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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Major reshuffle in the Union Cabinet.. Prakash javadekar is the new HRD minister

In a major reshuffle in the Union Cabinet on Tuesday, Smriti Irani was moved out of the HRD ministry while senior BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu was given the additional charge of the I&B ministry.

Vijay Goel became the new Sports Minister while Ananth Kumar got the additional charge of Parliamentary Affairs. Irani will now head the textile ministry while Prakash Javadekar will replace him as the HRD minister.

Newly inducted Anupriya Patel became Minister of State for Health & Family Welfare while MJ Akbar will be MoS External Affairs.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inducted 19 new faces, elevating Minister of State for Environment Prakash Javadekar to the cabinet and dropping five junior ministers.

All the 19 new ministers sworn in at a solemn function at the Rashtrapati Bhavan are from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) barring RPI leader Ramdas Athawale of Maharashtra and Apna Dal's Anupriya Patel of Uttar Pradesh.

*Here is the portfolio of the Union Council of Ministers*

*Prime Minister*

Narendra Modi:

Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions

Department of Atomic Energy

Department of Space

*Cabinet Ministers*

Rajnath Singh:
Home Affairs

Sushma Swaraj: 
External Affairs

Arun Jaitley:
Finance Corporate Affairs

M Venkaiah Naidu:
Urban Development Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation |Information & Broadcasting

Nitin Jairam Gadkari:
Road Transport and Highways Shipping

Manohar Parrikar:

Suresh Prabhu:

D. V. Sadananda Gowda:
Statistics & Programme Implementation

Uma Bharati:
Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation

Najma A. Heptulla:
Minority Affairs

Shri Ramvilas Paswan:
Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution

Kalraj Mishra:
Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi:
Women & Child Development

Ananth Kumar:
Chemicals & Fertilizers | Parliamentary Affairs

Ravi Shankar Prasad:
Law & Justice | Electronics & Information Technology

Jagat Prakash Nadda:
Health & Family Welfare

Ashok Gajapathi Raju Pusapati:
Civil Aviation

Anant Geete:
Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises

Harsimrat Kaur Badal:
Food Processing Industries

Narendra Singh Tomar:
Rural Development | Panchayati Raj | Drinking Water & Sanitation

Chaudhary Birender Singh:

Jual Oram:
Tribal Affairs

Radha Mohan Singh:
Agriculture & Farmers Welfare

Thaawar Chand Gehlot:
Social Justice and Empowerment

Smriti Zubin Irani:

Dr. Harsh Vardhan:
Science & Technology | Earth Sciences

Prakash Javadekar:
Human Resource Development

*Ministers of State*

Rao Inderjit Singh:
Planning (Independent Charge) | Urban Development Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation

Bandaru Dattatreya:
Labour & Employment (Independent Charge)

Rajiv Pratap Rudy:
Skill Development & Entrepreneurship (Independent Charge)

Vijay Goel:
Youth Affairs and Sports (Independent Charge) | Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation

Shripad Yesso Naik:
AAYUSH (Independent Charge)

Dharmendra Pradhan:
Petroleum and Natural Gas (Independent Charge)

Piyush Goyal:
Power (Independent Charge) Coal (Independent Charge) New and Renewable Energy (Independent Charge) Mines (Independent Charge)

Jitendra Singh:
Development of North Eastern Region (Independent Charge) Prime Minister’s Office Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions Department of Atomic Energy Department of Space

Nirmala Sitharaman:
Commerce and Industry (Independent Charge)

Mahesh Sharma:
Culture (Independent Charge) Tourism (Independent Charge)

Manoj Sinha:
Communications (Independent Charge) Railways

Anil Madhav Dave:
Environment, Forest and Climate Change (Independent Charge)

General V. K. Singh:
External Affairs

Santosh Kumar Gangwar:

Faggan Singh Kulaste:
Health & Family Welfare

Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi:
Minority Affairs | Parliamentary Affairs

SS Ahluwalia:
Agriculture & Farmers Welfare | Parliamentary Affairs

Ramdas Athawale:
Social Justice & Empowerment

Ram Kripal Yadav:
Rural Development

Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary:
Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises

Giriraj Singh:
Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises

Hansraj Gangaram Ahir:
Home Affairs

G M Siddeshwara:
Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises

Ramesh Chandappa Jigajinagi:
Drinking Water & Sanitation

Rajen Gohain:

Parshottam Rupala:
Agriculture & Farmers Welfare | Panchayati Raj

MJ Akbar:
External Affairs

Upendra Kushwaha:
Human Resources Development

Radhakrishnan P:
Road Transport & Highways | Shipping

Kiren Rijiju:
Home Affairs

Krishan Pal:
Social Justice & Empowerment

Jasvantsinh Sumanbhai Bhabhor:
Tribal Affairs

Sanjeev Kumar Balyan:
Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation

Vishnu Deo Sai:

Sudarshan Bhagat:
Agriculture and Farmers Welfare

Y S Chowdary:
Science & Technology | Earth Science

Jayant Sinha:
Civil Aviation

Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore:
Information & Broadcasting

Babul Supriyo:
Urban Development Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation

Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti:
Food Processing Industries

Vijay Sampla:
Social Justice & Empowerment

Arjun Ram Meghwal:
Finance | Corporate Affairs

Dr. Mahendra Nath Pandey:
Human Resource Development

Ajay Tamta:

Krishna Raj:
Women & Child Development

Mansukh L. Mandaviya:
Road Transport & Highways, Shipping, Chemicals & Fertilizers

Anupriya Patel:
Health & Family Welfare

CR Chaudhary:
Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution

P P Chaudhary:
Law & Justice Electronics & Information Technology

Subhash Ramrao Bhamre:

Content Source:
The Indian express online news app.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Pratitya Samutpada: the foundation for a Buddhist environmentalism


As Buddhists, we are committed to transforming all aspects of our lives in accordance with our ideals. We aspire that all aspects of our lives may come to embody our commitment to the path of Buddhism and to the many qualities of Enlightenment: among others, love, wisdom, contentment, creativity, and a living experience of non-duality. We are therefore committed to the relief of suffering wherever we may find it and to encouraging the spiritual efforts of all others who also wish to make them. To ignore the sufferings and aspirations of others around us is to fail to see that ‘self’ and ‘other’ are in fact indivisible, or at least profoundly interconnected, and therefore to cut ourselves off from the very ideals we profess to pursue. To be a Buddhist is to be responsive to the world around us and to the issues it faces. We seek to apply the timeless principles of the Dharma to the ever-changing complexity of the world we and so many other beings inhabit.

These days, few would argue that the environment is not in crisis. It has become clearer and clearer that human activity is having profound consequences for many aspects of the planet, from climate change to the extinction of species. Because everything is inter-connected, like it or not, we are caught up in this process, and we therefore play our part in it for good or ill. Both for our sake and the sake of the all beings, it is therefore necessary that we take a long hard and clear look at our place in the environment and the consequences of our actions upon it. Therefore, we need a Buddhist environmentalism.

In the Buddha’s time, care for the environment was not really an issue. Human civilisation existed in fragile pockets dotted amidst vast tracts of jungle. Today the situation is reversed, and the jungle exists, if at all, in fragile pockets dotted amidst vast tracts of human civilisation. There is therefore little explicit guidance in the Buddhist scriptures that help us formulate a Buddhist response to the environmental crisis we are participating in. This can lead either to a feeling that Buddhism is not really interested in the environment - after all, there are so many other recommended practices - or to confusion and uncertainty about what we as Buddhists should be doing.

It is certainly not the case that Buddhism is indifferent to the state of the environment: there is no doubt that great suffering is being caused as a direct consequence of environmental damage, and Buddhism seeks to alleviate all suffering and all causes of suffering. Furthermore, Buddhism has always been a dynamic tradition, responding creatively to whatever new circumstances it finds itself in. What we therefore need to do is to return to the underlying and invariant principles behind the Dharma and from them begin to articulate a response to today’s unprecedented circumstances. This response will be both theoretical and practical, shaping both our views and our actions so they are more effective and better express the insights of Buddhism.

The Buddha’s Enlightenment and Insight

When the Buddha-to-be sat under the Bodhi Tree and uttered his great Vow to attain Enlightenment "Flesh may wither away, blood may dry up, but until I gain Enlightenment I shall not move from this seat" he did not know what he was going to discover, if anything, about reality. His insight, when it came, was all-encompassing and profound, indeed, beyond conceptual formulation at all. As he himself said, at first inclined not to teach:

`Then, monks, I thought, "Now I have gained the Dharma, profound, hard to perceive, hard to know, tranquil, transcendent, beyond the sphere of reasoning, subtle, to be known only by the wise. Mankind is intent on its attachments, and takes delight and pleasure in them. For mankind intent on its attachments it is hard to see this principle, namely conditionedness, origination by way of cause, Paticca-Samuppada."’

[Ariyapariesana Sutta, Majjhima-Nikaya 26]

Nonetheless he did decide to communicate what he had discovered to beings who had "but little dust on their eyes", and the central and most distinctive formulation of his Insight became known as Pratitya Samutpada (Sanskrit) or Paticca-Samuppada (Pali), the ‘principle of conditioned co-production’. To quote from the ‘Survey of Buddhism’ by Sangharakshita,

‘We may state that the knowledge and insight attained by the Buddha beneath the bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya consisted in what, by way of an accommodation to the `normal' conceptual mode of human thought, he described as the truth that all phenomena arise in dependence on conditions. In the original Pali, all dhamma are paticca-samuppanna. This is the great Buddhist doctrine of paticca-samuppada (Sanskrit pratitya-samutpada), a term variously rendered by scholars. Conze translates it as conditioned co-production, an equivalent more accurate and euphonious than many others. As the primary formulation of the Buddha's Enlightenment on the intellectual plane, it is the historical and logical basis of all later developments in Buddhist philosophy. ... It has been equated with the Dharma itself.

