of paticcasamuppada [dependent origination] taught by the Buddha is
profound; consequently, majority of people cannot understand the law
of dependent origination. Nonetheless, it is as valid today as it was
when the Buddha explained the doctrine to Ven. Ananda some 2500 years
ago. The doctrine of dependent origination, the core of Buddhism, is
so difficult to comprehend that people commit serious errors in
understanding it, and thereby distort the Buddha Dhamma. Buddhadasa
Bhikkhu reveals the root of the distortions, and carefully scrutinizes
and analyzes it in the book. The root of the distortions may be traced
back to the primitive Buddhism period, but the earliest relevant
record can be found in Buddhaghosa's essay written some 1500 years
of many mainstream schools are based on Buddhaghosa's essay. By
treating Buddhaghosa's misinterpretation of the Buddha Dhamma as
standard, they obscured the Truth. Buddhaghosa explained the doctrine
of dependent origination based on the idea of three connected
lifetimes (past, present, and future). According to his idea,
ignorance and action in the past gave birth to the present; the
consequences of past actions are thus experienced in the present. The
process causes our vexation (due to Craving and Clinging) in the
present life, while transmigration [the cyclical process of death and
rebirth or samsara] delivers us to births and sufferings in future
lives. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu examines such an interpretation and raises
these critical questions: If the Buddha taught the absence of an ego
(anatta), then what is migrating from one life to the next? If
the cause of suffering is instilled in one lifetime and its
consequence emerges in another, how do we free ourselves from
suffering in our practice in this life?
understanding of dependent origination is essential. It allows us to
know that the concept of an ego is dependent on various causal
conditions. It also frees us from the erroneous belief of “an
everlasting self.” The self or ego is not present. The idea of an ego
is continually perpetrated by Ignorance. The ignorant citta [could
mean the heart or mind depending on the context] is deceived by
endless manifestations sustaining the illusion of “an everlasting
self.” As Buddhadasa Bhikkhu points out, the Buddha taught the
doctrine of dependent origination to help us see through the
illusions. The idea of a process of dependent arising that encompasses
three lifetimes implies that something is going from one life to the
next. It is contrary to what the Buddha taught, and it undermines the
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu has strong basis in his interpretation of the
doctrine of dependent origination. He circumvents the essays, and
refers directly to the original Pali suttas as source. He focuses on
the practical application of the Buddha’s teachings for the benefit of
practitioners who intend to free themselves from suffering in this
very life. The doctrine of dependent origination is actually a
comprehensive analysis of the onset and cessation of suffering. In
understanding the law of dependent arising we see clearly how the
practice can be carried out. By focusing on the Contact in the
instant, one can develop Wisdom and prevent the onset of suffering
because the contributing factors for the onset and cessation of
suffering exist in that instant. If Ignorance confounds the citta, suffering occurs; but if Right
Mindfulness and Wisdom can subjugate the Six Roots (eyes, ears, nose,
tongue, body, and mind), suffering ceases. In this way the doctrine of
dependent origination can be practical because the causes and
consequences both exist in this life, where they are accessible. If
the causes of suffering exist in the previous life, as Buddhaghosa
said, then freeing oneself from suffering in this life is impossible
because the cause of suffering is inaccessible.
This book is very
important to serious students of Buddhism. It points out the
misconceptions, and leads us to the original teaching of the Buddha
found in the Pali suttas. We hoped the book will clear up muddled
essential religious doctrines and help everyone to understand
suffering and discover everlasting peace.
Doctrine of Dependent Origination is Profound
The doctrine of dependent origination, the core or essence of
Buddhism, is profound. For this reason, it is bound to spawn certain
issues. These issues can endanger Buddhism, and take the benefits of
religious doctrines away from the Buddhists. The Ven. Ananda once told
the Buddha he found the doctrine of dependent origination evident and
easy to comprehend. The Buddha replied, “Ananda, do not say so. The
doctrine of dependent origination is so profound that sentient beings
are unable to comprehend it. They are unable to understand what I
teach; likewise, they are unable to perceive the process of dependent
arising. Consequently, they are perplexed just like with a ball of
entangled thread, a jumble of munja grass. They cannot free themselves
from sufferings, state of deprivation [apaaya-bhumi], degeneration,
This part of
the sutta tells us not to treat the doctrine of dependent origination
lightly; that one should devote his mind and intellect to the study of
Ordinary people, however, are used to the concept of a continuing
existence. They still perceive an ego; therefore, they find the
doctrine of dependent origination profound and difficult to
comprehend. To them the doctrine is an unfathomable and intricate
philosophy similar to the ball of entangled thread. Therefore, they
spend much effort debating just like the blind men arguing among
themselves when they try to describe the different parts of an
The knowledge of dependent arising
comes naturally to an arhant. An arhant treats it as an open and
proven science and a plaything. Even though he might not know the
Buddha’s doctrine, he has seen through everything. An arhant does not
cling anymore. He does not experience Craving and Clinging due to
Contact. An arhant does not have to know the different links of
dependent origination [the twelve links: Ignorance, Formation,
Consciousness, Name & Form, Six Sense Bases, Contact, Feeling,
Craving, Clinging, Existence/Being, Birth, and Aging & Death]. He
might not know how to teach the doctrine of dependent origination or
explain anything relevant, but because an arhant already possesses the
perfect Right Mindfulness, he does not anymore experience suffering,
because there is already the cessation of dependent arising.
Even with his wisdom the Buddha
spared no efforts to discover the process of dependent arising and
develop a doctrine for teaching sentient beings. When the Buddha
attained enlightenment, he hesitated to teach the doctrine because
only a handful of people would be able to understand it. In the end,
however, the Buddha bore the burden of teaching the arcane and
profound Truth because of his great compassion for the sentient
beings. Because only a few people could understand the doctrine, we
can see how difficult a task it was for the Buddha.
Everyday Language and
The Buddha used two kinds of
language to teach his doctrines. One was everyday language, which was
used to teach ordinary moral lessons to people deluded by the concept
of a continuing existence. These people experienced an ego. They were
possessive because of their deep-rooted mental Clinging. On the other
hand, the Dhamma language was used to teach people who were mildly
deluded (people with sharp mind) for them to understand the Absolute
Truth [paramattha-sacca], and to stop them from embracing the concept
of a continuing existence.
The doctrine of dependent origination is an Absolute Truth; therefore,
the Dhamma language must be used to explain it. It is contrary to the
teaching of morality (about worldly goodness, which supports the
concept of an ego). The everyday language cannot be used to discuss
the doctrine of dependent origination. If the Dhamma language were
used, however, people could not understand it, and would turn to
everyday language to figure things out. Ultimately, the problem will
not only be about comprehension but also about misunderstanding the
law of dependent arising. This is the basic difficulty in teaching the
doctrine. It is also why the Buddha initially hesitated to teach upon
his enlightenment. Sometimes, comprehension is not possible even after
teaching, as in the case of Bikkhu Sati, the son of a fisherman. I
shall talk about him later in the book. The doctrine has been taught
to and discussed with people up to the present, but they are still
unable to comprehend it. They are either unable to practice it or
deviating from the right path in their cultivation.
The teaching of morality involves the presence of a person, sentient
beings, the self, and the Tathagata [a Buddha]. Even teaching people
to perform meritorious deeds entails the idea of enjoying blessings
after their death. In the case of Absolute Truth, however, sentient
beings, the person, and the Tathagata are absent. There are only
successive instants of occurrences due to interdependent conditions.
The occurrences are a process of dependent arising (paticcasamuppanna
dhamma). When these occurrences link together or form a chain, it is
called dependent origination. Here the ego is absent in every instant;
therefore, no entity is born, no entity has died, and nobody is
receiving karmic ramification, which is according to the concept of a
continuing existence. This is not nihilism because, at the very
instant, no person has died. In every instant, there is only dependent
arising. This is in accord with the Eight Noble Paths or the Middle
Path, which is applicable in moral teaching.
