The Sutras on Dependant Co-arising and Great Emptiness
Today is the 19th March and we are in the New Hamlet in the spring retreat. We have studied the Sutra on the Middle Way and at the same time we have looked at the Sutra on Dependent Co-arising and the Sutra on Great Emptiness. The Sutra on Dependent Co-arising is No. 296 in the Samyukta Agama. The word "Samyukta" is generally understood as "miscellaneous." This word gives us a rather negative first impression, as if items classed as "miscellaneous" were unimportant. The Samyukta Agama is, in fact, a collection of sutras which contain the essence of the Buddhadharma. If you look deeply into the sutras of the Samyukta Agama you will see the source of Buddhism, thus making it even greater than the other Agamas, like the Madhya Agama or the Dirgha Agama. These last two collections have been organised in a special manner; but in the Samyukta Agama, presentation is more natural. If you want to get close to the original teachings of the Buddha, examine the Samyukta Agama. It is a collection of short sutras containing the essence of the Buddhadharma. The Sutra on Dependent Co-arising, The Sutra on the Middle Way, and The Sutra on Great Emptiness are all there in the Samyukta Agama.
Links to the Samyukta Agama can be found at the very bottom of this page...
Parallel to the Samyutta Nikaya in Pali is the Samyukta Agama of the Sarvastivada school, preserved in the Chinese Buddhist Canon. This was translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Gunabhadra in 435-445 CE. It contains approximately 1362 discourses, most of which have close counterparts in the Pali canon.
This one in particular seems to relate to TNH's ideas, a discussion between Ananda and Chanda...
勝妙法 (正見中道) The excellent dharma (Right view, the middle way). T 2, pp. 66b-67a, sūtra No. 262. (= Saṃyutta-nikāya 22. 90 Channa (vol. iii, pp. 132-135)
"O Chanda! an ignorant, ordinary person does not understand that material form is impermanent; that feeling, perception, activities, and consciousness are impermanent. All activities (compounded things) are impermanent; all dharmas (the nature of phenomena) are non-self; nirvāṇa is cessation.
"Now you are capable of receiving the most excellent dharma. Now listen carefully while I teach you."
At that time Chanda thought: "Now I am delighted to have attained the most excellent mind, to have obtained a joyful mind. Now I am capable of receiving the most excellent dharma."
Then Ānanda said to Chanda: "I heard this myself from the Buddha when he was teaching Mahā-Katyāyana:
"Worldlings are confused, depending on two extremes: either existence or non-existence.
"Worldlings become attached to all spheres, setting store by and grasping with the mind.
"Katyāyana! If one does not feel, nor attach to, nor dwell in, nor set store by self, then, when suffering arises, it arises; and when it ceases, it ceases.
"Katyāyana! If one does not doubt, is not perplexed, if one knows it in oneself and not from others, then that is right view, the teaching of the Tathāgata (the Buddha).
"Why is this so? Katyāyana! If one sees rightly, as it really is, the arising of the world, one will not have the annihilationist view of the world. If one sees rightly, as it really is, the cessation of the world, one will not have the eternalist view of the world.
"Katyāyana! The Tathāgata, avoiding these two extremes, teaches the middle way, namely: When this is, that is; this arising, that arises.
"That is to say: Conditioned by ignorance, activities arise, and so on ..., and thus arises the suffering of birth, old age, sickness, death, sorrow, and affliction.
"As for the saying, 'when this is not, that is not; this ceasing, that ceases', this is to say: Ignorance ceasing, activities cease, and so on ..., and thus ceases the suffering of birth, old age, sickness, death, sorrow, and affliction."
When the venerable Ānanda had taught this dharma, the monk Chanda became freed from defilement and stain and acquired the pure dharma-eye.
At that time, the monk Chanda saw dharma, attained dharma, knew dharma, realised dharma; transcended doubt [knowing it] not through another; in the dharma of the Great Teacher, he attained the state of fearlessness.
Respectfully saluting by joining palms, he said to the venerable Ānanda:
"It is just so! As it is the noble life of wisdom, a good friend teaches the discipline and the dharma.
"Now, I have heard the dharma from the venerable Ānanda thus: All activities are empty, tranquil, not to be grasped at; and the destruction of craving, the fading away of desire, cessation, is nirvāṇa.
"The mind is joyful, one dwells rightly in liberation, and there is no returning, no more seeing self; one sees only the true dharma." Then Ānanda said to Chanda:
"Now you have attained great benefit in the profound Buddha-dharma, you have attained the wisdom-eye."
Then the two noble ones, delighted with each other, rose from their seats, and returned each to his place.
Thich Nhat Hanh is interesting, imo, in that he's rare among popular Zen teachers, being one who reads and teaches from both the Mahayana sutras and the Pali Canon suttas extensively. If a Zen Buddhist wants to learn about the foundations of Mindfulness, the brahma-viharas and other topics taught in Theravada, TNH (along with Gil Fronsdal) are primary sources. He has great respect for Theravadan teachings, and has blended them into his understanding of Zen Buddhism and the Madhyamaka view of emptiness.
And yet, from the Theravada side, there seems to be little interest (or respect) for TNH, primarily because of how he presents Dependent Origination, focusing on the interdependence (inter-being) of things as a way of explaining the Buddha's teachings on emptiness and non-self.
So, i thought it might be interesting to look at this a bit more deeply, if anyone is interested.
Do his ideas hold water, are they helpful, are they grounded in the Buddha's dhamma?