Buddhist scholars like Hakamaya Noriaki and Matsumoto Shirō created a tempest in an academic teapot a few years ago with “Critical Buddhism” (hihan bukkyō).
In my opinion, they were looking at Buddhism while wearing blinders so that they only saw the Buddha’s teaching of “pratityasamutpada” (P., paticcasamuppada), often translated by the words “dependent origination.”
I must say, it wasn’t the crown achievement of the Buddha’s life. Nirvana was which was achieved by dhyāna wherefrom Zen historically begins, Zen being Japanese for dhyāna.
On that note, I am indebted to Pande's book Studies in the Origins of Buddhism which made possible the following points.
1. According to Pande, reality revealed itself to Buddha in two aspects, namely, dependent origination and nirvana (P., nibbana).
2. To perceive dependent origination is to perceive the world of becoming which is suffering. This world is impermanent and therefore not real in any sense of the word. It only appears such.
3. Nirvana is the logical counterpart to dependent origination. It should be interpreted as the Absolute (the most essential)—the eternal and infinite principle.
4. In simpler terms dependent origination is the conditioned whereas nirvana is the Unconditioned.
If we adhere just to dependent origination as I think our Critical Buddhism scholars appear to be doing then how is nirvana compatible with and related to dependent origination when it is clearly at odds with it? One stands for the finite, temporal order, the other is infinite, its nature being outside of the ambit of dependent origination.
It is not all that amazing to sit under a fig tree only to discover the world is finite, full of suffering and that when you die, that’s it. However, it is rare and amazing to discover a transcendent reality that is deathless; that is intuitively accessible (by dhyāna) to anyone if they are willing to put in the time and energy to do the required work. For me this is what Buddhism is about in a nutshell. By the way, some of the comments have been very good.