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Pratītyasamutpāda

One of the most important concepts in all schools of Buddhism is pratītyasamutpāda (in Sanskrit–the Pali form is paṭiccasamuppāda).  The word is a very long one in either of the classical languages of Buddhism, but it is not only a key philosophical notion in Buddhist thought, it has a much wider applicability, particularly in the modern, industrial, interconnected world in which we live.  I have referenced it here and there in different places on this blog, and in various comments I’ve made on other blogs I frequent.  Despite this, I’ve not spoken about the term in and of itself at any length.  That’s an omission that needs to be rectified, since pratītyasamutpāda easily deserves a post of its own, particularly as a resource for future reference in discussion in which it turns up.

The first step in discussing pratītyasamutpāda is to translate it–what the heck does it mean?  Edward Conze, one of the most important Western scholars of Buddhism in the mid-20th Century, delightfully translates the Sanskrit mouthful as an English mouthful:  “conditioned co-production”.  This is actually a petty good root-by-root rendering of the Sanskrit, but it is, as noted, quite a mouthful and perhaps not so delightful to the general reader.  Other renderings include “conditioned arising” and “dependent arising”.  The most common rendering I’ve seen is “dependent origination”, so this is what I’m going to use for now.  So, we have a translation; but still, what does it mean?

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