The teaching of Dependent Origination is part of what is known as the Middle Teaching (majjhena-dhammadesana). It is taught as an impersonal, natural truth, a description of the nature of things as they are, avoiding the extreme theories or biased views that human beings are want to fall into as a result of their distorted perceptions of the world and their attachments and desires within it. The cycle of Dependent Origination which describes the problem of human suffering comes in two limbs: the first limb, called the samudayavara (origination mode), is a description of the arising of suffering, corresponding with the second Noble Truth, the cause of suffering; the second limb, called the nirodhavara (cessation mode), is a description of the cessation of suffering, corresponding with the third Noble Truth.
In essence, then, the Middle Teaching describes two processes:
1. Samudaya: the origination mode of the Dependent Origination cycle: ignorance => volitional impulses ... becoming => birth => aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair = the arising of suffering.
2. Nirodha: the cessation mode of the Dependent Origination cycle: cessation of ignorance => cessation of volitional impulses => cessation of consciousness ... cessation of aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair = the cessation of suffering
The reason we must deal with the cause of suffering (samudaya) is because we are confronted with a problem (dukkha), the solution of which demands a search for its causes. When the cause of suffering is understood, we recognize that the solution of the problem consists in the eradication of those causes. Thus the process of cessation of suffering (nirodha) is described. In the Middle Teaching, the cessation of suffering includes not only the process for bringing about the cessation of suffering, but also the state of cessation itself, which is Nibbana.
A discussion of the subjects of suffering, the cause of suffering, the process of the cessation of suffering and the state of suffering's cessation would seem to be a comprehensive description of the Buddha's teachings, but in fact it is not. This is because the Middle Teaching describes only natural phenomena, functioning according to natural causes and conditions. It is not geared to practical application. This is why the process of the cessation of suffering, or nirodha, which is included within the Middle Teaching, is simply a description of impersonal phenomena and their interrelated functioning to produce the cessation of suffering. It does not address the details of practical application in any way. It states simply that in the attainment of the goal, the cessation of suffering, the factors must proceed in this way, but it does not state what we must do in order to make this process take place. The Middle Teaching is simply a description of natural processes within the natural order. Studying the mechanics of the process of cessation may lead to an understanding of the basic principles involved, but we still lack practical guidance. What methods are there for realizing this solving of problems which we have now studied? This is the point at which the natural processes must be connected to practical application.
It is imperative that practical application be in conformity and harmony with the natural process -- it must work in accordance with the natural process in order to produce results. The principle at work here is, first, to know and understand the natural processes, and then to practice in accordance with a humanly devised method based on that knowledge and understanding. In other words, as far as the natural processes are concerned, our only duty is to know them, while in relation to the practice, our responsibility is to formulate techniques that conform with that understanding, and thereby graduate from mere knowledge of the natural processes to practical application.
Practice, techniques and methods of practice in this context are known by the specialized term of patipada -- the methods of practice, the way of life or life-style which leads to the cessation of suffering. The Buddha laid down methods of practice which are in harmony with the natural process, or the Middle Teaching, and called this practice the Middle Way (majjhima patipada), consisting of techniques which are balanced, in conformity with the natural processes, and perfectly attuned to bringing about the cessation of suffering. The Way avoids the two extremes of sensual indulgence and self torment which lead to stagnation or digression from the true goal.
The Middle Way is known in short as magga, the Way. Because this Way has eight factors or components, and transforms the one who successfully travels it into a noble one (ariya), it is also known as the Noble Eightfold Path. The Buddha stated that this Way, this Middle Path, was a time-honored way upon which many had previously traveled and attained the goal. The Buddha was merely the discoverer and proclaimer of this ancient way. His duty was simply to point it out to others.[S.II.106]
The Way is a technique for realizing the objective, which is the cessation of suffering, in conformity with the natural processes. It works within causes and conditions, guiding them to interact and produce the desired result. When we talk about the Way, we are no longer talking about an impersonal process of suffering's cessation, but a humanly devised technique, the Eightfold Path. In other words, we have transcended the level of bare knowledge and are entering into the field of practical application.