If the causal conditions of goodness exist, most ordinary people
adhere to morality because of habit. They seek peace of mind through
meritorious deeds. When the causal conditions change, however, they
suffer because they cling and they experience impermanence. They will
understand that morality is not their ultimate refuge and must seek
Absolute Truth, such as the doctrine of dependent origination, to get
free of suffering. When a person transcends the concept of an ego, ego
possession, goodness and evil, good and bad, bitterness and pleasure,
then he will no longer experience suffering. The teaching of an ego
that is constantly present in the process of dependent arising not
only violates the law of dependent arising but also violates the
Buddha’s principle in preaching the Dhamma - that is to help people
totally abandon any concept of an ego. For this reason, the doctrine
of dependent origination does not involve morality, because morality,
in any situation, is based on the ego. It advocates the concept of a
At present, two kinds of teaching of the doctrine of dependent
origination exist. One distorts the Buddha Dhamma, and it has existed
for more than a thousand years. The other is in accord with the Buddha
Dhamma, and it teaches awareness of Contacts at the sense bases to
prevent Feeling from advancing to Craving. In this way, the doctrine
of dependent origination can be practiced to reap the results at once.
The truth is if ordinary people can practice in this manner, they can
have significant achievements even without referring to the law of
dependent arising. A serious practitioner should be wary of the
confusion from these two kinds of teaching, and ensure that his
cultivation is in accord with the Buddha Dhamma. The nature of
dependent origination, as taught by the Buddha, upholds neither
nihilism - for instance, encouraging people to abstain from performing
meritorious deeds, be irresponsible, be troublesome and reckless - nor
the concept of a continuing existence; for instance, advocating people
to be extremists, to be deluded with the concept of an eternally
existing ego or all forms of ego and ego possessiveness. The doctrine
of dependent origination is not an exaggerated theory as generally
believed. On the contrary, it entails rigorous cultivation such that
when there is Contact in the sense base, Right Mindfulness is applied
to subjugate Feeling, thus preventing its advance to Craving,
Clinging, and Existence/Birth. In actual practice, a term such as
“dependent origination” is unnecessary.
The doctrine of dependent origination must not be interpreted as a
theory of spirits, where the spirit of the ego is present, where the
spiritual consciousness is reincarnated or stays in the body. In this
age, western scholars ridicule such belief. Do not mix everyday
language (or a language polluted with the concept of a continuing
existence) that is used in teaching morality with the doctrine of
dependent origination, because only the Dhamma language (or language
from the Right View) is used to teach the doctrine. Practicing in
accordance with the law of dependent arising is the true Middle Path.
The suttas say that in knowing dependent origination one achieves
supreme or supra-mundane Right View. Such a Right View is not prone to
nihilism or the concept of a continuing existence. The doctrine of
dependent origination stays in the Middle Path that is neither the
substantiation of the ego (concept of a continuing existence) nor the
negation of the ego (nihilism). Its law follows the principle of “this
exists therefore that exists, this ceases to be therefore that ceases
to be.” This principle keeps Buddhism from embracing nihilism or the
concept of a continuing existence. We must be careful not to let the
doctrine of dependent origination evolve into one that is not in
accord with the Buddha Dhamma or become a doctrine of Hinduism or
Brahmanism. The truth is it is impossible to instill the doctrine of
dependent origination in the mind of one who embraces the concept of a
continuing existence because the two are contradictory. Hence,
teaching the doctrine of dependent origination using the concept of a
continuing existence is undermining the law of dependent arising.
There are two
distinctions in the Buddha’s teachings in the primitive Pali suttas.
One part is morality, which is taught to people who embrace the
concept of a continuing existence, and the other part is Absolute
Truth, which abolishes the concept of a continuing existence without
nihilism. During the time when essayists were popular, a very common
deviation was using the concept of a continuing existence to explain
Absolute Truth and the doctrine of dependent origination. Whenever
opportunity arose, the essayists interpreted the doctrine of dependent
origination from a viewpoint where ego existed. The person died and
was reborn. The essayists also interpreted the doctrine from a purely
materialistic viewpoint. For instance, hell was explained to be under
the ground, a place where people go when they died. It was not
explained according to the law of dependent arising where the fearsome
hell exists in every instant. Furthermore, even if hell is supposedly
experienced according to the law of dependent arising, people still
consider it under the ground or a place for dead people.
Therefore, the primitive Pali suttas must be used as basis in studying
dependent origination. Do not blindly follow the essayists or totally
abide by essays and canons such as the Visuddhimagga [Way to
Purity]. I believe the author of Vissuddhimagga and the one
who integrated the annotations of all the Pali Buddhist canons were
the same person. As a result, people's thoughts were monopolized, and
they blindly followed the essays and canons all throughout.
Nevertheless, we must still use the principle of the Four Criteria
(mahapadesa) in the Kalama Sutta and Mahaparinibbaana Sutta
to safeguard and apply our autonomy so as to protect ourselves from
becoming victims of books, essays, or canons that are prone to the
concept of a continuing existence.
If we use the
Kalama Sutta and the Four Criteria, we can strictly apply the
Buddha's principle to choose the right things from layers upon layers
of garbage. This is not to say that all of the essays and canons are
useless, but that the Buddha's principle must be strictly applied to
find the right explanations. According to the Four Criteria, anything
that is not in accord with the Doctrine [dhamma] and Discipline
[vinaya] should be considered as erroneous hearing, memory, speech,
and teaching. The doctrine of dependent origination is primarily
intended to abolish the concept of a continuing existence and
nihilism. Therefore, if the teaching of the doctrine involves man’s
transmigration in three lifetimes, then it is unacceptable in
accordance with the Four Criteria.
Principle of Dependent Origination
Following are some points on the
principle of dependent origination:
In the absence of thought and wisdom for
liberation, Existence/Being and Birth are developed at the instant the
Six Roots come in contact with the Six Objects [sight, sound, smell,
taste, touch, and idea; gunas]. In other words, the process of
dependent arising begins at the very instant Contact is established
due to Ignorance.
In the language of dependent
origination, no “person,” “ego,” “us,” or “them” exists to experience
suffering, the cessation of suffering, or transmigration.
In the language of dependent origination,
there is no so-called “joy;” there are only suffering and the
cessation of suffering. “Joy” is not spoken in dependent origination
because the concept of a continuing existence is based on “joy” (“joy”
readily leads to the concept of a continuing existence, whereas
“suffering” readily leads to nihilism). It is only in everyday
language that the absence of suffering is referred to as “joy.” For
instance, “nibbana is the utmost joy” is used for the convenience of
IV. There is no transmigrating consciousness (patisandhi vinnana;
that which connects this life to the next) in the language of
dependent origination. Therefore, the consciousness (vinnana) in
dependent arising refers to the Six Consciousness (arising from
contacts between the Six Roots and Six Objects). The Buddha never
explained consciousness as transmigrating consciousness because his
purpose is to let us clearly see the Six Consciousness of ordinary
sense organs. Transmigrating consciousness was only mentioned in
essays in latter period. These essays unconsciously introduced the
concept of a continuing existence into Buddhism. They have encroached
Buddhism like destructive insects. The truth is we already have
consciousness due to ordinary sense organs or Consciousness from
Ignorance in the process of dependent arising, and no longer need a
V. There is only the law of dependent arising in dependent
origination; meaning all phenomena emerge only when mutually dependent
conditions exist. Furthermore, the beginning and end of each
phenomenon happen in an instant after which other phenomena
continuously arise due to mutually dependent conditions. A phenomenon
that arises due to mutually dependent conditions is called a dependent
arising. There are two important principles here: (1) do not entertain
the idea of an ego so as not to embrace the concept of a continuing
existence; and (2) do not entertain the idea that nothing exists so as
not to become nihilistic. As long as one stays in the Middle Path, he
will not stray from the law of dependent arising.
VI. From the kamma viewpoint, dependent origination is the cessation
of the neither-black-nor-white kammas as well as the black and the
white kammas. The meritorious kamma [punna-kamma], non-meritorious
kamma, and imperturbable kamma (anenja) are all considered as
suffering. One must transcend the three kinds of kamma to be totally
free from suffering. In this way, the kamma will not become basis for
ego clinging or the concept of a continuing existence.
