Book XXX
[Noble Truths and the Twelve Conditions]

Maṇimēkhalai who had already learnt all that had happened in her previous birth, after having taken upon herself the duty of giving gifts and walking in the path of right conduct, worshipped three several times the triple jewel of Buddha, Dharma and Saṅgha, and placed herself exclusively under the protection of Buddha Dharma. Aṟavaṇa Aḍigaḷ who was to expound to her the righteous path of the Dharma said:

‘At the time when the world was full of beings poor in understanding, the Buddha, at the earnest entreaty of all the celestial beings of the Tuṣitalōka, The Heaven of unalloyed bliss. each in his turn, appeared leaving that heaven of joy empty; then he sat at the foot of the Bodhi-tree, and, conquering the enemy Māra, became a hero.

The good teaching of the ‘Four Truths’ which the beautiful hero imparted, after having pulled up by the root the three faults, were taught with ineffable beneficence in the past by innumerable other Buddhas. These [222] truths provide the means of crossing the ocean of existence by destroying the twelve Nidānas. These latter appear one from the other in order as cause and effect, and being capable of reappearance as consequent upon that which is before it, assume the form of a never-ending circle.

When in this order of cause and consequence the first ceases to exist, the next follows in cessation; when it comes into existence, that which follows it does so inevitably. So these are properly described as a chain of causes and conditions. They may equally well be regarded as substance and attribute. Thus arranged these twelve Nidānas fall into four divisions, showing three joints.

Appearance in birth or rebirth is of three kinds (human, heavenly or of the netherworld), and is of three divisions in time, past, present and future. These also produce the faults, deeds and their consequences, and are impermanent and cause only sorrow. When one gets to understand this character of these Nidānas, he knows what will assure him the permanence of release. (Nirvāṇa).

Further it becomes the means for the cultivation of the Four Truths, and is constituted of the five Skandhas. It is capable of being argued in the six forms beginning with the ‘assertion of truth’. It results in the ‘four’ forms of excellence. It is open to question in four ways and being capable of respective answers in four ways similarly. It is without origin and without end. It is a series of continuous becoming without ever reaching final destruction. It neither does, nor can it be described as being done. It is neither self nor is it possessed by another self. It is nothing that is gone, nothing that is to come. It cannot be brought to an end, nor is it to end itself. It is itself the result of the deed, birth and cessation. Such is the nature of the twelve causes and conditions [223] beginning with ignorance, and called the Nidānas. These twelve are :

(1) Ignorance (Pēdamai, Sans. Avidyā),
(2) Action (Śeykai, Sans. Karma),
(3) Consciousness (Uṇarvu, Sans. Vijñāna),
(4) Name and form (Aru-uru, Sans. Nāmarūpa),
(5) Six organs of sense (Vāyil, Sans. Ṣaḍāyatana),
(6) Contact (Ūṟu, Sans. Sparśa).
(7) Sensation (Nuharvu, Sans. Vēdanā),
(8) Thirst or craving (Vēṭkai, Sans. Tṣṇa),
(9) Attachment (Paṟṟu, Sans. Upādāna),
(10) Becoming or existence (Pavam, Sans. Bhava),
(11) Birth (Tōṟṟam, Sans. Jāti),
(12) The result of action, old age and death (Vinaippayan, Sans. Jarāmaraṇam).

If people understand the twelve-fold nature of the chain of cause and effect, they then understand the supreme truth and will enjoy permanent bliss. If they do not, they are indentured to suffer in the depths of hell. The following exposition of the Nidānas based on the Pāḷi texts and the Madhyamanikāya by the latest writer on the Doctrine of Buddha, Dr. George Grimm, may be compared with the exposition given in the Maṇimēkhalai:– ‘Now we only need to run through the whole formula in its totality. In dependence on ignorance – avijja, arises the processes – that is the organic processes, especially those of senses, saṅkhāra. In dependence on the processes (of life, especially on the activities of the senses), arises consciousness, vijñāna. In dependence on consciousness, arises the corporeal organism – nāmarūpa. In dependence on the corporeal organism, arise the six organs of sense – saḷāyatana. In dependence on the six organs of sense, arises contact – phassa. In dependence on contact, arises sensation – vēdanā. In dependence on sensation, arises thirst – taṇhā. In dependence on thirst, arises grasping – upādāna. In dependence on grasping, arises becoming – bhava. In dependence on becoming, arises birth – jāti. In dependence on birth arises old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. Thus comes out the arising of this entire sum of suffering. The Buddha in it wishes to show the relation of the single links in a purely abstract manner, in the way in which they condition themselves internally and in themselves, that is, as follows:– Old age and death, sorrow, with a corporeal organism, as a six senses machine. Such an organism must be born, therefore it presupposes birth. But birth is nothing, but a special case of becoming. Every becoming is conditioned by a grasping and grasping is conditioned by the thirst for becoming (bhavataṇhā). Such thirst can appear only, where sensation is. But sensation is the consequence of contact between the senses and an object; therefore it presupposes organs of sense. Organs of sense, of course, presuppose a corporeal organism for their supporter. Such an organism unquestionably can only exist, even only develop, if consciousness is added to it. But consciousness is only known to us as the result of the organic processes, especially of the activities of the senses. But these are only set going where ignorance exists as to the unwholesomeness of their results.’ (The Doctrine of Buddha by George Grimin, pp. 289-90). [224]

