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Pratītyasamutpāda (Sanskrit: प्रतीत्यसमुत्पाद pratītyasamutpāda; Pali: पटिच्चसमुप्पाद paṭiccasamuppāda), commonly translated as dependent origination, or dependent arising, is the principle that all dharmas ("things") arise in dependence upon other dharmas: "if this exists, that exists; if this ceases to exist, that also ceases to exist". The principle is applied in the twelve links of dependent origination doctrine in Buddhism, which describes the chain of causes which result in rebirth and dukkha. By breaking the chain, liberation from this endless cycles of rebirth and dukkha can be attained. Additionally, one could be seen to reach a level of consciousness associated with ascendance. Everything except nirvana (nibbana) are the consequence of Pratītyasamutpāda, asserts Buddhism. This principle complements its teachings of anicca and anatta.
Pratityasamutpada (Sanskrit: प्रतीत्यसमुत्पाद) consists of two terms:
The term may also refer to the Twelve Nidānas, the twelvefold chain that describes the chain of endless rebirth in Saṃsāra (Buddhism).[quote 2] Generally speaking, in the Mahayana tradition, pratityasamutpada (Sanskrit) is used to refer to the general principle of interdependent causation, whereas in the Theravada tradition, paticcasamuppāda (Pali) is used to refer to the twelve nidanas.
According to Alex Wayman, the idea of "dependent origination" may precede the birth of the Buddha, and the first four causal links starting with Avidya in the Twelve Nidanas are found in cosmic development theory of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and other older Vedic texts. Terms synonymous to Pratītyasamutpāda are Apekṣhasamutpāda and Prāpyasamutpāda.
The concept of causality and causal efficacy where "cause produces an effect because a property or svadha (energy) is inherent in something", appears extensively in the Indian thought in the Vedic literature of the 2nd millennium BCE, such as the 10th mandala of the Rigveda and the Brahmanas layer of the Vedas.[note 2] The Pratityasamutpada doctrine is an extension of this, however pratityasamutpada doctrine asserts neither direct Newtonian-like causality nor a single causality. Rather, it asserts an indirect conditioned causality and a plural causality.
Buddhist thought, states Gethin, does not understand causality in terms of Newtonian mechanics, where "billiard balls rebound off each other in an entirely predictable manner once the relevant information is gathered". The "causal link" propositions in Buddhism is very different from the idea of causality that developed in Europe. Instead, the concept of causality in Buddhism is referring to conditions created by a plurality of causes that necessarily co-originate phenomena within and across lifetimes, such as karma in one life creating conditions that lead to rebirth in one of realms of existence for another lifetime.
According to Peter Harvey, Pratityasamutpada is an ontological principle; that is, a theory to explain the nature and relations of being, becoming, existence and ultimate reality. Buddhism asserts that there is nothing independent, except the state of nirvana. All physical and mental states depend on and arise from other pre-existing states, and in turn from them arise other dependent states while they cease. The 'dependent arisings' have a causal conditioning, and thus Pratityasamutpada is the Buddhist belief that causality is the basis of ontology, not a creator God nor the ontological Vedic concept called universal Self (Brahman) nor any other 'transcendent creative principle'.
The Pratītyasamutpāda principle asserts that the dependent origination is necessary and sufficient condition in both directions. This is expressed in Majjhima Nikaya as "When this is, that is; This arising, that arises; When this is not, that is not; This ceasing, that ceases."
The Pratītyasamutpāda ontological principle in Buddhism is applied not only to explain the nature and existence of matter and empirically observed phenomenon, but also to the nature and existence of life. In abstract form, according to Peter Harvey, "the doctrine states: 'That being, this comes to be; from the arising of that, this arises; that being absent, this is not; from the cessation of that, this ceases'." There is no 'first cause' from which all beings arose.
Against Harvey's ontological interpretation, Eviatar Shulman argues that "dependent-origination addresses the workings of the mind alone. Dependent-origination should be understood to be no more than an inquiry into the nature of the self (or better, the lack of a self). Viewing pratitya-samutpada as a description of the nature of reality in general means investing the words of the earlier teachings with meanings derived from later Buddhist discourse." Shulman grants that there are some ontological implications that may be gleaned from dependent origination, but that at its core it is concerned with "identifying the different processes of mental conditioning and describing their relations".
According to Stephen Laumakis, pratītyasamutpāda is also an epistemological principle; that is, a theory about how we gain correct and incorrect knowledge about being, becoming, existence and reality. The 'dependent origination' doctrine, states Peter Harvey, "highlights the Buddhist notion that all apparently substantial entities within the world are in fact wrongly perceived. We live under the illusion that terms such as 'I', self, mountain, tree, etc. denote permanent and stable things. The doctrine teaches this is not so." There is nothing permanent (anicca), nothing substantial, no unique individual self in the nature of becoming and existence (anatta), because everything is a result of "dependent origination". There are no independent objects and independent subjects, according to the Pratītyasamutpāda doctrine, there is fundamental emptiness in all phenomena and experiences.
