ChatGPT translation of a very good Chinese article on Dependent Origination and Emptiness. (Chinese original below) This article to shared to me by John Tan some years ago.

**What does Pratītyasamutpāda (Dependent Origination) Śūnyatā (Emptiness) mean? (Part 1)** 


**2013-07-24 19:41 | Views: 631**

1. The idea of Pratītyasamutpāda Śūnyatā (Dependent Origination and Emptiness), in summary, is this: all dharmas, because they have no self-nature (nissvabhava), can manifest as illusions depending on conditions. Although all these illusory dharmas are vividly apparent, they are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, and shadows; like dew and lightning. When we truly understand and believe this principle, then all conceptual elaborations will cease, and we will be free from disputes with others and have no inner attachments. Following this, the only thing left in life is to act accordingly and accept whatever comes, without there being, in truth, any merit (puṇya) really existing.

2. The cosmology of Buddhism leans towards phenomenology rather than metaphysical ontology; it analyzes the essence of phenomena based on experiential phenomena. Additionally, Buddhism is not purely a cosmological phenomenology; it is further a method to free oneself from suffering. The focus is on relieving all human suffering. To free humanity from suffering, the Buddha discovered that suffering arises from the misinterpretation of phenomena. Since the misinterpretation and distortion of phenomena bring boundless distress to oneself and others, the Buddha proposed the concepts of Pratītyasamutpāda (Dependent Origination) and Anātman (No-self) as methods to counteract this. Therefore, Pratītyasamutpāda and Anātman are not only explanations of objective phenomena in Buddhism but also methods to eliminate suffering.

3. Everything is merely the transformation of functions and phenomena; within them, there is no life, no body, and no consciousness. This is my understanding of the Dharma.

4. The doctrine of 'Pratītyasamutpāda and Anātman' or 'the ultimate emptiness of Dependent Origination' is the fundamental thought of Buddhism. Any group or individual whose ideas deviate from the principle of Dependent Origination and Emptiness is not recognized as part of Buddhism, even though it may still be a great religion, a rigorous philosophy, or a person of admirable moral character.

5. The Dharma is fundamentally simple; there are only a few words that can truly transcend life and death and ferry one across the sea of suffering. While learning is vast and requires much study and reading, practice is best kept minimal. The Middle Way (Madhyamaka) and Prajñāpāramitā teachings are extensive, but they can be summarized in the two words 'Pratītyasamutpāda' (Dependent Origination). If someone deeply understands the profound meaning of Pratītyasamutpāda, they can immediately distance themselves from conceptual elaborations! Some say, 'From the three thousand waters, I take only one scoop to drink.' One scoop of water is enough to quench thirst, but if one stands by the river and counts the three thousand waters without drinking, they will die of thirst by the river.

6. The meaning of Pratītyasamutpāda and Anātman is a profound Buddhist doctrine. The Buddha once said, 'Pratītyasamutpāda is deep, very deep!' Although we often hear Buddhists talk about 'Pratītyasamutpāda,' those who truly understand the meaning of Pratītyasamutpāda and Anātman are relatively few compared to those who merely speak about it.

7. What does 'Pratītyasamutpāda' mean? Pratītyasamutpāda means that many conditions come together to manifest and complete a thing. What does 'Śūnyatā' mean? It means that since all things are composed of conditions, they do not have their own nature, individuality, permanence, eternity, or autonomy. That is all.

8. The general idea of Pratītyasamutpāda and Anātman is: First, sentient beings' existence is not without cause; their appearance in the world, and the different encounters and retributions they experience, are due to the power of ignorance and karma. Second, sentient beings undergo long cycles of rebirth in the three realms, exhibiting various states of life and creating different bodily and mental activities. However, these states and activities are merely the illusory combinations of roots, objects, and consciousness, without substance, core, and constantly changing and flowing. The essence of Anātman can be summarized in these two points, but for the vast majority of beings attached to sensory experiences, superstitious materialistic thoughts, and constantly distracted, it is extremely difficult to understand! Especially for those who desire to grasp the essential teaching of Pratītyasamutpāda and Anātman and integrate it into their lives to purify the three karmas (body, speech, and mind), to sever thirst and extinguish conceptual elaborations, achieving tranquility and non-contention, it is even more challenging for those with a strong sense of right and wrong and a combative mind!

