Dharma - Merit - Meditation - Nectar - Liberation - Emptiness - Process - Awakening


in Buddhadharma

On Process :
Sangha of Continuous Dynamism

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"'Whatever depends on circumstance
is empty of intrinsic reality.'
What excellent teaching could there be,
More amazing than this discovery ?
Although the foolish can seize upon it
As just confiming their extremist bonds,
The wise use that same (relativity)
To cut their way out of fabrication's trap."
Tsongkhapa : The Short Essence of True Eloquence.

"No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main."
John Donne : Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation 17.

Functional co-relativity, correlational interdependence, universal interrelationality, conditioned co-production, interdependent co-arising, dependent origination, dependent arising ("pratîtya-samutpâda") are synonymous.

All phenomena, "nirvâna" as well as Buddhahood, are dependent arisings, i.e. process-like instead of substance-like, interdependent instead of independent, without own-form instead of self-powered. When emptiness, the absence of inherent, substantial existence is realized, only dependent arisings remain. As ultimate logic demonstrate, this is
¬ A, the negation of inherent existence ("svabhâva").

Emptiness makes process apparent ; process makes emptiness evident. Wisdom perfects method and method manifests wisdom. Compassion generates form, and wisdom truth. Truth & Form are the bodies of a Buddha.

Although on an absolute (deep, implicate, esoteric) level phenomena are devoid of substance (or empty), on a conventional (superficial, explicate, exoteric) level, functional, working & efficient interdependent relationships prevail. These conventional objects always appear cut-off as self-powered, independent mental or sensate objects. This aspect of their appearance is however false, for objects cannot be substantially initiated without absurdity.

The dynamic features of phenomena are a "play" ("lîlâ") or "sport" of interdependence. To stop this display is to violate the conditions of process. Absolute stasis cannot be found and so static objects are always immobile in a relative sense, never in an absolute sense. The deluded mind is however addicted to temporarily fixate process. The outcome is suffering.

Designating a single substantial object invokes ignorance.

A Buddha is very special excellent, exemplaric & sublime dependent arising.

The symphony of dependent arising is not viewed as reflecting the "substance" or "essence" of the conventional world. It does not offer a sufficient ground for the entities (the singled out dependent arisings). Neither is it a cosmic "law of entities" existing, from their own side, as the "substance of substances". In the Buddhadharma, the links of dependent origination are known in the emptiness of their fundamental, original, non-substantial nature, the core of which is also empty (cf. the emptiness of emptiness).

Emptiness nor dependent origination should be reified. The chain does not reveal the substantial nature of conventional reality, for the two levels (the Two Truths) are distinct. The "substance" of conventional reality is non-substantial emptiness, or absence of inherent existence. The "substance" of ultimate reality is the same emptiness, the same lack of own-power and autarchy.

The conventional law of the chain of dependent origination functions as a result of the first link, ignorance ("avidyâ"). Take away ignorance and enlightenment is a fact. A Buddha is "omniscient", because he or she witnesses both ultimate & conventional, both absolute & relative aspects of phenomena simultaneously, understanding all possible conditions determining conventional phenomena hand in hand with their fundamental emptiness.

Conventional reality is a process. This means change and impermanence are natural to it. The Dharma refers to this cosmic law, ruled by the "king of logic" (Nâgârjuna, Tsongkhapa), namely dependent arising ("pratîtya-samutpâda"). Phenomena arise as the result of determining conditions, abide for a certain time under influence of conditions and cease when the sustaining conditions vanish. This movement is universal and unchanging. While Buddhahood and "nirvâna" are often described as permanent, this only refers to their continuous dynamism, and the fact this dynamism has certain continuous features or kinetography ; although totally emptied of any sense of substance or stasis, the dynamic itself has stable features or style of movement. It does not means both are not dependent arisings, for all phenomena are. The conditions pertaining to Awakening are radically different from those ruling conventional reality or "samsâra". Awakened Ones are no longer under the spell of ignorance, but resting in wisdom.

The question at hand is whether a universal logic of dependent arising is possible ? With the twelve "nidânas" or Twelve Links of the causal chain ("nexus") is shown that while all phenomena truly exist non-substantially (but not from their own side), they function in dependence on conditions & determination (causes). This analysis is carried through from the side of the subject of experience and differs from a study of the conditions pertaining to the world (as in physics, cosmology, chemistry etc.).

The Twelve Links are :

  1. ignorance ("avidyâ") : an old and sightless person with a stick : as the origin of the cycle, ignorance is the root-cause of all suffering, both mental & emotional. Innate ignorance is a state of distraction & confusion caused by being unaware of the true nature of phenomena. As a result of this ignorance, one "imputes", "imagines" or "hallucinates" a dual world (divided in a substantial subject & a substantial object), causing imaginary ignorance. The man is unable to see, yet believes he can use his stick. The small area covered by the stick is what the blind actually know, which is very limited. Likewise, the ignorant invent a dual world, locking themselves up within its narrow confines ;

  2. volitional (karmic) formations ("samskârâ") : a potter : throwing all kinds of pots on his wheel, the potter represents the accumulation of conditioned, karma-bearing actions or impulses, manifesting in body, speech & mind as a result of ignorance. These can be virtuous (good karma), neutral or negative (bad karma). The form of the pot is the result of the activities of the potter. Too much or too little pressure makes an ugly pot. Likewise, because the ignorant exist in their make-up reality, the form of their experiences are co-relative with their own activities, whether physical, verbal (energetic) or mental ;

