Seeds, Paintings and a Beam of Light: Similes for Dependent Arising

Happy 2024 everybody! :partying_face:


A whole lot has already been said and written about Dependent Origination/Arising. But, being unaware of any comprehensive yet accessible book that grounds the “traditional” interpretation of this teaching in the earliest texts, I wrote one myself. (Or tried to, at least.)

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Abstract

Dependent Arising is one of the Buddha’s most important and central doctrines, but in recent decades it has been interpreted in a large variety of ways. This book illustrates that the early Buddhist texts support the traditional multiple-lifetime interpretation of this teaching, taking a particular interest in the factor of consciousness. Centered around three similes, it connects this factor to rebirth and explains how it relates to the other factors of Dependent Arising. It also explains that appatiṭṭhita viññāṇa, a term used in the similes, refers to the cessation of consciousness.

Getting the book

* About the printed edition: Proceeds (40% of purchase price) are set to the minimum allowed by Lulu.com and are all donated directly to the BSWA’s lay center. Order through Lulu if you can. It will be available through other retailers too, but in that case the full proceeds go to the retailers instead.

If you want to sponsor a print run of ten or more copies for your own free distribution and wish to forego the charity donations, contact me by private message to order at printing cost or get the raw print pdf files for your own printing.

Feel free to discuss below. :slight_smile:

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Thank you, venerable — excellent work. Your enthusiasm for the practice and study of the suttas always comes through in your writing. Here is a relatively short review I wrote in case others here are interested or it is beneficial to you.
(If you ever need to cite a review, feel free to include any part of mine below with or without my name.)

This study of dependent arising is extremely thorough and detailed, but filled with delightful illustrations that beautifully demonstrate the concepts and references along the way. The style is rather casual, but the content quite profound. The book is an especially excellent reference for understanding the links of ‘sankhārā,’ ‘viññāna*,’ and ‘nāmarūpa’ in their original context and in relation to the rest of the Buddha’s teachings. It is clear to me that the writing comes from a place of sincere personal interest and practice, and it will certainly be useful for Buddhist practitioners themselves — both in becoming familiar with the language, imagery, and thought-world of the Pāli discourses, and in their own mental cultivation.

The main thrust of the arguments presented in the book could be summarized as follows: the teachings on dependent arising (paticcasamuppāda) in the early Buddhist discourses are primarily concerned with the conditions for the arising of and, conversely, freedom from the cycle of rebirth. This entails the arising and continuation of consciousness — understood as ultimately undesirable — and liberation found in the cessation of consciousness, rather than a separate form of consciousness outside of the realm of rebirth. The latter idea — of a special awareness being the post-mortem state of awakened beings — is refuted by the principle of dependency and would be a mistaken reading of the early passages and similes surrounding dependent arising. The emphasis on rebirth does not detract from the applicability and real-life relevance of dependent arising; rather, these teachings point to the sheer profundity of the teaching and the insights that can be gained from understanding it.

Clear textual references and doctrinal demonstrations for the above points prevail in the writing. One particularly beneficial and elucidating subject is the two-fold division of consciousness into its manifestation through sense-impressions and its general stationing in continued existence shaped by kamma and fuelled by craving. This division helps shed light on the experiential and practical side of understanding dependent arising, and how the larger principles of existence and rebirth are visible through personal existential inquiry and refined mental development. The same can be said of the discussion surrounding the two chains of dependent arising (one from ignorance to sensation; the other from craving to suffering) that are combined into the twelve link list and which interrelate in interesting ways. The structural illustrations and various diagrams included demonstrate these concepts well.

The work is organized in such a way that it is fairly easy to select any given topic and reference the concepts there as needed, though there is certainly a gradual progression over the course of the individual analyses. It would be nice if there were a more concise, focused collection of the canonical references and conclusions for the main points made — perhaps something less than 100 pages. While the detail provided is much warranted and very beneficial, it does make some of the larger points about core concepts in the book less accessible to a wider audience. As the writing style is at times quite informal and personal, these writings may be more accessible to some with less academic inclinations.

