Sorry for my absence, I got called away, and tomorrow night I'll be heading into a retreat. Bad timing on my return here.
A Q for nowheat - when you say "field", were you referring to a nidāna or to a type of constituent within the nidāna? I get the sense that you meant the latter from your earlier post -
I'm going to leave out the Pali as much as possible (so that observers who aren't into languages can follow along) -- and define any Pali when I use it (as with "sankhara = a certain kind of drive" in my understanding).
When I talk about a field, I'm talking about a condition that is required for what goes on in a DA-link to happen. The Buddha very cleverly picks a condition that relates (in various ways, depending on the link) to what's going on. So, to give a silly example of what he does *not* do, "breathing" could be said to be a condition for every link -- we can't be doing anything if we aren't alive and breathing -- but he doesn't use just any old condition -- they have to relate to the point he's making.
While I think there is some merit in looking at the teaching on DO as being an exposition on fields (in the latter sense above), I'm not sure if the suttas actually employ such a pedagogy consistently. Looking at SN 12.2 as an exemplar, you might be able to get some of the components of DO explained as attributive/restrictive appositionals which would support the field reading, eg avijjā (ignorance = ignorance about certain things). But, I cannot see how the other components are amenable to a "field" distinction between good/bad etc, when it looks to me to be an exhaustive listing of all possible types of states within that class. Eg saḷāyatana (the 6 sense bases) or even nāmarūpa. It might help if we could actually see a more explicit "field" or restrictive pronouncement, which would be typically prefaced "yaṃ kiñci" or something similar to indicate that intent.
The problem here is that I've only just barely touched on how the Buddha uses the "where? in this field!" structure, and the parallels from one to the next are not exact. Perhaps a quick run-down would help:
* ignorance -> out of all forms of ignorance [<- the field/where] we're talking ignorance of the four noble truths [<- the what]
* sankhara (as "drives") -> where: out of all kinds of drives (which would include "the will to live" and procreation); what: the drive to have a self* and know it
* consciousness -> where: all forms of consciousness; what: the consciousness that is driven to create and know that self and its relationship to the world here-and-now and the afterlife/cosmic order
* name-and-form-> where: through our apparent individuality (of body and mind); what: our tendency to give name to form and define form by name, and relate these definitions to the self that consciousness is seeking
* six senses -> where: the use of our six senses; what: the senses seeking information that tells us about (our over-the-top, uber-defining) self and its relationship to the world
* contact -> where: all contact with the world and ideas; what: contact that supports our definitions of self-and-world
* feeling -> where: all experiences, pleasant, unpleasant, neutral; what: feelings that are generated when we experience contact that fulfills our need to know about the (over-the-top*) self and the world
* craving -> where: all forms of craving; what: craving to have and know the self*
* clinging -> where: all forms of clinging; what: clinging to concepts of self, concepts around self, concepts that support our existing sense of self
* becoming -> where: transitions from one "form" to another, whether mental or physical or spiritual or any combination of the above, built around conceptions of self-and-the-world; what: the way the "self" we have "built/perfected" through all that went before comes to hang together
* birth -> where: our appearance in the world; what: the portion of our appearance in which the self that we have built becomes visible in the world and takes part in life in ways that will generate suffering (the anger, ill will, delusion)
* aging-and-death -> where: all experiences of impermanence; what: the ways in which we relate to impermanence that result in suffering.
You can see that in each of these quick definitions, what's going on *depends* on what was going on in the links before. And, that with each one, if the "field" (the "where") were to go away, the "what" could not happen at all.
So, in the last example, if there were no impermanence, no sickness, aging, or death, then (theoretically at least -- setting aside "boredom" if everything stayed the same all the time) there would be no suffering. (As for the bit I set aside, remember that the Buddha is defining one particular problem -- the foremost of our problems -- and he is always talking about just that. "What problems we would have if the world were other than it is" doesn't come into play at all.)
Or in the case of name-and-form, the field is really our individuality (our name, our form) and the individuality of all things around us, but it is not *that* we are individuals that is being discussed, it is the particular relationship of the way we define things as related to us, and as related to what we think the cosmic order is (as related to self-and-world) that's what's being talked about in name-and-form. Without "individuality" (ours and everything else's) -- the field -- there could be no problem with how we are defining things. If everything was formless -- if we were all one big blob -- we wouldn't be defining things *at all*. This is, actually, what the Buddha is telling Ananda in DN 15.
* I usually insert "over-the-top" before "self" or "sense of self" because I (personally) don't think having "a sense of self" is a problem, as long as it is not a sense of self that generates anger, ill will, and delusion -- in other words, there are healthy senses-of-self (though admittedly it is a delicate trick to have a healthy, compassionate "self" it seems to me this is what's being aimed at; but I am not ready to argue that this is what the Buddha was aiming us at). Generally though even if I don't include the words "over-the-top" you can assume when I'm talking about "self" in the sense of "what we're doing wrong that we need to cure" I have a narrow definition of "self". This is actually the method of defining things I see the Buddha using: he talks about "craving" and "feeling" but is really talking about the narrow "what" even though we can mistake it for the wider "where". That's what I'm doing when I short-hand by using "self" to mean "an over the top sense of self".
PS - Re the Black and Falk citation above, do they explain whether the Upanisadic teaching of sequences is one of "sufficient conditions" (ie if you make this karma, you will reap this result)? I've read this said before. And this is an interesting distinction in the Buddha's conception of idappaccayatā as a foil to the Upanisads - the nidānas are not sufficient conditions, but necessary ones (leaving aside the later Abhidhamma attempts to distinguish hetu from paccaya).
It was just a very short citation, so if they do explain it, it's not part of the quotes in that section of the book that I noticed, anyway.