15. Mahānidāna Sutta
The Great Discourse on Origination
1.Thus have I heard.318
See The Great Discourse on Causation: The Mahānidāna Sutta and its Commentaries, translated from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi, (BPS 1984). Once the Lord was staying among the Kurus. There is a market town there called Kammāsadhamma. 319
There was nowhere in the town for the Buddha to stay, so he stayed outside, in the jungle: hence the construction ‘There is a market town’ (DA). And the Venerable Ananda came to the Lord, saluted him, sat down to one side, and said: ‘It is wonderful, Lord, it is marvellous how profound this dependent origination is, and how profound it appears! And yet it appears to me as clear as clear!’
‘Do not say that, Ananda, do not say that! This dependent origination is profound and appears profound. It is through not understanding, not penetrating this doctrine that this generation has become like a tangled ball of string, covered as with a blight,320
Gulāgunthika-jāta: or ‘matted like a bird’s nest.’ tangled like coarse grass, unable to pass beyond states of woe, the ill destiny, ruin and the round of birth-and-death.321
2.‘If, Ananda, you are asked: “Has ageing-and-death a condition for its existence?״322
Idapaccayā. Cf. n.291. you should answer: “Yes.” If asked: “What conditions ageing-and-death?” you should answer: “Ageing-and-death is conditioned by birth.”...  “What conditions birth?”... “Becoming conditions birth.”... “Clinging conditions becoming.”... “Craving conditions clinging.”... “Feeling conditions craving.”...“Contact conditions feeling.” ... “Mind-and-body conditions contact.”323
The six sense-bases are omitted, for some reason, in this Sutta.... ”Consciousness conditions mind-and-body.”...If asked: “Has consciousness a condition for its existence?” you should answer: “Yes.” If asked: “What conditions consciousness?” you should answer: “Mind-and-body conditions consciousness.”324
3.‘Thus, Ānanda, mind-and-body conditions consciousness and consciousness conditions mind-and-body, mind-and-body conditions contact, contact conditions feeling, feeling conditions craving, craving conditions clinging, clinging conditions becoming, becoming conditions birth, birth conditions ageing-and-death, sorrow,  lamentation, pain, grief and distress.325
The more literal rendering is: ‘with x as condition, y comes to be.’ Thus this whole mass of suffering comes into existence.
4.‘I have said: “Birth conditions ageing-and-death”, and this is the way that should be understood. If, Ananda, there were no birth at all, anywhere, of anybody or anything: of devas to the deva-state, of gandhabbas..., of yakkhas..., of ghosts... ,326
Bhūtānaṁ: ‘beings’, but the term is sometimes used in the sense of ‘ghosts’. The Sub-Commentary identifies them with the Kumbhaṇḍas mentioned at DN 32.5 (q.v.). of humans..., of quadrupeds..., of birds..., of reptiles to the reptile state, if there were absolutely no birth at all of all these beings, then, with the absence of all birth, the cessation of birth, could ageing-and-death appear?’ ‘No, Lord.’ ׳Therefore, Ananda, just this is the root, the cause, the origin, the condition for ageing-and-death - namely birth.
5.‘I have said: “Becoming conditions birth.״...If there were absolutely no becoming: in the World of Sense-Desires, of Form or the Formless World...could birth appear?’
‘No, Lord.’ ‘Therefore just this is the condition of birth — namely becoming.
6.״ ׳Clinging conditions becoming.״... If there were absolutely no clinging: sensuous  clinging, clinging to views, to rite-and-ritual, to personality-belief..., could becoming appear?
7.״ ׳Craving conditions clinging.״... If there were absolutely no craving: for sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tangibles, mind-objects..., could clinging appear?
8.״ ׳Feeling conditions craving.״...If there were absolutely no feeling: feeling born of eye-contact, ear-contact, nose-contact, tongue-contact, body-contact, mind-contact - in the absence of all feeling, with the cessation of feeling, could craving appear?’
‘No, Lord.’ ׳Therefore, Ananda, just this is the root, the cause, the origin, the condition for craving — namely feeling.
9.‘And so, Ananda, feeling conditions craving, craving conditions seeking,327
Pariyesanā. Verses 9-18 constitute an excursus. seeking conditions acquisition,328
Lābha. acquisition conditions decision-making,329
Vinicchaya. decision-making conditions lustful desire,330
Chanda-rāga. lustful desire conditions attachment,331
Ajjhosāna (= adhi-ava-sāna ‘being bent on something’). attachment conditions appropriation,332
Pariggaha: ‘possessiveness’ (BB). appropriation conditions avarice,333
Macchariya. avarice  conditions guarding of possessions, 334
Ārakkha: ‘watch and ward’ (RD), ‘protection’ (Bennett), ‘safeguarding’ (BB). and because of the guarding of possessions there arise the taking up of stick and sword, quarrels, disputes, arguments, strife, abuse, lying and other evil unskilled states.
