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.

Chapter 1 - Opening & Praise the Buddha for Teaching the Theory of Dependent Origination

Verse 1-4

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

Chapter 2 - Establish the Faultlessness of Buddhism

Verse 5-30

“Whatsoever depends on conditions,
That is devoid of intrinsic existence.”
What excellent instruction can there be
More amazing than this statement?
By grasping at it the childish
Strengthen bondage to extreme views;
For the wise this very fact is the doorway
To cut free from the net of elaborations.
Since this teaching is not seen elsewhere,
You alone are the “Teacher;”
Like calling fox a lion, for a Tirthika
It would be a word of flattery.
Wondrous teacher! Wondrous refuge!
Wondrous speaker! Wondrous savior!
I pay homage to that teacher
Who taught well dependent origination.
To help heal sentient beings,
O Benefactor, you have taught
The peerless reason to ascertain
Emptiness, the heart of the teaching.
This way of dependent origination,
Those who perceive it
As contradictory or as unestablished,
How can they comprehend your system?
For you, when one sees emptiness
In terms of the meaning of dependent origination,
Then being devoid of intrinsic existence and
Possessing valid functions do not contradict.
Whereas when one sees the opposite,
Since there can be no function in emptiness
Nor emptiness in what has functions,
One falls into a dreadful abyss, you maintain.
Therefore in your teaching
Seeing dependent origination is hailed;
That too not as an utter non-existence
Nor as an intrinsic existence.
The non-contingent is like a sky flower,
Hence there is nothing that is not dependent.
If things exist through their essence, their dependence on
Causes and conditions for their existence is a contradiction.
“Therefore since no phenomena exist
Other than origination through dependence,
No phenomena exist other than
Being devoid of intrinsic existence,” you taught.
“Because intrinsic nature cannot be negated,
If phenomena possess some intrinsic nature,
Nirvana would become impossible
And elaborations could not be ceased,” you taught.
Therefore who could challenge you?
You who proclaim with lion’s roar
In the assembly of learned ones repeatedly
That everything is utterly free of intrinsic nature?
That there is no intrinsic existence at all
And that all functions as “this arising
In dependence on that,” what need is there to say
That these two converge without conflict?
“It is through the reason of dependent origination
That one does not lean towards an extreme;”
That you’ve declared this excellently is the reason,
O Savior, of your being an unexcelled speaker.
“All of this is devoid of essence,”
And “From this arises that effect” –
These two certainties complement
Each other with no contradiction at all.
What is more amazing than this?
What is more marvellous than this?
If one praises you in this manner,
This is real praise, otherwise not.
Being enslaved by ignorance
Those who fiercely oppose you,
What is so astonishing about their being
Unable to bear the sound of no intrinsic existence?
But having accepted dependent origination,
The precious treasure of your speech,
Then not tolerating the roar of emptiness –
This I find amazing indeed!
The door that leads to no intrinsic existence,
This unexcelled [door of] dependent origination,
Through its name alone, if one grasps
At intrinsic existence, now this person
Who lacks the unrivalled entrance,
Well travelled by the Noble Ones,
By what means should one guide him
To the excellent path that pleases you?
Intrinsic nature, uncreated and non-contingent,
Dependent origination, contingent and created –
How can these two converge
Upon a single basis without contradiction?
Therefore whatever originates dependently,
Though primordially free of intrinsic existence,
Appears as if it does [possess intrinsic existence];
So you taught all this to be illusion-like.
Through this very fact I understand well
The statement that by what you have taught
Those opponents who challenge you,
Cannot find faults that accord with reason.
Why is this so? Because by declaring these
Chances for reification and denigration
Towards things seen and unseen
Are made most remote.
Through this very path of dependent origination,
The rationale for your speech being peerless,
Convictions arise in me [also]
That your other words are valid too.

