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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Nidāna

The primary causes of existence which bind us to the wheel of rebirth. It is an important concept in Buddhism, especially Theravāda. It is derived from the prefix ni- and the root which together mean literally “bind on” or “fasten to”; thus nidāna is a binding, rope, or halter.

The Nidānas are identified as twelve in the Buddhist Chain of Dependent Co-Origination (pratītyasamutpāda in Sanskrit). They are depicted as forming a circle, that is to say, the causes are interrelated, none is a primary or first cause from which the others arise. They are given in Sanskrit as (1) old age and death (jāra-mārana, shorthand for the sorrows and insecurities of life), which is dependent on (2) birth, which is dependent on (3) existence (bhavanā, better translated as “becoming”), which is dependent on our (4) clinging to existence, which is the result of (5) desire or craving (tanhā), which arises due to (6) feeling (vedanā), which results from (7) perception, which in turn is dependent on (8) the six fields of sense (including the mind), which result from (9) our habit of judging the sense-world in terms of names and forms (nāma-rūpa), which arise from (10) our conditioned consciousness (vijñauna), which is conditioned by (11) past habits of thought (samskāras), which arise due to (12) ignorance (avidyā), which, in turn, is dependent on (1) our identification of the age and eventual death of the body (jāra-mārana), which arise from (2) being born, etc. In The Secret Doctrine of Helena P. Blavatsky, the nidānas are identified as “the causes of misery” (I:38) as well as “the causes of existence” (I:44) — not only physical causes but metaphysical causes as well. In the latter citation, she seems to relate the nidānas to māyā, and in other places (I:93 and 509) she suggests that they are really part of the noumenal, not the phenomenal, world.

R.W.B.

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