These essays were written for Evam Me Suttam, Thus have I heard, a sutta study course conducted for the Buddhist Library in Sydney during April and May 2002.
We become acquainted with the teaching of dependent arising (paṭiccasamuppāda), the central principle of the Buddha's understanding of reality. We look at such key terms as idapaccayatā, "specific conditionality," and paṭiccasamupanna dhammā, the "dependently arisen," as well as the middle way.
This week we look at Mahānidāna Sutta, "Great Discourse on Causation," found in Dīgha Nikāya. Beginning with a reminder of the profoundity of dependent arising, this sutta focuses on the relationship between awareness (viññāṇa) and name-&-form (nāma-rūpa). Name-&-form refer to the entire experienced universe - with the exception of nibbāna itself.
This sutta, "Greater Discourse on the Exhaustion of Craving," begins with the net of craving in which Bhikkhu Sāti is caught. He thinks that awareness itself persists through time, providing the foundation for a permanent - or at least, reborn - self. A not uncommon belief, but quickly rejected by the Buddha. The issues of awareness and identity are examined, along with their connection with the cultivation of insight (vipassanā bhāvanā).
When most people refer to dependent arising, they usually mean the standard twelve-fold formula that begins with delusion (avijjā) and ends with the arising of pain (dukkha). Here we see the Buddha's analysis (vibhaṅga) of this well known formula. How can it be read in terms of human experience?
This week we continue our examination of awareness, or consciousness (viññāṇa), clarifying its meaning and seeing its role in the construction and continuation of human identity. We end with "unsupported consciousness," or "unlanded awareness," where questions of identity no longer apply.
Finally we look at the relationship between dependent arising and what we call "insight meditation." We examine the two fundamental movements of the practice, "seeing" (dassana) and "understanding" (ñāṇa), which culminate in the "entry into emptiness" (suññatā avakkam).