The twelve links are symbolized by the twelve pictures on the outside ring. The first, at the top, shows an old person, blind, using a cane-that indicates ignorance. It is an ignorance which is an obscuration as to the actual mode of being of phenomena. Among the Buddhist philosophical schools there are four main schools of tenets, and among them there are many different divisions, so there are many interpretations of what ignorance is. In general, there is indeed a factor which is a mere non-knowing of how things actually exist, a factor of mere obscuration. Here it is described as a wrong consciousness which conceives the opposite of how things actually do exist. In Sutra, nineteen different types of ignorance are described, which are the various wrong views related with a beginning, or with an end-extremes. Any way, the afflictive emotions that we are seeking to be rid of are of two types, innate and artificial.
Artificial afflictions are ones that have philosophical ideas, systems of tenets or teachings behind them-the mind newly imputes or makes them up through conceptuality. These are not possessed by all sentient beings, and cannot be the ones at the root of the ruination of sentient beings. As Nagarjuna says in his Seventy Stanzas on Emptiness: 'The consciousness which conceives things produced in dependence upon causes and conditions to ultimately, truly exist, was said by the teacher Buddha to be ignorance; from it, the twelve branches of dependent arising occur.' This is a consciousness that misapprehends or misconceives phenomena to appear under their own power, not as dependent.
From the point of view of the different types of objects of this consciousness, there is a conception of the inherent existence of phenomena and of persons, called a conception of a self of phenomena and a conception of the self of persons. There are two types of conception of a self of persons: one is to take cognizance of some other person and consider that person to be inherently existent, and the second type is to take cognizance of one's own person, 'I', and consider one's own self to be inherently existent. The latter is called the false view of the transitory collection.
Nagarjuna's point was that the conception of one's own self as inherently existent arises in dependence upon the conception of those bases which are the basis of designation of one's own person, the mind, body and so forth, as inherently existent. Thus, both are conceptions of inherent existence. The conception of phenomena, mind, body and so forth, as inherently existent, acts as a cause of conceiving the person that is designated in dependence upon them to be inherently existent.
Another type of conception of a self of persons is the conception that the person is self-sufficient, or substantially existent.
If we consider our own desire and hatred, we see that they are generated with a conception of ourselves, 'me' as their basis. Due to the conception of ourselves as so solid, we develop a sense of our own faction and the other's faction, and taking sides; upon which desire and hatred occur. This is the way it happens isn't it?
There is indeed a conventionally posited 'I', a self, a person that is the doer of actions, the accumulator of karma, the one who experiences the results, definitely there is such a thing. However, when the feeling of 'I' is so strong that it makes trouble, then a sense of a self-instituting 'I' has formed, which is an exaggeration beyond what actually exists. A consciousness which conceives of this sort of self-instituting 'I' has come about. When this 'I' appears to the mind, it doesn't appear as merely designated in dependence on the aggregates of mind and body, does it? Doesn't it appear almost as if it had its own separate entity?
If it did exist the way it appears, then when investigated with the Middle Way of reasoning (Madhyamika) it would get clearer and clearer. However, the fact is that when you search for this 'I' using the Middle Way reasoning, it can't be found; but it still appears to our mind as if it were something concrete we could point at, something very definite. Thus, the conflict between the fact that it appears as something very concrete, but if analyzed cannot be found, indicates a conflict between how it appears and how it actually subsists. This is similar to the distinction physicists make between what appears and what actually exists.
Even in our own experience we can identify different levels of desire. For instance, if you go into a store, see some article and have desire for it, there's one type of desire. Then after you have bought it and you feel 'it's mine', 'it's my whatever', then there's different levels of appearance and apprehension here. At the first level, before you have generated desire, there is the mere appearance, the mere recognition of the object. At the second level, when you are feeling 'Oh, this is really good,' there's another apprehension of the object. Then after you've bought it and have made it your own, there is a third level of apprehension of the object.
