Is Dependent Origination a parody of Vedic cosmology?

I agree, as I mentioned the connections do appear to be tenuous. And I agree there are far stronger connections elsewhere in the suttas.

I am just trying to frame it into what might be Jurewicz’s line of thinking, and why it might get such strong support from Gombrich. Like I mentioned, I still have an open mind about this, and willing to give the benefit of the doubt to both sides of the argument.

I personally feel that if there was meant to be an allusion to Vedic creation myth in the DO, surely there would have been a sutta that points this out explicitly. Perhaps there was, and it is lost in time, or perhaps the connections are indeed tenuous and forced.

Thanks Bhante, for some clarification and further thoughts. I think it’s generally helpful to rule out what Dependent Origination is not about. The subject is a matter of debate among Buddhists, of course, yet Gombrich for example considered the question settled after reading Jurewicz’ ideas.

The Mahanidāna Sutta is hardly the locus classicus indeed. It doesn’t even contain the full twelvefold sequence. The word nidāna itself is also uncommon in texts on DO and in the Mahanidāna is simply used as one of a string of near-synonyms. The discourse title itself most likely arose only at a later time, who knows exactly when. It would be much more interesting if the Nasadiya or other Vedic texts used paccaya instead, which the Buddhist texts use all the time in discussing DO.

To all who replied to the “subject-object” thing, I think people understand this terminology in different ways. If we’re talking about awareness and its content (or “objects”), then, yes, this is discussed in the factor of contact. I don’t think “subject-object” is a useful way to refer to this either, although my problem would be mostly with the word ‘subject’. Jurewicz means something else, though, for she says the subject-object separation is caused by ignorance and that it underlies DO more generally.

But this idea itself is based on a specific interpretation of the Vedic texts (which many scholars don’t share). Hence the overall argument seems rather circular. DO is interpreted in light of this specific interpretation of the Vedic texts, to show how it is a response to these Vedic texts.

Let me clarify the point I was making (and I agree it’s not clear from the way I have juxtaposed my reasoning). I am trying to determine whether the Vedic creation myth would have been top of mind for the Buddha upon awakening.

If he was a kṣatriya well versed in Vedic philosophy, possibly. If he was a Sakyan with (possibly) little exposure to Vedic philosophy, then possibly not. I think we all agree he became very familiar with the Vedic framework later on in life, no doubt due to his encounters with brahmins who opposed or questioned his teachings.

As you say, we don’t know for sure, so the question remains open in my mind.

To quote Gombrich from “Theravada Buddhism”:

Nevertheless, the Buddha’s birthplace is sufficiently far from anywhere mentioned in brahminical texts of that period to make one wonder whether Vedic civilization can have penetrated at all to where he was born and grew up. For instance, the brahminical kinship system was exogamous, whereas the Buddha’s kin seem to have married their cross-cousins. It is even possible that the Buddha’s mother tongue was not an Indo-Aryan language. Certainly, when he walked southeast into central Bihar, the scene of his Enlightenment, he encountered brahminical culture with the critical eye of someone who had not been brought up to take its presuppositions for granted.

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Sure, I understand people say things like this.

Kapilavatthu is 3 days walk from Janakpur, where Yajnavalkya debated King Janaka (or thereabouts). Is he saying that in two hundred years people were not walking a three day journey, a journey that was routinely accomplished on a casual basis in the Buddha’s day?

Brahmanical culture spread out over vast ranges and vast periods. Obviously they intermixed and interrelated in all kinds of ways with different people. Culture isn’t just a stamp that forces people to be a certain way.

In any case, while I agree that there does seem to be evidence of cousin marriage among the Sakyans, the whole picture with the Buddha’s family is so confused, so variable in different traditions, that it is really not possible to draw much from it.

This is what I meant when I said that there is this academic tendency to sideline or ignore the very clear and explicit evidence in favor of some kind of imagined universe.