(1) Ignorance consists in not understanding what was explained above, in being liable to delusion and in believing in what one hears to the neglect of that which one is able to see for himself, as believing in the existence of the horns of a rabbit because someone else says they do exist.

(2) In the three worlds, the world of life is illimitable, and living beings in it are of six classes. They are men, gods, Brahmas, the inhabitants of hell, the crowd of animals and spirits. According to good deeds and bad, life takes its birth in one or other of these. Ever since it assumes the form of embryo, the result of these deeds will show themselves either in the happiness of mind or in anxiety of suffering.

Of these evil deeds – killing, theft and evil desire show themselves as evils springing in the body. Lying, speaking ill of others, harsh words and useless talk, these four show themselves as evils of speech. Desire, anger and illusion are three deeds of evil that arise in the mind.

These ten [225] the wise would avoid. If they should fail to do so, they would be born as animals or spirits or beings of the nether world, and make themselves liable to extreme anxiety of mind and suffering.

Good men The Śīlas, according to the Bauddhas, are five or ten. They are:– (1) not killing, (2) not lying, (3) not stealing, (4) no evil desire, (5) non-acceptance of gifts [actually the rule is not taking intoxicants]. These are the five principal ones [incumbent on lay people]. Not assuming high seats or beds, not wearing unguents or rich garments, not touching gold and silver, etc., not enjoying music, dancing, etc., not eating before sun-rise. These are subsidiary and not obligatory on all [only for those keeping novice precepts, prior to becoming full monastics]. on the contrary, would avoid these ten, and assuming the good discipline (Śīlam) and taking upon themselves to do deeds of charity (Dānam), will be born in the three higher classes of beings, such as the Dēvas (gods), men or Brahmas, and live a life of enjoyment of happiness as a result of good deeds.

(3) Consciousness (Uṇarvu) consists in feeling like one in sleep, without the feeling leading to any action, or to any satisfaction.

(4) Name and form (Aru-uru) consists in that which has the feeling described above, and constituting life and body.

(5) Organs of sense (Vāyil) are, on examination, those that carry consciousness to the mind (Vignāna or Uḷḷam).

(6) Contact (Ūṟu) consists in Vijñāna and the organs of sense experiencing touch with other things (vēṟu pulangaḷ).

(7) Sensation (Nuharvu) consists in the mind or Vijñāna enjoying that of which it has become conscious.

(8) Thirst or craving (Vēṭkai) consists in not feeling satisfied with that which is thus enjoyed.

(9) Attachment (Paṟṟu) consists in the desire for enjoyment impelling one into action. [226]

(10) Becoming (Pavam) consists in the collection of deeds indicating the consequence to which each leads.

(11) Birth (Tōṟṟam) consists in the result of deeds leading to the conscious taking of birth in one or other of the six forms of birth in the inevitable chain of cause and effect.

(12) Disease (Piṇi) consists in the suffering of the body by a change from its natural condition in consequence of the result of deeds. Old age (Mūppu) consists in the loosening of the body as one draws nearer and nearer to the end. Death (Śākkāḍu) ultimately consists in the human body, composed of life and body, disappearing as the setting sun.

From ignorance arises action; from action springs consciousness; from consciousness comes ideas of name and form; from name and form spring the organs of sense; through organs of sense contact becomes possible; contact results in sensation or experience; experience produces desire; from desire springs attachment; from attachment comes into existence collection of deeds; as a result of this collection of deeds arise other various forms of birth; birth inevitably brings along with it age, disease and death, and the consequent anxiety and the feeling of incapacity to get rid of it. This never-ending suffering is the ultimate result.