On the first level, when the object merely appears, it does appear to exist from its own side, to exist inherently. However, the mind is not strongly involved with apprehending the object as existing from its own side, or as existing inherently. But at the second level, the ignorance which conceives of and apprehends the object as existing from its own side, (this being the level at which you generate desire towards the object), you do have a concept of the inherent existence of the object and adherence to it as existing from its own side. There is a subtle level of desire which can exist at the same time as this consciousness conceiving the object to exist inherently. But when that desire becomes stronger, the conception of inherent existence merely acts as its cause, and is not in association with, or existing at the same time as the desire.
It is important to identify in terms of our own experience that on the first level there is the appearance of the object as inherently existent. On the second level there is a consciousness that agrees with that appearance, which gives rise to desire. Then at the third level, when you've made the object your own, the concept of ownership becomes involved, and it is as if two very powerful streams of desire have come together. One is an adherence to the object as being inherently pleasant and the other is the strong conception of it being your own. When these two come together, your desire is extremely strong. If you think about it, is this the way it is?
It is the same for hatred: there is a first level which is conventionally true. For instance, just seeing some object and identifying it as bad. But when it increases to thinking, 'Oh this is really bad', then it produces hatred, and that is the second level. On the third level, if it's bringing harm to oneself, then extremely strong hatred can develop; there are these two levels of hatred.
Thus, for both desire and hatred, the ignorance which is the conception of an inherent existence acts as an assistant. So, the one that makes all this trouble is this pig. The obscuration of ignorance serves as the root of the other afflictive emotions. This ignorant consciousness is obscured with respect to the way of being of phenomena. To symbolize that, the person in the picture is blind. Ignorance has no valid cognition as its foundation, it is weak.
The second member is called compositional action because actions serve to compose or bring together, they bring about pleasure and pain. This is symbolized by a potter.
Now a maker of clay pots is someone who takes clay and forms it into some new object. In this example the potter spins the wheel once and it will keep turning as long as it is needed, without further exertion. Just so, when an action has been done by a sentient being, that action establishes potency or a predisposition in the mind, or as it is said in the Prasangika system, it produces a state of destructedness. In any case it has the potential to go on without obstruction to produce its effect eventually. In the meantime, no further condition need be encountered for that potency to remain. If it does not meet with a condition that would actualize it, it will remain potential.
Looking at the effects of the various types of actions, such as rebirth in the desire, form and formless realms, there are virtuous and non-virtuous actions and among the virtuous actions there are meritorious and non-fluctuating actions. In terms of the door, or the approach through which the action is done, there are actions of body, speech and mind. In terms of the actual entity of the actions themselves, there are actions of intention and intended actions. In terms of whether the effect of the action is definitely to be experienced or not, there are definite and indefinite actions.
Among definite actions there are actions the effect of which is definitely to be experienced in this lifetime, and those definitely to be experienced in some other lifetime.
Then there are actions which will lead for instance to a lifetime as a human, that project the general condition of a lifetime in a human body, and there are other types of actions that fill in the picture, that are called completing actions. They cause the body to be beautiful or ugly, and so forth. Take the example of a human who undergoes many illnesses: the projecting karma was a virtuous action, since the person was born as a human. But the completing actions, which give rise to all the sickness, were nonvirtuous actions. There are also cases where the projecting action or karma was non-virtuous, and the completing actions were virtuous. In some cases both the projecting and completing causes are virtuous, and there are cases in which both were non-virtuous.
There is also a division into actions that are done and accumulated according to intention; those that aren't done, but are accumulated according to intention, and those which are neither done nor accumulated according to intention.
There are actions in which the thought is wholesome but the carrying out of it is unwholesome; those in which the thought is unwholesome, but the carrying out seems to be wholesome; those in which both the thought and the carrying out are unwholesome and those in which the thought and the execution are wholesome. Then there are actions or karmas the effects of which are experienced by a number of beings, and other actions the effect of which are experienced only by one individual.
If one asks, how is an action accumulated? If there is a good motivation and some kind words, some gentle physical action comes, which accumulates good karma. The immediate result of such action is to create a peaceful atmosphere. Whereas anger, rude word, and bad actions like that immediately create an unpleasant atmosphere.