The general formula of the doctrine occurs a number of times in the Pali Canon, where it is repeated in a set form of words that appears to have been recognised from the earliest times as a standard expression of the Buddha's insight. We quote this formula in Pali not only because of its intrinsic sacredness, but also in order that the reader may be afforded an opportunity of acquiring merit by reading and reciting it in the original language:

imasmim sati, idamhoti; imass' uppada, idam uppajjati; imasmim asati, idam na hoti; imassa nirodha, idam nirujjhati.

(This being, that becomes; from the arising of this, that arises; this not being, that does not become; from the ceasing of this, that ceases.)

[Majjhima-Nikaya ii.32; Samyutta-Nikaya ii.28; etc.]

Like all universal and as it were abstract formulae, the implications will not all immediately apparent to the casual reader. In particular it may not be apparent that this is indeed the appropriate starting-point for a modern Buddhist response to the environmental issues of our time. We therefore need to draw out some of its many ramifications.

The image of a vast tree may be helpful here: the roots, mysterious, hidden beneath the surface, but supporting and nourishing all above, is the Buddha’s actual experience of Enlightenment, beyond our reach until we realise it for ourselves. The trunk is his core insight into Pratitya Samutpada, the foundation for all his teaching and the basis for all future developments in the Buddhist tradition. The many spreading branches represent the different branches of Buddhist thought and practice as it spread throughout the world and responded in many different ways to different circumstances. And finally the leaves, fluttering in the winds, are ourselves, living our lives exposed to the harsh realities of the world yet connected to the whole Buddhist tradition beneath us.

The laws of Pratitya Samutpada

The first point is that Pratitya Samutpada applies to ALL phenomena whatsoever. As Sangharakshita says,

"...when you really think about the principle of pratitya-samutpada - in whatever form it is put - when you meditate on it, when you really follow through its implications, you begin to understand the extraordinary impact it has had on the world. Whatever comes into existence on whatever level, does so in dependence on conditions, and in the absence of those conditions, ceases to exist. This is all it says. But if anything is Buddhism, this is Buddhism.

"What it is saying is that, from the viewpoint of the Enlightened mind, the outstanding feature of all phenomena, whether physical or psychical, is that they are conditioned. The unceasing flux of things, both material events and states of mind, is a process of interdependent stages, each of which comes about through the presence of conditions and, in its turn, conditions the stages succeeding it. Rainfall, sunshine, and the nourishing earth are the conditions from which arises the oak tree, whose fallen leaves rot and form the rich humus from which the bluebell grows. A jealous attachment will have consequences which may lead to murder. Nothing phenomenal is spontaneously produced without preceding conditions, or itself fails to have consequences. And it is the process of becoming aware of this law of conditionality that gradually liberates us from all conditions, leading to the freely functioning, spontaneous creativity of Enlightenment."

[Sangharakshita, ‘What is the Dharma’]

This means that the implications of Pratitya Samutpada can be confidently applied in any situation, in that all phenomena fall under its sweep. In different spheres of life this principle of Pratitya Samutpada will be played out according to different natural laws, known in Buddhism as the ‘Five Niyamas. Quoting Sangharakshita again,

"These five niyamas are a very useful formulation because… they draw together strands which are otherwise rather loose and disconnected as we find them in the original suttas. The word niyama is a term common to Pali and Sanskrit meaning a natural law, a cosmic order. According to this teaching there are five of them, showing the law of cause and effect at work on five different levels. The first three are straightforward enough, as they can be related to Western sciences.

Firstly, there's utu-niyama. Utu means non-living matter. Nowadays people are beginning to doubt whether there is any such thing as non-living matter, but let's call it that for the time being. In other words, this is the physical, inorganic order of existence. Utu-niyama is therefore the law of cause and effect as operative on the level of inorganic matter. It very roughly embraces the laws of physics and chemistry and associated disciplines.

The second niyama is bija-niyama. Bija means `seed', so bija-niyama deals with the world of living matter, the physical organic order whose laws constitute the science of biology.

Then there is chitta-niyama. Chitta is `mind', so chitta-niyama is conditionality as operative in the world of mind. The existence of this third niyama, therefore, implies that mental activity and development are not haphazard, but governed by laws. And it is important that we understand what this means. We are used to the idea of laws operating on the level of physics, chemistry, and biology, but we are not so used to the idea that similar laws might govern mental events. We are more inclined, in the West, to the view that mental events just happen, without any particular causation. To some extent and in some quarters, the influence of Freud has begun to shift this assumption, but the idea that mental phenomena arise in dependence on conditions is not one that has yet penetrated deeply into popular thinking. It is there in Buddhism, however, in this teaching of chitta-niyama, the law of cause and effect as operative in the world of mind - and we may say that it is a concept which corresponds to the modern science of psychology.

Fourthly: kamma-niyama. Kamma (Pali) is of course more popularly known in its Sanskrit form, karma, and it means `action', but in the sense of deliberately willed action. So it is traditionally, and paradoxically, said sometimes that karma is equivalent to chetana (volitional consciousness), that is that action equals volition: `for as soon as volition arises, one does the action, whether by body, speech, or mind.' Kamma-niyama therefore pertains to the world of ethical responsibility; it is the principle of conditionality operative on the moral plane.

…In Buddhism there is a [moral] law but no lawgiver, and no one who administers the law. I have heard Christian missionaries arguing with Buddhists and insisting that if you believe in a law, there must be a lawgiver - but of course this is quite specious. After all, there is a law of gravity, but there isn't a god of gravity pushing and pulling things. The law of gravity is just a generalised description of what happens when objects fall. In the same way we don't have a god of heredity, or a god of sexual selection. These things just happen; they work themselves.

It is much the same on the moral plane, according to Buddhism. The law administers itself, so to speak. Good karma naturally results in happiness, and bad karma naturally results in misery. There is no need for anybody else to come along, look at what you've done, and then fit the punishment or the reward to the deed. It happens of its own accord. `Good' and `bad' are built into the structure of the universe. This might sound dreadfully anthropomorphic - and we are putting it rather crudely here - but what it really means is that from the Buddhist point of view the universe is an ethical universe. Putting it more precisely, the universe functions according to conditionality, and this operates at the karmic level in a way which we could describe as ethical, in that it conserves ethical values. This is kamma-niyama.

The fifth and last niyama is dhamma-niyama. Dhamma (dharma in Sanskrit), which is a word with a number of different possible applications, here means simply spiritual or transcendental as opposed to mundane. So the principle of conditionality operates on this level too… The first four niyamas, including kamma-niyama, are all types of conditionality in the cyclical sense, in the sense of action and reaction between pairs of opposites. But dhamma-niyama corresponds to the spiral type of conditionality. As such it constitutes the sum total of the spiritual laws which govern progress through the stages of the Buddhist path.

What happens to us may be a result of physical, biological, psychological, ethical, or spiritual factors. In all likelihood, it will involve a complex combination of factors, bringing several of the niyamas into play.

[Sangharakshita, ‘Who is the Buddha?’]

Buddhist teachings deriving from Pratitya Samutpada

Thus we can begin to see the far-reaching application of the Buddha’s insight into Pratitya Samutpada. But before we go on to consider how it may be applied to the environmental issues of our time, we must see how many of the better-known teachings of Buddhism are directly derived from it.

Impermanence, insubstantiality, and emptiness – and unsatisfactoriness

Because all things arise in dependence upon conditions, they exist only so long as the conditions which support them exist. When the conditions change, they change. Thus all things are impermanent. Further, we may ask "what - actually - IS a ‘thing’ anyway?" and quickly realise that in truth, because of Pratitya Samutpada, nothing exists which we may call a solid, stable, and unchanging ‘thing’. What may look solid, stable, and unchanging is simply a temporary nexus of conditions, fluid and ephemeral, a phenomena rather than an object. Thus we are led to the great Buddhist teaching of the insubstantiality of all phenomena. Later Buddhist traditions spoke of the emptiness of all phenomena, likening them to such things as a dream. As the Diamond Sutra declares:

As stars, a fault of vision, as a lamp
A mock show, dew drops, or a bubble,
A dream, a lightening flash, or a cloud,
So we should view what is conditioned.

This is the perspective of Sunyata, or emptiness. Although things certainly do exist in some sense, and their interactions certainly produce tangible consequences in the world around us, it is a grave mistake to see things as solid, stable, and unchanging. Thus they cannot be reliable and lasting sources of support or pleasure for us: everything is, at least in the deepest sense, unsatisfactory. These three qualities – impermanence, insubstantiality, and unsatisfactoriness – are known as the Three Laksanas, or the Three Marks of conditioned existence. Thus all the central and best-known teachings of Buddhism emerge directly from Pratitya Samutpada. Pratitya Samutpada can be seen as the most concise and penetrating description possible of the way things actually are: this is how the universe and everything in it actually works: everything arises in dependence upon conditions, and ceases when the conditions that support it cease to be.

The above insights have been taken by some as constituting a pessimistic perspective on the world. Indeed in its early years in the West Buddhism acquired something of a reputation for being world-denying. In fact they are deeply liberating. After all, if nothing truly exists, what is there to be afraid of? If one truly knows that all things are impermanent and subject to change, one is free - as Blake says, to "kiss the joy as it flies" yet not suffer the pains of attachment. Knowledge of our own mortality frees us to live life to the full, in the precious moment of the present, free from fear, free from greed, and free from hate. Pratitya Samutpada is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, it is simply true, ‘that which is the case’. Buddhism’s true perspective is one of engaging whole-heartedly with the world and with all living beings.

The ‘Middle Way’ of Buddhism

Philosophically, Pratitya Samutpada enables Buddhism to steer its famous ‘middle way’ between the extremes of eternalism and nihilism. It is not that things exist, nor that they do not: it is simply that all phenomena are perpetually in a process of becoming. A traditional analogy for this is the form that appears from the water at the top of a fountain.

