Feeling the Impact of Interrelatedness
Through reflecting on dependent-arising, you will lose the belief that things exist in and of themselves. Nagarjuna says:
The apprehension of inherent existence is the cause
of all unhealthy views.
Afflictive emotions are not produced without this error.
Therefore, when emptiness is thoroughly known,
Unhealthy views and afflictive emotions are
Through what is emptiness known?
It is known through seeing dependent-arising.
Buddha, the supreme knower of reality, said
What is dependently produced is not inherently
Nagarjuna’s student Aryadeva similarly says that understanding dependent-arising is crucial for overcoming ignorance:
All afflictive emotions are overcome
Through overcoming ignorance.
When dependent-arising is seen,
Ignorance does not arise.
Dependent-arising refers to the fact that all impermanent phenomena-whether physical, mental, or otherwise-come into existence dependent upon certain causes and conditions. Whatever arises dependent upon certain causes and conditions is not operating exclusively under its own power.
1. Bring to mind an impermanent phenomenon, such as a house.
2. Consider its coming into being in dependence upon specific causes: lumber, carpenters, and so forth.
3. See if this dependence conflicts with the house’s appearing as if it exists in its own right.
Dependent Arising and Realism
The theory of dependent-arising can be applied everywhere. One benefit of applying this theory is that viewing a situation this way gives you a more holistic picture, since whatever the situation is-good or bad-it depends on causes and conditions. An event is not under its own power but depends on many present causes and conditions as well as many past causes and conditions. Otherwise, it could not come into being.
When you think from this viewpoint, you can see much more of the whole picture, and from this wider perspective, you can see the reality of the situation, its interdependence. With the help of this relational outlook, the action that you take will be realistic. In international politics, for example, without such an outlook a leader might see a problem as created by a single person, who then becomes an easy target. But that is not realistic; the problem is much wider. Violence produces a chain reaction. Without a broader perspective, even if the motivation is sincere, any attempt to handle the situation becomes unrealistic; the actions taken will not be well founded because of the lack of a holistic picture, of understanding the web of causes and conditions involved.
In the field of medicine also, it is not sufficient to concentrate just on one specialty. The whole body needs to be considered. In Tibetan medicine, the diagnostic approach is more holistic, taking into consideration interactive systems. Similarly. in economics, if you just go after profit, you end up with corruption. Look at the increasing corruption in many countries. By considering all commercial actions to be morally neutral, we turn a blind eye to exploitation. When, as they say in China, “It doesn’t make any difference whether a cat is black or white,” the result is that a lot of black cats-morally bankrupt people-are creating a lot of problems!
Failure to look at the whole picture means realism is lost. The attitude that money alone is sufficient leads to unforeseen consequences. Money is certainly necessary; for instance, if you thought that religious retreat in meditation alone was sufficient, you would not have anything to eat. Many factors have to be considered. With awareness of the fuller picture, your outlook becomes reasonable, and your actions become practical, and in this way favorable results can be achieved.
The chief drawback of afflictive emotions is that they obscure reality. As Nagarjuna says:
When afflictive emotions and their actions cease,
there is liberation.
Afflictive emotions arise from false conceptions.
False conceptions here are exaggerated modes of thought that do not accord with the facts. Even if an object-an event, a person, or any other phenomenon-has a slightly favorable aspect, once the object is mistakenly seen as existing totally from its own side, true and real, mental projection exaggerates its goodness beyond what it actually is, resulting in lust. The same happens with anger and hatred; this time a negative factor is exaggerated, making the object seem to be a hundred percent negative, the result being deep disturbance. Recently, a psychotherapist told me that when we generate anger, ninety percent of the ugliness of the object of our anger is due to our own exaggeration. This is very much in conformity with the Buddhist idea of how afflictive emotions arise.
At the point when anger and lust are generated, reality is not seen; rather, an unreal mental projection of extreme badness or extreme goodness is seen, evoking twisted,-unrealistic actions. All of this can be avoided by seeing the fuller picture revealed by paying attention to the dependent-arising of phenomena, the nexus of causes and conditions from which they arise and in which they exist.
Looked at this way, the disadvantages of afflictive emotions are obvious. If you want to be able to perceive the actual situation, you have to quit voluntarily submitting to afflictive emotions, because in each and every field, they obstruct perception of the facts. Viewed from the perspective of lust or anger, for example, the facts are always obscured.
