Buddha was mainly an ethical teacher and a mystic rather than a metaphysician and preached only orally. In this article, we’ll be discussing his most important teaching – Pratityasamutpada.
The doctrine of Pratityasamutpada or Dependent Origination is the foundation of all teachings of the Buddha. It is contained in the Second Noble Truth which gives us the cause of suffering and in the Third Noble Truth which shows the cessation of suffering. Suffering is Samsara and cessation of suffering is Nirvana.
Pratityasamutpada tells us that in the empirical world dominated by the intellect everything is relative, conditional, dependent, subject to birth and death and therefore, impermanent. Thus, every object of thought is necessary relative. And because it is relative it is neither absolutely unreal (for it appears to arise) nor absolutely real (for it is subject to death). All phenomenal things hang between reality and nothingness, avoiding both the extremes. It is in this sense that Buddha calls the doctrine the Middle Path which avoids both eternalism and nihilism.
Buddha identifies Pratityasamutpada with Bodhi, the Enlightenment which dawned upon him under the shade of the Banyan tree in Bodh Gaya. He also identifies it with Dharma, the Law; ‘He who sees the Dharma sees Pratityasamutpada and he who sees Pratityasamutpada sees the Dharma.’
Troubled by the sight of sickness,old age and death, Buddha left his home to find the solution to this misery of earthly life. Pratityasamutpada is the answer he found.
Why do we suffer misery and pain? Why do we suffer old age and death? Because we are born.
Why are we born? Because there is a will to be born.
Why is there a will to be born? Because we cling to the objects of the world.
Why do we have this clinging? Because we crave to enjoy the objects of this world.
Why do we have this craving, this thirst for enjoyment? Because of sense experience.
Why do we have this sense experience? Because of the sense-object contact.
Why do we have this contact? Because of the six sense organs.
Why do we have the six sense organs? Because of the psycho physical organism.
Why do we have this organism? Because of the initial consciousness of the embryo.
Why do we have this consciousness? Because of our predispositions or impressions of Karma.
Why do we have these impressions? Because of ignorance.
Hence, ignorance is the root cause of all suffering.
Thus, we get the twelve links of the Causal Wheel of Dependent Origination:
- Impressions of karmic forces
- Initial consciousness of the embryo
- Psycho physical organism
- Six sense organs including the mind
- Sense-object contact
- Sense experience
- Thirst for sense enjoyment
- Clinging to this enjoyment
- Will to be born
- Birth or rebirth
- Old age and death
This is the cycle of birth and death. This is the twelve spoked wheel of Dependent Origination. This is the vicious circle of causation. It doesn’t end with death. Death is only the beginning of a new life. This cycle is called Bhava-chakra, Pratityasamutpada chakra, Janma marana chakra or Dharma chakra.
It can be destroyed only when its root cause, ignorance, is destroyed. Otherwise, ignorance being present impressions will arise, impressions being present, initial consciousness will arise and so on. And ignorance can be destroyed only by knowledge. So knowledge is the sole means of liberation.
Therefore, ‘ignorance is bondage and knowledge is liberation’ is what the Pratityasamutpada preaches.