At first ignorance happened, and it produced the next stage, action. In the next moment the action itself will cease. At that time, the continuation of consciousness is there. The action imprints a potency or predisposition on the consciousness and that consciousness that continues on, carrying that imprint up to the time of the fruition of that karma, is the third link, called consciousness. So this moment's action creates immediate results and in the meantime, it will remain as a potential which eventually brings either a happy, pleasant experience, or an unhappy, painful one. That is the way to create action and how action brings results.
The picture symbolizing the third branch, consciousness, is a monkey. Within Buddhism there are different explanations of how many consciousnesses there are. There is one system that asserts only one, others that assert six, another that asserts eight and one that asserts nine. Most Buddhist systems assert six types of consciousness. The monkey in the main picture seems to be jumping from the house. It has some connection with the assertion of the system that sets forth only one consciousness. The one consciousness, when it appears at the eye, seems to be eye consciousness, when perceiving from the ear it is ear consciousness, and so forth, but it is really only one consciousness. Anyway, a monkey is a very clever and active sort of animal.
Now the problem is, between the action and the fructification of the action there is a good deal of time. However, all Buddhist systems assert that karmas are not wasted. So, between cause and effect there has to be something that connects the two. Many different assertions are presented regarding what connects the cause with the effect. However, there is a person that exists from the time of the performance of that action, through to time of the effect of that action. In the Prasangika system, that dependently designated person is the basis of the infusion of that predisposition or potency by that action. As long as a system is unable to present a basis of infusion of predispositions, such as the dependently designated person in the Prasangika system, they have to find an independently existent basis of infusion of the potencies. The Mind-only system presents an alayavijnana, or mind basis of all, as the basis of infusion of the predispositions. In the Prasangika system, the everlasting or continual basis of infusions of these predispositions is the mere self, the mere I, the mere person. A temporary basis of infusion of the predispositions is the consciousness.
So, now, there's an action. The action is done. Right after that action there is a state of destructedness or cessation of that action and there's consciousness that infused right at that moment with the predisposition of that action. From that moment right up to just before the moment of conception of the new lifetime that consciousness is called the consciousness of the causal time. The projected effect caused by the karma accumulated in a single round by compositional factors influenced by ignorance is a birth. The consciousness of the very moment of connection to the next lifetime is called the effect consciousness. It lasts from that moment until the time of the next branch, name and form, which is an extremely short time.
The fourth branch is name and form. Here, name is the four mental aggregates: feeling, discrimination, compositional factors and consciousness, and form is the aggregate of form. Here it is depicted by people riding in a boat, in other pictures it is depicted by beams leaning against each other, as in sutra. This is in connection with the Mind-only system, in which there is a mental consciousness, an alayavijnana, or mind basis of all and there's form-three beams, like a tripod, supporting each other. The boat symbolizes form, and the people in the boat symbolize the mental aggregates.
How long does name and form last, in terms of the twelve? It lasts as long as the foetus or embryo has not yet begun to develop the five or six organs, through the 'jelly-like' state, and 'having little knobs', and so forth, which indicate stages of development of the embryo.
The fifth is the six sources, depicted by an empty house, because these are the inner sources of consciousness-the ear, eye, nose, tongue and body sense-and although the organs are developing at this time they are not functioning. The time until there is contact between object, sense power and consciousness is called sources.
After this comes contact, the sixth branch of dependent arising. Contact is the point at which objects, sense powers and consciousness come together. When there is an object, a sense power and a former moment of consciousness that can act as an immediately preceding condition, a consciousness is generated. Contact is the factor that distinguishes an object as pleasurable, painful or neutral.
Consciousness is produced by way of three conditions. The first is called the observed object condition and it is what causes the consciousness to be generated in the aspect of that object. Then there is the dominant condition and that is what enables a particular consciousness to apprehend only its respective type of object.
The fact that consciousness is produced as an experiential entity is due to an immediately preceding consciousness, which is the third condition, called the immediately preceding condition.
Because there is a meeting with an object and a distinguishing of it, the symbol used in the picture is a kiss. Contact means meeting. Contact is posited as that period during which there is the meeting of object, sense power and consciousness and a distinguishing of the object as pleasurable, painful or neutral, but prior to the production of feeling.
