Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.

Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Feb 27, 2011 9:38 am

I thought it might be interesting to discuss the arguments that Richard Gombrich collects in Chapter 9 of his recent book What the Buddha Thought regarding the Dependent Origination sequence.

In brief, the argument is that the 12-step chain is the result of pasting together two chains, and that the first four links are a parody of Vedic Cosmogony.

The arguments are based on articles by Joanna Jurewicz, which unfortunately I can't easily access right now, such as "Playing with fire: the pratityasamupada from the perspective of Vedic thought", Journal of the Pali Text Society 26:77-103 (2000).

I'll give a brief sketch for those with no access to Gombrich's book. However, it's hard to do justice to it without typing out several pages of the book...

For reference, the 12 links are:
1. Avijja (ignorance);
2. Sankhara (mental fabrications);
3. Viññana (consciousness);
4. Nama-rupa (name-and-form);
5. Salayatana (six sense-media);
6. Phassa (contact);
7. Vedana (feeling);
8. Tanha (craving);
9. Upadana (clinging);
10. Bhava (becoming);
11. Jati (birth);
12. Dukkha (suffering, unsatisfactoriness).

In the Rig Veda :

1. First there is nothing, not even existence or non-existence. This corresponds to ignorance.

2. A volitional impulse (kama - desire) initiates the process of creation.

3. Desire, 'the first seed of the mind', creates consciousness.

4. Gombrich: "Pure consciousness is thus at best reflexive, cognizing itself. From this reflexivity, in which there is only one entity, develops an awareness of subject and object; this in turn leads to further individuation, until we reach the multiplicity of our experience: individuation both by name (nama), using a linguistic category, and by appearance (rupa), perceptible to the senses."

Gombrich continues:
"The later Buddhist tradition did not understand how the Buddha had appropriated this term nama-rupa from the Upanishads. Realising that at this point in the chain there should be a reference to the emergence of the individual person with teh five khandha, the tradition made nama-rupa equivalent to the five khandha by saying that rupa was the first khandha and nama referred to the other four. Since three of these four (vedana, samkhara, and vinnana) appear elsewhere in the chain under their usual names, this can hardly be correct."

He then quotes Jurewicz to the effect that in Vedic cosmogeny the act of giving name and form marks the final formation of the Creator's atman. The Buddha, of course, was rejecting the idea of the atman and the denial of the atman makes the Vedic cosmogony meaningless.

Gombrich: "... at a very early stage the Buddhist tradition lost sight of the texts and doctrines to which the Buddha was responding. And, I might add, irony does not weather well."

He goes on to speculate that this four-step parody was subsequently stuck together with the later part. Erich Fauwallner argued long ago that the chain would logically have started with Tanha, in order to match up with the Four Noble Truths, but starting with the sense bases would work equally well.

Gombrich: " My conclusion is that Frauwallner and Hwang are right, and the Buddha's chain originally went back only five links, to thirst. (It could also go back six, seven, or eight links - nothing hangs on the difference.) Then, at another point, the Buddha produced a different causal chain to ironize and criticise Vedic cosmogony, and noticed that it led very nicely into the earlier chain - perhaps because it is natural for the creation of the individual to lead straight on to the six senses, and these, via 'contact' and 'feeling', to thirst. It is quite plausible, however, that someone failed to notice that once the first four links become part of the chain, it's negative version meant that in order to abolish ignorance one first had to abolish consciousness!"

I can elaborate a little more if there is some interest, but I'm particularly interested is comments from people who have thought about these Vedic references.

:anjali:
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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Feb 27, 2011 9:45 am

Greetings Mike,

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

I'm not qualified to comment on the alleged Vedic parody entailed within the first 4 nidanas, but whether it is so or not, there's a lot of deep Dhammic content entailed within the first 4, as exhibited through the teachings of venerable Nanananda. In fact, the good venerable arguably gives more time to expounding on these 4 nidanas than he does the rest of the sequence!

The purpose of this post was essentially to say that whether Gombrich's theory is true or not, we're better off not just clipping off the first four nidanas as some kind of antiquated irrelevancy.

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: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Feb 27, 2011 9:57 am

retrofuturist wrote:The purpose of this post was essentially to say that whether Gombrich's theory is true or not, we're better off not just clipping off the first four nidanas as some kind of antiquated irrelevancy.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If I am reading this correctly, to the contrary. Gombrich's point would expand on the depth of what is going on here.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Feb 27, 2011 10:02 am

Greetings Tilt,

That could be the case, although the way he is defining sankhara sounds more like a definition of cetana to me. Maybe that's only tangential to his argument though.

