Book of Analysis, dependent origination (Vb 6): translator's introduction

By Waltham St. Lawrence

(6) Analysis Of Dependent Origination (Paṭiccasamuppādavibhaṅga).

The sixth and final chapter in the first major division of Vibhaṅga is entitled, "Analysis of Dependent Origination" (Paṭiccasamuppāda), which, correctly translated, means, "The Arising of Result Depending on a Cause".

In both this chapter and that preceding it (i.e., Indriyavibhaṅga) there are only two modes of analysis; however, in Indriyavibhaṅga, since both modes pertain to the methods of Abhidhamma, being "Analysis According to Abhidhamma" and "Interrogation", it takes precedence of position over Paṭiccasamuppādavibhaṅga because in this latter case the modes of analysis are those of Suttanta and Abhidhamma.

The whole subject of Dependent Origination as it is usually first encountered in the Mahānidānasutta of the Dīgha Nikāya does not seem particularly difficult to understand, it appears reasonable and logical enough. This is a very easy mistake to make, and one which is almost always made. In fact even the Ven. Ānanda, the attendant and closest follower of the Buddha made it, for to quote part of the opening passage of the same sutta, it is said, " Wonderful, Lord; marvellous, Lord; how deep, Lord, is this Paṭiccasamuppāda and appearing deep also. Yet, however, it seems to me as clear as clear." "Do not speak thus, Ānanda, do not speak thus, Ānanda, deep, Ānanda, is this Paṭiccasamuppāda and appearing deep also. By absence of understanding, absence of penetration of this teaching, Ānanda, this mankind thus entangled like a ball of string, covered with blight, a growth like muñja [xxxv] grass and rushes, is not able to overcome the woeful, unhappy, ruinous process of rebirth".

In various places throughout the Sutta Piṭaka, and particularly in the Nidānavagga of the Saṃyutta Nikāya, the whole course of the twelve causal relations is given, sometimes in complete form, sometimes partially, and sometimes in combined form. In the Suttanta analysis of Vibhaṅga, however, the complete twelvefold system is given with a definition for each term as to the way in which it manifests itself and as to how it is to be applied to the course of existence of beings as a whole. The actual mode of operation of what is in effect a statement of the continuous process of birth and rebirth is, however, not explained in this particular analysis, so it is perhaps suitable to give here a very compressed and undetailed explanation of how the system of causal relations operates.

There are twelve specifically named causes (nidānā) in the process of causal relations, they are: (1) Ignorance (avijjā), (2) Activities (saṅkhārā), (3) Consciousness (viññaṇa), (4) Mind and Matter (nāmarūpa), (5) Six Bases (saḷāyatanā), (6) Contact (phassa), (7) Feeling (vedanā), (8) Craving (taṇhā), (9) Attachment (upādāna), (10) Becoming (bhava), (11) Birth (jāti), (12) Ageing and Death (jarāmaraṇa). These twelve can be divided into three groups, each of which demonstrates a particular method of expressing the characteristic aspects of the life span of a being, thus:

Group A.

A particular life span may be expressed in these terms: Because of (1) Ignorance (avijjā) of Suffering, its cause, its cessation and the way leading to its cessation, there are (2) Activities (saṅkhāra) which, being productive of resultants, WILL CREATE FURTHER EXISTENCE.

Group B.

A particular life span may be expressed in these terms: As the outcome of past activity there are (3), resultant states of Consciousness (viññāṇa), depending upon which during one's gestatory period (4) Mind and Matter (nāmarūpa), in the form of the mental factors of past resultant conscious states and kamma produced material qualities, come to be, Arising out of this [xxxvi] mind and matter come (5) the Six Bases (saḷāyatana), Because of the properties and conditions mentioned earlier which apply to the six bases, (6) Contact (phassa), with the various impingent sense and ideational objects can take place. Where there is contact, then provided all the conditions are suitable there must be (7) Feeling (vedanā) of one of the three types. Where there is feeling (8) Craving (taṇhā) of one kind or another is bound under ordinary mundane conditions to arise. If there is craving then (9) Attachment (upādāna) in the sense of obtaining or retaining the desired object presents itself, Because of this attachment there is (10) Becoming (bhava), which means that there are volitionally (cetana, kamma) controlled states of activity which, being productive of resultants WILL CREATE FURTHER EXISTENCE.

Group C.

A particular life span may be expressed in these terms: Because of the resultant of past activity there is (11) Birth (jāti), and for the very reason that there is birth there must therefore follow the obvious corollary (12) Ageing and Death (jarāmarana).

