The Meaning Of Life

by HH the Dalai Lama | 2,242 words

This is an excerpt on Dependent Arising (karma) and The 3 Poisons (which cause all suffering): When in the first rendition Buddha says, "Due to the existence of this, that arises," he indicates that the phenomena of cyclic existence arise not through the force of supervision by a permanent deity but due to specific conditions. Merely du...

Dependent Arising

12links[1]The first two links: Ignorance (the blind man) and Action (the potter)

With respect to the Buddhist view, dependent-arising is the general philosophy of all Buddhist systems even though there are many different interpretations of it. In Sanskrit the word for dependent- arising is pratityasamutpada The word pratitya has three different meanings--meeting, relying, and depending--but all three, in terms of their basic import, mean dependence. Samutpada means arising. Hence, the meaning of pratityasamutpada is that which arises in dependence upon conditions, in reliance upon conditions, through the force of conditions. On a subtle level, it is explained as the main reason why phenomena are empty of inherent existence.

When Buddha set forth the twelve links of dependent- arising, he spoke from a vast perspective and with great import. He taught the twelve links in detail in the Rice Seedling Sutra As in other discourses, the context is one of questions which Buddha's answers.

In this Sutra, Buddha speaks of dependent-arising in three ways:

Due to the existence of this, that arises.
Due to the production of this, that is produced.

It is thus: due to ignorance there is compositional action; due to compositional action there is consciousness; due to consciousness there are name and form; due to name and form there are the six sense spheres; due to the six sense spheres there is contact; due to contact there is feeling; due to feeling there is attachment; due to attachment there is grasping; due to grasping there is the potentialized level of karma called "existence"; due to "existence" there is birth; and due to birth there are aging and death.

When in the first rendition Buddha says,

"Due to the existence of this, that arises,"

he indicates that the phenomena of cyclic existence arise not through the force of supervision by a permanent deity but due to specific conditions. Merely due to the presence of certain causes and conditions, specific effects arise.

In the second phase, when Buddha says,

"Due to the production of this, that is produced,"

he indicates that an unproduced, permanent phenomenon such as the general nature propounded by the Samkhya system (of thought) cannot perform the function of creating effects. Rather, the phenomena of cyclic existence arise from conditions that are impermanent by nature.

Then the question arises: If the phenomena of cyclic existence are produced from impermanent conditions, could they be produced from just any impermanent factors? This would not be sufficient; thus, in the third phase, he indicates that the phenomena of cyclic existence are not produced from just any impermanent causes and conditions but rather from specific ones that have the potential to give rise to specific phenomena.

Setting forth the dependent- arising of suffering, Buddha shows that suffering has ignorance--obscuration--as its root cause. This impure, faulty seed produces an activity that deposits in the mind a potency that will generate suffering by producing a new life in cyclic existence. It eventually has as its fruit the last link of dependent- arising, the suffering of aging and death.

With regard to the twelve links of dependent- arising, there are basically two modes of explanation, one in terms of thoroughly afflicted phenomena and another in terms of pure phenomena. Just as in the four noble truths, which are Buddha's root teaching, there are two sets of cause and effect, one set for the afflicted class of phenomena and another for the pure class, so here in the twelve links of dependent- arising, there are procedures in terms of both afflicted phenomena and pure phenomena.

From among the four noble truths, true sufferings--the first truth--are effects in the afflicted class of phenomena, and true sources--the second truth--are their causes. In the pure class of phenomena, true cessations, the third truth, are effects in the pure class, and true paths, the fourth truth, are their causes. Similarly, when it is explained in the twelve links of dependent- arising that due to the r condition of ignorance, action is produced and so forth, the explanation is in terms of the afflicted procedure, and when it is explained that due to the cessation of ignorance, action ceases ; and so forth, it is in terms of the procedure of the pure class. The first is the procedure of the production of suffering, and the second is the procedure of the cessation of suffering.

To repeat: the twelve links of dependent- arising are laid out in terms of a process of affliction and in terms of a process of purification, and each of these is presented in forward and reverse orders. Thus, in the forward process, it is explained that:

Due to the condition of ignorance, action arises;
due to the condition of action, consciousness arises;
due to the condition of consciousness, name and form arise;
due to the condition of name and form, the six sense spheres arise;
due to the condition of the six sense spheres, contact arises; due to the condition of contact, feeling arises;
due to the condition of feeling, attachment arises;
due to the condition of attachment, grasping arises;
due to the condition of grasping, the potentialized level of karma called "existence" arises;
due to the condition of "existence", birth arises;
due to the condition of birth, aging and death arise.

Because this mode describes how suffering is produced, it is an a explanation of the sources that produce suffering. In reverse order it is explained that:

The unwanted sufferings of aging and death are produced in dependence upon birth;
birth is produced in dependence upon the potentialized level of action called "existence";
"existence" is produced in dependence upon grasping;
grasping is produced in dependence upon attachment;
attachment is produced in dependence upon feeling;
feeling is produced in dependence upon contact;
contact is produced in dependence upon the six sense spheres;
the six sense spheres are produced in dependence upon name and form;
name and form are produced in dependence upon consciousness;
consciousness is produced in dependence upon action;
action is produced in dependence upon ignorance.

Here the emphasis is on the first of the four noble truths, true sufferings themselves, which are the effects.

Then, in terms of the process of purification, it is explained that:

When ignorance ceases, action ceases;
when action ceases, consciousness ceases;
when consciousness ceases, name and form cease;
when name and form cease, the six sense spheres cease;
when the six sense spheres cease, contact ceases;
when contact ceases, feeling ceases;
when feeling ceases, attachment ceases;
when attachment ceases, grasping ceases;
when grasping ceases, the potentialized level of karma called "existence" ceases;
when the potentialized level of karma called "existence" ceases, birth ceases;
when birth ceases, aging and death cease.

This explanation is in terms of the purified class of phenomena with the emphasis being on the causes, that is to say, true paths, from among the four noble truths.

In reverse order, it is explained that:

The cessation of aging and death arises in dependence upon the cessation of birth;
the cessation of birth arises in dependence upon the cessation of the potentialized level of karma called "existence";
the cessation of the potentialized level of karma called "existence" arises in dependence upon the cessation of grasping;
the cessation of grasping arises in dependence upon the cessation of attachment;
the cessation of attachment arises in dependence upon the cessation of feeling;
the cessation of feeling arises in dependence upon the cessation of contact;
the cessation of contact arises in dependence upon the cessation of the six sense spheres;
the cessation of the six sense spheres arises in dependence upon the cessation of name and form;
the cessation of name and form arises in dependence upon the cessation of consciousness;
the cessation of consciousness arises in dependence upon the cessation of action;
the cessation of action arises in dependence upon the cessation of ignorance.

Here, within the process of purification the emphasis is on the effects, true cessations, the third of the four noble truths.

These processes are depicted in a painting called the wheel of cyclic existence with five sectors Within cyclic existence, the levels of gods and demi- gods are combined in one sector, and then there is a sector of humans, these comprising the happy transmigrations, depicted in the top half of the wheel. The three sectors in the bottom half are bad or low transmigrations-- those of animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-beings. All of these sectors represent the levels of suffering in terms of types of birth.

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