The range of Buddhist ontology
The perception of the nature of reality in Buddhism is a consequence of the Buddha's original enlightenment. Failure to recognize this fact has caused many problems in the understanding of Buddhism.
Many take the enlightenment to be strictly a private affair and will skirt around it and not involve it in any discussion, especially within the framework of other doctrines and principles of Buddhism.
This is simply a gratuitous gesture and serves no purpose at all. For the greatest gift of the Buddha, after all, is his enlightenment and the exposition he gave of it.
There is no doubt that the content of the enlightenment revealed a rare philosophic vision of reality. Although the vision has eluded the best minds, it still remains the greatest challenge, a literal lodestone, for all followers.
That challenge of course is with us today despite the evolution of Buddhism in its variant forms throughout the Asian continent and now throughout the world. I am therefore using this occasion to expand on that challenge with the primary aim of returning to Buddhist fundamentals.
By focusing on the nature of Buddhist reality, it is hoped that we can see later developments in Buddhism in a better light.
Moreover, by coming to grips with Buddhist reality, it is possible to establish a meaningful beginning in any dialogue, that is, Buddhism vis-a-vis any system of thought, and thereby forge ahead in constructing a solid basis for understanding human existence.
My analysis is strictly preliminary. There is no finality or absoluteness.
Its strength must lie in its frankness and boldness to articulate in a philosophic manner the Buddhist reality of experience.
In this, I am indebted immeasurably to my predecessors and contemporaries. While it is not possible to cover all phases and developments in Buddhism, I regret the omission of a systematic treatment of the meditative discipline that delineates the climactic process toward the enlightened way of life.
There are, of course, specialized works for that phase, for example, the basic early Buddhist text on The Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipa.t.thaana Sutta).(1)
Be that as it may, I sincerely believe that any meditative discipline would be empty and meaningless unless the devotee has some measure of understanding of the nature of Buddhist reality.
My analysis will focus, then, on the following three aspects: (1) reality and its locus, (2) the nature and function of reality, and (3) the implications of reality.
REALITY AND ITS LOCUS
There are indeed restrictive elements in our lives and society at large which not only hinder, but actually cover up the true perception of reality. Attempts by recent philosophers, such as Heidegger and Derrida, have underscored man's own intended or unintended occluding of reality itself. Our lives are already burdened (impregnated) by subtle blinders, so to speak, that lead us uncon-
sciously for the most part to color and prejudice our perceptions. This has been a long process for mankind. In this vein, Nolan P. Jacobson has declared: "The chief cause of disorientation from what is unconditionally real and ontologically open to us is the linguistic system every encapsulated culture-world employs to preserve its identity regardless of its distortion of reality."(2)
Indeed, language as the basis of culture has greatly stymied our efforts to have a clear perception of reality.
We are caught up with the objects of perception established with precise correlations to the concepts in use, and such correlations have crystallized to the point of generating a matter-of-fact attitude concerning the whole perceptual process.
This has prevented the recovery of the original nature of things.
It has thus become difficult to go back to the preconceptual bald existence, the primitive developmental stage prior to the onset of the accepted correlations. Here I do not, of course, wish to cast any gloom on the situation for, certainly, I do not for a moment feel that all is lost.
We must, however, endeavor to start from the bare ground, from the pristine context of things, if we are to search earnestly for the true ground of existence.
This is my intent in probing Buddhist reality, and it is conceivable that this may have been the initial impulse of Siddhaartha Gautama (Buddha).
A slight digression will help us understand the issues. In the so-called Axial Age, a phrase coined by Karl Jaspers, both Eastern and Western traditions made brilliant contributions to speculative metaphysics.
In these we are able to perceive two central foci: being and becoming. Where the former focuses on the permanent, unchanging, eternal entities, the latter focuses on the impermanent, changing phenomena.
Men have been fascinated by change from time immemorial, but, more importantly, they were even more interested in the permanent unchanging nature of things. Even Heraclitus, the champion of change and flux in nature, sought in the final analysis to understand the unchanging nature in the changing world.
He went back to the concept of logos, the logic of the nature of things, but did not succeed.
As we know, the Pre-Socratics gave us variations on the being-becoming theme, that it was Plate who brought it to a climax. He clearly divided the realms of being and becoming and gave the former the superior eternal status.
He, more than anyone else, exalted the mind by making it the home of the Form (eidos); indeed, the Form expressed the ideality of existence, the nature of truth and knowledge.
On the other hand, the "perpetually perishing realm of becoming is short-lived, transient, unreliable, and unrealizable in any sense. Attachment to this realm denigrates knowledge to the status of an opinion.
The way out of this situation is to seek the eternal Form within the becoming world of particulars. Plato said that the Form participates in the particular, but herein lies the crucial problem. How does it participate?
Even Plato's brilliant student, Aristotle, was puzzled over this question. It became the parting point between the two thinkers. With a naturalistic inclination, Aristotle dismissed the Form and concentrated on the realm of becoming.
He premised his own metaphysics on substance (ousia) with its attributes to establish a most powerful influence on man's view of nature in the West. Even today, this substance-oriented metaphysics has lingered on in many quarters, both professional and lay.
Over on the Asian side, particularly in India, there were similar attempts to come to grips with changing and unchanging phenomena. Saa.mkhya philosophy, for example, emphasized the indestructible nature of the soul (puru.sa) despite its involvement in the physical nature of things (prak.rti), but in the quest for the enlightened life, the soul would finally triumph over the physical.
The same format is seen in the Vedaanta system. To wit, it postulated the empirical self (aatman) bound up in the changing world, but when its purity is uncovered by virtue of yogic discipline. the self can rise above the impurities to become the greater self (Atman) and thereby identify itself within the total nature of things (Brahman).
This approach certainly was a great spiritual insight; it captured the imagination of the Indians and has enabled the dominant Hindu philosophy to thrive so powerfully up to the present day.
Early in the Indian philosophical milieu, the Buddha appeared to give a novel twist to the eternal quest for the unchanging within the changing phenomena.
He was literally the Plato of his times for he offered a great revolutionary thought, a penetrative insight into things as they really are. His insight was remarkably free of technicalities, although new terms and new interpretations were in order.
All previously accepted views had to go, for they simply did not fit into the new scheme of things. Thus, a novel approach required a novel perspective, which, in turn, gave new meaning and expressions to old terms or terms in current use.
In brief, it was the dawn of a new ontology, a radical ontology, that essentially turned things right side up from the roots of existence rather than muddle through and attempt to justify the prosaic elements of existence that ordinary beings live by.
