A Footnote To Sangharakshita's 'A Survey of Buddhism'

by Jayarava, May 2004.

When A Survey of Buddhism first appeared in 1957 is was hailed as a significant event. The young Sangharakshita's writing showed surprising depth and breadth, and his synthesis of the range of Buddhist doctrines was, and is, impressive. Although Sangharakshita's thinking has changed in some areas, 27 years on in a new preface for the 6th edition, he found no reason to change his method or approach to the whole vast subject of Buddhism. [1]

Section 14 in chapter one of The Survey is very important because it explains how paṭicca-samuppāda, or dependent arising is an all inclusive formulation of reality and applies to everything including Nibbāna. The doctrine it is concerned with also explains how it is possible for someone mired in the klesas to attain the Deathless, a subject which has engaged the minds of some of the greatest Buddhist thinkers. The key text in establishing this doctrine is the Upanisā Sutta about which I will say more in a moment.

The central point of Section 14 is that the Buddha taught that there are two types of dependent arising operating in the cosmos. The first is almost universally known simply as dependent arising. A well known model for how dependent arising operates in the sequence of twelve "nidanas". [2] In this sequence each factor gives rise to the following one, with the last giving rise to the first again. one cycles around the factors, being born, dying and being reborn again and again. The second type of dependent arising is much less well known, and in this case each factor gives rise to the next, but rather than cycling around, the sequence leads from one to another until Nibbāna is reached. Sangharakshita later coined the terms positive nidanas to describe the factors making up the chain, and progressive conditionality to describe the series itself. However despite the fact that Upanisā Sutta occur in the Nidānasamyutta, the term 'nidana' is not used by the text, or in similar texts. "Positive Nidanas" is a useful way of referring to the 12 links leading to Nibbāna, but for the general principle I have chosen to use "Transcendental Dependent Arising " or lokuttara-paṭicca-samuppāda. This term comes from the exegetical text the Nettipakarana and has greater antiquity. [3] It is only through invoking Transcendental Dependent Arising, that paṭicca-samuppāda included Nibbāna, and becomes an all-inclusive formulation of reality. The 12 Nidanas alone only describe samsara.

After reading Section 14, I came away with the impression that the Bhikkhuni Dhammadinnā had given the list in the Upanisā Sutta. But when I followed up the references I found that this was not so. Initially I assumed that this confusion was particular to myself. However on asking around I found that the mistaken view was very common. It is often assumed that Dhammadinnā's place on the FWBO refuge tree was warranted because of her enunciation of the positive nidanas. I should note that in researching this essay I discovered that Dharmacari Subhuti had no such confusion when he wrote the excellent summary in his book Sangharakshita. [4]

In Section 14 several threads are brought together and the main point of this essay is to separate the threads, to make clear who says what, and to try to see why confusion may have arisen. I will also take the opportunity of listing such other sources relating Transcendental Dependent Arising as I have discovered.

Firstly there is the Upanisā Sutta of the Samyutta Nikāya, which was highlighted by C.R. Rhys Davids in the 1922 introduction to her translation of it:

"Yet more refreshing is it to find that oasis on p.26, where a causal sequence of joy and happiness is, for this once only, harnessed to the scheme [of paṭicca-samuppāda]! How might it not have altered the whole face of Buddhism to the West if that sequence had been made the illustration of the causal law! [5]

As we will see Mrs Rhys Davids was too pessimistic in thinking that Transcendental Dependent Arising occurs only once in the canon. The sequence of nidanas given in the Upanisā Sutta begins with the standard nidana series which cycles around and repeats itself. The nidanas appear in many places in the Pāli Canon, and are usually enumerated as a series leading from one to the other, and the last of the 12 gives rise to the first. They are also enumerated such that by the ceasing of the second to last, the last ceases and so on until the Deathless is attained by undoing the causes of death, with a focus on things ceasing to be.

