Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Seeing Dependent Origination

Dhr. Seven, Ashley Wells, Wisdom Quarterly; Ven. Nyanatiloka (Anton Gueth), Dictionary
The universe (samsara) is an illusion -- seemingly pleasant, permanent, and personal.
Ideally, "Dependent Origination" (paticca-samuppada) is the set of formal instructions on how to systematically cultivate liberating-insight. It is meant to be practical rather than theoretical.

It answers the question that led to the Buddha's enlightenment after he relaxed and cultivated the absorptions (jhanas): How did this present suffering arise?

How important is it? The Buddha said, "One who sees Dependent Origination sees the Dharma; one who sees the Dharma sees Dependent Origination" (M.I.191).
He also said, "Whether a Tathagata (the Buddha referring to himself) appears or not, this condition exists and is a natural fact, a natural law, that is, the principle of conditionality.
"The Tathagata, enlightened and awakened to that principle, teaches it, shows it, formulates it, declares it, reveals it, makes it known, clarifies it, and points it out, saying: 'See here, conditioned by ignorance are volitional impulses.'"

"This suchness, meditators, this invariability, this irreversibility, that is to say, this law of conditionality I call the principle of Dependent Origination" (S.II.25).
A great read to grasp Buddhism
In direct terms, for intellectual grasping, it is the doctrine of the conditionality of all physical and psychological phenomena.

Here is an overview for philosophical comprehension. Practical instructions are available from a competent Buddhist meditation teacher who has mastered the practice.

Dependent Origination is a doctrine which, together with that of impersonality (not-self), forms the indispensable condition for a realization and direct understanding of the teaching of the Buddha -- gaining enlightenment (bodhi) and experiencing nirvana.

It reveals the dependent nature -- that all "things" are composite and utterly dependent on causes and conditions for their temporary existence -- of an uninterrupted flux of physical and/or psychical phenomena of existence. Here the emphasis is not on obviously impersonal object. Instead, the Buddha focused on ostensibly personal subjects.

Author (center): Western monk
It is true that ALL things lack identity and a permanent essence. But it is of the most profound importance that those groups (heaps, aggregates, skandhas, kandha) that together are conventionally called the "self," personality, "soul," ego, person, or individual are impersonal!

This is a unique feature of Buddhism, a verifiable assertion found in no other religion, philosophy, or teaching. It is the basis of enlightenment from stream entry to full arhatship.
On the one hand, the doctrine of impersonality, not-self or anattā, proceeds analytically, splitting existence up into five ultimate constituent heaps -- revealing that they are empty processes (devoid of any enduring self, owner, or core). Those heaps are unsubstantial phenomena, elements or parts of an illusion. The five are form, feelings, perceptions, formations, and consciousness, our subjective experience of self.

The doctrine of dependent origination, on the other hand, proceeds synthetically -- by revealing that all phenomena are, in some way or other, conditionally related with each other. 
In fact, the entire Abhidharma or "Ultimate Teaching" as a whole, is concerned with nothing but these two doctrines, phenomenality -- the impersonality and conditionality of all existence. The former or analytic method is applied in the Dhammasangani, the first book of the Abhidharma; the latter or synthetic method is applied in the Patthāna, the last book of the Abhidharma. For a synopsis of these two works, see Guide I and VII.
Ven. Nyanatiloka came from Germany
Although this topic has frequently been attempted by Western authors, by far most of them have completely misunderstood the true meaning and purpose of the doctrine of Dependent Origination, and even the 12 terms themselves have often been rendered wrongly. (Or worse it is taken to be a theoretical explanation of the beginning of existence, with ignorance as the prime mover or first cause).

The formula of dependent origination runs as follows:

1. Avijjā-paccayā sankhārā: "Through ignorance are conditioned karma-formations" (sankhāras), that is, the rebirth-producing volitions (cetanā).
2. Sankhāra-paccayā viññānam: "Through karma-formations (past life) is conditioned consciousness (present life)."
3. Viññāna-paccayā nāma-rūpam: "Through consciousness are conditioned mental and physical phenomena" (nāma-rūpa), that is, that which makes up our so-called individual existence.
4. Nāma-rūpa-paccayā salāyatanam: "Through mental and physical phenomena are conditioned the six sense bases," that is, the five physical sense-organs with consciousness [mind] as the sixth.
5. Salāyatana-paccayā phasso: "Through the six sense bases is conditioned (sensorial mental) impression [contact, the coming together of sense, sense object, and awareness]."
6. Phassa-paccayā vedanā: "Through impression (contact) is conditioned feeling [sensation not emotion]."
7. Vedanā-paccayā tanhā: "Through feeling is conditioned craving."
8. Tanhā-paccayā upādānam: "Through craving is conditioned clinging."
9. Upādāna-paccayā bhavo: "Through clinging is conditioned the process of becoming," consisting of the active and the passive life process, that is, the rebirth-producing karma-process (kamma-bhava) and, as its result, the rebirth-process (upapatti-bhava).
10. Bhava-paccayā jāti: "Through the (rebirth-producing karma-) process of becoming is conditioned rebirth."
11. Jāti-paccayā jarāmaranam soka-parideva-dukkha-domanassupayasa sambhavan'ti evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti: "Through rebirth are conditioned [the various forms of suffering] old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. Thus arises the entire mass of suffering (disappointment, distress, unsatisfactoriness) again in the future."
This diagram shows the dependent relationship between three successive lives:
  • 1. Ignorance (avijjā)
  • 2. Karma-formations (sankhārā)

Karma-Process (kamma bhava)
five causes: 1,2,8,9,10
  • 3. Consciousness (viññāna)
  • 4. Mind and Matter (nāma-rūpa)
  • 5. Six Bases (āyatana)
  • 6. Impression (phassa)
  • 7. Feeling (vedanā)
Rebirth-Process (upapatti bhava)
five results: 3-7
  • 8. Craving (tanhā)
  • 9. Clinging (upādāna)
  • 10. Process of Becoming (bhava)

Karma-Process (kamma bhava)
five causes: 1,2,8,9,10
  • 11. Rebirth (jāti)
  • 12. Old Age and Death (jarā-marana)

Rebirth-Process (upapatti bhava)
five results: 3-7

Before taking up the study of the following exposition, it is suggested that readers first thoroughly go through the article on the 24 conditions (paccaya). For a thorough understanding of Dependent Origination, one should know the main modes of conditioning: decisive support, co-nascence, pre-nascence, and so on.
For a closer study of the subject, consult:
  • The Path of Purification, Vis.M. XVII;
  • Fundamentals of Buddhism III;
  • Guide (Ch. VII and Appendix);
  • Dependent Origination by Piyadassi Thera (BPS, Wheel 15);
  • The Significance of Dependent Origination (Wheel 140). More

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