada is the one who distributes pleasure and displeasure. Here, those who are mistaken about the first dependent production think that the origin of things must be sought in their own nature, or in previous acts, or in a metamorphosis of the creator, or in the self; or they think that there is no cause or condition. Those who are mistaken about the second dependent production imagine an active and enjoying Self." (in The Sum of the Great Vehicle of Asanga, translation Etienne Lamotte).

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