9. Phenomena have two aspects: their appearance and their essence. The appearance of phenomena refers to all the things, events, principles, and matters that arise and perish due to causes and conditions (including the three realms of samsara, karma, and retribution). The essence of phenomena is impermanence, no-self, and emptiness. One who does not see emptiness is not a Buddhist; one who discusses emptiness apart from the appearance of phenomena does not correctly understand emptiness. Since the three realms of samsara, karma, and retribution cannot be fully comprehended without the attainment of the four dhyānas and the eight samādhis (only through faith and understanding), and because the appearance is infinite and boundless, practitioners cannot observe everything. Therefore, modern Zen advises practitioners to focus on the attainment of pre-dhyāna concentration, living in the present moment, and contemplating the emptiness of the five aggregates at all times and places. Because those who have firm pre-dhyāna concentration can perform deep contemplation, and those who truly see the emptiness of the five aggregates can cease greed and hatred and attain liberation.

10. Buddhism speaks of 'all dharmas being like illusions,' which is discussed together with 'karma and retribution are not lost.' It can be said that these are two sides of the same coin. To say that mountains, rivers, and the great earth are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, and shadows presupposes the acknowledgment of the existence of mountains, rivers, and the great earth; to say that wealth and fame are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, and shadows naturally affirms the existence of wealth and fame before saying they are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, and shadows; to say that the six realms of samsara are like dreams and illusions similarly affirms the existence of the six realms of samsara and that karma and retribution are not lost. The emptiness of dreams and illusions does not negate the fact of dreams and illusions—if a Zen practitioner does not recognize this, they easily fall into the view of nihilistic emptiness.

11. The Buddha said, 'Pratītyasamutpāda is deep, very deep.' Understanding the principle of emptiness is not easy. Those with dull faculties must observe from many aspects to gradually understand emptiness. They need to reflect on the transience and suffering of the world, the despicable, heartless, and fickle nature of human beings, the transient nature of life like staying in a guesthouse, the disguises, performances, packaging, and promotions in society, the deliberate and resultant nature of worldly affairs as combinations of conditions, and so on, to slowly comprehend emptiness. Those with sharp faculties, however, can directly enter the gate of nirvāṇa through the fundamental contemplation of Prajñāpāramitā and Madhyamaka: 'All dharmas arise and appear through the combination of roots, objects, and consciousness.' That is to say, those with sharp faculties may not follow the sequential study of suffering, impermanence, and no-self; they can resolve attachment and enter nirvāṇa by observing that all dependent arisings are illusory and all illusory arisings are unarisen.

12. The Buddha said: 'Pratītyasamutpāda is deep, very deep; the quiescent nature of Pratītyasamutpāda (nirvāṇa) is even deeper and profound.' Pratītyasamutpāda refers to all existing, continuing things, including time, space, spirit, matter, motion (the cycle of the three realms is also a kind of motion phenomenon), and the principles and laws of things (karma and retribution are also a kind of law), all of which are formed based on certain causes and conditions. The quiescent nature of Pratītyasamutpāda points to the intrinsic nature of all existing and continuing dharmas—obviously being impermanent, arising and ceasing, full of suffering, defects, and unease; more profoundly being illusory and unreal, like dreams, flowers in the sky, moon in the water, mirages, and reflections; and ultimately being quiescent and unarisen—nirvāṇa.

        13.     ‘Anything dependent on conditions for existence is fundamentally unreal, like a dream.’ The core meaning of Prajñāpāramitā Madhyamaka is a truth that is easily understood and explained by ordinary Buddhist learners, but difficult to truly believe, accept, and practice.

**14.** From a Buddhist perspective, the human body and mind—referred to as the five aggregates (skandhas)—are all born from conditions, without inherent subjectivity, autonomy, or an independent core. Terms like 'you,' 'me,' 'he,' 'society,' 'nation,' 'world,' as well as concepts like 'emotion,' 'rationality,' 'justice,' and 'happiness,' are all relatively provisional and temporary composite concepts. The more one recognizes this fact of phenomena, the more one will distance themselves from pride and self-assurance. Therefore, a humble and soft personality is not merely a form of cultivation, but a manifestation in accordance with the truth.

