Dependent origination is one of the Buddha’s most profound teachings to point us toward how we got where we are. We start out as born into a state of ignorance and trying to grope our way through life, creating karma, and the resultant subsequent rebirth into that cycle of ignorance/try and figure things out/not quite nail it/whoops, here we go again. The optimist might say, “Great, another chance!” The pessimist might say, “Oh hell, not this again…” I think the pendulum might swing to either of those extremes, and maybe with practice we tend toward the middle.
Part of being “in the middle” is taking steps to not trip on the Twelve Nidanas, to realize that when “this” comes to exist, “that” results. When “this” doesn’t come to be, neither does “that.” We all think we know about cause and effect, and yet sometimes we act really surprised when “this” causes “that.” Drink a gallon of vodka before getting behind the wheel of a car (this), crash car into tree (that). That’s easy, especially if it’s the other guy driving. If it’s me, “Oh, I didn’t think I had that much.” Maybe in the next cycle of rebirth, there’s someone who doesn’t develop a taste for alcohol.
In 21st Century America, if not world-wide, there seems to be a lot of not realizing that “this” is going to lead to “that.” It might not be as obvious as getting drunk and crashing a car. It might be as simple as thinking that we are all independent, solely responsible for our own fate, capable of going it alone as an intrepid pioneer as in days of yore, and then wondering why things don’t work out as we’d planned.
The Bodhisattva doesn’t “crush the competition;” (s)he would see that as leading to a self-perpetuating wheel of competition and crushing. The Bodhisattva wouldn’t be greedy when running a business, hording all the profits; it would be obvious that if everyone else is penniless, they won’t have anything to buy those precious commodities with, eventually causing the business to fail.
Where I am today is not only dependent upon what I’ve done, it’s has to do with what my parents had done. It’s dependent upon the school bus driver deciding to get up in the morning and drive the bus. It’s dependent on her not drinking a gallon of vodka the night before. It’s dependent on there being a road for the bus to drive on, and on and on. It really isn’t rocket science; it’s not as if it would seem reasonable that rockets would spontaneously spring into existence without there having been airplanes first, or an entire infrastructure of knowledge and labor that brought it all into existence.
Sometimes it takes a holiday like “Independence Day” to show how short-sighted a thought that “independence” really is. Clichéd as it might be, Happy Interdependence day. Every day.
Click on the title to listen to the Dharma talk from July 2, 2015.