From all indications, the Buddha's message was a philosophy of the present or an understanding of the nature of the momentary nows in the quest for enlighrenment.
In a series of short chapters in the Majjhima-nikaaya, the Buddha repeatedly emphasized that "the past should not be followed after, the future not desired" and, in turn, that one ought to concentrate on the present things, that is, present happenings.(3)
Buddhism was early characterized by the so-called Three Marks, that is, impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha), and nonself(anattaa). Close examination will reveal that these marks actually refer to the "contents" of the Buddha's enlightened state.
In that state of existence, he experienced the basic momentary nature of existence, the cessation of the nature of suffering, and the uncompounded nature of the self.
In contrast, the unenlightened state shows up the exact opposite, that is, the incessant quest for the permanent nature of things, the interminable rise of the nature of suffering states, and the persistence of personal identity or the self. Our common knowledge of things would apparently sanction such states of being, seeing nothing wrong with those features of permanence, suffering, and self.
This is conventional understanding, and so the Buddhist is quick to respond that in conventionality we do not really grasp the truly natural states of existence, but rather go against those states by manipulating the natural flow.
It seems quite obvious that life is a process, a series of moments that continue on and on until death overtakes.(4) Even the Buddha denied life after death, the immortality of the soul, on the grounds that it would transgress and disregard the normal flow of existence. Thus, if immortality or permanence (eternality) is not to be experienced, then the concentration would have to be on the moment-to-moment existence.
In this way, the great insight was not about permanent or eternal life, but on the microscopic behavior within momentary existence.
That is, it denied the attachment to permanent entities within the cycle of life (sa.msaara), that each cycle, though unique and independently related, is but a segment of the continuum of life.
As such, nothing permanent resides in the continuum, nor is anything made permanent by the cycle or moment in question.
Each cycle or moment, moreover, is a compounding phenomenon where its own character is revealed in its own"carving out" process within the continuum. The continuum is more like a symmetrical series of intersecting and overlapping phenomena.
But within this context of things, it is so easy to refer to a permanent nature of a self that is directing the compounding activity.
This is a simple case of placing the cart before the horse, since the very nature of the self is that it is already a compounded phenomenon (sa^nkhaata).
In other words, to set the self apart from the activity itself is to commit a fallacy of misplaced abstraction or simply to beg the question.
The self, therefore, does not exist in the moment-to-moment continuum; if reference is made to it at all, then it would have to be in terms of what has already transpired. This is looking to the past and not in any way infringing on the present or the future.
As an illustration, a potter may claim ownership of the pots he has made but, strictly speaking, he cannot claim his artisanship as a potter. Put another way, an association is conventionally made with respect to the potter and his pots, but in the reality of pot-making there is neither the potter nor the pot, but only pottering.
it should be clear that the potter and the pot are always involved in the dynamics of the continuum of existence and that references to them are mere abstractions and belong to "dry metaphysics."
Understanding the nature of universal suffering is the key.
The Buddha repeats over and over again that failure to accept the impermanent nature of things will result in suffering, that is, seeking permanent elements in the impermanent, and the resolution can only come when one realizes that there is no self that seeks the permanent, indeed no self at all.(5)
Specifically, he expounded the rise of suffering in terms of the incessant thirst (ta.nhaa) that keeps the life cycle going. He mentioned three phenomena of thirst.
The first deals with the perpetuation of the whole biological nature of human beings, the thirst for sen-
sual pleasures (kaama-ta.nhaa) , that is, the constant gratification of our senses in permanent ways, like sustained eating or seeing something appealing or attractive. This is the most common of the three phenomena and thus the easiest to understand and accept as a basis for the continuance of the life cycle.(6)
The second and third phenomena are highly psychological in nature in that there is a conscious intent involved, though deviant in nature, either to continue or to discontinue in the life cycle.
To wit, the second is known as the thirst for existence or the becoming nature (bhava-ta.nhaa), which is perhaps akin to Schopenhauer's celebrated will to live or to Freud's general nature of eros.
It can be illustrated by the child's conscious effort by imitation or other means to grow up as fast as possible, to become a teenager, or it can even be manifested in the case of an elderly person who does everything possible to slow down the pace of life in order to increase longevity. In either instance, something forced or strained or manipulatory has entered to distort the natural life cycle.
The third phenomenon is the desire to annihilate oneself (vibhava-ta.nhaa) or the tendency toward self-destruction. Naturally, it includes suicidal attitudes as well as the fascination with death or the dead. In this respect, it is akin to Freud's reference to thanatos.
These three phenomena are basic drives in man which may or may not be apparent or consciously striven for, and yet, over a period of time, they do appear in more obvious or crystallized forms.
In fact, the Buddha, immediately after enlightenment, was quite reluctant to expound on the nature of his enlightenment precisely because human beings are fundamentally consumed by these drives or thirsts.
They are so blinded by the elements of these desires or thirsts that they are prevented from probing the very foundation of the momentary happenings.
Indeed, their unreal existence is so ingrained that they could not be jolted sufficiently enough to experience the dramatically revolutionary perception of things.
After much entreaty by his friends and followers, however, the Buddha reconsidered his initial stand and decided to expound his nirvaa.nic experience in the form of the famous Four Noble Truths, which are essentially the truth of universal suffering and the way out of it.
It would serve us well to pause here and assess the personal situation of the Buddha when he decided to expound. Although the suutras do not precisely record his inner feelings or thoughts. we may indulge in some speculation here.
For the situation is undeniably the greatest moment in the story of Buddhism.(7)
Therein lies the basis of the Buddha's truth of existence (Dhamma, Dharma) and his helping hand.
My judgment on the matter is that the Buddha decided to expound on his enlightenment not only because he was prompted by his infinite compassion for his fellow creatures but also, more profoundly, because this was for the sake of revealing a deeper nature of momentary existence that resides in, so to speak, the compassionate act itself. That is, he came to the realization that
existence is a truly open nature and that individuals living in the world, regardless of their capacities, mirror that very openness in their momentary existence.
Thus, a moment of existence, in its openness, absorbs indiscriminately as well as relates equally with everything in its wake, although in our ordinary perceptions, due to our volitional karmic forces, we mold everything by a process of selection, restriction, and retention in order to clarify and continue our activities; yet in so doing we unconsciously overlook the holistic nature or framework in which evenything is naturally flowing.
We see the proverbial tip of the iceberg of human existence rather than the whole openness, the vastness, in every momentary existence.
The selectivity and fragmentation of momentary existence sharpen our perceptions, to be sure, by sending clear and distinct images to our minds. but, at the same time, they narrow the existential compass of our own beings and thereby contribute toward our own undoing.
Holistic or total nature does not merely mean a greater sphere of existence or a fuller volume of data.
The Buddha, I believe, saw another unique dimension to the total nature of things.
This is the reflexive nature of existence. In our case, the momentary existence means that at each moment or cycle, the total or holistic nature is reflexive in the sense of a vital or dynamic two-way phenomenon, that is, it reaches as far as it will go in manifesting its own nature, but, simultaneously, it reflects back at each step of the expanding process. This dimension is missing, neglected, or even ignored in our ordinary treatment of human experience.
The pnenomenon must apply in human behavior. The relationship we speak of in human contacts is, from the Buddhist perspective, always a two-way reflexive process.
A person's behavior toward another, for example, is always reflexive, mutually speaking, although the reflexive nature of mutuality is generally uncognized and unfelt by the persons involved.
The deadening of reflexivity is becoming increasingly patent in a world dominated by the tangible elements and in which even human beings are similarly treated.
The nature of reflexivity is indeed subtle, but its presence must be respected in our relations. In many respects, it provides the vital component for the fruition or fullness of momentary existence.
Concepts such as mutuality and human relations are normally interpreted in a more tangible framework, but it should be noted that there is also much of the intangible nature that goes along with the tangibles.
That things are in mutuality means that they mutually support each other in their natures, that is, they reflect each other, and each cannot exist without the other.
Such being the case, it would be apparent that a focus on the tangibles alone does not give us the whole picture on the involvement of the relationship in question. Yet, this is precisely the kind of truncated perception and understanding that we normally pursue, promote, and perpetuate.
In sum, then, Buddhist reality or ontology is dynamic, and its locus is in the momentary nows, however elusive, nebulous, and uncharacterizable they may be.
THE NATURE AND FUNCTION OF REALITY
The Four Noble Truths have already indicated that there is the rise of a universal nature of suffering and a way out of it.
This situation, simple as it may seem, establishes the fact that the nature of suffering and the cessation of suffering take place in the selfsame reality of existence, a situation not unlike that of a sick person regaining health again without any dramatic physiological changes.
In both, the ontological status has remained relatively stable throughout the process. Consistent with this understanding and, expanding on it, the Buddha made the following cryptic statement:
Whatever is of the nature of arising, all that is of the nature of cessation.
Although the central thought is already manifested in the Four Noble Truths, this statement reveals one of the great philosophic insights. The term "all" refers to the dhammas (dharmas), the factors of experience, which manifest themselves in the momentary existence.
But the same passage goes on to say that there arose the "dustless, stainless vision of the dhamma."(9)
We note that the factors of existence are now seen from the enlightened standpoint. The most striking thing here is that both the unenlightened and enlightened natures belong to the selfsame momentary existence.
The arising and cessation of dhammas are then two aspects of the dynamics of the moments as they are relative to the state of suffering and the state of release.
It is clearly seen that arising has to do with the compounding (sa^nkhaara) or grasping (upaadaana) nature of the dhammas, and cessation has to do with the noncompounding and nongrasping phenomena.
In brief, there is what I call the parity of existence.
This can be labeled the ontological parity, for it is centered on momentary existence whether in the enlightened or unenlightened sense.
The fact that the same term, dhamma, can be seen from two different aspects or perspectives means that Buddhist reality is always close to home, that it is not separated or alienated from our common experiences.
On the one hand, common experience functions with the pluralistic dhammas, which are by their very grasped natures already stained or tainted.
On the other hand, that selfsame realm of common experience could function without the pluralistic dhammas or could simply be envisioned as dustless, stainless dhammas, the singular unified nature of existence.
It means that our ordinary sa.msaaric life, as tangled as it is, has all the necessary ingredients for the transformation into the inordinate nirvaa.nic life. In a way, this spells out the saving truth of mundane existence.
And so the Udaana, in a very cryptic way, summed it up as follows:
There is, O Bhikkhus, an unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, unformed. Were there not, O Bhikkhus, this unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, unformed, there would be no escape from the world of the born, originated, created, formed.(10)
The passage clearly indicates that there is a way out of the normal conditioned or compounded realm of existence (sa.msaara) because there is a parity
principle in function that is intrinsic to momentary existence. In brief, the unborn, unoriginated, and so forth is not somewhere aloof or transcendental of the born, originated, and so forth, but it constitutes the pure realm realizable when the compounding elements are no longer in force.
With this concept of the ontological parity of existence in place, we may proceed to discuss further the nature of momentary existence.
After repeatedly asserting the impermanent nature of things, that is, reference to the five skandhas, the Buddha launched into a series of fundamental doctrines.
The passage is one of the finest philosophical expressions made by the Buddha. The first part reads:
On two things, Kaccaana, does this world generally base its view, --on existence and on non-existence. Now he who with right insight sees the arising of the world as it really is, does not believe in the non-existence of the world.
But, Kaccaana, he who with right insight sees the ceasing of the world as it really is, does not believe in the existence of the world.(11)
The passage is clearly focused on the dynamics of momentary existence.
As a result of his enlightenment, the Buddha very well knew that conventional understanding works in devious and dichotomous ways, that is, the extremes of existence (bhava) and nonexistence (abhava), two terms we have earlier seen on the thirsts of life (ta.nhaa).
Within the context of the impermanent nature of things, he saw that these dichotomous terms are the most dominant extremes that human beings are attached to and that, thus conditioned, they are not able to intimate with their own momentary existence.
Thus he saw that without proper vision, the dichotomy will remain and that from this basic dichotomy other dichotomies will arise.
It is here that he revealed what right insight will do. If one envisions the arising of the world, that is, the rising of a moment, as it really is, then one will not fall into nihilistic tendencies or understanding.
On the other hand, if one envisions the ceasing of the world as it really is, then one will not fall into materialistic or substantive understanding.
"To envision the world as it really is" precisely describes the relational dynamics involved in the momentary nature of one's life, that is, experiencing in a natural mode.
Failing to realize that mode, the dichotomous nature swiftly takes over and overwhelms the experiencer. But despite the snares of dichotomy.
the ontological parity remains nascent, so to speak, and shows the way out of the dilemma, a way which is made possible by meditative discipline.
The Buddha went further to clarify the first part, thus:
[H]e who does not go after, does not grasp at, does not take his stand on this system-grasping, this dogma, this mental bias,--such an one does not say "it is my soul (self, attaa)."
He who thinks, "that which arises is but ill (suffering, dukkha): that which ceases, it is ill," such an one has no doubts, no perplexity. In this matter, knowledge not borrowed from others comes to him. Thus far, Kaccana, goes right view.(12)
The Buddha is certainly correct here to point out that in our ordinary views on life and the world, we are prejudiced by "dogmas" and "mental biases"
such that we are no longer able to view our existential flow correctly. Thus we must forsake any metaphysical conceptions, such as the self, and properly ride the horse that pulls the cart, so to speak. Clearly, the right view (sammaa-di.t.thi) expounded by the Buddha is not a mere intellectual alignment, but a truly existential transformation of the primary order, if I may so phrase it.
The Budhha ends the passage with a series of most profound statements: "All exists, " Kaccaana,--that is one extreme.
"Nought exists," Kaccaana, --that is the other extreme. Not approaching either extreme, Kaccana, the Tathaagata (Buddha) teaches you a doctrine by the middle way: "Conditioned by ignorance comes the activities:
conditioned by the activities comes consciousness, and so forth." Thus is the arising of this whole mass of ill (suffering).
By the utter fading away and ceasing of ignorance comes the ceasing of the activities, and so forth. Thus is the ceasing of this entire mass of ill.(13)
By not approaching the two extremes of existence and nonexistence, the Buddha now introduces the doctrine of the middle way (majjhimaapa.tipadaa).
And this doctrine is another way of expressing the famous doctrine of dependent origination (pa.ticcasamuppaada) . Here we note a virtual identity of the two doctrines.
It is interesting to note that Naagaarjuna (150-250 A.D.) later makes the same equation except that he interposes the concept of emptiness (`suunyataa)--but more on this later.
It should also be noted that the foundation suutra that sets in motion the Wheel of Dhamma (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta), popularly known as the "First Sermon," identifies the middle way with the Eightfold Noble Path--right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.
It also goes on to say that the middle way gives vision and knowledge and leads to calm, insight, enlightenment, and finally Nibbaana (Nirvaa.na).
The identity of the middle way and the Eightfold Noble Path is plausible and acceptable in light of the previous passage on the right view, which constitutes the first step of the path.
The right view is the initial and primary corrective measure in which it is necessary for the devotee to engage himself so as to proceed with the rest of the steps in the path ending in right concentration (sammaasamaadhi).
As it now seems clear, the much neglected middle way is a unique doctrine in Buddhism found nowhere else in either the East or the West. It has nothing to do with the workings of the rational or logical mind, that is, the logical entities with which we carry out logical functions.
It is not subject to mensuration or calculation, nor is it subject to a moderating process a la Aristotle or by common sense.
It is rather a truly dynamic doctrine delineating the supreme momentary nature of things, and, in this sense, it denies all functions of contingent matters or factors of experience.
In fact, it avoids these elements or factors in order to issue forth the underlying pure, untainted nature of momentariness. If anything, it underlies without involving itself with those elements or factors; but this should not be construed to mean that the middle way is a receptacle of
being or a catchall doctrine. It still remains a strong guiding principle, indescribable by means of contingent elements, and functions like a border guard who checks for contraband but permits the normal flow of traffic. The middle way, in brief, is another means of exhibiting things (moments) as they really are.
The fact that dependent origination is depictive of Buddhist reality is readily seen in the following assertion by the Buddha:
Who sees Conditioned Genesis (pa.ticca-samuppaada) sees Dhamma; who sees Dhamma sees Conditioned Genesis.(14)
The passage has several implications.
Foremost is the identity of the Dhamma and conditioned genesis or dependent origination, but the identity holds true only from the enlightened realm.
Another implication is that conditioned genesis has two facets, that is the nonempirical (enlightened) and empirical (unenlightened).
A further implication is that the two facets are possible and function together because of the ontological parity of existence.
Moreover, the parity is assumed in the movement from the empirically oriented dependent origination to the Dhamma.
In many respects, empirical dependent origination depicts the rise and fall of experiential events and provides the vital link to the realm of Dhamma. In its empirical mode, the pet formula for dependent origination is as follows:
If this is, that comes to be; from the arising of this that arises; if this is not that does not come to be; from the stopping of this that is stopped.(15)
The formula is simple enough.
At first glance, it reminds one of the general criterion of pragmatism, that is, if certain conditions are met, then certain results will follow.
This is well and good, but the formula further reveals the subtle empirical dynamics of the rise of suffering and its cessation. The first part of the formula refers to the incessant conditioning or compounding nature of ordinary experience.
To wit,Conditioned by ignorance are the karma-formations; conditioned by karma-formations is consciousness; conditioned by consciousness is mind-and-body; etc.(16)
With this series of conditioned natures, the existential continuum will go on forever, that is, sa.msaara or the wheel of life.
The Buddhist naturally seeks to resolve the situation but, once again, the selfsame reality of suffering is the ground for an ontological shift, so to speak, that is, from the rise of sa.msaaric conditions to the cessation thereof. Thus, the second part of the formula precisely describes this shift. To wit,
From the stopping of ignorance is the stopping of the karma-formations; from the stopping of the karma-formations is the stopping of consciousness; from the stopping of the consciousness is the stopping of mind-and-body; etc.(17)
The suutras rarely elaborate on the specifics of this aspect of cessation.
In the Sa.myutta-nikaaya,(18) for example, it says that the Eightfold Noble Path is the course leading to the stopping of karma formations.
Right view, the first of the path, is indeed a most profound insight into reality, but it is a tortuous path for any person to take up, much less to understand.
Naturally, meditative discipline is prescribed to remove the initial ignorance, the hindrances, and the graspings.
The ]]twelve-linked dependent origination]] has a clockwise flow (anuloma) --from ignorance (avijjaa) to aging-death (jaraa-mara.na) and a counter-clockwise flow (pa.tiloma)--from aging-death to ignorance.
This is another instance of the dimensional nature inherent in momentary existence that depicts the rise and cessation of suffering.
We go back necessarily to momentary existence and the uniqueness of each moment, although there is no way to avoid the conditions (paccayas) that must be present or absent, as the case may be, in the flow of momentary existence.
The focus is still on that moment which is supremely and vitally "appearing." It is like watching a spot in the ocean where a wave appears and disappears but only to be "replaced" by another wave, ad infinitum.
There is another important dimension in momentary existence that cannot be overlooked.
The linking phenomena of dependent origination are not only linked in serial order, each condition contiguous to the next, but each condition is involved with the immediate past and present in a mutually penetrative sense.
In this way, the flow of momentary existence is not limited to a serial order (merely seriatim) , but proceeds in a rhythmic asymmetric-symmetric flow, where the present happenings have a backward thrust (asymmetric penetration) before appearing as a present moment.
The range of Buddhist reality is seen clearly in these microscopic present happenings.
Thus the concept of dependent origination, by its very compounding nature, shows the asymmetric (dependent) nature as well as the symmetric (origination) nature.
Yet, after all of that has been said, we must note that this novel asymmetric-symmetric relationship is known only within the framework of the empirical nature of things--the sa.msaaric realm.
At any rate, dependent origination in the empirical sense forces the continuity of the process of suffering. This is the wrong path.(19) It must be stopped, but how?
In the empirical realm, things are going on in truncated ways; we only get glimpses of the total happenings.
We see the rim, axle, and spokes of the wheel, but not the full function of the wheel itself. Something seems to be missing or lacking in the dynamics. What is it?
In the Discourse on Complete Purity for Alms-Gathering, we get a revealing statement on the fullness of being. The conversation between the Buddha and Saariputta runs:
Your faculties are very bright, Saariputta, your complexion very pure, very clear. In which abiding are you, Sariputta, now abiding in the fulness thereof?
Abiding in (the concept of) emptiness do I, revered sir, now abide in the fulness thereof.
It is good, Saariputta it is good. You, Saariputta, are now indeed abiding in fulness in the abiding of great men. For this is the abiding of great men, Saariputta, that is to say (the concept of) emptiness.(20)
The concept of emptiness (su~n~nataa) has added a new dimension to Buddhist reality.
It has revealed at once (a) the limited nature of empirical functions, that is, empirical dependent origination and (b) the way out to the unlimited realm in which the dependent origination can resolve itself.
Simply put, the self, mind, chariot, wheels, and so forth are more than their respective constituent parts.
They come alive as they are in reality, but their imposed natures have made them into static entities, metaphysically and ontologically speaking.
Buddhaghosa, the great Theravaada interpreter, gave us an authoritative account of this situation when he brought back a verse depicting the wheel of becoming.
Becoming's wheel reveals no known beginning; No maker, no experiencer there; Void with a twelvefold voidness, and nowhere It ever halts; for ever it is spinning.(21)
His interpretation was made in the fifth century A.D., but the idea of voidness goes back to the earliest period and may even have filtered back from Mahaayaana developments, since he was a native of South India, some say North India.
Prior to Buddhaghosa and in the Mahaayaana tradition, we find Naagaarjuna (150-250 A.D.) giving the final touches to the elusive momentary existence. Undoubtedly, he had been exposed to the ideas found in the early Mahaayaana suutras, such as the Praj~naapaaramitaa, Avata^msaka, Saddharmapu.n.dariika and Vimalakiirti suutras.
His great work, Verses on the Fundamental Middle Doctrine (Muulamadhyamakakaarikaa, hereafter Kaarikaa), is actually a philosophic confirmation of the dynamics of dependent origination as the locus of Buddhist reality.
In order to establish this, he had to discuss matters from the standpoint of the middle way, hence the namesake in the title of the work (madhyamaka), to involve
(a) the most inclusive view of reality and
(b) the most systematic denial (prasa^nga) of self-existent nature (svabhaava).
In this respect, it is natural that there is reference to the famous Kaatyaayanaavavaada (Karccaayanagotta Sutta), which we have seen earlier in the Pali version as foundational to the understanding of the middle way concept.
By this reference, the basic idea on the radical ontology and methodology is kept intact.
In his analysis, Naagaarjuna utilizes the concept of emptiness (`suunyataa) to clarify both the epistemological and metaphysical traps into which ordinary beings are prone to fall. He gives the concept a distinctive ubiquitous quality.
Epistemologically, emptiness keeps at bay any attempt to impose a self-nature or self-existent nature on any externally existing entity or on its image or impression derived thereof in the mind. In this sense, it signifies the function of epistemic nullity. Metaphysically, emptiness disallows any reference to being or nonbeing, or a combination of both.
It also disallows any causal order or relationship applied to momentary existence because that would sunder the process in dichotomous ways and thereby strain or distort the dynamics of dependent origination.
Naagaarjuna's first chapter of the Kaarika is a brilliant analysis on the inanity of causal or relational conditions (pratyayas) in terms of establishing the nature of the dependent origination dynamics.
It is seizing the bull of causal conditions by the horns and turning them against the proponent's position, which inherently subscribes to the concepts of being (sat, bhaava) and nonbeing (asat, abhaava) .
The doctrine of momentariness became an issue with the Abhidharma systems because of the element of justifying temporal dimensions in existence, that is, how to cope with the continuity of the moments of existence.
On this matter, the Sarvaastivaada seems to rely on the persistence of factors (dharmas) to describe the moments in question.
The Sautraantika, on the other hand, tried to sneak in a specious self (pudgula) to act as an "overlord" of the momentary process.
But Naagaarjuna sensed the pitfalls of these systems by pointing out the inner contradictions that would invariably sink them deeper into the conundrum of existence.
Naagaarjuna was intensely interested in justifying the present dynamics of momentary existence as expressed in the doctrine of dependent origination.
Opponents, including the average intellect for that matter, do not understand the microscopic process of these dynamics because their understanding is framed within a network of huge chunks of temporal and spatial dimensions.
Like the Buddha, he saw that the dynamics reveal more than what is seen in ordinary perception.
In this, he was not introducing an entirely new conception of things for he went right back to the fundamental doctrines to analyze in a truly philosophic fashion the pregnant dynamics of dependent origination.
They are "pregnant" in the sense that (a) they do not focus on a finished product or effect (phala). which would invariably reduce to the hypostatization of an inherent self-nature in the process, but rather (b) they focus on the very making of the product or effect, the very fiber of dependent orgination.
Yet we do not become cognizant of that product or effect in question until we become conscious of the conditionality (pratiityasamutpanna) of the event itself. This is ex post facto understanding.
It is perceiving the nature of a conditionality that describes the transpired event. It is understanding the mode of existence of an event in the immediately transpired past tied to the present becoming.
There is nothing wrong about this backward dependence, as normal perception and immediate memory reveal the presence of events in the rapidity of becomingness. Nothing again is wrong concerning an understanding of events by metaphysical descriptions.
The crucial point, however, is that an event is always transpiring in the immediacy, in this present momentary existence, and that at that
point all descriptions are mute. Given this situation, the reality of an event cannot be in the past, however immediate in time it is, but rather it must reside in the present dynamics. It is here that the "pregnancy" of the event takes on an important meaning.(22)
To elaborate on the "pregnancy" of an event, let us return to the concept of asymmetric dimension. How the asymmetric relationship occurs is a large problem.
Whether Naagaarjuna knew fully of this dimension and whether his works manifest it cannot be answered directly.
Indeed, it is difficult to discuss the borders between symmetric and asymmetric natures, and yet our common understanding seems to suggest their function.
Naagaarjuna would probably say that to define or describe the momentary becoming with the symmetric and asymmetric dimensions in mind is clearly to attempt another tortuous trip down the dichotomy lane, a blatant contradiction of the middle way.
He would further more recommend the meditative discipline to clear away the webs of our inherent dichotomous understanding of things.
The middle way avoids the poles of dichotomy, but at once affirms the reality of the rise and cessation of current becomings, as seen earlier.
The four relational conditions (namely, hetu-pratyaya, aalambana-pratyaya, anantara-pratyaya, adhipateya-pratyaya) are neat ties that cement the elements (svabhaava natures) in the dynamics, but, on the other hand, they impede rather than foster the current becomings.
Thus Naagaarjuna denied their function in the dynamics of becoming.
The famous Eight Noes or Negations (namely, nonextinction, nonorigination, nondestruction, nonpermanence, nonidentity, nondifferentiation, noncoming into being, and nongoing out of being) are asserted to hold in check any misunderstanding based on the reification of sense impressions or the reification of reification, as the case may implicate itself to be.
Buddhist reality, in brief, is much too dynamic to stay in view in a certain holding patterns (upaadaana effect) and to establish its identity at any time or in any manner.
Self-identity is no identity in the becomingness of things.
Perhaps, on second thought, Naagaarjuna did have an answer to
the symmetric-asymmetric dimensionality. It may be possible that he reaffirmed the concept of emptiness in order to "cross the borders" of the alleged dimensions.
Like the middle way, emptiness avoids the dichotomy and at once affirms the rise and cessation of current becomings. Indeed, emptiness is said to be a provisional concept (praj~napti) pointing at the middle way.(23)
It expresses the dynamic, open ontological process that has no truck with epistemic and metaphysical entities.
It opens up both sides of the borders, so to speak, and. in terms of emptying the factors (dharmas) of the wheel of becoming (dependent origination), it serves to identify the realms of sa.msaara and nirvaa.na. As Naagaarjuna is wont to say, emptiness should not be falsely grasped, for it is in reality that which makes momentary becoming possible and, without it, momentary becoming would be meaningless and without vitality.
The concept of emptiness, to be sure, was central in praj~naapaaramitaa suutras and other Mahaayaanistic works. The Diamnnd Suutra and Heart Suutra, for ex-
ample, present us with a capsuled accounting of the identity of the five skandhas and emptiness, and vice versa.(25) This is one of the clearest expressions of the ontological parity of experiential reality seen in Buddhist literature.
In reality, it is not only an expression but a guide and goal in meditative discipline.
From the corporeal nature to the conscious realm, the empty nature is basic and confirmed in the dynamics of dependent origination. Being an heir to this tradition, Naagaarjuna simply incorporated the emptiness idea into his own analysis of the fundamental concept of dependent origination, bringing into play rare insight into the dynamics, and thereby he set a high-water mark in Buddhist philosophical understanding.
IMPLICATIONS OF REALITY
The unity of experience, the being in becoming, is an enigma for all.
No need, however, to introduce a Platonic demiurge to tie up things. In our discussion so far, we have seen how the Buddha's enlightenment gave a new twist to the whole matter.
His supreme enlightenment was the beginning of a radical ontology of experience, one which turned our ordinary understanding of ontologies (substance-oriented) into a new phenomenon of unencumbered existence.
We must now probe the implications of Buddhist reality based on the central doctrine of dependent origination.
The compounded term, dependent origination, has the dependent nature expressed by the Sanskrit, pratiitya, which breaks down etymologically to prati + ii, which means "to go toward," "to go to meet" but it also means "to come back" and "to return."(26)
Thus the meaning here is inclusive of both going toward something and returning with that something.
Put another way, in the supremely microscopic momentary existence. each moment can be taken to be a singular "act" or movement, that is, a phenomenon of "going-returning" or "reaching out-bringing in."
And from the initial or incipient condition of dependence (pratiitya), there is a total arising of the moment of existence (samutpaada). This is experiential becoming at its most fundamental level.
Our one- or two-dimensional bias in the perception of things would normally assign a single movement, either "to go" or "to return," without being mindful of the nature of continuity.
The two movements, furthermore, cannot be conceived together because one movement has to cease before the other takes over. In this way, the continuum of existence is broken off or vitiated, but this is a very common understanding issuing forth from the empirically oriented realm.
In a way, it shows up the Humean dilemma on giving up on causal connection.
At any rate, the rise of the moment in its incipient dependent stage (asymmetric nature) shows up the reflexive character, without which the doctrine of dependent origination will lose any sense of continuity in the nature of becoming.
Thus, dependent origination is a multidimensional phenomenon which depicts the asymmetric-symmetric nature in the growth of the moment, but each currently appearing moment is a vital part of the continuum of existence.
We cannot really know the exact nature of the moment or the territory that it occupies, as it were, but here we must rely on our perceptual memory of past events in order to derive some semblance of the characteristics of those events.
But how do we intimate with any of the characteristics?
The question must have taxed the imagination of the early thinkers of the Mahaayaana tradition, including Naagaarjuna.
They were in search of a concept that is at once thoroughly neutral and pervasive in all experiences. It must be neutral in the sense that it does not participate with the elements in the empirical realm.
It must be pervasive in the sense that it permits the elements to be what they are, but at the same time serves as a kind of universal ground for momentary existence.
At any rate, the early thinkers found what they were looking for in the concept of emptiness. "Emptiness," "voidness," "nothingness." and so forth are weak translations for the original term, `suunyataa. It does not, however, mean nonentity in the literal sense.
It means empty of content, that is, nonsubstantive nature, but at the same time it connotes the swelling of the locus of reality. Taken in this dual sense, nonsubstantive nature and swelling, it refers to the fullness of existence.
Moreover, both connotations reveal the potency and pregnancy of the moment of existence.
The role and function of emptiness are inestimable.(27) It has opened up the floodgates to an understanding of human existence in all its aspects. With its later refinement, it only confirmed the radical ontology ushered in by the Buddha's momentous experience.