In order to understand this transference from a natural process to a formulated technique, we may refer to the following schematic representation:
Nirodha: ignorance ceases => volitional impulses cease => consciousness ceases => body and mind cease => sense bases cease => contact ceases => feeling ceases => craving ceases => clinging ceases => becoming ceases => birth ceases => aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain grief and despair cease => the cessation of suffering
Magga: Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration => cessation of suffering
We can summarize the connection between the natural process of the cessation of suffering and the human techniques for implementing it, known as the Way, as follows:
The Way arises from the use of knowledge of the natural processes of cessation to formulate a method of practice. It is essential to know and understand this natural process to some extent, and this is why the Way begins with Right View.
The Way proposes techniques of practice which can be adapted to time and place. It can be explained in many levels, from simple to difficult. The eight factors of the Way can be further divided into many sub-factors, making the path of practice very complex. The Way is a technique which gradually leads to the state of no problems, slower or faster, and more or less effective, in accordance with the level of practice used.
The Way is a graduated system of practice of human invention, relying on the gradual accumulation of goodness in order to overcome the power of evil conditions which obstruct or hold back the attainment of the goal. For this reason the Way puts emphasis, especially in the earlier stages, on the abandoning of evil and the cultivation of the good.
Cessation can be compared to the principles for extinguishing fire, or the natural conditions which cause fire to go out, which may be summarized as: lack of fuel, lack of oxygen, or loss of temperature.
The Way can be compared to the practical techniques for putting out fire, which must operate in accordance with the natural principles. These will concern ways of depriving the fire of fuel, depriving it of oxygen or bringing the temperature down. When these three simple principles are transferred to practical application, they become major concerns: techniques must be devised and devices invented for the purpose. For instance, the kinds of materials and tools to be used must be considered in terms of whether it is an electrical, oil, gas or ordinary fire, and the techniques best suited to each case must be adopted. People may have to be specially trained for the purpose of extinguishing fires.
To use another analogy, cessation can be compared to the principles for curing an illness, which describe the cure by removing the cause, such as by destroying the bacteria which caused it, removing the poison or foreign matter from the body, or by addressing the malfunction or degeneration in the organs of the body. The Way can be compared to the techniques and methods for curing the illness. Compared to these, the principles of curing illness appear minuscule. The techniques for curing them are enormous, beginning with the observation of the illness' symptoms, the diagnosis, the application of medicines, the techniques of surgery, for nursing the patient, and for physiotherapy; the invention and production of surgical instruments; the building of hospitals and nursing homes; the hospital administration system, and the training of doctors and nurses -- to name a few -- which altogether present a vast and complex picture.
Although the Middle Way is said to have eight factors, these factors are simply the basics, and they can all be further divided into many other factors and classified into numerous different systems and levels in accordance with different objectives, situations, and temperaments. Thus, there are copious and highly detailed teachings dealing with the Way, which require a great amount of study. The Middle Way is a vast subject, needing an explanation in its own right. Its study may be divided into two main sections: firstly, dealing with the factors of the Path, which is the basic system, and another section defining and analyzing those factors into various forms for use in specialized circumstances. Here I will deal only with a fundamental description of the factors of the Path.
Before beginning to describe the Path itself, let us look at some ways of illustrating the step up from a natural state to practical application, or from a natural process to a human technique.
In the texts, these two kinds of practice are described:
1. Miccha-patipada, wrong practice or the wrong way, being the way leading to suffering
2. Samma-patipada, right practice, or the right way, being the way which leads to the cessation of suffering.
In some places the origination mode of the Dependent Origination cycle is said to be miccha-patipada, and the cessation mode is said to be samma-patipada, represented like this:
Miccha-patipada: ignorance => volitional impulses => consciousness => body and mind => sense bases => contact => feeling => craving => clinging => becoming => birth => aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain grief and despair => suffering.
