Our lives begin with the suffering of birth and end with the suffering of death; between these two, there are many different consequences of aging and many unfortunate events. This is suffering, the first of the four noble truths, which we do not want—the problem we want to overcome. It is important to investigate whether there is any way to surmount such suffering or not. To understand this, it is necessary to investigate what the causes of our situation are.
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 pratitya-samutpada. 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 pratitya-samutpada is that which arises in dependence upon conditions, in reliance upon conditions, through the force of conditions.
Dependently arisen phenomena are empty of inherent existence
Through dependent-arising we see how phenomena are empty of inherent existence. In order to reflect on the fact that things—including the subjects on which a meditator is reflecting—are empty of inherent existence because of being dependent-arisings, it is necessary to identify the subjects of this reflection, these being the phenomena that produce pleasure and pain, help and harm, and so forth.
If one does not understand cause and effect, it is extremely difficult to realize that these phenomena are empty of inherent existence by reason of the fact that they are dependent-arisings. One has to understand the presentation of cause and effect—that certain causes help and harm in certain ways—because these are the bases with respect to which emptiness is to be realized by reason of their being dependently arisen.