Appendix

 

 

A note on interpreting the principle of Dependent Origination

It has been mentioned that in the commentary to the Abhidhamma Pitaka (Sammohavinodani), the principle of Dependent Origination is shown occurring entirely within the space of one mind moment. This point needs to be reiterated because modern study of the teaching (at least in traditional scholastic circles) interprets it completely on a lifetime-to-lifetime basis. Accordingly, when there are attempts to interpret the Dependent Origination cycle as a process occurring in everyday life, those who adhere to the traditional interpretations are want to dismiss them as baseless and in contradiction to the scriptures. For mutual comfort and ease of mind, therefore, I have included this reference to show that such an interpretation is not without scriptural basis.

    Indeed, it is worth noting that what evidence there is for this interpretation is possibly only a shadow from the past which has become well-nigh forgotten, and which is still in existence only because the Tipitaka stands as an irrefutable reference.

    The commentarial description of the cycle of Dependent Origination as a lifetime-to-lifetime process, which is generally taken to be the authority, comes from the Visuddhimagga, written by Acariya Buddhaghosa around the fifth century AD. However, there is another commentary which deals with the principle of Dependent Origination and that is the Sammohavinodani mentioned above. The explanation here is divided into two sections, the first dealing with the principle of Dependent Origination on a lifetime-to-lifetime basis, as in the Visuddhimagga, and the second explaining it as an event occurring within one mind moment.

    The Sammohavinodani is also the work of Acariya Buddhaghosa, and is believed to have been written after the Visuddhimagga. The difference between the two is that whereas the Visuddhimagga was authored by Acariya Buddhaghosa himself, the Sammohavinodani is a commentary by him on the Abhidhamma Pitaka. In his introduction to the Sammohavinodani, Buddhaghosa writes, "I will glean this work from the ancient commentaries."[Vibh.A.1 (approx.)] Even in the Visuddhimagga, when it comes to the section dealing with the principle of Dependent Origination, he reveals, "An explanation of Dependent Origination is extremely difficult," and "Now I would like to expound on the paccayakara (principle of conditionality), even though I haven't a foot to stand on, like a man stepping into a flowing river with no stepping stone. However, the Dependent Origination is rich with teachings, not to mention the commentaries handed down from the ancient teachers in an unbroken line. Relying on these two sources, I will now expound the principle of Dependent Origination."[Vism.522; identical to Vibh.A.130 (approx.)]

    The explanation of the principle of Dependent of Origination given in the Visuddhimagga, unlike the Sammohavinodani, contains only an explanation of the principle on a lifetime-to-lifetime basis. This explanation is almost identical to that given in the Sammohavinodani. This being the case, it may be asked, "Why is there no explanation of the principle of Dependent Origination in one mind moment given in the Visuddhimagga?" It may be that even in the time of Buddhaghosa scholastic circles generally described the principle of Dependent Origination on a lifetime-to lifetime basis. It may also be that the author felt more comfortable with this interpretation because, difficult as it was, as he noted in his introduction, still there existed the commentaries of the teachers handed down till that time. The one-mind-moment interpretation, on the other hand, was not only very difficult, but had also disappeared form scholastic circles. This can be surmised from the Sammohavinodani itself, where the description of this interpretation is extremely brief. That any explanation of it occurs at all may be simply due to the fact that it is mentioned in the Tipitaka and as such demanded an explanation. The author was able to make use of the traces of commentary still remaining to formulate his own commentary.

