Interpreting Dependent Origination

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Interpreting Dependent Origination

Postby pink_trike » Tue Nov 03, 2009 4:27 am

This is an excerpt from this:

http://www.buddhanet.net/cmdsg/coarise2.htm

...entitled "Interpreting Dependent Origination.

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The principle of Dependent Origination has been interpreted in a number of ways, which can be broadly summarized as follows:

1. As a demonstration of life- or world-evolution, based on a literal definition of such phrases as loka-samudaya (arising
of the world) [as in S.II.73].


2. As a demonstration of the arising and cessation of individual life, or individual suffering.

This second division can further be divided into two subcategories:

2.1 Demonstrating the process over a very long period of time, from lifetime to lifetime. This is the more literal interpretation; it is also the explanation most often found in the commentarial texts, where the subject is expanded on in such minute detail that the newcomer is likely to be confused by the plethora of technical terms.

2.2 Demonstrating a process which is continually occurring. Although related to 2.1, this interpretation gives a more profound and practical definition of the terms with emphasis on the present moment, which is considered to be the real objective of the teaching. This kind of interpretation is supported by teachings in numerous Suttas, and in the Abhidhamma Pitaka there are passages which describe the entire Dependent Origination process in one mind moment.[1]

In the first interpretation given above, there are attempts to interpret the principle of Dependent Origination as a world-origin theory, treating ignorance (avijja) as the First Cause and tracing evolution through the whole twelve links. This kind of interpretation makes the teaching of Buddhism seem very similar to other religious teachings and philosophies, which postulate an origination principle, such as God. The interpretations differ only in that the latter teachings describe the birth and existence of the world as the workings of some supernatural force, whereas the teachings of Buddhism, as seen in this interpretation, would explain things as simply a form of evolution proceeding according to the natural laws of cause and effect.

However, this interpretation certainly contradicts the Buddha's teaching, because any teaching or school of thought which shows a world originating from a First Cause is contrary to the principle of conditionality, or Dependent Origination, which clearly states that all things are interdependent, arising continually through the influences of causes and conditions. Any First Cause, be it a Creator God or anything else, is impossible. Interpreting the Dependent Origination cycle as a description of life- or world-evolution can only be feasible when it presents a picture of the universe functioning according to the natural processes of growth and decline, ceaselessly unfolding at the dictates of cause and effect.

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Can someone explain to me specifically why the first interpretation (1.) wouldn't follow the same mechanics (for lack of a better word) described in the final interpretation (2.2)? That is, a process of continually occurring?
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

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Disclaimer: I'm a non-religious practitioner of Theravada, Mahayana/Vajrayana, and Tibetan Bon Dzogchen mind-training.
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Re: Interpreting Dependent Origination

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Nov 03, 2009 6:44 am

Greetings Pink,

Like some kind of scale invariance?

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Interpreting Dependent Origination

Postby pink_trike » Tue Nov 03, 2009 7:47 am

Yes, exactly. The author of this commentary is suggesting that the 1. interpretation is inconsistent with the 2.2 interpretation...but I can't see how he's making that leap, and I don't see how it could be true. It seems to me as if he's stretching hard to isolate and restrict dependent origination to just one aspect of phenomena.

As above, so below
As without, so within.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

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Re: Interpreting Dependent Origination

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Nov 03, 2009 7:59 am

Hi Pink,

Presumably you like Ven. Thanissaro's writing in Wings to Awakening.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... part1.html
The non-linearity of this/that conditionality explains why heightened skillfulness, when focused on the present moment, can succeed in leading to the end of the kamma that has formed the experience of the entire cosmos. All non-linear processes exhibit what is called scale invariance, which means that the behavior of the process on any one scale is similar to its behavior on smaller or larger scales. To understand, say, the large-scale pattern of a particular non-linear process, one need only focus on its behavior on a smaller scale that is easier to observe, and one will see the same pattern at work. In the case of kamma, one need only focus on the process of kamma in the immediate present, in the course of developing heightened skillfulness, and the large-scale issues over the expanses of space and time will become clear as one gains release from them.

Basically, there and elsewhere, he is saying that DO can be observed on both small and large scales.

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Re: Interpreting Dependent Origination

Postby Individual » Tue Nov 03, 2009 9:40 am

Some nice food for thought.

Is it related to the path and the goal, I wonder?
The best things in life aren't things.

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Re: Interpreting Dependent Origination

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Nov 03, 2009 9:44 am

Individual wrote:Is it related to the path and the goal, I wonder?

Hmm, I tried to give a quote from Ven Thanissaro that was directly related...
Thanissaro wrote:In the case of kamma, one need only focus on the process of kamma in the immediate present, ...


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Re: Interpreting Dependent Origination

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Nov 03, 2009 9:50 am

Greetings,

Individual wrote:Is it related to the path and the goal, I wonder?


Definitely so. The Buddha only taught that which was conducive to liberation, and he repeatedly taught dependent origination.

It is worth spending a lot of time with this teaching, and understanding the finer nuances of it.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Interpreting Dependent Origination

Postby Individual » Tue Nov 03, 2009 10:28 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

Individual wrote:Is it related to the path and the goal, I wonder?


Definitely so. The Buddha only taught that which was conducive to liberation, and he repeatedly taught dependent origination.

It is worth spending a lot of time with this teaching, and understanding the finer nuances of it.

