Buddhism for geeks - Dependent Co-emergence

...And so, the future Buddha spent about 5 or 6 years with ascetics -- wandering, begging, debating, and meditating.

At some point Sid grew tired of Jain's extreme self-mortification. Remember that Sid's personal objective was to overcome human suffering in general, and death in particular (his mom having died while giving him his birth)? Perhaps, he thought, achieving personal Nirvana by starvation was not the best way to help humanity. Sid got back to eating and sleeping, but kept on meditating and contemplating various ascetic anecdotes.

Over time, the three main themes of his meditation emerged: 1) the questions of entity and identity of objects, 2) anatomy of mind, specifically the way perceptions give rise to subjective phenomena, and 3) human suffering and death.

The entity/identity stuff, however analyzed, seemed to have same ideas recurring: the aggregate nature of objects, crucial role of observer, and dependent co-emergence of object and its complement. Since we have reviewed the first two features in sufficient details before, let us elaborate on the third one.

Dependent Co-emergence

Dependent co-emergence, also known as "inter-dependent origination" or "dependent co-arising", is a peculiar phenomena taking place during construction of entity by the mind. Any such construction requires capturing the identifying characteristics of an entity, and using these characteristics to delineate the totality of perceived sensory data into the entity and its complement. When affirmation takes place, the implicitly negated complement simultaneously arises. This principle is what drives famous Rubin Vase optical illusion. Another graphic example is Karmapa's Dream Flag: when blue wave is considered an object, the yellow becomes a mere background and vice verse.

As (Buddha's Chinese contemporary) Lao-Tzu beautifully puts it:

When beauty is recognized as beauty, therein is ugliness. When goodness is affirmed as goodness, therein is evil. Therefore, being and non-being are mutually posited in their emergence. Difficult and easy are mutually posited in their complementariness. High and low create each other in their positions. Long and short formulate each other in their contradiction.

Buddha has boiled principle of dependent co-emergence to its bare essence:

When "this" exists, "that" comes to be. With the arising of "this", "that" arises. When "this" does not exist, "that" does not come to be. With the cessation of "this", "that" ceases.

As you will see, while seemingly abstract, D.C-e plays an important role in Buddha's 12-step model of personal identity generation.

Next article in the Buddhism for geeks series

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