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Nidana (devanāgarī: निदान nidāna) is a Sanskrit and Pali word that means "cause, foundation, source or origin." In Buddhism the term is associated to the concept of dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda) that explains the existence of objects and phenomena as being due to a chain of 12 causes/effects called "nidānas."

The Twelve Nidanas

The concatenation of twelve nidanas as described in Buddhism is as follows:

1- From spiritual ignorance (avidyā) arises mental formations (saṃskāra).

2- From mental formations arises consciousness (vijñāna).

3- From consciousness arises name and form (nāmarūpa).

4- From name and form arise the sense organs and their objects (ṣaḍāyatana).

5- From sense organs and their objects arise contact (sparśa).

6- From contact arises sensation (vedanā).

7- From sensation arises craving (tṛṣṇā).

8- From craving arises clinging (upādāna).

9- From clinging arises becoming (bhava).

10- From becoming arises birth (jāti).

11 & 12- From birth arise aging and dying (jarāmaraṇa).

Theosophical view

In stanza I, sloka 4 of The Secret Doctrine the nidanas are called "the great causes of misery".[1] Mme. Blavatsky defined them as follows:

The twelve Nidanas or causes of being. Each is the effect of its antecedent cause, and a cause, in its turn, to its successor; the sum total of the Nidanas being based on the four truths, a doctrine especially characteristic of the Hînayâna System. They belong to the theory of the stream of catenated law which produces merit and demerit, and finally brings Karma into full sway. It is based upon the great truth that re-incarnation is to be dreaded, as existence in this world only entails upon man suffering, misery and pain; Death itself being unable to deliver man from it, since death is merely the door through which he passes to another life on earth after a little rest on its threshold—Devachan.[2]

Q. Are Nidâna and Maya (the great causes of misery) aspects of the Absolute?
A. Nidâna means the concatenation of cause and effect; the twelve Nidânas are the enumeration of the chief causes which produce the severest reaction or effects under the Karmic law. Although there is no connection between the terms Nidâna and Maya in themselves, Maya being simply illusion, yet if we consider the universe as Maya or illusion, then certainly the Nidânas, as being moral agents in the universe, are included in Maya. It is Maya, illusion or ignorance, which awakens Nidânas; and the cause or causes having been produced, the effects follow according to Karmic law. To take an instance: we all regard ourselves as Units, although essentially we are one indivisible Unit, drops in the ocean of Being, not to be distinguished from other drops. Having then produced this cause, the whole discord of life follows immediately as an effect; in reality it is the endeavour of nature to restore harmony and maintain equilibrium. It is this sense of separateness which is the root of all evil.[3]

Additional resources


  1. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 38.
  2. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 39.
  3. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. X (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 326-327.