In general, it seems possible to say that although there are many interpretations of dependent arising, dependent arising is the general view of the Buddhist systems. In Sanskrit the term for dependent arising is pratitya samutpada. Pratitya has three different meanings: meaning, relying and depending, all three of which have roughly the same meaning of dependence. Samutpada means arising. So the meaning is: arising in dependence upon conditions. When arising in dependence upon factors is explained on a subtle level, understanding it involves an under-standing of inherent existence. In order to reflect on the fact that something is empty because of being a dependent arising, one has to understand that 'something,' that subject about which you are reflecting. So it is necessary to identify the subject, the phenomena that produce pleasure and pain, that harm and help and so forth.
Prior to understanding that a phenomenon is empty because of being a dependent arising, because of being dependently designated, one has to understand the presentation of cause and effect well. If one does not first understand how certain causes help and harm in certain ways, it is extremely difficult to understand anything about a phenomenon being empty of inherent existence because it is a dependent arising. Therefore the Supramundane Victor, Buddha, set forth a presentation of dependent arising in connection with the cause and effect of actions in the process of life and cyclic existence, through which to gain a great understanding of the process of cause and affect itself. Thus, there is a mode of procedure of dependent arising which is called the twelve links of dependent arising.
A second level of dependent arising is the dependent arising of phenomena in dependence upon their parts. This implies that there is no phenomenon that does not have parts, so all phenomena exist in dependence upon designation to their parts.
There is a third, even deeper level of dependent arising, which stems from the fact that when objects are sought within their basis for designation, there is nothing to be found that is the basis for designation, and thus phenomena are just dependently arisen in the sense of being dependently imputed.
The first level of dependent arising is the arising of phenomena in dependence on causes and conditions, so it applies only to caused phenomena, i.e. products. The other two levels of dependent arising apply both to permanent and impermanent, produced and unproduced phenomena.
Buddha set forth dependent arising from a very vast perspective, recorded in detail in the Rice Seedling Sutra (Shalistamba Sutra) where he says,
'Due to the existence of this that arises; due to the production of this, that is produced. It is thus: due to the condition of ignorance, there is compositional action, due to condition of compositional action there is. . .' and so on through the twelve links.
When Buddha says, 'Due to the existence of this, that arises', he is indicating that the phenomena of cyclic existence do not arise through the force of supervision by a permanent deity, who is thinking to create this or that, but rather that they arise due to specific conditions. Then when Buddha says, 'Due to the production of this, that is produced', he is indicating that things arise from causes that are themselves impermanent, that do not arise from the 'generality' or 'nature' or some sort of permanent material factor (prakriti), as is set forth in the Samkhya system. A third way that he said it was: 'Due to a condition that has such and such a potential that arises'. This indicates that the phenomena of cyclic existence are not produced just from any impermanent causes and conditions, but rather from specific ones that have the potential to give rise to those specific phenomena.
Thus, in terms of the dependent arising of suffering, how suffering is produced, Buddha showed that suffering has ignorance as its root cause. This is an impermanent and a specific cause. That ignorance leads to an action, which deposits potency on the mind, etc., the fruit of which is eventually old age and death. With regard to the twelve branches of dependent arising, there are basically two different explanations, one in terms of thoroughly afflicted phenomena and one in terms of pure phenomena.
Just as in the Four Noble Truths, the root teaching of the Buddha, there are two sets of causes and effects: the effect and cause of the afflicted side and the effect and cause of the pure side.
Similarly, here in the twelve links of dependent arising, in each of the two types of explanation there is an effect procedure and a cause procedure. In terms of the Fourth Noble Truths, true sufferings (the first truth), are the effects in the afflicted class of phenomena, and the causes are the second truth, true origins. In the pure class of phenomena, true cessations (the third truth), are the effect, and the true paths are their causes.
When it is explained that due to the condition of ignorance action is produced, this is the procedure of the production of suffering; when it is explained that due to the cessation of igno-rance, action ceases, this explains the procedure of the cessation of suffering. Now each of these is explained both in a forward process and in a reverse process. When it is explained that due to action consciousness arises; due to consciousness, name and form arises; due to the condition of name and form, the six sources arise; due to those and so on down to old age and death, that is the explanation of the causes that are the sources of suffering.
When it is explained in the reverse process, that the suffering of aging and death that we all know about is produced in dependence on birth; birth is produced in dependence on the potentialized level of action called existence, etc., the emphasis then is on the true sufferings themselves, which are the effects of the causes we just saw.
When it is explained that if one ceases ignorance, action ceases, and if action is ceased, consciousness ceases, and on down through the twelve, this is an explanation of the purified class of phenomena, with the emphasis being on the causes, that is, true paths.
When it is explained in reverse, with the cessation of aging and death depending on the cessation of birth, and the cessation of birth depending on the cessation of the almost potentialized level, called existence; and the cessation of that depending on the cessation of grasping, the emphasis here is on the effects, which in terms of the four noble truths are cessations.