1. First, there is Ignorance
, which is the mistaken understanding of the true nature of reality. It is represented [in the image of the Wheel of Life - translator] by a blind man. One could speak of Ignorance "coloured by emotions," taking birth as the mind experiences emotion, some form of attachment, aversion or jealousy…. And Ignorance which is not coloured by emotion is very subtle, and will be the final veil to be removed in order to attain Omniscience.
2. The second Link is called Volitional Formations
or Actions or Karmic Formations. This is represented by a potter who is making things. One could also call it "Mental Formations." These Mental Formations can be virtuous, unvirtuous or neutral, and can generate pleasant exepriences or Suffering
, and create a connection to the three realms of upper rebirth and three realms of lower rebirth. It is said that the animal realm is dominated by stupidity, the hungry ghost realm (or Pretas) is dominated by greed, and the hells by anger.
3. The third link in the chain of interdependent appearances is Consciousness. This is symbolised by a monkey playing in a tree. What we call consciousness, the "stream of consciousness" or "stream of thoughts" is the surface upon which we place the karmic potentials which we create. It's a field in which we plant a seed which will then remain in a latent form for a certain time, and then when conditions are favourable this seed will ripen. The Law of Cause and Effect functions in this way. When you get angry you won't experience the consequences immediately, you won't fall into hell immediately! But this karmic potential, this karmic seed has been planted and will remain there. Whenever one gets involved in negative states of mind again, such as anger, jealousy or other negative emotions, this acts to water the seed, to give it manure; the seed will grow and the fruit will ripen. The fruit will be a phenomenon in your current life or in your future. So it is in this Consciousness that all the potentials are deposited - the positive, negative and neutral seeds that you create.
4. Once the karmic seeds are deposited on the Consciousness they will give a result which is called Name-and-Form
. This is the point at which the aggregates appear. Once the causes we have created have sent us to a place where we take rebirth we take on a body. This is the appearance of a form that can be named, and it is symbolised by a man in a boat. These Five aggregates
are Form, Feeling, Discrimination, Volition and Consciousness. We have a consciousness of "I" on the basis of these aggregates; it's through grasping on to these aggregates that we can say that "I exist, I am, this is my name, I live here in my house."
5. So far we have seen how the five aggregates have been created, but they have had no chance yet to come into contact with the outside world. The sense-organs were there but the respective consciousness of each one only arises with the fifth link: the Six Sense Consciousnesses, or Sources of Perception, or even Cognitive Faculties. These are represented by a monkey in a house with six windows. If I can see this flower, it's because there is a visual consciousness which operates via the eye. In the same way there are six consciousnesses: five which relate to the body (touch, sight, taste, smell and hearing), and one mental consciousness. When I place my finger, the organ of touch, on the table I can only say "I am touching the table" if the touch consciousness relays this to the main consciousness, the mind.
6. And to conclude the section containing the six Interdependent Links relating to the Second Noble Truth, there is the Link which we call Contact. Once Name-and-Form exist and the Six Sense Consciousnesses have been created, we arrive at Contact. This contact comes into being in the relationship between the sense organs, the sense consciousnesses and sense objects. This Link is depicted as a man and woman lying together.
7. Arising from the contact of a sense faculty and an object the following Link appears: Sensation, which is symbolised by a man with an arrow in his eye. Whether virtuous, non-virtuous or neutral we can speak of five types of Sensation (pleasant, painful, neutral, happiness (of mind) and unhappiness.)
8. Attachment arises next, represented by a person drinking. This consists of attraction to pleasant experiences, aversion from unpleasant experiences and simple acceptance of neutral experiences.
9. Stronger than attachment is Grasping, which comes next. I find the English word "grasping" very expressive in the image it conjures up of sinking one's hooks into something. It is represented by a monkey gathering fruit. It is a motion of the mind which seeks to try something out in order to hold on to or cut off an experience, or simply let an experience continue.
10. As a result of Grasping, we create a karmic cause which will manifest in the future to determine a certain form of rebirth. This is the Link of Becoming, represented by a pregnant woman.
11. The Karma
accumulated by the process of becoming leads to Birth
, symbolised understandably enough by a woman giving birth. Birth can take place in four different ways: from a womb, as we know well; from an egg, such as a chicken or bird's egg; microscopically or by division, as with certain forms of cell life; and spontaneous or "miraculous" birth, in places where the body is subtle, and which is a spontaneous birth with a fully-formed body.
12. Because a form has appeared, Old Age and Death must eventually follow, which is represented by an old man carrying a dead body on his back. Old Age does not just mean being old, but is the progressive deterioration of the body from the moment of birth, with its portion of sickness and various sufferings.
We could say, as a way of remembering the Twelve Links: Ignorance leads to the creation of Karma which are imprinted on the Mental Continuum from which arise the Aggregates and the Six Consciousnesses which enable Contact to result in Sensation, which produces Attachment followed by Grasping, which creates Becoming generating Birth followed by Old Age and Death.