    Now let us consider the explanation given in the Sammohavinodani itself. The Sammohavinodani is a commentary to the Vibhanga, which is the second volume of the Abhidhamma Pitaka. The section of the Vibhanga which describes the principle of Dependent Origination is called the Paccayakara Vibhanga. It is divided into two sections: the first is called Suttantabhajaniya (definition according to the Suttas), the second, the Abhidhammabhajaniya (definition according to the Abhidhamma). The Sammohavinodani , the commentary to this volume, is likewise divided into two sections. It describes the difference between the two sections thus:

    "The Fonder expounded the paccayakara in terms of numerous moments of consciousness in the Suttantabhajaniya, but as the paccayakara is not limited to numerous minds, but can occur even in one mind moment, he now seeks to explain the paccayakara as it occurs in one mind moment, and this is the Abhidhammabhajaniya."[Vibh.A.199 (approx.)] And elsewhere: "In the Suttantabhajaniya the paccayakara is divided into different lifetimes. In the Abhidhammabhajaniya it is expounded in one mind moment."[Vibh.A.200 (approx.)] In regard to the principle of cause and effect as it functions in one mind moment in everyday life, it is said, "...birth, (aging and death) for example, here refer to birth (aging and death) of arupa (immaterial) things, not to the decaying of the teeth, the graying of the hair, the wrinkling of the skin, dying, the action of leaving existence."[Vibh.A.208 (approx.)]

    One final point deserves a mention: In the Vibhanga of the Tipitaka, the section which describes the lifetime-to-lifetime interpretation occupies only five pages of material. The section which describes the principle of Dependent Origination in one mind moment contains seventy-two pages.[26] But in the Sammohavinodani, Buddhaghosa's commentary, it is the reverse. Namely, the section dealing with the lifetime-to-lifetime interpretation is long, containing 92 pages, whereas the section dealing with the one-mind-moment interpretation contains only 19 pages.[27] Why the commentary on the one-mind-moment version of Dependent Origination is so short is possibly because the author did to have much to say about it. Or perhaps he thought it had already been explained sufficiently in the Tipitaka, there being no need for further commentary. Whatever the case, we can affirm that the interpretation of Dependent Origination in everyday life is one that existed from the very beginning and is founded on the Tipitaka, but only traces of it remain in the Commentaries.

 

Birth and death in the present moment  

Those who would like to see a reference to the cycle of rebirth in the present moment, in the present life, might like to refer to the Sutta presented below:

""The deep-grained attachment to the feeling of self does not arise for one who is endowed with these four conditions (paa, wisdom; sacca, integrity; caga, generosity; and upasama, calm.). With no perception of self clouding one's consciousness one is said to be a muni, a peaceful one." On what account did I say this? Perceptions such as 'I am,' 'I am not,' 'I will be,' 'I will not be,' 'I will have form,' 'I will not have form,' 'I will have no form,' 'I will have perception,' 'I will not have perception,' 'I will neither have nor not have perception,' monks, are an affliction, an ulcer, a dart. By transcending these perceptions one is a muni, a peaceful one.

"Monks, the muni is not born, does not age, does not die; he is not confused, nor does he yearn. There are no longer any causes for birth in him. Not being born, how can he age? Not aging, how can he die? Not dying, how can he be confused? Not being confused, how can he be desirous? "The deep-grained attachment to the feeling of self does not arise for one who is endowed with these four conditions. With no perception of self clouding one's consciousness, one is a muni, a peaceful one" -- It was on this account that this statement was made."[28]

 

Dependent Origination in the Abhidhamma  

In the Abhidhamma many different models of Dependent Origination are presented, sorted according to the various kinds of skillful, unskillful and neutral mental states involved in producing them. These are further analyzed according to the levels of mental state involved, be they of the sensual realm (kamavacara), the realm of form (rupavacara) the formless realm (arupavacara)or the transcendent realm (lokuttara). This is because the Abhidhamma studies the mind on the level of "thought moments," and thus analyses Dependent Origination according to the kind of specific mental state involved. The factors occurring within these models will vary according to the kind of mind-state.

