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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.

A Quote for Holy Thursday

In Christianity, when we celebrate the Eucharist, sharing the bread and the wine as the body of God, we do it in the same spirit of piety, of mindfulness, aware that we are alive, enjoying dwelling in the present moment. The message of Jesus during the Seder that has become known as the Last Supper was clear. His disciples had been following Him. They had had the chance to look in His eyes and see Him in person, but it seems they had not yet come into real contact with the marvelous reality of His being. So when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine, he said, This is My body. This is My blood. Drink it, eat it, and you will have life eternal. It was a drastic way to awaken His disciples from forgetfulness. When we look around, we see many people in whom the Holy Spirit does not appear to dwell. They look dead, as though they were dragging around a corpse, their own body. The practice of the Eucharist is to help resurrect these people so they can touch the Kingdom of Life. In the church, the Eucharist is received at every mass. Representatives of the church read from the biblical passage about the Last Supper of Jesus with His twelve disciples, and a special kind of bread called the Host is shared. Everyone partakes as a way to receive the life of Christ into his or her own body. When a priest performs the Eucharistic rite, his role is to bring life to the community. The miracle happens not because he says the words correctly, but because we eat and drink in mindfulness. Holy Communion is a strong bell of mindfulness. We drink and eat all the time, but we usually ingest only our ideas, projects, worries, and anxiety. We do not really eat our bread or drink our beverage. If we allow ourselves to touch our bread deeply, we become reborn, because our bread is life itself. Eating it deeply, we touch the sun, the clouds, the earth, and everything in the cosmos. We touch life, and we touch the Kingdom of God. When I asked Cardinal Jean Daniélou if the Eucharist can be described in this way, he said yes.

When we pick up a piece of bread, we can do it with mindfulness, with Spirit. The bread, the Host, becomes the object of our deep love and concentration. If our concentration is not strong enough, we can try saying its name silently, “Bread,” in the way we would call the name of our beloved. When we do this, the bread will reveal itself to us in its totality, and we can put it in our mouth and chew with real awareness, not chewing anything else, such as our thoughts, our fears, or even our aspirations. This is Holy Communion, to live in faith. When we practice this way, every meal is the Last Supper. In fact, we could call it the First Supper, because everything will be fresh and new.

–Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ

Today, Holy Thursday, commemorates the institution of the Eucharist.

Three Quotes for the Week from Thich Nhat Hanh

In order to rally people, governments need enemies. They want us to be afraid, to hate, so we will rally behind them. And if they do not have a real enemy, they will invent one in order to mobilize us.

–Quoted in Engaged Buddhist Reader: Ten Years of Engaged Buddhist Publishing (1996) by Arnold Kotler, p. 106

Your true home is in the here and the now. It is not limited by time, space, nationality, or race. Your true home is not an abstract idea. It is something you can touch and live in every moment. With mindfulness and concentration, the energies of the Buddha, you can find your true home in the full relaxation of your mind and body in the present moment. No one can take it away from you. Other people can occupy your country, they can even put you in prison, but they cannot take away your true home and your freedom.

–“Returning Home”, Shambhala Sun (March 2006)

Children understand very well that in each woman, in each man, in each child, there is capacity of waking up, of understanding, and of loving. Many children have told me that they cannot show me anyone who does not have this capacity. Some people allow it to develop, and some do not, but everyone has it. This capacity of waking up, of being aware of what is going on in your feelings, in your body, in your perceptions, in the world, is called Buddha nature, the capacity of understanding and loving. Smiling is very important. If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace. It is not by going out for a demonstration against nuclear missiles that we can bring about peace. It is with our capacity of smiling, breathing, and being peace that we can make peace.

–Being Peace (2005) ‎