Meditation: Dependent Origination

Meditation on Perception (pp. 117-119)

“When this is, that is.”

Dependent origination was the Buddha’s teaching that everything arises dependent on cause and conditions and falls away dependent on causes and conditions. This is called co-arising.

If one does not recognize that everything is dependent on something, it is easy to fall into either of two opposite views: everything exists permanently or nothing exists. The true nature is of impermanence: everything that we perceive rises and falls away.

We cannot control impermanence; we can only be aware of it. Likewise we can only be aware of nonattachment and cessation. They happen by themselves.

We come to realize that “Once a moment has ceased, it is gone forever. It cannot be revived by any means. What arises is a new moment. The mindful meditator lets this process happen without trying to resist this change. This is abandonment.” (p. 119) When resistance to letting go occurs, we suffer. The Buddha explained this by teaching dependent origination.

Dependent Origination

Suffering occurs because we are ignorant and lack mindfulness or clear comprehension of what is really happening.

“The Buddha described suffering as a traceable path, which he called a chain of “dependent origination.” From contact with an experience, depending on whether it feels pleasant or unpleasant, you have urges about having it or avoiding it, which create desire in your mind. You start to identify with what you desire; it become “me or mine,” and you sink into attachment.” Moffitt, Phillip Dancing With Life p. 82

Understanding Dependent Origination is to look deeply into the process of suffering. To quote from the Maha-nidana Sutta: The Great Causes Discourse:

“I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was living among the Kurus. Now, the Kurus have a town named Kammasadhamma. There Ven. Ananda approached the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to the Blessed One, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One: “It’s amazing, lord, it’s astounding, how deep this dependent co-arising is, and how deep its appearance, and yet to me it seems as clear as clear can be.”

[The Buddha:] “Don’t say that, Ananda. Don’t say that. Deep is this dependent co-arising, and deep its appearance. It’s because of not understanding and not penetrating this Dhamma that this generation is like a tangled skein, a knotted ball of string, like matted rushes and reeds, and does not go beyond transmigration, beyond the planes of deprivation, woe, and bad destinations.”


Dependent Origination: Stages in the chain or development of suffering

  1. Something arises–a form of energy that could be a desire, attraction, or some kind of experience.
  2. You make contact with it. We become conscious of this energy through one or more of our six internal sense bases, (seeing, hearing, touch, tasting, smelling, thinking).
  3. A feeling arises which can be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. If it is neutral, it passes away. If it is pleasant or unpleasant, this may lead to craving.
  4. Craving arises:
  5. Craving can lead to clinging; a more intensified version which can lead to intentional actions (thoughts, words and deeds).
  6. We become. A “self” is born and we identify with it creating a receptacle for suffering to occur.
  7. The “self” suffers. For example, wanting a pleasant experience to continue or re-occur and it doesn’t; aversion to having to do some activity which you don’t like; aging and death then transpire as it falls away.

For a more detailed explanation, read The Shape of Suffering pdf_icon by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.


  • Reread this talk and reflect on it.  Can you experience when the “self” arises to suffer?   Just be mindful and observe without judgment.


  • Meditate as usual in your daily practice being mindful of what arises and falls away.  Note the impermanence, unreliability, and selfless nature of each phenomena that arises and falls away.  See if the “self” arises with attachment to any of these phenomena.

Next: Freedom
Previous: Meditation: Impermanence and the Six Sensory Objects and The Mind is Also Changing