The other sequence however stands out because, rather than pointing to cessation in the same way, it suggests that Nibbāna may arise in dependence on the accumulation of positive factors. This is what is special about, not only this sutta, but also this whole doctrine of Transcendental Dependent Arising. Here the focus is on things coming into being. In each case each factor has the preceding as support (sa-upanisa)

The sequence given in the Upanisā Sutta is: [6]

Suffering [of the rounds of rebirth] dukkha
Faith Saddha
Gladness pāmojja = weak rapture
Rapture pīti
Tranquillity passaddhi
Happiness sukha
Concentration samadhi
knowledge and vision of things as they really are     yathābhūta-nāṇadassānaṃ
revulsion nibbidā
dispassion virāgo
liberation Vimutti
knowledge of destruction [of the asavas] khaye-nāṇaṃ

This is followed by a simile in which progress through the nidanas is likened to rain pouring on a mountain, filling up small waterways progressively until they become the large rivers of the lowlands and eventually pour into the ocean. [7] It is one of the more evocative similes in the whole Canon. The sequence of the factors, combined with the simile leave one with a clear image of the accumulation of positive factors leading to Nibbāna, which is rare in the Pāli Canon.

Secondly, mention is made of the Bhikkhuni Dhammadinnā expounding the principle of Transcendental Dependent Arising. Although the text does not say so, it is the Cū.lavedalla Sutta of the Majjhima Nikāya which is being referred to here. [8] The discourse is quite a wide ranging one and the mention of Transcendental Dependent Arising is brief. If one didn't know what to look for, it would be easy to miss. In section 29 of the sutta Visākha asks a series of questions about feelings: we can summarise Dhammadinnā's answers in this way:

Painful feeling is the counterpart (paṭibhāga) of pleasant feeling
And pleasant feeling is the counterpart of painful feeling
Ignorance (avijjā) is the counterpart of neither painful nor pleasant feeling
The counterpart of ignorance is true knowledge (vijjā)
The counterpart of true knowledge is deliverance (vimutti)
The counterpart of deliverance is Nibbāna

Written in this way one can see that there are indeed two trends here - painful and pleasant feelings alternate between themselves in a cyclic way. The translator, Bhikkhu Bodhi, suggests that ignorance is the counterpart of neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling because it is subtle and difficult to recognise. [9] The last three phrases are clearly of a different order and rather than cycling, or oscillating, they lead progressively onwards to Nibbāna.

Finally we are referred to Dr Beni Madhab Barua's Dona Alphina Ratnayake Lecture on 'Buddhism as Personal Religion' which itself refers to Dhammadinnā's discourse. Sangharakshita quotes a good sized chunk of this lecture, which is fortunate because the original is difficult to come by. The good Dr summarises Dhammadinnā's discourse about reactions between opposites, and progressing to nibbāna, giving the Pāli terms used, and then suggests that these correspond to what Buddhaghosa calls visabhāga-pa.tibhāga, and sadisa-pa.tibhāga respectively (although, sadly, we are not given references for where Buddhaghosa says this). Dr Barua then gives some examples of the principle: going from "strength to strength", "from good to further good, and onto still greater good..." and:

from pleasure to joy, from joy to gladness, from gladness to happiness, from happiness to bliss, from bliss to beatitude, from intuitive knowledge (vijjā) to the feeling of emancipation (vimutti), from that to self-mastery (vasībhāva) or self consciousness as to the acquisition of the free state, and from that to the fullest enjoyment of the bliss of Nirvāṇa. [10]

Dr Barua then refers to Dhammadinnā as though she has spoken the words above, but herein lies the rub: as we have already seen Dhammadinnā does not say this in the Cū.lavedalla Sutta.

