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Dependent Origination

In this video, Sanghamitta attempts to give a simplified explanation of Dependent Origination, the Buddha's schema of causality. The talk also looks at the eight factors that fuel ignorance, the first step in the schema.

Dependent Origination is an elaboration of the Four Noble Truths. The first truth is that of suffering. Once we wake up and see suffering we can do something about it. First we look for its cause, the second truth. The Buddha then gives us the good news, that we can end our suffering. This is the third truth. And then the Buddha outlines the Path to the end of suffering, the fourth truth.

In the video, for the first truth, that of suffering, I say that, in addition to suffering there are many beautiful. wonderful things and experiences in life. it's not all suffering. This is the way those of us on the start of the Path experience the world. But once we are further on the Path and have experienced the happiness that comes from the stillness of our practice, the happiness from the sensory world starts to pale in comparison. And the huge drawback of happiness from the sensory world is its impermanence, its unreliability, its changeableness.

Step three of Dependent Origination is Rebirth Consciousness. What wasn't mentioned in the video is that this refers to the various realms we can be reborn into, dependent on our past kamma. These include the hell realm, the animal realm, the realm of the hungry ghosts, the human realm and the various heavenly realms.

A question was asked, "What is the difference between wise attention, yoniso manasikara and mindfulness, sati". Sanghamitta didn't have a clear explanation of the difference. She posed the question to several monastics and kalyanamittas and after all the feedback, this is her current understanding:

The first Noble Truth is that suffering exists. The second Truth is that its cause is desire. This second Truth is expanded in the Buddha's teaching on Dependent Origination. The various causes of desire are traced back to Ignorance. In another teaching the Buddha goes into even more detail, telling us what fuels ignorance. The answer starts with not associating with good people so you don't get to hear the Dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha so you can't develop any faith in his teachings and thus learn how to think about situations with wise attention (yoniso manasikara). Then you lack this information to be remembered by mindfulness (sati) which goes hand in hand with clear comprehension, knowing what's appropriate for a given situation (sampajañña). So this is also lacking. Then one fails to choose sense restraint when defilements arise which increases the likelihood of non virtuous behaviour, speech and thoughts. Thus Right Effort is not employed to abandon the hindrances which fuels ignorance.

Yoniso manasikara (wise attention) is defined as reasoning, contemplating, investigating using Dhamma. That means using the perceptions of impermanence, suffering and non self. Sati (mindfulness) has preliminary and advanced forms. When it is paired with sampajañña as in this schema we are discussion, this is its preliminary form. It refers to awareness in everyday life. Its purpose is to enable us to see the defilements. It can see the defilements because it remembers the teachings on what is and isn't a defilement. Once the defilement is seen then another skillful means is used to overcome it. We don't use mindfulness to overcome defilements. From the above schema we see that sense restraint is the skillful means that takes over from mindfulness.

The more advanced form of sati is when it refers to meditation practice. This form of sati is what is meant by the seventh step of the Noble Eightfold Path: Right Mindfulness. This is mindfulness of one of the Four Focuses of Mindfulness (Satipatthana Sutta) in order to develop stillness of the mind, samadhi, the eighth step of the Noble Eightfold Path.

Now, going back to the schema of what comes before ignorance. To not fuel ignorance, mindfulness of an arisen defilement is to be followed by sense restraint. But how often have we found our minds in a war with Mara (the personification of the Tempter). Desire for something unhealthy, unskillful has arisen, we are mindful of it, we know it's not a good thing to do, but we still want to do it for the temporary, instant hit of pleasure. So Mara is trying to get us to focus on the pleasure hit and not focus on long term consequences whereas yoniso manasikara, wise reflection, is warning us of the danger, of the long term consequence, of the impermanence of the pleaure hit. So the schema given above is not strictly linear. Even though wise attention/reflection is given as occuring before mindfulness, it can also be pulled into play after mindfulness.

My own thoughts about the interplay of yoniso manasikara and sati are as follows:

We hear the Dhamma and feel inspired. So we want to try it out. But the Buddha encouraged us not to believe him just because he tells us something. He said to test it out and find out the truth of his teaching for ourselves. So when we hear a teachings we think about them, reason, contemplate, investigate i.e. employ yoniso manasikara. It is all this that is remembered by mindfulness so it can now recognize defilements when they arise.

Photo by Grey Man Images

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