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

Chapter 3 - Establish the Authenticity of Buddha’s Guidance for Those Who Seek Liberation

Verse 31-37

You who speak excellently by seeing as it is,
For those who train in your footsteps,
All degenerations will become remote;
For the root of all faults will be undone.
But those who turn away from your teaching,
Though they may struggle with hardship for a long time,
Faults increase ever more as if being called forth;
For they make firm the view of self.
Aha! When the wise comprehend
The differences between these two,
Why would they not at that point
Revere you from the depths of their being?
Let alone your numerous teachings,
Even in the meaning of a small part,
Those who find ascertainment in a cursory way,
This brings supreme bliss to them as well.
Alas! My mind was defeated by ignorance;
Though I’ve sought refuge for a long time,
In such an embodiment of excellence,
I possess not a fraction of his qualities.
Nonetheless, before the stream of this life
Flowing towards death has come to cease
That I have found slight faith in you –
Even this I think is fortunate.
Among teachers, the teacher of dependent origination,
Amongst wisdoms, the knowledge of dependent origination –
You, who’re most excellent like the kings in the worlds,
Know this perfectly well, not others.

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

Chapter 4 - Only Buddhism Can Show the Path to Liberation

Verse 38-40

All that you have taught
Proceeds by way of dependent origination;
That too is done for the sake of nirvana;
You have no deeds that do not bring peace.
Alas! Your teaching is such,
In whosoever’s ears it falls,
They all attain peace; so who would not be
Honoured to uphold your teaching?
It overcomes all opposing challenges;
It’s free from contradictions between earlier and latter parts;
It grants fulfilment of beings’ two aims –
For this system my joy increases ever more.

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

Chapter 5 & Ending - Recollect the Buddha’s Great Kindness with Gratitude

Verse 41-58

For its sake you have given away,
Again and again over countless eons,
Sometimes your body, at others your life,
As well as your loving kin and resources of wealth.
Seeing the qualities of this teaching
Pulls [hard] from your heart,
Just like what a hook does to a fish;
Sad it is not to have heard it from you.
The intensity of that sorrow
Does not let go of my mind,
Just like the mind of a mother
[Constantly] goes after her dear child.
Here too, as I reflect on your words, I think,
“Blazing with the glory of noble marks
And hallowed in a net of light rays,
This teacher, in a voice of pristine melody,
Spoke thus in such a way.”
The instant such a reflection of the Sage’s form
Appears in my mind it soothes me,
Just as the moon-rays heal fever’s pains.
This excellent system, most marvellous,
Some individuals who are not so learned
Have entangled it in utter confusion,
Just like the tangled balbaza grass.
Seeing this situation, I strove
With a multitude of efforts
To follow after the learned ones
And sought your intention again and again.
At such times as I studied the numerous works
Of both Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools,
My mind became tormented ever more
Constantly by a network of doubts.
The night-lily grove of Nagarjuna’s treatises –
Nagarjuna whom you prophesized
Would unravel your unexcelled vehicle as it is,
Shunning extremes of existence and non-existence –
Illuminated by the garland of white lights
Of Candra’s well-uttered insights –
Candra, whose stainless wisdom orb is full,
Who glides freely across scriptures’ space,
Who dispels the darkness of extremist hearts
And outshines the constellations of false speakers –
When, through my teacher’s kindness, I saw this
My mind found a rest at last.
Of all your deeds, your speech is supreme;
Within that too it is this very speech;
So the wise should remember the Buddha
Through this [teaching of dependent origination].
Following such a teacher and having become a renunciate,
Having studied the Conqueror’s words not too poorly,
This monk who strives in the yogic practices,
Such is [the depth of] his reverence to the great Seer!
Since it is due to my teacher’s kindness
I have met with the teaching of the unexcelled teacher,
I dedicate this virtue too towards the cause
For all beings to be sustained by sublime spiritual mentors.
May the teaching of this Beneficent One till world’s end
Be unshaken by the winds of evil thoughts;
May it always be filled with those who find conviction
In the teacher by understanding the teaching’s true nature.
May I never falter even for an instant
To uphold the excellent way of the Sage,
Which illuminates the principle of dependent origination,
Through all my births even giving away my body and life.
May I spend day and night carefully reflecting,
“By what means can I enhance
This teaching achieved by the supreme savior
Through strenuous efforts over countless eons?”
As I strive in this with pure intention,
May Brahma, Indra and the world’s guardians
And protectors such as Mahakala
Unswervingly, always assist me.

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.

The full study materials on In Praise of Dependent Origination