The seventh branch of dependent arising, feeling is posited as that factor which experiences pleasure, pain or neutral feeling. The boundaries of this seventh branch are posited in one system as going from the point of the experience of pleasure, pain or neutral feeling to the point of experiencing the pleasure of copulation. In the picture depicting feeling is someone with an eye pierced by an arrow, because the eye is such that even a very small unpleasant feeling soon feels unbearable. No matter what kind of feeling we experience in our mind, whether pleasurable or painful, it is very effective: we react very strongly with great craving or rejection, we can't stay still, and it drives us on.
The next is attachment. Both the eighth and the ninth members, attachment and grasping, are types of desire. The difference between them is that attachment is a weaker phase of desire and grasping is a strong phase. There are different divisions of attachment: for instance, desire is an attachment associated with the desire realm. There is desire for existence, which is desire associated with the upper form and formless, realms. In one interpretation, desirous attachment is desire for pleasurable feelings, then a second type of desire is destructive desire, which is a wish to be separated from unpleasant feelings. Then there is attachment to mundane or cyclic existence, which is explained as attachment to the mental and physical aggregates appropriated through a contaminated process of causation. The picture depicting attachment shows a man drinking beer. That is easy to understand isn't it? No matter how much beer you drink, although it makes you fat and you keep drinking it, there's no satisfaction. Attachment is something that increases desire, without any satisfaction. The boundaries are from the time of the fourth branch, name and form, until the ninth branch grasping.
Grasping is depicted as (a monkey) taking fruit. It is the taking of an object that one desires. There are four different types of grasping. The first is grasping at desires, the second is grasping at views of self. The third is grasping at bad systems of ethics and conduct and the fourth is grasping at the remaining types of bad views. These graspings can be described in terms of ordinary householders, or in terms of those who have left the householder's life and are celibate, but have an erroneous view. For instance, if a person who has become temporarily free from desire for the desire realm and has the correct view seeks to be reborn in a higher realm, in a form or formless realm, some grasping is required. Since there is this type that isn't included, one can see that the four types of grasping don't include all possibilities, the four are set forth to overcome wrong ideas, not to exclude any other alternative.
In dependence upon name and form, sources, contact and feeling one generates attachment - the attachment to remaining with a pleasurable object or the attachment of seeking to be separate from a painful object. When this type of attachment is strongly produced over and over again, there is grasping of the desired object, and this attachment and grasping serve to activate a karmic potency established by an action in the consciousness. The picture depicting this is a pregnant woman. Just as at this point the karma that would produce the next lifetime is fully potentialized, but not yet manifest, so the pregnant woman has an unborn child inside her womb. Existence is a state of karma, or predisposition established in the consciousness that is fully potentialized.
This tenth member, existence, lasts from the time of the fully potentialized karma up to the beginning of the next lifetime. Within it are two divisions of time. One level might be called 'directional', as it is directed towards the next lifetime, and the other is 'the level of having entered', or being in the process of actually entering. This refers to the potentialized karma in the intermediate state between two lifetimes.
The eleventh is the dependent arising of birth. Here the picture shows a woman actually giving birth. The meaning is probably that the woman is in a state of change.
Twelfth is the dependent arising of aging and death. There are two types of aging. One is the momentary disintegration which takes place immediately after the moment of conception and every moment from then on for the rest of the life. The other type is complete deterioration, which is what we usually think of as aging, becoming old. Then there is death. In between these, there are cries of sorrow, all sorts of suffering, getting what you don't want, not getting what you do want.
Our life begins with suffering when we are born. The end is death, another type of suffering. In between there is illness, old age, and all kinds of unfortunate things. That is what is called dukkha in Sanskrit, suffering, the first Noble Truth. It is what we don't want, the problem we want to eliminate. It is important to investigate whether there is any way it can be overcome, so it is very important to investigate its cause. It is explained that the origin of the type of suffering that we are undergoing is ignorance.
As long as ignorance, which is the seed of suffering, is there, every minute, we may create a certain kind of action, or cause of another rebirth. On one consciousness, there is an infinite number of predispositions established by actions motivated by ignorance.