Monday, May 21, 2007

The Forgotten City: Turning the Wheel of the Dharma

The following extracts from WORLD AS LOVER, WORLD AS SELF , by Joanna Macy pp. 53-57, describe the Buddha's teaching of Co-Dependent Arising. This dharma---the Pali word for a teaching or law---resonates with many of Spinoza's ideas in THE ETHICS. It teaches the interconnectedness and thus the ever changing nature, or the impermanence of all things (emotions, in/animate objects, etc). It implies that the emotion-laden labels we attribute to these things (especially "bad" or "good"---the labels Spinoza stresses in his Preface to Part IV) are the result of clinging to what is ever changing. Nothing is "bad" or "good." Things just ARE; they exist and change. The excerpt is reprinted with the permission of the author.

The eight-spoked wheel that graces gateways and temple roofs throughout the Buddhist world symbolizes the teaching of the Buddha. It is called the Wheel of the Dharma, the Dharma Chakra. It also represents the central doctrine that his teachings convey: the doctrine of paticca samuppada or the dependent co-arising of all phenomena. As the Buddha said, “they who see paticca samuppada see the Dharma, and they who see the Dharma see paticca samuppada….”

This centerpiece of the Buddha’s teaching is not about a level of reality separate from our daily lives or aloof from the phenomenal world of change. It refers not to any absolute being of essence, but to the process itself—to the way things work, how events happen and interrelate. Hence it is often called the Law—the law of causality….

With fascination I studied the early Buddhist text. I read how the perception of paticca samuppada dawned on the Buddha the night of his enlightenment, and featured in his discourses. I saw how it underlay everything he taught about self, suffering, and liberation from suffering. I noted how it knocked down the dichotomies bred by hierarchical thinking, the old polarities between mind and matter, self and world….

He did not begin with abstractions or generalities, but with the existential factors of life. He named these factors of experience---ignorance, volitional formations, cognition, name and physical form, sensation, feeling, craving and so on---and pursued them relentlessly to determine how they relate to each other. Persistently he questioned, "For this factor to arise, what else must happen? For it to cease, what else must stop?"

Tracing thus the sources of suffering, he did not find a first cause or prime mover, but beheld instead patterns or circuits of contingency. The factors were sustained by their own interdependence. It was then, in that vigil, in the crucible of his attention, that the perception of dependent co-arising swept upon him.

Coming to be, coming to be!...Ceasing to be, ceasing to be! At that thought, brethren, there arose... a vision of things not before called to mind, and knowledge arose. ...Such is form, such is the coming to be of form, such is its passing away. ...Such is cognition, such is its coming to be, such is its passing away. And [he abided] in the discernment of the arising and passing away.

The process nature of reality became clear-its continual flow, the radical impermanence of all things, with no element or entity aloof from change. But the flux was not chaotic or random, for patterns of conditionality emerged. He saw how factors of existence are mutually determined, providing occasion and context for each other's emergence and subsiding.

All the factors of our lives subsist, then, in a web of mutual causality. Our suffering is caused by the interplay of these factors, and particularly by the delusion, aversion, and craving that arise from our misapprehension of them. Hence, the Four Noble Truths: We create our own bondage by reifying and clinging to what is by nature contingent and transient. Being caused in this way, our suffering is not endemic. It can cease. The causal play can be reversed. This is achieved by seeing the true nature of phenomena, which is their radical interdependence. This is made possible by the cleansing of perception through meditation and moral conduct.

Such a vision, however, is hard to convey, because it goes against the grain of both our sensory experience and our desire for security.

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