10.‘I have said: “All these evil unskilled states arise because of the guarding of possessions.” For if there were absolutely no guarding of possessions... would there be the taking up of stick or sword...?’ ‘No, Lord.’ ׳Therefore, Ananda, the guarding of possessions is the root, the cause, the origin, the condition for all these evil unskilled states.
11.‘I have said: “Avarice conditions the guarding of possessions... ״
12 — 17.״ ׳Appropriation conditions avarice,...  attachment conditions appropriation,...lustful desire conditions attachment,... decision-making conditions lustful desire,... acquisition conditions decision-making,... seeking conditions acquisition...״
18.‘I have said: “Craving conditions seeking.”...If there were no craving,... would there be any seeking?’ ‘No, Lord.’ ‘Therefore, Ananda, craving is the root, the cause, the origin, the condition for all seeking. Thus these two things become united in one by feeling.335
The two aspects of craving: 1. as primary craving, the basis of rebirth, and 2. craving-in-action (samudācāratanhā) (DA). See RD’s notes. 
19.‘I have said: “Contact conditions feeling.”... Therefore contact is the root, the cause, the origin, the condition for feeling.
20.‘ “Mind-and-body conditions contact.” By whatever properties, features, signs or indications the mind-factor336
Ndma-kaya: the mental component of the pair nāmarūpa ‘name-and-form’ or ‘mind-and-body’. See next note. is conceived of, would there, in the absence of such properties... pertaining to the mind-factor, be manifest any grasping at the idea of the body-factor?׳337
Rūpa-kāya: the physical component of the pair nāmarūpa. Both rūpa and kāya can on occasion be translated ‘body’, but there is a difference. Rūpa is body as material, especially visible, form, while kāya is body as aggregate, as in ‘a body of material, a body of men’. ‘No, Lord.’
‘Or in the absence of any such properties pertaining to the body-factor, would there be any grasping at sensory reaction on the part of the mind-factor?’ ‘No, Lord.’
‘By whatever properties the mind-factor and the body-factor are designated — in their absence is there manifested any grasping at the idea, or at sensory reaction?’ ‘No, Lord.’
‘By whatever properties, features, signs or indications the mind-factor is conceived of, in the absence of these is there any contact to be found?’ ‘No, Lord.’
‘Then, Ananda, just this, namely mind-and-body, is the root, the cause, the origin, the condition for all contact.
21.‘I have said: “Consciousness conditions mind-and-body.” ...  If consciousness were not to come into the mother׳s womb, would mind-and-body develop there?’ ‘No, Lord.’
‘Or if consciousness, having entered the mother’s womb, were to be deflected, would mind-and-body come to birth in this life?’ ‘No, Lord.’ ‘And if the consciousness of such a tender young being, boy or girl, were thus cut off, would mind-and-body grow, develop and mature?’ ‘No, Lord.׳ ׳Therefore, Ananda, just this, namely consciousness, is the root, the cause, the origin, the condition of mind-and-body.
22.‘I have said: “Mind-and-body conditions consciousness.” ...If consciousness did not find a resting-place in mind-and-body, would there subsequently be an arising and coming-to-be of birth, ageing, death and suffering?’ ‘No, Lord.’ ׳Therefore, Ananda, just this, namely mind-and-body, is the root, the cause, the origin, the condition of consciousness. Thus far then, Ananda, we can trace338
‘We can trace’ is inserted for clarity. birth and decay, death and falling into other states and being reborn,339
The same words as at DN 14.18: see n.281 there. thus far extends the way of designation, of concepts, thus far is the sphere of understanding, thus far the round goes  as far as can be discerned in this life,340
This confirm DA’s statement mentioned in DN 14, n.286 (cf. n.324). namely to mind-and-body together with consciousness.
23.‘In what ways, Ananda, do people explain the nature of the self? Some declare the self to be material and limited,341
The four declarations are in Pali: 1. ‘Rūpī me paritto attā’, 2. ‘Rūpī me ananto attā’, 3. Arūpī me paritto atta’, 4. ‘Arūpī me ananto atta’. Rūpī is the adjective from rūpa (see n.337) and may mean ‘material’, though DA takes it as referring to the World of Form (rūpaloka) as experienced in the lower jhānas, arūpī then referring similarly to the Formless World of the higher jhānas. Cf. DN 1.3.1ff. saying: “My self is material and limited”; some declare it to be material and unlimited...; some declare it to be immaterial and limited...; some declare it to be immaterial and unlimited, saying: “My self is immaterial and unlimited.”