Samma-patipada: cessation of ignorance => cessation of volitional impulses => cessation of consciousness => cessation of body and mind => cessation of sense bases => cessation of contact => cessation of feeling => cessation of craving => cessation of clinging => cessation of becoming => cessation of birth => cessation of aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair => cessation of suffering.[S.II.4]
In another place, however, the Buddha explained the practices which are directly opposed to the Eightfold Path as miccha-patipada, and the Eightfold Path itself as samma-patipada, thus:
Miccha-patipada: Wrong view, wrong thought, wrong speech, wrong action, wrong livelihood, wrong effort, wrong mindfulness, wrong concentration
Samma-patipada: Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration.[S.V.18]
The cycle of Dependent Origination is a description of a natural process, not a path of practice. However, the first set of right and wrong practices described above describes practice in terms of the cycle of Dependent Origination. Is there a contradiction here? It may be answered that the Dependent Origination cycle illustrated here (and it is only illustrated as a form of practice in this one Sutta) seeks to describe practical application. The Commentators to this Sutta ask the question: ignorance may be a condition for good actions, or merit (pu˝˝abhisankhara), or it may serve to generate the state of highly stable concentration (ane˝jabhisankhara); why then is it said to be wrong practice? Answering their question, the Commentators state that when people are motivated by a desire to be or to get something, no matter what they may do -- whether they develop the five higher knowledges (abhi˝˝a) or the eight attainments (samapatti) -- it is all wrong practice. On the other hand, those who are motivated by an aspiration for Nibbana, who are aiming for relinquishment, or the liberated mind, rather than attaining or obtaining something, will always have right practice, even when doing such minor actions as making offerings.[See S.A.II.14]
However, my intention in presenting these two kinds of right and wrong practice for comparison is simply to incorporate them into an examination of the progression from the natural process of cessation to the humanly devised technique known as the Path, as has been explained above. Note that apart from describing the process and practical path to goodness, those which are harmful or wrong are also described.
There is another way in which the Buddha described the cycle of Dependent Origination in its cessation mode which differs from those explained above. The beginning half describes the arising of suffering in accordance with the normal Dependent Origination cycle in forward or origination mode, all the way up to the arising of suffering, but from there, instead of presenting the cycle of Dependent Origination in the regular sequence, it describes a progression of skillful conditions which condition each other in another sequence that culminates in liberation. This is a wholly new sequence of conditions which does not refer to the cessation of conditions in the origination mode at all. This sequence is a very important example of how the Path factors may be applied to a practical, real-life system. In other words, it is a sequence which may arise for one who successfully treads the Path and attains to the goal. This process of liberation is mentioned in several places in the texts, differing somewhat from place to place. I would like to present each of them, as follows:
Ignorance => volitional impulses => consciousness => body and mind => sense bases => contact => feeling => craving => clinging => becoming => birth => suffering => faith => gladness => rapture => calmness => happiness => concentration => knowledge and insight of things as they are => disenchantment => dispassion => liberation => destruction of the outflows.[S.II.31]
Note that the progression begins with ignorance and proceeds to suffering, which is the origination mode of Dependent Origination, or the arising of suffering, but then, having reached suffering, instead of the sequence beginning again at ignorance as is usual, it continues with faith, which proceeds to take the flow from ignorance into another direction, a skillful one, leading ultimately to knowledge of the destruction of the outflows, no longer returning to ignorance at all. Note that when suffering is taken as the middle factor, the number of factors preceding it and succeeding it is the same.
For one who understands the nature of ignorance, the progression above will not seem strange: if we divide it into two sections, we find that one is the sequence from ignorance to suffering, while the other is the sequence from faith to knowledge of the destruction of the outflows (enlightenment). In the latter sequence, faith takes the place of ignorance. Faith here refers to a modified or diluted form of ignorance. At this stage, ignorance is no longer the totally blind kind, but is imbued with a grain of understanding, which prods the mind to proceed in a good direction, eventually leading to knowledge of things as they are and liberation.
Simply speaking, this means that once suffering has arisen, in accordance with the normal channels, one searches for a way out. In cases where one has a chance to hear the true teachings, or one develops an understanding of moral rationale, this leads to gladness and rapture, which then encourage one to strive for the development of progressively higher good qualities.
