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Sep 26, 2013

Breaking the Chain of Suffering: Paticcasamuppada - The Law of Dependent Origination

(From the article 'Vedana in Paticcasamuppada')

How to be balanced in life? How not to generate suffering when the wanted does not happen, the unwanted happens? How to be free from dissatisfaction even when the wanted happens? 

Would you continue to suffer? Or would you be free?

Paticcasamuppada, the Law of Dependent Origination, is the core teaching of the Buddha. This is heart of Vipassana practice - the universal path out of suffering, to real peace, happiness. 

The Sammasambuddha said: 
Yo paticcasamuppadam passati, so dhammam passati;
Yo dhammam passati, so paticcasamuppadam passati.(1)
One who sees the paticcasamuppada, sees the Dhamma.
One who sees the Dhamma, sees the paticcasamuppada.

Paticcasamuppada explains the continuous process of suffering, through interconnected links of cause and effect; of how to break this chain, and be free.

The Buddha said-
Tanhadutiyo puriso, dighamaddhana samsaram;
Itthabhavannathabhavam, samsaram nativattati.(2)

The man with craving as companion flows in the stream of countless lives. He comes into being, suffers so many types of miseries, decay, death. Yet he makes no proper efforts to break this process of suffering.

Etam adinavam natva, tanham dukkhassa sambhavam;
Vitatanho anadano, sato bhikkhu paribbaje.(3)

Rightly understanding the perils of this process, fully realizing craving as its cause, becoming free from the suffering of craving and attachment, one should mindfully lead the life of detachment from craving.

Nandi-samyojano loko, vitakkassa vicaranam
Tanhaya vippahanena, nibbanam iti vuccati.(4)

Pleasure is the binding force in the world.
Rolling thought processes are its ever-changing base.
With the complete eradication of craving,
Liberation from all suffering is attained.

Practicing Vipassana is the practical way out of misery explained in the paticcasamuppada. This discovery a sammasambuddha (a fully enlightened being) shared with the world.

Paticcasamuppada involves twelve links that churn the wheel of suffering/becoming (bhavacakka):

1. avijja (ignorance of the reality within oneself)

2. sankhara (mental volitional actions, reactions)

3. vinnana (consciousness)

4. nama-rupa (mind and matter)

5. salayatana (six sense doors)

6. phassa (contact)

7. vedana (bodily sensation)

8. tanha (craving)

9. upadana (clinging)

10. bhava (becoming)

11. jati (birth)

12. jara-marana (decay and death)

Dependent on avijja (ignorance) there arises sankhara (blind reactions)
dependent on sankhara arises vinnana (consciousness)
dependent on vinnana arises nama-rupa (mind and matter)
dependent on nama-rupa arises salayatana (six sense doors with their objects of touch, taste, sound, sight, smell and thoughts); 
dependent on salayatana arises phassa (contact); 
dependent on phassa arises vedana (impermanent bodily sensations); dependent on vedana arises tanha (craving); 
dependent on tanha arises upadana (suffering / becoming).

Each link in this chain is effect of previous cause; and each effect becomes cause for the next effect. This cycle of misery rolls on.

The true work in life is working hard to be free from this enslaving chain of suffering - and share benefits thereby gained with all beings. 

How to do so? The Buddha said that breaking any one of the links of the paticcasamuppada chain would stop the wheel of becoming/suffering. 

How can that be achieved? At which link can the chain be broken? 

Here was the Buddha's unique, supreme enlightenment. He discovered that vedana (the sensation in the body) is the crucial missing link between external objects and our mental reactions.

Phassa-paccaya vedana 
Vedana-paccaya tanha.(5)

Dependent on contact, sensation arises.
Dependent on sensation, craving arises.

The actual cause for arising of craving is, therefore, not something outside of us, but rather (the pleasant, unpleasant or neutral) sensations that continually arise and pass away within us.

Every thought arises with a bio-chemical flow of sensations. If the sensation is pleasant, we crave to prolong it; if unpleasant, we crave to be rid of it. More often, things do not happen as we wish. An undercurrent of suffering burns within, every moment - liking, disliking, wanting, not wanting.

In the chain of Dependent Origination the Buddha shared his most compassionate and unique discovery:
Only at this link of sensations (vedana) can the chain of suffering be broken.

One must not allow vedana (sensations) to result in tanha (craving); in other words, one practices Vipassana meditation (maintaining equanimity to bodily sensations) at this crucial juncture, so that avijja becomes vijja or panna (wisdom). The chain is broken.

Vipassana is by far the most important, if not the only work that matters in life.

Global Vipassana Pagoda: sharing the universal path to freedom from the chain of suffering
Penetrating wisdom arises with Vipassana practice of experiencing truth of arising, passing of sensations, anicca. Delusions causing attachment are destroyed. No more suffering, fears, insecurities that come with every attachment.