VII That which conforms to the “principle of direct and immediate
efficacy” (sanditthika)[primarily concerned with the world and present
life] is in accord with Buddhist principle. The interpretation of
dependent origination that encompasses three lifetimes does not follow
the “principle of direct and immediate efficacy.” The eleven states of
dependent origination must all conform to the “principle of direct
and immediate efficacy” to be recognized as the Buddha's teaching.
There are many ways of interpreting the
doctrine of dependent origination in the suttas. For instance, (1)
from Ignorance to Aging & Death in forward order (anuloma); (2) from
Aging & Death to Ignorance in reverse order (patiloma); the forward
and reverse orders of interpretation also talk about the cessation of
dependent arising; (3) from contacts between the Roots and
surroundings up to emergence of Consciousness, Contact, and Feeling
but without mentioning Ignorance; (4) from Feeling up to suffering in
Aging & Death; and the most peculiar of all, (5) simultaneous birth
and cessation in one process of dependent arising such that Formation
originates from Ignorance, Consciousness originates from Formation,
Name & Form originates from Consciousness, and so forth up to the
stage where Craving originates from Feeling, then the cessation of
Craving is explained as the cessation of Clinging thus the cessation
of suffering. This peculiar interpretation seems to claim that even
when the process of dependent arising has developed up to the stage of
Craving, the Right Mindfulness can still be brought forth to stop
Craving and reverse the process until suffering is eliminated.
Nonetheless, if we discuss the different kinds of dependent arising in
the suttas, we will see more clearly that the process of dependent
arising does not have to encompass three lifetimes.
Dependent arising is a phenomenon that lasts
an instant; it is impermanent. Therefore, Birth and Death must be
explained as phenomena within the process of dependent arising in
everyday life of ordinary people. Right Mindfulness is lost during
contacts of the Roots and surroundings. Thereafter, when vexation due
to greed, anger, and ignorance is experienced, the ego has already
been born. It is considered as one “birth.” The “birth” that
originates from the mother’s womb used in everyday language is not the
“birth” meant in the doctrine of dependent origination. The meaning of
birth in everyday language obstructs our understanding of the
doctrine. We should instead direct our attention on possible “future
births” [emergence of the ego] at the moment. This is certainly far
better than not knowing in what state the “future birth” of everyday
language will deliver us.
A philosophical theory of dependent
origination for discussion is not beneficial to us; therefore, it is
not essential. The doctrine of dependent origination is a kind of
cultivation. It can stop the manifestation of suffering by maintaining
awareness in the Six Roots when they come in contact with
surroundings. Applying this principle to protect the Six Roots and
stop influxes (asava) ["flowing" of the citta that perpetrates
samsara] is the real end to the process of dependent arising. Any same
method of cultivation is correct even if it is not referred to as the
doctrine of dependent origination. This manner of ending the process
of dependent arising is called the Right Path (sammapatipada).
The above points can be used as criteria for
testing one’s understanding of the real doctrine of dependent
origination. The real doctrine of dependent origination is actual
cultivation that leads directly to cessation of suffering. Suffering
is manifested because vexation generates a process of dependent
arising (from Ignorance to Aging & Death). The process involves two
rounds of birth, because once the Roots come in contact with the
Objects, Consciousness emerges out of Ignorance. The first round of
birth refers to the emergence of Name & Form due to Consciousness. The
Six Sense Bases comes next from Name & Form. Before these happen,
however, Consciousness does not seem to exist, because it is in a
state of stay at the moment. Only people who embrace the concept of a
continuing existence call it the transmigrating consciousness [that
connects one lifetime to the next]. Feeling, originating from Contact,
generates vexation that is due to Craving and Clinging. Thereafter,
Existence/Being and Birth follow in succession. This is the birth of
the ego and ego possessiveness, the second round of birth. At this
point, suffering due to birth, aging, death, distress, sorrow,
bitterness, worrying, and irritation may be experienced. They are
simply called the Five Aggregates of Clinging (pancupadanakkhandha) or
suffering. Therefore, each process of dependent arising involves two
rounds of birth. Death or birth, in the doctrine of dependent
origination, does not come when one is physically dead. The birth and
death of the physical body in everyday language has nothing to do with
the Buddha’s doctrine of dependent origination.
The Buddha’s purpose in teaching
the doctrine of dependent origination is to totally abolish the
concept of an ego. It is not enough to analyze the absence of an ego
using the Five Aggregates; the process of dependent arising must be
perceived clearly. Each of the Aggregates appears in accordance with
the law of causality “this exists therefore that exists, this ceases
to be therefore that ceases to be” only when the eleven states of
dependent arising have totally come about. 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. Yet, learning about the absence of ego in the Five Aggregates
but not clearly perceiving dependent arising might still result in
delusion. For instance, in the Pali suttas, a bhikkhu asks the Buddha,
“Esteemed Buddha, if the ego is absent in the Five Aggregates, then
who is the receiver of karmic repercussions due to actions of the ego
that is absent?” Evidently, there is knowledge about the absence of
ego in the Five Aggregates, but there is no full understanding of the
concept of absence of ego. Consequently, there is the idea that an ego
has to experience suffering or pleasure due to the law of kamma. That
is absurd. There will be no such question if the process of dependent
arising is correctly perceived.
No ego can be found operating
when the phenomena that last an instant according to the law of
dependent arising are correctly perceived. This life and the next, the
woeful realms (hell, hungry ghost, animal, and asura realms), man,
heavenly gods, Brahma, the Buddha, or sangha, however, exist in the
process of dependent arising. They are perpetuated by volitional
action (abhisankhara) of meritorious, non-meritorious, and
imperturbable kammas. If the volitional action has already generated
Feeling or Birth, and the citta is afflicted by extreme vexation and
anxiety, then hell is created in the moment. This is the hell of great
heat (mahaparlaha) mentioned by the Buddha in the Samyutta-nikaya.
It is also called the “hell where the six contact points belong”
(chapassa yatanika niraya). It is real hell and more horrible than the
hell under the ground that is believed by people who embrace the
concept of a continuing existence. The same sutta refers to the
“heaven where the six contact points belong” (chapassa yatanika deva).
It is real heaven and more realistic than the heaven in the sky that
is believed by people who embrace the concept of a continuing
existence. When we suffer and experience terror, we are in the asura
realm. When we are starving and breathless, we are in the hungry ghost
realm. When we are foolish, we are in the animal realm. When we
experience both suffering and pleasure, we are in the human realm.
When we enjoy different temperaments and interests, we are in the
realms of heavenly gods. When we experience too much pleasure and
non-suffering-and-non-pleasure from meditation on the form or formless
(rupa-jhana or arupa-jhana), we are in the realms of Brahma. All these
are more realistic than the realms in the after-life [physical death]
that is believed by people who embrace the concept of a continuing
existence. The misunderstandings are caused by a distorted concept of
Buddhism’s “spontaneous arising” or “spontaneous origination”
True Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha
can be immediately confirmed upon the cessation of dependent arising.
Only a wise person can confirm them by personal experience. They are
more realistic than the Three Jewels of Buddhism spoken by people who
embrace the concept of a continuing existence. The Three Jewels spoken
by such people are meaningless. The “present life” is one process of
dependent arising in the instant, whereas the “next life” is another
process of dependent arising in the next instant. This is a more
realistic way of understanding the law of dependent arising. To people
who embrace the concept of a continuing existence, however, “birth”
comes from the mother’s womb and “death” is physical death. This is
using everyday or children’s language and not what the Buddha taught.
One must comprehend the law of dependent arising according to the
Buddha’s doctrine of dependent origination and not according to
latter-period essayists, who embraced the concept of a continuing
existence. The dependent origination discussed by latter-period
essayists was their own creation that has been passed down up to
The language of dependent origination or the
perfect Dhamma language can help us perceive the truth in phenomena.