My first realization of this was when I was researching the first “schism” in the Sangha. Pretty much every source I looked at talked about Ashoka’s “schism edict”. Imagine my surprise when I read it and it said, “The Sangha is united”. Literally the opposite. If Ashoka said it was united, then obviously there must have been a schism.



I know that it is not realy the topic, but while you also seem to want to adress this, some thoughts about this:

I agree with that last statement of Jurewicz. That is the message i also read in EBTs. The subject-object impression is based upon grasping the knowing aspect of mind, and viewing this wrongly as Me, an I. It comes with the impression that it is Me who sees, I who feel, Me who knows.

Me-and mine making create this subject-object duality in the mind, but it is not its pure nature. It is not the way it must know. This kind of dual knowing is caused. Indeed, ignorance feeds this me and mine-making and subject-object duality.

Any time there is more in the sensing then just sensing, the anusaya have been triggered.

The word ’ subject’ refers to the mental impression that inside us there is a self, a me, that does the thinking, the sensing, the feeling, the experiencing, the living, dying, the willing etc. Some kind of ruler and actor. Some kind of mental entity with controll. I think one can say that is very close to what we call an ego.

subject-object duality does not only underlie DO but it refers in general to a usual but still delusion way of understanding things. A defiled understanding, not pure. It is always in the domain of conceiving. One has conceived something as ‘this i am’ this is me’. That is the structure of subject-object dual knowing.

Maybe we can start a seperate thread on this or join an old one?

Haha, thanks Bhante.

To be fair to Gombrich though, the full context of what he was saying was that he was postulating that it was the beginning of the urbanisation period in India, and although there was some trade between towns, travel wasn’t prevalent. But then the Buddha himself travelled a fair bit, and surely things can’t have changed that much in a lifetime?

When you have finished identifying all the Vedic references in the suttas, I would love to read it. Will that be an upcoming essay?

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Indeed, and it’s not just that: the Sakyan republic was 300km west of Mithila, i.e. closer to the origins of Vedic culture. Anyway!

Ha ha, I don’t know about all, but certainly a lot. I have thought of some essays or whatever, but for now the best resource is the talks I’m doing for this vassa on a Friday night.


Probably there were and are religious people from India who believe this idea of seeing Brahman as a kind of superior first being, a creator, is also a parody of what Brahman really is?

I think you can see this in any religion. Some see Brahman, God, Allah as some being, but there are also people who feel this is not oke, or only an imagine of…, the conceiving of…which is always distorted.
One can also say that whatever one imagines to be Brahman, God, Allah, it is not God, Allah, Brahman.
In EBT one can also see this that there is a point that one cannot objectify anymore.

Conceiving is a kind of grasping. And trying to understand things this way too. We are so used to rely on the proces of conceiving as means for developing understanding, but i feel that Buddha’s message is, that in the end it only distorts one understanding. I also feel this myself. I can feel that conceiving is not the right means to understand Dhamma. Or, it is relative.

I have never read any veda’s, but is it a fact that all these vedic texts see or describe Brahman as a being?

I don’t think it is the right topic, indeed. Unless you can explain what Jurewicz exactly means by it (which isn’t fully clear to me, though Reat whom she refers to doesn’t seem to understand it the way you do, nor Jurewicz herself actually).

Anyway, in the writing I referred to at the start I will go into this in more detail, so I don’t feel like discussing it now.

Perhaps, but Brahman is also anthropomorphized in the Upanishads, so this isn’t unique to the Buddhist texts.

As far as the creation myths go, yes. It’s hard to tell whether this is allegory or not, though.

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The Early Buddhist Texts (EBTs) do not claim that the ātman is ever-changing.

In fact the EBTs say the opposite i.e. Whatever is ever-changing cannot (according to the Buddha of the EBTs) be called ātman. So things that are ever-changing are called anātman (i.e. non-ātman).