24.‘Whoever declares the self to be material and limited, considers it to be so either now, or in the next world, thinking: “Though it is not so now, I shall acquire it there.״342
Upakappessāmi: glossed by DA as sampādessāmi ‘I shall strive for, attain’. That being so, that is all we need say about the view that the self is material and limited, and the same applies to the other  theories. So much, Ananda, for those who proffer an explanation of the self.
25. — 26.׳How is it with those who do not explain the nature of the self?...(as verses 23 — 24 but negated). 
27.‘In what ways, Ananda, do people regard the self? They equate the self with feeling: “Feeling is my self״,343
Identifying the (supposed) self with the feeling-aggregate (vedanā-kkhandha). or: ”Feeling is not my self, my self is impercipient״,344
Identifying the self with the body-aggregate. or: “Feeling is not my self, but my self is not impercipient, it is of a nature to feel.״345
Identifying the self with the aggregates of perception, mental formations and consciousness. Such are the commentarial explanations.
28.‘Now, Ananda, one who says: “Feeling is my self” should be told: “There are three kinds of feeling, friend: pleasant, painful, and neutral. Which of the three do you consider to be your self?” When a pleasant feeling is felt, no painful or neutral feeling is felt, but only pleasant feeling. When a painful feeling is felt, no pleasant or neutral feeling is felt, but only painful feeling. And when a neutral feeling is felt, no pleasant or painful feeling is felt, but only neutral feeling.
29.‘Pleasant feeling is impermanent, conditioned,346
Sankhata: as opposed to the ‘unconditioned element’, which is Nibbāna. dependently-arisen, bound to decay, to vanish, to fade away, to cease — and so too are painful feeling  and neutral feeling. So anyone who, on experiencing a pleasant feeling, thinks: “This is my self״, must, at the cessation of that pleasant feeling, think: ״My self has gone!” and the same with painful and neutral feelings. Thus whoever thinks: “Feeling is my self” is contemplating something in this present life that is impermanent, a mixture of happiness and unhappiness, subject to arising and passing away. Therefore it is not fitting to maintain: “Feeling is my self.״
30.‘But anyone who says: “Feeling is not my self, my self is impercipient” should be asked: “If, friend, no feelings at all were to be experienced, would there be the thought: ‘I am’?” [to which he would have to reply:] “No, Lord.״347
The MSS appear to ascribe these answers to Ananda himself rather than the hypothetical interlocutor. Therefore it is not fitting to maintain: “Feeling is not my self, my self is impercipient.”
31.‘And anyone who says: “Feeling is not my self, but my self is not impercipient, my self is of a nature to feel” should be asked: “Well, friend, if all feelings absolutely and totally ceased, could there be the thought: ‘I am this?” ’348
I.e. this feeling. [to which he would have to reply:] “No, Lord.” Therefore it is not fitting to maintain:  “Feeling is not my self, but my self is not impercipient, my self is of a nature to feel.”
32.‘From the time, Ananda, when a monk no longer regards feeling as the self, or the self as being impercipient, or as being percipient and of a nature to feel, by not so regarding, he clings to nothing in the world; not clinging, he is not excited by anything, and not being excited he gains personal liberation,349
He gains Nibbāna for himself (individually: paccattaṁ). and he knows: “Birth is finished, the holy life has been led, done was what had to be done, there is nothing more here.”
‘And if anyone were to say to a monk whose mind was thus freed: “The Tathāgata exists after death״,350
Cf. DN 1.2.27. that would be [seen by him as] a wrong opinion and unfitting, likewise: “The Tathāgata does not exist..., both exists and does not exist..., neither exists nor does not exist after death.” Why so? As far, Ananda, as designation and the range of designation reaches, as far as language and the range of language reaches, as far as concepts and the range of concepts reaches, as far as understanding and the range of understanding reaches, as far as the cycle reaches and revolves — that monk is liberated from all that by super-knowledge,351
Abhiññā. and to maintain that such a liberated monk does not know and see would be a wrong view and incorrect.
