Q: What are some of your ideas on the 12 factors of conditioned genesis?
A: Well, first of all, it is about the way we all get entrapped into conditioned, samsaric existence just as the eightfold noble path is the way by which we reach the unconditioned—I mean nirvana. The latter is an escape route the former is a major catastrophe for sentient beings. When we look at the term dependent origination (I don’t like to use conditioned genesis), it is made of two terms: pratîtya and samutpada. The first term means roughly, based on. We can say based on hemp, a rope is made or based on clay a pot is made. Samutpada is the resultant thing, the rope or the pot, for example. Of the 12 factors or nidânas (lit. to bind down) each makes up the whole package of misery you could say. When I look at the first factor, avidya or ignorance, I know avidya is based on the non-knowledge of pure Mind. This is why the Avatamsaka Sutra says the 12 factors are based on Mind.
Q: Wow! Excuse me, but I never learned that from my teacher. So if I see pure Mind there is no avidya and no samsara?
A: Basically, yes. The old Buddha was a smart and wise dude. These 12 factors are profound. There is more to them than meets the eye. In a state of avidya, I can’t tell brass dust from gold dust, defiled mind from pure Mind. From this, based on ignorance, my volitional tendencies, by which pure Mind is totally distorted and hidden, comes into play. Then based on this, consciousness originates, the kind that leads to rebirth looking for a psychophysical organism (nama-rupa). This is when mom and dad are having really good sex and one of dad’s sperm cells hits the jackpot. Based on this, the psychophysical embryo originates, then the sense organs originate, then comes sense contact, sense experience, thirst, mental clinging, becoming, our birth in the hospital (hopefully) then, over time, old age and death. In short, this is the path to misery. The hard part for us is dealing with consciousness, volitional tendencies and, most of all, avidya. Since the average person is ill equipped to distinguish between defiled mind and pure Mind, who has strong volitional tendencies, it proves a daunting task to awaken people.
Q: So after we die, based on our avidya and volitional tendencies, which are still as strong as ever, consciousness originates which goes looking for an embryo or something like that, right?
A: Yes, that’s not bad. Our consciousness, which is always in subject/object mode, resonates with a rebirth vessel—we tune into it, so to speak. After we die, a couple might be having sex. If we resonate with them we become entrapped in a namarupa, all confused and strong willed. We are reborn.
Q: I know this is a stupid question, but did the Buddha invent this?
A: No. It is just a part of natural life. It keeps the old wheel of suffering revolving. It’s natural to be spiritually dumb so that we can’t distinguish the unreal from the real and keep getting reborn.
Q: Why did the Buddha call his teaching of conditioned genesis—sorry for my use of this term—profound?
A: I think because it explains the real reason we’re so fucked up. But the Buddha also said that even more profound than dependent origination, which only deals with temporal, composed reality, is nirvana which is totally uncomposed or asamkrita. One can only get to nirvana by transcending the world of dependent origination. We do this by distinguishing between defiled mind and pure Mind or between what is not the self and the self. The profound insight that comes with this is that there is only one substance or essence. All things are only a configuration of this essence. Intrinsically, we have never once ceased being that essence, but we can’t recognize it. Being unable to discern it from its phenomena or configurations, we end up caught in the 12 factors of dependent origination, following illusions.