The Four Noble Truths are an expression of the principle of dependent origination, states Bhikkhu Thanissaro, because they explain the arising of dukkha which is dependently originated, and the cessation of dukkha by removing the "causes." Others, such as Étienne Lamotte offer a more nuanced view, stating that only the second and third truths in the Four Noble Truths are related to the principle of dependent origination, the first and the fourth truths are mere statements and do not illustrate or apply pratītyasamutpāda doctrine.
Even in the case of those two truths where dependent origination is applied, the order is different; more specifically, the second truth applies dependent origination in a direct order, while the third truth applies it in inverse order. Thus, the Four Noble Truths and the pratītyasamutpāda doctrines are connected, but independent and separate, not implied.
The pratītyasamutpāda doctrine connects the Four Noble Truths to the Twelve Nidanas doctrine of Buddhism, states Ian Harris. The second truth is compatible with the twelve 'dependently originated' links from Avidya to Jaramarana (old-age and death). The third truth is compatible with its reversal, which results from the broken link because of an end to Avidya.
The Twelve Nidanas are a series of causal links that describe the process of samsaric rebirth and the arising of dukkha. In reverse order they also describe the way to liberation from samsara. Each of the twelve links illustrate "dependent origination", and they explain the process of rebirth and the arising of dukkha.[web 2] When certain conditions are present, they give rise to subsequent conditions, which in turn give rise to other conditions; these 'conditioned arising' result in the cyclical nature of rebirths and redeaths in Samsara.
The attainment of nirvana, in Buddhist belief, ends the process of rebirth and associated dukkha. It is achieved by breaking a link in the twelve nidanas (links) of conditioned co-arising.
The Karma theory of Buddhism is integrated into its Twelve Nidanas doctrine, and has been extensively commented on by ancient Buddhist scholars such as Nagarjuna. Karma consists of any intentional action, whether of body or speech or in mind, which can be either advantageous (merit) or disadvantageous (demerit). Both good and bad karma sustain the cycle of samsara (rebirth) and associated dukkha, and both prevent the attainment of nirvana.
According to Nagarjuna, the second causal link (sankhara, motivations) and the tenth causal link (bhava, gestation) are two karmas through which sentient beings trigger seven sufferings identified in the Twelve Nidanas, and from this arises the revolving rebirth cycles.
To be liberated from samsara and dukkha, asserts Buddhism, the 'dependent origination' doctrine implies that the karmic activity must cease. One aspect of this 'causal link breaking' is to destroy the "deeply seated propensities, festering predilections" (asavas) which are karmic causal flow because these lead to rebirth.
The Buddhist mechanistic theory of how karma impacts across multiple lives of a being are explained in medieval Buddhist texts by applying the "dependent origination" doctrine on one life of a single person, two lives of a single person, and three lives of a single person. The "three lives" idea was discussed by Buddhaghosa and Vasubandhu.
The first two nidanas, namely ignorance (nescience) and motivation relate to the previous life and forecast the destiny of the person. The next five dependent arising links in the Twelve Nidanas, go with the person's present destiny, and condition the present life's existence. The next three dependent originations, namely craving, indulgence and gestation foster the fruits of the present destiny, while the eleventh and twelfth nidanas, birth and death destine the next life in Buddhist thought.
The details of the three lives have historically varied between the Buddhist traditions, but they all accept the rebirth and dependent origination doctrines.
The Pratītyasamutpāda doctrine, states Mathieu Boisvert, is a fundamental tenet of Buddhism and it may be considered as "the common denominator of all the Buddhist traditions throughout the world, whether Theravada, Mahayana or Vajrayana".
Within the Theravada Buddhist tradition, the twelve nidanas are considered to be the most significant application of the principle of dependent origination. One interpretation holds that the twelve nidanas span three temporal divisions, with the first two nidanas as chains of causation from past lives, the third to the tenth nidanas relate to present life beginning with the descent of consciousness into the womb, and the last two nidanas (birth and death) represent the future lives conditioned by the present causes. These twelve nidanas explain the dependent origination of Skandha (five aggregates). This model is associated with the Theravada scholar Buddhaghosa (c. fifth century AD) of the Sri Lankan Mahavihara tradition and is outlined in his influential Visuddhimagga. Because of his vast influence in the development of Theravada scholasticism, this model has been very influential in the Theravada school. According to Akira Hirakawa and Paul Groner, this "embryological" interpretation which links dependent origination with rebirth was also promoted by the Sarvastivadin school (a north Indian branch of the Sthavira nikāya) as evidenced by the Abhidharmakosa of Vasubandhu.
Another Theravada interpretation of the twelve links sees them as explaining psychological or phenomenological processes in the present moment. In Buddhaghosa's Sammohavinodani, a commentary to the Vibhanga of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the principle of Dependent Origination is explained as occurring entirely within the space of one mind moment. According to Prayudh Payutto there is material in the Vibhanga which discusses both models, the three lifetimes model and the phenomenological mind moment model.