In Mahaayaana Buddhism--the liberal or "radical" wing of Buddhism--the implications of emptiness fostered the development of different schools of thought.
Yet, in all phases of the development, the focus did not deviate from the momentary nature of things, nor did it forsake any of the basic doctrines of early Buddhism. Diverse systems such as Tantrism, Pure Land, Ch'an (Zen), Hua-yen, and so forth, with their respective novel doctrines, all brought their ideas together in the basic context of dependent origination.
In time Mahaayaana Buddhism identified four types of dependent origination. Because space does not allow me to develop each in detail, I shall mention them only briefly and save the detailed analysis for another occasion.
In a way, the four types give a sweeping view of the whole of Mahaayaana development.
1. Dependent origination by karma (action or volitional force).
This is the basic type which we have seen in early Buddhism, that is, the twelve-linked dependent origination.
The point is that in each linking process there is a karmic effect which causes the linkage; for example, based on ignorance (avijjaa) the dispositions (sa^nkhaara) arise, and so forth in either a forward or a backward cycle.
Mahaayaana Buddhism kept this basic dynamics of becoming.
2. Dependent origination by aalayavij~naana (storehouse consciousness). All phenomena originate from the interplay between the aalayavij~naana and manas
The aalayavij~naana contains the potential or seeds for the manifestation of phenomena (experiential), and the manas provides fresh seeds by perfuming them into the aalayavij~naana.
The original impressions for the seeds come to the manas by way of the five sense-consciousnesses and the integrative consciousness (manovij~naana) .
This type of dependent origination is subscribed to by the Vij~naanavaada ("Consciousness-only" School).
3. Dependent origination by tathaagatagarbha (matrix of thuscome).
All phenomena originate from the involvement of the realm of thusness, the enlightened pure realm, regardless of the unenlightened status of mundane beings. In brief, this means that the Buddha-nature is ubiquitous. residing even in insentient beings.
This type is expounded, for example, in the Awakening of Truth in the Mahaayaana (Mahaayaana`sraddhotpaadasaastra) .
The Pure Land School naturally makes optimum use of this conception.
4. Dependent origination by dharmadhaatu (realm of factors or elements of existence). All phenomena arise based on the interdependent, interrelated, and interpenetrative natures of the factors of being.
In this sense, all phenomena mutually identify each other.
This conception was crystallized in the Chinese Hua-yen School, although its rudiments are already found in Indian Buddhism, even in the Buddha's teachings.
Ch'an (Zen) of course makes liberal use of this idea in its teachings as well as in awakening the devotee to the reality of things.
Although these four types give the impression of being separate and distinct, they are actually expounding on the selfsame reality of dependent origination, the dynamic cocreative momentary process. The common thread that runs through them is the concept of emptiness.
Emptiness may have various uses in the four types, but all variant forms have the distinct Buddhist quality of leading to or aiming at the nirvaa.nic realm.
The T'ien T'ai School in China, for example, uses the emptiness of phenomenal existence in the unique sense of provisional conception and then the emptying of emptiness itself to bring forth the middle way.
All three conceptions-emptiness. provisionality, middle way--are in the final analysis interpenetrative of one another, The variant forms of emptiness only make obvious the extent to which the implications of Buddhist reality or ontology has ranged.
With a focus on dependent origination, the Mahaayaana development can generally be seen in terms of two strains: (a) self-realization of the basic nature of momentary existence and (b) self-realization through other-realization.
The first (a) is what we have discussed in this article. It will be touched on later.
As for the second (b), it is a new perspective on the total nature of things and gives a distinctive Mahaayaana flavor. Basically, the nature of dependent origination becomes expanded or more extensive based on the reflexive character.
In a figurative sense, the realm of the wheel of becoming has been widened to
include everything on earth. This is the genuine use of the words Mahaa (great) and yaana (wheel).
Again, the term Tathaagata is used in a distinctive sense, that is, to refer to the Buddha himself; now, with the reflexive nature the Mahaayaana has brought forth a new dimension, a greater cosmological extension and effect.
That is, the term can be seen in two dimensions, to wit, Tathaa + gata (Thusgone) and Tathaa + aagata (Thuscome).
The Buddha's life is then interpreted as one that has gone forth to the nirvaa.nic realm and at once returned to the sa.msaaric realm to save sentient beings.
This reflexive interpretation has opened up the realm of existence to include sentients as well as insentients and has given a new meaning to the concept of compassion (karu.naa).
In essence, the Mahaayaana not only has moved toward more inclusive philosophic implications for the acts of man and nature, but has provided man a new sense of belonging to the community or of understanding the social nature of things.
It has fired up the spirit of community action in terms of the universal dimensions of all actions.
It is no accident, then, that Pure Land Buddhism expands on this reflexive nature of existence by speaking of the Other Power of Amida Buddha manifesting by virtue of the Original Vow to save all sentients.
All of this seems mythical and perhaps beyond comprehension, and it is.
Enter the nature of faith (`sraddhaa), but this is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, I return to (a), self-realization of the basic nature of momentary existence.
Self-realization or self-power is inherent in all Mahaayaana Buddhism, except that some schools will not bring it out into the open as a central issue, and indeed that may be the case in Pure Land Buddhist practice.
But it is fundamental and attractive precisely because it does not deviate from the basic teachings of the Buddha.
It entails the discipline necessary to realize the truth of existence.
Thus, the Mahaayaana tradition emphasizes meditation, dhyaana or praj~naapaaramitaa, as a central thrust for the perfection of personhood.
In Far Eastern Buddhism, the pursuit of life has somehow brought about an amalgamation of self-and other-power elements.
In the field of aesthetics, finally, the implications of Buddhist reality (ontology) have propelled Far Eastern art collectively into the status of one of the wonders of the world.
In all of this, the role and function of emptiness. couched in the basic, dependently originating nature of things, have played no small part in this development.
Thus, however slowly or quickly the wheel of becoming may be turning, the goal is the selfsame realization of the Buddhist Dharma.
1. Diigha-nikaaya, 22. Maha Satipa.t.thaana Suttana (Setting up of mindfulness); see Dialogues of the Buddha (London: Luzac & Co., Ltd., 1959), pp. 327-346. Also, there is the Majjhima-nikaaya, 10, Satipa.t.thaanasutta (Discourse on the applications of mindfulness) ; see The Middle Length Sayings (London: Luzac & Co., Ltd., 1954). pp. 70-82.
2. Private correspondence, January 29, 1987. This statement will appear in his forthcoming book, The Heart of Buddhist Philosophy, published by Southern Illinois University Press.
3. Majjhima-nikaaya, 3.131, 132, 133, 134; see Middle Length Sayings, trans. I. B. Horner, Pali Text Society translation series (London: Luzac & Co., Ltd., 1959), vol. 3, pp. 233-248.
4. A most graphic illustration of the impermanent nature of life is presented in a short piece from the Angutrara Commentary, 225-227, entitled Kisaa Gotamii, in which a woman who has lost her beloved son seeks medicine to revive him. The Buddha, sensing that she is ripe for conversion, tells her to go into the city and inquire at each household if no one has ever died in the family and, if such be the case, to collect tiny grains of mustard seed. She makes her rounds, but cannot obtain a single mustardseed. She soon realizes that death is an inevitable human phenomenon, and she brings her dead child to the cremating ground. She realizes that all things are impermanent and becomes the Buddha's disciple (Eugene Watson Burlingame, Buddhist Parables (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1922), pp. 92-94).
5. For example, Sa.myutta-nikaaya, Part IV 35.1-26; see The Book of Kindred Sayings, trans. F. L. Woodward, Pali Text Society translation series (London: Luzac & Co., Ltd., 1956). vol. 4, pp. l-14.
6. The Sa.myutta-nikaaya, 3, is devoted to an analysis or the khandhaa (skandhas). It presents fine arguments on why our cravings for the permanent nature of things are based on the skandhic graspings. It is literally a burden that we carry with us without knowing about the mechanism involved. So long as the skandhic natures remain, the notion of the self cannot be dispelled (Kindred Sayings, vol. 3). Perhaps the most famous account supporting the impermanent nature of things is the Fire Sermon, which says that everything is on fire--analogously referring to the skandhic graspings (Kindred Sayings, vol. 4, pp. 10-11).
7. This momentous decision is reflected clearly in the Mahaayaana tradition, where the Bodhisattva Dharmaakara vowed to save all sentient beings. More specifically, it refers to the Original Vow (pra.nidhaana), that is, to delay entrance into nirvaa.na until all sentients are liberated from their suffering, a vow which is basic to Pure Land Buddhist faith.
8. Majjhima-nikaaya, 3.280; see The Middle Length Sayings, trans. I. B. Horner (London: Luzac & Co., 1959) vol. 3, p. 330. See also Kindred Sayings, vol. 4, p. 66.
10. The Udaana (The Solemn Utterances of the Buddha), trans. D. M. Strong (London: Luzac & Co., 1902), p. 112.
11. Kindred Sayings, vol. 3, pp. 113-114.
12. Ibid., p. 114 (parentheses mine).
13. Ibid., (parentheses mine).
14. Edward Conze, ed., Buddhist Texts Though the Ages, trans. by I. B. Horner (New York: Philosophical Library, 1954), p. 65.
15. Ibid., p.66.
16. Ibid., The twelve links of dependent origination are: ignorance, karma-formation, consciousness, corporeality-mentality, six bases of sense, impression, feeling, craving, clinging or attachment, becoming, rebirth, and aging-death. The best treatment of dependent origination is by Buddhaghosa, Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification) , translated by Bhikkhu ~Naanamoli (Colombo. Ceylon: R. Semage, 1956) , XVII, pp. 592-678.
17. Edward Conze, ed., Buddhist Texts Through the Ages, pp. 66--67.
18. Sa.myutta-nikaaya, 2.42-43, Kindred Sayings, vol.2, p. 33.
19. Buddhaghosa, Visuddhimagga, p. 593.
20. Majjhima-nikaaya, 3.294; The Middle Length Sayings, vol. 3, p.343.
21. Buddhaghosa, Visuddhimagga, p. 666. Abiding in the concept of emptiness is also the main theme in two short texts, Lesser Discourse on Emptiness (Cu.lasu~n~nataa Sutta) and Greater Discourse on Emptiness (Mahaasu~n~nataa Sutta) , in Majjhima-nikaaya, 3.121, 122; see The Middle Length Sayings, vol. 3. pp. 147-162.
22. In the pragmatic tradition, George H. Mead emphasized the preparatory and anticipatory stages of the act. This is a great insight in expanding on the dimensions of the pragmatic act, although it may be problematic when it comes to applying the pragmatic criteria to Buddhist momentary existence. The dimensions, for one thing, may not coincide on all points.
23. Muulamadhyamakakaarikaa, XXIV. 18
24. Ibid., XXIV. 11, 14.
25. Edward Conze, trans., Buddhist Wisdom Books (London: George Alien & Unwin Ltd., 1958). This contains by far the best translation and doctrinal analysis of the two texts.
26. Monier Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1963), p. 673. In the Prasannapadaa (The Clearworded) , Candrakiirti comments on Naagaarjuna's meaning of pratiitya-samutpaada thus:
The first part of the term consists of the gerund of the root "i" and the preposition "prati". The root "i" means motion, the preposition "prati". means "reaching". But the preposition (when added to a verbal root) modifies its meaning. It has been said that "the meaning of the verbal root is changed by the preposition as if it were violently dragged into another place just as the sweet waters of the Ganges (change their savour when reaching) the waters of the ocean". Therefore the word pratiitya, being a gerund, means "reaching" in the sense of being dependent (or relative). The word samutpaada means appearance, manifestation. It comes from the verbal root "pad" which with the preposition "samut" has this meaning. Thus the term pratitya-samutpada (in our system) conveys the idea of a manifestation of (separate) entities as relative to their causes and conditions (hetu-pratyaya-apek.sa).
This quote is taken from Th. Stcherbatsky, The Conception of Buddhist Nirvaa.na, revised and enlarged edition with comprehensive analysis and introduction by Jaideva Singh (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1977), p. 89 (on chap. 1, "Examination of Causality").
27. Naagaarjuna brought the basic doctrines in line in a most sweeping manner. His emphasis on the traditional concept of emptiness was climactic in the sense that the whole realm of human experience could now be glimpsed from both the unenlightened and enlightened nature of things. We saw earlier in Buddhaghosa's analysis of dependent origination a verse depicting the voidness of the wheel of becoming. I take this verse to be also a confirmation of the Mahaayaanistic employment of the concept of emptiness in the experiential dynamics of becoming. To this extent, the concept was given a new meaning and heralded the possibility of further developments in Buddhism. Perhaps Naagaarjuna should not be accorded excessive credit for his contributions since there is strong suspicion that there may have been an unknown author or authors of the earliest praj~naapaaramitaa thought or other seminal works who had originally spawned the idea of the uniqueness and power of emptiness.