Reading group dependent arising

this is the book we are reading, me and @Preston
various others have joined us, sometimes at regular intervals
we meet currently every sunday at 6:30 CST, and we last an hour or so
it’s been difficult to maintain a consistent group more than two or three people. discussion could benefit more with four or five.
we originally read a couple of books by ven ñāṇananda and will likely read him again after this book. if you are interested in attending then pm me or preston


This is not really about the reading group per se, but since it has to do with the reading material I figured it might be relevant and provide something to chew on with the group…

Just took a quick glance at Bhikkhu Cintita’s criticism of the “three-life-model” of DO and found these remarks of his really puzzling:

p. 224 - 225 The sutta about the wayward monk Sāti is quite long and complex, showing
evidence of compilation from various sources, but further on it presents a
surprising, more detailed and more obviously biological discussion of
conception in the womb:
Monks, the descent of the embryo occurs with the union of three
things. … when there is a union of the mother and father, the mother
is in her season, and a gandhabba is present, then with this union of
three things the descent of the embryo occurs. (MN 38, i265-6)
Some scholars seem to think that this passage endorses the already dismissed
role of cognizance in transmigration. My view is the opposite, that, rather than
speculating anew on biological processes, it acknowledges that such
speculation exists outside of the Buddhavacana, outside of the parameters of
the Buddha’s method. This passage is simply presented as an example a
simpleminded metaphysical folk theory, that may or may not be true, but is not

p.225 The non-Buddhist term gandhabba is obscure in this context, but was presumably
known in the folk culture of the Buddha’s time, maybe as a life force, and
apparently involved in birth. This relationship of the gandhabba passage to the
earlier account of Sāti is not explained, and its purpose seems obscured by the
intervening material in this long sutta. But it seems to carry the clear message,
“We are talking Buddhavacana here, forget about your folk presuppositions".

To me it is clear that Buddha is simply stating how reality actually works. Taken in the context the passage mentioned above is presented as a very matter-of-fact kind of statement. There is no indication of it being an example of some kind of “metaphysical folk theory”. If the Buddha actually thought like this surely he would have said something in those lines? But he says no such thing. Instead, after this passage the Buddha quite casually goes on to show how after (biological) birth beings mature and keep the process of birth and death rolling by favoring, opposing and relishing in experience. Then he shows how cessation happens through gradual training and with the subsequent ending of relishing. The passage about biological birth fits neatly into this beautiful explanation, it helps to make sense of the whole process in a very practical and down-to-earth kind of way.

In addition to that the passage also has this part:

MN 38 The mother nurtures the embryo in her womb for nine or ten months at great risk to her heavy burden.
When nine or ten months have passed, the mother gives birth at great risk to her heavy burden.
When the infant is born she nourishes it with her own blood.
For mother’s milk is regarded as blood in the training of the Noble One.

I think it the tone here is very telling. This kind of call for respect, gratitude and humility seems rather odd if this passage is perceived as a dismissal of silly folk ideas.

A bit later Ven. Cintita also remarks:

p.225 A lesson in biology provides no material for contemplative practice, that is, no
teachings about what can be observed in moment-to-moment examination of
experiential phenomena.

I have always found this “moment-to-moment”-fixation really weird. Why would you paint yourself into a small little corner like this? I feel it is completely unnecessary and counterproductive. And the Buddha certainly didn’t think like this. Didn’t he ask us to reflect on old age, sickness and death? I am 28 now so should I wait a couple of years before I can start to reflect on old age as “experiential phenomena”? Should I die before I am allowed to reflect on death? Okay, I’m starting to get a bit silly here. But my point is that there are many ways to contemplate on these things and use your reflective faculties to tease out useful little insights and build up skillful qualities, be it to understand and feel the pain of rebirth, to lessen your vanity or, as mentioned before, even to have a sense of gratitude towards your own mother. And just to clarify, all of this can and should happen way before the real insight into the process of rebirth. When that happens it really does become part of the real and lived moment-to-moment experience. At least that is how I understand it, someone can correct me if there is fault in my understanding.