Because ALL phenomena whatsoever fall under the sway of Pratitya Samutpada, the spiritual path does not consist in seeking some escape from the world around us into some divine and eternal heaven-world. In a very real sense there is nowhere else to go; true happiness, or Enlightenment, if it is to be found anywhere, must be sought and found in the here and now. Chinese and Japanese Buddhist-inspired poetry makes this point again and again. As the Zenrin says:

Nothing whatever is hidden;
From of old, all is clear as daylight.
The old pine tree speaks divine wisdom;
The secret bird manifests eternal truth.

Mountains and rivers, the whole earth, -
All manifest forth the essence of being.
The voice of the mountain torrent is from one great tongue;
The lines of the hills, are they not the Pure Body of Buddha?

For Buddhism, the world with all its impermanence and unsatisfactoriness is called the ocean of Samsara, and it is sometimes said that Samsara is Nirvana; the difference between the two being essentially in the quality and accuracy of our perceptions rather than any physical location. If our minds are clouded by greed, hate, and delusion, we are caught in Samsara and suffer, if we are not, and instead are full of love, generosity, and wisdom, we may inhabit the same physical universe and yet be blissfully free.

Everything around us manifests Pratitya Samutpada; everything can become our teacher. Quoting the Zenrin again,

Taking up one blade of grass,
Use it as a sixteen-foot golden Buddha.

Especially, we can take our experiences of unsatisfactoriness as teachings: they are sure signs that we are in some way out of harmony with the truth of Pratitya Samutpada.

Interconnectedness and compassion

Because all phenomena arise in dependence upon conditions, in other words upon influences ‘outside’ of them, and they in turn upon other conditions, we can see that all things are inextricably interconnected. Our lives and those of all beings are connected as in a giant web spread right across the planet and indeed beyond. Not only that, it is impossible to have a notion of us as being ultimately ‘different’ or separate from anything else. We are all made of the same stuff, all subject to the same natural processes, all in the same ‘existential boat’, and realising this, we will naturally feel compassion towards all other life and forms of life. As the Buddha sings in the Karaniya Metta Sutta:

May everything that lives be well!
weak or strong, large or small,
seen or unseen, here or elsewhere,
present or to come, in heights or depths,
may all be well!
Have that mind for all the world,
get rid of lies and pride,
a mother's mind for her baby,
her love, but now unbounded.

It may be relatively easy to assent intellectually to this, but it is really SEEING it that gives birth to compassion and a realisation that one cannot live for oneself alone. The Buddha sought enlightenment for the sake of all beings - as do we. The spiritual life is not an escape, but a deeper and deeper connectedness with others. This process culminates in the vow of the Bodhisattva to pursue the spiritual path and attain enlightenment "for the sake of all beings".

Just as earth and the other elements
Are profitable in many ways
To the immeasurable beings throughout space,
So may I
Be sustenance of many kinds
For the realm of beings throughout space,
Until all have attained release.

[Shantideva, ‘Bodhicaryavatara’]

Ethics, faith, and the spiritual path

Buddhism’s perspective is a deeply optimistic one. Because nothing whatever is ultimately fixed, change is possible. Everything is open, unbounded, within our grasp – and within the grasp of anyone who chooses to make the necessary efforts. If the appropriate conditions are put in place, anything can happen. Looked at from one point of view, the truth of impermanence spells the end of all we love: looked at from another, the possible fulfilment of our highest ideals and deepest dreams. The responsibility is ours alone. In particular, there is no God, no supreme being above us and immune to this law. We are so to speak alone and fully responsible for our destiny. There is no-one up there to save us or to damn us. We save or damn ourselves.

Furthermore, things do not arise at random: the universe obeys certain specific natural laws, familiar to us from the disciplines of physics, astronomy, biology, psychology, and so on - and, of course, the spiritual life itself. These have already been described as the Niyamas. If we want good to come of our actions we need as far as possible to educate ourselves in the details of these laws. There is no place in Buddhism for sentimental but misguided good intentions. Buddhism speaks of skilful action rather than good intentions. The spiritual and ethical life is underpinned because things do not arise at random: faith in the spiritual path comes from faith in Pratitya Samutpada and from our personal observation and experience of this. The Buddha taught that "actions have consequences" and more specifically, that "skilful actions have skilful consequences, unskilful actions, unskilful consequences". Thus it can be said that we live in an ethical universe, in that the eventual efficacy of ethical action is guaranteed by Pratitya Samutpada. The consequences of actions are inescapable, and hence there is no room in Buddhism for inaction: non-action is itself an action, and consequences will flow from it as much as from an action. Buddhism therefore invites us to reflect upon the urgency of our situation and to generate great energy for our practice. Actions have consequences, and appropriate consequences at that. If we wish to live well we have to learn how to act well. Our actions must be skilful actions: actions born of mastery and competence, and Buddhism teaches that rather than attempt to follow commandments of right and wrong we should become skilled, whereupon we will be able to make our own wise decisions in the complex affairs of life. This applies in all spheres of life: ethical, psychological, scientific, medical. Buddhism is about becoming more conscious, becoming clearer and clearer about WHAT actions will have WHAT consequences: and having the strength to choose the Good. It is a path of discipline and practice with no room for superstition or mumbo-jumbo.

First we do this by consciously acquiring new good habits - then, slowly, trusting them as they come more and more naturally, more easily. Like a dancer, we are awkward and self-conscious at first, painfully applying what seem unnatural discipline to our unruly natures, but ultimately, after the years of training are over and we have mastered our art, free, spontaneous, and beautiful.

Buddhism recognises that the world is so complex that we cannot possibly predict the precise outcomes of our actions in any quasi-scientific way: we cannot foresee the future. The Buddha therefore recommended a set of basic ethical precepts for his followers, the foremost of these being the principle of non-violence or ahimsa. Violence is, after all, the ultimate denial of our interconnectedness, the furthest remove from acting in harmony with reality. These give us as it were our best chance for our actions to have good consequences given the infinite complexity of the real world. In environmental discourse they could be extended to such notions as the precautionary principle. They are not rules or commandments but guiding principles, and we retain the responsibility for deciding how best to put them into practice in the many dilemmas of everyday life. However without awareness we will have no chance of acting skilfully, and Buddhism asks us again and again to be aware at all times. Many Buddhist meditations, such as the Mindfulness of Breathing (Anapanasati) are directly designed to train us in constant awareness. At the same time our awareness must be motivated by a friendly interest and concern for ours and others well-being; this is the Buddhist practice of loving-kindness, perhaps a prefiguration of compassion and more immediately within our grasp.

Thus Buddhism properly teaches an engagement with the everyday world. Through our actions we create the world in which we live, through our actions we may purify ourselves, free ourselves of our delusions and make ourselves able to truly act for the welfare of all beings. Indeed Buddhism speaks of our duty to do so, and of duties in general rather than rights. As Sangharakshita eloquently says,

Buddhism, being based upon the realisation of emptiness, upon egolessness, upon unselfishness, teaches the doctrine of the mutual interpenetration of all things, inculcates the practice of love and compassion, exhorts men and women to perform their duties in every walk of life, and therefore tends naturally towards the ultimate establishment of peace, both in the hearts and minds of men and in the world of events outside us. Western political systems, on the contrary, however different or even antagonistic they may outwardly seem, are all based upon the concept, ultimately of dogmatic Christian origin, of the existence of separate, mutually exclusive ego-entities which are socially, politically, and even spiritually valuable and significant in themselves. All such systems therefore justify hatred and excuse violence, all insist on the intrinsic reasonableness of clamorous agitation for rights, and all therefore, without exception - despite emphatic protestations to the contrary - result in the eventual outbreak of war, both in the individual psyche and in the life of societies and nations. Emptiness, egolessness, the performance of duties, and internal and external peace and harmony, are members of the same Nirvanic series, just as egotism, individualism, the claiming of rights, and external violence and warfare are the indissoluble links of the same Samsaric chain.

[Sangharakshita, 'Crossing the Stream']

Environmental implications of Pratitya Samutpada

We have covered a lot of ground, and are now ready to explore how Pratitya Samutpada might be applied to the environmental issues of our day. We have seen that Pratitya Samutpada constituted the definitive insight of the Buddha and the foundation for all subsequent Buddhist teaching and practice. We have seen that from it come the perspectives of impermanence, insubstantiality, emptiness, unsatisfactoriness, inner freedom and outer engagement, compassion, inter-connectedness, the Middle Way, and faith – among others!; and Buddhism’s practices of awareness, loving-kindness, ethical precepts, and a recognition of the need to consciously train and educate ourselves in skilful action.

Much of the above has immediate value for an environmentalist. If we and others were able to imbibe and embody an insight into Pratitya Samutpada, our lives and works would naturally, even spontaneously, become far more sensitive, far more concerned to act skilfully and to mitigate the suffering of others. We would also become far humbler, more aware of the infinite complexity of the interconnected web of cause and effect that is the biosphere. In everyday life, vegetarianism and the leading of a materially simpler life are two immediate changes that might be expected. We would also see the need to train ourselves to become aware, to know that actions have consequences and specifically to know what actions may have what consequences. In today’s global village so many consequences of our actions are far away and out of sight: but we need to become aware of them nonetheless. Things are not just packets on supermarket shelves: purchasing different brands of coffee, or choosing herbal tea instead, will set off trains of consequences that may spread out in quite different directions across the world, encouraging as they do so in one case benign, in another destructive, patterns of action.

We will also recognise that it is impossible to separate self and other, and therefore, that our work must include work upon ourselves as much as upon the world. If we do not do this we run the danger of ‘burnout’ and relapse into frustration and cynicism, not to mention all the harm we can do while attempting to help from a standpoint of confusion. The Buddhist may leave the world for a while, but only to return to it once purified. Our life and work needs to be based upon personal spiritual insight and practice, and needs to be sustainable, requiring us to judiciously balance the needs of self and other.

