By understanding these two processes of the Law of Dependent
Origination, we may see the truth of emptiness, which is the ultimate
truth. Chapter 13 of "The sutra on the Ultimate Truth of Emptiness" in
the Samyuktagama says:

"When the eyes see, the scene comes from nowhere.
When they shut, it goes nowhere.
Thus the eyes see unreality.
All that arises will be destroyed....
except the truth of the Worldly Law.
The Worldly Law says that
what this is, that is; this arising, that arises."

Through the rising and falling of the Worldly Law of Dependent
Origination, the Buddha explained the First (ultimate) Truth. The
ultimate truth averted attachment to either existence or non-existence;
to permanence or change. This is similar to the "True Jhana" (The
Vipassana that leads to the realization of the First Truth) explained
by Katyayana:

"To contemplate the unreal nature of all things,
there is nothing real.
Various names arise due to the coincidence of
causes and conditions which are unreal.
When one sees the truth of emptiness,
one will realize that there is no Dharma
(the perverted view of existence)
and non-Dharma
(the perverted view of extinction)."

All Dharma is unreal, for it is mainly the coincidence of causes and
conditions. These are worldly (mundane) views. Through this worldly
understanding we can see that it is conditioned. The Enlightened Ones
see and realize the Truth of Emptiness. They relieve themselves from
attachment to both the existence and non-existence of Dharma, and hence
realize the Ultimate Truth. This is why the Buddhas always preach about
emptiness, hoping that beings may be detached from perverted views. The
Buddha also said,

"If we can see the truth
of the causes of worldly sufferings,
we will not be attached to the view of nothingness.
If we can see the truth of cessation in the world,
we will not be attached to worldly existence.
By avoiding the two extremes,
the Tathagatha teaches us
the Middle Path, which is,
what this is, that is; this arising, that arises..."
(Chapter 12, Samyuktagama)

When worldly people see existence, they think that there is a real
existence. When they see cessation, they think that it has really
ceased. This is the perverted view of the two extremes. By compassion
the Enlightened Ones, when they see Dharma arising, know that it is not
nothingness, while at the same time not becoming attached to it as
something real. When they see the Dharma disappear, they do not become
attached to its extinction nor at the same time do they think that the
extinction is real and means nothing at all. This is because, according
to the Law of Dependent Origination, when there is a cause there will
be an effect. When the cause ceases, the effect ceases. The Dharma is
alive. It can exist or cease, rise or fall. If it is something real
that has a permanent identity, then it should not cease and become
extinct. If it is nothing, then it should not rise and exist. The
Dharma rises and ceases, it can exist and become extinct. If we
investigate the core of all things, we will realize that everything is
conditioned and has empirical names. Things have no permanent identity,
existence, extinction, rise or fall. Their nature is empty and silent.

Thus, when we talk about emptiness, we do not deny the rising, falling,
existence and extinction of all phenomena. In fact, emptiness explains
the truth of rising, falling, existence and extinction. This is the
main teaching of the Tathagatha. Do not misunderstand Circulation and
Cessation as two separate identities. From these Laws of Circulation
and Cessation, we can see the creation and extinction, rising and
falling of all phenomena and hence realize the truth of emptiness in
all things. This is the Principle of Emptiness of the Middle Path, the
ultimate explanation of the Middle Path. It is also the special
characteristic of Buddhism - the Truth of Emptiness and of Dependent
Origination. This is also "the immediate moment is empty" that is
always mentioned by Mahayana scholars.

We should not think that this is only an old saying. We should know
that this is the part of Dharma that is beyond all worldly knowledge.
The worldly religions assume a god, the creator of the Universe; and
the real characteristics of "I" as perfect, permanent, and happy. With
such philosophy, their faith tends to be emotional. The Buddha
emphasized reality and explained that all things are impermanent, and
in constant change. There is nothing that rises but never ceases. There
is nothing that is permanently unchanged. All things rise and cease due
to causes and conditions. There is no independent identity that can
exist without other conditions. The permanent, independent god that
most worldly people believe in is denied by Buddhism.

