In Praise of Dependent Origination
In Tibetan Buddhism, Lama Tsongkhapa’s In Praise of Dependent Origination is an outstanding and profound text which explains the meaning of dependent origination and emptiness. When H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche was alive, he often spoke highly of this short, but brilliantly insightful work, saying, “As a follower of the Buddha, one should study at least the pith instructions of Lama Tsongkhapa—such as In Praise of Dependent Origination and Three Principal Aspects of the Path — if one is unable to learn all his supreme writings extensively.”
By learning this great text, Dharma practitioners will develop great faith in Buddha Shakyamuni and gain a deep understanding of the Dharma teachings. As long as one listens to the teachings properly, reflects on their meaning carefully, and meditates on them diligently, one will for sure be able to attain a certain level of realization.
Homage to (my) Guru, Manjughosha.
He who speaks on the basis of seeing,
This makes him a knower and teacher unexcelled,
I bow to you, O Conqueror, you who saw
Dependent origination and taught it.
Whatever degenerations there are in the world,
The root of all these is ignorance;
You taught that it is dependent origination,
The seeing of which will undo this ignorance.
So how can an intelligent person
Not comprehend that this path
Of dependent origination is
The essential point of your teaching?
This being so, who will find, O Savior,
A more wonderful way to praise you
Than [to praise you] for having taught
This origination through dependence?
How can we break away from the cycle of suffering?
It is well known that Buddha Shakyamuni, in the beginning, aroused bodhichitta, in the middle, accumulated incredible merit for three great eons, and in the end, achieved Buddhahood. After his awakening, the Buddha taught the 84,000 paths of Dharma practice to living beings. Among all of his teachings, the Buddha taught the most profound principles of dependent origination and emptiness, with the supreme wisdom of his own enlightenment. This is a unique teaching that cannot be taught by any other great scholar or person of wisdom from any of the other schools of philosophy. Therefore, Lama Tsongkhapa praises the Buddha in a way that acknowledges that apart from Buddha Shakyamuni, no one else in this world had attained the realization of dependent origination and given these enlightened teachings. It is for this reason that one should praise the Buddha with great gratitude.
As we know, every living being in this world wants to pursue happiness. However, in spite of this wish, most of the time, living beings end up experiencing the pain of suffering. How then, can we break away from the cycle of suffering? It is through learning and realizing the truth of dependent origination. Who discovered and first taught this truth? It was Buddha Shakyamuni. Therefore, as a follower of the Buddha, Lama Tsongkhapa praises the Buddha in this way.
Full text of Chapter 1
Only the Buddha teaches the genuine knowledge of liberation
The statement that the gathering of causes and conditions generates all phenomena and that the falling apart of causes and conditions leads to its corresponding cessation is uniquely compelling. Such excellent instruction can only be found in the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni and is not a part of any other religious tradition or philosophy. According to the Compendium of Valid Cognition (Pramānavārttikakārika), the Buddha is the only teacher who compassionately shared this genuine knowledge of liberation through his teachings on the four noble truths. In fact, the four noble truths share the exact same meaning as the instruction on dependent arising. The first truth relates the current situation of ordinary beings, which is suffering. The second truth outlines the cause of suffering, which is ignorance. How then does one go about eradicating ignorance and the suffering it produces? By following the fourth truth, the path of the cessation of suffering, which is the realization of emptiness that leads to the third truth, the truth of cessation.
I believe that many more intelligent people would develop an irreversible faith in Buddhism if they were to see the wisdom of this principle as a result of their own learning and observation, in conjunction with guidance from their teachers. However, if their understanding does not progress beyond a superficial level, some may lose their faith when confronted by competing philosophical views. Therefore, the wise should study the theory of emptiness and dependent arising deeply and meticulously, to see for themselves why the teaching is not only absolutely reasonable but also reveals the truth of all phenomena.
Full text of Chapter 2
The vastness of the Buddha’s teaching
The Buddha has given numerous teachings to his followers; taken together they are as vast as the ocean. Even today, we have threefold canons (Tripitaka), twelve categories of scriptures, four principal tantras, and eighty-four thousand Dharma approaches; taken all together they are too numerous to count. The following story can be found in Chapter 15 of the Connected Discourses .