It is different from ordinary languages that are polluted by concepts
of continuing existence. For instance, in the Right View
(sammaditthi), there are other worlds, parents, heaven, hell, kamma,
initiator and receiver of the kamma, the present life and the next.
All these are explained according to the language of ordinary people.
In the Intermediate Right View, there are only suffering and cessation
of suffering. A suffering entity or “person” that is ending the
suffering is neither mentioned nor acceptable. In the Perfect Right
View, or undistorted supra-mundane realm, dependent arising is
perceived as is, neither existing (atthita) nor nonexistent
(natthita). Seen from the Middle Path the process of dependent
arising, which operates according to the principle “this exists
therefore that exists, this ceases to be therefore that ceases to be,”
is perceived as devoid of ego, person, heaven, or hell. A perception
of this level is called Truthful Middle Path because it is prone
neither to nihilism nor the concept of a continuing existence.
In the Right View that abides by
secular truth the ego is present, whereas in the Right View that
perceives the Absolute Truth ego is inexistent. The Buddha always used
two kinds of language to expound his doctrines. The doctrine of
dependent origination is about Absolute Truth and not ethics and
morality. No entity is migrating from one life to the next. Also, it
is not necessary for a process of dependent arising to encompass three
The method of explaining a process of dependent
arising as encompassing three lifetimes can be traced back partly to
Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga [The Path of Purification]. The
rest is unclear because no other relevant materials are older than the
Visuddhimagga. Therefore, I will comment on the essay and its
author. Essentially, my target is not Buddhaghosa. I believe it is
beneficial for us to use the proper method in studying the Buddha
Dharma, practicing Buddhism, or applying the Buddha’s doctrine of
dependent origination. I disagree with explanations that are not in
accord with the Buddha’s teaching. Hence, my comments are not actually
for personal gains. I simply use relevant theories in the Pali suttas
to help everyone understand the doctrine on his own, find out the
truth, and not necessarily believe me or any other person. We would
violate the spirit of the Kalama Sutta if we blindly believe
what people are saying. We must use the “dhamma eye” as tool for
Buddhaghosa simply added
analogies, notes, and commentaries in the then existing
Vimuttimagga to produce his Visuddhimagga. It aggravated
the situation. We must therefore focus our attention to the Buddha's
doctrine of dependent origination. Although it is very difficult,
still we must do our best to let the Buddha’s doctrine benefit
Because Buddhaghosa’s essay does
not corroborate with the tenets of the Pali suttas, such as the
Kalama Sutta, I, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, like a puny insect that is
trying to topple a tree or stop a moving vehicle, must depend on my
intelligence to comment on Buddhaghosa. Although people will find my
effort outrageous, as a Buddhist, I am quite satisfied with what I am
doing because I am introducing the right theory to the teaching of the
doctrine of dependent origination, the core of Buddhism.
The Doctrine of Dependent Origination is the Perfect Truth
Most people relate to the Four
Noble Truths when the core of Buddhism is mentioned. The doctrine of
dependent origination is the perfect and ultimate Truth; hence, it is
called “maha-ariyasacca” [the Great Truth]. It must be discussed until
it is fully understood.
Dependent arising exists within us in almost every moment; yet,
we are not aware of it.
Anybody who is able to comprehend
the doctrine of dependent origination has the capability to engage in
his own cultivation and end his suffering. On the other hand, we must
consider it our responsibility to understand it, and help others to
understand it. Such is the Buddha’s wish. If we can do it, then the
Buddha’s realization of dependent arising will not be in vain.
It is just like the Four Noble
Truths. If nobody understands them, then the Buddha Dharma is useless.
Essentially, the doctrine of dependent origination is more important
than the Four Noble Truths. It is the perfect and ultimate Truth. We
must help one another to comprehend it, and promote it to all
Buddhists. This is the main reason why we are discussing the
“maha-ariyasacca,” the doctrine of dependent origination.
Following are guide questions to
help you understand the doctrine. What is dependent arising? Why do we
have to know about dependent arising? What are the benefits of
understanding dependent arising? What method do we use to end
What is Dependent
The doctrine of dependent
origination explicitly points out how suffering begins and ends. It
reveals that the beginning and ending of suffering are mutually
dependent cyclic natural phenomena; that they are not attributable to
ghosts, divinities, spiritual entities, or other things. Dependent
arising is natural occurrences due to interdependent conditions. When
each phase of the process comes about due to mutually supporting
conditions suffering begins or stops. The “paticca” in
paticcasamuppada means “mutually dependent,” while “samuppada” means
“to occur simultaneously.” Dependent arising, therefore, occurs due to
mutually dependent and cyclic causal conditions.
The doctrine of dependent
origination also explains that no “person,” “self,” or “sentient
beings” exist, or no “person,” “self,” or “sentient beings” are
successively transmigrating. Everything manifests, stays, and expires
naturally. By comprehending the doctrine, one can see that the no
“person,” “self,” or “sentient beings” with an ego exist. If people do
not comprehend the doctrine, they will be dominated by ignorance, and
will feel that a “person,” “self,” or “sentient beings” exist. The
doctrine of dependent origination points out that how suffering begins
and ends and the beginning and end of suffering are due to mutually
dependent causal conditions. In this sense, the “person,” “self,” and
“sentient beings” are superfluous.
Furthermore, the mutually
dependent cyclic phenomena start and end with great intensity and in a
flash. Thoughts arise with great intensity and in a flash. Anger comes
about with great intensity and in a flash. In everyday life, when a
mind action occurs in a flash and generates suffering, it becomes a
dependent arising instantaneously. One feels horrified if he can
perceive such phenomena. If one cannot, then he will be oblivious to
them. Dependent arising, to put it in ordinary language, is intense
and lightning-speed mind action, which generates suffering, in our
Why Do We Have to Know
About Dependent Arising?
For the purpose of learning and
cultivation, we must know dependent arising. Because nobody
understands it, it has become a fallacy. The ordinary people’s fallacy
is similar to Bhikkhu Sati’s belief: “Only the consciousness is going
around in samsara.” This bhikkhu insisted that there was a “person,”
“self,” or “sentient being” in the consciousness, which dwelled in
samsara from one lifetime to the next. Believing that the
consciousness has a “person,” “self” or “sentient being” that is
perpetually going around in samsara is a fallacy resulting from
ignorance of the nature of dependent arising.
All the bhikkhus tried to
convince Bhikkhu Sati to abandon the fallacy, but Bhikkhu Sati was
adamant about his view. The bhikkhus then told the Buddha about it,
and the Buddha talked to Bhikkhu Sati. The Buddha asked him, “Do you
really have such a concept?” Bhikkhu Sati said, “There is only the
consciousness that is going around in samsara.” The Buddha then asked,
“What is this consciousness that you speak of?” Bhikkhu Sati replied,
“Esteemed Buddha, the consciousness is the entity that can talk, feel,
or receive all the karmic repercussions.”
His was a very serious fallacy: a
consciousness that facilitates talking, feeling, and receiving of all
Ordinary people do not know why
it is a fallacy because they believe, as Bhikkhu Sati did, that the
consciousness exists perpetually. Since they are used to the idea,
they do not consider it a fallacy.
It is false to believe that the
consciousness is perpetual, that it exists and acts on its own, and
that it is not dependent arising. Consciousness, a manner of dependent
arising, is devoid of ego. It manifests in an instant because of the
interaction of mutually dependent conditions, and it advances to
Bhikkhu Sati maintained that
there was an ego or a consciousness with an ego that went around in
samsara. This consciousness did not only exist in the instant but also
persisted to the next life. He called the ego that could talk, feel,
or receive karmic repercussions consciousness.
The common view prevents people
from seeing the fallacy. Consciousness is devoid of ego. If
consciousness exists, then it is dependent arising. It is a natural
phenomenon manifested from successive occurrences due to mutually
dependent conditions. It is not an entity.
What are the Benefits
of Understanding Dependent Arising?
Understanding dependent arising
enables us to reject fallacy and possess the Right View to be totally
free from suffering. It is false to believe that a “person” is present
and reincarnates into a certain sentient being due to kamma. If one
erroneously believes consciousness is ego, then he will experience
suffering, and will be unable to free himself from suffering.
