Vassa: A blog for SCUBA


Awakened to what? Pt. 3 by Oz
November 19, 2007, 1:01 am
Filed under: Buddhism, Dharma, Philosophy


When this is, that is;
This arising, that arises.

All things exist in a complex set of conditions that give rise to its coming to being. On the night of his awakening, Siddartha Gotama claimed to have observed the causes and conditions that gave rise to good rebirths as well as bad rebirths, linking the quality of our thoughts and actions with the quality of our lives in the present and the future. On that same night, Gotama’s observation led to his seeing and experiencing the entire round of birth, age, death, and rebirth in all things. On that night, Gotama probably focused on the rounds of mental states and actions that led to our dis-ease, anguish, and suffering and freed himself from this.

He later expressed it as 12 links in a chain: (1) ignorance of the causes and conditions of life, the complex matrix that we all exist in begets formation of volitional actions (karma). (2) Formation of volitional actions of the body, speech, and mind begets consciousness of feeling, perception, and mental formation. (3) Consciousness begets (6) Contact begets feelings of pleasure and pain (7) Feelings beget attachment. (8) Attachment begets existence. (9) Existence begets becoming. (10) Becoming begets arising. (11) Arising begets (12) decaying and passing away. In short,

All experience is preceded by mind, led by mind, made by mind. Speak or act with a corrupted mind and suffering follows as the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox…Speak or act with a peaceful mind, and happiness follows like a never-departing shadow.

And while this formula seems linear, it does not have to be. Conditioned things are also conditioning other things into becoming. This wheel of cause-effect-cause rolls on incessantly. Whatever began this original wheel rolling is not of importance, what is of importance is freeing ourselves from it.

Outside of Gotama’s expression of what he saw, we see the interdependent arising in ourselves and in everyday life. As people, we are comprised of a complex set of interacting atoms, cells, organs, and biological processes. We think and act with our thoughts guided by culture, ideologies, philosophies, the way we were raised, our family and friends. We also imprint ourselves onto these same factors. When we are aware that we are not just ourselves, not just I, and see others in ourself and ourselves in others, compassion bursts forth.

When this is not, that is not
This ceasing, that ceases.

Whatever is dependent on something else cannot last forever, and everything that is conditioned is impermanent. Our happiness that arises from being with loved ones can be blissful yet we know it can’t last. While we can put the right conditions into place to be happy, it becomes impossible to maintain and our joy that depended on the right people and the right things go away. We learn to enjoy it while we can and to let go when we must.

For Gotama, this impermanence also meant that dis-ease, anguish, and suffering could end as well. Any break in the links meant an end to the entire rounds of birth, aging, and death. The traditions have simplified this to the end of ignorance/delusion, aversion/hatred, grasping/attachment and the arising of awareness/understanding, tolerance/compassion, giving/letting go.

On the night of his awakening, Gotama experienced all of this. It was not just an intellectual seeing and acknowledgment that all things are interdependent and impermanent. It was also beyond just an emotional or non-rational feeling of the same things. What he experienced passed through his very being and it affected the way he thought, sensed, felt, and saw himself and the world around him. It penetrated into his self and completely altered him in a way that he described as beyond words and expressions and accessible only through direct experience. This is what was awakened to and this is what needs to be cultivated.

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