Love and compassion also involve strong feelings that can even make you cry with empathy, but they are induced not by exaggeration but by valid cognition of the plight of
sentient beings, and the appropriateness of being concerned for their well-being. These feelings rely on insight into how beings suffer in the round of rebirth called “cyclic existence,” and the depth of these feelings is enhanced through insight into impermanence and emptiness, as will be discussed in Chapters 22 and 23. Though it is possible for love and compassion to be influenced byafflictive emotions, true love and compassion are unbiased and devoid of exaggeration, because they are founded on valid cognition of your relationship to others. The perspective of dependent-arising is supremely helpful in making sure that you appreciate the wider picture.
Dependence Upon Parts
Dependent-arising also refers to the fact that all phenomena-impermanent and permanent-exist in dependence upon their own parts. Everything has parts. A pot, for in stance, exists in dependence upon its parts, whether we consider coarse parts, such as the lid, handle, or opening, or subtle parts, such as molecules. Without its essential parts, a pot simply cannot be; it does not exist in the concrete, independent way that it seems to.
What about the atomic particles that are the building blocks of larger objects? Could they be partless? This too is impossible, since if a particle did not have spatial extent, it could not combine with other particles to form a larger object. Particle physicists believe that even the tiniest particle can be broken down into smaller parts if we can create tools powerful enough to do so, but even if they found a physically unbreakable entity, it would still have spatial extent and thus parts; otherwise it could not combine with other such entities to form anything larger.
1. Bring to mind an impermanent phenomenon, such as a book.
2. Consider its coming into being in dependence upon its parts-its pages and cover.
3. See if its dependence upon its parts conflicts with its appearing as if it exists in its own right.
The consciousness involved in looking at a blue vase does not have spatial parts because it is not physical, but it exists as a continuum of moments. Consciousness looking at a blue vase has earlier and later moments in its continuum, and these are parts of a stream of consciousness-no matter how short.
Then consider the briefest moments in a continuum. If even the briefest of moments did not have a beginning, middle, and end, it could not join with other brief moments to become a continuum; it would be equally dose to an earlier moment and to a later moment, in which case there would be no continuum at all.
As Nagarjuna says:
Just as a moment has an end, so it must
have A beginning and a middle.
Also the beginning middle, and end
Are to be analyzed like a moment.
Appreciating the Reasoning of Dependent-Arising
As explained in the previous chapter, all phenomena, whether impermanent or permanent, have parts. The parts and the whole depend on other, but they seem to have their own entities. If the whole and its parts existed the way they appear to you, you should be able to point out a whole that is separate from its parts. But you cannot.
There is a conflict between the way the whole and its parts appear and the way they actually exist, but this does not mean that there are no wholes, because if wholes did not exist, you could not speak of something as being a part of anything. The conclusion must be that there are wholes but their existence is set up in dependence upon their parts-they do not exist independently. As Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Treatise on the Middle called “Wisdom” says:
That which arises dependently
Is not one with that on which it depends
And is also not inherently other than it.
Hence, it is not nothing and not inherently
How the Reasoning of Dependent-Arising Works
Dependent or independent: there is no other choice. When something is one, it is definitely not the other. Because dependent and independent are a dichotomy; when you see that something cannot be independent, or functioning under its own power, there is no other option but to see that it is dependent. Being dependent, it is empty of being under its own power. Look at it this way:
A table depends for its existence on its parts, so we call the collection of its parts the basis upon which it is set up. When we search analytically to try to find this table that appears to our minds as if it exists independently. we must look for it within this basis-the legs. the top, and so forth. But nothing from within the parts is such a table. Thus, these things that are not a table become a table in dependence upon thought; a table does not exist in its own right.
From this viewpoint, a table is something that arises, or exists, dependently. It depends on certain causes; it depends upon its parts; and it depends upon thought. These are the three modes of dependent-arising. Of these. one of the more important factors is the thought that designates an object.
Existing in dependence upon conceptuality is the most subtle meaning of dependent-arising. (Nowadays. physicists are discovering that phenomena do not exist objectively in and of themselves but exist in the context of involvement with an observer.) For example, the Dalai Lama’s “I” must be within this area where my body is; there is no other place it could possibly be found. This is clear. But when you investigate in this area, you cannot find an “I” that has its own substance. Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama is a man, a monk, a Tibetan, who can speak, drink, eat, and sleep. This is sufficient proof that he exists, even though he cannot be found.
