Cultivation of Dependent Origination
Dependent Origination is not just a theory; it is actually the basis of cultivation of the Eightfold Noble Path that leads directly to cessation of suffering. It is the background knowledge or theory against which one performs the various stages of the Path. One must understand the theory of operation of a computer or other complex machine as a background before diagnosing and repairing it without damaging it. Similarly, one must understand Dependent Origination as a background before repairing the errors in thinking that lead to dukkha.
Suffering manifests because vexation (any negative emotion like annoyance, irritation, exasperation, indignation, anger, crossness, displeasure, pique, bile, disgruntlement, bad mood or aggravation) originates a process of Dependent Origination, beginning from Ignorance to Aging-&-Death. The process begins from the emergence of Name-&-Form, and Consciousness based on it. We previously discussed this part of the process in detail in the section on Clinging. The Six Sense Bases arises next from Name-&-Form and Consciousness. Feeling originates from Contact of the Six Sense Bases with their objects; this generates vexation due to Craving and Clinging. Thereafter, Becoming and Birth follow in succession. This is the birth of the ego and possessiveness, ‘I’ and ‘mine’.
At this point, Suffering is experienced due to birth, aging, death, distress, sorrow, bitterness, worrying and irritation. The various kinds of suffering are simply called the Five Clinging Aggregates (pancupadanakkhandha) or dukkha. We previously discussed these in the section on the Five Clinging-Aggregates. In Dependent Origination, ‘death’ and ‘birth’ do not refer to physical death and birth. The birth and death of the physical body in everyday language has nothing to do with the Buddha’s teaching of Dependent Origination.
The Buddha’s purpose in teaching Dependent Origination is to totally abolish the concept of an ego or ‘self’. It is not enough to analyze the absence of an ego using the Five Aggregates; one must perceive the entire process of Dependent Origination clearly. Each of the Aggregates appears according to this/that conditionality (‘This exists therefore that exists; this ceases to be therefore that ceases to be’) once the eleven stages of Dependent Origination are complete. This enables us to better perceive the absence of an ego, delusion (vexation), kamma and karmic reaction (vipaka); or realize the absence of ego in the entire causal process. No ‘I’ or ‘mine’ can be found when the instantaneous phenomena of Dependent Origination are correctly perceived.
The concept behind the cultivation or practice of Dependent Origination is to stop the process. Stopping Dependent Origination means you short-circuit the process and go straight across to the equivalent stage of the Eightfold Noble Path. The earlier you can stop it, the better. Although it is more difficult to observe and stop Dependent Origination in its early stages, if you can, you wind up higher on the Eightfold Noble Path. The following illustrations give some examples of this technique:
Employing the Faith stage of the Eightfold Noble Path can eliminate much suffering and bring one quickly to Contentment. This stage of practice is seen among very pious religious Buddhists, who perform the practices of making offerings, Upostha (Poiya Day), following five Precepts.
Attaining the Samadhi stage of the Eightfold Noble Path means stopping Dependent Origination at the stage of Feelings, eliminating the stages of Craving, Clinging, Becoming, Birth and Aging-&-Death, and quickly reaching the stage of Wisdom Sight (the Eye of the Dhamma). Note that this cultivation attainment gives the same or similar result as the Four Jhānas: the stages of Rapture, Calmness and Bliss of the Eightfold Noble Path.
A very high stage of cultivation is the ability to stop the process of Dependent Origination at the stage of Name-&-Form. This automatically gives one Dispassion, leading very quickly to Deliverance from conditioned existence.
Totally stopping Fabrication would bring one immediately to Cessation of conditioned existence, opening the door to Nibbāna and final Unbinding. This is the level of cultivation of the Arahats.
We will examine the details of the practice in the section on the Third Noble Truth. For now, try to observe the process of Dependent Origination at work in your own experience. Especially, try not to let Contact proceed to the stage of Feelings. This means remaining neutral and equanimous toward one’s experience and not developing either pleasurable or displeasurable feelings about it.