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The core teaching of Buddhism is dependent origination by Zen Master Jongbeom Sunim  

What is the truth Buddhism expounds? What are its foundational teachings? These are essential questions for the newcomer. In a nutshell, Buddhism teaches dependent origination and the Middle Way. These two principles form the core of Buddhist philosophy-dependent origination explains the principle of Buddhism, while the Middle Way defines the practice of Buddhism. Gautama Buddha was enlightened to the principle of dependent origination, and then for the rest of his life he taught students the practice of the Middle Way. This was Lord Buddha¡¯s succinct explanation: ¡°Whoever sees dependent origination sees the Dharma; whoever sees the Dharma sees dependent origination.¡±

What is dependent origination?

According to the principle of dependent origination, everything in the universe, including objects, ideas, beings, events, and processes, depends on numerous causes and conditions. Nothing ever exists entirely alone or independently of others. Because causes and conditions exist, there are effects. With dependent origination, ¡°If there is this, then there is that; with the arising of this, that arises.

Everything is interconnected: there is nothing separate, nothing standing alone. Things arise depending on other conditions, and then coexist with others for a while, and then disappear depending on other things. All beings are in causal relationships, for example Buddhas with sentient beings, monastic with lay communities, the wise with the foolish, and parents with their children.

Causes and conditions

Dependent origination came to be used interchangeably with ¡°causes and conditions,¡± and then with ¡°cause and effect.¡± In a world of dependent origination both physical and mental things arise from dependence on causal conditions. Nothing can exist outside of cause-effect linkages. The present arises from the causal conditions of the past, and the past from the further past. The link of these causal conditions extends endlessly to the past and to the future. Therefore, we need to see clearly the significance of causal conditions in our lives.

Buddhists often talk about impermanence. All things appear and disappear because of the concurrence of causes and conditions. This is why the causal-conditional phenomena are said to be impermanent. For this reason Buddhism teaches us to be attached neither to existence nor to non-existence. When the smoke blows west, we feel the wind blow west, and when the smoke blows east, we feel the wind blow east. Likewise, when you encounter good causal conditions, you could conclude, ¡°I must have created good causal conditions in my previous lives.¡± The Buddha¡¯s teaching is free of the slightest error. If we are in evil causal conditions, we should get out of them as soon as possible and approach good ones. Lord Buddha said that even the Buddhas cannot save those to whom they are not linked causally. Therefore, we should refrain from making bad causes and conditions and strive to make good ones.

The Twelve links of dependent origination

Lord Buddha said all our sorrow, physical pain, mental agony, and suffering arise from the twelve causal conditions. Let us examine each one in sequential order.

¨ç Ignorance (Avidya-) : The sanskrit word ¡°Avidya-¡± literally means ¡°no illumination.¡± We cannot readily find our way in the dark. Likewise, when our mind is not illuminated, we tend to judge a wrong thought as a right one.
¨è Formations (Sam. ska-ra) : Once ignorance causes us to confuse wrong with right, attachment arises. Then we try to give concrete form to the concept we get attached to. That is, with Ignorance as condition, Mental Formations arise.
¨é Consciousness (Vijn~ana) : When an object takes form by our actions, we tend to discern it. There is the consciousness of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking. That is, with Mental Formations as condition, Consciousness arises.
¨ê Name and Form (Namarupa) : When we discern an object through our Consciousness, we tend to judge if it is a material or nonmaterial being. ¡°Name¡± describes non-materiality and ¡°Form¡± materiality. That is, with Consciousness as condition, Name and Form arise.
¨ë Six Sense Gates (S.ad.a-yatana) : When we judge an object as a material or non-material being using Name and Form, then we have a renewed perception of it through our Six Sense Gates of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. That is, with Name and Form as condition, Six Sense Gates arise. From this moment we begin to see, hear, smell, taste, touch and think, and we are aware of things as they happen.
¨ì Contact (Spars¡Ça ) : When we perceive an object through our Six Sense Gates, we conceive of six-sense objects such as visible objects, sound, odor, taste, touch, and mental objects. In other words, we see, hear, smell, taste, touch and think. Contact is the encounter between the sense gates and the sensory information. That is, with Six Sense Gates as condition, Contact arises.
¨í Feeling (Vedana-) : When there arises shape, sound, smell, taste, touch and thought of an object through Contact, then one or more out of the following three feelings arise-pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral (neither pleasant nor unpleasant). All the objects we perceive in this world can generate one or more of these three feelings. With Contact as condition, Feeling arises.
¨î Craving (Tr.s.n.a-) : When one or more of the pleasant, unpleasant and neutral feelings arise depending on Feeling, we crave only for the objects that give us the pleasant feeling. Even when the objects are not the ones that can give us pleasure, we pour in blind love to make those objects render pleasure. That is, with Feeling as condition, Craving arises. This craving is far from Buddha¡¯s compassion, but rather close to love based on greed and hunger.
¨ï Clinging (Upa-da-na) : In response to Craving we attach to and pour our love on an object. When this object gives us a pleasant feeling, then naturally we engage in some kind of action to possess it. That is, with Craving as condition, Clinging arises.
¨ð Becoming (Bhava) : In response to Clinging we try to possess the object of pleasure. That is, with Clinging as condition, Becoming arises. We get to possess a certain material, object or feeling. All the objects in the world did not start out having existence from the beginning, but were made to exist because of Clinging. This is called the process of becoming - becoming someone or something other than what is.
¨ñ Birth (Jati) : When we get to possess a certain object or feeling in response to Clinging, an object or thought has been generated. Consequently, Birth refers to the birth of all beings. Ideas can also be birthed. That is, with Becoming as a condition, Birth arises.
¨ò Aging and Dying (Jara-maran.a) : When an object comes into existence in response to Birth, it will also inevitably age and die. This process is not limited to the aging and dying of the body but encompasses the suffering coming from the thought that we are born, age, and die.

Whether form or formless, if a thought arises and then disappears, from the perspective of dependent origination it had a birth, lifespan, and death. That is, with Birth as condition, Aging and Dying arise.

What we can learn from dependent origination

Buddhism emphasizes the importance of efforts we make at this very moment. If we put in wholesome work at this moment, we will reap wholesome results, and if we put in unwholesome work, we will reap unwholesome results. Therefore, rather than begging or wishing for things from a third party, we should be mindful of the frame of mind we inhabit and the actions we produce in this moment. Then the frame of mind and action will naturally make their own results.
As there can be no effect without a cause, there cannot be people we start out loving or hating from the beginning. An object or situation of confrontation will create the conditions for love or hate. Therefore, we should be introspective rather than blaming or hating others. We should think of others¡¯ hard work instead of raising the self on a pedestal. This is the Buddhist way, and the path on which we practice the truth of dependent origination as taught by Lord Buddha.


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