What we (lay people or novices) might consider as defining ourselves (ātman) is either our physical body, or our feelings, or our conceptions, or our habits/practices, or our consciousness. The Buddha (according to the EBTs) says these skandhas arose at a point in time and are all perishable at a different point in time i.e. they are not the ātman (they are anātman) – so clinging to them thinking they are me/mine leads to duḥkha eventually.

From the MN147:

Taṁ kiṁ maññasi, rāhula, cakkhu niccaṁ vā aniccaṁ vā”ti?
What do you think Rāhula, is eyesight/vision everlasting or not?

“Aniccaṁ, bhante”.
Not everlasting, sir

“Yaṁ panāniccaṁ dukkhaṁ vā taṁ sukhaṁ vā”ti?
Whatever that’s not everlasting - would it be dukkha or sukha?

“Dukkhaṁ, bhante”.
Dukkha, sir

“Yaṁ panāniccaṁ dukkhaṁ vipariṇāmadhammaṁ, kallaṁ nu taṁ samanupassituṁ: ‘etaṁ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā’”ti?
Whatever that is not everlasting, is dukkha and is liable to change - is it proper to consider such a thing as “this is mine, I am this, this is my self”?

“No hetaṁ, bhante”.
No indeed, sir.

So we see that whatever that is duḥkha/dukkha, anitya/anicca & anātman/anattā are not fit to be considered to be oneself (ātman/attā).

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In the sutta’s i see a Buddha who also investigates views on consequences. You know that.

What is the consequence of the view that everything is the will of God, for example? Apart from the issue if there is, or is not a God. Do you become passive? Fatalist? Do you not treat illnesses, do you not vaccinate, etc. What is the consequence of the views we adopt?

I like this approach. But i also feel that it is legitimate to call some views just wrong views because they are wrong:-)

As humans we have seen Gods behind the happenings in the world and with ourselves and others. But the consequence was also that we did not have an eye for the real causes and conditions for illnesses, earthquakes, thunder, floods etc. I believe that we have a better eye for this than before.

I also believe that in the end our need for knowledge is also insatiable. It is most of the time fed by a personal need for grip on reality. To ease our fears, anxieties, uncertainty, not knowing, feelings of being unprotected or even for our status as teacher, expert, etc. All nonsense. I think this also must be seen as a wrong way of searching for protection, safety and happiness. I can see that for myself.
To grasp at knowledge to feel safe, to protect oneself, i feel, it in fact a personal problem to solve.


Note the use of the word “self” in quotes - it’s what we perceive, not ātman. This “self” does not “exist”, because it is an ever changing perception.

OK I didn’t see the point of this strawman “self” that is different from the ātman - you have now knocked it down by saying it is a perceived fake “self” but what is the point of putting up the strawman “self” just to knock it down?

That strawman entity (which is confused with the ātman by laypeople and novices) is described by the EBTs as anātman (i.e. not the ātman) - because an ever-changing “self” characterized by dukkha cannot be considered as the ātman - as the passage I’ve quoted above says.

Again, that’s why the word “self” was in quotes.

Perhaps, rather than a self/atman you are referring to what is often translated as a “sentient being” in suttas such as SN5.10.

When the parts are assembled
Yathā hi aṅgasambhārā,
we use the word ‘chariot’.
hoti saddo ratho iti;
So too, when the aggregates are present
Evaṁ khandhesu santesu,
‘sentient being’ is the convention we use.
hoti sattoti sammuti.

As opposed to suttas like SN22.59:

“But if it’s impermanent, suffering, and perishable, is it fit to be regarded thus:
“Yaṁ panāniccaṁ dukkhaṁ vipariṇāmadhammaṁ, kallaṁ nu taṁ samanupassituṁ:
‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self’?”
‘etaṁ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā’”ti?

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Thanks, but the point of using the word “self” in quotes was to indicate that what we normally perceive as a “self” does not actually exist. Therefore it is not ātman/atta, which is eternal and unchanging.

