"No ignorance and also no extinction of it..."

"No ignorance and also no extinction of it and so forth until no old age and death and also no extinction of them."

This passage is a restatement of the insight contained in Buddha's enlightenment experience as well as a further negation of Hinayana rationality. The legend of Buddha's enlightenment tells us that in the first watch of the night of his great experience under the rose-apple tree, he experienced all his past lives, one by one, as he had lived them. In the second watch of the night, he witnessed the death and rebirth of all cosmos and all being in them, across the aeons. Still, to his credit, he was not satisfied that he had discovered the root cause of human suffering as he had set out to do when he took his great vow not to move from his seat under the tree. Finally, at dawn, he saw the Morning Star and, in a flash, understood what he had been seeking. This insight has been articulated in later tradition as the Chain of Dependent Origination (or the Chain of Causation) and presented as a schema:

  1. there is ignorance (as to the true nature of
  2. ignorance leads to mental formations or impulses
    (the skandha called samskara);
  3. impulses or mental formations give rise to
    consciousness (the skandha called vijnana), the
    totality of thoughts, speech and actions;
  4. consciousness determines the resulting mental and
    physical phenomena (the skandha called nama-rupa or
    the realm of name and form);
  5. mental and physical phenomena condition the six
    sense realms: the five physical sense-organs of eye,
    ear, nose, tongue, body, and the mind;
  6. the six sense-realms come into contact with
    (sensorial and mental) phenomena;
  7. contact gives rise to sensations or feelings (the
    skandha called vedana);
  8. feelings give rise to desire or thirst;
  9. thirst gives rise to clinging;
  10. clinging gives rise to the process of becoming;
  11. the process of becoming leads to rebirth;
  12. rebirth leads to suffering, old age and death.

Often this Chain of Dependent Origination is graphically represented as a circle and variously called the Wheel of Samsara, the Wheel of Becoming or the Wheel of Karma. Through the preaching of his insights, the Buddha taught people how to turn the wheel in the reverse order--through the complete cessation of ignorance, mental formations are eradicated; through the eradication of mental formations, consciousness is eradicated and so forth until one arrives at the cessation of conditioned rebirth and hence of suffering, old age, and death. This reverse turning is often called Turning the Wheel of Dharma and is called the path to nirvana, the state of being in which all deluded views as to anything in human personality being permanent or substantial are eradicated. It is important to bear in mind that each of the twelve factors in the Chain of Dependent Origination is conditioned as well as conditioning. As such, they are all interdependent and interconnected; in itself, no single factor is absolute or independent. Each factor is inherently empty. When the Wheel of Dharma is turned, all these factors find their resolution in nirvana or sunyata.

In sunyata, as noted earlier, forms are only flickerings—without any quality of solidity or time-endurance—manifesting themselves momentarily. Knowing this fundamental truth, we are spared the necessity of choosing one over the other, of attachment to one and aversion to another or both. Thus another occasion of clinging is dissolved. We are also spared the necessity to categorize the insight of the Buddha. Mahayana tradition insists that it is enough for a believer to firmly hold on to the thought of enlightenment and practice diligently. A firm belief that in sunyata all things find their resolution is therefore enough for a Mahayana believer. To know through the eye of wisdom that all the twelve links in the Chain of Dependent Origination are interconnections and inter-relations is to echo the words of Werner Heisenberg, one of the founders of quantum physics, "The world thus appears as a complicated issue of events, in which connections of different kinds alternate or overlap or combine and thereby determine the texture of the whole." quote