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Dependent Arising


There is no kind of absolutism nor relativism in the Dharma of the Buddha. He teaches a middle way between these two extreme positions. Wisdom in facing issues take priority in the middle way rather than inflating a view into an absolute or reducing to a view ‘it is all relative.’ Buddha dropped the religious belief in God or gave a fresh use to the language of God. Instead of claiming a God who created the world, or a First Cause, the Buddha proclaimed a teaching he called ‘dependent arising.’ Dependent arising is a core teaching of the Buddha. He proclaimed that only causes and conditions bring about life, sentient and insentient, and refuted claims of a Creator God or First Cause to produce existence. Causes have no independent existence since they depend on causes and conditions as well. Countless contingency factors enable the changing presence of the universe, the world, consciousness, atoms, the material world, past, present, future, life, death and all experiences, healthy or problematic. There is not a hand of God nor Devil nor divine force that shapes events nor any universal agency that dispenses rewards and punishment for beliefs or behaviour.

Nagarjuna, the 2nd century AD commentary on the Buddha’s teachings wrote in his classic text The Fundamentals of the Middle Way (Mulamadhyamaka-Karika in the first verse on causality

No ‘thing’ arises from nothing.,

No ‘thing’ arises from itself.

No ‘thing’ arises from another self.

No ‘thing’ arises from both.

No ‘thing’ arises from a metaphysic (such as chance, accident, fate, destiny, random selection or the hand of God.

The Buddha showed the emptiness of any independent self-existence of any ‘thing.’ The Buddha said,

When there is this, that comes to be;

with the arising of this, that arises.
When there is not this, that does not come to be;
with the cessation of this, that ceases.’ Samyutta Nikaya 12.61

He referred to the All—namely senses and sense object, consciousness, and its objects. He said to claim anything outside of that as All is a theory. The Buddha pointed to the emptiness of self-existence. Again, it is an immense challenge to comprehend deeply the significance of the statement. He used the example of a chariot:

Is the chariot the wheels? No.

Is the chariot, the stand for the driver? No.

Is the chariot the steering aid to control the horses? No.

If we take away all the parts of the chariot, then there is no chariot. The chariot lacks any self-existence. It is not some ‘thing.’ Examining the parts, we also see that the parts have no self-existence. The parts consist of numerous causes and conditions coming together. The Buddha Dharma emphasized realizing the emptiness of self-existence of any ‘thing.’ No ‘thing’ is worth grasping onto, including the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, namely the Noble Community of the Wise.

Whatever is dependently arising, such as the chariot, shows that no thing whatsoever ultimately exists, nor possesses any inherent nature or essence. Events and situations depend upon the conditions that allow them to be present and cease when those conditions drop away.

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