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Monday, April 15, 2013

Opening to insight: Conditioned existence

In Buddhist doctrine, everything other than nibbana is conditioned and, as such, subject to arising and passing away and bound up in a causal network that has no beginning or end.  When analysed, all conditioned things are seen as collections (aggregates, khandhas in Pali) rather than independently existing things each of which has a self or essence.  Humans are no exception.  Our psycho-physical being is composed of five aggregates: form or matter, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness.  All our experiences can be understood in terms of these aggregates and their interaction.  We misunderstand our own nature when we identify ourselves with any one of them, for instance, by seeing the body as one’s self.  The basis for suffering is to be found in these aggregates:  “Whatever we cling to can be found amongst the five aggregates” (Bodhi, 2013).  As such they are called the five aggregates of clinging.

The doctrine of dependent origination (paticcasamuppada in Pali) provides the framework for understanding conditioned existence.  The doctrine has a general and a specific meaning.  The general meaning is that all things are interdependent and arise by virtue of multiple causes and conditions.  The specific meaning has to do with the cycle of existence (see chart below) often depicted as a wheel of life with 12 links from ignorance (nescience in the chart) to old age and death.

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