artistic representations of the Buddhist Wheel of Life these twelve links are often pictorially portrayed as a connected chain at the rim of the wheel, demonstrating how they keep the wheel rolling.
From last issue:Karma and Cause and Effect
Causation, Dependent Origination, Free Will
Where do all phenomena arise from? How do they come into being? In Buddhism, there is no creator god or first cause. Buddhism also rejects the doctrine of spontaneous arisal due to an inherent nature. Nor does Buddhism believe in random chance. The Buddhist answer is in causes and conditions. This causation is also known as pratitya-samutpada, which has been variously translated as dependent origination, conditioned arisal, conditioned genesis, etc. This doctrine of the conditionality of all physical and psychical phenomena can be seen as an indispensable condition for the real understanding and realization of the teaching of the Buddha.
This principle operates universally as a twelvefold cycle of causes and conditions that explains how life arises:
1. Ignorance conditions activity;
2. Activity conditions consciousness;
3. Consciousness conditions name and form;
4. Name and form condition the six sense organs
[five senses and the mind];
5. The six sense organs condition contact;
6. Contact conditions feeling;
7. Feeling conditions craving
[Skt. trishna, literally, ‘thirst’;’ Chin. ai, ‘(emotional) love’;
8. Craving conditions grasping;
9. Grasping conditions existence;
10. Existence conditions birth;
11. Birth conditions
12. Old age and death.
This process is generally thought to comprise three subsequent lives. After death, the basic ignorance of living beings causes them to keep revolving, and thus a new psychophysical personality is born, lives, and dies, undergoing birth and death in a continuous cycle. In artistic representations of the Buddhist Wheel of Life these twelve links are often pictorially portrayed as a connected chain at the rim of the wheel, demonstrating how they keep the wheel rolling. In practicing the Buddhist path, particular attention is usually paid to the links of ignorance, craving, and grasping, even though none of these is separate from the other links; they are relative, interdependent, and interconnected. The Buddha also contemplated this cycle in reverse order and taught that if ignorance doesn’t arise, neither does activity, or any of the following stages, all the way up to death. Thus, through diligent cultivation, one can renounce craving and grasping, put an end to ignorance, and be liberated from the cycle of birth and death.
The following verse, found in several Buddhist scriptures, succinctly summarizes the interdependence of all phenomena in the simplest of terms:
When this is, that is;
This arising, that arises;
When this is not, that is not;
This ceasing, that ceases.
This verse both explains how things come to be and how they pass away in relation to each other. Dependent origination has aptly been called the Buddhist theory of relativity.
The Buddhist explanation of causality in terms of dependent origination was something radically new in Indian philosophy. Yet it is not a concept that Shakyamuni Buddha fabricated or invented by himself. His discovery of causality is compared to the discovery of an ancient path, hidden and covered by a dense forest, which leads to a bygone kingdom. In the same way Shakyamuni Buddha’s discovery is an ancient path that all the previous Buddhas have walked as well. Whether people know about it and accept it or not, whether there are Buddhas to teach it or not, causality is a fact of all existence:
Whether the Tathagatas were to arise in this world, or whether the Tathagatas were not to arise in this world, this fact or element [of causality], this causal status, this causal orderliness remains.
To be continued