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        The Teaching of Interdependent Co-arising

  by Dr. Alfred Bloom, Emeritus Professor of Religion, University of Hawai’i

The central concept of Buddhism is generally termed Interdependent Co-arising or Dependent Co-origination.  The Dalai Lama explains that Emptiness is based in the principle of Interdependent Co-arising.  Emptiness as an experiential awareness, achieved through the practice of meditation.  It is essentially the experience of non-duality.  While many people may not easily experience non-duality, they can understand the logical basis of Emptiness and through reflection become aware of its contemporary meaning and importance for our lives.

The Emptiness of things referred to by the Dalai Lama refers to the understanding that everything in our world is composite.  All things can be analysed into the components that make it up.  The automobile is made of the various parts, wheels, engine etc.  The engine, for example, can be further analysed to its parts and the metals that make it up.  The metals can be broken down to the elements, atoms, then neutrons and protons or particles that underlay our observed world.  Finally the mind comes to a mystery as we are unable to penetrate the cosmic sources of the world of experience.

However, the conclusion of Buddhism is that nothing possesses its own irreducible self-nature but everything depends on something else for its existence.  Therefore, all things are empty, empty of intrinsic reality and intrinsic value; all existence is relational.  Whatever the ultimate reality of things, it is inexpressible and inconceivable; therefore Empty.  All things arise through the co-working of many causes and conditions.

The understanding of the principle of Interdependent Co-arising has both religious and philosophical significance.  Whether one views the process from the logical or experiential perspective they both, however, aim at the transformation of a person’s view of the world and life.

The religious significance of the teaching of Interdependent Co-arising highlights the doctrine of karma which explains the basis of suffering in human existence and the world.  On the positive side of Mahayana Buddhism, Interdependent Co-arising underlies the teaching of transfer of merit whereby each person shares the benefit of good deeds with others.  The doctrine of karma means deed or act and explains our situation in the world, while Interdependent Co-arising motivates people to do good deeds in order to acquire merit to achieve better lives for themselves and others in the future in the process of transmigration.  This teaching is reflected in the story of Dharmakara (Hozo) Bodhisattva in the Pure Land tradition.  His Vows to construct a Pure Land where all beings can attain Enlightenment express the principle of interdependence.  Each Vow indicates the relation of the Bodhisattava’s Enlightenment to the attainment of Enlightenment by all beings.  He cannot gain it unless they all gain it together with him.  We are all interconnected.

The philosophical approach to the teaching of Interdependent Co-arising is also called the 12 link chain of causation.  This chain analyses the existence of human or sentient beings as the result of a process of 12 aspects which describe the formation of a life or can view a life through three births.  This perspective is important because it provides an understanding of the process of life and rebirth or transmigration, providing a basis for values and decision-making through understanding the various conditions involved ina life stream.

The links are: (1) Ignorance is a fundamental blindness to one’s true self and life condition. It is a lack of understanding which we call today “denial.”        (2) Volitional action includes our impulses and motivations which arise from our Ignorance in the form of hatred, greed, prejudice etc.  (3) Consciousness which includes also the unconscious or the totality of the awareness of things. Through the many influences or seeds stored there we develop good or bad tendencies.  (4) Name and Form are the mental and physical aspects of our being. That is, the physical body and personality or identity  (5) The six sense faculties: the five physical senses and the mind.  (6) Contact by the senses with objects.  (7) Feeling or the awareness and experience of things.           (8) Craving is the desire, rooted in our feelings, for repeated experience just as we cannot eat just one potato chip.  (9) Clinging or grasping and attachment. We cannot let go.   (10) Becoming is the deep desire for life, reflected in our efforts at self-preservation.  (11) Birth or rebirth.              (12) Old Age (Decay) and Death, the process begins at birth and becomes more evident as time – impermanence — proceeds.

According to this process, we are influenced by the fundamental Ignorance and Delusions that blind us to true reality.  It is our inability to see things as they truly are.  We know that our senses can be deceived as in optical illusions.  As a result, we develop deep feelings of hatred, greed and prejudice, essentially our basic egoism.  Through our underlying consciousness and the activities of our minds and the senses, we carry out actions in the world, creating suffering or good.  We cling to those things which we think benefit our egos or preserve them.  Consequently we give rise to a deep desire to continue our lives (Becoming).  The karma generated through this process leads to successive rebirths and cycles of birth-old age and death.  All sentient beings experience this process until they find their way out of the wheel or river of births and deaths known as Samsara in Buddhist teaching.