Edit: Actually, maybe that list was one Mike sourced from somewhere rather than Gombrich's text - it's not quite clear. Apologies for any confusion caused on my part.

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: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Feb 27, 2011 10:07 am

Hi Retro, there is always a chance that Ven Nananada, along with the ancient commentators that he has some disagreements with, has misunderstood the whole thing. No commentator is infallible, right? :tongue:

The thing that struck me was that Gombrich and Ven N. both argue for the rejection of the commentarial interpretation of nama-rupa and wind up with definitions that are quite similar, but for apparently quite different reasons.

As Tilt says, such ideas don't necessarily subtract, they may well enrich how one views the Dhamma.

:anjali:
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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Feb 27, 2011 10:09 am

retrofuturist wrote:That could be the case, although the way he is defining sankhara sounds more like a definition of cetana to me. Maybe that's only tangential to his argument though.

Edit: Actually, maybe that list was one Mike sourced from somewhere rather than Gombrich's text - it's not quite clear. Apologies for any confusion caused on my part.

Yes, that's Ven. Thanissaro's list.

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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Feb 27, 2011 10:11 am

Thanks Mike, and yes, I agree with your second to last post.

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: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby Vossaga (Element) » Sun Feb 27, 2011 11:34 am

mikenz66 wrote:In the Rig Veda :

1. First there is nothing, not even existence or non-existence. This corresponds to ignorance.

2. A volitional impulse (kama - desire) initiates the process of creation.

3. Desire, 'the first seed of the mind', creates consciousness.


hello Mike

this sounds like the Book of Genesis but not Dependent Origination. the Book of Genesis says: "in the beginning, the earth was formless and empty". This is not ignorance. Ignorance is 'not-knowing'. ignorance is a defilement. ignorance is something rather than nothing

with metta

:smile:

Genesis 1
The Beginning
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby Dmytro » Sun Feb 27, 2011 11:37 am

Hello,

mikenz66 wrote:The arguments are based on articles by Joanna Jurewicz, which unfortunately I can't easily access right now, such as "Playing with fire: the pratityasamupada from the perspective of Vedic thought", Journal of the Pali Text Society 26:77-103 (2000).


IMHO, these are unconvincing speculations.

The Conditioned Arising model, as presented on the diagram http://dhamma.ru/lib/paticcas.htm , has strong similarities with the Early Samkhya model, - presented in the diagram below.

See also the detailed analysis of the Early Samkhya elements which Buddha learned and transformed:

Early Sāṃkhya in the Buddhacarita
Kent, Stephen A.
http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-PHIL/kent.htm
http://dhamma.ru/forum/index.php?topic= ... 74#msg5374

As for the specific 12-link formulation, - it's just one of the way in which Buddha expressed the Conditioned Arising model. There are many other suttas with quite different formulations, which wait for serious study, for example:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Many of such suttas are briefly summarized in the diagram:

http://dhamma.ru/lib/paticcas.htm

So it would be strange to explore only the 12-link formula.

Best wishes, Dmytro
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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby Vossaga (Element) » Sun Feb 27, 2011 12:15 pm

Hello

It seems the Buddha often appropriated & refined Vedic terms, such as the Three Knowledges (see SN 7.8). This also occured with nama-rupa, it being redefined as mind-matter rather than subject-object. Contrary to many modern translators, the suttas describe/define nama-rupa as mind & matter. Nama is not only perception and rupa is not merely objects. Rupa is described as the four great elements and nama as various mental constituents.

As for the rest of Gombrich's speculations, they are based in a reincarnation interpretation of Dependent Origination rather than a psychological interpretation. Although not the standard interpretation in Buddhism, a psychological interpretation of Dependent Origination results in ignorance tainting consciousness, in the same way the Buddha described the five hindrances tainting the mind, of water tainted with dye, water blown by wind, water overgrown with weeds, water put in a dark place, etc.

With the Four Noble Truths, as his first sermon, following the rationale of teaching in a gradual manner, I sense the Buddha offered a brief sermon on suffering & its cessation. Later, with Dependent Origination, he taught the same subject in more detail.

