Gail Sher • Dharma Talks

The Twelve Nidanas—Buddha’s Own Daily Meditation

The Twelve Nidanas* — Buddha's Own Daily Meditation

* Nidanas are the twelve links of dependent-arising, e.g., the twelve behaviors, each dependent on the previous one, that linked together cause us to suffer rebirth after rebirth, in each cycle of which we experience sickness, old age, death and the loss of everyone and everything that is important to us

The perfect wisdom scriptures offer words to help us go beyond conceptual approaches to liberation to a way based on the emptiness of all phenomena. While in emptiness dependent-arising has no basis for apprehension, as sentient beings we require concrete guidelines for our behavior. For this, when Shakyamuni Buddha was alive, he asked his monks to choose between his two main teachings—the Four Noble Truths or the Twelve Links of Dependent-Arising. We have already studied the Four Noble Truths, but we have not studied the Twelve Links, the Buddha’s choice for his own daily meditations. May we all develop enjoyment of his amazing discovery and use it for our practice and our life as often as we can.

First Talk: Buddha Before He Was the Buddha, Part I

Shakyamuni Buddha before he awakened under the Bodhi Tree was a bodhisattva called Siddhartha. Those bodhisattvas who are particularly outstanding, like the Buddha before he was the Buddha, Avalokitesvara (the bodhisattva of infinite compassion) and Manjursri (the bodhisattva predicted by the Buddha to be our next incarnated Buddha) are actually archetypes. They all share certain qualities. I would like to begin this discussion of the Twelve Nidanas by introducing the Buddha as he was when he initially developed them, so that you will have a fuller picture of him and where his discovery came from.

Date/Time: August 13, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Second Talk: Buddha Before He Was the Buddha, Part II

Last week we talked about the five fundamental archetypal elements in the story of Siddhartha Gautama as bodhisattva. They consist of his (1) choice between worldly or spiritual pursuits, his (2) awakening to the truth of suffering, his (3) homeleaving, his (4) ascetic practice leading to the Middle Way and his (5) complete enlightenment under the bodhi tree. We’ve covered the first three. Today we will finish this discussion.

Date/Time: August 20, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Third Talk: What Is Dependant-Arising?

Dependent-arising is the general philosophy of all Buddhist systems. The sanskrit word pratityasamutpada is “that which arises in dependence upon conditions, in reliance upon conditions, through the force of conditions.” So cause and effect. If one does not understand cause and effect well, it is extremely difficult to realize that all phenomena are empty of inherent existence due to being dependently arisen. Hence, the Buddha set forth a presentation of dependent-arising in connection with the cause and effect of actions in the continuous process of life in cyclic existence.

Date/Time: August 27, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Fourth Talk: What Is Ignorance, Part I

It is a fact that we do not exist the way we think we do, each with an individual, inherent existence, but rather we exist interconnectedly with all other beings. In Buddhism the most common image of this is a net (called Indra’s Net) that has little knots all over it. Each lifetime is a knot. At death the knot dissolves and a different knot forms. We feel we have intrinsic individual existence but actually we are always interconnected with every other living being. The consciousness that conceives of our intrinsic individual existence is what is known in Buddhism as “ignorance.”

Date/Time: September 3, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Fifth Talk: What Is Ignorance, Part II

Q: So what is ignorance?

A: Of the many interpretations of what ignorance is, one is the mere non-knowing of how things actually exist, a factor of mere obscuration. However, in the twelve links, ignorance is explained as a wrong consciousness that conceives the opposite of how things actually do exist, e.g., that we inherently exist independently as a separate, independent beings. Ignorance is the chief of the the afflictive emotions that we are seeking to abandon.

Date/Time: September 10, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Sixth Talk: The Twelve Links: A Closer Look

Where does the first moment of the mental consciousness of this lifetime come from? It comes from the mental consciousness of the intermediate state. Where does that come from? It comes from the mind of death. With that mind of death travel all the potencies that have been accumulated in former lifetimes. This deep mind is a repository for everything we have done. It carries these potencies until they are activated; it is the ground of all the predispositions deposited by our actions—none is lost.

Date/Time: September 17, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Seventh Talk: Life Impelled by Ignorance

When we examine any type of suffering now being experienced, we find that its root is ignorance. As long as we have ignorance, in any and every minute we can initiate an action that will serve as a cause for another rebirth. Through this process, we have already deposited limitless predispositions in our one stream of consciousness, potencies established by actions motivated by ignorance; we have a limitless number of such potentialities for future lifetimes in our consciousness right now.

Date/Time: September 24, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Eighth Talk: Can the Mind Be Separated From Such Ignorance or Not?

Since the first of the twelve links is ignorance and the last is aging and death, there might appear to be a beginning and an end, but since not one but many sets operate together, there is no end unless ignorance is removed. Until ignorance is overcome, there is nothing one can really do ultimately to end this process.

Date/Time: October 1, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Ninth Talk: The Import

When we see that, basically, one action led to this lifetime and that during this lifetime we engage in a great many actions based on ignorance, we realize that we are establishing potencies for a great number of lifetimes. If we want to end this process, the weak point is attachment, since even if we have billions of potencies to take billions of rebirths, if those potencies remain unnourished and unactivated, they will not take rebirth. It would be like having a room full of rice seeds and not planting them. If we can stop attachment and grasping, we can stop the process of rebirth. No matter how many potencies we have, we would no longer be born in cyclic existence. This is like the arhat, the ideal of the early Buddhists. But even though persons who have achieved the state of arhat have extricated themselves from cyclic existence, they still have not developed the full potential of human consciousness. They are only halfway on the path.

Date/Time: October 8, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Tenth Talk: The Value of Altruism

While we’ve heard for a long time starting with our mothers that we need to stop hitting people and yelling and screaming (contaminated actions), and I know that I definitely heard from my mother all the time about how selfish I was (afflictive emotion), but the third and last one, that we need to stop the predispositions that being mean and selfish have laid down in us, is new. Most of us haven’t heard anything about predispositions, the deepest level of this group of three (contaminated actions, affictive emotions, and the predispositions for afflictive emotions). Altruism addresses this third realm in a very definitive way.

Date/Time: October 15, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes