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May 30th
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Home Teachings Dependant Originations What is Dependant Origination - Conclusion

What is Dependant Origination - Conclusion

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Article Index
What is Dependant Origination
Ignorance to Formations
Formations to Consciousness
Consciousness to Mind-and-Body
Mind-and-Body to Six Bases
Six Bases to Contact
Contact to Feeling
Feeling to Craving
Craving to Clinging
Clinging to Becoming
Becoming to Birth
Birth to Suffering
The Three Periods
Other Aspects
All Pages


I will conclude the discourse on Dependent Origination with a commentary on Araham, the chief attribute of the Buddha. The doctrine of Dependent Origination consists of twelve links beginning with ignorance and ending in aging death. It has ignorance and craving as two root-causes, and it has two life-cycles. The anterior life-cycle begins with ignorance and ends in feeling, while the posterior life-cycle begins with craving and ends in aging and death. Since anxiety and grief do not occur in the brahmā realm, they do not necessarily stem from birth and, as such, are not counted among the links of Dependent Origination.

Furthermore, the anterior life-cycle explicitly shows only ignorance and mental formations, but ignorance implies craving and attachment, and mental formations imply becoming. So these five links form the past causes, while consciousness, mind and matter, the six sense-bases, contact, and feeling form the present effects. These are the wholesome and unwholesome fruits of kamma that are clearly experienced when seeing, etc. The posterior life-cycle directly concerns craving, attachment, and becoming. However, these three links imply ignorance and mental formations, so ignorance, craving, attachment, mental formations, and becoming are the five present causes that lead to birth, aging, and death in the future. These effects are the same as the present effects, so the future effects are also five in number. So altogether there are four groups of five past causes, five present effects, five present causes, and five effects in the future.

The groups represent three causal relationships: the relationship of past causes to present effects, the relationship of present effects to present causes, and the relationship of present causes to future effects. The conditionality of existence is evident in these groups of cause and effect . These factors may also be grouped as cycles: the cycle of defilements, the cycle of kamma, and the cycle of resultants, which we have already explained.

Those who have done wholesome kammas pass on to human and celestial realms, while those who have done wrong are sure to suffer. Living beings confined to samsāra gain the opportunity to do good only when they meet a wise teacher. A wise teacher is hard to find, so most people are liable to do demeritorious deeds. They therefore have to experience the kammic effects as suffering. So it is said that they are overtaken by retribution. Once established on the Noble Path, they cannot go to the lower realms, but even the Buddhas and arahants are not spared kammic retribution.

Cutting Off the Cycle of Defilements

If we wish to stop the threefold cycle, we must remove its cause — the cycle of defilements. Defilements originate with seeing, hearing, etc., and so we must practise mindfulness to prevent them from arising. The practice of concentration and mindfulness makes one aware of the impermanence and insubstantiality of all phenomena. This means that one has no more illusion and is free from the cycle of defilements, kamma, and resultants. Now, I will show the way to stop the three cycles with reference to the attributes of the Buddha.

The Attributes of the Buddha

The Buddha's special designation is Araham, which refers to the following attributes of the Buddha.

1) The Buddha was free from defilements. So were the arahants, but they were not free from the habits that continued to follow them even after the attainment of their spiritual goal. This is evident in the story of Venerable Pilindavaccha. He was an arahant, beloved of the devas and extolled by the Buddha. Yet he was in the habit of addressing his fellow bhikkhus or laymen rudely. Some bhikkhus complained to the Buddha about the elder's rudeness. The Buddha attributed this unpleasant habit to his having spent many lifetimes in brahmin families, but said that since he was an arahant, the elder was kind and pure at heart. From the time of his enlightenment, the Buddha became free from all habits or traces of defilements from past lives. This distinctive mark of the Buddha should be borne in mind when we contemplate the Lord's attributes. The complete extinction of the three cycles means total liberation from defilements, kamma, and kammic results.

2) The Buddha was called Araham because of his conquest of defilements. People fear only external enemies such as robbers or snakes. They do not bother about the internal enemy, the defilements, which are much more dangerous. People have to suffer only because they have a body and mind, with defilements. Defilements are the root-causes that lead to repeated rebirth and suffering. The defilements are ten in number: craving, hatred, ignorance, pride, illusion, doubt, lassitude, restlessness, shamelessness, and lack of conscience.

3) Because of his perfect morality, concentration, and wisdom, the Buddha was worthy of reverence and offerings. People who revered or made offerings to the Buddha had their wishes fulfilled.

