Today we are going to discuss in a little more depth this process of investing in conditioned existence and understanding how we can break free from that bondage. We especially want to examine how this applies to our own minds and our own experience.
The Buddha’s teachings all revolve around the concept of dependent origination, or interdependence. Dependent origination means that everything that exists depends on causes and conditions in order for it to come into being. On an external level this is very easy to verify, a tree for example depends on good soil, sunlight, adequate water and lack of competition from neighboring plants in order to grow tall and strong. If we think about the particular seed, we can examine further and further back, an infinite regression of causes, that form the basis of this single tree we are looking at. There is this vast continuum of causes and effects that bring us to this single moment. Modern science has come a long way to verify this process of dependent origination that the Buddha taught 2500 years ago.
On a social level, we can see how social networking authenticates these teachings on dependent origination, because if something major happens in any part of the world, very quickly that information reaches a wide spectrum of people and there is a global immobilization. There is a Buddhist tantra entitled ‘The Magical Web’ which plays on this process of dependent origination, that everything is connected as a greater whole, a vast web or matrix in which we are all connected.
On an internal level though this process of dependent origination is very difficult to verify; how our thoughts, feelings and experiences develop through this process of dependent origination. Fortunately for us the Buddha taught it very clearly.
The first step is ignorance, or not recognizing. In this case, we have this awareness and what we are ignorant of is the way we actually exist or the nature of our own mind. We could also say that we are mistaken or don’t recognize the way that we exist. From this ignorance we create this concept of ‘I’ or self. Now of course, once you have a self you have an object, or other- you have duality. Longchenpa has a quote:
If you have one, then you have two, and the whole world turns round.
From a mathematical standpoint we can understand this using binary code, 0 and 1. Using just these two digits we encode our computers, DVD’s and electrical equipment, a digital matrix of duality in which there is infinite expression and manifestation. THINK about this. Simply through duality itself, we have infinite possibility in the world of appearances and possibilities. This is why the sutras say that the suffering of samsara is without end.
Then once you have an object, you perceive the qualities and characteristics of that object. You come into contact with that object and start to like or prefer certain qualities, and are averse or reject other qualities. It is at this point that you have the three poisons (ignorance, attachment and aversion) which the Buddha describes as being the root of all suffering.
Based on that acceptance or rejection, attachment or aversion, you develop craving- craving that which you desire or craving to be free from that which you don’t like. From craving arises fixation or grasping. Now we have this mental picture of what we want or don’t want, and we fixate on that. From fixation arises a process of becoming, in which we go through the decisions, plans and actions that bring whatever we are fixating on to manifest or take birth, or actualize. It is this process of becoming that eventually gives birth to our fixation and grasping. Once we have birth, or manifestation, then there is this process of aging, sickness and death as it relates to the person. Of course we can talk about phenomena in this same sense, once a thought comes into being it goes through this process of abiding or aging, and finally ceases.So this comprises the cycle of samsara, or conditioned existence. This cycle plays itself out again and again, we are constantly going through this process of rebirth- deciding on things we want or don’t want, fixating on them, and eventually giving birth to them. We can see this process play out in seeking out relationships, getting a new job, new car, all those things we invest in outside of ourselves. It is important to realize that we are really addicted to taking rebirth. In this regard, we can contemplate rebirth or reincarnation, which even though you don’t necessarily need to believe that there is reincarnation or not, we can verify in our own life that again and again we are going through this process of fixation, becoming, birth and then aging, sickness and death.