[No Sanskrit text]
| de ltar des ni ’gro ba lṅa | | lha yi spyan gyis gzigs pa ste |
| chu śiṅ gśags pa bźin du ni | | srid par sñiṅ po rñed ma yin |
de ltar: such, thus (iti, evam)
des: in this manner
ni ’gro ba
lha yi spyan: divine eye
gyis: [instrumental particle]
gzigs pa: see, perceive
chu shing: plaintain tree
gshags pa: to cut, cleave through; to cut it down
bzhin du: as like
srid par: in extension, in samsara
snying po: heart, essence, core
ma yin: is not
EHJ's translation from the Tibetan:
48. Thus with the divine eyesight he examined the five spheres of life and found nothing substantial in existence, just as no heartwood is found in a plantain-tree when it is cut open.
48. Thus with the divine eye he examined the five spheres of life and found in saṁsāra no essential core, just as no heartwood is found in a plantain-tree when it is cut open.
thus with his pure Deva eyes he thoughtfully considered the five domains of life. He saw that all was empty and vain alike ! with no dependence ! like the plantain or the bubble. (SB)
Thus [the Bodhisattva] observed the five destinations with his pure divine eye. They were false and not firm, like a plantain tree or like bubbles. (CW)
The stem of a banana tree is not something that does not exist; rather, since its stem lacks heartwood and does not constitute a proper tree trunk, the banana tree with its pseudo-stem represents the fragility of what lacks an essential core. But the stem of a banana tree is not nothing.
This being so, I don't think EHJ's “found nothing substantial in existence” exactly hits the target.
The point is not that life in saṁsāra is an illusion; what might be illusory is our sense, while hoisted in the swing of saṁsāra, of being a self separable from our environment. Hence:
yataś ca saṃskāra-gataṃ viviktaṃ na kārakaḥ kaś-cana vedako vā / samagryataḥ saṃbhavati pravṛttiḥ śūnyaṃ tato lokam imaṃ dadarśa // 17.20 //
And insofar as separateness comes from doings, there being no doer or knower, / And the activity done arises out of a totality, he realised, on that account, that this world is empty. // SN17.20 //
This verse from SN Canto 17 (which I have revised in light of recent study of saṃskāra and kārakaḥ in MMK26.10) seems to be pointing to a connection between (a) the teaching that the world is empty, or devoid of self; and (b) pratītya-samutpāda, or dependent arising, as a teaching of causality.
This is pratītya-samutpāda at what my teacher used to call "the second phase" in his four-phased philosophical system.
Thus How to Practice Zazen, the book which led me in the first place to my Zen teacher, Gudo Nishijima, mentions“the 12 links in the Chain of Cause and Effect which binds us all.” In this introduction to sitting practice “the 12 links in the Chain of Cause and Effect which binds us all” are opposed to the noble eightfold path as an ideal. The chain of cause and effect is presented as a materalistic explanation of human life in the world. I will quote the relevant sections in full:
On the other hand, balancing the eight-fold path, Gautama Buddha also taught the 12 links in the Chain of Cause and Effect which binds us all. In these developmental schemata, we are born into chaos; that is, the child exists first on the level of  unconsciousness. From this unconsciousness arises  an act, which in turn gives birth to  consciousness. With consciousness comes a realization of  the external world.  Our senses become apparent to us and we realize our way of contacting external reality : actively or physically (for example, touching leather) and, simultaneously,  passively, or mentally (recognizing it as leather). Through these ways of contacting we move to judging, liking or not liking, that is,  attachment. Arising from attachment is the act of  taking what we want. This results in  ownership, or consciousness of possessions, of material goods as well as knowledge and skills. Our  life arises from ownership, that is, our business and social life. Our life leads inexorably to  aging and death.
This may sound brutally materialistic, but I guess we can all find examples of these categories in our daily lives. Buddhism states that we are bound in this cycle irretrievably, even though it may appear to conflict with what we said about the idealistic 8-fold path to resolve this paradox, let's turn to the 4 world views delineated by Buddhism.
Gautama Buddha taught that idealism (subjective philosophy – religion in the narrow sense), materalism (objective philosophy – science), realism (philosophy of reality or action) and reality itself were the four ways of viewing or experiencing the world. He further taught that our world view changes as we develop physically and mentally. Commonly we find idealism and materalism in youth, realism in adulthood, and an acceptance of reality itself in old age. These four views are also mirrored in the theories of Buddhism itself: idealism is embodied in the Pursuit of Rightness, materalism is represented in the Chain of Cause and Effect, both of which we have discussed. Realism is present in the Buddhist theory of instantaneous existence or the doctrine of the present, and reality itself is experienced in the practice of Zazen, which embraces the other three views.
Thus, my teacher described the 12 links as belonging to the second, objective phase of his four-phased theory of four philosophies.
For a bloke who sat, fancying that he should like to abide as far as possible in the fourth phase, on the royal road of sitting in the full lotus posture, pratītya-samutpāda did not therefore seem to be such a vital thing to learn in practice.
We have noted already how Kumārajīva's rendering of the Sanskrit pratītya-samutpāda-pravṛttim into the Chinese 十二因縁法 “the law of 12 causal connections,” caused something to be lost in translation of the Lotus Sutra.
The Heart Sutra, again, is recited in Japanese
NAISHI MU-ROSHI YAKU MU-ROSHI-JIN,
“There is no ignorance, and no ending of ignorance,
nor any other [causal process];
there is no aging and death, and no ending of aging and death.”
So here again, pratītya-samutpāda sounds like something to be negated or transcended rather than a teaching to be placed front and centre of a bodhisattva's practical efforts.
In Shobogenzo, Dogen absolutely affirms cause and effect in four chapters specifically devoted to that topic. But I do not remember my attention being drawn to the importance of the 12 links in the chain with the practical emphasis which Nāgārjuna gives the teaching in MMK Chapter 26, and the practical emphasis which Aśvaghoṣa is about to give the teaching in BC Canto 14.
Overall, then, rightly or wrongly, my 13 years in Japan left me with the impression that the teaching of pratītya-samutpāda was a teaching at the second phase, and as such not the most vital thing for a Zen practitioner in the lineage of Zen Master Dogen to learn in practice.
The conclusion I am coming to is that pratītya-samutpāda is indeed a teaching that belongs to the second phase. At the second phase the world is a tangled net of causes and conditions, and it is empty in the sense of there being no separable self. But at the same time pratītya-samutpāda – as I shall explore further tomorrow – might also belong to the first phase, the third phase, and the fourth phase.