The first part of Dr Barua's sequence of factors resembles, but does not exactly match, the positive nidanas from the Upanisa Sutta, which is perhaps a source of confusion. In any case the first member ("from pleasure to joy") seems doubtful since it directly contradicts what Dhammadinnā has said about pleasant feelings. We are also in some doubt as to what words like "beatitude" refer to: the Oxford English Dictionary gives "Blessedness" as it's primary sense, in which case we might relate it to the Pali Bhagavant, frequently translated as The Blessed One. Buddhadatta Mahāthera suggests "paramasukha" (perfected happiness) for beatitude. [11] However, neither term occurs in, or is suggested by, the Upanisā Sutta.

The second half of the sequence (starting with "from intuitive knowledge") is the same as the list given by Dhammadinnā except that vasībhāva or self-mastery is inserted between vimutti and Nirvāṇa. Although three out of four terms are the same, it is uncertain why Dr Barua has seen fit to add an extra one.

The overall effect seems to have been that a lot of people to come away thinking that Dhammadinnā gave us the positive nidanas. And this is the small point of clarification, my 'footnote' to The Survey. Dhammadinnā does discourse on Transcendental Dependent Arising, but the positive nidanas come from the Upanisā Sutta which is spoken by the Buddha. It is perhaps from the extract from Dr Barua's lecture that the confusion arises, but a careful reading of The Survey shows that the distinction was clear in Sangharakshita's thinking. A small point but given the importance of the subject both to Sangharakshita's teaching, and to the Dhamma itself, it seems important that there be as little confusion as possible.

Those differences are probably not unconnected with the interesting fact that, in Indian Buddhist history, it is precisely the more conservative monastic traditions that tend to view nirvāna in terms of absence, taking a more apophatic approach, whereas the nonmonastic traditions tend towards a more kataphatic (i.e. positive) approach. [12]

It only remains to point out that there are in fact several further references to Transcendental Dependent Arising in the Pāli Canon, which are not mentioned in The Survey, or in Sangharakshita's more in-depth exposition of Transcendental Dependent Arising in The Three Jewels. [13]

Aṅguttara Nikāya

The Aṅguttara Nikāya contains two main sequences for Transcendental Dependent Arising, although one is simply the other with a member split in two. There are also some associated images which help to reinforce the idea of a progression towards fulfilment.

One sequence, and its associated image is repeated in a number of places:

"But if there is sense control, O Monks, virtue will have a basis [hatūpnisaṃ] for one who possesses sense control. If there is virtue, right concentration... ... knowledge and vision of things as they really are ...revulsion and dispassion, ...knowledge and vision of liberation will have a basis." [14]

"This is like a tree with branches and foliage intact: the buds will mature, and also the bark, the greenwood and the heartwood will mature". [15]

Hare has : "when sense control exists, virtue perforce thrives [sampanna] in him, thriving in sense control". [16]

In the chapter of fives this occurs in sutta 5.24; [17] In Sutta 5.168 it is repeated by Sāriputta. [18] In the chapter of sixes. sutta 6.50. [19] In the chapter of sevens the same text appears as sutta 7.61. [20] In the chapter of eights it occurs in sutta 8.81. [21] There are a series of suttas in the Chapter of Tens which mention the second form of the sequence.

Sutta 10.1 the Kimatthiya Sutta for instance has each nidana followed by another which is the benefit and reward of the first. So we get this sequence:

"The benefit [atthiyaṃ] and reward [ānisaṃsa] of virtuous conduct is non-remorse [avippaṭisāro], ...gladness, ...joy, ...serenity, ...happiness, ...concentration of the mind, ...knowledge and vision of things as they really are, ... revulsion and dispassion, ...knowledge and vision of liberation." [22]

It finishes with the Buddha saying to ānanda that "virtuous ways of conduct lead step by step to the highest". [23]

Apart from the first two steps this sequence is the same as that given in the Upanisā Sutta. Atthiyaṃ is a difficult word to translate. Bhikkhu Bodhi has chosen "benefit", but in an earlier translation, Wooward chooses "object" because it conveys the sense of "thing-sought" It can also mean purpose, advantage, wealth, meaning. [24]

In Sutta 10.2 the same sequence occurs although slightly modified.