    For example, in some skillful mind states, the model might begin at sankhara, volitional impulses, ignorance not being present, or it may even start with one of the roots of skillfulness (non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion) instead of ignorance. Especially noteworthy is the fact that craving will only occur in the models based on unskillful mental states. In some instances, craving is replaced by pasada, inspiration, or is excluded altogether. Ignorance and craving are suppressed at these times -- they do to appear in their standard forms but in other forms, if not excluded altogether. Moreover, in the Abhidhamma Pitaka the various factors are presented as components of a whole or as reversing actions (such as "ignorance conditions volitional impulses, volitional impulses condition ignorance; volitional impulses condition consciousness, consciousness conditions volitional impulses;" etc.) Here I will present only the more important descriptions:

A. 12 unskillful mental states (akusala citta):

Ignorance conditions volitional impulse
volitional impulse conditions consciousness
consciousness conditions mentality (nama)
mentality conditions sixth sense base[a]
sixth sense base conditions contact
contact conditions feeling
feeling conditions craving
(or) feeling conditions aversion[b]
(or) feeling conditions doubt
(or) feeling conditions restlessness
(or) craving conditions clinging
(or) craving conditions conviction[c]
(or) aversion conditions conviction
(or) restlessness conditions conviction
(or) clinging conditions becoming
(or) conviction conditions becoming
(or) doubt conditions becoming
or) becoming conditions birth
(or) birth conditions aging and death

= the arising of the whole mass of suffering

B. Skillful mental states (only those occurring in the realms of sensuality, form and formlessness):

ignorance conditions volitional impulse
(or) skillful root[d] conditions volitional impulse
volitional impulse conditions consciousness
consciousness conditions mentality
mentality conditions sixth sense base
sixth sense base conditions contact
contact conditions feeling
feeling conditions inspiration[e]
inspiration conditions conviction
conviction conditions becoming
becoming conditions birth
birth conditions aging and death

= the arising of the whole mass of suffering

C. Vipaka (resultant) and kiriya (functional) mental states (only those occurring in the sensual, form and formless realms):

(skillful root conditions volitional impulse)
volitional impulse conditions consciousness
conscousness conditions mentality
mentality conditions sixth sense base
sixth sense base conditions contact
contact conditions feeling
feeling conditions becoming
(or) feeling conditions conviction
conviction conditions becoming
(or) feeling conditions inspiration
inspiration conditions conviction
conviction conditions becoming
becoming conditions birth
birth conditions aging and death

= the arising of the whole mass of suffering

D. Transcendent mental states (skillful and resultant):

Skillful

ignorance conditions volitional impulse
(or) skillful root conditions volitional impulse

Resultant

(skillful root conditions volitional impulse)
volitional impulse conditions consciousness
consciousness conditions mentality
mentality conditions sixth sense base
sixth sense base conditions contact
contact conditions feeling
feeling conditions inspiration
inspiration conditions conviction
conviction conditions becoming
becoming conditions birth
birth conditions aging and death

= the arising of all these dhammas

Note that the transcendent skillful mental state may begin at ignorance or a skillful root, but the resultant transcendent mind state begins at a skillful root or, if not, then at a volitional impulse. In addition, the final phrase "and thus is the arising of this whole mass of suffering" becomes "and thus is the arising of all these dhammas."

 

A problem with the word "nirodha"

The word nirodha has been translated as "cessation" for so long that it has become standard practice, and any deviation from it leads to queries. Even in this book I have opted for this standard translation for sake of convenience and to avoid confusing it for other Pali terms (apart from lack of a better word). In fact, however, this rendering of the word "nirodha" as "ceased" can in many instances be a mis-rendering of the text.

    Generally speaking, the word "cease" means to do away with something which has already arisen, or the stopping of something which has already begun. However, nirodha in the teaching of Dependent Origination (as also in dukkhanirodha, the third of the Four Noble Truths) means the non-arising, or non-existence, of something because the cause of its arising is done away with. For example, the phrase "when avijja is nirodha, sankhara are also nirodha," which is usually taken to mean "with the cessation of ignorance, volitional impulses cease," in fact means "when there is no ignorance, or no arising of ignorance, or when there is no longer any problem with ignorance, there are no volitional impulses, volitional impulses do not arise, or there is no longer any problem with volitional impulses." It does not mean that ignorance already arisen must be done away with before the volitional impulses which have already arisen will also be done away with.

