- What Is Dependent Origination?jh
- Everything Leansjh
- Retreats with Nathan and Zoharjh
Dependent Origination, as the name suggests, is a teaching that points out how all things come into being reliant on other causes and conditions. Which is to say the origin of 'this' is dependent on 'that'.
This teaching goes further than an indication of interconnection, or how all things are inseparable, to one of interdependencies; everything leans. This is an important insight for a teaching primarily focussed on liberation. The important and lovely reality of connection is not in itself freeing, yet if we know a dependency we have a key; a means to unlock freedom.
A well known example of a dependency in spiritual teachings is the Buddha’s second noble truth; 'dukkha’, literally unsatisfactoriness or stress, is dependent on ‘tanha’, literally thirst or craving, just as a lamp's flame is dependent on fuel. It is a profound realisation that liberates when put into practice by uprooting the cause.
Many of the Buddha’s greatest offerings to humanity are grounded in one of his least mentioned discoveries. This might be because it seems so obvious to us now. During his lifetime there was an unseen potential regarding dependencies; they work both ways; constructive and destructive. If one knows a necessary condition, a ‘dependency’ so to speak, for a certain troublesome state of heart-mind, one can work towards removing such a dependency and gaining a freedom from that state.
‘Tanha’ is a requisite of ‘dukkha’; if we are distressed, we must be craving to some degree. So, if we no longer crave we will also no longer be stressed. This is something we can observe and experiment with in our experience. Of course it’s not always easy to do, which is the very reason there is a path of practice. A path built on the freedom of seeing dependencies and finding skilful means to reduce stress and induce freedom.
The map of dependent origination has evolved overtime to the list of 12 items detailed below as a cycle. The Buddha's liberation was supported by inquiry into the links of dependencies, and manifested in turning the circle back, towards release.
Prior to the Buddha's conception of dependent origination the names of the links in the map were being used to explain how a conscious living being comes out of the world. The Buddha took these terms from the Vedic hymn of creation and used them to pragmatically explain the arising of dukkha in the present human experience.
Regardless of the dependent origins of the map, and potential additional baggage it therefore carries, the schema of dependent origination can be applied to the present moment in verifiable and effective ways. We can immediately agree that 'contact' with the world is not possible without 'a sense organ' to feel it, and that sense organs in turn need minds and bodies; 'namarupa'. Likewise, overtime, 'vedana'; the reactive classification of phenomena according to the pleasure and pain they will give, is seen to be a necessary condition for 'tanha', and thereby 'dukkha'. While with more sustained investigation borne of deeper concentration the subtleties of 'sankhara'; subtle mental activities, are seen into and shaped towards profound freedom.
The whole process is represented quite impersonally by this map. Cutting through our habitual self-cherishing perspective, and bringing more space, clarity and wisdom to our life and way of living. Counter-intuitively this spaciousness is far more intimate than being identified with or as the phenomena of life, and this allows us to uncover real lasting freedom. Freedom borne of understanding and interaction with dependent origination.
Visit The Map of Dependent Origination to learn more about the links in the chain.
Dependent Origination is just one possible translation for the Pali term Paticcasamuppada (Pratityasamutpada in Sanskrit). To give more shape to the meaning of this complex phrase we share a few other common interpretations:
It is also synonymous with Emptiness, Corelessness, or Not-Self.
All beings consist of causes and effects,
In which there is no ‘sentient being’ at all.
From phenomena which are exclusively empty,
There arise only empty phenomena.
All things are devoid of any ‘I’ or ‘mine’.
In this, there is not a thing to be removed,
Nor the slightest thing to be added.
It is looking perfectly into reality itself,
And when reality is seen, complete liberation.
Read the rest of this sublime poem, and other wise quotations at Words of the Awake.