One can ask “Well, what does exist then?” or “What exactly is self?” and there has already been many threads discussing this, so I suggest you may wish to read those. It’s out of topic in this thread.

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Getting back to the subject of the thread, I am re-reading Jurewicz’s paper again (for the third time).

I now believe I may have misunderstood the paper in previous readings. My initial impression was Jurewicz was saying DO was formulated as an allegory or metaphor to the Vedic creation myth, and at the same time demolishing and rejecting it. And that this was done for pedagogical reasons, as a counterpoint to core Vedic beliefs.

I now think the paper is trying to expose a deeper structure and connection between the elements of the Vedic creation myth, and that the specific ordering of the factors in the DO chain is meant to reject the totality of the Vedic core principles. If so, then the paper does assert that this is the core thinking of the Buddha when he awakened, and may even be the core reason for his awakening. If this interpretation is correct, it is somewhat mind blowing because we are given a rare insight into possibly Buddha’s awakening process (if we agree with the paper’s analysis).

Jurewicz relies on a possibly unorthodox interpretation of the Vedic creation myth.

To summarise, the proto-ātman (referred to as the Creator, but perhaps more commonly referred to as the Supreme Being) arose out of darkness and a pre-cognitive state into the creation of the cosmos and living beings by first creating a “second” of himself as a fire altar and then sacrificing himself. Thus cognition and consciousness arose as the original ātman becomes separated into constituents or “buckets” (kośa) which ultimate becomes the various aspects of the Cosmic Man. But the process of cognition, driven by the “fire” metaphor, ultimately results in impurities and defilements and causes the fracturing of the ātman initially into man and woman (signifying the cognitive union of subject and object), and ultimately into all living beings.

This supports the traditional Vedic salvific gnosis that the the ātman, if it can get rid of all its impurities, finally reunifies with the universal principle brahman and ultimately back into the original Supreme Being.

This all pretty heady stuff. The paper claims the Buddha eventually realises the whole concept of the ātman is flawed, that there is in fact no ātman and therefore with the cessation of all desire and craving, we do not rejoin with the Supreme Being.

The specific factors and ordering of the DO is a point by point rejection of the entirety of the Vedic creation myth taken logically one step at a time. A very interesting hypothesis - I think I need to reflect more on this. I can see why Gombrich is so taken in by this paper.


That is not what the EBTs say. What we normally perceive to be our “self” are all existing and real things. Rupam, vedanā, saṃjñā (saññā), samskārāḥ (saṅkhārā) and vijñāna (viññāna) are all part of our psychophysical body - which we conventionally take to be our “self” (ātman). They are real and they exist.

What early-Buddhism says is that those existing things (comprised in our psychophysical body) that we normally confuse with our self (ātman) - are actually not our self (anātman) - because they conduce to duḥkha.

Because they exist conventionally in spacetime, they are impermanent (anitya / anicca), are liable to change or are unstable (vipariṇāmadharman / vipariṇāmadhammā), and because they are liable to change, they are conducive to duḥkha.

Anything that conduces to duḥkha/dukkha, or is anitya/anicca & anātman/anattā are not fit to be considered to be oneself (ātman/attā) because if duḥkha were a core (or inseparable) characteristic or component of ourself / ātman, we wouldnt be able to distance ourselves from duḥkha at any point of time.

I think this would be an unconventional interpretation, which others have already taken issue with you, so I won’t repeat the arguments. I use the word “self” in quotes because it’s clear from other discussions we all don’t have a common agreement on what this word means. Yes, you can interpret “self” as an equation consisting of the 5 khandhas, but this position may cause debate and confusion, which it already has in other threads that you have participated in. Can we agree this is outside the scope of this thread?


I haven’t read the paper, but I have a feeling that the author is not using ‘subject’ in the larger intelligence, subjectivity sense but more in a little old me of such name, clan, parents etc sense. Constraining the scope of ‘vinnana’ in Dependant origination towards a self-consciousness, ego sense.