The Fourth Circle of the Wheel of Dependent Origination

1. Avijja (Ignorance): This first link is illustrated by a man who does not know where he is going as he cannot see anything and cannot do anything right. He is totally deluded because of Ignorance. It is the mind full of delusion and wrong views about matter and mind (Rupa-Nama). As a result, it keeps on grasping and clinging to the aggregates of form, sound, smell, taste and mind objects, without any investigation into the separation of each element and aggregate from one another. The mind will eventually attach to the belief that there is a Self, a solid being which will not decay or dissolve. There is no ability to separate body from mind and no knowledge of the cause of rising and falling of consciousness. This delusion about the idea of Self in opposition to others stems from a lack of insight into reality. In fact these phenomena are consisted only of the 4 elements of earth, water, fire and wind, plus intentional activities and consciousness. Therefore Avijja stands for a deluded human being (Moha) who is full of ignorance and does not realise the Truth. So he is portrayed by a blind person.

2. Sankhara (Volitional activities) is represented by a potter shaping pots on his wheel. He is trying to make something into a form from the material already available. This shows the way Form, Taste, Smell, Sound, tangible objects, and mind-objects are created through mind contact. It is the mind which is full of impulses, emotions and various thoughts every time there is a contact between one of the six senses and an object. Like (merit) and dislike (demerit) will automatically follow. There will also be neutral feeling (Anechabhisankhara) which is neither merit nor demerit. So Sankhara is the cause of impulses and emotions.

3. Vinnana (Consciousness): A monkey holding a crystal depicts restless mind in which the rising and falling of consciousness takes place all the time. The crystal represents virtue. When the crystal is clear, the virtue is there; but when it is dull, there is none. A house represents the sense spheres (Ayatana). Awareness must be developed every time there is contact between one of the 6 senses and an object.

4. Rupa-Nama (Matter and Mind) is portrayed by a man and a woman on a boat. (Matter is depicted by the boat and Mind by the passengers). The physical form is represented by the boat and Consciousness is represented by the people. Though the two phenomena are different, they have to depend on each other.

5. Salayatana (6 Sense Organs) is depicted by the image of an empty house with doors and windows which symbolise the six senses. The house stands for the body, the doors for the mind, and the windows for the eyes, ears, nose and tongue.

6. Phassa (Contact): A couple embracing represents the contact from which consciousness of being male and female arises. As a result, impulses and emotions are produced and defilements, craving, like, dislike and imbalance follow.

7. Vedana (Sensation) is reflected by a man with an arrow sunk deep in his eyes and is in great pain. It indicates the strong feeling which our sensory experience, driven by impulses, evokes whether it is pleasure or pain.

8. Tanha (Craving) is depicted in the image of a man smoking opium. He is an addict who always craves for more and more of the drug. Having no contentment, he cannot have enough of it. Craving cannot be fulfilled. It is the mind which causes impulses and emotions.

Upadana (Grasping) is represented by a monkey plucking fruits from a tree. Grasping them brings about attachment when he is under the illusion that the fruits belong to him.


Bhava (Becoming): A pregnant woman indicates the embryo in her womb. Becoming signifies the plane of existence which corresponds to volitions; it signifies the existence of body and mind. There is attachment to the concept of 'my place', 'our place', 'our group', 'our nation', Self, love and hate. Intentional activities continually produce impulses and emotions with the rising and falling of consciousness.

11. Jati (Birth): A woman giving birth to a baby reflects rebirth into different kinds of being such as female, male, animal or other. It is birth into the 3 planes of existence. It is the mind in which volitions cause impulses and emotions. Concurrently, consciousness keeps on rising and falling, followed by love and hate. Birth and existence take place continuously without end.
12. Jara-Marana (Old age and Death): This last link is personified by a man leaving home, his belongings carried in a basket on a pole over his shoulder. This indicates leaving the body behind as there will be no return. The only things that can be taken are merit and demerit. The house, representing property, will have to be left behind. He will be accompanied by sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, despair, disappointment, and mourning at the separation from loved ones. The greatest suffering in life comes at death, which is Marana. Marana is the mind which has died from good, evil, this world, the next world, merit and demerit. At every moment the mind is born and dies. Consciousness, after rising, must fall. This process is called, "the present death." The death of the (5) aggregates is called, "the death in the 3 planes of existence." The ending of the process of rising and falling of consciousness is called, "the death of the present moment" - each moment is always dying as mind rises and falls. (Nibbana).

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HTML transcription by Paul Trafford (see contact details).