Anyway, these are just my thoughts on the matter. I hope you find more people to join your reading group, feel free to discuss these points if you want.


Yes I think you are right that his argument is thin here. It doesn’t read as a dismissal of superstitions to me either.

Personally I think both ‘momentary’ and ‘across lifetime’ interpretations were intended by dependent arising. I see it more as ‘structural’ than as being tied to any single sequence of events. SN 35 has many suttas that make this crystal clear IMO if examined with an eye for similarities with dependent arising.

However Bhikkhu Cintita clearly talks about rebirth when discussing the birth link in his book, so I wouldn’t say he’s “painted into a corner” like you stated:

Birth is what we think it is: a biological process that begins (at least in the familiar human and animal realms) a single life of a psycho-physical organism in a particular environment. In the Buddhist context it is also understood as repeated birth, or the round of life and death that we call saṃsāra.

He also discusses the importance of rebirth for our practice:

The teaching of rebirth benefits our practice because it reframes the motivation underlying our practice, scaling it up from ending or easing suffering in this life, to ending saṃsāra and the suffering it brings life after life, until we do something about it through practice. It raises the stakes of our practice enormously, for the cessation of birth thereby entails not only the loss of a single life’s suffering but the mass of an entire string of such lives. It can easily make the difference between despair and refuge, confusion and search,and induce us to take the measures that the doctor recommends,and certainly determine the wholeheartedness of our practice

If you would like to understand his position on the birth link better, I’d suggest reading the birth chapter of his dependent arising book.


Thanks. I think it’s important to distinguish the discussion of different possible ways of interpreting dependent origination from the denial of any life-to-life conditionality. For example, Bhikkhu Kaṭukurunde Ñāṇananda’s Nibbana Sermons, and his other work, argues that the nama-rupa and conciousness links are not about rebirth, but is quite explicit that the proper understanding of dependent origination leads tot he cessation of rebirth. Bhikkhu Ñāṇavīra’s model seems rather different, but still emphasises the cessation of rebirth. And there are comments in some of the commentaries (to the Abhidhamma and Visusddhimagga) about single mind-moment models. Ven Analayo: Dependent Arising


Thanks for highlighting the distinction. Yes people frequently caricature opposing interpretations of the suttas in general, not just for dependent arising. View-clinging is something we must all be on guard for. (And I’m not implying this about you @M_Asunta, your comments seemed reasonable and fair given what you had read.)

It’s mentioned in the Vimuttimagga as well which lists both interpretations.

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Thank you very much for the replies!

Yeah, reading it again that was a very poor choice of words on my part. :smiley: It sounds a bit too…final? I sense an echo of SN 56.9 in there:

You don’t understand this teaching and training. I understand this teaching and training. What, you understand this teaching and training? You’re practicing wrong. I’m practicing right. I stay on topic, you don’t. You said last what you should have said first. You said first what you should have said last. What you’ve thought so much about has been disproved. Your doctrine is refuted. Go on, save your doctrine! You’re trapped; get yourself out of this—if you can!

So I guess there actually was some “view-clinging” going on there. :face_with_open_eyes_and_hand_over_mouth: That being said, I think there is some merit to the points I was trying to make. “A lesson in biology” can provide material for contemplative practice and wise reflection is crucial part of the path, so it is not just about “moment-to-moment examination of
experiential phenomena”. (Of course there is an element of moment-to-moment examination when working with perceptions in a more reflective way, but I think you get the point… )

I’ll have to dive deeper into materials provided here before making any hasty comments. Especially the remark about SN35 seems interesting. Some of my favorite suttas are from there but I have never read them that way. Can you specifically mention some texts which in your view best exemplify this? @Preston

Right now it is hard for me too see DO as anything other than spanning many lives. It just seems to click so nicely, I find any other interpretation a bit too philosophical, for the lack of a better word. But maybe I come back to this later, thank you for these points and suggestions. :anjal: