Dependent Origination, the direct transcendent knowledge and understanding of which the Buddha proclaimed to be the lynchpin of enlightenment, is an area far removed from physical reality in many ways

In many other ways, Dependent Origination is the best intellectual explanation of the entirety of life as we know and experience it. The cause and effect of life, the beginnings as well as the continuance of physical reality from the standpoint of bodies and minds revolving in a spiritual realm beyond the six common senses which we rely upon for all of our current knowledge.

A reliance which, to say the least, is extremely limited. Yet, these six, fledgling physical senses are understood by most people to be the end all of experience in the universe; an egotistical, smug view to say the least considering our negligible position in this vast cosmos!

The questions remain; Is there more to understanding than the six senses to which we are limited regarding our vision? What is it that can understand beyond our senses? And what is there to be understood? Can we “see” beyond our physical restrictions?

These are truly spiritual questions to be discovered only by ourselves, because, as it always is with deep refection, you can never read about it, only experience it for yourself. And then because it is ineffable, cannot even talk about it.

So let’s begin from where we now are - in a body, with six senses. This is what our lives revolve around. If we are students of vipassana meditation, we have seen, internally, how our six senses contact various objects.

When we see something, this ‘seeing’ is dependent upon three things:

1. A consciousness within the physical eye arising from a momentary distillation of a field of pure awareness. (This is metaphysical)

2. The physical eye itself.

3. And an object.

This distilled or focused awareness or eye consciousness, plus an object, plus the physical eye all combine to allow us to ’see’. Again, as practitioners of vipassana might explain, there is just the eye, just the consciousness, and just the object, with no watcher, controller, “I” thought or ego behind it.

As soon as the eye sees something (Contact), two things happen almost simultaneously; Feeling and Perception:

1.Perception. If something is familiar the brain identifies, categorizes and judges it from past memory. If unfamiliar, the brain uses past memory and past experience to categorize it.

2. Feeling. The brain decides whether it likes or dislikes, loves or fears what it sees.

So, we see something (or smell, taste, feel, hear, or think something) and then we identify it and decide whether we like or dislike it. This is followed almost immediately by the brain either figuring out how to obtain that which it likes, or get rid of that which it dislikes. This is called desire, or Craving. .

Once the brain craves an outcome, whether to either grasp or get rid of the object, then Clinging to the object develops as we obsess on setting a goal, or formulating a desired outcome whether it be to possess the object or push it away. This leads to action - karma

All of this craving and clinging naturally leads to the ultimate clinging to the idea of something or someone behind it all, a self, me and mine, an ego, a watcher, all created and invented by memory, feeling and perception in the brain. There is no ego, no watcher, other than the illusion of ego as a byproduct of sense stimulation, feeling, and perception.

This illusion of a watcher, however, has metaphysical complications. A false, erroneous, yet very convincing “I” thought develops. Because of this “I” thought, this idea that this is mine and that is yours, this I hate and that I love, leads to an ultimate clinging to the experience of the six senses, and especially a love and clinging to the idea of oneself.

Metaphysically, this very deep love affair with oneself is a strong enough illusion to transcend death and seek physical existence in another life form. This drive to exist is called Becoming.

Becoming leads to Birth. And birth always leads to old age, disease and Death.

When the body and brain dies, there is a residual metaphysical force left behind. This is called Ignorance, or the desire to come into existence again because existence appears to be pleasurable to an unenlightened mind mired in physical existence. It is called ignorance because of a lack of understanding about life itself.

Because of this ignorance of the truth of life as basically one of discontent, and also ignorance of the only permanent way out of this discontent (The Four Noble Truths), as well as ignorance of direct knowledge of these Twelve Steps of Dependent Origination, karmic formations develop into an underlying life-continuum stream of binding (to physical existence) habitual consciousnesses.

At the moment of real death (not clinical death) these karmic formations, which are called the Life Continuum Consciousness, momentarily lapse into what is called a death consciousness, immediately followed by a Rebirth Linking Consciousness which catapults the karmic tendencies into another life form. At the next moment, the old karmic tendencies again take over as the new life form’s Life Continuum Consciousness.

A new Body develops.

This new body has Six Senses.

And with these six senses, the world is defined to the new body through Contact with physical and mental objects.

And the cycle of birth and death continues endlessly.

In order to end this physical cycle of repeated births resulting in old age disease and death, and embark upon a spiritual cycle, what is required is a clean, permanent break in any one of the Twelve Steps of Dependent Origination. For example, part of the cognizing mechanics of the brain is to figure out with thought how to either grasp something or push it away.

So with a focused and unprejudiced mind, developed perhaps from concentration or vipassana meditation practice, we can work at breaking the chain at the initial feeling stage after an object has been cognized, or at the craving or clinging stages where the brain attempts, through thought, to secure or destroy the object of either our affection or hostility.

These Twelve Steps of Dependent Origination describes our lives. This is all there is to our lives - an endless grasping and pushing away of what we love and hate every day. The most amazing thing is that in our ignorance of what could be, we never tire of our mechanical existences, and crave to keep them going forever.

Author's Bio: 

E. Raymond Rock (anagarika addie) is a meditation teacher at: and author of “A Year to Enlightenment:

His 30 years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk.

He lived at Wat Pah Nanachat under Ajahn Chah, at Wat Pah Baan Taad under Ajahn Maha Boowa, and at Wat Pah Daan Wi Weg under Ajahn Tui. He had been a postulant at Shasta Abbey, a Zen Buddhist monastery in northern California under Roshi Kennett; and a Theravada Buddhist anagarika at both Amaravati Monastery in the UK and Bodhinyanarama Monastery in New Zealand, both under Ajahn Sumedho. The author has meditated with the Korean Master Sueng Sahn Sunim; with Bhante Gunaratana at the Bhavana Society in West Virginia; and with the Tibetan Master Trungpa Rinpoche in Boulder, Colorado. He has also practiced at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and the Zen Center in San Francisco.