More on ‘dependent arising’ – pratitya-samutpada

Dividing cells

Please see notes already posted (under Topics: Pratityasamutpada).

Another interpretation of pratitya-samutpada is the word, conditionality – the idea (and reality) that for any phenomena to arise (be it a mosquito, cloud, person or thought) innumerable conditions have to be in place. For a cloud to arise the atmospheric conditions have to be just so – the necessary balance of temperature, humidity and particulates has to be in place. As these conditions change, the cloud will change shape, grow more or less in size, produce rain or disperse and then fade away. The cloud is dependent on these everchanging conditions for its existence – and these conditions depend on other conditions, now and in the past, and so on. The chances of this cloud existing now, in this particular shape, size, colour and tone, are extremely remote (when we consider the innumerable conditions that need to apply) and yet, it is here, in the sky – unique and beautiful and transient.

Conditionality, in this sense applies to all phenomena, including us – and to each thought, feeling and perception we experience. We are dependent upon all the conditions, past and present, that give rise to us, and in our turn, we contribute to all the conditions that radiate out from us. In this sense we, and all phenomena, are interdependent.

We might also apply the term, contingency, to our existence – there is a sense of uncertainty, serendipity, accident and improbability about us being here. It is amazing good fortune that we and any other entity exists at all. This improbability, and the awareness that conditions are evanescent and always changing, casts a poignancy and specialness over everyone and everything. There is an inherent fragility to life and to all things. It is a miracle that we exist – alive, awake, present and HERE. Being mindful is to be always conscious of this miracle, and to live with the contingency of our existence. To be mindful is to really appreciate what it is to be here, and to care for all that exists around us (and upon which we are dependent).

Stephen Batchelor, writes about how the Buddha didn’t ‘encourage withdrawal to a timeless, mystical now, but an unflinching encounter with the contingent world as it unravels moment to moment.’ He goes on:

To be conscious of what is happening in the present requires training in mindfulness ….. Mindfulness is to be aware of what is happening, as opposed to either letting things drift by in a semiconscious haze or being assailed by events with such intensity that one reacts before one has even had time to think.

Mindfulness focuses entirely on the specific conditions of one’s day-to-day experience. It is not concerned with anything transcendent or divine ….. “When a monk breathes out long,” said the Buddha, “he knows: ‘I am breathing out long.’ Breathing in short, he knows: “I am breathing in short.” Such a person acts in full awareness….

There is nothing so lowly or mundane that it is unworthy of being embraced by mindful attention.

Batchelor writes that it was through mindful awareness that the Buddha could ‘engage with the world from the perspective of detachment, love, and lucidity.’ The Buddha ‘recognised how both he and the world in which he lived were fluid, contingent events that sprang from other contingent events, but that need not have happened.’ This is why the Buddha placed so much emphasis on understanding the nature of conditionality, contingency – pratitya-samutpada.

NB. Definitions of ‘contingency’: of uncertain occurrence; liable to happen or not; happening by chance; fortuitous; conditional; subject to accident; at the mercy of; dependent on….