"Monks, for one who is virtuous, in full possession of virtue, there is no need for the purposeful thought: may freedom from remorse arise in me. This, monks, is in accordance with nature [dhammatā esā] - that for one who is virtuous, in full possession of virtue, freedom from remorse arises ...joy arises ...etc ...It follows naturally that he who feels revulsion and fading interest realizes release by knowing and seeing [yathābhūtaṃ]." [25]

This sutta also gives an image of the process:

"Thus, monks, one state just causes another state to swell, one state just causes the fulfilment of another state, for the sake of going from the not-beyond to the beyond" [26]

Sutta 10.3 repeats the sequence and image from A 5.24. [27] This sutta also has sammā-samādhi instead of just samādhi. Sutta 10.4 is a repetition of sutta 10.3 but spoken but Sāriputta, [28] and Sutta 10.5 is the same spoken by ānanda. [29]

Finally in the chapter of elevens there are a series of suttas which repeat 10.1 except that nibbidā-virāga (revulsion and dispassion) are divided so as to make eleven steps in the sequence. These are 11.1-5, and each is identical in wording except that 11.4 is spoken by Sāriputta, and 11.5 is spoken by ānanda. [30]

Majjhima Nikāya

The Rathavinīta Sutta (The Relay Chariots) of the Majjhima Nikāya, suggests a progression of stages like a relay race:

"...purification of virtue is for the sake of reaching purification of mind; purification of mind is for the sake of reaching purification of view; ... purification by knowledge and vision is for the sake of reaching final Nibbāna without clinging." [31]

Dīgha Nikāya

In the Dīgha Nikāya the Eightfold path is described in such a way as to say it is a progressive path:

" From right-view arises right-though, from right thought arises right speech, from right-speech arises right action, from right action arises right-livelihood, from right livelihood arises right effort, from right effort arises right-mindfulness, from right-mindfulness arises right concentration, from right concentration arises right knowledge, from right knowledge arises right liberation". [32]

Saṃyutta Nikāya

Finally in the Saṃyutta Nikāya we find two related references to add to the Upanisā Sutta. Firstly in the Saḷayatasaṃyutta a Sutta has:

"If one dwells with restraint over the eye faculty, the mind is not soiled among forms cognizable by the eye. If the mind is not soiled, gladness is born. When one is gladdened, rapture is born. When the mind is uplifted by rapture, the body becomes tranquil. One tranquil in body experiences happiness. The mind of one who is happy becomes concentrated. When the mind is concentrated, phenomena become manifest, one is reckoned as 'one who dwells diligently'." [33]

This sequence is a little different in that it stops well short of Nibbāna. However if we take 'phenomena become manifest' to be equivalent to 'knowledge and vision of things as they really are' then of course the end result will be the same. It is reminiscent of seven factors of enlightenment, which rather broadens things out.

The same sequence occurs in the Nandiya Sutta of the Sotāpattisaṃyutta. Here the stream entrant is described as having unshakeable faith in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and as "possessing virtues dear to the Noble ones". The Buddha says of the stream entrant who dwells diligently: "When he thus dwells diligently, gladness is born. When he is gladdened... [as above]" [34]

I have been pleasantly surprised to run across these various references since another confusion that seems to arise out of Section 14 is that Transcendental Dependent Arising occurs only once in the Pāli Canon. As we see, although the positive nidana sequence from the Upanisā Sutta occurs only once, the general principle finds a number of expressions. That there are different lists, similes and images suggests not contradiction, but an attempt to describe a general principle from different points of view. So whilst the references to Transcendental Dependent Arising are relatively scarce, it should not be taken as an indication of the importance of the doctrine. It may well be that this is an instance of the editorial bias that is now recognised in the Pāli Canon. [35]


References to Pāli texts give the page reference to the work I am citing, with the PTS format reference at the end in square brackets.

