rten-cing ‘brel-bar’byung-ba’i tshul bcu-gnyis, Skt. dvădsíăńgapratityasamtpăda
The Buddha taught the cessation of suffering and that this is inseparable from the extinction of “existence” itself. Moreover the experience of, or belief in, “personal existence” is itself mistaken.
The Source of the illusion of personal existence is neither “Nothing” nor “Self”. It is a “luminous” experiential ground or matrix, with the expression “luminous” symbolising limitless potential as “immanence and inevitability”. Its quality is that of Buddha-nature. The recognition and realisation of indivisibility of awareness from this is Buddhahood or enlightenment. In reality no one and nothing ever left this. The root reason we don’t immediately experience this is ignorance and this sets in motion at every moment a chain reaction that results in a false view from which we have no access to the naked awareness that underlies it and which is its source.
The cause of this separation and delusion is the twelve modes of dependent origination, which is represented on thankas of the wheel of life as the outer circle.
· ignorance (ma-rig-pa, Skt. avidyă)
Represented by an old blind woman, ignorance has given birth to countless generations, nano-second by nano-second, of confused illusory existence. Although reality is ever present, ignorance turns its face away from it. It is a conditioned reflex, which avoids the undifferentiated presence of the awakened state. It is a false differentiation, a virtual division where none actually exists. Yet it imagines a fictional self to be real that is that is separate, single, whole and continuous. It is worn ragged by this futile struggle to maintain itself and it is all the more desperate in that it knows in its heart of hearts that it cannot maintain the pretence forever.
· habitual tendencies (’du-byed, Skt. samskăra)
This untenable position has to be defended and reinforced. Those states of affairs that tend to support the sustenance of the fictional self elicit the emotional response of attraction, whilst those that appear to threaten it give rise to aversion. Those that neither threaten nor support the self either cause bewilderment or are ignored. Both the latter responses are referred to in commentaries as the emotion of indifference. These emotions of attraction, aversion and indifference give rise to virtuous, non-virtuous and indifferent actions which in turn tend toward higher rebirths, lower rebirths or those in the form and formless realms respectively. These reinforce sense of self and become habituated as sense of self becomes thus strengthened. These are habitual or karmic tendencies.
· consciousness (rnam-shes, Skt. vijńăna)
Metaphorically, once these habitual tendencies impregnate consciousness, consciousness projects the next birth. For this reason it is referred to as the “projecting” consciousness. When all the necessary conditions arise for the rebirth to take place, consciousness takes its seat at the place of rebirth and is referred to as the “projected” consciousness. Projected consciousness is what gives us a sense of being “me” as opposed to “other”, of individuation. It is represented by a restless, inquisitive monkey, often peering through the six windows of a house, the senses.
· name and form (ming-dang gzugs, Skt. nămarüpa)
Name and form make up the individual. Form is the material aspect, which, like a boat, bears us across the limitless ocean that would otherwise overwhelm us and name is the cipher for our now individuated awareness, of self. Body and mind cannot be separated as they arise from the same source and are aspects of the same existence. In the case of rebirth as a sentient being, name and form is the transition of consciousness to the womb. Name refers to four of the skandhas; consciousness, feeling, perception and motivation. Form, unsurprisingly, relates to the skandha of form. Name and form give rise to the physical body of the next rebirth and this is claimed by consciousness as its own, as its property, when in fact no separation exists between owner and owned.
· the six activity fields of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and intellect (skye-mched drug, Skt. sadăyatana)
With the maturation of name and form, the senses of vision, smell, taste, touch and mind (also considered to be a sense) arise. These are not the sense organs as such. They are the experiential bases of our all our experience. The image of a house with six windows requires little explanation. But note that the structure and the windows are inseparable and are part of a single, interdependent, unitary entity that now limits and partialises view and cuts off the “inner” space from the “outer”.
· contact (reg-pa, Skt. sparsa)
The operation of the six senses brings together the sense organ, the object and sense consciousness, limiting attention and experience to that which is accessible to each sense. The couple embracing expresses the intimacy of the contact between senses and their objects. Because Sutra is concerned with personal liberation from the illusion of having a “self” and its consequences, this relationship is treated quite differently here than in, for example, vajrayana Buddhism and this is something to note in passing.