33.׳Ānanda, there are seven stations of consciousness352
RD makes heavy weather of this in his note. These are the ‘places’ or ‘states’ in which conscious rebirth takes place. The stations also occur at AN 7.41 (not 39, 40, as stated by RD). and two realms.353
Ayatanāni: normally translated ‘spheres’, is here rendered ‘realms’ to avoid confusion with the ‘spheres’ of Infinite Space, etc., included among the seven ‘stations’. Glossed as nivāsanatthānāni ‘dwelling-places’, they clearly differ from the station as being where unconscious (or not fully conscious) rebirth takes place. Which are the seven? There are beings different in  body and different in perception, such as human beings, some devas and some in states of woe. That is the first station of consciousness. There are beings different in body and alike in perception, such as the devas of Brahmā׳s retinue, born there [on account of having attained] the first jhāna. That is the second station. There are beings alike in body and different in perception, such as the Abhassara devas. 354
Cf. DN 1.2.1. That is the third station. There are beings alike in body and alike in perception, such as the Subhakinna devas. That is the fourth station. There are beings who have completely transcended all perception of matter, by the vanishing of the perception of sense-reactions and by non-attention to the perception of variety; thinking: “Space is infinite”, they have attained to the Sphere of Infinite Space. That is the fifth station. There are beings who, by transcending the Sphere of Infinite Space, thinking: “Consciousness is infinite”, have attained to the Sphere of Infinite Consciousness. That is the sixth station. There are beings who, having transcended the Sphere of Infinite Consciousness, thinking: “There is no thing״, have attained to the Sphere of No-Thingness. That is the seventh station of consciousness. [The two realms are:] The Realm of Unconscious Beings and, secondly, the Realm of Neither-Perception-Nor-Non-Perception.
34.‘Now, Ananda, as regards this first station of consciousness, with difference of body and difference of perception, as in the case of human beings and so on, if anyone were to understand it, its origin, its cessation, its attraction and its peril, and the deliverance from it, would it be fitting for him to take pleasure in it?’  ‘No, Lord.’ ‘And as regards the other stations, and ‘.he two spheres likewise?’ ‘No, Lord.’
‘Ananda, insofar as a monk, having known as they really are these seven stations of consciousness and these two spheres, their origin and cessation, their attraction and peril, is freed without attachment, that monk, Ananda, is called one who is liberated by wisdom.355
Paññā-vimutto. Mrs RD’s translation ‘Freed-by-Reason’ is certainly misleading, even if learnedly supported by a reference to Kant’s Vernunft! The usual rendering of paññā is ‘wisdom’, though Ñāṇamoli prefers ‘understanding’. It is the true wisdom which is born of insight. The important point is the commentarial statement that this means: ‘liberation without the aid of the following eight “liberations”’. It will be noticed that ‘stations’ 5-7 formally correspond to ‘liberations’ 4-6. The difference is that by the first way these ‘stations’ are seen through with insight and rejected, whereas by the second way they are used as means towards liberation.
35.‘There are, Ananda, these eight liberations.356
These are really only relative ‘liberations’, since one has to pass through them successively to gain true freedom. What are they?
׳(1) Possessing form, one sees forms.357
Referring, as in verse 23, to the World of Form. Jhāna is here induced by observing marks on one’s own body. That is the first liberation. (2) Not perceiving material forms in oneself, one sees them outside.358
Here, the kasina (disc, etc., used as a meditation-object) is external to oneself. That is the second liberation.  (3) Thinking: “It is beautiful”, one becomes intent on it.359
By concentrating on the perfectly pure and bright colours of the kasina. That is the third. (4) By completely transcending all perception of matter, by the vanishing of the perception of sense-reactions and by non-attention to the perception of variety, thinking: “Space is infinite”, one enters and abides in the Sphere of Infinite Space. That is the fourth. (5) By transcending the Sphere of Infinite Space, thinking: “Consciousness is infinite”, one enters and abides in the Sphere of Infinite Consciousness. That is the fifth. (6) By transcending the Sphere of Infinite Consciousness, thinking: “There is no thing״, one enters and abides in the Sphere of No-Thingness. That is the sixth. (7) By transcending the Sphere of No-Thingness, one reaches and abides in the Sphere of Neither-Perception-Nor-Non-Perception. That is the seventh. (8) By transcending the Sphere of Neither-Perception-Nor-Non-Perception one enters and abides in the Cessation of Perception and Feeling.360
Saññā-vedayita-nirodha or nirodha-samāpatti: a state of a kind of suspended animation, from which it is possible to break through to the state of Non-Returner or Arahant. For an illuminating account of this — to the ordinary person — mysterious state, see Nyāṇaponika, Abhidhamma Studies (2nd ed.), 113ff. That is the eighth liberation.
36.‘Ananda, when once a monk attains these eight liberations in forward order, in reverse order, and in forward-and-reverse order, entering them and emerging from them as and when, and for as long as he wishes, and has gained by his own super-knowledge here and now both the destruction of the corruptions and the uncorrupted liberation of heart and liberation by wisdom,361
Ceto-vimutti paññā-vimutti: (cf. DN 6.12) ‘liberation of the heart and by wisdom’, i.e. in the two ways mentioned. that monk is called “both-waysliberatedʺ, 362
This again refers to the two ways mentioned. The various kinds of ‘liberated one’ are listed at DN 28.8. and, Ananda, there is no other way of ʺboth-ways-liberationʺ that is more excellent or perfect than this.’
Thus the Lord spoke. And the Venerable Ananda rejoiced and was delighted at his words.