Therefore, one must know the nature of consciousness, which is
dependent arising. In this way, one can totally eliminate suffering
using the Right View, the right understanding. According to the Pali
suttas, “Consciousness is dependent arising. It is a phenomenon
arising due to mutually dependent conditions. Without these causal
conditions, there is no consciousness.”
If consciousness has a main body, then it can
manifest on its own initiative, and does not have to depend on causal
conditions. The truth is consciousness cannot exist independently.
Nevertheless, it is so infinitesimal that we find ourselves thinking,
feeling, and allowing the Name & Form (body and mind) to perform work.
Hence, we mistakenly think that there is a main body in us, and we
call it consciousness. The doctrine of dependent arising helps us
abandon such a fallacy for the cessation of suffering.
What Method Do We Use
to End Suffering?
As the ordinary principles always
advocate, it is right cultivation, the proper way of living or right
living. Proper way of living is using wisdom to defeat ignorance,
using knowledge to stop foolish living, or maintaining mindfulness,
especially with external contacts. Right living is having perfect
Right Mindfulness in life. Thus, there is Wisdom or Right View not
foolishness and ignorance in one’s life. Right living is a life
The Eleven States of
The doctrine of dependent
origination taught presently is not in accord with the primitive Pali
suttas. What is said in the primitive Pali suttas is different from
what is being passed on today. In the Pali suttas, the dependent
arising is a chain of eleven states, which make up one cycle, whereas
the eleven states being explained today encompass three lifetimes: the
past, present, and future lifetimes. Such a dependent arising cannot
be used in our cultivation.
The primitive Pali suttas state
that whenever we experience vexation, the eleven states are mutually
dependent and they advance successively to generate a dependent
arising. For this reason, dependent arising does not have to encompass
three lifetimes, a lifetime, a year, a month, or a day. A complete
process of dependent arising and the suffering that ensues can
possibly occur and end in an instant. If dependent arising is
erroneously taught, it becomes useless and sets off senseless
arguments. If it is explained in accordance to the primitive Pali
suttas, however, dependent arising can provide significant benefits
because it directly resolves our everyday problems.
One must first know the eleven
states of dependent arising to better understand the subject:
Ignorance bears Volitional Action: Volitional
Action emerges because Ignorance is its supporting condition.
Volitional Action bears Consciousness:
Consciousness emerges because Volitional Action is its supporting
Consciousness bears Name-and-Form: Name-and-Form
emerges because Consciousness is its supporting condition.
Name-and-Form bears the Six Sense Bases: Six
Sense Bases emerges because Name-and-Form is its supporting
Six Sense Bases bears Contact: Contact emerges
because the Six Sense Bases is its supporting condition.
Contact bears Feeling: Feeling emerges because
Contact is its supporting condition.
Feeling bears Craving: Craving emerges because
Feeling is its supporting condition.
Craving bears Clinging: Clinging emerges because
Craving is its supporting condition.
Clinging bears Becoming: Becoming emerges because
Clinging is its supporting condition.
Becoming bears Birth: Birth emerges because
Becoming is its supporting condition.
Birth bears Aging & Death: Aging, sickness,
death, anxiety, sorrow, vexation, and suffering emerge because Birth
is their supporting condition.
The eleven states are mutually
dependent in a complete process of dependent arising. As stated in the
Pali suttas, there is no gap between any of the states. Therefore, it
is not necessary to classify the first two states as belonging to the
past, the next ten states to the present, the remaining state to the
future, and thereby explain a process of dependent arising as
encompassing three lifetimes. If it is explained as encompassing three
lifetimes, how can one take advantage of dependent arising and
cultivate to end suffering, when the “cause” is in the present life
and the “fruit” is in another? The doctrine of dependent origination
being taught today encompasses three lifetimes, thus it is not helpful
to our cultivation.
If you study the Pali suttas, you will discover
that dependent arising is not like this. It does not need three
lifetimes to complete a process. Depending on the circumstance, only
one, two, or three instants are sufficient to complete a process.
Suffering Due to
Dependent Arising Depends on Clinging
The suffering in dependent
arising requires Clinging as supporting condition. For instance, if a
farmer who is working under the sun does not cling to “Oh, I feel very
hot!” The “very hot” sensation will only be a natural sensation, and
not a suffering due to dependent arising. Natural sensation results
from external stimulation, but because the mind does not cling to it,
there is no personal feeling of suffering. Suffering in dependent
arising, however, is vexation experienced due to the mind’s clinging
to sensation of external stimulation. Suffering due to dependent
arising requires Clinging, and it leads to the emergence of ego. If
the farmer becomes agitated by thinking “Because I am a farmer, it is
my kamma to do this hard labor,” he will feel dejected. In thinking
this way, suffering due to dependent arising emerges.
If the heat generated by the sun
on the farmer's body is treated as natural sensation, and there is no
Clinging, then the ego will not emerge. Therefore, there is no
suffering in a dependent arising. When there is Clinging, suffering
develops totally. It is suffering in a dependent arising. If our hand
is bleeding from a cut and we feel the pain without Clinging, it is
natural sensation and not suffering in a dependent arising.
Suffering in a dependent arising
must come from a complete process of Ignorance, Volitional Action,
Consciousness, Name-and-Form, Six Sense Bases, Contact, Feeling,
Craving, Clinging, Becoming, Birth, and Aging & Death.
Buddhists understand that when
the Six Roots come in contact with the Six Objects, and these Objects
have value or significance, then the Six Objects support the emergence
of Ignorance. For instance, suffering is not experienced if one sees a
tree and stone as insignificant, whereas it will be a different matter
if one sees a tiger, woman, or something of significance. If a male
dog sees a beautiful woman, the latter will be insignificant to the
former. If a young man sees the beautiful woman, however, she will be
very significant to him. Here the “seeing” of the male dog is not
relevant to dependent arising, but the young man’s “seeing” is.
Tree, weeds, and stones are
insignificant in ordinary situation, but a diamond, stone statue of a
divinity, or tree with special meaning can cause a dependent arising
in the citta. Therefore, we may conclude that when the Six Roots come
in contact with the Six Objects, the Six Objects must be significant
to the viewer for them to bring about ignorance, foolishness, and
confusion. Only in such contacts will Consciousness arise in the
instant and advance towards Volitional Action. Volitional Action can
generate Name-and-Form making the viewer’s normal body and mind
abnormal and wild. Consequently, the body and mind experience
When the Name-and-Form is
transformed, the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind become the
Six “abnormal and wild” Roots. The process then goes on to the “wild”
Contact, Feeling, Craving, Clinging, Becoming, and finally Birth.
Birth is the total emergence of ego. Furthermore, because of Clinging,
Birth, Aging & Death, or different kinds of suffering can emerge at
The above is an example of
dependent arising that occurs in everyday life. It is a complete
process of the eleven states of dependent arising in an instant. There
can be tens or hundreds of dependent arising occurring in a day
without our being aware of them. For this reason, saying that the
process of dependent arising encompasses three lifetimes is false.
People generally misunderstand
the doctrine of dependent origination. Believing that the process of
dependent arising encompasses three lifetimes is straying from the
original meaning of the primitive Pali suttas. Dependent arising
begins and stops with lightning speed. It generates suffering, and
occurs in our everyday life.
The Buddha Discovered
How did the doctrine of dependent
origination originate? In the Samyutta-nikaya, the Buddha spoke
of discovering dependent arising after six years of ascetic practice.
Following are what the Buddha said in the Pali suttas:
Bhikkhus, before I became enlightened
and was still a bodhisattva, I had already realized that all sentient
beings experienced suffering in birth, old age, death, and rebirth. If
the sentient beings do not know the method for the cessation of
suffering, how are they supposed to be free of suffering?
Bhikkhus, I asked, “Why is
there old age and death? What are the causal conditions for old age
and death?” Because I skillfully endeavored on mind training, I
developed Wisdom sight.