· feeling (tshor-ba, Skt. vedană)
This is concerned with three feelings in response to perception; pleasant, unpleasant and neutral. Even the smallest feeling gives rise to craving. The brutal image of a man struck in the eye by an arrow reminds that suffering is indivisible from dualistic existence being described. All feeling arising in this way is painful since it is based on the false premise of a self.
· craving (sred-pa, Skt. trsna)
Feeling allows craving towards the objects of perception to arise. The craving of desire clings to what is pleasing, the craving of fear seeks to avoid what is unpleasant. Meanwhile we wallow in indifference for what seems to be neither. Craving is fixation on the taste of the object clinging to it.
· five aggregates (nye-bar len-pa’i phung-po lnga, Skt. upădănaskandha)
HH Dudjom Rinpoche called this link “the five aggregates”. These are distortions of the natural energy of existence twisted into, and by, grasping or attachment. A more usual and familiar way of summing it up is simply as “grasping”. We will return in greater detail to the five aggregates elsewhere on this website. Symbolised by someone picking fruit from a tree, grasping is the opposite of generosity or letting go. It is craving taken to the point of utter infatuation with the objects of desire. There is grasping at
o desirable objects, pleasures, the next bright thing, the next moment, the next rebirth, in fact all that is potentially pleasant to the five senses.
o holding to wrong views, keeping our opinions about the world and ourselves as sacrosanct. This is drsti. It includes all religious or philosophical beliefs, including Buddhism itself, but what is being highlighted here is attachment to beliefs as if there is an ultimate world view and a purpose with a capital P.
o the assertion that one set of religious disciplines and practices is better than all the others, sila and vrata. It is clinging to them as ends in themselves or using them to support your own agenda.
o belief in a self, a someone to benefit from all this, and somethings that together are the objective world beyond the five aggregates.
· rebirth or existence (srid-pa, Skt. bhava)
Bhava is life or existence conditioned by attachment. It is the operation of the karma manifested by craving, knitting the next existence in terms of body speech and mind. Although it has the sense of becoming, outwardly it is already circling in the illusion of samsara and subjectively it is deluded by ignorance. It is represented by a couple in sexual union or a pregnant woman.
· birth (skye-ba, Skt. jăti)
In dependence on becoming arises birth. Birth means being born into a new set of circumstances with complete embodiment. It is the basis of all suffering. Nothing but the simple fact of being born is the cause of decay and loss, old age and death...
· old age and death (rga-shi, Skt. jarămarana)
Although the physical and mental anguish we experience as we screech toward the collision that is death is samsaric-suffering writ large, it is from birth that the changes in the flow of the skandhas that bring about old age and death arise.
“Dependant and related arising is like this. Because this is present, that will arise, and because that was born, this is being born.
He, monks, who sees the Chain of Causality, sees the Teaching; he who sees the Teaching, sees the Buddha.”
The Salistamba Sutra
The antidote is to recognise the illusory nature, the emptiness of each of the above, both of the inner and outer aspect of dependent origination. Shravaka practitioners of the Hinayana vehicle do not consider the emptiness of all phenomena but only the emptiness or lack of self in the person and so this is a cornerstone of the Hinayana but it is also fundamental for all Buddhists. How this is reflected in practice differs, however. While the truth of delusion is accepted by practitioners of all Buddhist vehicles, for those of the Hinayana, delusion is to be abandoned. Boddhisatvayana practitioners recognise the delusion has no inherent existence and thus transform it into the nature of truth, dharmata. Vajrayana practitioners recognise the primordial wisdom aspect of delusion and maintain it as the path.
The twelve modes of dependent origination apply equally to a human life or to an instant of experience. It is a continuous process that permeates all existence and defines every moment.
Sakyamuni Buddha’s analysis of the cause of the arising of cyclic existence and its antidote is regarded as so essential, so unconditional, that without any other assistance or additional perspective, merely understanding this and hence putting the antidote into practice can ultimately lead to enlightenment.
“Knowing outer and inner dependent origination to be in the manner of an illusion and a mirage, they thoroughly penetrate substantial forms without impediment, they become realised through intrinsic awareness, untaught by a spiritual benefactor, and, with supreme bliss of purpose, proceed to an enlightened level.”
The Extensive Magical Net