4) Since he had conquered the defilements completely, the Buddha was pure at heart whether in public or private. Many people are hypocritical, posing as pious in public but doing wrong in private. However, one cannot do wrong anywhere with impunity. Even if the wrong-doing is not seen by anyone, one cannot help having qualms of conscience. Conscience is an infallible witness to misdeeds, and forms the basis for deathbed visions that portend the unpleasant life in store. As for the Buddha, having eradicated the defilements, his mind was always pure, so he had absolutely no desire or intention to do wrong either publicly or secretly.

5) The Buddha had destroyed the spokes of the wheel with the sword of arahantship. Here, the wheel means the cycle of life as described in the doctrine of Dependent Origination, and the sword means the insight knowledge of arahantship. The hub of the wheel mean ignorance, the root-cause. The flange of the wheel means aging and death, while the spokes are the middle links, mental formations, etc. Just as the removal of the spokes makes it impossible for the wheel to turn, the destruction of the middle links in the chain of Dependent Origination means the end of the cycle of existence.

The Story of Baka Brahmā

The first thing to do to end the life-cycle is to remove its root-cause, for ignorance is invariably followed by mental formations, consciousness, etc., up to aging and death. This is true in the sensual realms and in the fine-material realm of brahmās.

Once there was a great brahmā called Baka. He outlived many world-systems, living so long that he forgot his previous existences and became convinced of his immortality. The Buddha went to his realm to remove this illusion. Baka Brahmā welcomed the Lord and bragged about his eternal life. The Buddha said that his ignorance was appalling in that he denied impermanence, aging, and death. He revealed the meritorious deeds that had led to Baka's longevity. It was his fabulous longevity that had made him forget his previous lives and created the illusion of his immortality. On hearing this, Baka Brahmā had second thoughts about his immortality. Still, he was conceited and to show his power, he tried to vanish from the sight of the Buddha and other brahmās. However, because of the Buddha's power, he remained visible. Then the Buddha uttered the following verse:

    "I do not extol any existence because I see danger in it. I have renounced the craving for existence because I am aware of its defects."

Baka Brahmā and other brahmās had lived so long that they considered their existence and their realm eternal. Likewise, suffering is not obvious to those who have the blessings of a favourable existence such as health, wealth, prestige, success, and so forth. However, life is subject to suffering on all its three planes: the sensual plane, the fine-material plane, and the immaterial plane. A brahmā or a hermit on the fine-material or immaterial planes of existence may live for aeons but eventually has to die.


It is insight that leads to the destruction of ignorance, the root-cause of suffering. For the Buddha, this means the attribute of Sammāsambuddha. A Sammāsambuddha is one who knows the Four Noble Truths rightly, thoroughly and independently.

The twelve links of Dependent Origination may be classified in terms of the Four Noble Truths. Thus aging and death means the truth of suffering, and rebirth means the truth about the cause of suffering. The cessation of this cause means the truth of cessation, and knowledge of this cessation means the truth of the Path.

The same may be said of rebirth and becoming, becoming and attachment, attachment and craving, craving and feeling, feeling and contact, contact and the six senses, the six senses and mind and matter, mind and matter and consciousness, consciousness and mental formations, and mental formations and ignorance. In brief, what immediately precedes a link is termed its cause, and what immediately follows is called its effect. We can also regard ignorance, the origin of the life-cycle, as synonymous with the truth of suffering if we take it as an effect of the biases (āsavas), namely, attachment to sensuality, becoming, wrong view, and ignorance.

The identification of craving with suffering may not be acceptable to some, but it is reasonable if we remember that all impermanent phenomena, which includes craving, are suffering. The commentary does not describe ignorance as suffering, but we can say that it is suffering arising from the biases (āsava) . The four biases — sensual craving, attachment to life, wrong view, and ignorance — have their origins in craving. It is a matter of ignorance in the past leading again to ignorance in the present. So, the biases may be regarded as the cause of ignorance.

So, having realised the Four Noble Truths and attained nibbāna, the Buddha earned the unique and glorious title of Sammāsambuddha. He knew that all the phenomena comprised by the doctrine of Dependent Origination are really suffering and the causes of suffering. He was disenchanted, had no attachment and achieved liberation from all fetters. So, according to the Visuddhimagga, he was called Araham because he managed to destroy completely all the spokes of the wheel of life.