The teaching of the twelve links of Interdependent Co-arising motivates the quest for Enlightenment to realise emancipation from this process.  The division into three lives: past, present and future, indicates that our spiritual bondage continues life after life in the Buddhist view of transmigration.  In traditional teaching the cycles do not end with three cycles.  Rather, as long as our passions and ignorance govern the character of our lives the process of suffering continues.  The variety of Buddhist traditions offer paths to trans- cend this process and become Enlightened, attaining nirvana or Buddhahood.

It also gives a sense of urgency to our individual lives.  Buddhism teaches that it is a rare event to be born as a human being with the capacity to make decisions and to practice the teaching and reach liberation.

The philosophical dimension of the teaching focuses attention that nothing has value in and of itself.  Everything is composite and is impermanent. Everything undergoes a process of change, most evident in our own lives. Because things have no essential value, our desires and attachments cause us great pain when we encounter something we dislike or lose something we treasure.  The understanding of the reality of change aids in establishing the spiritual life.

More philosophically, the teaching indicates the emptiness or voidness of all things.  This teaching applied to history or nature indicates that we are all conditioned, historical beings, as are our cultures and civilizations.  They are not absolutes to be uncritically valued and maintained.  In connect with Nature, Buddhism is compatible with science, because it understands the principle of cause and effect and the evolving nature of things.  All reality is a flow whose essential quality is energy down to the smallest particle or wave in micro-scientific analysis or the evolution of life and the expansion of the universe in the macro-world.

Interdependence also points to the mutuality of necessary for fruitful and positive human relations.  We are all interconnected.  Buddhist teaching provides a foundation for social living and community, connecting the past, present and future.  This process under girds the reverence for ancestors and concern for future generations.

The imagery and understanding of dependent Co-arising would go far to reduce the distortions of our rampant individualism and overbearing, competitive perspective in Western society.  It would also overcome the conflict image that has shaped western society.  We must have an enemy and always have victory.  The dualism of Western culture, good and evil, flesh and spirit are self-defeating in the end.

In conclusion, the importance of the principle of Interdependent Co-arising can be seen in various areas of application, religious, or philosophic.  It is the basis of Buddhist thought.  The Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh has written: “All teachings of Buddhism are based on Interdependent Co-arising. If a teaching is not in accord with Interdependent Co-arising, it is not a teaching of the Buddha.”

Ringu Tulku Rinpoche – MeditationTalks, Kettering,18 and 19 April 2011

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H.E. Khenchen Lama Rinpoche
Teaching on Genuine Happiness

(Notes to accompany teaching in Kettering on14 July 2014)
The foundation teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni relate to the truth that everyone experiences unhappiness and no one is happy for a long time. Unhappiness is experienced by everyone regardless of their education; whether they are a man or a woman; regardless of age; whether they are rich or poor; and regardless of country, culture, race, ethnic background or religion. In Buddhism, this experience of unhappiness is called Samsara.

The Buddha equated this unhappiness with suffering. Through his meditation practice, he realized why everyone experiences unhappiness and that there is a way out of suffering. In Buddhism the focus is on understanding the cause of unhappiness and living a life that reduces and eventually ends unhappiness. When unhappiness ends, we experience genuine happiness.

The Buddha’s teachings point out that unhappiness is due to our mind being focused on very small problems; our ongoing judging about things we like, things we don’t like, things we want, things we don’t want. We experience strong emotions as a result of this. We then act on these thoughts and emotions. We may experience a short period of happiness, but it doesn’t last long. Buddha also taught that genuine happiness is possible.

The Buddha taught that although everyone wants to be happy, we are looking for happines in the wrong place and so we can never achieve long term genuine happiness. Because people don’t know this they keep trying the same things over and over hoping “this time, I’ll be happy”. The misunderstanding is that we look outside of ourselves for happiness. When we live with this Samsara mind of judging, wanting and not wanting, we can never have inner, genuine happiness.

