“If this is, that comes to be;
From the arising of this, that arises;
If this is not, that does not come to be;
From the stopping of this, that is stopped.”
(The Buddha, in the Samyutta Nikaya 12.61, Tipitaka)
In the above equation of causality, the Lord Buddha revealed that everything has a cause or condition (paccaya), without which it never comes into being; it is from this rather simple concept that the more intricate teaching of dependent arising. Dependent arising (paticca-samuppada) is central to Buddhism, being referred to on numerous occasions by the Blessed One and his senior disciples throughout the Tipitaka (Buddhist Scriptures). Before discussing Dependent Arising, here’s a brief listing of the twelve conditions (paccaya) that comprise this important doctrine:
- Avijja: ignorance
- Sankhara: karma-formations
- Vinnana: consciousness
- Nama-rupa: mind & matter
- Salayatana: six bases
- Phassa: impression
- Vedana: feeling
- Tanha: craving
- Upadana: clinging
- Bhava: becoming
- Jati: rebirth
- Jara-marana: old age & death
The formula of dependent arising is describes the process whereby the twelve conditions link up to explain existence and how dukkha (suffering) comes about. Paticca-samuppada begins with a past life involving avijja (ignorance) of the nature of suffering, its cause, its ending, and the Path leading to its ending. This is a condition for volitional acts, whether conscious or unconscious, which in turn condition consciousness (vinnana), ‘coloring’ it. This consciousness conditions nama-rupa (mind and body) at the beginning of one’s present life.
On nama-rupa is founded salayatana, or the six sense-bases, which include the mind as well as the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and body (the sense of touch). Conditioned by salayatana is phassa (sense impression), upon which is dependent vedana (feeling) which conditions tanha, or desire. Tanha is a condition for upadana (clinging), which as a condition as a condition for bhava (becoming). Bhava conditions the following jati, or birth, which then conditions jara-marana (aging and death), or to give it its full title, jara-maranam-soka-parideva-dukkha-domanassupayasa – decay and death, sorrow, lamentation, suffering, grief and despair.)
Important to note is the place of avijja (ignorance) in the chain of conditions, and the position of dukkha (suffering) in the twelfth condition amidst all that decay, sorrow and grief, etc. This life has been conditioned by ignorance in the last one, and the ultimate result is suffering, which will be carried over into the next existence – unless nirvana is realized. Nirvana means ‘snuffing-out’ and is the extinction of ignorance, along with greed and hatred. The essential element of this ignorance is not knowing the fact of anatta, or not-self; because we take ourselves to be permanent selves or souls, we suffer. Let go of the delusion of selfhood and there’s no one to suffer! This is the positive equivalent of dependent arising as shown above, with the ending of ignorance preceding the cessation of sankharas, all the way to the ending of suffering.
The Way to the ending of suffering is called Ariya Atthangika Magga in Pali, or the Noble Eightfold Path, which is centered on the development of morality, concentration and wisdom, and includes the method of meditation at its heart (Click here for more on the Path). Possessing a serene mind reflecting on the nature of things, the realization of not-self can arise, and the belief that there is a permanent separate self is relinquished, along with all the suffering associated with it.
It should be noted that dependent arising is also said to be occur moment by moment, not just over three lifetimes. This means that with a well-directed mind it can be witnessed and understood in this life, and that enlightenment (bodhi) or nirvana can be realized in this present existence also. Let’s hope that through our earnest endeavors we my all observe and understand paticca-samuppada sooner than later!