The History, Philosophy and Practice of Buddhism

The HistoryPhilosophy and Practice of Buddhism

The Philosophy of Buddhism

  • The Four Noble Truths
  • Dependent Origination
  • The Eightfold Path
  • The Three Characteristics of Existence
  • The Three Jewels and the Five Precepts
  • Karma and Intention
  • Rebirth and Nirvana
  • Dependent Origination

    The topic of Dependent Origination sounds complex, and it is one of the most important concepts of the Buddhist teaching. However, in essence, it is quite simple.

    The Buddha said that to become enlightened, you need only to understand The Four Noble Truths and Dependent Origination.

    Dependent Origination is also called the law of causality and was the other main revelation which came to Buddha at his enlightenment. In this teaching, he says that nothing exists on its own but always has come from earlier circumstances.

    A piece of paper does not come into existence spontaneously. It is made from wood pulp and water. The wood comes from trees, which comes from seeds from earlier trees. If you burn paper, it becomes smoke and ash, so it has not disappeared but transformed. The essential components of that piece of paper were always there, and will always be there. A pot is made because once a potter took clay and formed it on a wheel and then fired the pot. Many circumstances and components were needed for the process.

    In the same way, we did not spontaneously come into existence at birth, we are the result of our parents, of the circumstances of their meeting, and of all that happened before. You are alive today because you were once born, as a result of your parents meeting at an earlier time. Everything is always a consequence of something before, that is, the origin of everything is not unique, it is dependent on a particular set of circumstances having happened.

    Dependent origination is similar to cause and effect and close links to the Four Noble Truths. Desire causes suffering, one is dependent on the other. Following the path causes desire to reduce and so causes suffering to be reduced.

    If you begin to see everything as dependant on everything else, then you will need to look at the larger picture where everything we think and do affects the future. As in the writing of Thich Nhat Hanh, “the world is woven of interconnected threads”.

    In essence, the Buddha did not see a separate and benevolent creator who could act on our behalf. He saw the interdependence of all life and the cause and effect of actions which create their own future.

    This is why Buddhism, at its inception, was more of a way of life than a religion. Certainly, now it is accepted as a religion by many followers who seek divine guidance from the Buddha nature.

    Meditating Buddha (photo by Mary Hendriks)

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    Is there life after death?


    In the first discourse itself, Dhamma chakka pavattana sutta, the Buddha identified three reasons for suffering; sensual craving – kama thanha, the craving for existence – bhava thanha, and craving for non existence – vibhava thanha.


    Apropos the article in the Sunday Island of 3.6.18 headlined ‘Life Everlasting -is there life after death’ – by Mr. Christopher Rezel [CR], permit me to share some thoughts regarding his reference to Gautama Buddha’s approach to life after death. Mr. CR has commented inter alia as follows, He said at death humans would pass on into Nirvana, or nothingness.”


    This statement does not appear to represent accurately what the Buddha has preached about rebirth or re-becoming.


    Firstly, what the Buddha taught was about suffering of living beings and the way out of suffering in Sansara. Sansara is the process of birth, death and re-becoming in various spheres of existence. In the first discourse itself, Dhamma chakka pavattana sutta, the Buddha identified three reasons for suffering i.e. sensual craving – kama thanha, the craving for existence – bhava thanha, and craving for non existence – vibhava thanha. Bhava thanha refers to the inborn urge of living beings for re-becoming. Thus the concept of rebirth / re-becoming, is integral to understanding the Buddhist approach to liberation. This position is also clearly set out by the Buddha in his explanation of Dependent Origination -Paticcasamuppada, the forward section of which also falls under ’cause of suffering’ dukka samudaya.


    Secondly, in order to reach the state of Nibbana, the Buddha’s advice was to follow the Middle Path -the Noble Eightfold Path – by abandoning indulgence of pleasure and tormenting. “That is the middle way discovered by a Perfect One, which gives vision, which gives knowledge, and which leads to peace, to direct acquaintance , to discovery, to Nibbana” — Dhamma cakka pavattana sutta.


    Thirdly, Nibbana is not a state to be reached after the death of a person, but achievable in this very life itself, by complete abandoning of, greed, hatred and ignorance


    Fourthly suffering in Sansara is not confined to human beings, but to all beings that have not attained the supreme state of Nibbana.




    Colombo – 8

About editor 3045 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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