http://www.jayarava.org/writing/paticca ... ything.pdf
In physics, a theory of everything would be "a hypothetical single, all-encompassing, coherent theoretical framework of physics that fully explains and links together all physical aspects of the universe" (Wiki). There is definitely this trend in Buddhism to see dependent origination and emptiness as a kind of all encompassing metaphysical theory. The Dalai lama says for example: 'the theory of dependent arising can be applied everywhere'. Bhikkhu Bodhi says “The ontological principle contributed by dependent arising is as the name suggests, the arising of phenomena in dependence on conditions… whatever comes into being originates through conditions, stands with the support of conditions, and ceases when its conditions cease.”
Jayarava holds that this idea is misguided. He begins with an exposition of the Kaccayanagotta sutta and also what the term ''loka'' (world) means. He argues that loka has a more subjective sense in the Buddhist sense, in the sense of "one's world" and is often defined in the Pali suttas (ex. Loka sutta) as only relating to the six sense spheres (basically sense object+sense organ=contact=sensations=desire) and contained in this "arm-span measure of body endowed with perception and cognition" (Rohitassa Sutta). He also quotes Buddhaghosa here which I find quite interesting: Thus he should see: 'I do not, friend, declare these four truths in grass and wood, but I declare them only in this body of the four great elements.'
He also references the Sabba sutta which states that 'the All' is simply the sense spheres and then goes on to say: "Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." Jayarava sees these suttas as pointing to an epistemological-pragmatic reading of the Buddhadhamma.
He also cites the Tevijjavacchagotta Sutta with regards to views about the Buddha being omniscient and therefore knowing all. Instead, he sees the Buddha as understanding suffering and its end:A more pragmatic reading in line with Hamilton's findings on the khandhas would be "all we need to know for the
purposes of ending suffering". The reason for drawing attention to the senses and their objects as the proper domain for enquiry is not to give a complete description of reality (i.e. not directed towards constructing a theory of everything), but to highlight the mechanisms which create disappointment so that it can be overcome – i.e. the Buddha, if he is a philosopher at all, is a pragmatic philosopher. The problem of disappointment can be traced to the cognitive aspects of experience, and this is where the Buddha focuses his efforts. As Hamilton puts it the Buddha‟s project was to direct attention “…to understanding the nature and mechanics of experience, by means of one‟s cognitive process”
This reading – this hermeneutic of experience – is useful because it avoids problems associated with more metaphysical approaches – we do not need to discuss for instance the nature of being, nor the problem of what we can know about the world, since these questions do not arise as major problems if we are only dealing with experience. By steering the discussion away from metaphysics we avoid many insoluble problems, and it leads to a more pragmatic reading of the Pāli Canon generally. I think by this time we can already see that the case for paṭicca-samuppāda being a theory of everything is seriously weakened since not everything is included in the scope of the Pāli texts.
Returning back to the Kaccayanagotta, he writes:The Buddha himself frequently describes his insight as yathābhūta-ñāṇadassana „knowing and seeing things as
they are‟. Here again we see the importance of understanding the Buddha‟s terms of reference, the world or domain in which he was operating, and in which they make most sense. The Buddha never says that he understand everything in the universe, or Reality. What he repeatedly says is that he understands suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering and the way to make suffering end.
Jayarava mentions how when seen in the proper way, what is being referred to in dependent origination, is the origination and cessation of the world of dukkha. He cites the Vajira sutta as support: 'Only disappointment is produced, disappointment persists, and ceases; Nothing other than disappointment is produced; nothing other than disappointment ceases.'Our world of experience only arises because our sense faculties interact with objects, giving rise to consciousness. This fact of experience is what the Buddha puts forward as refuting the notion that the world doesn‟t exist; that is, the fact of arising denies nonexistence. Similarly when one of the tripod of supports is removed we lose contact and the experience ceases. This refutes the idea of any kind of permanent existence in or of the world...
there is no paradox here, and we do not have to ponder whether or to what extent some 'thing' exists or not because following the Sabba Sutta we define this as outside our range (avisaya). Metaphysical questions then become inexplicable (avyākata) not because the Buddha does not know, or cannot say, but because the very question is posed outside his frame of reference...
Without a clear understanding that the domain under discussion is the world of experience, we have problems interpreting this idea except as a paradox, and in the Buddhism world it generates a series of metaphysical not to say mystical interpretations.
This is a apparently a view which is also expoused by Eviatar Shulman, who writes: “There is no reason to believe that dependent-origination originally discussed anything but mental conditioning.”Right-view is not concerned with the rising and passing away of objects in the physical world, but to the arising and passing away of disappointment. This is not a statement about, let alone a denial of, an objective or physical world, merely a continued pre-occupation with disappointment completely in keeping with the Buddha‟s oft stated goals
Jayarava ends by saying:
What do you guys think? Is Paṭicca-samuppāda a Theory of Everything? Or, an even broader question, is the Dhamma supposed to explain "everything" as some seem to hold or is it more a limited epistemological theory which remains about the field of one's experience.Treating paṭicca-samuppāda as a theory of everything creates metaphysical problems because it strays out of the natural realm for its application. Like physicists we ask too much of our theory, we move beyond what it can realistically tell us, and imagine a situation in which we will have full knowledge of the universe – effective omniscience
I suggest that Hamilton‟s paradigm should be attractive to Western practitioners since it tends away from seeing bodhi in metaphysical, mystical or magical terms without devaluing or diminishing the achievement or its significance for humanity. Bodhi seen in this way is not only comprehensible, but it is clearly a realistic and rational goal for people to aspire to. It also cedes to science the study and description of the physical universe, and thus avoids one of the main pitfalls for religions in the modern era. But it clearly offers a pivotal role for Buddhist practice in how we relate to the world of the senses, and offers a potential revolution in perception and in well-being.
Also his main academic sources for this view seem to be:
Hamilton, Sue. 2000. Early Buddhism: a New Approach: the I of the Beholder. Richmond, Surrey:
https://books.google.com/books?id=pE9lw ... e&q&f=true
Shulman, Eviatar. 2008. 'Early Meanings of Dependent-Origination,' Journal of Indian Philosophy,
https://www.academia.edu/8279775/Early_ ... rigination
He also cites bhikkhu Nanavira, though I do not know how close this view is to Nanavira's views.