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Everything Leans

"Deep is this dependent origination, and deep its appearance."

"Whoever sees dependent origination sees the Dharma;
whoever sees the Dharma sees dependent origination."

- Buddha [MN:28, DN:15]


Acting for the care and welfare of other beings may not appear to be an obvious aspect of dependent origination. But as with all Dharma teachings non-hatred, compassion, and even forms of love, are a natural unfoldment of the theory and practice of bringing Dharma to life.

As we investigate the teachings of Dependent Origination an interesting dichotomy arises, on the one hand we have a momentum towards cessation; the fading of perception, stilling of experience, and the states of equanimous peaceful wellbeing that comes with that, and on the other there is reengagement with the world from a place of wisdom and clarity; which reveals itself through kindness, compassion, and joy.

Fading of Intensity

Both of these are coherent with a clear understanding of Dependent Origination, in particular, and the teachings of the Buddha through the suttas, in general. A simplistic way of describing our spiritual journey is that we work to decrease tanha (our demands on life to be otherwise) and that immediately decreases dukkha and contraction (due to their mutual dependent relationship).

With less contraction phenomena fade in intensity of import to us. This is generally felt to be a pleasant experience of greater openness and intimacy, and thereby feel more care for all beings. Due to dependencies we may not have considered, something miraculous unfolds. As that intensity fades, an object in attention ceases to retain sufficient intentional energy and it fades from perception to some degree, including completely.

When we keep attention with the fading frequently enough that it becomes familiar, we shift gears in what we know to be possible. This reveals that for experience to arise there has to be some degree of tanha, contraction, and thereby some subtle dukkha at the least. So maybe ‘life is suffering’ after all, for without some momentum like dukkha nothing arises to be experienced.

Fabricated World

The schema of the cycle of Dependent Origination is dependent on ignorance at its root. Yet the Buddha and other wise beings who are free from ignorance are somehow capable of operating in, and therefore they must have manifested, a world experience; one rooted in dualities, of pain and pleasure, freedom and release, and wisdom and ignorance. That a Buddha can manifest a world dependent on dukkha(-like contraction) without suffering in it, is conjecture for most of us. Perhaps best left to scholars and those who have experienced it to explain how one can neither feed nor starve. Yet if you wish to explore the nature of dukkha, and I would recommend it as an essential contemplation at some time then read The Weight of Mountains by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

A more simplistic explanation, that fits with many of our more limited experiences, could be that as avidya (ignorance or confusion) leads us towards tanha, then vidya (wisdom or clear seeing) leads towards karuna (compassion or care). Perhaps the subtle demand of compassion is momentum or gravity enough for a world to manifest. This seems to be true.

Dukkha, Dukkha, & Karuna

For many of us in our practice, known experience is more important than sound theory. When we see suffering we feel impelled to act. The bodhisattva vow is the far end of dedication to this movement, but we all feel it. It is instinctual, and beneficial. Even a baby has been shown to reach out to sooth the cries of another being. This brings us together as a people, as a species, and as a living planet of concerned beings. It feels good because it brings us to the absence or fading of stress.

As karuna (compassion) arises, tanha fades, our experience eases, and love comes through more abundantly. There is an inverse relationship between dukkha and karuna. As demands for life to be otherwise diminish, acceptance and love increase in prominence. It hardly matters if love is eternal and merely obscured by the clouds of contraction and stress, or if it is released by an organic process of relaxation. The direct experience is that the lessening of dukkha is always married to more compassion, and an increase in compassion invariably involves the fading of dukkha. They appear to be inversely mutually dependent.

Yet karuna is a response to the dukkha in the world! Which implies it is also mutually dependent on dukkha to arise. Karuna at first blush seems to be dependent on dukkha, which we know is dependent on contraction, yet karuna is a less contracted state. This apparent contradiction is where the linguistics fall short, and dukkha does double duty. Karuna (compassion and care) arise in the light of pain, discomfort, and stress. This type of dukkha is the unavoidable nature of a life affected by impermanence and change (as it always is in this manifest universe), it is not the same as the dukkha of demand and craving, which is relational, additional, and optional.

More so compassion lacks the self-centred concern of tanha, and therefore does not inevitably lead to, nor immediately reverberate with contraction and dukkha. Yet it is a movement that is not satisfied with the way things are. Beings are suffering, compassion arises as a response. It is not passive, it is not transcendent nor completely non-dualistic. Yet if one is to exist in the world, compassion and care are some of the highest intentions one can have. According to what we can tell from the historical Buddha’s actions those appear to have been his intentions. More affirmations resonating with our deepest intentions.

Actions that arise from compassion also feed back into future states of wisdom, this is a positive cycle of dependent origination. I will share that here in plain English, inspired by Thich Nhat Hahn’s words. Which are well worth reading in their entirety.

Wisdom and Understanding leads to / supports / manifests as The Will to Serve (positive sankhara).
The Will to Serve leads to / supports / manifests as Consciousness open and caring
Consciousness leads to / supports / manifests as Mind-Body
Mind-Body leads to / supports / manifests as 6 Senses Doors
6 Senses Doors leads to / supports / manifests as Contact with the world
Contact leads to / supports / manifests as Categorisation into pleasant and unpleasant and indifferent
Categorisation leads to / supports / manifests as Concern (not tanha)
Concern leads to / supports / manifests as Non-Attachment with results (not fuel for clinging)
Non-Attachment leads to / supports / manifests as Neither Being nor Non Being
Neither Being nor Non Being leads to / supports / manifests as Birth without Birth of a separation motivation
Birth without Birth leads to / supports / manifests as Death without Death of an unstable actor
Such is the origination of this momentum of Compassion

Written by Nathan Glyde