In its most basic form, the Buddhist theory of ‘dependent origination’ means simply this:
Stuff leads to other stuff.
When you’re young, you don’t realise that stuff leads to other stuff. You’re living pretty much for the moment. You do things because they’re fun, or to see what they’re like, or whatever.
Time goes by and you start to see some consequences.
You drive fast, you roll your car, you maybe get out unscathed, you drive slower from now on.
You get really drunk, you fall down some stairs, you break your leg, you can’t do a whole bunch of things and feel lots of pain for a while, you learn not to drink so much (or maybe to move into a ground floor apartment).
More time passes and (provided you’ve been lucky enough to survive your earlier stupidity) your knowledge and experience builds. That is to say, you learn not just knowledge, but wisdom. You become better at living.
Although everyone learns something as they get older, the depth of awareness that people achieve in life appears to differ. A lot.
Some people don’t learn much at all. Other people attain full and perfect enlightenment. In between, there’s a spectrum of stupidity. Or wisdom. Whichever.
I’ve found Buddhist practice to be excellent in helping to develop an ever-more-subtle appreciation of what stuff leads to what stuff.
If I do X, I tend to end up with Y. If I stop doing A, I find that I no longer have to put up with B.
The conditions which cause phenomena to arise in our lives are many and varied. There is often an inter-related complex of conditions which cause something to happen. It takes a long time, and a lot of internal and external observation, to see what’s what.
For me, this is the art of living. I am trying to become a master at it.
What are the conditions which lead to my wellbeing and happiness? What are the conditions that increase my dissatisfaction, pain and difficulty?
By observing closely, patiently, over a period of time, we can start to see the patterns.
In order to do this effectively, we need a clear mind and a willingness to realise we’ve been wrong up to now.
One important aim of Buddhist practice is to create this clarity, so that we can see.
When we can see, we can make new decisions. When we make new decisions, we get different results. When we do this repeatedly, we change our destiny.