A Discourse on Paticcasamuppada

by Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw | 62,614 words

The Paticcasamuppada refers to “The Doctrine of Dependent Origination”. This is the English translation done by U Aye Maung Published by U Min Swe Buddhasasana Nuggaha Organization Rangoon, Burma....

Chapter 3 - Summary

To recapitulate: Seeing involves sensitive eye organ and consciousness. The eye organ depends on consciousness, life force, nutriment and physical base. The eye consciousness depends on the eye organ and the three mental factors of reflection, striving and contact. In short, the eye as well as the eye consciousness depend on nama rupa and the same may be said of other five ayatanas.

A thorough knowledge of the origin of the six ayatanas on the basis of nama rupa is possible only for bodhisattas. Among the Buddhas disciples, even Sariputta and Moggallana did not seem to understand it comprehensively before they attained sotapanna. For, it is said that the ascetic Upatissa who was later to become Sariputta thera attained the first stage on the holy path on hearing the verse uttered by Assaji thera.

The verse, ascribed to the Buddha, says that all phenomena (dhammas) are the effects of certain other phenomena which are the causes. The Buddha points out these causes and there is the cessation of the effects together with the causes. Upatissa and his friend Kolita are said to have attained sotapanna after hearing this verse, but they could not have reflected deeply on the dependent origination in such a short space of time. One may fairly understand the Buddhas teaching on the doctrine according to ones intellectual capacity but, it is impossible to grasp all of it fully.

The commentary explains the verse in the context of the four noble truths, “All the dhammas is the effect” refers to the truth of suffering as having its origin in craving. The cause in the gatha means craving as the cause of dukkha. So the gatha epitomises the truth about suffering and its cause.

In those days there were many views about the soul (atta) viz., that the soul was immortal and passed onto another abode after death, that it was annihilated after the final dissolution of the body, that it was created by God, that it was infinite and so forth. The gatha recognizes only the existence of the cause and effect and denied the immortality or annihilation of the soul and this teaching afforded the two ascetics a special insight into the nature of life.

Visuddhimagga Mahatika identifies this gatha with the teaching on Paticcasamuppada. It refers to a sutta in Samyuttanikaya which says, “If this cause arises, then that effect follows. If this cause ceases, then that effect is also ended. So avijja causes sankhara, etc., so there is suffering. With the cessation of avijja there follows the cessation of sankhara and so on until suffering becomes extinct.” According to the Mahatika, the substance of this teaching is implicit in the aforementioned gatha, in regard to both the arising (anuloma) and cessation (patiloma) of dukkha.

Mahayana pitaka describes this gatha as a sutta that sums up the doctrine of Paticcasamuppada. Any writing of the gatha is said to be beneficial if it is enshrined in a cetiya (pagoda). No wonder that many of these writings are found in very ancient pagodas.

Both views in the commentary and Mahatika are plausible. For the first two noble truths imply Paticcasamuppada in respect of the arising of dukkha and its cause while the other two noble truths imply the doctrine in respect of the cessation of dukkha.

To sum up the causes and effects in the chain of causation: In the past life of a person, ignorance leads to acts, speech and thoughts and these sankharas give rise to vinnana. Then there are five effects in the present life, viz., vinnana, nama rupa, ayatana, phassa and vedana These effects in turn become causes or in other words, they sow the seeds for future life, viz., craving, clinging and becoming (tanha, upadana and jati). As a result there are old age, death, grief and suffering in store for the future life.

Paticcasamuppada is profound and this is borne out by the Buddhas saying to Ananda. Ananda reflected on the doctrine from the beginning to the end and vice versa. To him it was very clear and it presented no difficulty. He approached the Buddha and said, “Lord, this Paticcasamuppada is indeed very profound. But, for me it seems so easy to understand.” The Buddha chided him, saying, “You should not say like that, Ananda.”

According to the commentary, the Buddhas words imply a compliment as well as a reproach to Ananda. The Buddha meant to say in effect, “Ananda, you are highly intelligent and so it is easy for you to understand the doctrine, but do not think that it may be equally easy for other people to understand it.”

Anandas ability to understand the doctrine was due to four factors, viz., the parami (perfections) which he had acquired in his previous lives, the instructions of his teachers, his wide knowledge and his attainment of the first stage on the holy path.

Long, long ago, Ananda was prince Sumana, the brother of Padumuttara Buddha. As a provincial governor, he subdued an uprising successfully. The king was much pleased and told him to ask for any boon he desired. The prince asked for permission to serve the Buddha for three months during the lent. The king did not wish to grant this boon and so he said evasively that it was indeed hard to know the Buddhas mind, that he could do nothing if the Lord was reluctant to go to the princes abode.

On the advice of the bhikkhus, the prince requested a thera named Sumana to arrange for an interview with the Buddha. When he met the Buddha, he told the Lord how Sumana thera had done a thing that was beyond the power of other bhikkhus. He asked what kind of good deeds a man should do to be so intimate with the Lord. The Buddha said that he could become like Sumana by practising dana and sila. The prince requested the Lord to spend the lent in his city as he wished to do good deeds so that he might become a specially privileged thera like Sumana in the holy order of a future Buddha. Seeing that his visit there might benefit all and sundry, the Buddha said, “Sumana, the Buddha loves solitude,” a saying that meant tacit acceptance of the invitation.

The prince then ordered over one hundred monasteries to be built along the route where the Buddha and the Sangha might rest comfortably at night. He bought a park and turned it into a magnificent monastery as well as other dwellings for the Buddha and numerous monks.

Then when all was ready, he sent word to his father and invited the Buddha to come to his city. The prince and his people welcomed the Buddha and his followers, and honouring them with flowers and scents, led them to the monastery. There the prince formally donated the monastery and the park to the Buddha.

After performing this act of dana the prince summoned his wives and ministers and said, “The Buddha has come here out of compassion for us. The Buddhas do not care for material welfare. They care only for the practice of the Dhamma. I wish to honour the Buddha with practice so that he may be well pleased. I will observe the ten precepts and stay at the residence of the Buddha. You must feed and serve all the Arahats every day during the rains retreat as I have done today.”

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