The Fame of the Buddha

The fame of the Buddha pervaded the whole universe. It was spread throughout the universe by the inhabitants of celestial realms who came to hear the Buddha's discourses, by the teachings that the Buddha gave in those realms, or via the former disciples who attained higher realms after hearing his discourses. We need not dwell on the first way in which this fame of the Buddha spread. As for the other two ways, during his long wanderings in samsāra, the bodhisatta had been reborn in all the realms except the five Suddhāvāsa realms. These realms are exclusively for non-returners. The bodhisatta attains all the four stages on the Path only in his last existence, so the Buddha had never been to the Suddhāvāsa realm before. Once he paid a visit by means of his psychic powers. On arriving there, he received the homage of millions of brahmās, who told him about the former Buddhas, and of their reaching the Suddhāvāsa realm because of attaining the non-returner stage. Among these brahmās, some had practised the Dhamma as disciples of Gotama Buddha. The Buddha visited all the five Suddhāvāsa realms. Seeing how he became famous in the realms attained by his former disciples is easy. However, the question may arise how his fame spread to the immaterial realms (arūpaloka) . It was not possible for the formless brahmās to come to the Buddha or for the Buddha to go to them. Those who practised the Buddhadhamma in the sensual or the fine-material realm, on attaining the first three stages of the Path and dying with immaterial jhāna, might attain the immaterial realms if they so wished. These noble ones knew the sublime attributes of the Buddha and the way of attaining insight by developing mindfulness. So through mindfulness of all mental events, they finally became arahants and passed away in the realm of infinite consciousness (viññānañcāyatana), the realm of nothingness (ākiñcaññayatana), or the highest realm of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (nevasaññānāsaññāyatana). In this way, the fame of the Buddha spread throughout the universe.

The Four Noble Truths in Brief

We have dealt with the Buddha's knowledge of the Four Noble Truths regarding his attribute of Sammāsambuddha. According to the scriptures, all the psychophysical phenomena in the sensual, fine-material, and immaterial realms, besides craving, are suffering. This is the first truth. Craving as the cause of suffering is the second truth. Nibbāna as the cessation of suffering is the third truth, and the Noble Eightfold Path as the way to cessation is the fourth truth. These Four Noble Truths are realised empirically through the insight meditation. From experience one knows that whatever arises and passes away is suffering, and that attachment to these phenomena is the cause of suffering. One knows that cessation of both suffering and its cause is nibbāna, and that its attainment comes about by the Path.

Sammāsambuddha and Buddhahood

These terms both mean omniscience, or full comprehension of all dhammas. This raises the question of how to make a distinction between the two attributes. By the attribute of Sammāsambuddha, we should understand that the bodhisatta attained Buddhahood based on independent reflection and effort, and the realisation of the Four Noble Truths through insight on the Path of arahantship. Buddhahood means the thorough and exhaustive knowledge of all the conditioned and unconditioned dhammas based on the unique attributes possessed by the Buddha such as omniscience (sabbaññuta-ñāna), etc. These unique attributes of the Buddha consist in knowledge of the Four Noble Truths, four kinds of analytical knowledge (patisambhidā-ñāna), and six kinds of special knowledge (asādhārana-ñāna) that are not found among disciples. The six asādhārana-ñāna are:

  1. Knowledge of the different moral and spiritual maturity of living beings.
  2. Knowledge of the desires, inclinations, and latent tendencies of living beings.
  3. Power to perform the Twin Miracle (yamaka-pātihāriya-ñāna).
  4. Infinite compassion for all living beings.
  5. Omniscience.
  6. Unobstructed knowledge of anything he wants to know merely by adverting to it.

Now just a few words about conditioned and unconditioned phenomena. Conditioned phenomena are mental and physical phenomena that arise with the conjunction of the relevant factors. In other words, they are the natural results of their own causes. Thus sound is produced when two hard objects such as sticks or iron bars collide. Here sound is a conditioned phenomenon. Unconditioned phenomena have no causes. The only ultimate reality in the category of unconditioned phenomena is nibbāna. The various names of things are also unconditioned phenomena. However, they are not ultimate realities.

The Buddha's omniscience is so called because it encompasses both conditioned and unconditioned phenomena. It is also described as the five neyyadhamma, i.e. conditioned phenomena, the distinctive qualities of certain material phenomena (nipphanna), the conditioned characteristics of mind and matter, nibbāna, and concepts.

The first two special knowledges are together called "the Buddha-eye." With this all-seeing eye, the Buddha discovered those who were ready to be enlightened and gave them appropriate teaching at the right moment.

I concluded the discourse on Dependent Origination with a commentary on the attributes of the Buddha because I wish to inspire the readers with faith in the Blessed One. I hope that they will find the inspiration too, in the arahants who also possess the attribute of Araham. Arahants are wholly free from defilements since they have destroyed the basis of existence. They do no wrong, even in secret, so they are worthy of honour. These are the fundamental qualities of the Araham attribute although it does not include all the superlative attributes of the Buddha.

So you should try to overcome defilements through mindfulness of the psychophysical processes arising at the six sense-doors. In this way you can destroy the spokes of the wheel of life and keep your mind always pure. Eventually you may become arahants and earn the glorious title of Araham.


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" Four misfortunes befall a man who is unmindful of right conduct and commits sexual misconduct with another man's wife: acquisition of demerit, disturbed sleep, reproach, and suffering in niraya. "

The Dhammapada

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