Birth is condition to Aging &
Death. Aging & Death comes from Birth.
Becoming is condition to Birth. Birth comes from Becoming.
Clinging is condition to Becoming. Becoming comes from Clinging.
Craving is condition to Clinging. Clinging comes from Craving.
Feeling is condition to Craving. Craving comes from Feeling.
Contact is condition to Feeling. Feeling comes from Contact.
Six Sense Bases is condition to Contact. Contact comes from Six Sense
Name-and-Form is condition to Six Sense Bases. Six Sense Bases comes
Consciousness is condition to Name-and-Form. Name-and-Form comes from
Volitional Action is condition to Consciousness. Consciousness comes
from Volitional Action.
Ignorance is condition to Volitional Action. Volitional Action comes
Thereafter, I meditated on it
again in another way:
Ignorance is condition to Volitional Action.
Volitional Action is condition to Consciousness.
Consciousness is condition to Name-and-Form.
Name-and-Form is condition to Six Sense Bases.
Six Sense Bases is condition to Contact.
Contact is condition to Feeling.
Feeling is condition to Craving.
Craving is condition to Clinging.
Clinging is condition to Becoming.
Becoming is condition to Birth.
Birth is condition to Aging & Death.
Bhikkhus, the people have never heard of wisdom that conquers
suffering. The Wisdom
sight, Dhamma eye, and brilliance have all come about within me.
This is the dependent arising or
chain of suffering the Buddha discovered when he became enlightened.
The Buddha also discovered that suffering is generated by the eleven
states of dependent arising. When one who is dominated by Ignorance
(absence of Right Mindfulness) comes in contact with the surrounding,
Consciousness emerges in that instant. Consciousness is not a
perpetual entity. It is manifested only when the Roots come in contact
with the surroundings. Thereafter, Volitional Action, the motive force
for creating new Name-and-Form, emerges rapidly following the
manifestation of Consciousness. The new Name-and-Form will then
experience suffering, and generate the Six Sense Bases that sustains
suffering. Subsequently, Contact, Feeling, Craving, Clinging,
Becoming, and Birth (emergence of the ego) emerge one after the other.
At this point, the conditions for suffering are complete.
From what we know about Buddhism
and man’s history, the Buddha was the first to discover dependent
arising. After he discovered it, he became enlightened. This was how
the doctrine of dependent origination originated according to the Pali
Becoming and Birth in
the Language of Dependent Origination
The language of dependent
origination is expounded by the Dhamma language, which is used by
people who have seen the dhamma, and not by the everyday language,
which is used by people who are ignorant of the Buddha Dhamma.
If we use everyday language to
explain dependent origination, there will be confusion and lack of
understanding. For instance, the Buddha’s enlightenment under the
Bodhi tree was the cessation of Ignorance. With the cessation of
Ignorance came the cessation of Volitional Action, Consciousness, and
Name-and-Form. Why then did the Buddha not die? When the Buddha
attained enlightenment, it was the cessation of Ignorance. With the
cessation of Ignorance came the cessation of Volitional Action. Why
then did the Buddha not die under the Bodhi tree? It is because the
language of dependent of origination is the Dhamma language.
Therefore, Birth and Death do not mean the birth or death of the
If the terms are misunderstood,
as when everyday language is used, then a process of dependent arising
entails two forms of birth. One is the birth of Name-and-Form (from
sexual union of the parents); another is birth in the next life. If
there are two births, then dependent arising will be thought to
encompass three lifetimes: past, present, and future lifetimes. At
this point, a complete process of dependent arising will be
disjointed, and it will not be in accord with the Buddha’s doctrine of
dependent origination. The amusing part is, even if there are two
forms of birth in dependent arising, there are no two forms of death.
This is because two forms of death are incomprehensible.
According to the doctrine, the
Becoming and Birth in dependent arising do not originate from the
mother’s womb but from Clinging, where the experience of an ego
develops; it is called Birth. This can be proven by the Pali suttas.
In the suttas, the Buddha said,
“Clinging to that which brings delight.” This means when Contact
brings on Feeling, no matter if that Feeling is construed as
suffering, pleasure, or non-suffering-and-non-pleasure, there is
“delight” in it. This is Clinging. Any form of “delight” is Clinging
because “delight” sustains Clinging. When there is “delight,” there is
“Delight” here refers to
satisfaction in perplexity. According to the Buddha, “delight” is
Clinging. When we are satisfied with a certain thing, we are holding
on to it. There is “delight” in Feeling, thus “delight” is Clinging.
Therefore, when we experience Feeling, “delight” emerges at once; it
is Clinging. “From Clinging comes Becoming; from Becoming comes Birth;
from Birth comes Aging & Death. This is suffering.”
Becoming and Birth come from
Feeling, Craving, and Clinging. They do not have to wait for
transmigration after physical death to emerge. Becoming and Birth can
happen at any time and place. They can happen many times in a day.
When Feeling in reaction to Ignorance exists, a certain kind of
“delight” due to perplexity develops. This is Clinging; after which
Existence/Birth and Birth develop. Therefore, Becoming and Birth
emerge in an instant, and they happen many times in a day.
In Dhamma language, the
development of the ego and ego possessiveness, which is occurrence of
Becoming and Birth, can happen many times in a day, hundreds of times
in a month, thousands of times in a year.
Dependent arising is a phenomenon
that happens in an instant. It does not encompass three lifetimes. The
process of dependent arising occurs in everyday life. Ignorance is the
beginning of a process of dependent arising. When Ignorance is
eliminated, the process cannot continue; then there is absence of
The Ego is Not Present
in Dependent Arising
The erroneous interpretation of
the doctrine of dependent origination is not only unfavorable to the
practitioner but also harmful to Buddhism. The belief that dependent
arising encompasses three lifetimes, which is not based on the
principle of the Pali suttas, is false. It is false based whether on
the words or on the meaning of the Pali suttas.
According to the Pali suttas, the
Buddha said that dependent arising is successive instants of
occurrences due to interdependent conditions. The process starts with
Ignorance and ends in suffering. There are no other things involved in
Based on the Buddha’s teaching,
therefore, it is apparent that the belief of a dependent arising that
encompasses three lifetimes is false. The Buddha’s purpose in teaching
the doctrine of dependent origination was to eliminate fallacies, to
stop the clinging to self, person, or sentient beings. Hence, the ego
is not present in his explanation of the chain of eleven states of
Now, some people explain
dependent arising as having an entity that transmigrates three
lifetimes. One’s vexation in his past life is said to be the cause of
karmic repercussions in his present life. The karmic repercussions in
his present life again become a new vexation that will cause karmic
repercussions in his next life. Seen this way dependent arising
involves an ego, spirit, sentient being, or person that is in
transmigration. This was what the Bhikkhu Sati falsely believed. It is
against the Buddha’s teachings, where the ego is not present.
The Four Criteria also tell us
that the viewpoint of a dependent arising with ego is false because it
is contrary to what the Buddha taught. The Pali suttas explain
dependent arising as successive instants of occurrences due to
interdependent conditions. The ego is not present if the suttas’
original meaning is preserved.
Everyday Language Cannot Be
Used to Interpret the Doctrine of Dependent Origination
Name-and-Form in Everyday
Language and the Dhamma Language
As explained before, the doctrine
of dependent origination is not to be interpreted in everyday
language. If the doctrine is interpreted in everyday language, then
the following would have happened: After the Buddha had become
enlightened, he died under the Bodhi tree immediately. This is because
when Ignorance ceases so do Volitional Action, Consciousness, and
Name-and-Form. Thus, the Buddha should have died when his Ignorance
ceased. The Buddha did not die, however, but continued to teach his
dhamma for the next 45 years. This means the doctrine of dependent
origination cannot be interpreted using everyday language. The same
goes for the process of dependent arising. The emergence of
Name-and-Form cannot be interpreted by everyday language because the
Buddha taught that Feeling sustains delight, which in turn gives rise
to Craving, Clinging, Becoming, and Birth. The Birth here does not
refer to birth of the physical body; likewise, the death does not
refer to expiration of the physical body. They refer to Birth and
Death in the mind: the Birth and Death of the ego.
