Dependent Origination

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see also Dharma Sun - [1]

Dependent Origination (rten 'brel)

  • The doctrine of dependent origination (Skt. pratītyasamutpāda), as expounded in a number of sūtras indicative of the first turning of the wheel of the sacred doctrine, such as the Pratītyasamutpādavibhaṅganirdeśa, can be said to be the most fundamental metaphysical view of Buddhist thought and it is intimately linked with the Buddhist notion of causation. The principle of dependent origination asserts that nothing exists independently of other factors. The reason for this being that things and events come into existence only by dependence on the aggregation of multiple causes and conditions. There are various levels of subtlety in the meaning of dependent origination, consequent on the interpretation of this principle by different philosophical schools of thought, and in the view of Madhyamaka, it is implied that dependent origination is ultimately to be equated with emptiness.
  • In general, the processes of cyclic existence, through which the external world and the sentient beings within it revolve in a continuous cycle of suffering, propelled by the propensities of past actions and their interaction with dissonant mental states, are said originate dependent on twelve successive links, which are known as the twelve links of dependent origination (dvādaśāṅgapratītyasamutpāda). These comprise: 1) fundamental ignorance, 2) motivational factors, 3) consciousness, 4) name and form, 5) sensory activity fields, 6) contact, 7) sensation, 8) attachment, 9) grasping, 10) rebirth process, 11) birth, 12) aging and death. Although, in the ultimate sense there is no begining to the continuum of mind, a relative begining can be spoken of on the basis of a single instance of rebirth within cyclic existence. Every instance of birth in cyclic existence must have a cause and such causes are ultimately rooted in our fundemental ignorance, which misapprehends the true nature of actual reality. For an ordinary sentient being all the twelve links are interconnected and each component of the chain contributes to the perpetuation of the cycle. It is only through deliberate reversal of fundamental ignorance that one can succeed in bringing the whole cycle to an end. Fundamental ignorance (avidyā) gives rise to conditioning or motivational factors (saṃskāra) which are stored in the substratum consciousness of the ground-of-all (ālayavijñāna). Following the moment of a sentient being's conception, this inheritance of past actions from a previous life gives rise to name and form (nāmarūpa), i.e. to the five psycho-physical aggregates (pañcaskandha), which are products of that dualising consciousness. Then, the sensory activity fields (āyatana) provide the subjective and objective framework for sensory activity in its initial stages of development; while contact (sparśa) refers to the maturation of sensory perception as an unborn child develops a sensitivity to its environment inside the womb. Thereafter, sensation (vedanā), attachment (töṣṇa), grasping (ādāna), rebirth process (bhava), and actual birth (jāti) together indicate the emergence of a sentient being within the living world; and these in turn lead inevitably to old age and death (jarāmaraṇa). The reversal of the twelve links of dependent origination is a feature of the meditative path followed by hermit buddhas, particularly in the awesome setting of a charnel ground. See also L. Pruden (trans.), Abhidharmakośa bhāṣyaṃ, Ch. 3, The World, pp. 401-419. GD (from the Glossary to Tibetan Elemental Divination Paintings)