It may sound callous, but an awareness of the ultimate impermanence and insubstantiality of all beings brings great equanimity. It is a bigger picture in which we may act whole-heartedly and with great compassion for the sake of all beings, yet remain ultimately unaffected by success or failure, knowing that all that lives will die eventually, including ourselves, knowing that the Wheel of Samsara revolves eternally, that whole universes are perpetually coming into existence and going out of existence – and that in this vast panorama,

Wise Bodhisattvas, coursing thus, reflect on non-production,
And yet, while doing so, engender in themselves the great compassion,
Which is however free from any notion of a being.
Thereby they practise wisdom, the highest perfection.
But when the notion of suffering and beings leads them to think:

'Suffering I shall remove, the weal of the world I shall work!'

Beings are then imagined, a self is imagined, -
The practice of wisdom, the highest perfection, is lacking.


It is sometimes said that the Bodhisattva, the being ‘bent upon Enlightenment’, "vows to save all beings while knowing there are no beings to save". From a common-sense viewpoint this is nonsense, from an Enlightened one, liberation into total activity.


In conclusion, many pointers have been given above as to the attitudes we may adopt in seeking to live in harmony with Pratitya Samutpada. More specifically, perhaps we will want to know how to go about deciding exactly what to do in any situation. This must be a mixture of educating ourselves so that we can make informed choices, purifying ourselves so that we are not swept blindly along by our appetites, and adopting for the time being appropriate and wise precepts, in the absence of our own insight or specific knowledge. Elsewhere in this website we offer five ‘Eco-Precepts’ and many examples of specific environmental initiatives taken by one Buddhist community, the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. Difficult decisions will always be there; and painful choices to make: but if we can cultivate awareness, deep loving-kindness, specific knowledge, and the self-discipline to follow a regular path of practice and action, we will surely change this world and ourselves for the better.

December 2001, Bor Dharan retreat centre, Nagpur, India

Pratītya Samutpāda

The concept of Pratitya Samutpada or dependent origination is common to all schools of Buddhism and is a fundamental cornerstone of the Buddha’s teaching. In short, it states that all phenomena arise together in a mutually interdependent web of cause and effect. A Wikipedia entry describes it as follows: 

“A human being's existence in any given moment is dependent on the condition of everything else in the world at that moment, but in an equally significant way, the condition of everything in the world in that moment depends conversely on the character and condition of that human being. This sounds as though it is unbelievably complex and indeed it is”. 

The Buddha described it more pragmatically:

When this is, that is.
From the arising of this comes the arising of that.
When this isn't, that isn't.
From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that.

They say that the best way to eat an elephant is a little bit at a time, so maybe we could start by nibbling at one tiny corner of this massive cardinal doctrine. The Buddha urged us to test his teachings in the light of our own experience and I have always taken this advice to heart. If I can see the truth of a concept represented in my own life and in the world around me, I find it much easier to understand. So here’s an example of something that seemed relatively insignificant at the time but because of dependant origination, it changed my past, my present and my future.

I joined the RAF in my late teens. I loved the life but was not too keen on my job as an RAF Policeman. I was due to be released at the end of my enlistment period but felt inclined to stay on if I could change my trade to something more interesting. The RAF had just introduced a new flying trade of Air Quarter Master. I met the criteria so I applied. I was then advised that all applicants must have a minimum of 9 years unexpired service. As I was at the point of being released, I would have to sign up for the full term. However, if I failed the selection process or did not complete the training, I would have to serve out the 9 years as a policeman. I quickly withdrew my application and was released a few weeks later.

I decided against returning to my home town of Ealing and settled in Bristol. Here I met new friends including Bob, a jazz musician and sandwich bar owner,

Meanwhile, unbeknown to me, another story was unfolding. Two teenage girls, Jan and Mandy, had become close friends at school in Bristol. They were now both working and decided to take a holiday together. It would be their first time abroad and they eagerly poured over the holiday brochures. They chose a reasonably priced 10 day holiday in Menorca in the Spanish Balearic Islands.

The adventure was everything they hoped it would be and Mandy had the bonus of a holiday romance with Jose, a handsome Spanish waiter. Unlike most holiday romances this one endured. Mandy and Jose continued to write to each other. Eventually Jose saved enough to fly to Bristol to find Mandy and seek employment. They married and returned to Menorca together where they started a family. Jan would fly out to visit them as often as she could. Eventually Jan also married but her husband wasn’t keen on foreign holidays, but she still kept in contact with Mandy and Jose as best she could.

Tragedy struck and Jan’s husband was killed in a motoring accident. Some years later she bumped into my friend Bob in a jazz club. They fell in love, married and had a honeymoon in Menorca with Mandy and Jose. Bob loved the island and couldn’t wait to move out and start a business there. Naturally I was keen to visit Bob and took my new partner Chrissie with me. She too was enchanted by the island and we agreed to sell up and emigrate there.

Chrissie’s son Will came with us, went to a local Spanish school and on to Art College. Years later, when Chrissie and I moved away from the island, he decided to stay behind. Today he works in one of the island’s big tourist attractions, Los Covas den Xoroi, a night club situated in caves set high in the side of a massive cliff face. His partner is pregnant and in a few months Chrissie and I will have a grandchild who will be part Spanish. I doubt that they will every wish to live in the UK so we will have a family line stretching far into the future and linked to this small Mediterranean island.

Had the RAF not imposed the 9 year rule, I would have stayed on as an Air Quarter Master, living an entirely different life flying around the world taking supplies to air bases. I would never have met Bob or known anything about Jan, Mandy or Jose. I would not have met my wife Chrissie or lived in Menorca. I would not have had a stepson called Will or a Spanish grandchild. My past, present and future turned on a simple decision to return to civilian life. 

Through our own experience we are able to understand and appreciate the amazingly complex web of cause and effect that connects us all. Today it is considered to be new science and ‘the butterfly effect’ is often used as a metaphor. 2,500 years ago in Northern India a fully enlightened Buddha understood it all perfectly. He called it Pratītya Samutpāda.

No Soul Theory in Buddhism

The Buddhist no-soul theory

One of the major and distinctive theses of Buddhism is the theory of “no-soul” – (or anatta in Pali, anatman in Sanskrit). This is part of a larger thesis that nothing has a real essence, the individual soul or self being here conceived as a special case of the concept of essence, i.e. as the essence of a person.

The Buddhist no essences doctrine arose in reaction to a thesis, labeled “Eternalism”, which was apparently normative in Indian philosophy at the time, that ‘things’ consist of eternal, unchanging ‘essences’, substantial and causally independent entities. Similarly, with regard to the special case of souls.

The Buddhist no essences doctrine was based on the assumption that the belief in such “essences”, including in particular the belief in souls (as the essences of our bodily and mental existences), is the root cause of our imprisonment in samsara (i.e. our fundamental ignorance and suffering), so that its abandonment would put us in nirvana (i.e. enlighten and liberate us).

There has been a theory very similar to Eternalism in Western philosophy, namely the “Monadology” of Gottfried Liebniz. This was of course an extremist ontological idea, due to a simplistic reading of predication as stating that the predicate is literally “contained in” the subject. That is, that whatever is predicable of anything must be “part of its nature”, and therefore inextricably intrinsic and peculiar to it – so that the world is composed of a multiplicity of eternal substances each of which is an island onto itself.

Opposite such inaccurate philosophy, the Buddhist counter-theory would indeed prima facie appear to be a laudable improvement. But, I submit, the Eternalist theory serves Buddhism as a convenient philosophical ‘red herring’. It is surely not the commonsense or scientific worldview (which are effectively ignored by Buddhism); and the Buddhist rebuttal constitutes another extremist position (in the opposite direction), which altogether denies the reality of any essences by allegedly reducing everything in the world to an infinite crisscross of mutual dependencies (the co-dependence or interdependence theory).

Although Buddhists would protest that their thesis is not the opposite extreme, viz. Nihilism, but a middle way between those two extremes, it is hard to see how we might reasonably not judge it as an extreme view. It is true that there are two, nay three, Buddhist positions in this context. One, attributed to the Theravada branch, of ultimately a total void (extinction in meditation); another, attributed to the mainstream Mahayana branch, of an ultimate original ground (an underlying universal spiritual substance of sorts, albeit one piously declared ‘void’ or ‘empty’); and a third, claimed by Zen adepts, of neither this nor that, i.e. fence-sitting between the previous two positions (hence, more ‘middle way’ than them).

Of these three, the said mainstream Mahayana option would seem the least Nihilistic, in that it admits of some sort of real existence – viz. the existence of the “original ground”. Logically, however, this Monist thesis (to which I personally tend to adhere) should logically be classed as an Eternalist philosophy of sorts, since the original ground is beyond impermanence. Impermanent appearances continuously bubble forth from it, but it is everywhere and ever one and the same calm fullness. Thus, the other two Buddhist theses, which are more clearly anti-Eternalist, can reasonably be viewed as Nihilist rather than middle way.

The commonsense view (to which most of us adhere, consciously or not) is rather noncommittal on such issues. It is truly a middle way, without prejudice. It does not draw any such general conclusions offhand. It neither reduces everything to independent substances nor reduces everything to mutually dependent non-substances, but remains open to there being perhaps a bit of both these extreme scenarios present in the real world, and other options besides. At a more scientific level, this common view becomes the “laws of nature” approach – the idea that there are various degrees of being and forms of dependencies, which (in the physical domain, at least, and possibly in the mental domain to some extent) are best expressed through quantitative formulas.

In such ordinary viewpoint, there seems to be some concrete ‘substance(s)’ in the world, but not everything is reducible to this concept. Furthermore, substantial things need not be individually permanent, but change is possible from one form to another. However, Physics does assume as one of its basic premises a law of conservation of matter and energy – i.e. that the total quantity of physical substance is constant. Moreover, that which is impermanent lasts for a while. Things that exist must exist for some time (some more, some less) – they cannot logically be so impermanent as to “exist” for no time at all.

