I found Sutta DN 14 interesting as a story and as a myth. It gives insight into the Buddha's own life, since I'm sure it was patterned on the (mythological) story of his life. But for me the real heart of the sutta is sections 2.17 through 2.22, the story of Vipassi's attaining enlightenment.

Once again dependent origination plays a very important role. The links are presented in 'reverse' order from the usual 'modern' way of presenting them. I personally feel that this 'reverse' order is much more useful. It gives me a much greater insight into why each link is related to the previous and following links. I never could quite understand why some of the links followed from the preceding until I first encountered this 'reverse' presentation in Digha Nikaya 15 during a course taught by Ayya Khema - then it all made sense. The 'reverse' presentation also shows how dependent origination was 'discovered'. I can just see some ancient seeker struggling over "why is there death" and coming up with "birth" as a 'necessary and sufficient condition' (as we say in mathematics). Once "birth" is truly seen as the necessary and sufficient condition for "death", an acceptance and calming sets in that provides a space for seeing more clearly into other matters, such as the other links. In fact the mental state brought on by this first 'seeing' would be strong enough to cause the seeker to pattern other knowledge on it and thereby come up with the whole doctrine.

Like DN 15, this version of dependent origination ends with consciousness conditioning mind-and-body and mind-and-body conditioning consciousness. I feel quite certain that is the older teaching and that the 12 links in a circle is a latter development. To me, the weakest part of the 12 link teaching had always been in going from 12 to 1 and the second weakest part was in going from 2 to 3 - exactly the places where the later teaching was tacked on. Also the mutual conditioning of mind-and-body and consciousness is a much stronger teaching. The '3 lifetimes' explanation of the 12 link version is a very superficial understanding of this teaching and when it is presented, the most important point seems to often be missed - dependent origination is a mind-moment to mind-moment occurrence and underlies everything we think/say/do. Mutual conditioning of mind-and-body and consciousness also fits much better into our Western scientific outlook, not only because rebirth is not part of the picture, but more importantly it matches our biological and psychological understandings of the mind/body process.

The mutual conditioning of mind-and-body and consciousness also supports the teachings about the 5 aggregates and the importance of not being able to take any one of them as 'self'. DN 14 in section 2.22 indicates the Vipassi attained enlightenment while contemplating the rising and falling of the five aggregates. Thus it would appear that realization of ANATTA was the means by which he attained enlightenment.

Maurice Walshe indicates in note 259 that this is a late sutta. It is quite interesting to see what the early SANGHA thought was important to understand in order to achieve enlightenment. From this sutta, it appears that dependent origination and the five aggregates are two of the most important teachings.

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Leigh Brasington / / Revised 16 July 12