Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
of Dependent Origination
"No God, no Brahma
can be found
No matter of this wheel of life
Just bare phenomena roll
Depend on conditions all.(Visuddhi Magga)"
Law of Dependent Origination is one of the most important teachings of the
Buddha, and it is also very profound. The Buddha has often expressed His
experience of Enlightenment in one of two ways, either in terms of having
understood the Four Noble Truths, or in terms of having understood the
nature of the dependent origination. However, more people have heard about
the Four Noble Truths and can discuss it than the Law of Dependent
Origination, which is just as important.
Although the actual
insight into dependent origination arises with spiritual maturity, it is
still possible for us to understand the principle involved. The basis of
dependent origination is that life or the world is built on a set of
relations, in which the arising and cessation of factors depend on some
other factors which condition them. This principle can be given in a short
formula of four lines:
When this is,
This arising, that arises
When this is not, that is not
This ceasing, that ceases.
On this principle of
interdependence and relativity rests the arising, continuity and cessation
of existence. This principle is known as the Law of Dependent Origination
in Pali, Paticca-samuppada. This law emphasizes an important principle
that all phenomena in this universe are relative, conditioned states and
do not arise independently of supportive conditions. A phenomenon arises
because of a combination of conditions which are present to support its
arising. And the phenomenon will cease when the conditions and components
supporting its arising change and no longer sustain it. The presence of
these supportive conditions, in turn, depend on other factors for their
arising, sustenance and disappearance.
The Law of
Dependence Origination is a realistic way of understanding the universe
and is the Buddhist equivalent of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. The
fact that everything is nothing more than a set of relations is consistent
with the modern scientific view of the material world. Since everything is
conditioned, relative, and interdependent, there is nothing in this world
which could be regarded as a permanent entity, variously regarded as an
ego or an eternal soul, which many people believe in.
The phenomenal world is
built on a set of relations, but is this the way we would normally
understand the world to be? We create fictions of its permanency in our
minds because of our desires. It is almost natural for human beings to
cling to what they consider as beautiful or desirable, and to reject what
is ugly or undesirable. Being subjected to the forces of greed and hatred,
they are misled by delusion, clouded by the illusion of the permanency of
the object they cling to or reject. Therefore, it is hard for us to
realize that the world is like a bubble or mirage, and is not the kind of
reality we believe it to be. We do not realize that it is unreal in
actuality. It is like a ball of fire, which when whirled around rapidly,
can for a time, create the illusion of a circle.
The fundamental principle
at work in dependent origination is that of cause and effect. In dependent
origination, what actually takes place in the causal process is described
in detail. To illustrate the nature of dependent origination of the things
around us, let us consider an oil lamp. The flame in an oil lamp burns
dependent upon the oil and the wick. When the oil and the wick are
present, the flame in an oil lamp burns. If either of these is absent, the
flame will cease to burn. This example illustrates the principle of
dependent origination with respect to a flame in an oil lamp. Or in an
example of a plant, it is dependent upon the seed, earth, moisture, air
and sunlight for the plant to grow. All these phenomena arise dependent
upon a number of causal factors, and not independently. This is the
principle of dependent origination.
In the Dhamma, we are
interested to know how the principle of dependent origination is applied
to the problem of suffering and rebirth. The issue is how dependent
origination can explain why we are still going round in Samsara, or
explain the problem of suffering and how we can be free from suffering. It
is not meant to be a description of the origin or evolution of the
universe. Therefore, one must not be mistaken into assuming that
ignorance, the first factor mentioned in the dependent origination, is the
first cause. Since everything arises because of some preceding causes,
there can be no first cause.
According to the Law of
Dependent Origination, there are twelve factors which account for the
continuity of existence birth after birth. The factors are as follows:
Through ignorance are
conditioned volitional actions or kamma-formations.
Through volitional actions is conditioned consciousness.
Through consciousness are conditioned mental and physical phenomena.
Through mental and physical phenomena are conditioned the six
faculties(i.e., five physical sense-organs and mind).
