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Dependent Arising In Context: the Buddha's core lesson, in the context of his time and ours Paperback – January 5, 2013
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I consider myself a secular Buddhist. I don't really care about what came before that I can't remember or what might come after that I can't possibly know. My feeling is that the teachings are incredibly practical, about our daily life, our struggles, our neuroses, and the human condition. She doesn't say, by the way, that there's no such thing as reincarnation, she just illustrates that the teaching of Dependent Arising (or Dependent Origination) is not about reincarnation, even though it is steeped in the language of birth, death, and rebirth. She makes a compelling argument that these are just familiar metaphors (based in Hindu creation myth) that Gotama used to address his audience in a language that was common to them. A good teacher understands his students' frame of reference, right?
Another aspect about this that was wonderful is that it is truly a middle path. I have known so many people get into Buddhism and get caught up in a lot of spiritual materialism, especially through renunciation, austerities, clothing, titles, etc., and I have seen several get very stoic as if the ultimate goal is to be like a lump, no emotion, no joy, everything is somehow a manifestation of attachment which is "bad". Many teachings make the goal sound like self-annihilation, an end to any will to continue. That never made any sense to me. It is very all-or-nothing thinking and seems not to be based in the reality of our nature. This book is so practical, helpful, and sane. I highly recommend it.
She follows in the footsteps of Joanna Jurewicz and Richard Gombrich. Like Stephen Batchelor she feels a literal interpretation of reincarnation can be dispensed with.
In fact the argument is made that Buddha was specifically contrasting his view of the cause of suffering with that of the Brahmins / Hindus who were very concerned with perfecting the soul.
In fact he may be seen as parodying their teachings. How could he help it? Buddha finds the attempt to be a fixed self to be the very cause of suffering/stress.
Two separate parallel chapters layout the argument in great detail, with quotes, and references. I think she makes a convincing case.
It is an interesting mystery of how meaning gets distorted historically, and yet enough clues remain to solve the puzzle.
This aspect is fascinating in it's own right.
A last chapter defines an important word:Sankhara
Links are provided to her website and blog. …justalittledustDOTcom
Traditionally there are something like 9 to 12 steps, to the process. How specifically & exactly one might apply those steps is not addressed in the book. Perhaps it is "the self" which wants a method?
The general idea, it seems to me, of DA in modern terms is that we condition ourselves (just as Pavlov conditioned his dogs), through our constant self talk / thinking / categorizing / judging / believing and automatic: bodily reactions / tensions of either liking, disliking, or ignoring every perception as it arises. All day long we do this unconsciously continually reinforcing our concepts of who/what we think we are. As a result we take impersonal existence and take it personally, thus suffering unnecessarily. And also fail to see reality as it is. Perhaps the use of steps is meant to make the whole process of self creation so clear that it is seen through. In any case it is a radical idea, even today. As fellow reviewer James Diggle says If we don't look for this basic dynamic or drive, which propels most others, it is easily missed. That would be the first step - ignore-ance. Once we are alert that there is "so to speak" an 'inner itch' like a needy child that constantly wants attention, that manifests by interpreting the whole world in relation to itself the possibility of an alternative becomes interesting…
In buddhist literature there is also discussion of reversing the steps as follows
Knowledge and vision of things as they are (yathabhutañanadassana)
Knowledge of destruction of the cankers (asavakkhaye ñana)
For information on actually applying Dependent Arising or Origination to meditation the book below seems like it may be very useful and quite possibly a better understanding.
Its also available on Amazon :
Moving Dhamma Volume 1: The Path and Progress of Meditation using the Earliest Buddhist Suttas from Majjhima Nikaya
by Ven Bhante Vimalaramsi and David C Johnson
If one is curious, Vimalaramsi videos are available online, in the usual place: "u toobe". The method is called the "6Rs"
What both views have in common is ignoring the nonsense of the 3 lives.
Having lived for a time in a Buddhist monastery where every evening a Dhamma Talk was given, I know of what I speak. I am grateful for the clarity with which this complex, and often baffling, core of the teaching has been made intelligible.
I highly recommend this book to anyone seriously searching for an understanding of the human condition.
Gerry Stribling, author of "Buddhism for Dudes"
and "Confessions of a Buddhist Gunslinger"