This thesis is also defended by Bhikkhu Buddhadasa's Paticcasamuppada: Practical Dependent Origination. In this interpretation, Birth and Death refer not to physical birth and death, but to the birth and death of our self-concept, the "emergence of the ego". According to Buddhadhasa: "dependent arising is a phenomenon that lasts an instant; it is impermanent. Therefore, Birth and Death must be explained as phenomena within the process of dependent arising in everyday life of ordinary people. Right Mindfulness is lost during contacts of the Roots and surroundings. Thereafter, when vexation due to greed, anger, and ignorance is experienced, the ego has already been born. It is considered as one 'birth'".
Discussing the three lifetimes model, Alex Wayman states that it is different from the Vajrayana view, because Theravadins denied bardo or an intermediate state between death and rebirth. This denial necessitated placing the first two nidanas of the "dependent origination" chain into the past life. The Tibetan Buddhism tradition allocates the twelve nidanas differently between various lives.
In the Madhyamaka, to say that an object is "empty" is synonymous with saying that it is dependently originated. Nāgārjuna equates emptiness with dependent origination in Mūlamadhyamakakārikā 24:18;
Whatever arises dependently
Is explained as empty.
Thus dependent attribution
Is the middle way.
Since there is nothing whatever
That is not dependently existent,
For that reason there is nothing
Whatsoever that is not empty.
In his analysis, svabhāva is somewhat redefined from the Theravada interpretation to mean: inherent existence or self-characterization. Nagarjuna is notably departing from the interpretation of that term as merely meaning 'a self-sustaining, permanent, or unchanging identity.' If an object was inherently what-it-was from its own side, what need would there be for causes and conditions to bring that object into being? If any object was characterized by 'being-itself,' then it has no need to dependently rely on anything else. Further, such an identity or self-characterization would prevent the process of dependent origination. Inherence would prevent any kind of origination at all, for things would simply always have been, and things would always continue to be. Madhyamaka suggests that uncharacterized mere experiences—with no specific qualities—are designated by conceptual labels, and this brings them into being (See Prasaṅgika Merely Designated Causality). According to Nagarjuna, even the principle of causality itself is dependently originated, and hence it is empty.
Further, Nagarjuna argues in his opening statement of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā that all the classical elements of Theravada philosophy have subtle ontological problems related to seeing them as inherently existent. The implied modifying phrase of all of the below statements is 'inherent' according to Lama Tsongkhapa in Ocean of Reasoning:
In the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the concept of dependent origination is considered to be complementary to the concept of emptiness. Specifically, this tradition emphasizes the indivisibility of appearance and emptiness—also known as the relative and absolute aspects of reality:
One of the founders of Tibetan Buddhism, Padmasambhava, emphasized his respect for this relationship as follows:
Though my View is as spacious as the sky,
My actions and respect for cause and effect are as fine as grains of flour.
Sogyal Rinpoche states all things, when seen and understood in their true relation, are not independent but interdependent with all other things. A tree, for example, cannot be isolated from anything else. It has no independent existence, states Rinpoche.
The Huayan school taught the doctrine of the mutual containment and interpenetration of all phenomena, as expressed in Indra's net. One thing contains all other existing things, and all existing things contain that one thing. This philosophy is based in the tradition of the great Madhyamaka scholar Nagarjuna and, more specifically, on the Avatamsaka Sutra. Regarded by D.T. Suzuki as the crowning achievement of Buddhist philosophy, the Avatamsaka Sutra elaborates in great detail on the principal of dependent origination. This sutra describes a cosmos of infinite realms upon realms, mutually containing one another.
Thich Nhat Hanh states, "Pratitya samutpada is sometimes called the teaching of cause and effect, but that can be misleading, because we usually think of cause and effect as separate entities, with cause always preceding effect, and one cause leading to one effect. According to the teaching of Interdependent Co-Arising, cause and effect co-arise (samutpada) and everything is a result of multiple causes and conditions... In the sutras, this image is given: "Three cut reeds can stand only by leaning on one another. If you take one away, the other two will fall." In Buddhist texts, one cause is never enough to bring about an effect. A cause must, at the same time, be an effect, and every effect must also be the cause of something else. This is the basis, states Hanh, for the idea that there is no first and only cause, something that does not itself need a cause.
Jay Garfield states that Mulamadhyamikakarika uses the causal relation to understand the nature of reality, and of our relation to it. This attempt is similar to the use of causation by Hume, Kant, and Schopenhauer as they present their arguments. Nagarjuna uses causation to present his arguments on how one individualizes objects, orders one's experience of the world, and understands agency in the world.
The concept of pratītyasamutpāda has also been compared to Western metaphysics, the study of reality. Schilbrack states says that the doctrine of interdependent origination seems to fit the definition of a metaphysical teaching, by questioning whether there is anything at all. Hoffman disagrees, and asserts that pratītyasamutpāda should not be considered a metaphysical doctrine in the strictest sense, since it does not confirm nor deny specific entities or realities.[quote 3]
Noa Ronkin states that while Buddha suspends all views regarding certain metaphysical questions, he is not an antimetaphysician: nothing in the texts suggests that metaphysical questions are completely meaningless, instead Buddha taught that sentient experience is dependently originated and that whatever is dependently originated is conditioned, impermanent, subject to change, and lacking independent selfhood.
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