We can, however, develop inner happiness — this is genuine happiness. When we do, our day to day lives are more peaceful; we experience joy and we are not powerless in our life. There are many ways we can begin to increase happiness in our life. To begin, we can understand that everyone experiences unhappiness. As I said earlier, a good heart is the seed of happiness. We can learn how to be kinder to ourselves and to others. We can begin to be more helpful rather than helpless in our lives and reduce the harm we cause ourselves and others. We can increase our generosity and patience. We can begin to understand that we are all interconnected. That our thoughts and actions either help or harm people and we have a choice. If we choose to harm others, because we are interconnected, we also harm ourselves. We can begin to think beyond our small problems to consider our neighbourhood, our country and our planet. This journey of developing genuine happiness is a process that we can develop more and more each day.

In addition to learning new ways of thinking, experiencing and behaving, we can help ourselves develop genuine happiness through Tibetan Yoga, mudras and mantras. Mudras are hand movements that are done for different purposes. Today I will teach you mudras to develop genuine happiness through increasing your inner peace, joy and power of happiness. I will talk about each finger first and then we will put them together in a specific order and add a mantra.

We have 10 fingers. One thumb is linked to Wisdom, the other to Compassion. Even in our modern culture around the world, we give a thumbs up sign, it means something is good and we are happy.

Now, touching your thumb and your index finger together. This is the “OK” sign. When things are OK, we experience inner peace.

We now have inner happiness and peace. When we join our thumbs and middle finger together, it is the sign of joy. So now we have inner happiness, peace and joy.

Now we join our thumb and ring finger together. This is the mudra of power. When we do this mudra, we can remember that we can always do better. As we do this each day, our practice is more powerful and we grow in genuine happiness.

When we join the thumb and baby finger together, there are three fingers up. In Tibetan Buddhism, there are many groups of 3. This mudra is about wishing that all sentient beings have happiness and the causes of happiness and be liberated, that is, to experience genuine happiness. In Tibetan Buddhism we call this Enlightenment. This mudra helps to develop the power to fulfil this wish.

Now we will do the finger positions in a specific order. This is the order:

1 thumb and middle finger

2 thumb and baby finger

3 thumb and index finger

4 thumb and ring finger

In this last part, we will add a mantra. Many religions use mantras and some prayers are also like mantras. Mantras use sacred sounds to help accomplish specific effects. In this case, we use this mantra to increase our happiness, peacefulness, joy and power to accomplish genuine happiness for ourselves and others.

1 thumb and middle finger OM

2 thumb and baby finger AH

3 thumb and index finger HUNG

4 thumb and ring finger HRI

Copyright 2014 Khenchen Lama Rinpoche

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The Four Thoughts
Now I have this unique opportunity, a free and well favoured human form, so difficult to find.

But it will not last forever; death can come at any moment,

And whenever I am born in Samsara, there will be suffering;

For both virtuous and harmful actions, karma’s cause and effect cannot be escaped

Refuge Prayer
Sangjé chö tang tsoji cho nam la

Chang chup bardu dani cahsu’nchi

Dagi gomdé jipay sonam ji

Drola penchir sangjé drup para sho

In the Buddha, Dharma and noblest Sangha

I take Refuge until enlightenment is reached,

Through the virtue generated by this meditation and practise

May I achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings.

Four Limitless Contemplations
Nyé-ring cha dang. Tang tralwé tang-nyom chempola. Nepar jur-chik

Semchen tanché dewa tang. Dewé jutang denpar jur-chik

Du-ngal tang. Du-ngalchi, Jutang tralwar jur-chik

Du-ngal mépé, Dewa tampa-tang. Mndal wae jur-chik

(May all beings abide in the great impartiality free from attachment to close ones and aversions to others

May they have happiness and the causes of happiness

May they be free from suffering and the causes of suffering

May they never be separate from the sacred happiness untainted by suffering)

Medicine Buddha
Tataya

Om Bekandze Bekandze

Maha Bekandze Bekandze

Radze Samudgate Soha

Dedication of Merit
Sonam di-yi tam-chay zik pa nyi

Top nay nye-pay dra-nam pamchay nay

Chay ga na jib a lap truk pa-yi

Si pay tso lay dro-wa drol-war-sho

(May whatever benefit that arises from this practise

Go to the benefit of all sentient beings

Stirred by the waves of birth, sickness, aging and death

May they be free from the oceans of Samsara)

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