Through the six faculties is conditioned (sensorial and mental) contact.
Through (sensorial and mental)contact is conditioned sensation.
Through sensation is conditioned desire, 'thirst".
Through desire ('thirst') is conditioned clinging.
Through clinging is conditioned the process of becoming.
Through the process of becoming is conditioned birth.
Through birth are conditioned decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain,
grief and despair.
This is how life arises,
exists and continues, and how suffering arises. These factors may be
understood as sequentially spanning over a period of three life-times; the
past life, the present life, and the future life. In the dependent
origination, ignorance and mental formation belong to the past life, and
represent the conditions that are responsible for the occurrence of this
life. The following factors, namely, consciousness, mental and physical
phenomena, the six senses, contact, sensation, desire, clinging and
becoming, are factors involved in the present life. The last two factors,
birth and decay and death, belong to the future life.
In this law, the
first factor of Ignorance gives rise to Volitional Activities (or kamma).
Ignorance means not knowing or understanding the true nature of our
existence. Through Ignorance, good or evil deeds are performed which will
lead a person to be reborn. Rebirth can occur in various planes of
existence: the human world, the celestial or higher planes, or even
suffering planes depending of the quality of a person's kamma. When a
person dies, his Volitional Activities will condition the arising of
Consciousness, in this case to mean the re-linking Consciousness which
arises as the first spark of a new life in the process of re-becoming.
re-linking Consciousness has taken place, life starts once again.
Dependent on the Consciousness, there arise Mind and Matter, that is, a
new 'being' is born. Because there are Mind and Matter, there arise the
six Sense-organs (the sixth sense is the mind itself). With the arising of
the Sense-organs, there arises Contact. Contact with what? Contact with
sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile objects, and mental objects.
These sights, sounds,
smells, tastes, tactile objects, and mental objects can be beautiful,
pleasing and enticing. On the other hand, they can be ugly and
distasteful. Therefore, dependent on Contact arises Sensations: feelings
that are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Because of these feelings, the
laws of attraction (greed)and repulsion (aversion) are now set in motion.
Beings are naturally attracted to pleasant objects and repelled by
unpleasant objects. As a result of Sensation, Desire arises. A person
desires and thirsts for forms that are beautiful and enticing; sounds that
are beautiful and enticing; tastes, smells, touch, and objects which the
mind regards as beautiful and enticing. From these Desires, he develops
very strong Clinging to the beautiful object (or strongly rejects the
repulsive object). Now because of this Clinging and attachment, the next
life is conditioned and there arises Becoming. In other words, the
processes of Becoming are set in motion by Clinging.
The next link in this
chain of Dependent Origination is that Becoming conditions the arising of
Birth. And finally, dependence on Birth arise Decay and Death, followed by
Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain, Grief and Despair.
The process can
be ceased if the formula is taken in the reverse order: Through the
complete cessation of ignorance(through the cultivation of Insight),
volitional activities or kamma-formations cease; through the cessation of
volitional activities, consciousness ceases; °‚ through the cessation
of birth, the other factors of decay, death, sorrow, etc., cease.
Therefore, one can be free from the rounds of rebirth through the
eradication of ignorance.
To re-iterate what was
mentioned earlier, this doctrine of Dependent Origination merely explains
the processes of Birth and Death, and is not a theory of the evolution of
the world. It deals with the Cause of re-birth and Suffering, but in no
way attempts to show the absolute Origin of Life. Ignorance in Dependent
Origination is the ignorance of the Four Noble Truths. It is very
important for us to understand the Four Noble Truths because it is the
ignorance of these Truths that has trapped us all in the endless cycle of
birth and death.
According to the Buddha,
while He was speaking to Ananda: It is by their not being able to
comprehend the Dependent Origination, that people are entangled like a
ball of cotton, and not being able to see the Truth, are always afflicted
by Sorrow, --born often into conditions that are dismal and dreary, where
confusion and prolonged suffering prevail. And, they do not know how to
disentangle themselves to get out.
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