The True Nature of Existence —
Dependent Arising

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Qualities of the Dharma
The Four Noble Truths
The Noble Eightfold Path
The True Nature of Existence
  The Five Aggregates of Clinging
  Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta
  Dependent Arising
  Kamma, Nibbana and Rebirth


The Sangha
The Buddhist Sangha



Dependent Arising  

The doctrine of dependent arising, patticcasamuppada, is the dynamic counterpart of the doctrine of selflessness, anatta.

So 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 concluded:

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 principle
  •  the application of that principle to the problem of suffering

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 to be;
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 the seed. 

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 or limits.