This means that there is nothing to be found that is the “I,” but this fact does not imply that the “I” does not exist. How could it? That would be silly. The “I” definitely does exist, but when it exists yet cannot be found, we have to say that it arises in dependence upon thought. It cannot be posited any other way.
Emptiness Does Not Mean Nothingness
There is no question that persons and things exist; the question is how, or in what manner, they exist. When we consider a flower, for instance, and think, “This flower has
a nice shape, nice color, and nice texture,” it seems as if there is something concrete that possesses these qualities of shape, color, and texture. When we look into these qualities, as well as the parts of the flower, they seem to be qualities or parts of the flower, such as the color of the flower, the shape of the flower, the stem of the flower, and the petals of the flower-as if there is a flower that possesses these qualities or parts.
However, if the flower really exists the way it appears, we should be able to come up with something separate from all of these qualities and parts that is the flower. But we cannot. Such a flower is not found upon analysis, or through other scientific tools, even though previously it seemed so substantial, so findable. Because a flower has effects, it certainly exists, but when we search to find a flower existing in accordance with our ideas about it, that is not at all findable.
Something that truly exists from its own side should become more and more obvious when analyzed-it should be clearly found. But the opposite is the case. Nevertheless, this does not mean that it does not exist, for it is effective-it creates effects. The fact that it is not found under analysis just indicates that it does not exist the way it appears to our senses and to our thoughts-that is, so concretely established within itself
If not finding objects when they are analyzed meant that they did not exist, there would be no sentient beings, no Bodhisattvas, no Buddhas, nothing pure, and nothing impure. There would be no need for liberation; there would be no reason to meditate on emptiness. However, it is obvious that persons and things help and harm, that pleasure and pain exist, that we can free ourselves from pain and gain happiness. It would be foolish to deny the existence of persons and things when we are obviously affected by them. The idea that persons and things do not exist is a denial of the obvious; it is foolish.
The Indian scholar-yogi Nagarjuna demonstrates that phenomena are empty of inherent existence by the fact that they are dependent-arisings. This itself is a clear sign that the view that phenomena do not inherently exist is not nihilistic. He does not give as the reason why ‘phenomena are empty that they are unable to function; instead, he calls attention to the fact that they arise dependent on causes and conditions.
1. Dependent and independent are a dichotomy. Anything that exists is either the one or the other.
2. When something is dependent, it must be empty of being under its own power.
3. Nowhere in the parts of the body and mind that form the basis for the “I” can we find the “I.” Therefore, the “I” is established not under its own power but through the force of other conditions-its causes, its parts, and thought.
Seeing the Interdependence of Phenomena
Realizing the doctrine of dependent-arising, The wise do not at all partake of extreme views. – Buddha
Because phenomena seem, even to our senses, to exist from their own side even though they do not, we mistakenly accept the view that phenomena exist more substantially than they actually do. In this way we are drawn into afflictive emotions, creating the seeds of our own ruin. We need to undo these problems by reflecting, again and again, on the dependent nature of everything.
All phenomena-helpful and harmful, cause and effect, this and that-arise and are established in reliance upon other factors. As Nagarjuna says in his Precious Garland of Advice:
When this is, that arises,
Like short when there is long.
Due to the production of this,
that is produced,
Like light from the production of a flame.
In this context of dependence, help and harm arise, impermanent phenomena can function (and are not just figments of the imagination), and karma-actions and their effects-is feasible. You are feasible, and I am feasible; we are not just mental creations. By understanding this, you are free from what Buddhists call “the extreme of nihilism,” drawing the mistaken conclusion that just because a phenomenon cannot be found to exist independently it does not at all exist. As Nagarjuna says:
Having thus seen that effects arise
From causes, one asserts what appears
In the conventions of the world
And does not accept nihilism.
These two extremes-the exaggerated notion that phenomena exist under their own power, and the denial of cause and effect-are like chasms into which our minds can fall, creating damaging perspectives that either exaggerate the status of objects beyond their actual nature or deny the very existence of cause and effect. Falling into the chasm of exaggeration, we are drawn into satisfying a conception of ourselves that exceeds how we actually are-an impossible feat. Or, falling into the chasm of denial, we lose sight of the value of morality and are drawn into ugly actions that undermine our own future.
