When this arises, that arises, for that is dependent on this. When this passes away, that passes away, for that is dependent on this. When this does not arise, that does not arise, for that is dependent on this. – Paraphrasing the Buddha
Dependent arising is at the heart of Buddhism. In fact, it’s the teaching that really sets it apart from all other religions and philosophies, whether they’re from the East or the West.
It’s a deceptively simple teaching, so it’s easy to take it for granted. But the Buddha chastised his cousin Ananda once, saying something like, “Don’t say that, Ananda! Dependent arising is very subtle, deep, and difficult to comprehend.”
The gist of it is that all things exist dependent on other things, they’re 100% supported by other things. Nothing exists in itself or by itself.
Buddhist ethics come into play, because if something doesn’t exist in itself or by itself, then it shouldn’t exist for itself either. When we think we exist in and of ourselves or by no means other than ourselves—if we think that we just are and that that’s that—then we create a tumultuous life geared toward living for ourselves at the unnecessary expense of others.
When we live like that, we support others’ suffering rather than their well-being. The more they suffer, the more they’re going to feel isolated, thus the more they’re going to live solely for themselves and serve as conditions for others’ suffering as well.
So, it spreads like wild fire until we find ourselves living in a chaotic, antagonistic world. Dependent arising shows us that we can change this world by no longer serving as a condition for the chaos-at-large to arise from. We’re withdrawing our consent—stepping off the stage, leaping from the circle.
For better or worse, it all stems from our own minds, and it’s the psychological aspect of dependent arising that’s truly important. If we can grok that, then the only thing that stands between us and actualization is laziness.
The mind is a conscious field of causal patterns and the conditions that support them.
We’re aware of some of these patterns, but unaware of most of them. And, typically, we’re entirely unaware of the conditions behind them.
The untrained mind supports all of our suffering; the trained mind supports well-being and actualization. An untrained mind is like a stormy sea; a trained mind is like a placid pool. Our state of mind (citta) is a condition behind all of our suffering and well-being. State of mind determines the contents of mind (caitta).
A tumultuous, dissatisfied, muddy state of mind supports clinging, craving, stress, sorrow, boredom, anger, etc. A gentle, satisfied, clear state of mind supports selflessness, wishlessness, wisdom, ease, joy, etc. You can see this in daily life. The mind looks very different when it’s in a bad mood compared to when it’s in a good mood or an OK mood. The things we think about, feel, remember, and desire differ from mood to mood.
So, if we can take control of our moods, we can take control of our lives, since our moods support everything else in our minds—even our self-concepts.
If you’re going around all day thinking, “I’m a worthless piece of shit and people are assholes,” odds are, you aren’t in the best of moods.
With practice, we can develop a(free and easy) state of mind that’s more friendly to mindfulness, tranquility, joy, and loving-kindness than a rabid monkey mind is.
Moods are a condition for suffering and well-being, but they aren’t the only condition. If our thoughts and feelings are like dominoes toppling into each other, then our moods are like whether the table is still or wobbly. But the table is the primary condition. This table is our understanding, misunderstanding, or ignorance of the facts of life.
Ignorance is like a shitty old table that wobbles and rocks just by you looking at it. Wisdom is a solid, firm, and enduring table. When we practice skillful action and concentration , we’re fixing that shitty old table and making it a stable, uh, table.
Then, when some dominoes do decide to fall, it’s because the wind blew them over. And when it’s life, rather than our own selfishness and ignorance, that determines what arises in our minds, we’re going to naturally be in harmony with life rather than struggling against for our own temporary gratification.
So, if we understand dependent arising, we can understand why we are the way we are, why we do the things we do, and feel the way we feel. With that, we can take control of our lives by removing the conditions that cause us suffering, and introduce the conditions that promote well-being. <Mic drop>