  3. consciousness ("vijñâna") : a tree and a monkey jumping from branch to branch : the monkey seizes a fruit, plucks it and takes a bite while another fruit catches its eyes. It dashes off towards it, disregarding the fruit just plucked, swallowing it down in a hurry or dropping it. At the end of the day, there is a heap of half-chewed fruit left. Rebirthing consciousness is the result of past karma, arranging a new personality around this kernel. The jumping monkey represents the versatile, fluctuating, restless nature of deluded, karma-striken consciousness ;

  4. name & form ("nâma-rûpa") : a boat with two people : as consciousness expands, it labels things. This name-giving is a form attributed to what appears, crystallizing phenomena into designated sensate & mental objects. The gross elements and the physical body are the result of this imputing activities of rebirth consciousness. So the two persons represent mind & body, the two major constituents of the individual ;

  5. six sense bases ("śadâyatana") : a house with five windows & a door : the five senses (windows) and the door (mental sense) are the portals enabling consciousness to project outwards, allowing it to communicate with others, stepping outside itself to interact with the environment. The windows access the "lower" (visible) worlds, whereas the door of the mind offers an entry into the "higher" (invisible) worlds ;

  6. contact ("sparśa") : a man & a woman embracing : the meeting of the senses with their object is made possible by the six sense bases, allowing physical interaction between beings ;

  7. feeling/sensation ("vedanâ") : a man with an arrow in his right eye : because there is contact between beings, there are pleasant, neutral & painful sensations. The image conveys the strong vividness evoked by the sense organs ;

    The following two links tell us how we continue to create karma conditioning the future :

  8. thirst/craving ("trisna") : a woman offering drink to a man slaking his thirst : the repetition of strong, afflictive emotions works addictive, and so conditioned by the experience of contact with an object, craving can be for (a) pleasure, (b) eternity, (c) existence & (d) annihilation (non-existence). These continue to produce negative effects ;

  9. attachment/grasping/clinging ("upâdâna") : a woman grasping a fruit : craving itself begs for satisfaction and this leads to grasping or an exaggerated way to satisfy thirst. Once grasping is firmly established, we do anything to have our desires satisfied. Four kinds of clinging occur : (a) to sense pleasure, (b) to wrong views, (c) to rules & rituals & (d) to the notion of a soul or a self. These attachments cause an "automatic" form of rebirth, as by reflex ;

    The last three links point to issues related to this next life. They underline the notion of rebirth (in other words, the continuity of the continuum of consciousness), making it an integral part of Buddhist philosophy :

  10. becoming/existence ("bhava") : a couple making love : conception occurs because during our previous life we constantly fed our karmic tendencies, which have now ripened. The conditions of our rebirth are thus determined by our karma, but conception (the actual, gross materialization of our rebirth consciousness) is determined by a couple making love ;

  11. birth/rebirth ("jâti") : a woman in labour : the "newborn" is an "oldborn", carrying the karma of a previous existence. One is born in one of the six realms as a result of this old karma, and of all rebirths in "samsâra", being born as a human being with free choice offers the most opportunities for spiritual growth ;

  12. old age & death ("jarâmarana") : a man carrying a corpse : it is in the nature of all transient things to end. Even gods die. When life-karma is exhausted, our gross body dies and the subtle elements are peeled away until the naked, empty & luminous nature of mind (the Clear Light of death) remains.

If ignorance is removed, the chain of suffering is reversed and the chain of awakening ensues :

Delusion Awakening
01 ignorance 01 prajňâ/vidyâ
02 karma 02 punya
03 consciousness 03 five wisdoms
04 mind & body 04 Nirmanakâya
05 five senses + mind 05 Sambhogakâya
06 contact 06 Bodhicitta
07 feeling 07 compassion
08 craving 08 love
09 grasping 09 joy
10 coming to be 10 equanimity
11 birth/rebirth 11 upâya
12 old age/death 12 Dharmakâya

Each dependent link offers a description of the conventional cycle of painful hotspots human beings cause for themselves and represents an antidote against an afflictive desire or a craving :

Painful Hotspots Antidotes
01 blindness 01 opening up
01 blindness 01 opening up
02 wrong habituation 02 creativity
03 dull state of mind 03 crisp, light state of mind
04 duality 04 dual-union
05 labeling/imputation 05 go out & see
06 lust 06 renunciation
07 pain of contact 07 cutting through
08 addiction 08 true enjoyment
09 compulsion 09 training
10 impulse to return 10 compassion
11 a human birth 11 ease
12 fear of death 12 acceptance

The community of practitioners ("sangha") is in itself a dependent arising conditioned by the constant practice of the antidotes discovered by the Buddha, the Awakened One, the First Jewel. His teachings are called "Dharma", "truth", the Second Jewel. The Third Jewel, called "Sangha", "community", designates the practice of the Buddhadharma and the "community of practitioners". The Sangha is an objective manifestation of the Dharma of the Buddha and hence the guarantee of the continuation of the presence of the Buddhadharma in this world.

Together with other mystical & religious traditions, the Buddhadharma is also a dependent arising, one of the many paths to salvation, but one focused on the eradication of ignorance. The Dharma itself is a special dependent arising linked to the Sangha. For the universal cosmic law it represents is a supreme law covering all possible phenomena. It does so without invoking a supreme entity, without a monadic phenomenon or a host of phenomena with omnipotent capacities. While Buddhas are omniscient & powerful, they are not omnipotent, and so do not act or exist as Creator-Deities.

The Sangha is the Third Jewel of the Triple Gem.


© Wim van den Dungen
philo@sofiatopia.org l Acknowledgments l SiteMap l Bibliography

Mistakes are due to my own ignorance and not to the Buddhadharma.
May all who encounter the Dharma accumulate compassion & wisdom.
May sentient beings recognize their Buddha-nature and find true peace.



initiated : 29 XI 2008 - last update : 28 III 2011 - version n°1