The doctrine of dependent arising, patticcasamuppada,
is the dynamic counterpart of the doctrine of selflessness,
profound and difficult to grasp, a simple exposition
of dependent arising sparks off the liberating wisdom
in the minds of his foremost disciples.
The Dhamma is the truth discovered by the Buddha. In his statement
the Buddha makes an explicit equation between the profound
truth he has realized and dependent arising. Again in describing
his own quest for enlightenment, the Buddha says that immediately
before his enlightenment, when he was sitting in meditation
he began enquiring into the chain of conditioning, seeking
the causal origination of suffering, and this inquiry led him
to the discovery of dependent arising. So from one angle
one can equate the discovery of dependent arising with the
attainment of enlightenment itself.
Buddha meditated on dependent arising for several weeks. He
When Ananda, his attendant. told the Buddha
that dependent arising appeared obvious, the Buddha answered:
Dependent arising is not only the content of the Buddha's
enlightenment, not only a philosophical doctrine, but also
the truth that has to be realized to gain liberation from suffering.
So this is the key not only to the intellectual understanding
of the Dhamma, but to the attainment of liberation itself.
Conditionality — the fundamental law
The teaching of dependent arising has two aspects:
an abstract principle or what we might call a structural
the application of that principle to the problem
First we’ll briefly explore dependent arising as the
most fundamental law underlying every process and all
phenomena. This law is beginningless and endless. This structural
principle that underlies all phenomena is the law of conditionality.
That is, whatever arises, arises in dependence on conditions;
everything that exists, exists in dependence on conditions.
And without the support of the appropriate conditions, the
given phenomena will not be able to remain in existence.
This is illustrated by a formula which explains the conditional
arising and cessation of phenomena:
When there is this, that comes
with the arising of this, that arises.
When there is not this, that does not come to be;
with the cessation of this, that ceases.
In order for any factor to come into existence its condition,
A, must exist or be operative. B arises through
the contribution of its condition, A. As an example, an apple
tree exists in dependence on apple seeds. If there is an apple
seed, an apple tree can come into existence. If an apple seed
comes into being, the tree can come into being.
When A, the
condition for the occurrence of B, does not exist, then the
phenomenon B will not exist. But as B exists in dependence
on A, then with the absence of A, B will not occur, and if
A ceases, then B will cease. If there is no apple seed, then
there can't be a tree, and if the seed is destroyed, then there
can be no growth of the apple tree. For the tree depends on
A web of events
This law of conditionality is not the creation of the
Buddha. It is a law that is always operative whether enlightened
ones arise or do not arise. All compounded things come into
being in dependence on their conditions.
The apple, for example, does not arise only from the
seed. While the seed is the main condition, it also requires
soil, water, sunshine, fertilizer, etc. The apple tree in turn
has many effects. It gives rise to many apples, and those many
apples each contain many seeds, and each of these seeds
in turn can become the source for another apple tree which
will give rise to more apples.
This whole complex interlocking web of events has no first
cause. This is a significant difference between the Buddhist
ideas of conditionality and Western ways of thinking.
Usually we think that the chain of cause and effect needs a
first cause, but for Buddhism there is no original beginning.
The succession of causes and conditions has been occurring
without any conceivable beginning, without any bounds