Anyway, the concept of essence is certainly not, in our commonplace view, equated to that of substance. Essences are rarely substances, but usually structures or processes that seem to be generally and exclusively present in the phenomena at hand, and so are used to define them. Essences are usually abstractions, i.e. rational insights or concepts, rather than concrete percepts or objects of perception. Abstraction claims validity of insight without claiming to be literally within reality; though it depends on a Subject to occur, it in principle correctly interprets the Object. One cannot deny abstraction as such without resorting to abstractions – so such a skeptical position would be logically untenable.

In the Buddhist view, in contradistinction, the apparent or alleged essences of things are conventional, or even purely nominal, and souls are no exceptions to this rule. By “conventional” (and all the more so by “nominal”) is here meant that we, the people who believe in essences or souls, project this idea onto reality, whereas reality has in fact no such thing in it. In Buddhist epistemology, people ordinarily use their mind conventionally (or under the bad influence of words) in this manner, projecting onto reality things that are absent in it.

How (we may ask) do we know that reality is not as it appears to the ordinary mind? We know this, according to this theory, through enlightened consciousness. Thus, Buddhist epistemology, while invalidating ordinary consciousness, affirms the optimistic idea that we can transcend it and see things as they are. This can, incidentally, be compared and contrasted to Kantian epistemology, which likewise claims our phenomenal knowledge to be imperfect, but distinctively puts the perfection of ‘noumenal’ knowledge beyond our reach. While this theory of Immanuel Kant’s is inconsistent with itself, the Buddhist theory is not so in that respect.

Still, note well the difference between ordinary ‘abstractionism’ and Buddhist conventionalism or nominalism. For the Buddhists, as in Kant, our minds invent abstractions without any objective support; whereas in ordinary rational epistemology, abstraction is an act of rational insight – i.e. it does record something objective, which is not a pure figment of the imagination.

In addition to the said epistemological explanation or rationalization of its no-soul thesis, Buddhist philosophers propose various ontological claims and arguments. According to them, all things, including apparent souls, lack essence, because they are impermanent and discontinuous. They say this can be readily observed, and that in any case it can be logically argued – as well as being evident to anyone who is enlightened.

With regard to observation, they claim (much like David Hume later) to have looked for a soul everywhere within themselves and never found one. The soul is therefore (to them) an illusion of conventionally minded people – who are deluded by their ego (bodily and mental appearances of selfhood) into believing that there is something (i.e. someone) at the center of all their experience and thought.

But we must note that this is of course not a pure observation of an absence of soul, but a generalization from a number of failures to positively observe a soul. The generalization of negation could be right, but it does not have quite the same epistemological status as a positive observation. There is nothing empirically or logically necessary about the no-soul claim. At least, not from the point of view of an unenlightened person; and it is hard to see how an enlightened person could avoid equal reliance on generalization.

Moreover, we can fault their inference and larger argument by pointing out that it is absurd to look for the soul in the phenomenal realm (i.e. with reference to perceived sensible qualities, like sights, sounds, odors, savors, tactile feelings, whether mental or physical), if the soul happens to be a non-phenomenal entity (something intuited, which has in itself no phenomenal aspects).

It is worth additionally clarifying that, though our soul is a non-material, spiritual substance at the center of a multitude of mental and physical phenomena, it is not their “essence” or defining character. Our soul is “us”, our self – the subject of our cognitions and agent of our volitions and valuations. It is an intellectual error to try and identify us with things that are only associated with us. We are not one with or part of our minds and/or bodies, but something beyond them, though in their midst, cognizing and interacting with them in various ways.

With regard to impermanence, Buddhists apparently consider that, since our soul always has an apparent beginning (our birth) and end (our death), it is necessarily illusory. In their view – reflecting the general assumption, it seems, of ancient Indian philosophy, what is temporary (or passing) is necessarily illusory; only the permanent (or eternal) is real. Moreover, in their view, nothing is eternal – by which they mean, surely, that nothing phenomenal is eternal; for they certainly believe in the eternity of enlightenment or of the underlying “nature of mind” or “ground of all being” – even if they affirm this universal substratum to be ultimately “empty”.

But this viewpoint can be contested. To be real is to be a fact, i.e. to occur or have occurred. How long or short this fact is or was or will be is surely irrelevant to its status as a fact. An illusion is something that is or was thought to be but is not or was not. To identify reality with eternity and illusion with impermanence is to confuse two separate issues. I have never come across a convincing argument why such equations ought to be made. Surely, one can imagine eternal illusions and transient realities. Thus, we should consider that the issue of the soul’s persistence, i.e. whether the soul is eternal or as short-lived as the body and mind evidently are, has nothing to do with its reality or illusion.

The Buddhist argument against the soul also appeals to the general idea of discontinuity, i.e. the idea that everything changes all the time, and so nothing can ever be pointed to as “one and the same thing” from one moment to the next. This idea is presented as an observation – but it is clearly a mere hypothesis, an abstraction extrapolated from an observation. Given the observed fact of change, one can equally well suppose that some sort of continuity underlies pairs of moments. Since all we actually experience are the successive moments, the issue as to whether some residue of each moment is to be found in the next is open to debate. Thus, to speak of discontinuity is already to assume something beyond observation.

Furthermore, even given a seeming discontinuity, we cannot draw a definite conclusion that there really is discontinuity – let alone that this is true in all cases. Discontinuity is an abstraction from experience; it is not a pure object of experience. Additionally, the concept of universal discontinuity remains always somewhat open to doubt, because it is an inductive assumption – at best, a mere generalization. Moreover, the internal consistency of this concept is unsure, since it implies a permanence of discontinuity across time. That is, if we regard abstraction as necessarily implying some sort of continuity (whether of the object or of the subject), the concept of discontinuity is self-contradictory when taken to an extreme.

This insight is especially pertinent in the case of the soul, which is here both subject and object. We could not possibly claim to know for a fact that the soul is discontinuous (i.e. a succession of discrete momentary souls), because such a statement claims for the soul to the ability to transcend discontinuity sufficiently to see that the soul is discontinuous. That is to say, to make such a claim, the soul (as subject) must be present in the time straddling two or more of its alleged merely momentary instances or segments (i.e. the soul as object). This is clearly a self-contradiction. Thus, the Buddhist argument in favor of the thesis that the soul is non-existent does not survive serious logical scrutiny.

Another Buddhist claim regarding the soul is that it is subject to “dependent origination” or “conditioning” – i.e. that its actual existence, as a unit of being, as a fact – is impossible in isolation, is only possible in relation to all other things (which are themselves similarly interdependent). However, this theory – that everything in the universe could only exist in the presence of everything else in the universe, and that a smaller universe (holding just one of those things, or some but not all of them) is inconceivable – is just a speculation; it is not proved in any way.

Moreover, we could again ask whether this theory is consistent with itself. If it is, like all sublunary things, something dependent or conditioned – and it surely is so, notably with reference to human experience and thought – how can it be claimed as a universal and eternal truth? Any claim that the relative is absolute seems paradoxical and open to doubt. There has to be something absolute to anchor the relative on. To claim everything dependent on everything else and vice versa is still to claim this big soup of interdependent things to be an independent thing. And if this in turn is not an irreducible fact, something else must be. There is no way to be an absolute relativist!

The belief that something can be “both A and not-A”, or “neither A nor not-A”, seems to be the essence of all mysticism (in the pejorative sense). The claim to make no claim is itself a claim – there is no escape from this logic. To claim that everything is illusory is to claim this as a fact – i.e. as something that is not illusory. To claim there is nothing, no person, at the core of our being might seem superficially at first sight logically possible, i.e. not self-contradictory – until we ask just who is making the claim and to whom it is addressed. Inanimate objects are not concerned with such issues. A non-self can neither be deluded nor realize its delusion. Any occurrence of cognition, valuation or volition implies a self.

Four Noble Truths of Buddha

The Four Noble Truths

1. Life means suffering.

2. The origin of suffering is attachment.

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.

4. The path to the cessation of suffering.

1. Life means suffering.

To live means to suffer, because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Although there are different degrees of suffering and there are also positive experiences in life that we perceive as the opposite of suffering, such as ease, comfort and happiness, life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to keep permanently what we strive for, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too.

2. The origin of suffering is attachment.

The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and -in a greater sense- all objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. Objects of attachment also include the idea of a "self" which is a delusion, because there is no abiding self. What we call "self" is just an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe.

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.

The cessation of suffering can be attained through nirodha. Nirodha means the unmaking of sensual craving and conceptual attachment. The third noble truth expresses the idea that suffering can be ended by attaining dispassion. Nirodha extinguishes all forms of clinging and attachment. This means that suffering can be overcome through human activity, simply by removing the cause of suffering. Attaining and perfecting dispassion is a process of many levels that ultimately results in the state of Nirvana. Nirvana means freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas. Nirvana is not comprehensible for those who have not attained it.

4. The path to the cessation of suffering.

There is a path to the end of suffering - a gradual path of self-improvement, which is described more detailed in the Eightfold Path. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism); and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth. The latter quality discerns it from other paths which are merely "wandering on the wheel of becoming", because these do not have a final object. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance, delusions, and its effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made on the path.

The Buddha's 4 Noble Truths

Right now there is a unique emphasis upon light and enlightenment, everywhere. The revival in western civilization of Buddha's ancient teachings reflects this truth. Countless millions down the ages have recognized the Buddha as the symbol of enlightenment, the Light Bearer from on High.

The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths expose the causes of human trouble and include the cure, the Noble Eightfold Path, which is the Path of Right Human Relations. Humanity is learning these lessons and taking its first steps along the Lighted Way of Right Relations.