From the Law of Dependent Origination, the Buddha expanded the truth of
emptiness and articulated the Three Universal Characteristics. As the
sutra says,

"All volitional actions are empty.
There is no law that is permanent and unchangeable.
There is no I nor mine."
(Samyuktagama, Chapter 11)

As all things have the nature of emptiness, there is thus no law that
is permanent and unchangeable. There is no ego that is permanent and
independent. With continuously changing phenomena, the existence of all
things is a web of interrelationships. Understanding the Law of
Dependent Origination, we can realize the Truth of Impermanence and
Egolessness and hence the nature of the emptiness of all things.
Emptiness also implies Nirvana, that is the renunciation of the
perverted view of permanency and ego, leading to the realization of
liberation. Thus, the sutra says,

"One who thinks of impermanence
will understand the truth of ego-lessness.
The Enlightened One
lives in the state of ego-lessness,
renounces self-conceit
and hence progresses towards liberation and Nirvana."
(Samyuktagama, Chapter 10)

To realize the Three Universal Characteristics of impermanence,
ego-lessness and Nirvana from the standpoint of Emptiness in Dependent
Origination and on the Middle Path, is the basic teaching of Buddhism.
Often people tend to become attached to worldly phenomena, and think
that only the phenomena that change are impermanent and that the origin
of things is still permanent. They think that egolessness means that
"I" has no real identity; that it is only an image formed by a
co-operation of factors and that there is no "I" but that Dharma is
still real and does exist nevertheless.

The original idea of the Agama Sutra is to indicate that both
impermanence and egolessness mean emptiness. This is the nature of
Dharma. The nature of Dharma is emptiness. It is not permanent. Thus,
the Dharma is ever-changing. If the Dharma has a permanent identity and
is not empty, why do phenomena change all the time? It is because of
the nature of emptiness in Dharma that ego is unobtainable. If there
was a real Dharma that existed permanently, whether in physical or
spiritual form, it could become a place for the ego to reside.

"The eyes (and all senses) are empty;
The law of permanency and change is empty;
I and mine are both empty.
Why is it so?
Because this is the nature of things."
(Samyuktagama, Chapter 9)

Isn't it very clear that the main theme in the Agama Sutra is to
explain the concept of impermanence and ego-lessness from the
standpoint of emptiness? Emptiness is the nature of all things.
However, most people cannot see the truth and become ignorant and
perverted, and they become attached to permanency and egotism and hence
become entangled in the cycle of life and death.

From the rising and falling, existence and extinction of conditioned
phenomena, one should eliminate the idea of an absolute, independent,
permanent identity. Once we are able to realize the nature of
emptiness, we will be liberated. To realize the nature of emptiness
through the understanding of Dependent Origination is a penetration to
the core of things. It is not a superficial understanding only. This is
the truth of the Buddha's explanation of the Circulation and Cessation
of human life. It can be used to identify our own religion, and to
distinguish it from the other religions. This is the speciality of

Besides, there is another type of Middle Path. This is the Noble
Eightfold Path that emphasizes good practice. The Noble Eightfold Path
also corresponds to the Law of Dependent Origination. It does not
explain why the deluded life can be liberated and does not talk about
"What this is, that is; this is arising, therefore that arises." It
tells us about the Middle Path that those who wish to be liberated
should follow. It is a path that avoids both the extremes of suffering
and of luxury.

Some heretics in India during Buddha's time encouraged extreme luxury
and desire. They regarded extreme enjoyment as the purpose of life.
Others concentrated on meaningless asceticism and tortured themselves.
All these things do not help, nor do they bring us liberation. It was
to counsel avoidance of these extreme behaviors that the Buddha taught
us about the Middle Path. This is also a theme that is commonly found
in the Agama Sutra. The Noble Eightfold Path teaches us to be normal
and reasonable in our speech, action, emotion, determination, ways of
living and so on. Everything we do should be fair and right. This is
the Middle Path.

