The Buddha's teaching on Dependent Arising explains the conditions which lead to suffering.
Transcendental Dependent Arising explains the conditions which lead to the end of suffering. That is, how to transcend suffering. An exciting aspect of this teaching is that will is not needed after the first step. Subsequent steps just arise naturally.
Step one is virtue (sila), not harming self or others with actions, words or thoughts. And the most refined aspect of virtue is sense restraint. When we experience something that we know will cause desire or aversion to arise, we turn our attention elsewhere. Or we focus on another aspect of the sensory experience. If someone is yelling at us, we don't focus on the words and feeling hurt by them. Instead we focus on how the person yelling must be so upset to be acting like this. If we see something and start desiring it, we can turn our gaze elsewhere. Or we can bring to mind the undesirable aspects of it...its cost, its impermanence, the burden of its maintenance. If some part of our body is uncomfortable, we can focus on another part which is comfortable. But a word of caution. Using too much willpower to do sense restraint can backfire on us. When we really desire something and we forcibly restrain ourself, the desired object may become an obsession. In this situation it is better to indulge mindfully in the activity. In this way we may become aware of its shortcomings or its impermanence (how short lived the pleasure is from it). We can then gradually let go of it. (Suggestion: Read the article, “Meditation Practice Feels Stuck? - Here's what to do.” This arricle elaborates on this step one of virtue and gives some surprizing, new information.)
For one who is virtuous, non-remorse arises naturally.
For one with non-remorse, gladness (pamojja) arises naturally. Being virtuous, we are comfortable with how we are in the world. It is not feeling like a goody-goody and looking down on others. This allows gladness to arise. This is different from one who obeys moral precepts due to fear of making a mistake. Gladness won't arise in them.
For one with gladness, joy (piti) arises naturally.
For one with joy, body tranquility (kaya passaddhi) arises naturally. We can now sit still for long periods of time.
For one who has body tranquility, pleasure (sukha) arises naturally. It is important to focus on these experiences that arise...don't ignore them.
For one who has pleasure, stillness (samadhi) arises naturally.
For one who has stillness, wisdom arises. Wisdom is knowing and seeing things as they really are. Ignorance/delusion is gone. This may not happen immediately. But eventually, it will happen. After this all our past ignorances/delusions and the habits based on them start to unravel. There is no need to do insight meditation (vipassana) when we have stillness. Insight arises naturally.
For one who knows and sees things as they really are, repulsion (nibbidha) and dispassion (viraga) arise naturally. Just as a child loses interest in their favourite toys as they grow older, we lose interest in past activities, interests, objects of desire. So, if we find something annoying, if we can see it for what it really is.....not me, not mine, not a self, then it will fade in importance. This is where we can use the Buddha's phrase, “I see you Mara”. Mara symbolizes the tempter. When we see him for what he really is, he disappears. We don't have to fight him....just know him. If repulsion or dispassion has not arisen in us, then we have not seen things as they truly are.
For one who experiences repulsion and dispassion, realization of the knowledge and vision of liberation arises naturally. This is Awakening/Enlightenment.
This is the course of Transcendental Dependent Arising. No will power is needed after the first step. So if we feel our meditation practice is not developing, we can put more effort into perfecting our virtue.
Our western mind is trained in fault finding. We're always trying to make things better....to use our will power. As Ajahn Brahm says, “Shut up and enjoy what is there. Stop the fault finding mind.”
Notice that in this scheme of Transcendental Dependent Arising. Mindfulness (sati) is not mentioned. Mindfulness is one of the steps in the Noble Eightfold Path, but the Path itself is divided into three sections: virtue, stillness and wisdom. These three qualities also appear in the scheme of Transcendental Dependent Arising. Mindfulness is important but has been given importance far beyond what it deserves.
Mindfulness is the first quality mentioned in the list of Enlightenment factors....if you are not awake and aware, how can you do anything? From mindfulness we investigate the nature of reality, then comes energy (viriya) and from energy comes joy (piti). Then gladness, stillness and equanimity (upekkha). There are so many different levels and intensities of mindfulness. And it must be remembered that mindfulness also refers to keeping the teachings in mind. By this we know if it is skilful to focus on something or not.
There is a second scheme for Transcendental Dependent Arising. This scheme starts with suffering. While suffering, if we discover or hear about the Four Noble Truths.....that there is a cause for our suffering and a way to end the suffering, then faith in the Buddha's teachings arises. From faith, gladness arises. From this point on, the rest of the sequence is the same.
The Buddha has an analogy for the lack of necessity of will power for Transcendental Arising to unfold. When rain falls on a mountain, it collects in the crevices and flows dow to form rivulets, then streams then rivers. Finally it enters the ocean. Just so, if we develop our virtue, we will eventually realize Awakening....entering the ocean.
Remember that the Path to Awakening is the Noble Eightfold Path. All eight steps of the Path are necessary. The above sutta is emphasizing that will power is not needed after the first step of developing virtue. But this doesn't mean that only virtue is necessary for Awakening. The other seven steps are needed as well. The Buddha just emphasizes different aspects of the Path in different teachings.
This article is based on a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Brahm.