Following a psychological interpretation, the primary cause of suffering is ignorance. Ignorance taints consciousness, resulting in ignorance at sense contact & the subsequent arising of craving upon sense contact with an object. Following a psychological interpretation, the contradictions Gombrich is speculating about do not arise.

With metta

:smile:
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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Feb 27, 2011 8:20 pm

Hi Dmytro,

Thank you for your useful comments and links.
Dmytro wrote:As for the specific 12-link formulation, - it's just one of the way in which Buddha expressed the Conditioned Arising model. There are many other suttas with quite different formulations, which wait for serious study, for example:

Yes, indeed. In fact this is one of the points. The 12-links is just one option. There are many formulations of DO and quite a number of them do not contain several of the first few links, including DN 15, Maha-nidana Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
which has:
    name and form <-> consciousness (supporting each other)
    contact
    feeling
    ...

So in this case we don't have
1. Avijja (ignorance);
2. Sankhara (mental fabrications);
5. Salayatana (six sense-media);

:anjali:
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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Feb 27, 2011 8:33 pm

Hi Vossaga,
Vossaga wrote:Following a psychological interpretation, the primary cause of suffering is ignorance. Ignorance taints consciousness, resulting in ignorance at sense contact & the subsequent arising of craving upon sense contact with an object. Following a psychological interpretation, the contradictions Gombrich is speculating about do not arise.

Yes, of course. There are various interpretations, two of which your and Dmytro's posts highlight.

Let me make it clear (if it wasn't already) that I have no interest in trying to prove that one particular interpretation is "right". That, in my opinion, is a futile aim. To me that point is to consider the ideas available to us in the Tipitika and the various ancient and modern commentaries and analyses. It seems to me that in some cases historical research into the thought systems known to the Buddha are likely to be useful in interpreting what the Buddha is getting at and deepening our understanding, and therefore our ability to apply the Dhamma. Such analysis do not necessarily contradict other ways of looking at the teachings.

[Another example where knowing the Bhrahminic view is useful is here: http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=25&t=7415&p=118244#p118016]

:anjali:
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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby Kenshou » Sun Feb 27, 2011 11:09 pm

This is an interesting subject. I think it makes sense. It would not be so surprising considering how much Buddhist doctrine is a reworking of preexisting concepts. But of course that doesn't mean that we have to discard what we know about the 12 nidana sequence, if anything this perspective should help us have a little deeper understanding of what this particular concept is trying to convey. The 12 links are one of those things with so many varied interpretations, the more context we have the better off we'll be.

Also, I do have a copy of the Jurewicz paper, but I don't know if it would be proper to post it.
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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Feb 27, 2011 11:18 pm

Thanks Kenshou,
Kenshou wrote:Also, I do have a copy of the Jurewicz paper, but I don't know if it would be proper to post it.

We couldn't condone posting a copyrighted paper, but it might be useful for those who have neither the paper nor Gombrich's book for you to post some extracts. If you have Gombrich's book, perhaps you could look at what he says and quotes and post something along those lines.

:anjali:
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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby Kenshou » Sun Feb 27, 2011 11:21 pm

I do have access to the relevant chapter, I'll look them over again for meaty bits.
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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Feb 28, 2011 12:00 am

Thanks, If I were an ace typist or had a scanner/OCR handy I'd have posted more of it. If you can post some extracts we could have a better discussion of the actual issues rather than a meta-discussion about sutta analysis (which might of course be worthwhile on a different thread).

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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby beeblebrox » Mon Feb 28, 2011 8:16 pm

Vossaga wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:In the Rig Veda :

1. First there is nothing, not even existence or non-existence. This corresponds to ignorance.

2. A volitional impulse (kama - desire) initiates the process of creation.

3. Desire, 'the first seed of the mind', creates consciousness.


hello Mike

this sounds like the Book of Genesis but not Dependent Origination. the Book of Genesis says: "in the beginning, the earth was formless and empty". This is not ignorance. Ignorance is 'not-knowing'. ignorance is a defilement. ignorance is something rather than nothing.


I haven't read the book, but I think that was the point. Saying that: "First there is nothing, not even existence or non-existence," would have to be based on ignorance. Who has ever seen the very beginning itself, anyway? That would be where all of the craving, clinging, becoming, the birth, aging, decay and death comes from. The dukkha, unsteadiness, unreliability, the suffering of clinging to one's own cherished views (or the Vedas), in other words.

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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Apr 13, 2011 2:28 am

Greetings,

Is this relevant?