Deepening panna (wisdom) weakens the sanna (biased perceptions, pre-conditioning of mind). So too tanha, the misery of generating desire for this or that, one after another. No more new sankharas (conditioning of the mind, the mental reactions). Old accumulated impurities get eradicated.

Yet, like a drug addict resisting a de-addiction program - even though knowing only this would save his life - the weak, trapped mind resists purity of Vipassana practice. Attachment to sensual pleasures is so strong. The very thought of letting go causes unpleasant feelings. We become excellent in finding excuses, endlessly postponing, rolling in delusions.

The addict who bravely, determinedly passes through the de-addiction program enjoys great relief, happiness. So too does Vipassana practice lead to experiencing relief, true happiness, serenity, peace, freedom from the chain of suffering.

Even a Vipassana practitioner can be called a Vipassana practitioner only at each moment when the mind is aware and equanimous to bodily sensations within.

Otherwise, an unguarded mind forgets. We ignorantly react as before to situations, to impure thoughts. One sincerely accepts the mistake. With folded hands, one seeks forgiveness. Then, without feelings of guilt, irritation, frustration, we start Vipassana practice again - of observing the sensations within. No more helplessly swept away in the flood of lust, anger and other impurities.

With proper efforts, this habit pattern of blind reaction weakens. One's best friend in life becomes continuous Vipassana practice: objectively aware of bodily sensations, moment to moment. Only bare awareness, pure equanimity. No ego, no 'I'.

One strengthens determination not to react to thoughts of irritation, aversion, craving, lust. Being very still and observing sensations with equanimity starts eradicating sexual cravings. One realizes how much deep-rooted lust is sugar-coated poison that clouds the mind. Misery. The unhappy result of deluded words, actions disturb all around.

The deluded mind confuses lust for love. With Vipassana practice, one experiences difference between pure compassionate love and selfish passion.

The uncompromising truth is how much true happiness needs complete celibacy. The mind grows stronger when free from disturbance of sexual thoughts. Vipassana practice of observing sensations enables deeper serenity of healthy, pure celibacy. No more foolishly succumbing to moments of fleeting 'pleasure', with tormenting cost of long-term bondage, suffering - for oneself, and one's partner.

One chooses: to be with the Dhamma within, truth, purity and real happiness. Or roll in delusions, illusions, impurities and suffering.

Much safer to roll about in a cage full of serpents and she-cobras, than to roll in lust, thoughts of sexual desires.

With wisdom, be free.

There is connection between beings at level of the mind. Which is also why one has duty, responsibility not to generate impure thoughts...to be alert, vigilant, every moment.... to not disturb, hurt another.

Out of compassion, be pure.

Thoughts cannot be suppressed, forcefully pushed away. They keep arising, until one reaches the pure state of meditation when the mind silently observes. When thoughts arise, one immediately observes whatever sensations that arise at the same moment, as effect of some preceding cause.

Like a fire dying without new fuel, the thought pattern weakens, gradually passes away when there is no new reaction.

This Vipassana process of observing arising, passing of sensations, throughout the body, gives instant and long-term benefits. But the old habit pattern is strong, and to observe sensations without reacting is difficult. This is the battle, a relentless struggle. We gain courage to face the music, with equanimity. Time to settle pending dues of the past, at level of sensations.

There is no escape from settling this past account of accumulated impurities. The only choice is whether we wisely, bravely start clearing the stock now, or be forced to settle the debt later - at a greater cost, with a much more painful compound interest.

Equanimously aware of changing bio-chemical flow of sensations within (Vipassana), each moment, is the practical way out of suffering - at deepest root level of the mind. This discovery of a Sammasabuddha is a non-sectarian, universal truth, just as the universal truth that only two molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of oxygen can form water - despite there being billions of other possible chemical combinations.

Everything arises to pass away. This impermanence is law of nature.  As the seed is, so the fruit will be. This cause and effect is truth of nature. By practicing Vipassana (objectively observing impermanence of sensations) ensures that what has arisen within, as effect of a previous cause, does not become cause for more suffering. This practical wisdom of equanimity breaks the chain of suffering. We experience fruits of real peace and harmony, for longer periods of time.

The time is now to practice Vipassana, and serve all beings in Dhamma.

May all beings be happy, be peaceful, be liberated from all suffering.
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Notes: (All references Vipassana Research Institute edition of the Tipitaka)

1. Majjhima Nikaya 1.306;
2. Suttanipata 745
3. Ibid. 746
4. Samyutta Nikaya 1.1.64
5. Mahavagga (Vinaya Pitaka) 1