Reality according to Buddhism

- through Francois Leclercq

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Pratityasamutpada or the system of co-appearance of phenomena, another name for vacancy.

Expression pratityasamutpada appears very early in Buddhism, from the second teaching of the Buddha. It then designated the concatenation of the twelve links or links (nidana) that chain beings to this pathological regime of existence that is samsara.

Pratityasamutpada represents in the circumstances a specific mode of appearance by reciprocal causation where the manifestation of each factor conditions that of the next one which in turn reinforces retroactively the existence or the significance of its predecessor. This is therefore what is now called an “interacting system”.

One of the major contributions of the famous Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna consisted in increasing the scope of this notion of pratityasamutpada, then circumscribed to psycho-cognitive subjectivity, up to phenomenality itself, and to make it, in a way, its definition. The truth of phenomenon or phenomenal existence is therefore the pratityasamutpada according to Nagarjuna who writes :

“It is as pratitya that beings exist. And this is called sunyata.
For what exists according to the mode of being of the pratitya is without its own nature. »

As he then clarifies in the auto-commentary to this verse 22 of the Vigrahavyavartani:
“Sunyata is not the deprivation of existence (abhava), but the mode of being proper to the pratityasamutpada. »

In other words, Nagarjuna recognizes the pratityasamutpada as being the true mode of being of the phenomenon or phenomenality, and which therefore represents as such the phenomenal truth (samvrtisatya) of the vacancy (sunyata), that is to say its mode of being. expression. What does this technical-looking formulation that is pratityasamutpada mean? ?

The experience of interdependence

The most used translation in French is the very unfortunate expression: “conditioned co-production”. Unhappy because it resorts to the notion of production, faulty on many levels. On the one hand, the verb samutpadyate does not mean "to produce", but either "to take place", or "to appear" or "to manifest". We are therefore resolutely situated on the terrain of phenomenality and not on the much more mechanical terrain of production. Associated with the prefix sam, utpadyate becomes not only appearance but “co-appearance”, that is to say appearing as interaction, reciprocity. As for practice, it designates the conditioning, the way of being dependent on conditions, on circumstances. We also find as another translation often used, that of "interdependence", but there again it is only a question of an aspect of what the Sanskrit term means and which forgets precisely the samutpada.

“It is as pratitya that beings exist. And this is called sunyata. For what exists according to the mode of being of the pratitya is without its own nature. » Nagarjuna

Taken as a whole, Pratityasamutpada characterizes the mode of manifestation of things as arising from an interacting system of different factors each of which is entirely dependent on the others for being, and on the correlational complex which organizes them and which, too, depends on other factors, other sets…

So much so that nothing in the phenomenon understood as pratityasamutpada can be in itself from itself. What appears in experience is thus without proper identity, but a systemic effect of relative individuation, which, as such, is therefore not epiphenomena (upacara). We could therefore attempt the following translations of pratityasamutpada: the "system of appearance", the "systemic appearing" or even more developedly "the systemic mode of co-appearance" - that is to say the concatenation inextricable from reality where each entity is only an appearance, that is to say a vacancy

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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