Any single life span can be expressed in any or all of these three modes. In effect each group means the same thing, i,e., continuity of process. Thus, if one should consider the life span immediately preceding the present existence, its whole course may be expressed in the detailed causal relationship given in Group B. Since, however, the last three items of that course, viz., craving (taṇhā), attachment (upādāna) and becoming (bhava) are adequately represented by the terms ignorance (avijjā) and activities (saṅkhāra)—for craving and attachment are nothing but a manifestation of the root of ignorance (avijjāmūla) and becoming is nothing other than activity—it is therefore quite correct as an alternative to that detailed specification to say of that past life, "Because of (1) Ignorance there are (2) Activities" These are the terms of Group A. Now activity, because of the law of kamma, presupposes resultant states; moreover, since mind precedes all states and is their leader, the resultants of the activities in the life immediately past will be the very ones which will if we now consider this present existence to be represented by the detailed causal relationship of Group B be the causes of the first five stages of this present existence, viz., Consciousness (viññāṇa), Mind and Matter (nāmarūpa), Six Bases (saḷāyatana), Contact (phassa) and [xxxvii] Feeling (vedanā). This existence, then, is proceeding in just the same way as did the previous one in the past. Moreover, if we look forward and consider in this same existence the final three causes, viz., Craving (taṇhā), Attachment (upādāna) and Becoming (bhava), which we have already seen are nothing but ignorance and activities, we can but infer that here are the activities the resultants of which will create further existence. How better could this be stated than to say of that future life, "There will be (11) Birth (jāti), and because of that there will be (12) Ageing and Death (jarāmaraṇa)", To think for a moment will be to realize that this future life, this birth, ageing and death, is only another way of saying that there will be a repetition of all the eight causal relation-ships of Group B which we first referred to as the mode of past existence, then as the mode of present existence. Now we see also that it is the mode for future existence. Therefore, whether we express the past, the present or the future by any one of the three modes, each is acceptable, and although the usual convention is to represent the past by terms of Group A, the present by Group B and the future by Group C, yet as life succeeds life in an infinite continuity of pasts, presents and futures they each express in three ways the chief characteristics and manifestations of any one existence. However, if these groups are correctly interpreted the processes which we call past life, present life and future life are seen to have no break whatsoever. It is an apparently endless continuity of process which is to be broken only by the utter destruction and rooting out of ignorance and craving.

Thus far in Suttanta analysis the causal process has referred to the broad issue of existence in terms of life spans; however, for such a process as this to be stated by the Buddha to be a universal causal law it must be capable of being applied in a much narrower and more specific manner to be able to support so significant a claim. At the time of the Buddha, interest in the analysis of the processes and meanings of mental states was of the greatest importance not only to those who had given up the householder's life to follow the Buddha but also to the members of the many important heretical sects current at that time. All were ready and eager to discuss with skill not only such general statements, but to pinpoint particular and minute aspects of mental states to deter-mine if these also could be shown to be subject to any such control of law. It is to this aspect of investigation that the whole of [xxxviii] the second section of the analysis of causal relations is devoted, Analysis According to Abhidhamma restates Paṭiccasamuppāda as it applies in detail to each of the bad (akusala) states, to each of the good (kusala) states, and also to those states which being the resultants of other active states are in themselves neither good nor bad (abyākatā). This means many re-statements of the causal law in which factorial variations of some of the individual nidānas are given. Basically, however, all the conscious states dealt with are treated on a system of sixteen fundamental statements of the causal law. To deal with these in any detail at this time would be quite out of the question, but the whole system of analysis with its very specific definitions is designed to show that in the same way as the general cyclic continuity of process, stated in the Suttanta analysis, applies to existence as a whole, so also the arising of one state of consciousness as being dependent for its coming to be on the resultant of a preceding state, and that the resultant of that present state is to be the root cause of a future conscious state, demonstrates the action of that same law.

Paṭiccasamuppāda exemplifies most clearly the selfcontainedness of the Buddha's Teaching. External agency does not come into the question of existence, either in its broadest or in its most detailed aspects. All is the working of Causal Relationship, automatic, capable of infinite variety and of incomparable continuity. Only the Buddhas have shown how this continuity is to be broken. This is the essence of their Teaching: The Cause of Suffering is craving; if craving is destroyed utterly the continuity is broken; this is the end of Suffering; but, as is so frequently reiterated throughout Vibhaṅga, "… by hard practice and knowledge slowly acquired".

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