In such a never-ending circle of experience, when ignorance ceases, action will cease; with action consciousness will cease; with consciousness notions of name and form will cease; with the cessation of name and form, organs of sense will cease; with the cessation of the organs of sense, contact will cease; contact ceasing, sensation or experience will cease; with sensation or experience desire will cease; desire ceasing to exist, there will be [227] no attachment; without attachment, there is no accumulation of deeds; without the accumulated mass of deeds, there will be no becoming; with the cessation of becoming, there will be no birth, no disease, no age, no death, and in consequence, no anxiety and no helplessness. Thus this never-ending series of suffering will be destroyed.

Of these twelve nidānas, the first two ignorance and action are regarded as belonging to the first section. All those that follow spring from these two. The following five, namely, name and form, organs of sense, contact and experience, these five, as springing from the former two, are regarded as constituting the second division. Thirst, attachment, and the collection of deeds constitute the third division as they result as evil in the enjoyment of the previous five, and, in consequence, as action resulting therefrom. It is from the folly of desire and consequent attachment that becoming arises. The fourth division includes birth, disease, age and death, since these four are experienced as a result of birth.

Action is the cause of birth and consciousness springs out of it. Where these two meet they mark the first conjunction. Where sensation and craving meet, it marks the second conjunction. The third junction comes in where the accumulation of deeds results in birth. Thus are marked the three points of junction in this chain of twelve causes and conditions.

The three forms of birth are those of men, gods and animals. These result from the consciousness in previous birth as a result of the conformations springing out of ignorance. This happens either from the delusion that this kind of birth is actually cessation of birth, or the taking of birth in a new form without the consciousness, [228] the new birth coming with consciousness and the new form existing together. The three times are the past, present and future. Of these the past includes ignorance and action. To the present refer consciousness, name and form, the organs of sense, contact, sensation, thirst or craving, the becoming and birth. To the future belong birth, disease, age and death. The resulting anxiety and helplessness are evils that spring out of the previous series of present action.

Desire, attachment and ignorance, these and the birth resulting therefrom, constitute action in the present and cause future birth. Consciousness, name and form, organs of sense, contact, sensation or experience, birth, age, disease, and death, these are the consequential experience in life, both present and future. These are full of evil, of deeds and of consequences resulting from these deeds, and thus constitute suffering. Being such, they are all impermanent.

While the nature of release (Vīḍu) consists in the understanding that there is nothing like soul in anything existing. This it must be noted refers to ātman or individual self, not Ātman, the Universal self. This is an improvement introduced by the Satyasiddhi School of Buddhism, according to Chinese authority, by Harivarman, the chief disciple of Kumāra labdha; vide Yamakami Sogen’s Systems of Buddhist Thought, p.178. Consciousness, name and form, the organs of sense, contact, sensation, birth, disease, age and death, with the resulting anxiety and helplessness, these constitute disease. For this disease the causes are ignorance, action, desire, attachment and the collection of deeds. For suffering and birth, attachment is the cause; for bliss and cessation of birth, non-attachment is the cause. Words that embody this idea constitute the ‘Four Truths’, namely, suffering, the [229] cause of suffering, removal of suffering, and the way to remove suffering.

There are four kinds of questions and answers:–

(1) To give a deliberate reply;
(2) to separate the component parts of an issue and answer these separately;
(3) to answer by a counter question; and
(4) to keep silence in answer to a question.

(1) To a question whether a thing that comes into existence will also go out of existence, if the answer is ‘it will’ it is to give a deliberate reply.

(2) To a question whether a dead man will be born again or no, the enquiry whether in life he was without attachment or no, is to answer by separating the issues involved, and giving separate answers to it.

(3) To a question whether it is the seed that is first or the palm-tree, the enquiry which seed and which particular tree, is answer by a counter question.

(4) To a question whether ‘the sky flower’ is new or old, silence is the best answer; this is one way of getting round an inconvenient question.

Bondage and release result from the Skandhas (aggregates of things). There is no agent outside entitled to bring them into contact. For the Skandhas and their manifestations as described above, the cause is the group of three evils; desire, anger and illusion.

Examined separately and understand that everything is impermanent, full of suffering, without a soul and unclean; thus treating it, give up desire. Realizing that friendliness, kindliness, and (joy at the well-being of creatures) constitutes the best attitude of mind, give up anger. By the practice of hearing (śruti), mentation (cintana), experiencing in mind (bhāvanā) and realizing in vision (darśana), deliberate, realize and give up all illusion. In these four ways get rid of the darkness of mind.’ [230]

In these auspicious words, free from inconsistency Aṟavaṇa Aḍigaḷ exhibited the illuminating lamp of knowledge.

Maṇimēkhalai, having assumed the habit of an ascetic tāpasī and having heard the excellent exposition of the Dharma, devoted herself to penance in order that she may get rid of the bondage of birth.