One day in the Bamboo Grove Monastery, the Buddha grabbed a handful of leaves from the ground beneath a tree. He then turned to his disciples and asked, “Are there more leaves in this entire grove than these that I hold in my hand?” All of the monks answered in a unified voice, “Of course, the amount of leaves in your hand is much less than that can be found in the entire grove.” Then Buddha then said, “The number of Dharma teachings you have heard from me is like the amount of leaves in my hand, however, the knowledge that I possess is like that of all of the leaves in the entire grove.” The Buddha continued, “Why is this? The reason is that, to achieve liberation from samsara, living beings need only the amount of teachings that equal the number of leaves that I hold in my hand.”
Even so, the Buddha has given countless number of teachings; these include not only his teachings to human beings, but also his teachings in the God Realm and in the Dragon’s Palace. Even in different places of the human world, different teachings have been recorded. For example, the Tibetan version of the Tripitaka is different from its Chinese version, etc. Given how numerous teachings these teachings are, it is impossible to gain a thorough understanding of each and every one of them. However, if we have a true understanding of even a few words, or if we gain a general understanding of just a few verses, it is sufficient for us to achieve extraordinary peace and bliss.
Full text of Chapter 3
All Buddhist teaching has originated and proceeded from dependent arising
All the eighty-four thousand Dharma paths taught by Buddha Shakyamuni have originated and proceeded from dependent arising itself.
We should recognize the fact that all eighty-four thousand Dharma paths can be categorized into teachings of relative truth and teachings of absolute truth. From the perspective of relative truth, all phenomena arise dependently from causes and conditions; if there is no cause, there is no effect. All phenomena can be further classified as to whether it is subject to outer or inner dependent arising. Inner dependent arising is illustrated by the twelve links of dependent origination, while outer dependent arising exists in relation to the natural laws of the external world, in which trees, plants and so on are produced by corresponding causes and conditions. In all, none of these dreamlike and illusory appearances arises, independent of causes and conditions. So, ultimately speaking, the nature of all phenomena is emptiness, which means that it exists on a plane beyond the four extremes and the eight elaborations.
The Buddha shared all of these teachings in order to guide living beings to eliminate suffering, to attain liberation, and to reach nirvana. All of the Buddha’s teachings are able to pacify mental afflictions and sufferings, as their intent is for the realization of dependent arising and emptiness.
Full text of Chapter 4
This hymn entitled “Essence of Well-Uttered Insights,” praising the unexcelled Teacher – the great friend to the entire world [even] to the unfamiliar – for teaching the profound dependent origination, was composed by the well-read monk Lobsang Drakpai Pal. It was written at the heavenly retreat of Lhading on the towerng mountain of Odé Gungyal, otherwise known as [Ganden] Nampar Gyalwai Ling. The scriber was Namkha Pal.
Repay the great kindness of the Buddha
In the past, when great masters, such as Chak Lotsawa, went to India, they would not climb the mountain but rather would stay at its foot, in order to better to visualize how the Buddha taught Prajnaparamita at that place, and to reflect on his great kindness. As followers of the Buddha, we should always be thinking about how we can repay the Buddha’s kindness. As The Shurangama Sutra says, “Offer up the body and mind to the myriad Buddha-lands and thus endeavor to repay the Buddha’s boundless grace.” If we could contemplate and practice the Dharma with persistence, and devote ourselves to spreading the Dharma by offering our bodies and minds to sentient beings in innumerable realms, we will indeed be repaying the Buddha’s kindness.
Each time that we receive the Dharma teachings, we should think that if in the past we had attended the teaching given by the previous lineage masters, Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, we would by now have achieved a high level of accomplishment. Or maybe, it is because we were there in previous lives, that in this life we have the opportunity to receive the Dharma. Indeed, there are many textual references stating that it must have been the offerings that we made to numerous Buddhas in our past lives that has led to our having encountered this teaching in this life. Therefore, we should be filled with gratitude and recognize that by merely listening to the Dharma in this life, we will accumulate great merits. In the Essence of Clear Light , Mipham Rinpoche has said that even if one hasn’t the least understanding of its profound meaning, just hearing the verses or seeing the texts is enough, in itself, to generate great merits.
Full text of Chapter 5
In Four Hundred Stanzas on the Middle Way, it is said that, “there is nothing on earth, that does not amaze the wise.” Indeed, seeing the truth of dependent origination and emptiness, the wise will be amazed at two points: 1) all seemingly existent phenomena are empty in nature when examined by the reasoning of the Middle Way; 2) sentient beings, in their ignorance, are so attached to the phenomenal world that they do not realize that it does not truly exist.