To be able to balance dependent-arising and emptiness. we need to differentiate between inherent existence and mere existence. It is also crucial to recognize the difference between the absence of inherent existence and utter nonexistence. This is why when the great Buddhist sages in India taught the doctrine of emptiness. they did not use the argument that phenomena are empty of the capacity to perform functions. Rather, they said that phenomena are empty of inherent existence because they are dependent-arisings. When emptiness is understood this way, both extremes are avoided. The exaggerated notion that phenomena exist from their own side is avoided through realizing emptiness, and the denial of the existence of functionality is avoided through understanding that phenomena are dependent-arisings and therefore not utterly nonexistent.
As Chandrakirti says:
This reasoning of dependent-arising
Cuts through all the nets of bad views.
Dependent-arising is the route for steering clear of the two chasms of mistaken outlooks and their attendant pains.
Harnessing The Power of Concentration and Insight
Focusing Your Mind
Let distractions melt away like clouds disappearing in the sky. -Milarepa
In all areas of thought, you need to be able to analyze, and then, when you have come to a decision, you need to be able to set your mind to it without wavering. These two capacities-to analyze and to remain focused-are essential to seeing yourself as you really are. In all areas of spiritual development, no matter what your level is, you need both analysis and focus to achieve the states you are seeking, ranging from seeking a better future, to developing conviction in the cause and effect of actions (karma), to developing an intention to leave the round of suffering called cyclic existence, to cultivating love and compassion, to realizing the true nature of people and things. All these improvements are made in the mind by changing how you think, transforming your outlook through analysis and focus. All types of meditation fall into the general categories of analytical meditation and focusing meditation, also called insight meditation and calm abiding meditation.
If your mind is scattered, it is quite powerless. Distraction here and there opens the way for counterproductive emotions, leading to many kinds of trouble. Without clear, stable concentration, insight cannot know the true nature of phenomena in all its power. For example, to see a painting in the dark, you need a very bright lamp. Even when you have such a lamp, if it is flickering you cannot see the painting clearly and in detail. Also, if the lamp is steady but weak, you cannot see well either. You need both great clarity of mind and steadiness, both insight and focused concentration, like an oil lamp untouched by any breeze. As Buddha said, “When your mind is set in meditative equipoise, you can see reality exactly as it is.”
We have nothing but our present mind to accomplish this with, so we must pull the capacities of this mind together to strengthen it. A merchant engages in selling little by lime in order to accumulate a pile of money; the capacities of the mind to comprehend facts need to be drawn together and focused in the same way so that the truth can be realized in all its clarity. However, in our usual state we are distracted, like water running everywhere, scattering the innate force of mind in multiple directions, making us incapable of clear perception of the truth. When the mind is not focused, as soon as something appears, it steals away our mind; we run first after this thought and then after that thought, fluctuating and unsteady; powerless to focus on what we want before being pulled away to something else, ready to ruin ourselves. As the Indian scholar-yogi Shantideva says:
A person whose mind is distracted
Dwells between the fangs of afflictive emotions.
Despite the fact that distraction is our current state, the capacities for knowledge which we all possess can be drawn together and focused on an object we want to understand, as we do when we listen to important instructions. Through such focus, all practices-whether love, compassion, the altruistic intention to become enlightened, or insight into your own nature and the actual condition of all other phenomena-are dramatically enhanced, so your progress is much faster and more profound.
Buddhism offers many techniques for developing a form of concentration called “calm abiding.” This powerful state of concentration earns its name because in it all distractions have been calmed and your mind is-of its own accord-abiding continuously; joyously; and flexibly on its chosen internal object with intense clarity and firm stability. At this level of mental development, concentration does not require any exertion at all.
Laziness comes in many forms, all of which result in procrastination, putting off practice to another time. Sometimes laziness is a matter of being distracted from meditation by morally neutral activities, like sewing or considering how to drive from one place to another; this type of laziness can be especially pernicious because these thoughts and activities are not usually recognized as problems.
At other times, laziness manifests as distraction to thinking about non-virtuous activities, such as an object of lust or how to pay an enemy back. Another type of laziness is the sense that you are inadequate to the task of meditation, feeling inferior and discouraged: “How could someone like me ever achieve this!” In this case you are failing to recognize the great potential of the human mind and the power of gradual training.
All of these forms of laziness involve being unenthusiastic about meditation. How can they be overcome? Contemplation of the advantages of attaining mental and physical flexibility will generate enthusiasm for meditation and counteract laziness. Once you have developed the meditative joy and bliss of mental and physical flexibility, you will be able to stay in meditation for as long as you want. At that time your mind will be completely trained so you can direct it to any virtuous activity; all dysfunctions of body and mind will have been cleared away.