    Where nirodha should be rendered as cessation is when it is used in reference to the natural way of things, or the nature of compounded things. In this sense it is a synonym for the words bhanga, breaking up, anicca, transient, khaya, cessation or vaya, decay. For example, in the Pali it is given: imam kho bhikkhave tisso vedana anicca sankhata paticcasamuppanna khayadhamma vayadhamma viragadhamma nirodhadhamma: "Monks, these three kinds of feeling are naturally impermanent, compounded, dependently arisen, transient, subject to decay, dissolution, fading and cessation."[S.IV.214] (All of the factors occurring in the Dependent Origination cycle have the same nature.) In this instance, the meaning is "all conditioned things (sankhara), having arisen, must inevitably decay and fade according to supporting factors." There is no need to try to stop them, they cease of themselves. Here the intention is to describe a natural condition which, in terms of practice, simply means "that which arises can be done away with."

    As for nirodha in the third Noble Truth (or the Dependent Origination cycle in cessation mode), although it also describes a natural process, its emphasis is on practical considerations. It is translated in two ways in the Visuddhimagga. One way traces the etymology to "ni" (without) + "rodha" (prison, confine, obstacle, wall, impediment), thus rendering the meaning as "without impediment," "free of confinement." This is explained as "free of impediments, that is, the confinement of samsara." Another definition traces the origin to anuppada, meaning "not arising", and goes on to say "nirodha here does not mean bhanga, breaking up and dissolution."

    Therefore, translating nirodha as "cessation", although not entirely wrong, is nevertheless not entirely accurate. On the other hand, there is no other word which comes so close to the essential meaning as "cessation." However, we should understand what is meant by the term. In this context, the Dependent Origination cycle in its cessation mode might be better rendered as "being free of ignorance, there is freedom from volitional impulses ..." or "when ignorance is gone, volitional impulses are gone ..." or "when ignorance ceases to give fruit, volitional impulses cease to give fruit ..." or "when ignorance is no longer a problem, volitional impulses are no longer a problem."

    Even in the forward mode, there are some problems with definitions. The meaning of many of the Pali terms are too broad to be translated into any single English words. For instance, avijja paccaya sankhara also means "When ignorance is like this, volitional impulses are like this; volitional impulses being this way, consciousness is like this; consciousness being this way, body and mind are like this; ..."

 


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Footnotes:

a. Chatthayatana: the sixth sense base, which is mano, mind. [Back to text]

b. Patigha: aversion. [Back to text]

c. Adhimokkha: conviction. [Back to text]

d. Kusalamula: roots of skill; i.e., non-greed. non-aversion, non-delusion. [Back to text]

e. Pasada: inspiration, faith. [Back to text]

26. Suttantabhajaniya Vbh.135-138; Abhidhammabhajaniya Vbh.138-191. [Back to text]

27. Suttantabhajaniya Vbh.A.130-198 (approx.); Abhidhammabhajaniya Vbh.A. 199-213 (approx.). [Back to text]

28. M.III.246; see also M.III.225; S.III.228; S.IV.14; (old age = degeneration or loss); Thag.247. [Back to text]   
 

A. = Anguttara Nikaya

D. = Digha Nikaya

D.A. = Digha Nikaya Atthakatha

It. = Itivuttaka

J. = Jataka

M. = Majjhima Nikaya

M.A. Majjhima Nikaya Atthakatha

Nd1 = Maha Niddesa

Nd2 = Cula Niddesa

S. = Samyutta Nikaya

Thag. = Theragata

Vbh. = Vibhanga

Vbh.A. = Vibhanga Atthakatha

Vin. = Vinaya Pitaka

Vism. = Visuddhimagga
































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