Therefore, the Name-and-Form in
the doctrine should be interpreted using the Dhamma language. In
everyday language, the Name-and-Form is the mind and physical body
that continue to exist after one is born. The elaborate abhidhamma
says Name-and-Form has countless births in every instant, but in the
Dhamma language of the Buddha, each birth originates from contact
between Ignorance and the surrounding. The birth will only stop when
the contact ceases. According to everyday language, each process of
dependent arising has two forms of birth. Because it is
incomprehensible, it is explained as involving three lifetimes. Such
an interpretation, however, embraces the concept of a continuing
“State of Seeking Birth” in
Everyday Language and the Dhamma Language
The difference of the Dhamma
language and everyday language can also be found in interpreting the
“state of seeking birth” (sambhavesi). In performing the Buddhist rite
for dedication, we recite a portion of the sutta for dedication: “to
grant all sentient beings - those that have been born or in the state
of seeking birth - happiness.” This refers to two kinds of sentient
beings: one that has already been born (bhuta), and one that is
seeking birth. This is the interpretation of ordinary people in
Thailand and other countries. The sentient beings that have been born
are living now, like you and me. As for those who are still in the
“state of seeking birth,” there is a consciousness that is without a
physical shell moving around seeking birth. This is an interpretation
entirely in everyday language, and not according to the Buddha
Buddhism does not advocate a
consciousness or entity that moves around seeking birth [or rebirth,
as is usually believed]; it is a belief held by people who embrace the
concept of a continuing existence. In Buddhism, consciousness emerges
and expires in an instant according to the law of dependent arising.
This is my opinion, Buddhism's “state of seeking birth” is interpreted
in the Dhamma language; it is different from that of everyday
language. Buddhism’s “state of seeking birth” refers to a state that,
in the case of ordinary people, is still without vexation; a state
where there is still the absence of Craving, Clinging, or holding on
It is normal for Craving,
Clinging, and the holding on to ego and ego possessiveness to exist in
everyday life, but they are inactive most of the times. For instance,
those of you sitting there listening are without the ego because you
do not crave or cling to anything. You do not have the illusion of an
ego. You are just sitting there, listening naturally, and you are in a
normal and blank state. When strong Craving and Clinging emerge,
however, intense suffering follows. Ordinary people thus live in two
states: where one is “born” because there is Craving, Clinging, and a
suffering self, and where one is in a “state of seeking birth.” They
are the objects of the Buddhist rite for dedication: those that are
“born” and foolish and those that are in a “state of seeking birth”
and oblivious of what is happening.
The “state of seeking birth”
awaits the birth of the ego and ego possessiveness. It is a sorry
state because the ego and ego possessiveness are ready to emerge at
any time. When one loses Right Mindfulness, and the ego and ego
possessiveness develop out of contact between Ignorance and the
surrounding, there is “birth.” This “birth” of the ego and ego
possessiveness, caused by greed or anger, is, however, short lived.
Once greed or anger disappears, the “born” [birth of the ego] expires
and returns to a “state of seeking birth.” Then again, from the “state
of seeking birth” comes the “birth” of the ego and ego possessiveness
because of craving, anger, hatred, or fear. The process of dependent
arising is thus repeated. In each process of dependent arising,
“birth” is realized because of causal conditions. When these causal
conditions disappear, the “born” expires and returns to a “state of
This interpretation of the “state
of seeking birth” is useful in cultivation because the practitioner
can take advantage of and benefit from it; unlike with ordinary
people’s interpretation, where the consciousness leaves the body and
moves around seeking birth after death. I do not believe the “state of
seeking birth” should be interpreted according to everyday language.
It is irrelevant to the doctrine of dependent origination, and not
beneficial to us. Worse, it embraces the concept of a continuing
My unorthodox belief can be
proven using the Pali suttas. They are found in the record of the
material food (kabalinkarahara), contact food (phassahara), thought
food (manosancetanahara), and consciousness food (vinnanahara) in the
Samyutta-nikaya. The Buddha said the Four Foods [cattaro ahara]
enable the “born” to live, and they nourish the “state of seeking
In explaining the Four Foods, the
Buddha also used analogy of the Four Foods in everyday events. We are
sentient beings that are “born” and in a “state of seeking birth” at
any day. The function of the Four Foods is to continue nourishing the
“state of seeking birth,” but their special effect is continually
sustaining those that are already “born” (sentient beings that are
This example allows everyone to
understand that there are two interpretations of the “born” according
to everyday language and the Dhamma language. The important thing is
for everyone to know which interpretation directly benefits the
cultivation of the Buddha Dharma. Only the interpretation according to
the Dhamma language can benefit one's cultivation.
We must stop all “births” and “states of seeking
birth” by properly cultivating according to the doctrine of dependent
origination, and by disallowing the emergence of the ego and “state of
seeking birth.” To stop “birth” or the “state of seeking birth,” the
Four Foods must be totally eliminated. The Four Foods must not be
allowed to become significant and initiate volitional action. With
this kind of understanding, our cultivation can benefit from the
doctrine of dependent origination.
Suffering in the Dhamma
Suffering has many meanings. In the Dhamma
language, it refers to dependent arising. In Pali, there can be
suffering, the cause and end of suffering, and the pathway to the
cessation of suffering, which is the development and cessation of
dependent arising. Suffering has a special meaning in dependent
arising. Suffering is due to Ignorance, which bears Volitional Action.
Volitional Action bears Consciousness, and the process continues until
suffering comes about. This is the development of suffering according
to the doctrine of dependent origination.
In the Samyutta-nikaya,
dependent arising is referred to as the warped path. What is warped
path? It is the process of dependent arising that leads to suffering.
What is the True Path? It is the cessation of dependent arising, where
the different states gradually die out until suffering is totally
eliminated. The True Path is the right path, whereas the warped path
is the wrong path.
The meaning of suffering here is
different because it refers specifically to suffering after Clinging
emerges. Therefore, meritorious kamma is suffering; non-meritorious
kamma is suffering; imperturbable kamma is also suffering.
Volitional Action in dependent
arising is a causal condition for suffering. Meritorious acts
[Volitional Action] can also lead to suffering, but ordinary people do
not know this. They believe meritorious acts bear pleasure. The truth
is meritorious acts bear meritorious kamma, non-meritorious acts bear
non-meritorious kamma, and imperturbable acts bear imperturbable
kamma. There is still suffering in these three kinds of act
[Volitional Action] because they sustain Clinging. One holds on to
meritorious kamma, non-meritorious kamma, and imperturbable kamma
because of Clinging. Thus, suffering has special meaning in dependent
It is easy to comprehend that
non-meritorious kamma is wrong and suffering, but both meritorious and
imperturbable kammas are also suffering and wrong because they bear
Clinging. Imperturbable kamma is not affected by meritorious or
non-meritorious kamma, but the self is present in it. “Imperturbable”
persons are often times called Brahman. Although they are not tainted
with meritorious or non-meritorious kamma, the self is still present
in them. Their mind may be “imperturbable” while in meditation, but
Clinging emerges because the self holds on the ego's imperturbable
acts. Therefore, it still is suffering.
Ordinary people believe goodness
is preferable. In the language of dependent arising, however, all is
suffering. Meritorious kamma is suffering; beauty is suffering;
happiness is suffering. As long as something is the result of
volitional action, and it can cause successive volitional actions,
then it is suffering. As long as the law of dependent arising applies,
then it is suffering.
Dependent Arising and
Dependent arising emerges from
Clinging, and not from only thought and feeling. Therefore, it is not
applicable to the fetus inside the womb. This is because Ignorance,
Craving, and Clinging have not yet developed in the fetus. The
tells about the birth of the baby up to the
point where dependent arising occurs. In the sutta, the Buddha
explicitly describes how human life is formed.