Conditions For Practice
For beginners, external factors can have considerable impact on meditation because your internal mental capacity is not particularly strong. This is why limiting busy activities and having a quiet place to meditate are helpful. When your internal experience has advanced, external conditions will not affect you much.
At this early stage of cultivating calm abiding, you need a healthful place to practice, away from busy activities and persons who promote lust or anger. Internally, you need to know satisfaction. not having strong desires for food. clothing, and so forth but being satisfied with moderation. You need to limit your activities. giving up commotion. Busyness should be left behind. Of particular importance is moral behavior, which will bring you relaxation, peace, and conscientiousness. All of these preliminaries will help to reduce coarse distractions.
When I became a monk. my vows required limiting my external activities, which placed more emphasis on spiritual development. Restraint made me mindful of my behavior and drew me into considering what was happening in my mind in order to make sure I was not straying from my vows. This meant that even when I was not purposely making an effort at meditation, I kept my mind from being scattered and thus was constantly drawn in the direction of one-pointed, internal meditation.
Balancing Calm and Insight
To combine calm abiding with special insight, you need to alternate focusing meditation with analytical meditation and bring them into harmony. Too much analysis will promote excitement, making the mind slightly unstable, but too much stability will make you not want to analyze. As the Tibetan sage Tsongkhapa says:
If you solely perform analytical meditation. the calm abiding generated earlier will degenerate. Therefore, upon having mounted the horse of calm abiding, you should remain within analysis and then periodically alternate this with stabilizing meditation.
Union of Calm Abiding and Special Insight
Previously, calm abiding and analysis were like the two ends of a scale, the one becoming slightly lighter when the other became manifest. But now, as you skillfully alternate between stabilizing and analytical meditation, the power of analysis itself induces even greater mental and physical flexibility than before, when calm abiding was achieved by stabilizing meditation. When calm abiding and insight operate in this way; simultaneously with equal power, it is called the “union of calm abiding and special insight.” It is also called “wisdom arisen from meditation,” as contrasted to the wisdom arisen from hearing, reading, study; or thinking.
Earlier, while reading and thinking about emptiness, your consciousness was aimed at emptiness as an intellectual object of inquiry; so your mind and emptiness were
separate and distinct. But now you have the experience of penetrating emptiness without the sense that subject and object are distant from each other. You are approaching a state in which insight and emptiness are like water put into water.
Gradually; the remaining subtle sense of subject and object vanishes, with subject and object entirely merging in total nonconceptuality. AB Buddha says, “When the fire of knowing reality just as it is arises from correct analysis itself, the wood of conceptuality is burned, like the fire of sticks rubbed together.”
Noticing How Everything Depends on Thought
When I was about thirty-five years old, I was reflecting on the meaning of a passage by Tsongkhapa about how the ”I” cannot be found either within or separate from the mind-body complex and how the “I” depends for its existence on conceptuality. Here is the passage:
A coiled rope’s speckled color and coiled form are similar to those of a snake, and when the rope is perceived in a dim area, the thought arises, “This is a snake.” As for the rope, at that time when it is seen to be a snake, the collection and parts of the rope are not even in the slightest way a snake. Therefore, that snake is merely set up by conceptuality. In the same way, when the thought “I” arises in dependence upon mind and body, nothing within mind and body-neither the collection that is a continuum of earlier and later moments, nor the collection of the parts at one time, nor the separate parts, nor the continuum of any of the separate parts-is in even the slightest way the “I.” Also there is not even the slightest something that is a different entity from mind and body that is apprehendable as the “I.” Consequently; the “I” is merely set up by conceptuality in dependence upon mind and body; it is not established by way of its own entity.
Suddenly; it was as if lightning moved through my chest. I was so awestruck that, over the next few weeks, whenever I saw people, they seemed like a magician’s illusions in that they appeared to inherently exist but I knew that they actually did not. This is when I began to understand that it is truly possible to stop the process of creating destructive emotions by no longer assenting to the way “I” and other phenomena appear to exist. Every morning I meditate on emptiness, and I recall that experience in order to bring it into the day’s activities. Just thinking or saying “I,” as in “I will do such-and-such,”will often trigger that feeling. But still I cannot claim full understanding of emptiness.