Or at least put dependent origination to one side, and just work with the Second Noble Truth, and the general principle of conditionality. My reason for asking is that there is no consensus on how the 12 nidanas of paticcasamuppada should be interpreted, just a lot of conflicting interpretations. I find it all quite confusing, and rather frustrating.
Martin, it’s all here in this user friendly description.
I benefited from the essays by Ajahn Brahmali mentioned in this thread. After reading them I felt less confused about dependent origination. Links to the essays:
Hope this helps
That’s a wise decision, all a practitioner has to understand is right view in its mundane (the action of kamma), and transcendent forms:
“And what is right view? Right view, I tell you, is of two sorts: There is right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions [of becoming]; there is right view that is noble, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.”—MN 117
A practitioner can observe the action of cause and effect, and that is an essential understanding because it removes self as a motivator, replaced by dhamma-based action which takes time to come to fruition, and confidence in that process is a necessary foundation for the path.
DO can be used as a tool to understand the psychological dynamics of dukkha. A mode of being can be ‘born’, lead to dukkha, and feed back to reinforce itself, or it can die out (nirodha). Modes of being are processes that tend to change, blend, and overlap, so they’re not static ‘things’. A mode of being can be very short, such as a fit of anger, or very long, such a mindset and accompanying tendencies and habits that one carries for an entire lifetime. It’s easy to see how this could carry into multiple lifetimes, making both short-term and long-term interpretations of DO useful for understanding dukkha and the end of dukkha (the ‘reverse’ or ‘cessation’ half of DO, which is not always presented with equal weight alongside the familiar Twelve Nidanas, i.e. each component of DO can have an ‘arising’ and a ‘cessation’).
One way of thinking of DO is that the half that describes the ‘arising’ of dukkha describes the mechanics of the Second Noble Truth, and the half that describes the ‘reverse’ or ‘cessation’ of dukkha describes the mechanics of the Third Noble Truth.
I’m friends with Dependent Origination. It has helped me a lot. The 4NT are inseparable from DO, but (as crazy as it may sound) I’m not sure that all the fine details are essential. Understanding the world as dependently originated is in itself a huge advantage.
I share your frustration. However understanding DO is very important for the liberation. What is important is not the text book understanding but the realisation it for yourself in your own words.
I cerated a new post in Dhamma Wheel and you are welcome to make your comments.
Dependent Origination in terms of conventional truth or teaching (Vohara Desana) and Ultimate truth or teaching (Paramattha Desana)?
What exactly does it mean to “work with” DO? It seems to me one doesn’t need theory to meditate.
As some pointed out, there is a difference between conditionality and DO. The DO is a very specific implementation of conditionality. That people find it helpful is not a proof for its specific and exclusive correctness.
Here’s what I mean: If we found an authentic scroll which presented as a second limb not saṅkhāra but ahaṃkāra, would that render the DO meaningless because an essential limb has been changed? No, people would find a new meaning in it, and for some people it would make complete sense, and they would find it very helpful for the spiritual practice.
It’s not the DO that makes sense - we as sense-producing beings create sense in what we see. That’s why we see so many interesting images in clouds. Granted, the DO is not ‘nothing’, yet it forces us to create its meaning because there is no real flesh on the bone in the suttas.
The value of Conditionality? Essential to Buddhism and spiritual practice
The value DO? Subjective
Thanks for your thoughts, some interesting comments. My main practice these days is satipatthana, and in that context a general awareness of this/that conditionality seems to be most productive. Noticing how contact leads to feeling, and then to craving and aversion is something I’ve found useful, so perhaps looking at relevant bits of DO, rather than trying to make sense of the whole thing.
Also pulling back and seeing the bigger picture - recognising that the 12 links in “forward” mode are an elaboration of the Second Truth, and in reverse (cessation) mode an elaboration of the Third Truth.
I agree that DO can be quite challenging but I believe it is a very important teaching to try to understand and make practical use of it for my personal transformation.
I have found Thanissaro Bhikkhu essay (eBooks | dhammatalks.org) very useful for my practice; in particular the study of his flow chart in page 12.
Imho one can definitely put it aside and rather focus on development of perceptions and faculties. Seems to have worked out for the Bodhisatta.
Could you elaborate on “development of perceptions”?
You can only use bits of the DO which are taking place now (though the theory bits are useful and irreplaceable).
Sure, but some DO interpretations have all the nidanas involved in the same experience, or taking place at the same time, or something.
what one thinks about and gives frequent attention that becomes one’s inclination, similar thoughts and ideas comes to mind easily and one becomes established in that particular theme as those thought patterns are well established. This is evident from for example memorizing a text or performing a repetitive task.
Similarly when one thinks often about a certain theme or engages in certain activity, it becomes established as ones perception or i like the word perspective here as in a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view.
In example if one trains the “Maranasati” or Mindfulness of Death one develops that point of view and becomes established in a particular attitude towards whatever it is one sees and thinks about due to that development.
The Buddha has taught development of perception of impermanence, perception of equanimity, perception of unattractiveness, perceptions of non-self, perception of mindfulness of breathing and many other practices. I have some personal notes here; Notes on Perceptions and Contemplations - Google Docs
If we look at Sutta like Asubha Sutta which explains modes of training it is evident that development of perceptions is crucial and should be taking central stage and it is more important than even developing Jhana.
There is the case where a monk remains focused on unattractiveness with regard to the body, percipient of loathsomeness with regard to food, percipient of non-delight with regard to the entire world, (and) focused on inconstancy with regard to all fabrications. The perception of death is well established within him. He dwells in dependence on the five strengths of a learner — strength of conviction, strength of conscience, strength of concern, strength of persistence, & strength of discernment — but these five faculties of his — the faculty of conviction, the faculty of persistence, the faculty of mindfulness, the faculty of concentration, the faculty of discernment Asubha Sutta: Unattractiveness
If you can experience that all phenomena arise from a previously arisen phenomena, it would be a starting point.
I do have a feel for the conditionality of experience, seeing how one thing leads to another. Keeping it simple seems to work best for me, noticing one thing at a time, so to speak. To me some of the DO “explanations” seem unnecessarily complicated, long-winded and convoluted.
I’m sure you can see how contact leads to pleasant vedana, which in turns leads to craving and attachment, right?
Of course, though I’m generally pretty content, and it’s aversion I notice more.
Anyway, I think I’m content to put the theoretical convolutions of DO to one side, and just notice what arises.