**15.** The phenomena of life are temporary illusions manifesting from the combination of conditions. For convenience, we provisionally name these as 'you,' 'me,' 'he,' but in reality, in the moment-to-moment arising and ceasing, there is no fixed form that can be called a 'dharma,' and in the gathering and dispersing, there is no independent form that can be called 'self.' Just as the sky and the sea do not inherently have boundaries or differences between the four great oceans, initially, names were established according to convention, and eventually, they became ingrained. If asked, 'Where is the soul of the Pacific Ocean?'

**16.** Sentient beings have not broken the 'view of a personal self' (sakkāya-diṭṭhi), so for them, there are unchanging time and space, heaven and hell, Buddhas and Māras, Arhats and Bodhisattvas, the first, second, and subsequent stages of sainthood, all because of 'self-view'—a confused thought and mental state. If one day the self-view is broken, all conceptual elaborations will cease. Because all these distinctions are based on the premise of self-view, self-view is like the coordinates of motion. With the coordinates, motion is possible. When this firm coordinate—self-view—is broken, the world becomes one of infinite light, infinite life, and inconceivable phenomena.

**17.** An unenlightened person, when talking about ancient Chan masters or Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, always holds self-view in their mind—seeing the Sixth Patriarch, Yongjia, Huangbo, Linji, and Nanquan as separate 'entities' and viewing Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva as 'one' Bodhisattva—this is evidence of not yet being enlightened. A truly enlightened person, from the perspective of their mind's eye, sees only dependent origination, not individual selves. They do not view Bodhisattvas, patriarchs, or even sentient beings as separate 'entities.' They do not hold the view of 'individuality' among sentient beings, which is called 'personality view' (pudgala-dṛṣṭi) in Buddhism; nor do they arise the view of 'self' within themselves—'view of a personal self' (sakkāya-diṭṭhi). They see only dependent origination and merely play within dependent origination.

**18.** People can naturally be free and unobstructed, but due to the mistaken identification of 'body and mind as self,' a deep-rooted habitual force forms, even becoming 'effortless.' Thus, afflictions are continuous, and suffering arises. By falsely grasping the body as self and thoughts and feelings as self, one naturally becomes concerned only with their own body and mind (including feelings, sensations, thoughts, ideas, memories, impressions, and experiences), and to protect these two, they fall into blind biases, contradictions, and emptiness. Like flies, they are quickly waved away but soon return to the original place—all their concerns and attachments are only centered on their own body and mind, unable to step outside the five elements and become free people.

**19.** I often tell fellow practitioners, 'Life is like a pile of mud; don't roar in it!' What does 'roar' mean? It means getting emotionally agitated, shouting and yelling; here, it also refers to being high-spirited, arrogant, self-assured, affectionate, greedy, anxious, and uneasy. Over the years, I have deeply felt that life really has nothing much to it! Life quickly passes! The current body, eyes, ears, nose, tongue, heart, liver, spleen, lungs, hands, feet, tendons, bones, blood, flesh, fat, as well as memory, experience, perception, and thoughts, I feel they are just a heap of combinations. They belong to unknowable conditions, not to me.

**20.** Ordinary people cannot be at ease or follow conditions because they do not believe in or understand the Buddha's teaching that 'life is like a dream.' They are deceived by their own eyes, their own consciousness, and by the eyes and consciousness of others. They mistakenly believe that time, space, objects, motion, and even mental phenomena, psychological activities, philosophical principles, and so on, all truly exist—since their mindset takes all these as real and serious, how can they not be stubborn? How can they move toward liberation?

**21.** People mistakenly believe that everything is real, so they 'seriously' cling and 'seriously' let go. Thus, whether clinging or letting go, they do not understand the Madhyamaka (Middle Way).

**22.** If one cannot correctly see and contemplate the impermanence of all conditioned things (saṃskāra) and the no-self nature (anātman) of all dharmas, freeing the mind from all notions of reality and self-view, no matter how happy or carefree or how ascetic their practice, they will never be associated with the liberation of the Buddha's teachings.

**23.** 'All dharmas are unattainable' does not mean that because the practitioner has a mind of non-attainment, all dharmas are unattainable. Rather, all dharmas are inherently without core, without substance, unreal, and unattainable!

**24.** True practice is not for escaping saṃsāra in the future but is driven by the urgent need to free oneself from suffering. Everywhere in life, we see people suffering intensely due to a lack of wisdom, which is an evident fact. Although the five aggregates are without self, karma and retribution still exist. If one really swallows a nail, it will rupture the stomach; if one jumps from a roof, they will be bloodied and broken—this is not negated by the no-self nature of the five aggregates.

Perhaps it can be said that humans rarely act purely for the 'self,' since 'self' is just a concept. What humans truly yearn for, roar about, are countless desires and greed—and it is these desires and greed that cause their body and mind to suffer. Our practice focuses on believing, understanding, practicing, and realizing the emptiness of dependent origination and no-self. This emptiness can heal our present suffering caused by desires and greed, while escaping future saṃsāra is just a natural, inevitable result.

**25.** Since all dharmas arise from conditions, and conditions are inherently without self-nature (nissvabhava), all dharmas in the world, although vividly present, are ultimately unborn (ajata), have never existed from the start! Since all dharmas in the world have never existed from the start, naturally, there is no issue of arising or ceasing! Given that everything is without issue, how can there be true regret in the heart of a Buddhist disciple?


Continuation from Part 1:


People intuitively feel that death is real and true, leading to a fear of death. If one can see through the illusion that pleasure, pain, birth, and death are like dreams, then they can free themselves from the fear of death.

The stream of life is without beginning or end. Although the phenomena of "death" appear due to the coming together of conditions, it is not a termination, just a change in form. Those who have insight into dependent origination understand the principles of samsara and maintain clear mindfulness at all times, keeping themselves in a simple, pure world.

People might say that at least the present can be grasped. But what does "present" mean? It is merely the image produced in the brain when the eye nerves come into contact with the external environment.

A practitioner proficient in śamatha (calm abiding) and vipaśyanā (insight) can confirm in a blink that the world is truly like a dream, knowing that the images of the world arise in relation to one's eye faculties as illusions.

The path to the goal is not the goal itself. The principle of dependent origination and emptiness, although it can indeed distance one from delusion and dreams, is not the ultimate reality or nirvāṇa itself. Thus, explaining that "all dharmas are merely nominal" will not cause sentient beings to lose the path to liberation. The Chan (Zen) assertion that "all words are expedient means" does not contradict the Prajñāpāramitā Madhyamaka philosophy.

Actually, "The Great Sage spoke of emptiness to free one from all views." Emptiness and dependent origination should not be considered the highest philosophical presupposition. Thinking that the theory of dependent origination is the highest, unchanging truth goes against the Buddha's original intention in presenting dependent origination and emptiness. The scriptures state, "To save sentient beings, the ultimate emptiness is taught." In reality, "emptiness itself is empty" and "emptiness is merely nominal" are points we should be mindful of.

When Buddhism says "everything is empty," it does not mean everything is meaningless or non-existent. It tells us that nothing is absolute, permanent, or real, hoping that people will not cling to things. This concept of emptiness will not lead to negativity; it only makes people tolerant, unobstructed, and refreshed.

All dharmas lack a fixed nature and are in a constant state of change. Therefore, any notion of something being unchanging, absolute, or eternal is a foolish view.

Since we live in a relative world, we must adhere to the general rules of the world. When worldly sages say something exists, we should also say it exists. When they say it does not exist, we should say it does not exist. However, from the highest perspective, we must affirm that good and evil arise from causes and conditions, and there is no fixed, unchanging, absolute, or real significance. Furthermore, for one who sees the quiescent nature of dependent origination, their actions are solely for the benefit of others. They do whatever benefits sentient beings. Since "evil" is harmful to sentient beings and "good" is beneficial to sentient beings, they naturally encourage people to avoid all evil and cultivate all good. Although they teach "avoid all evil and cultivate all good," they do not have a real sense of good and evil, understanding that these are dependent origination and born of the mind.

Worldly good and bad are composed of causes and conditions. For example, is a knife good or bad? It is not definite; with certain causes and conditions, a knife is good; with others, it is bad. In some situations, it can be said to be bad, and in others, it can be said to be good. The view of good and bad should not be fixed, which is the attitude of a practitioner.

Worldly matters often appear simple on the surface, but a deeper investigation reveals that many small daily things contain profound principles.

The entire network of causes and conditions is a web-like causal system, where pulling one hair can move the whole body. Thus, any issue is not a simple one, and a deeper investigation often shows hundreds of issues behind each one. The emergence of one issue often affects the arising of other issues.

