Coyote wrote:I have recently realised that I actually understand little about this teaching, that seems to be regarded by many as a profound explanation of the dhamma and a proof of the middle way. That's no surprise: I am not an Arahant.
I think I understand its importance in Buddhist teaching - how it relates to the 8fold noble path and provides the means for liberation. I just remain unconvinced as to how exactly it provides any proof against the two extremes it opposes, or how it relates to my own experience.
mikenz66 wrote:Comments by Bhikkhu Bodhi from In the Buddha's Words.
Several suttas hold up dependent origination as a "teaching by the middle" (majjhena tahagato dhammam deseti). It is a "teaching by the middle" because it transcends two extremes that polarize philosophical reflection on the human condition. One extreme, the metaphysical thesis of eternalism (sassatavada), asserts that the core of human identity is an indestructible and eternal self, whether individual or universal. It also asserts that the world is created and maintained by a permanent entity, a God or some other metaphysical reality. The other extreme, annihilationism (ucchedavada), holds that at death the person is utterly annihilated. There is no spiritual dimension to human existence and thus no personal survival of any sort. For the Buddha, both extremes pose insuperable problems. Eternalism encourages an obstinate clinging to the five aggregates, which are really impermanent and devoid of substantial self; annihilationism threatens to undermine ethics and to make suffering the product of chance.
Dependent origination offers a radically different perspective that transcends the two extremes. It shows that individual existence is constituted by a current of conditioned phenomena devoid of metaphysical self yet continuing on from birth to birth as long as the causes that sustain it remain effective. Dependent origination thereby offers a cogent explanation of the problem of suffering that on the one hand avoids the philosophical dilemmas posed by the hypothesis of a permanent self, and on the other avoids the dangers of ethical anarchy to which annihilationism eventually leads. As long as ignorance and craving remain, the process of rebirth continues; kamma yields its pleasant and painful fruit, and the great mass of suffering accumulates. When ignorance and craving are destroyed, the inner mechanism of karmic causation is deactivated, and one reaches the end of suffering in samsara. Perhaps the most elegant exposition of dependent origination as the "middle teaching" is the famous Kaccanogotta sutta.
Although these passages portray the Middle Way as balancing two ends of a
continuum, there are other instances where the Buddha defines the Middle Way as a
precise approach that cuts through the continuum entirely. This is especially apparent
in passages where he discusses the Middle Way in terms, not of behavior or
motivation, but of Right View. The Buddha often stresses the radical importance of
In his answer [in the Kaccaayanagotto Suttasutta], the Buddha first points out that the worldlings
mostly base themselves on a duality, the two conflicting views
of existence and non-existence, or `is' and `is not'. They would
either hold on to the dogmatic view of eternalism, or would
cling to nihilism. Now as to the right view of the noble disci-
ple, it takes into account the process of arising as well as the
process of cessation, and thereby avoids both extremes. This is
the insight that illuminates the middle path.
It is clear from this declaration that in this context the law of
dependent arising itself is called the middle path. Some prefer
to call this the Buddha's metaphysical middle path, as it avoids
both extremes of `is' and `is not'. The philosophical implica-
tions of the above passage lead to the conclusion that the law
of dependent arising enshrines a certain pragmatic principle,
which dissolves the antinomian conflict in the world.
It is the insight into this principle that basically distin-
guishes the noble disciple, who sums it up in the two words
samudayo, arising, and nirodho, ceasing. The arising and ceas-
ing of the world is for him a fact of experience, a knowledge.
It is in this light that we have to understand the phrase aparap-
paccayā ñāṇam ev'assa ettha hoti, "herein he has a knowledge
that is not dependent on another". In other words, he is not be-
lieving in it out of faith in someone, but has understood it expe-
rientially. The noble disciple sees the arising and the cessation
of the world through his own six sense bases.
nowheat wrote:Since there are different interpretations of dependent origination, I wonder if you could tell me what "two extremes" you understand it to oppose?
mikenz66 wrote:...Though the first paragraph is written in terms of the traditional Theravada understanding, the gist of second paragraph is, I think, applicable to all interpretations of DO that I am familiar with. ...
And Bhikkhu Nanananda:
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