The Sixteen Hindu Samskaras
http://www.vmission.org.in/hinduism/samskaras.htm

1. Garbhadan - The first coming together of the husband & wife for bringing about conception.
2. Pumsvan - Ceremony performed when the first signs of conception are seen, and is to be performed when someone desires a male child.
3. Seemantonayan - A ceremony of parting of the hairs of the expectant mother to keep her spirits high & positive. Special music is arranged for her.
4. Jatakarma - After the birth of the child, the child is given a secret name, he is given taste of honey & ghee, mother starts the first breast-feeding after chanting of a mantra.
5. Nama-karana - In this ceremony the child is given a formal name. Performed on the 11th day.
6. Nishkramana - In this the formal darshan of sun & moon is done for the child.
7. Annaprashana - This ceremony is performed, when the child is given solid food (anna) for the first time.
8. Chudakarana - Cuda means the 'lock or tuft of hair' kept after the remaining part is shaved off.
9. Karna-vedha - Done in 7th or 8th month. Piercing of the ears.
10. Upanayan & Vedarambha - The thread ceremony. The child is thereafter authorized to perform all rituals. Studies of Vedas begins with the Guru.
11. Keshanta Hairs - are cut, guru dakshina is given
12. Samavartan - Returning to the house
13. Vivaha - Marriage ceremony
14. Vanprastha - As old age approaches, the person retires for a life of tapas & studies.
15. Sanyas - Before leaving the body a Hinddu sheds all sense of responsibility & relationships to awake & revel in the timeless truth.
16. Antyeshthi - The last rites done after the death.

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: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby Sylvester » Wed Apr 13, 2011 3:28 am

It's interesting that DN 15 also has a somewhat more abridged DO sequence. It does not address the nidanas of avijja-sankhara, nor sankhara-vinnana, nor namarupa-salayatana. In fact, Nama-Rupa suddenly assumes a gigantic role in this DO formula, serving as paccaya for 2 states, ie vinnana as well as phassa.

But even in this abridged formula, the absence of the nidana of sankhara-vinnana need not unduly alarm us. DN 15 posits that -

'From name-and-form as a requisite condition comes consciousness.' Thus it has been said. And this is the way to understand how from name-and-form as a requisite condition comes consciousness. If consciousness were not to gain a foothold in name-and-form, would a coming-into-play of the origination of birth, aging, death, and stress in the future be discerned? (Ven Thanissaro's translation)

‘Nāmarūpapaccayā viññāṇan’ti iti kho panetaṃ vuttaṃ, tadānanda, imināpetaṃ pariyāyena veditabbaṃ, yathā nāmarūpapaccayā viññāṇaṃ. Viññāṇañca hi, ānanda, nāmarūpe patiṭṭhaṃ na labhissatha, api nu kho āyatiṃ jātijarāmaraṇaṃ dukkhasamudayasambhavo paññāyethā”ti?


The patittham referred above is that "establishment" of consciousness mentioned in another thread. Take a look at SN 12.39 -

Bhikkhus, what one intends, and what one plans, and whatever one has a tendency towards : this becomes a basis for the maintenance of consciousness. Where there is a basis, there is a support for the establishing of consciousness. When consciousness is established and has come to growth, there is descent of name and form ... (continue per the rest of DO sequence)
.....

But, bhikkhus, when one does not intend, and one does not plan, and one does not have a tendency towards anything, no basis exists for the maintenance of consciousness. When there is no basis, there is no support for the establishing of consciousness. When consciousness is unestablished and does not come to growth, there is no descent of name and form... (continue per the rest of DO sequence)


Perhaps the first 2 standard nidanas were omitted from DN 15, simply because they were fairly well known in the context of other discourses? It does sound a lot more palatable than Gombrich's theory that the redactors might have mistaken a parody for Dhamma.
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Re: Dependent Origination and the Vedas

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Apr 13, 2011 4:34 am

Sylvester wrote: It does sound a lot more palatable than Gombrich's theory that the redactors might have mistaken a parody for Dhamma.

Since some reject much Classical Theravada thought on the basis that it is a misinterpretation, I hardly see Gombrich's theory as particularly radical compared to, say Ven Nanavira's or Ven Nanananda's theories. :stirthepot:

Besides, as Tilt has already pointed out, it's not a case of either-or with these various ideas. I'm personally quite happy to consider all the interpretations and see how they inform my practice...

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