Those who seek the path to enlightenment must first remove all ego pride and humbly be willing to accept the light of Truth. All the treasures of the world, all its gold, silver and honors, are not to be compared with wisdom and virtue. To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind.

Anyone who can control the mind can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come. Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.

1. Suffering

Suffering and frustration come from our difficulty in facing the basic fact of life that everything around us is impermanent and transitory. Rich or poor, average or gifted, all life is subjected to the following: the trauma of birth, the pathology of sickness, the fear of physical and mental degeneration, the phobia of death, karmically to be tied to what one distastes, or to be separated from what one loves. "All things must arise and pass away."

2. Desire

The cause of suffering and frustration occurs because out of ignorance, we divide the perceived world into individual and separate things. The desire to pull apart from the rest of life and seek fulfillment for the separated self, at the expense of all other forms of life, causes suffering to the whole, as Life is One Being. Our duty to our brothers and sisters is to understand them as extensions, other aspects of ourselves, as fellow facets of the same reality.

3. Suffering and Frustration Can Be Ended

If the cause of life’s suffering is those inclinations which tend to continue or increase separativeness, in fact all forms of selfish craving, then its cure lies in the overcoming of such cravings. If we can be released from the narrow limits of self-interest into the vast expanse of universal life, we will be free of our torment.

The overcoming of desire is through substitution of the personal wants with divine inclinations.

4. The Eightfold Path to Enlightenment

The way out of our captivity is through the Eightfold Path to Enlightenment:
Right Understanding leads to Wisdom

Right Aspiration leads to Divine Inclination

Right Speech leads to Truth and Understanding

Right Behavior leads to Goodwill

Right Livelihood leads to Sharing

Right Effort leads to Highest Outcome

Right Mindfulness leads to Purposeful Living

Right Absorbtion leads to Unity

In these simple words Buddha teaches us to shine our light, and find peace.

What is the Noble Truth of Suffering? Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering: in short the five categories affected by clinging are suffering.

There is this Noble Truth of Suffering: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before.

This Noble Truth must be penetrated by fully understanding suffering: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before.

This Noble Truth has been penetrated by fully understanding suffering: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before.

[Samyutta Nikaya LVI, 11]

The First Noble Truth with its three aspects is: "There is suffering, dukkha. Dukkha should be understood. Dukkha has been understood."

This is a very skilful teaching because it is expressed in a simple formula which is easy to remember, and it also applies to everything that you can possibly experience or do or think concerning the past, the present or the future.

Suffering or dukkha is the common bond we all share. Everybody everywhere suffers. Human beings suffered in the past, in ancient India; they suffer in modern Britain; and in the future, human beings will also suffer. What do we have in common with Queen Elizabeth? - we suffer. With a tramp in Charing Cross, what do we have in common? - suffering. It includes all levels from the most privileged human beings to the most desperate and underprivileged ones, and all ranges in between. Everybody everywhere suffers. It is a bond we have with each other, something we all understand.

When we talk about our human suffering, it brings out our compassionate tendencies. But when we talk about our opinions, about what I think and what you think about politics and religion, then we can get into wars. I remember seeing a film in London about ten years ago. It tried to portray Russian people as human beings by showing Russian women with babies and Russian men taking their children out for picnics. At the time, this presentation of the Russian people was unusual because most of the propaganda of the West made them out to be titanic monsters or cold-hearted, reptilian people - and so you never thought of them as human beings. If you want to kill people, you have to make them out to be that way; you cannot very well kill somebody if you realise they suffer the way you do. You have to think that they are cold-hearted, immoral, worthless and bad, and that it is better to get rid of them. You have to think that they are evil and that it is good to get rid of evil. With this attitude, you might feel justified in bombing and machine-gunning them. If you keep in mind our common bond of suffering, that makes you quite incapable of doing those things.

The First Noble Truth is not a dismal metaphysical statement saying that everything is suffering. Notice that there is a difference between a metaphysical doctrine in which you are making a statement about The Absolute and a Noble Truth which is a reflection. A Noble Truth is a truth to reflect upon; it is not an absolute; it is not The Absolute. This is where Western people get very confused because they interpret this Noble Truth as a kind of metaphysical truth of Buddhism - but it was never meant to be that.

You can see that the First Noble Truth is not an absolute statement because of the Fourth Noble Truth, which is the way of non-suffering. You cannot have absolute suffering and then have a way out of it, can you? That doesn’t make sense. Yet some people will pick up on the First Noble Truth and say that the Buddha taught that everything is suffering.

The Pali word, dukkha, means "incapable of satisfying" or "not able to bear or withstand anything": always changing, incapable of truly fulfilling us or making us happy. The sensual world is like that, a vibration in nature. It would, in fact, be terrible if we did find satisfaction in the sensory world because then we wouldn’t search beyond it; we’d just be bound to it. However, as we awaken to this dukkha, we begin to find the way out so that we are no longer constantly trapped in sensory consciousness.

What is the Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering?

It is craving which renews being and is accompanied by relish and lust, relishing this and that: in other words, craving for sensual desires, craving for being, craving for non-being. But whereon does this craving arise and flourish? Wherever there is what seems lovable and gratifying, thereon it arises and flourishes.

There is this Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering:such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before.

This Noble Truth must be penetrated to by abandoning the origin of suffering....

This Noble Truth has been penetrated to by abandoning the origin of suffering: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before.

[Samyutta Nikaya LVI, 11]

The Second Noble Truth with its three aspects is: ‘There is the origin of suffering, which is attachment to desire. Desire should be let go of. Desire has been let go of.’

The Second Noble Truth states that there is an origin of suffering and that the origin of suffering is attachment to the three kinds of desire: desire for sense pleasure (kama tanha), desire to become (bhava tanha) and desire to get rid of (vibhava tanha). This is the statement of the Second Noble Truth, the thesis, the pariyatti. This is what you contemplate: the origin of suffering is attachment to desire.

What is the Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering? It is the remainderless fading and cessation of that same craving; the rejecting, relinquishing, leaving and renouncing of it. But whereon is this craving abandoned and made to cease? Wherever there is what seems lovable and gratifying, thereon it is abandoned and made to cease.

There is this Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before.

This Noble Truth must be penetrated to by realising the Cessation of Suffering....

This Noble Truth has been penetrated to by realising the Cessation of Suffering: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before.

[Samyutta Nikaya LVI, 11]

The Third Noble Truth with its three aspects is: ‘There is the cessation of suffering, of dukkha. The cessation of dukkha should be realised. The cessation of dukkha has been realised.’

The whole aim of the Buddhist teaching is to develop the reflective mind in order to let go of delusions. The Four Noble Truths is a teaching about letting go by investigating or looking into - contemplating: ‘Why is it like this? Why is it this way?’ It is good to ponder over things like why monks shave their heads or why Buddha-rupas look the way they do. We contemplate...the mind is not forming an opinion about whether these are good, bad, useful or useless. The mind is actually opening and considering. ‘What does this mean? What do the monks represent? Why do they carry alms bowls? Why can’t they have money? Why can’t they grow their own food? We contemplate how this way of living has sustained the tradition and allowed it to be handed down from its original founder, Gotama the Buddha, to the present time.

We reflect as we see suffering; as we see the nature of desire; as we recognise that attachment to desire is suffering. These insights can only come through reflection; they cannot come through belief. You cannot make yourself believe or realise an insight as a wilful act; through really contemplating and pondering these truths, the insights come to you. They come only through the mind being open and receptive to the teaching - blind belief is certainly not advised or expected of anyone. Instead, the mind should be willing to be receptive, pondering and considering.

This mental state is very important - it is the way out of suffering. It is not the mind which has fixed views and prejudices and thinks it knows it all or which just takes what other people say as being the truth. It is the mind that is open to these Four Noble Truths and can reflect upon something that we can see within our own mind.

People rarely realise non-suffering because it takes a special kind of willingness in order to ponder and investigate and get beyond the gross and the obvious. It takes a willingness to actually look at your own reactions, to be able to see the attachments and to contemplate: ‘What does attachment feel like?’

For example, do you feel happy or liberated by being attached to desire? Is it uplifting or depressing? These questions are for you to investigate. If you find out that being attached to your desires is liberating, then do that. Attach to all your desires and see what the result is.

In my practice, I have seen that attachment to my desires is suffering. There is no doubt about that. I can see how much suffering in my life has been caused by attachments to material things, ideas, attitudes or fears. I can see all kinds of unnecessary misery that I have caused myself through attachment because I did not know any better. I was brought up in America - the land of freedom. It promises the right to be happy, but what it really offers is the right to be attached to everything. America encourages you to try to be as happy as you can by getting things. However, if you are working with the Four Noble Truths, attachment is to be understood and contemplated; then the insight into non-attachment arises. This is not an intellectual stand or a command from your brain saying that you should not be attached; it is just a natural insight into non-attachment or non-suffering.

What is the Noble Truth of the Way Leading to the Cessation of Suffering? It is the Noble Eightfold Path, that is to say: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.

There is this Noble Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before....

This Noble Truth must be penetrated to by cultivating the Path....

This Noble Truth has been penetrated to by cultivating the Path: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before.

[Samyutta Nikaya LVI, 11]

The Fourth Noble Truth, like the first three, has three aspects. The first aspect is: ‘There is the Eightfold Path, the atthangika magga - the way out of suffering.’ It is also called the ariya magga, the Ariyan or Noble Path. The second aspect is: ‘This path should be developed.’ The final insight into arahantship is: ‘This path has been fully developed.’

The Eightfold Path is presented in a sequence: beginning with Right (or perfect) Understanding, samma ditthi, it goes to Right (or perfect) Intention or Aspiration, samma sankappa; these first two elements of the path are grouped together as Wisdom (panna). Moral commitment (sila) flows from panna; this covers Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood - also referred to as perfect speech, perfect action and perfect livelihood, samma vaca, samma kammanta and samma ajiva.

