The Law of Dependent Origination is one of the most important teachings of he Buddha, and it is also very profound. The basis of dependent origination is that life or the world is built on a set of relations, in which the arising and cessation of factors depend on some other factors that condition them.
On this principle of interdependence and relativity rests the arising, continuity and cessation of existence. This principle is known as the Law of Dependent Origination. This law emphasizes an important principle that all phenomena in this universe are relative, conditioned states and do not arise independently of supportive conditions. A phenomenon arises because of a combination of conditions which are present to support its arising. And the phenomenon will cease when the conditions and components supporting its arising change and no longer sustain it. The presence of these supportive conditions, in turn, depends on other factors for their arising, sustenance and disappearance.
The Law of Dependent Origination is a realistic way of understanding the universe. The fact that everything is nothing more than set of relations is consistent with the modern scientific view of the material world.
The fundamental principle at work in dependent origination is that of cause and effect. Since everything arises because of some preceding causes, there can be no first cause.
Can a First Cause be Known?
According to the Buddha, it is inconceivable to find a first cause for life or anything else. For in common experience, the cause becomes the effect and the effect, becomes the cause. In the circle of cause and effect, a first cause is incomprehensible.
As to the question how all beings came into existence without a first cause, the Buddha's reply is that there is no answer because the question itself is merely a product of man's limited comprehension. If we can understand the nature of time and relativity; we must see that there could not have been any beginning. It can only be pointed out that all the usual answers to the question are fundamentally defective.
The theory of a creator does not solve any problem, it only complicates the existing ones. Thus, Buddhism does not pay much attention to theories and beliefs about the origin of the world. Whether the world was created by a god or it came into existence by itself makes little difference to Buddhists. Whether the world is finite or infinite also makes little difference to Buddhists. Instead of following this line of theoretical speculations, the Buddha advises people not to waste our time over this unnecessary speculation and devote out time to strive for our salvation.
The Buddha was more concerned with teaching a practical understanding of the four Noble Truths that He discovered: what suffering is; what the origin of suffering is; what the cessation of Suffering is; how to overcome Suffering and realize final Salvation.
He taught the fact of suffering only so that He could show people how to overcome this suffering and move in the direction of happiness. According to the Buddha, even the worst sinner, after paying for what he has done, can attain salvation. Buddhism offers every human being the hope of attaining his salvation.
Buddhism is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Rather, Buddhism encourages us to be realistic: we must learn to see things as they truly are.
The origin of the world
The Buddha did not give any specific teaching regarding the origin of the universe or of life. The question was said to be unanswerable from the level of ordinary mundane intelligence. He taught what He deemed was absolutely essential for one's purification and was characteristically silent on questions irrelevant to His noble mission.
It is laid down, as a natural consequence of he Law of Dependent Origination, that in the ceaseless cycle of cause and effect there cannot be any link in the sequence that can be designed a First Cause, and the beginning is nowhere apparent; it is a closed circle of related conditions, each factor being dependent on the preceding ones.
All that reason can do is to show a First Cause, in the sense in which we understand it, is not only unnecessary but impossible. The truth can only be gained by Insight in accordance with the teachings of the Exalted Buddha, which means rising above the realm of relative and conditioned factors. That point being gained, it will be found that there is no answer to the problem, but that the problem never existed save as an illusory product of Ignorance.
One might argue that life must have had a beginning in the infinite past and that Beginning or the First Cause is the Creator. In that case there is no reason why the same demand may not be made of this postulated Creator.
The beginning of this world and of life is inconceivable since they have neither beginning nor end. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our thoughts.
The Buddha did not waste His time on this issue. The reason for His silence was that this issue has no religious value for gaining spiritual wisdom. The explanation of the origin of the universe is not the concern of religion. Such theorizing is not necessary for living a righteous way of life and for shaping our future life.
In the eyes of the Buddha, the world is nothing but Samsara - the cycle of repeated births and deaths. To Him, the beginning of the world and the end of the world is within this Samsara. Since elements and energies are relative and inter-dependent, it is meaningless to single out anything as the beginning. Whatever speculation we make regarding the origin of the world, there is no absolute truth in our notion.
To Him, gaining knowledge about such matters was a waste of time because a man's task was to liberate himself from the present, not the past or the future.