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Analysis of Dependent Origination

Dependent Origination.016

Here is the description of the process of Dependent Origination given by the Buddha:

Monks, I will describe & analyze Dependent Origination for you. And what is Dependent Origination?

From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications.

From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness.

From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form.

From name-&-form as a requisite condition come the six sense media.

From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact.

From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling.

From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving.

From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance.

From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming.

From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth.

From birth as a requisite condition, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.” — Paticca-samuppada-vibhanga Sutta (Saṃyutta-Nikāya 12.2)

The Buddha goes on to define the terminology of Dependent Origination as follows:

Now what is aging & death? Whatever aging, decrepitude, brokenness, graying, wrinkling, decline of life-force, weakening of the faculties of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called aging. Whatever deceasing, passing away, breaking up, disappearance, dying, death, completion of time, break up of the aggregates, casting off of the body, interruption in the life faculty of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called death.

“And what is birth? Whatever birth, taking birth, descent, coming-to-be, coming-forth, appearance of aggregates, & acquisition of [sense] media of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called birth.

“And what is becoming? These three are becomings: sensual becoming, form becoming, & formless becoming. This is called becoming.

“And what is clinging/sustenance? These four are clingings: clinging to sensuality, clinging to views, clinging to precepts & practices, and clinging to a doctrine of self. This is called clinging.

“And what is craving? These six are classes of craving: craving for forms, craving for sounds, craving for smells, craving for tastes, craving for tactile sensations, craving for ideas. This is called craving.

“And what is feeling? These six are classes of feeling: feeling born from eye-contact, feeling born from ear-contact, feeling born from nose-contact, feeling born from tongue-contact, feeling born from body-contact, feeling born from intellect-contact. This is called feeling.

“And what is contact? These six are classes of contact: eye-contact, ear-contact, nose-contact, tongue-contact, body-contact, intellect-contact. This is called contact.

“And what are the six sense media? These six are sense media: the eye-medium, the ear-medium, the nose-medium, the tongue-medium, the body-medium, the intellect-medium. These are called the six sense media.

“And what is name-&-form? Feeling, perception, intention, contact, & attention: This is called name. The four great elements, and the form dependent on the four great elements: This is called form. This name & this form are called name-&-form.

“And what is consciousness? These six are classes of consciousness: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, intellect-consciousness. This is called consciousness.

“And what are fabrications? These three are fabrications: bodily fabrications, verbal fabrications, mental fabrications. These are called fabrications.

“And what is ignorance? Not knowing dukkha, not knowing the origination of dukkha, not knowing the cessation of dukkha, not knowing the way of practice leading to the cessation of dukkha: This is called ignorance.

In other words, our ignorance of the Four Noble Truths sets in motion a mechanical process, a natural law that inevitably results in all forms of suffering. Each condition, beginning with ignorance, determines the arising of the next condition. The whole process operates on all time scales, from a fraction of a second up to many lifetimes. It is the subtle mechanism of kamma.

The process of Dependent Origination is the background for the practices of the Buddha’s Eightfold Noble Path. That’s why in the diagram above, the Eightfold Noble Path is shown on the opposite side of the process of Dependent Origination. In the simile of the raft, Dependent Origination is the flood, and the Eightfold Noble Path is the raft:

Suppose a man were traveling along a path. He would see a great expanse of water, with the near shore dubious & risky, the further shore secure & free from risk, but with neither a ferryboat nor a bridge going from this shore to the other. The thought would occur to him, ‘Here is this great expanse of water, with the near shore dubious & risky, the further shore secure & free from risk, but with neither a ferryboat nor a bridge going from this shore to the other. What if I were to gather grass, twigs, branches, & leaves and, having bound them together to make a raft, were to cross over to safety on the other shore in dependence on the raft, making an effort with my hands & feet?’ Then the man, having gathered grass, twigs, branches, & leaves, having bound them together to make a raft, would cross over to safety on the other shore in dependence on the raft, making an effort with his hands & feet.” — Alagaddupama Sutta (Majjhima-Nikāya 22)

In this simile, the near shore is the conditioned life of suffering (First Noble Truth), the idea of making a raft is the knowledge of Dependent Origination, the origin of suffering (Second Noble Truth), attaining the far shore is the cessation of suffering (Third Noble Truth) and the raft is the Eightfold Noble Path (Fourth Noble Truth). Thus Dependent Origination is the manifestation of the First and Second Noble Truths, while the Eightfold Noble Path is the manifestation of the Second and Third Noble Truths.

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