[1] Sangharakshita. A survey of Buddhism : its doctrines and methods through the ages. (Glasgow : Windhorse Publications, 1993). p.xi

[2] see especially the Mahānidāna Sutta of the Dīgha Nikāka [D ii.55-71], and the Mahāta.nhāsankhaya Sutta of the Majjhima Nikāya [M i.261]

[3] Bodhi. Transcendental dependent arising. p.2.

[4] Subhuti. Sangharakshita : a new voice in the Buddhist tradition. (Birmingham : Windhorse, 1994). p. 66-69

[5] Rhys Davids, C.R. and Woodward., F. L. The Book of the Kindred Sayings (Sanyutta-nikāya) or Grouped Suttas. (7 vol.) (Oxford : Pali Text Society, 1990). Part II, The nidāna book p.viii

[6] Bodhi. The Connected Discourses of the Buddha : a translation of the Sa.,yutta Nikāya. (Boston : Wisdom, 2000) [1 vol. Ed.] p.553-6. [S ii.29-32]. See also p.746 note 69.

[7] The simile also appears independently at S v.396, A i.243, 27-32, and A v.114, 6-14.

[8] Bodhi, Bodhi and Ñaṇamoli. The middle length discourses of the Buddha : a translation of the Majjhima Nikāya. [2nd ed.] ( Boston : Wisdom, 2001). p.396-403. [M i.299-305]

[9] Bodhi, Bodhi and Ñaṇamoli. p.1244 note 478.

[10] Sangharakshita. A survey of Buddhism. p.139.

[11] Buddhadatta, A. P. English-Pali Dictionary. (Dehli : Motilal Banarsidass 1989)

[12] Ray, R. A. Buddhist Saints in India : a study in Buddhist values and orientations. New York : Oxford University Press, 1994. p.379.

[13] Sangharakshita. The three jewels: an introduction to Buddhism. (Glasgow : Windhorse, 1967).

[14] Bodhi and Nyanaponika. p.166 - A vi.50.

[15] Bodhi and Nyanaponika. p.166-7

[16] Hare, E. M. (trans.) The book of gradual sayings (Aṅguttara-nikāya) or more-numbered suttas. Vol. III (the books of fives and sixes). (Oxford, Pali Text Society, 1988). p.14 [A iii.360]

[17] A iii.19

[18] A iii.200

[19] A iii.360

[20] A iv.99

[21] A iv.336

[22] Bodhi and Nyanaponika Numerical discourses of the Buddha : an anthology of suttas from the Aṅguttara Nikāya p.238 [A v,1]

[23] Bodhi and Nyanaponika p.238 [A v,1]

[24] Woodward, F.L. The book of gradual sayings (Aṅguttara-nikāya) or more-numbered suttas. Vol. V The book of tens and elevens. (London, Pali Text Society, 1986), p.1 note 1.

[25] Woodward, F.L. The book of tens p.3-4 [A v,2-3]

[26] Woodward, F.L. The book of tens p.4 [A v,3]

[27] A v.3

[28] A v.5

[29] A v.6

[30] A v.311-317

[31] Bodhi and Ñaṇamoli. p.244 [M i.150]

[32] Walsh, M. The long discourses of the Buddha. a translation of the Dīgha Nikāya (Boston : Wisdom Publications, c1995) p.299. [D ii.218]

[33] Bodhi. The Connected Discourses. p.1179-80. [S iv.78-9]

[34] Bodhi. The Connected Discourses. p.1826-8. [S v.396-9]

[35] On editorial bias in the Pali Canon see for instance Jonathan S. Walters Suttas as History: Four Approaches to the Sermon on the Noble Quest (Ariyapariyesanasutta). History of Religions. Volume 38, Number 3, February 1999; and Skilton, A. A concise history of Buddhism (Birmingham : Windhorse, 1994). p.67 and p.80.