All Dharma is conditioned. All Dharma is empty by nature. There is no
exception rightness of one's behavior whilst following the Noble
Eightfold Path. How does such right behavior whilst following the Noble
Eightfold Path coincide with the nature of the emptiness of Dependent

One should know that "practice" is also conditioned. In the Parable of
the Seven Carts, in Chapter 2 of the Middle Agama (Madhyamagama), King
Prasenajit departed from Sravasti. It was a long journey. However, the
King was able to reach his destination within one day. This was because
he set stops on the way. At every stop there was a new, fresh and
healthy horse. Thus, when he reached a stop, he did not need to rest.
He changed to a new cart and horse and started his journey again. Hence
he was able to reach his destination in a very short time. The travel
from one place to another was not the hard work of one cart and one
horse only. It was the co-operative effort of many carts and many
horses. It was the co-operation of many causes and conditions.

To practice Buddhism is a similar journey, from the time we begin to
practice, to the time of final attainment. We cannot rely on one Dharma
only. We must rely on the co-operation of many Dharmas, many causes and
conditions. Since the ways of practice depend on the coincidence of
favorable causes and conditions, they are thus also empty in their

In the Raft Parable the Buddha says,

"We should let go of the Dharma, and the non-Dharma ".

"Dharma" refers to moral behavior. "Non-Dharma" refers to immoral
behavior. In the process of practising the Middle Path one should first
use moral behavior (Dharma) to correct immoral behavior (non-Dharma).
This Dharma that emphasizes moral values arises due to causes and
conditions. It is empty in nature. If we cling to a perverted view,
becoming attached to images and things as real, then we will not
realize the nature of emptiness and we will not be liberated. The Sata
Sastra says,

"We should first rely on merits
in order to get rid of sin.
Secondly, we should rely on equanimity
and let the merits go.
Then we can attain the state of
formlessness or Nirvana."

Chapter 7 in the Samyuktagama says,

"If I feel that nothing is obtainable,
then there is no sin.
If I am attached to form (and to other things),
then it is sinful.....
If one knows this,
then one will not be attached to anything
in this mundane world".

Sin means defilement and obstacles. As long as we constantly become
attached to various things as real, we will not see the truth of
emptiness. This is an obstacle on the way towards liberation. Therefore
it is clear that we should not become attached to the merits of good
deeds, as these are also empty in nature. The Nagarjuna Bodhisattva
once said, "Merit is like a hot, burning gold coin, although it is
valuable, it is untouchable".

Thus, the nature of the Noble Eightfold Path is also empty. It
coincides with the wisdom (theory) of the Middle Path. Under the truth
of emptiness, theory and practice merge into one.

The Middle Path that emphasizes emptiness and Dependent Origination
avoids perverted views. The Noble Eightfold Path avoids the two
extremes of suffering and luxury, and emphasizes non-attachment. These
two main themes of the Middle Path supplement each other and lead us to
perfection. If there was only theory to explain the Law of Dependent
Origination without the emphatic proof of personal practice and
experience, the Path could not fulfil religious faith in helping
followers disentangle themselves from suffering, thereby attaining
ultimate freedom.

On the other hand, if the Path only taught us the ways of practice
without theoretical or intelligent guidance, it might be defeated by
our lack of wisdom, and we might become a theistic follower. The Noble
Eightfold Path of the Middle Path fulfils human religious expectations
by encouraging moral practice. In addition, it has the intelligent
guidance of the Law of Dependent Origination and of Emptiness. The
Middle Path emphasizes the unity of wisdom and faith. This is the
special characteristic of Buddha's teaching. (Translated by Shi Neng
Rong, edited by Ke Rong, proofread by Shi Neng Rong. (6-7-96))

The Two Distinctive Characteristics of Buddhism

Buddhism is not limited to the two salient characteristics discussed
here. The purpose of highlighting these two characteristics is to
illuminate the difference between Buddhism and other religions or
worldly philosophies. Generally speaking, practices in Buddhism may
include following the Buddha; having faith in the Buddha and
Bodhisattvas because of their virtues, wisdom, loftiness and greatness;
and understanding the profound teachings of the Buddha Dharma. However,
these Buddhists practices are just aimed at showing us the path of
Buddha Dharma, which can lead us to understanding the significance of
life, and ways of elevating ourselves, grounding our lives in true
morality. In following the way of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas we can
attain the state of supreme realization.

Efficacious religions, irrespective of their relative merits and
demerits, can guide us to a smoother and more expansive state of being.
Religion thereby becomes an essential part of every human life. We have
to be positive about this fundamental facility for acquiring actual
benefits from religion and honor the essence and values expressed in
humanity's religious variety.

The Unification of Faith (s. sraddha) and Wisdom (s. prajna)

People are of varying natures and types and thus have different
temperaments, worries, demands and passions. In general, one who has
stronger feeling and sentiment is more likely to be compassionate and
is more capable of developing strong faith in one's belief; while an
intellectual person tends to have greater powers of discernment and
lucid comprehension. The biased development of either faith or
intellect results in protracted, cumulative, negative and harmful
effects. For example, if an emotional person has strong faith without
counter-balancing wisdom, he may sink into ignorance and superstition
due to his fanatical faith. The lop-sided attitude of discriminating
against rationality and wisdom is not acceptable in Buddhism. On the
other hand, if we over-emphasize rationality and doubting everything,
we will lose our faith and belief. This induces us to ignore moral
values and to deny the existence of Universal Truth, saints and sages.
One would thereby finally become anti-religious. Such perversity would
lead us astray and prevent us from establishing truly moral behavior,
eventually threatening the very fabric of our society! Thus, there is a
saying in Buddhism,

"Faith without wisdom will develop ignorance;
wisdom without faith will develop a perverted view."

Buddhism advocates the unification of faith and wisdom. How can we
bring faith and wisdom together? Is it possible to unify them? In the
first place, we need to understand the Buddhist perspective of faith
and wisdom. Faith is characterized by the sentiments of respect and of
inspiration by an ideal. Faith is a common experience amongst the
followers of any religion. Faith without intellectual comprehension and
discrimination cannot be regarded as a rational faith. Faith in
Buddhism is developed through contemplation and investigation so that
the characteristics of truthfulness, righteousness, and efficacy of the
ideal in which one develops faith, can be understood and revealed. This
is the way a Buddhist develops faith and respect toward Sakyamuni
Buddha. Sakyamuni is understood rationally to have existed in this
world as a historical figure. He has supreme wisdom and great virtues
and he has boundless compassion working towards the liberation of
sentient beings. In Buddhism, faith is rooted in rational intellectual
comprehension. As faith is strengthened and sharpened by the assessment
of the intellect, it is further confirmed by the direct insight of
wisdom. When understanding of the Buddha Dharma is developed further,
faith becomes more intense. This faith will motivate us to elevate
ourselves and ground our lives in true morality. It will enable our
lives, guided by the ideals to which we have responded with faith.
Faith is not merely an appreciation of the ideal but a desire to move
towards it.

Although some intellectuals possess a vast knowledge of Buddhism, and
have strong reasoning ability, they commonly lack faith in Buddhism.
Therefore, Dharma can not take firm root and grow in their hearts.
Because of this, Dharma cannot really benefit them. Studying Buddhism
in this barren manner contradicts the teaching of Buddhism because the
Buddhist way of life necessarily contains the element of faith. When we
have confidence, we will be able to purify our minds and free them from
defilements i.e. greed (s. raga), hatred (s. pratigha) and
ego-conceptualization (s. atmamana). Confidence is like an alum; it
purifies muddy water. Similarly, a strong faith will purify your mind.
The reality of life is full of distress and misery, but faith can
transform a mental state of emptiness and anguish into joy, peace, calm
and contentment. This is like an innocent child who wanders around the
streets, lost, hungry, thirsty, cold, worried and not knowing what to
do. While he is anxious and filled with despair, he suddenly finds his
mother. He will immediately feel secure and happy because he deeply
believes that he will obtain food, warm clothes and the consolation of
his mother's love. Similarly, a life of faith is filled with joy,
peace, security and contentment.