The Buddha said that when a child
sees form through eye consciousness, he experiences craving for the
delightful and shows disgust for the disagreeable. Because the child
is without Right Mindfulness, Ignorance is present. He is dominated by
habit and characteristic, and does not know deliverance through
Wisdom. Hence, when he experiences the Five Sensual Desires (sight,
sound, odor, taste, and touch), his mind is readily affected by
contacts with the surrounding. If Right Mindfulness and Wisdom are
present, however, there can be cessation of the notion of goodness and
Occurs and Ends in a Flash
We are unaware that a process of
dependent arising begins and ends in a flash. Within this very short
period of time, the eleven states or twelve links of dependent arising
are manifested successively. For instance, when we become angry,
suffering emerges. In an instant, we already experience suffering
because of anger. We are unaware that all the eleven states, from
Ignorance through Birth, occur and end successively in that instant.
When our eyes see the surrounding, we experience craving or anger
immediately. The process happens in an instant, and it is dependent
The Buddha taught about the
mundane world, its cause and cessation, and method for the cessation
of the mundane world in the Samyutta-nikaya.
Bhikkhus, how is the
mundane world formed? When the eye sees things, eye consciousness is
produced. The integration of the three is Contact. Contact is causal
condition of Feeling. Feeling is causal condition of Craving. Craving
is causal condition of Clinging. Clinging is causal condition of
Becoming. Becoming is causal condition of Birth. Birth is causal
condition of aging, sickness, and death. Bhikkhus, this is how the
mundane world is formed.
A process of dependence arising
is the “volitional action of the mundane world” the Buddha spoke of.
The emergence of suffering is the volitional action of the mundane
world. All these occur when Consciousness emerges through contacts
between the Six Sense Bases (Roots) and surrounding (Objects).
It is difficult to detect how
Volitional Action, Consciousness, Name-and-Form and Six Sense Bases
manifest through the volitional action of Ignorance in two or more
successive occurrences of a process of independent arising because
they happen in a flash. What we can experience first is Feeling, the
feeling of suffering, delight, joy, or melancholy. The cessation of
the mundane world is similar to the cessation of suffering. With the
end of Ignorance comes the end of Volitional Action; with the end of
Volitional Action comes the end of Consciousness, and so on. This was
how the Buddha explained it.
A Dependent Arising
Within Dependent Arising
The basic principle of dependent
arising is quite unique; it is called the “radiant wheel.” Here the
process of dependent arising goes into a process of termination of
itself [what others call the Transcendental Order of Dependent
Origination]. The amusing thing is it shows the “meritorious effect of
The Buddha talked about the
stages of ending suffering. “I will explain the cessation of influxes
(asava) only to wise people or people who see truth.” The Buddha said
that when one clearly sees the beginning and end of the Five
Aggregates (form, feeling, thinking, volition, consciousness), the
influxes within him end because of Wisdom. The Buddha was able to
pronounce this Truth because he had seen and realized it.
When influxes end, the Wisdom
sight appears and reflects the citta that is now free of influxes. The
Wisdom that initiates cessation appears when one abandons greed
[becoming dispassionate]. Dispassion comes from disenchantment.
Disenchantment is experienced because of ultimate Wisdom or having the
Wisdom sight to see Truth. The Wisdom sight to see Truth arises from
samadhi. Samadhi arises from bliss. Bliss arises from calmness.
Calmness arises from rapture. Rapture arises from contentment.
Contentment arises from having faith. Faith is an upshot of suffering.
In the process of dependent
arising, suffering comes from Birth. Birth comes from Becoming.
Becoming comes from Clinging. Clinging comes from Craving. Craving
comes from Feeling. Feeling comes from Contact. Contact comes from Six
Sense bases. Six Sense Bases comes from Name-and-Form. Name-and-Form
comes from Consciousness. Consciousness comes from Ignorance.
As shown above, the cessation of
influxes must proceed in the order of a process of dependent arising,
which arrives at faith. If we believe in the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha,
and the cessation of suffering through cultivation, then it is called
Faith is condition to
Contentment is condition to rapture.
Rapture is condition to calmness.
Calmness is condition to bliss.
Bliss is condition to samadhi.
Samadhi is condition to Wisdom sight to see Truth.
Wisdom sight to see Truth is condition to disenchantment.
Disenchantment is condition to dispassion.
Dispassion is condition to deliverance.
Deliverance is condition to the Wisdom that initiates cessation
This shows that the cessation of
influxes must start with faith, and faith comes from suffering. This
seems paradoxical but without suffering, we would not be forced to
seek the protection of the Buddha. When we are like refugees
scampering towards the Buddha, we are determined and we believe in the
Buddha because we have experienced the burdens of suffering.
Therefore, suffering becomes a causal condition of faith. Essentially,
suffering becomes a positive experience.
The purpose of the Buddha in
explaining that faith comes from suffering is to keep us from feeling
sadness, fear, and inadequate. If we apply the doctrine of dependent
origination in everyday life, suffering will be the foundation of
faith. Faith supports the Buddha Dhamma, helping us to cultivate for
the cessation of influxes. Suffering, seen in this light, becomes
1. The mundane world, its cause and cessation, and method for the
cessation of the mundane world result from the beginning or end of a
process of dependent arising, which is produced when the Six Roots
come in touch with the Six Surroundings. All these happen to man when
he is still alive.
2. The states of dependent arising do not encompass three lifetimes
or extend to the next life as is understood using everyday language.
The interpretation of “paticca” does not allow such extension.
“Paticca” means a chain of mutual dependency. The chain is so closely
linked such that nothing can be inserted into it. It is a series of
occurrences that cannot be divided into three life existences or
lifetimes. Dependent arising is related to the Four Noble Truths, and
there is no reason to break up its eleven states.
3. Dependent arising begins when Contact is experienced by a child
who is old enough to understand certain things. The Contact is not one
of Wisdom but of Ignorance, an absence of Right Mindfulness.
4. The doctrine of dependent origination reveals the truth about the
beginning and end of suffering. It does not tell us that man owns
suffering and has to retain it over many lifetimes. The owner of
suffering is not present; no receiver is present when suffering
occurs. The doctrine likewise tells the practical principle of
causality. Only the Buddha's doctrine of dependent origination can
reveal such Truth.
When I was still a student of
Buddhism, I had no choice but to study a doctrine of dependent
origination that was against the Buddha’s original proclamation.
Later, when I became a teacher of Buddhism, I went against the essence
of the Buddha’s doctrine by teaching that the process of dependent
arising encompassed three lifetimes. I accept my mistake and ask for
forgiveness. I have spent decades studying the doctrine of dependent
origination to discover that it is within our grasp, that we can apply
it in our everyday life through Right Mindfulness. When we are able to
block dependent arising at the instant of a Contact, the Buddha’s
doctrine becomes beneficial and practical to us.
How do we apply the doctrine of dependent origination? When there is
contact with surrounding, one has to maintain Right Mindfulness to
keep Ignorance from developing into suffering.
I hope everyone will possess the right intelligence to correctly
understand the doctrine of dependent origination. My interpretation of
the doctrine of dependent origination might be criticized not only by
Thai Buddhists but also by Buddhists all over the world because
dependent arising is generally understood to extend over lifetimes. I
was the target of severe criticisms in Thailand when I explained the
concept of void and commented on the adhidhamma before. I am sure my
interpretation of the doctrine of dependent origination will likewise
be criticized. Nevertheless, because I am Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, I must
perform my duty. I know what is right or wrong. I shall oppose to the
end anything that I know is harmful to the Buddha Dhamma. I am not
afraid of criticisms.
An applicable doctrine of
dependent origination is what the Buddha realized and taught. If we
embrace it, we can be able to end our suffering. A dependent arising,
where the self or a main body is not present, is one that belongs to
an ideal and practical doctrine.
I am offering this book to
enthusiasts of Buddhism so that they can correctly practice the Buddha
Buddhist calendar Year 2521 (1978) Wisakha Bucha
Day [Buddha's birthday]
Notes: The translation is based on
my interpretation of ideas in the
version of the book.
This is a continuing project, so the contents will be revised and
edited from time to time. Information in brackets and word
italicization are mine.