Can I forget about DO?


What’s your approach…?!


I don’t recall where I’ve seen this idea, but it’s been represented to me that we should think of the full exposition of DO as a map of different possibilities. Not all of them will be apparent in every phenomenon in the same kind of way. One might say it’s more like a flow chart than like a wiring diagram: Each suffering doesn’t have to take every path.

Moreover, the timescales at which they operate should be thought about carefully. Some of them may be almost instantaneous, like the jump from contact to feeling. Others may take eons, but it’s still important to know that they are there, even if one doesn’t have the power to see them.


I’m sure that predicting the future from the intestines of a goat or the flight of birds also needed years of skill-building, careful observations and contemplative intuition.


Here’s a short-winded and simple version:

Contact, mendicants, is one end. The origin of contact is the second end. The cessation of contact is the middle. And craving is the seamstress,
for craving weaves one to rebirth in this or that state of existence. --AN6.61

I suppose the mendicants needing more (i.e., “what is the origin of contact?”) had SN12.23 thrown at them.


Ven. Walpola Gotama explain DO as 1(gnorance),8(tanha),12(Jati, Jara marana)
That is due to ignorance (Avijja) craving (Tanha)
Tanha leads to birth and death (Jati, Jara marana)


I read this and think ‘ew’; cause and effect.


As if the Buddha invented the understanding of cause and effect. Every ancient farmer, cowherd and in fact all babies have known that there are causes and effects. The value of suttas is highlighting specific causes and effects which were not common in the regular discourse.

When for example Rational-Emotive Psychotherapy came up it introduced the systematic treatment of attitudes, thoughts and emotions into the psychotherapeutic landscape. This connection is of course trivial to the experienced meditator who has learned it from Buddhist (or a similar) practice.

Like some others already pointed out, some links in the DO are intelligible, namely the links of salayatana-phassa-vedana-tanha-upadana. The rest is either trivial (jati-jaramarana) or unclear or speculative. The DO completely omits feedback-loops within the core five limbs btw.

Also, I don’t deny that intuitive-intelligent people can find a lot of value in the DO as a whole. But then again, intuitive-intelligent people find a lot of value in many experiences and concepts - because they are intelligent.


DO is an elaboration of the Second Truth, so it makes sense to highlight the relationship between tanha and dukkha (which includes old age and death). And of course DO identifies avijja as the root cause of dukkha, with tanha as the proximate cause.


He didn’t invent case and effect. Farmers understand cause and effect! Babies know how to manipulate their environment! None of this will lead you to enlightenment.

One thing that is in the DO is the understanding that the same things arise more, if you crave for it, and it leads to suffering. This includes the belief in rebirth, as part of the process. The experientially verifiable aspect is from consciousness through to the sense bases giving rise to cravings and attachment. Even more at a deep level that experiences (not the ‘ontological’ world which cannot be verified) arise from each other sequentially. The principle behind is specific conditionality (idapaccayata), which underlies the uniformity of our world/experiencing. It also means, as causality is driven by its own mechanisms, a Self is not much needed. Even the observer can be deduced as a causally arisen phenomena which doesn’t need to be identified as a Self. So if someone observes phenomena arising and passing away in the present moment, the DO as an example of the principle of idapaccayata can be understood!


I think you’ve put it well, @Mat. I would only add that DO admits multiple causes for phenomena; when we zoom out and consider the whole of the causal web, it’s as if everything in the past has some hand in causing everything in the present. All phenomena have many, many proximate causes of different kinds, and we should therefore be careful whenever we say “This one thing caused that one other thing.” It’s only just a part of the story.

This is clearest in the Buddha’s accounts of where various people ended up on rebirth. Sometimes people of very similar actions in their previous life are said to have very different destinies in the present life. This is because they’ve been influenced by kamma in many different ways, not just the ones that are apparent.

This seems to be true in the up-close, in-miniature version of DO that we can observe with our own mental states. They too have myriad origins in our pasts, and we can know this even if we’re not gifted with the ability to see past lives. Whatever that may mean.


I don’t think the Buddha attempted to given a ‘scientific’ description or even a unsubstantiated philosophical view of how the world arises, but it nevertheless has enough in it to experientially know that everything we know through the senses arise as strings of cause and effect. The undoing of the problem also becomes apparent.


The Buddha gave a tongue-in-cheek creation story, poking fun at the Brahmans’ creation myth while also teaching about causality (in a way very much resembling evolution) and kamma, at DN 27.


@sodhano Thank you for that sutta reference :anjal:
It explains the reasoning behind being a wandering alms mendicant in a much deeper way than I had ever realised :slight_smile:


Maybe it served as a tool to dispel wrong view and if the structure wasn’t very different from the Brahmins view it would be easier for people to access and accept it. However this doesn’t mean it was meant to be merely a reaction to the Brahmin teachings. But with a web of causes it is interesting to consider why he chose the elements that finally went into the makeup of the DO which is arguably the second or third most important teaching in the Dhamma.


Meaning dependently arises when patterns and minds meet, yes. This means patterns like words are empty of inherent meaning. They are only meaningful when interpreted by a mind that has had training in language. This is much like how hardness of a wall arises in dependence on something hitting it and cannot be spoken about meaningfully without assuming interaction.

This is not the same as the nihilistic claim that words convey no meaning at all, because they mean nothing to a cat but a lot to an intelligent human.

When it comes to DO, I am pretty certain that 1000 intelligent humans with no training in the teaching of the Buddha, will interpret the words of the suttas about the issue with a fair level of consistency.

The same 1000 people are unlikely to derive meaning with the same level of consistency between them from the intestines of a goat or the flight of birds.

When it comes to value, it is also something we do, and not something inherent to words, patterns and objects apart from the minds valuing them. However, nobody to my knowledge has placed such great value in the flight patterns of specific birds or the specific patterns of the internal organs of a dead goat that they preserved those specific patterns by memorising them and handing them down to others for thousands of years, so that people coming after them could benefit from the wonderful patterns.

To my mind, at least, this suggests that the teachings of the Buddha on DO are both more meaningful and valuable than the patterns seen in the intestines of a goat, or the flight patterns of a bird, even though inherent meaning or value is a mistaken view.


motivations shape our words and sentences