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Dependent Origination in This Life
Some of you may have asked yourself how "rebirth consciousness" came to be associated with Gautama Buddha's very important teaching on Dependent Origination also known as Dependent Co-arising.
History shows that upon Gautama Buddha's death, a brahmin who became a Buddhist monk by the name of Maha Kassapa assumed control of the sangha. Being a brahmin, Kassapa believed in past lives. A fine description of the man and his wife can be found at Access to Insight.
"By some accounts, there were eighteen schools of Buddhism in India in the first three centuries following the death of the Buddha in c. 483 bc. The first division in the Buddhist community occurred as a result of the second council, said to have been held 100 years after the Buddha’s death, at Vaisali (Bihar state), when the Acariyavadins (followers of the traditional teaching) split away from the Sthaviravadins (followers of the Way of the Elders) and formed their own school, known as the Mahasanghikas. The Mahasanghikas’s views on the nature of the Buddha and the arhat (“saint”) foreshadowed the development of the Mahayana form of Buddhism. Further subdivisions of the Mahasanghikas over the next seven centuries included the Lokottaravadins, the Ekavyavaharikas, and the Kaukkutikas."
Many changes in the dharma were made during this time and one wonders what was added or subtracted after three centuries when the dharma was finally written down but that is another story.
Fast forward to around c. 400 ce. when a man by the name of Buddhagosa, a brahmin who became a Buddhist monk, like Maha Kassapa before him, writes the Visudddhimagga (Pali: Path of Puification). In it, Buddhagosa explains the twelve links of Dependent Origination as occurring over three lifetimes: past, present, and future and was accomplished by the belief in "rebirth consciousness." This was never taught by Gautama Buddha in the Pali Canon. He taught Dependent Co-arising as a series of twelve links which happened one after another in this life.
As it happens, there was a very well known scholarly monk, Ajahn Buddhadasa, who lived in Thailand during the 20th century (1906-1983). He rejected the eternalist views as espoused by Buddhagosa and taught what he considered to be the true teaching of Dependent Co-arising. This can be found in a book Under the Bodhi Tree: Buddha's Original Vision of Dependent Co-arising published in 2017. Only after reading this book was I finally able to make sense of what I had considered to be a teaching beyond my understanding.