For a more broad depiction of the language and phrasing of the discourses, I recommend following the reading along with other translations — such as those made publicly available by Bhante Sujato or Bhikkhu Bodhi — and preferably the relevant Pāli passages themselves if possible. The author’s translations are elucidating and shed light on the perspectives developed in the study, but are also rather unconventional and at times less orderly than pre-existing translations. They at times seem not to stand alone, but make more sense in the context of the book’s exploration and discussion of concepts outside of the translated passages. Nonetheless, the translations offer a refreshing new array of terminology and phrasing that contribute not only to the current exegesis, but also for the student in general.

May the work be of much benefit to the author and the audience alike. Sadhu!

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I have just finished reading the preface and am keen to continue, but wanted to ask if you intended the dating of the preface to be January 2023 or more likely 2024?

Thanks Venerable!

If I ever need a blurb, I now know who to contact! :wink:

I would also recommend comparing my translations to others. They are purposefully a bit out of left field sometimes, just so people get another possible perspective on words they’ve seen a single translation of a thousand times (e.g. ‘temporary’ instead of ‘impermanent’ for anicca, ‘sensations’ instead of ‘feelings’ for vedanā, and so forth).

I’m just slow! :smiley: I wrote the preface about a year ago, probably even longer.

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“This entails the arising and continuation of consciousness — understood as ultimately undesirable — and liberation found in the cessation of consciousness, rather than a separate form of consciousness outside of the realm of rebirth.”

:scream: (frightened. Just sayin’)
Im taking some comfort in reminding myself that I am ignorant of what is here meant by “consciousness.” The Buddha and arrahants were outside the realm of rebirth yet conscious. Call it what you will… I’d like to order whatever they are “having.”

I meant that as a “When Harry met Sally” joke, but on reflection; For practical purposes ignorance is entangled with i-making and inclinations towards possession so perhaps the liberated can be involved with experience (conscious) without “having it.”

Sorry for a belated reply, but don’t go just by Ven Vaddha’s review. :wink: This question is also addressed in the book, in a section called ‘Consciousness after enlightenment’. Hope that helps.

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We have just released a new online (theMettaShelf) version of this book at the link in the opening post (which I give again below for convenience).

This version includes the original pali and Bhante Sujato translations of the suttas as pop up windows, plus an extended bibliography with links to publishers sites and pdfs/ebooks of the reference material where it is freely available. There are also a couple of little “Easter eggs” for the more determined students scattered in the notes section.

The online, pdf, epub and Kindle versions have all had some minor errors in references corrected and there has been some slight rewording of the main text for clarity.

We at Wisdom & Wonders would like to thank Bhante Sunyo for making this book available. I’ve personally had a lot of fun getting into some of the extensive references while helping to prepare the online version. It is fertile ground for much contemplation and has opened up new vistas on these beautiful early teachings for me. Thank you Bhante.

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I want to publicly thank you here for all your help, Stu. :+1:

I recommend everybody check out the Wisdom & Wonders Books online version, particularly the in-site integration of SuttaCentral references in the footnotes. Stu worked very hard on those, editing my many mistakes and omissions. :slightly_smiling_face: It’s also a nice example of what the SuttaCentral software can do for other websites.

Also, for those who are interested in reading the reference works, it’s never been this easy, because many of them are directly linked in the references.

Not directly linked, but those who read German and can get their hands on it, I particularly recommend Liudmila Olalde’s Zum Begriff ‘nāmarūpa’, as well as Rita Langer’s Das Bewußtsein als Träger des Leben. Those two works are in my opinion some of the best available to understand the factors of nāmarūpa and viññāna in Dependent Origination.

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Any idea where they can be found? :slightly_smiling_face:

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Are there, by any chance, translations into English being done on these works?

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Hi Venerable. Apart from the information given in the bibliography, I don’t know, sorry.

Not that I know of.

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I’m really enjoying reading this online version! the system for reading references is really good and helps me not lose focus when reading references :slight_smile:

Can I post suggestions for very minor corrections here? E.g. §10 is missing a ‘not’ in the line after […] :nerd_face:

And in §5 (for me) it was a little ambiguous that it’s Ven. Sāriputta that’s quoting the Buddha with “The Buddha said:” – even though the quote is correct it might look like a mistake to people like me.

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Aha! :nerd_face: slightly below §22:

The discourses in many other ways indicates that …

It should be ‘indicate’.

And in the last part of the sentence immediately before this one, the use of ‘disprove’ is perhaps a tad categorial. Hard to reconcile for sure though :slight_smile: (this is perhaps something for the second edition though :grinning: )