Buddhism Pratītyasamutpāda
Chaisit Suwanvarangkul
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 April 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 April 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0027


The Sanskrit term pratītyasamutpāda (Pāli paṭiccasamuppāda; Tib. rten cing ’brel ’byung རྟེན་ཅིང་འབྲེལ་འབྱུང་; Ch. yuán qǐ 縁起; Jpn. engi; Kor. yeon-gi; Viet. Duyên khởi), meaning “dependent arising” or “dependent origination”, is the basis for the Buddha’s teaching on the processes of birth and death and appears in the canon of the two major schools of Buddhism, Theravāda and Mahāyāna. Pratītyasamutpāda is one of the terms that illuminate the ultimate truth in Buddhism. Specifically, it is a particular teaching of Buddhism that deals with the phenomenona, or perpetual changes, caused by karma, the vicissitudes of life, all of which come from direct causes (hetu) and indirect causes (pratyaya). The Buddha once said: “Those who perceive ‘dependent origination’ (pratīyasamutpāda) will perceive the dharma; those who perceive the dharma will perceive ‘dependent origination’” (Saṃyutta Nikāya [Samyutta 22, 87]; see Bodhi 2000, cited under Canonical Sources, Vol. 1, p. 102) Underlying the doctrine of pratītyasamutpāda is the notion that “Because this exists, that arises; because this does not exist, that does not arise.” In short, all the Buddha’s other teachings may be seen as founded on the teaching of pratītyasamutpāda. Pratītyasamutpāda can be also connected to other Buddhist philosophy, such as Dharmadhātu, which states that all beings create themselves and that even the universe is self-created. Dharmadhātu has come to represent the universe as universally corelative, generally interdependent, and mutually originating, and it states that no single being exists independently. Dharmadhātu is also an ethical and a psychological transformation that occurs in the modern world: we can escape the bonds of the existence of samsara by cutting the psychological roots of suffering. This is none other than nirvana.

General Overviews

One of the main teachings of the Buddha is dependent origination, which describes how suffering comes about through the mental chain of events. There are better ways to state this. Warder 1997 and Walpola 1974 clarify the fundamental principle of pratītyasamutpāda by explaining the original Pali text. Thanissaro 2008 offers a complete analysis of dependent coarising, whereas Gethin 1998 narrates the story of the Buddha through discussion of the framework of the theory of dependent origination. Bronkhorst 2009 examines the doctrine of dependent origination. Prebish and Keown 2010 considers the four noble truths, together with dependent origination. Nagao 1991 presents the concepts associated with the doctrine of dependent origination in terms of the philosophical problems raised by the concept of pratītyasamutpāda.

  • Bronkhorst, Johannes. Buddhist Teaching in India. Boston: Wisdom, 2009.

    Bronkhorst provides a historical Indian Buddhism and tracks the development of Buddhist teachings. He gives a clear explanation of the doctrine of conditioned origination (pratītyasamutpāda) (pp. 31–38).

  • Gethin, Rupert. Foundations of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

    This book narrates the story of the Buddha; discusses the framework of the theory of dependent origination in chapter 6, “No Self: Personal Continuity and Dependent Arising” (pp. 133–162).

  • Nagao, Gadjin M. Mādhyamika and Yogācāra: A Study of Mahāyāna Philosophies; Collected Papers of G. M. Nagao. Translated by Leslie S. Kawamura. New York: State University of New York Press, 1991.

    In chapter 13, “From Mādhyamika to Yogācāra: An Analysis of MMK, XXIV.18 and MV, 1.1–2”, Nagao outlines the philosophical problems raised by the concept of pratītyasamutpāda.

  • Prebish, Charles S., and Damien Keown. Introducing Buddhism. New York: Routledge, 2010.

    In chapter 3, Prebish and Keown look at the four noble truths, together with dependent origination (pp. 48–49); in Part 4 they explain Buddhism in the Western world and human rights through dependent origination (pp. 228–231).

  • Thanissaro, Bhikkhu. The Shape of Suffering: A Study of Dependent Co-arising. Valley Center, CA: Metta Forest Monastery, 2008.

    In this book the author argues that dependent coarising is a condition that leads to suffering and to suffering’s end. He analyzes a passage in the canon and concludes that this was the topic the Buddha contemplated during his first week after his enlightenment. This book is appropriate for beginners who want to study pratītyasamutpāda.

  • Walpola, Rāhula. What the Buddha Taught. New York: Grove, 1974.

    Walpols clarifies the principles of Buddhist doctrine, especially pratītyasamutpāda. This volume is a good account of the Buddha’s teachings and is appropriate for the newcomer to Buddhism.

  • Warder, A. K. Indian Buddhism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1997.

    This book focuses on Indian Buddhism, with reference to the available original sources. The consideration of conditioned origination is in chapter 5, “Causation” (pp. 107–156).

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