In fact, this latter sequence corresponds with the cessation mode of the standard Dependent Origination format (with the cessation of ignorance is the cessation of volitional impulses, etc.), but here a more detailed picture is given, seeking to illustrate how the sequence of the arising of suffering connects with the sequence of the cessation of suffering.
In the Nettipakarana, the following passage attributed to the Buddha is said to be a description of the cessation mode of the Dependent Origination cycle:
"Ananda, in this way, skillful moral conduct has absence of remorse as its objective, absence of remorse has gladness as its objective, gladness has rapture as its objective, rapture has calmness as its objective, calmness has happiness as its objective, happiness has concentration as its objective, concentration has knowledge and insight into things as they are as its objective, knowledge and insight into things as they are has disenchantment as its objective, disenchantment has dispassion as its objective, dispassion has knowledge of liberation as its objective. It is thus that skillful moral conduct brings about the fulfillment of these respective factors for the attainment of arahantship."
According to this passage, the sequence goes like this:
Skillful moral conduct => absence of remorse => gladness => rapture => calmness => happiness => concentration => knowledge and insight into the way things are => disenchantment => dispassion => knowledge of liberation
It can be seen that this sequence is the same as that mentioned previously, except that it mentions only the section dealing with the cessation of suffering, and excludes the section dealing with the arising of suffering. Let us look once more at the previous sequence:
Ignorance => volitional impulses => consciousness => body and mind => sense bases => contact => feeling => craving => clinging => becoming => birth => suffering => faith => gladness => rapture => calmness => happiness => concentration => knowledge and insight into things as they are => disenchantment => dispassion => liberation => destruction of the outflows
Although both these sequences are the same, they are not identically worded. One sequence begins with faith, the other begins with skillful moral conduct and continues with absence of remorse. From there they are the same. In fact the only difference is in the wording and in terms of emphasis. The first sequence illustrates the situation in which faith plays a prominent role. However, in this kind of faith, the mind has full confidence in rationality, is inspired by goodness, and assured of virtue. This mental state will also be affected by behavior. Faith being so supported by skillful and good behavior, it is followed by gladness, as in the other sequence, which begins with skillful moral conduct and absence of remorse. This sequence gives prominence to moral practice. In this situation, a foundation of confidence in rationality and a predilection for goodness are essential in order to maintain good moral conduct. With morality and absence of remorse, self-assurance arises in the quality of one's behavior, which is a characteristic of faith. This gives the mind confidence and clarity, and becomes a condition for the arising of gladness, just as in the previous sequence.
One of these sequences finishes up with 'liberation and destruction of the outflows,' while the other finishes up with 'knowledge of liberation.' They are both the same, except that the latter sequence includes liberation and the destruction of the outflows under the one heading of 'knowledge of liberation.'
Another illustration of the process of liberation proceeds like this:
Intelligent reflection (yoniso-manasikara) => gladness => rapture => calmness => happiness => concentration => knowledge and insight into things as they are => disenchantment => dispassion => liberation.[D.III.288]
This sequence differs only in that it begins with intelligent reflection, or knowing how to think and reason for oneself, instead of faith, which relies on outside influences for instruction. When one thinks properly and in accordance with reality, one sees the way things really are, and the result is gladness. From there, the factors of the progression are the same as in the previous sequences.
These sequences show more clearly the path of practice in relation to the cycle of Dependent Origination. Even so, they are only a rough outline of practical techniques. There are still many points that need to be clarified, such as what needs to be done to initiate the arising of such a sequence. That is a concern of the Path, the fourth of the Noble Truths, or the Middle Way, which deals with the Buddhist ethical system, moral practice based on knowledge of the natural processes. However, that is a vast subject which must be dealt with in a later book.
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23. The phrase majjhena dhammadesana, or Middle Teaching, comes from the Pali sentence "majjhena dhammam deseti," which occurs frequently throughout the Nidanavagga of the Samyutta Nikaya, from S.II.17 to S.II.77. [Back to text]
24. Đanamoli, The Guide, Pali Text Society, 1962, p.97. [Back to text]
25. A.V.311. In A.V.1, the same passage occurs, except that it puts nibbida and viraga together as one. cf A.III.19. [Back to text]