Then we have Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, samma vayama, samma sati and samma samadhi, which flow naturally from sila. These last three provide emotional balance. They are about the heart - the heart that is liberated from self-view and from selfishness. With Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, the heart is pure, free from taints and defilements. When the heart is pure, the mind is peaceful. Wisdom (panna), or Right Understanding and Right Aspiration, comes from a pure heart. This takes us back to where we started.

These, then, are the elements of the Eightfold Path, grouped in three sections:

1. Wisdom (panna)

Right Understanding (samma ditthi)
Right Aspiration (samma sankappa)

2. Morality (sila)

Right Speech (samma vaca)
Right Action (samma kammanta)
Right Livelihood (samma ajiva)

3. Concentration (samadhi)

Right Effort (samma vayama)
Right Mindfulness (samma sati)
Right Concentration (samma samadhi)

The fact that we list them in order does not mean that they happen in a linear way, in sequence - they arise together. We may talk about the Eightfold Path and say ‘First you have Right Understanding, then you have Right Aspiration, then....’ But actually, presented in this way, it simply teaches us to reflect upon the importance of taking responsibility for what we say and do in our lives.

Concept of Middle Path in Buddhism

Buddhism - The Middle Path  

Among all religions, Buddhism is one that has withdrawn itself from theistic thought. To understand why this is so, we need to know about the other religions in India during the Buddha’s time. During the period of the Vedas to the time of Upanishad, Brahmana influence was very extensive. The Brahmana believed in the mysterious creation of the universe. Theirs was a philosophy that believed in the existence of a time of cosmic origin. A god created mankind, and it was believed to be the origin of all things. It was called the God of Birth, the God of Prayer, the Brahman, or "I". Although the title for the creator varied over time, its implications were the same.

The Brahmana believed that the Brahman was the origin of the universe and of mankind. Spiritually, mankind had similar characteristics to the Mahabrahmanas, that was, a permanent, free, and happy "I" or ego. This was the nature of human life. This spiritual "I" of mankind was the same spirit as that in which adherents of the popular religions believed. The spirit had a close relationship with the god.

The Brahmana regarded the nature of the universe and of human life as permanent, free, and happy. In reality though, the Brahmanas knew that life in this world, be it normal activities, relationships in society, or even our own body and mind, always brings dissatisfaction. All phenomena are impermanent and constantly rising and falling, coming and going. Why did a permanent, free and happy existence create such an impermanent and uncomfortable world? This was the great contradiction. However, the Brahmana’s intelligence seems to have been deluded by their emotion. They ignored the contradiction, and only thought of ending their suffering in order to regain the permanently blissful state of the Brahman/god. Hence, the theory of liberation arose.

About the Buddha’s time, there was a great change in Indian thought and ideology. The culture of the Brahmana, which originated in north-west India near the Five Rivers, became most popular near the upper stream of the Ganges River, at a place called Kuru. When their ideas travelled east along the Ganges River, the eastern countries such as Magadha and Vashali, which were influenced by the culture of the West, opposed the teachings of the Brahmana. The old religions in Western India were shaken, and the new religions, with various groups of ascetics in Eastern India were very extreme, and this created many doubts among the people. During this transition period where the new Western and old Eastern ideologies met, the Buddha was born. He introduced a new religion to the era.

The Buddha incorporated the theories of rebirth and of liberation into his teachings. But the Buddha denied the Brahmana’s imaginative theistic theory, and set his own foundations upon an intelligent analysis of reality. He made a thorough change in both theory and practice from the old religions. Although the cycle of life and death, and the attainment of liberation in Nirvana were theories that were accepted by Indian society at that time, the problems lay in the questions of why was there rebirth and how could one be liberated. The Buddha gave wise answers to these questions. This was the teaching of the "Middle Path". The "Middle Path" distinguished the Buddha’s Teachings from other religions.

"Middle Path" may be misunderstood as equivocal. In fact Buddhism is not as such. "Middle" means neutral, upright, and centered. It means to investigate and penetrate the core of life and all things with an upright, unbiased attitude. In order to solve a problem, we should position ourselves on neutral, upright and unbiased ground. We investigate the problem from various angles, analyze the findings, understand the truth thoroughly, and find a reasonable conclusion.

The Middle Path in Buddhism does not mean having a biased view or superficial understanding only. The "Middle Path" represents a distinct theory and way of Buddhist practice that is not common to other religions. Buddhism is a religion with high moral values. It lays great emphasis on human thought and action in dealing with the natural environment, society or individual problems. It is concerned with the relationship between thoughts and behavior, and the relationship between behavior and its consequences.

By observing the activities of mankind in real life, the Buddha mastered the principles of human behavior. He then taught the two characteristics of the Middle Path: The Middle Path of Dependent Origination and the Noble Eightfold Path. The Law of Dependent Origination explains the process of human activity. The Noble Eightfold Path shows the way of practice that enables one to uplift oneself.

"The Tathagatha avoids the two extremes
and talks about the Middle Path.
What this is, that is; this arises, that arises.
Through ignorance volitional actions or karmic formations are conditioned.

Through birth, decay, death, lamentation, pain etc. are conditioned.
When this is not, that is not; this ceasing, that ceases.
hrough the complete cessation of ignorance, volitional activities or karmic formations cease.
Through the cessation of birth, death, decay, sorrow, etc. cease."

(Samyuktagama, Chapter 12)

"What this is, that is; this arising, that arises" is the principle of the Law of Dependent Origination; the Conditioned Genesis that says that, "Through ignorance volitional actions or karma-formations are conditioned" is the content of the Law of Dependent Origination.

The Law of Dependent Origination based on the Middle Path avoids attachment to the two extremes. This can be clearly seen in the Samyuktagama. Based on the Theory of Dependent Origination, in Chapter 12 the sutra says that "It is not one nor different". It also says that "It is not permanent nor discontinuous." In Chapter 13 it says, "It is not coming nor going." In chapter 7 it says, "It neither exists nor not exists." (This is the "Eighth Negation of the Middle Path" in the Madhyamika Sastra, an abstract from the Samyuktagama). The basic principle of the Law of Dependent Origination is, "What this is, that is; from this arising, that arises; when this is not, that is not; this ceasing, that ceases." It explains the creation, cessation and existence of all phenomena and all things.

How does human suffering happen? The Buddha said it is not something that happens without any cause. It also does not arise because of perverted causes created by a god or Brahmana. It has its own causes. All things exist in accordance with the Law of Cause and Effect. When there is a cause there will be an effect. When causes exist, effects exist. The rising and existence of things are determined by causes and conditions. This is why the Buddha says "what this is (cause), that is (effect); this arising, that arises". This is the Circulation Process of the Law of Dependent Origination. It explains the existence of worldly phenomena.

We may also see this formula in its reverse order. According to the Law of Dependent Origination, in order to end suffering, we must stop its causes. Thus, "When this is not, that is not; this ceasing, that ceases." When there is a cause there will be an effect; when there is perverted thought, there will be wrong behavior, and this will certainly result in evil consequences, i.e. sufferings. On the contrary, when there is no cause, there will be no effect. Once the perverted thought is corrected, wrong behavior will stop and sufferings will also cease.

All things arise due to causes and conditions. As causes and conditions are impermanent and will cease one day, all things will also cease correspondingly. When there is rising, there will be falling; when there is existence, there will be extinction. The rising and existence of things has its natural tendency towards cessation and extinction. It is like a wave; it comes and goes. Thus, when one sees the truth of "what this is, that is; this arising, that arises", one should also see the truth of "when this is not, that is not; this ceasing, that ceases". The Law of Dependent Origination pointed out the possibility of ending worldly suffering. It shows the way of liberation that corresponds to the Law of Cause and Effect.

"When one is born, one will die.
One who admires high status will fall one day."

This is the natural Law of Cause and Effect. It is also an inner implication of the Law of Dependent Origination. It can be called the Cessation Process of the Law of Dependent Origination.

The two complementary processes active in the Law of Dependent Origination, of the Middle Path, are two processes that are in reverse or conserve sides of each other. They explain the Laws of Circulation and Cessation. This rise and fall of causes and effects is still a worldly principle, and an explanation for superficial phenomena. Although it was not the final truth, it is from this that the ultimate truth was realized. The ultimate truth was drawn from the empty nature of the Law of Dependent Origination. Thus, the Sutra says,

"Tell the Bhikku, the ultimate truth of emptiness,
realized by the Enlightened Ones,
corresponds to the Worldly Law."

(Samyuktagama, Chapter 12)

By understanding these two processes of the Law of Dependent Origination, we may see the truth of emptiness, which is the ultimate truth. Chapter 13 of "The sutra on the Ultimate Truth of Emptiness" in the Samyuktagama says:

"When the eyes see, the scene comes from nowhere.
When they shut, it goes nowhere.
Thus the eyes see unreality.
All that arises will be destroyed....
except the truth of the Worldly Law.

The Worldly Law says that
what this is, that is; this arising, that arises."

Through the rising and falling of the Worldly Law of Dependent Origination, the Buddha explained the First (ultimate) Truth. The ultimate truth averted attachment to either existence or non-existence; to permanence or change. This is similar to the "True Jhana" (The Vipassana that leads to the realization of the First Truth) explained by Katyayana:

"To contemplate the unreal nature of all things,
there is nothing real.
Various names arise due to the coincidence of
causes and conditions which are unreal.
When one sees the truth of emptiness,
one will realize that there is no Dharma
(the perverted view of existence)
and non-Dharma
(the perverted view of extinction)."


