Buddhism Basics: The Law of Dependent Origination
Why is the concept of dependent origination so important in Buddhism?
Understanding the Law of Dependent Origination is crucial to your study of Buddhism. It is so important that Buddha considered it to be just as important as understanding the Four Noble Truths.
However, the principle of Dependent Origination is often overshadowed by the Four Noble Truths. Understanding one or the other is good but understanding both and how they relate is ideal.
If you take a little time to understand Dependent Origination, then you will find it to be profound, thoughtful and very helpful on your journey towards inner peace.
Although the phrase “Dependent Origination” may sound confusing and complex, it really isn’t, and we will explain it clearly for everyone to understand.
First, a quick caveat: an absolute understanding of Dependent Origination can only arise through spiritual maturity which requires a great deal of effort and practice.
However, you can still understand the basics of the principle now and work on having a deeper insight as your practice progresses.
Therefore, the purpose of this article is to provide that straightforward foundation upon which to build a more advanced understanding later.
What is the Law of Dependent Origination in Buddhism?
Simply stated, the Law of Dependent Origination is based upon the principle of cause and effect.
However, Buddha’s Law of Dependent Origination goes beyond just the concept of cause and effect. Like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Dependent Origination sets forth a realistic framework for understanding the universe.
It states that everything in the universe is conditioned, relative and interdependent.
Put another way, nothing occurs independently or by itself; all phenomena in the universe are conditioned states which only exist due to their supportive components. Without these supportive components, the phenomenon will come to an end.
Therefore, nothing in the world is permanent and everything is in a constant state of change. As such, the Law of Dependent Origination and the Law of Impermanence are intertwined, and each support one another.
What are some examples of the Law of Dependent Origination?
Let’s illustrate the Dependent Origination with two easy examples. Consider a simple candle: whether a candle will burn and create a flame is dependent upon the presence of wax and a wick.
When the wax and the wick are present, the candle’s flame burns. If either the wax or the wick or absent, then the flame will cease to burn.
Another example is that of a flower. A flower is dependent upon earth’s atmosphere, the seed, water, air and sunlight for the plant to grow.
However, all the flower’s requirements themselves arise dependent upon a number of other casual factors, not independently.
As a result, it is impossible to conceive of a first or beginning cause.
How will understanding Dependent Origination help end my suffering?
Once you start to understand the Law Dependent Origination and the Law Impermanence, then you will begin to see the truths of existence (see Three Universal Truths of Existence and Waking Up From the Dream of Ignorance).
Once you realize the truth, that all things are impermanent, then you will see that there is no point expecting everything to last forever and to be permanently satisfying.
You cannot eliminate the source of your suffering (greed and anger) if you continue to be tricked by the illusion of permanency in the things you crave.
If you remain ignorant by not understanding the true nature of our existence, then you will continue to suffer.