I believe that "all dharmas arise from causes and conditions," and the arising of dharmas under the same conditions is universally inevitable and follows an invariable order. However, the problem is, given the endless interconnected causes and conditions of the world and the constantly flowing five aggregates (skandhas) of body and mind, who can grasp the exact same conditions completely?

Most worldly matters have various aspects of appearance and essence, near and far, high and low. Each matter is complex, containing contradictory yet unified contents.

People become what their environment shapes them into. Everyone has the potential to change because no one is fixed; everything is due to causes and conditions. Therefore, practitioners have no fixed views about people and things and are not attached.

Causes and conditions are truly inconceivable. In the vast expanse of time and space and the myriad human world, people with different background conditions come together!

All dharmas and worldly matters arising from causes and conditions are inherently integrated, and even the term "integrated" cannot fully describe their close relationship. They cannot be forcibly separated as "this is you," "this is me," or "that is him." The notions of "you," "me," and "him" are illusions arising from the ignorance of the three marks of existence (trilakṣaṇa), which are superfluous, unreal, and products of deluded dreams. In burning away all these illusions, there is only "seeing" without a "seer"; only "suffering" without a "sufferer"; only "acting" without an "actor." Sentient beings have compassion because "everyone" arises from causes and conditions! Furthermore, the Mahayana scriptures emphasize that "everyone can become a Buddha" because of causes and conditions!

Past events and future events may feel dream-like to us, but we do not perceive the present as a dream. In reality, both the future and the past are dreams; does the present have any real essence? The "present" is at most just a second, and once a second passes, it cannot be retrieved.

In the world of dependent origination, what is high is not high, and what is low is not low. Everything is closely interconnected.

The causes and conditions of sentient beings vary! From my impression of reading the Buddhist scriptures, there were sentient beings that Venerable Ananda could not save, but Venerable Sariputra could. Similarly, there were those Venerable Kassapa could not save, but Venerable Anuruddha could. Thus, causes and conditions are not fixed.

The world is like a banana tree, covered layer upon layer by banana leaves—formed by endless overlapping causes and conditions, creating the world. But if the causes and conditions, like banana leaves, are peeled away one by one, there is no self, no dharma to be found. Impermanence is the appearance and phenomenon of the world, while its essence and nature are without self-nature.

Infinite causes and conditions only form a phenomenon called "events." Although we can say that infinite causes and conditions form an event, in our minds we must understand that infinite causes and conditions only form the composite illusion called an event.

From the perspective of dependent origination, all people, events, and things are finite; there is no perfect group or individual in the world. As long as the general direction is towards the path of Buddhahood, everything is not in vain.

Although heat and cold are not absolute, being scalded by boiling water still causes injury. Thus, ignorance of objective relative truth still causes us suffering. Similarly, although there is no absolute truth, understanding objective relative truth can still lead to the elimination of suffering.

In the world of dependent origination, one cannot find pure, complete, transcendental, absolute objectivity—what is generally called objectivity is also a kind of standpoint, whether leaning left, right, or centered.

Buddhism's theory of dependent origination tells us that everything manifests based on causes and conditions. Things that manifest based on causes and conditions are inherently impermanent and changeable—possessing infinite possibilities. From known and visible causes and conditions, we might say something is "impossible," but if we take an absolutely rigorous standpoint, we should acknowledge that all phenomena contain the potential for change and possibility. 



2013-07-24 19:41阅读:631









8.缘起无我的大意是:一、有情的 存在,不是没有原因的,他们之所以出现在世间,际遇报应各有不同,乃依无明意识和业的力量所造。二、有情长劫轮回于三界,展现种种不同的生命状态,并营造出不同的身心活动,但这些状态和活动,都只是根、境、识和合的假相,没有实体、没有核心,而且变化不居、迁流不息。无我的理趣,扼要的说,虽只是以上两点,但对于执着感官经验、迷信唯物思想且一向散乱的广大群生而言,是多么难以理解的!尤其是意欲掌握缘起无我的心要,并援引心要融入生活净化三业,以至于断渴爱、灭戏论、寂静无诤、任运随缘之境,对于是非心重、诤胜心强的有情,更是难上加难!





















Continuation from Part 1:





























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