Metta,
Retro. :)

However, he did not apparently give an analysis of Dependent Origination that would be enough to impact what we know of evolutionary biology or theoretical physics or modern cosmology, which is where this discussion sits. If Dependent Origination is to be interpreted as both #1 and #2.2, then it would seem to be the "Theory of Everything" that physicists have searched for.

Dependent Origination came from the Buddha's dialectical introspection: by seeking the origin of suffering, the origin of that origin, the origin of that origin and so on, to find its resolution. Ananda remarked in one sutta that this idea was elegant yet simple -- and I agree -- and the Buddha admonished him for not really knowing what he was talking about.

Since the method for understanding Dependent Origination seems to be meditation, I'm not sure what could be gained from talking about Dependent Origination, as if it were any other mundane philosophy.

Discussing Dependent Origination in detail has a tendency to awaken the desire to know, "Where did it come from? Why is it here?", to wonder about the origin of the cycle itself, whether there was a "primordial ignorance," and if so, its reasoning or purpose. Meditating on it, there is no such bewilderment.

With that said, I find that death poses a big problem for combining cosmological notions of Dependent Origination with the idea of it being merely a subjective experience. It is difficult to picture how the world might operate, without making assumptions, however subtle, of either annihilationism or eternalism, of a self.

Since "self", then, seems to be the key to clarifying misconceptions about Dependent Origination, it seems all the more prudent to meditate on anatta.
The best things in life aren't things.

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Re: Interpreting Dependent Origination

Postby IanAnd » Tue Nov 03, 2009 5:16 pm

Individual wrote:With that said, I find that death poses a big problem for combining cosmological notions of Dependent Origination with the idea of it being merely a subjective experience. It is difficult to picture how the world might operate, without making assumptions, however subtle, of either annihilationism or eternalism, of a self.

Since "self", then, seems to be the key to clarifying misconceptions about Dependent Origination, it seems all the more prudent to meditate on anatta.

It is the realization of the combination of both principles (dependent co-arising and the impersonality of the aggregates) which strengthens the depth of one's overall conception and comprehension of the Dhamma that Gotama was endeavoring to teach. With insight into dependent co-arising one understands the whole of the Dhamma (which includes the teaching on anatta), and, conversely, understanding the whole of the Dhamma, one understands dependent co-arising.

Realization of both these principles aim at one ultimate goal: the attainment of nibbana. As Ven. Analayo has explained in his book Satipattana:

Analayo wrote:The Buddha's consistent refusal to go along with any of the four standard propositions about the survival or the annihilation of an arahant after death was rather bewildering to his contemporaries. According to the Buddha, to entertain these different propositions was as futile as to speculate about the direction in which a fire had departed once it had gone out.

The Buddha found the existing ways of describing a state of realization or awakening inadequate to his realization. His understanding of Nibbana constituted a radical departure from the conceptions of the time. He was well aware of this himself, and after his awakening he immediately reflected on the difficulty of conveying what he had realized to others.

Despite these difficulties, the Buddha did try to explain the nature of Nibbana on several occasions. In the Udana, for instance, he spoke of Nibbana as something beyond this world or another world, beyond coming, going, or staying, beyond the four elements representing material reality, and also beyond all immaterial realms. This "sphere" (ayatana), he pointed out, objectless and without any support, constitutes "the end of suffering." This description shows that Nibbana refers to a dimension completely different from ordinary experiences of the world, and also different from experiences of meditative absorption.

Other discourses refer to such a totally different experience as "non-manifestative" consciousness. A related nuance comes up in a somewhat poetic passage that compares the "unstationed" consciousness of an arahant to a ray of sunlight passing through the window of a room without any opposing wall; the ray does not land anywhere.[53]

Another discourse in the Udana describes Nibbana with the help of a set of past participles as "not born" (a-jati) "not-become" (a-bhuta), "not-made" (a-kata), "not-conditioned" (a-sankhata). This passage again emphasizes that Nibbana is completely "other", in that it is not born or made, not produced or conditioned. It is owing to this "otherness" that Nibbana constitutes freedom from birth (jati), becoming (bhava), karma (kamma), and formations (sankhara). Birth (jati) in a way symbolizes existence in time, while Nibbana, not being subject to birth or death, is timeless or beyond time.

These passages show that Nibbana is markedly different from any other experience, sphere, state, or realm. They clearly indicate that as long as there is even a subtle sense of a somewhere, a something, or a someone, it is not yet an experience of Nibbana.

Footnote
53. S II 103, where due to the complete absence of craving for any of the four nutriments, consciousness is "unstationed" (appatitthita), this in turn resulting in freedom from future becoming.


And further on, speaking about the limitation of theories such as annihilationism or eternalism or the non-dual explanations of Advaitist followers to explain the depth of the Buddha's understanding of nibbana, Analayo indicates, in a stunning admission which characterizes the depth of realization that the Dhamma holds, by stating that: "Nibbana...entails a complete giving up of both subject and object, not a merger of the two. Such an experience constitutes an 'escape' from the entire field of cognition.[59]" — thus bringing his presentation full circle.

Footnote
59. M I 38; this "escape" from the whole field of cognition is identified by the commentary with Nibbana (Ps I 176). Similarly Thi 6 refers to Nibbana as the stilling of all cognitions.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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