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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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Interpenetration is an important teaching, but it still suggests that things outside of one another penetrate into each other. Interbeing is a step forward. We are already inside, so we don’t have to enter. In contemporary nuclear physics, people talk about implicit order and explicit order. In the explicit order, things exist outside of each other — the table outside of the flower, the sunshine outside of the cypress tree. In the implicit order, we see that they are inside each other — the sunshine inside the cypress tree. Interbeing is the implicit order. To practice mindfulness and to look deeply into the nature of things is to discover the true nature of interbeing. There we find peace and develop the strength to be in touch with everything. With this understanding, we can easily sustain the work of loving and caring for the Earth and for each other for a long time.

–Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun My Heart; courtesy of Wikiquote.

Quote for the Week

It took 13.7 billion years for the atoms to come together to create the portal to the universe which is my physical self. So in that statement is this idea, or the fluidity of time and space. And I kind of see it all at once. And I don’t know what “me” is. I just feel part of everything. And I feel such deep gratitude for being able to take this conscious look at the universe — at myself as being part of the universe.

–Natalie Batalha, interview with Maria Popova, from here