All Dharma is unreal, for it is mainly the coincidence of causes and conditions. These are worldly (mundane) views. Through this worldly understanding we can see that it is conditioned. The Enlightened Ones see and realize the Truth of Emptiness. They relieve themselves from attachment to both the existence and non-existence of Dharma, and hence realize the Ultimate Truth. This is why the Buddhas always preach about emptiness, hoping that beings may be detached from perverted views. The Buddha also said,

"If we can see the truth
of the causes of worldly sufferings,
we will not be attached to the view of nothingness.
If we can see the truth of cessation in the world,
we will not be attached to worldly existence.
By avoiding the two extremes,
the Tathagatha teaches us
the Middle Path, which is,
what this is, that is; this arising, that arises…"

(Chapter 12, Samyuktagama)

When worldly people see existence, they think that there is a real existence. When they see cessation, they think that it has really ceased. This is the perverted view of the two extremes. By compassion the Enlightened Ones, when they see Dharma arising, know that it is not nothingness, while at the same time not becoming attached to it as something real. When they see the Dharma disappear, they do not become attached to its extinction nor at the same time do they think that the extinction is real and means nothing at all. This is because, according to the Law of Dependent Origination, when there is a cause there will be an effect. When the cause ceases, the effect ceases. The Dharma is alive. It can exist or cease, rise or fall. If it is something real that has a permanent identity, then it should not cease and become extinct. If it is nothing, then it should not rise and exist. The Dharma rises and ceases, it can exist and become extinct. If we investigate the core of all things, we will realize that everything is conditioned and has empirical names. Things have no permanent identity, existence, extinction, rise or fall. Their nature is empty and silent.

Thus, when we talk about emptiness, we do not deny the rising, falling, existence and extinction of all phenomena. In fact, emptiness explains the truth of rising, falling, existence and extinction. This is the main teaching of the Tathagatha. Do not misunderstand Circulation and Cessation as two separate identities. From these Laws of Circulation and Cessation, we can see the creation and extinction, rising and falling of all phenomena and hence realize the truth of emptiness in all things. This is the Principle of Emptiness of the Middle Path, the ultimate explanation of the Middle Path. It is also the special characteristic of Buddhism — the Truth of Emptiness and of Dependent Origination. This is also "the immediate moment is empty" that is always mentioned by Mahayana scholars.

We should not think that this is only an old saying. We should know that this is the part of Dharma that is beyond all worldly knowledge. The worldly religions assume a god, the creator of the Universe; and the real characteristics of "I" as perfect, permanent, and happy. With such philosophy, their faith tends to be emotional. The Buddha emphasized reality and explained that all things are impermanent, and in constant change. There is nothing that rises but never ceases. There is nothing that is permanently unchanged. All things rise and cease due to causes and conditions. There is no independent identity that can exist without other conditions. The permanent, independent god that most worldly people believe in is denied by Buddhism.

From the Law of Dependent Origination, the Buddha expanded the truth of emptiness and articulated the Three Universal Characteristics. As the sutra says,

"All volitional actions are empty.
There is no law that is permanent and unchangeable.
There is no I nor mine."

(Samyuktagama, Chapter 11)

As all things have the nature of emptiness, there is thus no law that is permanent and unchangeable. There is no ego that is permanent and independent. With continuously changing phenomena, the existence of all things is a web of interrelationships. Understanding the Law of Dependent Origination, we can realize the Truth of Impermanence and Egolessness and hence the nature of the emptiness of all things. Emptiness also implies Nirvana, that is the renunciation of the perverted view of permanency and ego, leading to the realization of liberation. Thus, the sutra says,

"One who thinks of impermanence
will understand the truth of ego-lessness.

The Enlightened One
lives in the state of ego-lessness,
renounces self-conceit
and hence progresses towards liberation and Nirvana."

(Samyuktagama, Chapter 10)

To realize the Three Universal Characteristics of impermanence, ego-lessness and Nirvana from the standpoint of Emptiness in Dependent Origination and on the Middle Path, is the basic teaching of Buddhism. Often people tend to become attached to worldly phenomena, and think that only the phenomena that change are impermanent and that the origin of things is still permanent. They think that egolessness means that "I" has no real identity; that it is only an image formed by a co-operation of factors and that there is no "I" but that Dharma is still real and does exist nevertheless.

The original idea of the Agama Sutra is to indicate that both impermanence and egolessness mean emptiness. This is the nature of Dharma. The nature of Dharma is emptiness. It is not permanent. Thus, the Dharma is ever-changing. If the Dharma has a permanent identity and is not empty, why do phenomena change all the time? It is because of the nature of emptiness in Dharma that ego is unobtainable. If there was a real Dharma that existed permanently, whether in physical or spiritual form, it could become a place for the ego to reside.

"The eyes (and all senses) are empty;
The law of permanency and change is empty;

I and mine are both empty.
Why is it so?
Because this is the nature of things."

(Samyuktagama, Chapter 9)

Isn’t it very clear that the main theme in the Agama Sutra is to explain the concept of impermanence and ego-lessness from the standpoint of emptiness? Emptiness is the nature of all things. However, most people cannot see the truth and become ignorant and perverted, and they become attached to permanency and egotism and hence become entangled in the cycle of life and death.

From the rising and falling, existence and extinction of conditioned phenomena, one should eliminate the idea of an absolute, independent, permanent identity. Once we are able to realize the nature of emptiness, we will be liberated. To realize the nature of emptiness through the understanding of Dependent Origination is a penetration to the core of things. It is not a superficial understanding only. This is the truth of the Buddha’s explanation of the Circulation and Cessation of human life. It can be used to identify our own religion, and to distinguish it from the other religions. This is the speciality of Buddhism.

Besides, there is another type of Middle Path. This is the Noble Eightfold Path that emphasizes good practice. The Noble Eightfold Path also corresponds to the Law of Dependent Origination. It does not explain why the deluded life can be liberated and does not talk about "What this is, that is; this is arising, therefore that arises." It tells us about the Middle Path that those who wish to be liberated should follow. It is a path that avoids both the extremes of suffering and of luxury.

Some heretics in India during Buddha’s time encouraged extreme luxury and desire. They regarded extreme enjoyment as the purpose of life. Others concentrated on meaningless asceticism and tortured themselves. All these things do not help, nor do they bring us liberation. It was to counsel avoidance of these extreme behaviors that the Buddha taught us about the Middle Path. This is also a theme that is commonly found in the Agama Sutra. The Noble Eightfold Path teaches us to be normal and reasonable in our speech, action, emotion, determination, ways of living and so on. Everything we do should be fair and right. This is the Middle Path.

All Dharma is conditioned. All Dharma is empty by nature. There is no exception rightness of one’s behavior whilst following the Noble Eightfold Path. How does such right behavior whilst following the Noble Eightfold Path coincide with the nature of the emptiness of Dependent Origination?

One should know that "practice" is also conditioned. In the Parable of the Seven Carts, in Chapter 2 of the Middle Agama (Madhyamagama), King Prasenajit departed from Sravasti. It was a long journey. However, the King was able to reach his destination within one day. This was because he set stops on the way. At every stop there was a new, fresh and healthy horse. Thus, when he reached a stop, he did not need to rest. He changed to a new cart and horse and started his journey again. Hence he was able to reach his destination in a very short time. The travel from one place to another was not the hard work of one cart and one horse only. It was the co-operative effort of many carts and many horses. It was the co-operation of many causes and conditions.

To practice Buddhism is a similar journey, from the time we begin to practice, to the time of final attainment. We cannot rely on one Dharma only. We must rely on the co-operation of many Dharmas, many causes and conditions. Since the ways of practice depend on the coincidence of favorable causes and conditions, they are thus also empty in their nature.

In the Raft Parable the Buddha says,

"We should let go of the Dharma, and the non-Dharma ".

"Dharma" refers to moral behavior. "Non-Dharma" refers to immoral behavior. In the process of practising the Middle Path one should first use moral behavior (Dharma) to correct immoral behavior (non-Dharma). This Dharma that emphasizes moral values arises due to causes and conditions. It is empty in nature. If we cling to a perverted view, becoming attached to images and things as real, then we will not realize the nature of emptiness and we will not be liberated. The Sata Sastra says,

"We should first rely on merits
in order to get rid of sin.

Secondly, we should rely on equanimity
and let the merits go.

Then we can attain the state of
formlessness or Nirvana."

Chapter 7 in the Samyuktagama says,

"If I feel that nothing is obtainable,
then there is no sin.
If I am attached to form (and to other things),
then it is sinful.....

If one knows this,
then one will not be attached to anything
in this mundane world".

Sin means defilement and obstacles. As long as we constantly become attached to various things as real, we will not see the truth of emptiness. This is an obstacle on the way towards liberation. Therefore it is clear that we should not become attached to the merits of good deeds, as these are also empty in nature. The Nagarjuna Bodhisattva once said, "Merit is like a hot, burning gold coin, although it is valuable, it is untouchable".

Thus, the nature of the Noble Eightfold Path is also empty. It coincides with the wisdom (theory) of the Middle Path. Under the truth of emptiness, theory and practice merge into one.

The Middle Path that emphasizes emptiness and Dependent Origination avoids perverted views. The Noble Eightfold Path avoids the two extremes of suffering and luxury, and emphasizes non-attachment. These two main themes of the Middle Path supplement each other and lead us to perfection. If there was only theory to explain the Law of Dependent Origination without the emphatic proof of personal practice and experience, the Path could not fulfil religious faith in helping followers disentangle themselves from suffering, thereby attaining ultimate freedom.

On the other hand, if the Path only taught us the ways of practice without theoretical or intelligent guidance, it might be defeated by our lack of wisdom, and we might become a theistic follower. The Noble Eightfold Path of the Middle Path fulfils human religious expectations by encouraging moral practice. In addition, it has the intelligent guidance of the Law of Dependent Origination and of Emptiness. The Middle Path emphasizes the unity of wisdom and faith. This is the special characteristic of Buddha’s teaching.

(Translated by Shi Neng Rong, edited by Ke Rong, proofread by Shi Neng Rong. (6-7-96)