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A Discourse on
Paticcasamuppada, or The Doctrine of Dependent Origination
Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw
Importance Of The Doctrine
The doctrine of Paticcasamuppada or Dependent Origination is very important in Buddhism. The bodhisatta began with dependent origination when he reflected deeply on the nature of existence and attained Enlightenment. He first pondered old age and death as did every other bodhisatta when he was about to become the Buddha in his last existence. For it was only after seeing the old, the sick and the dead that the bodhisatta saw the ascetic (//samana//) and renounced the world in search of the ageless and the deathless Dhamma. He had seen the evils of life in old age, sickness and death.
Every living being wants to avoid these evils of life but there is no end to these evils which follow him in one existence after another. In view of this endless process of life, all living beings appear to be in bondage and subject to suffering. Life is in fact an infinite process of births and deaths. The fate of fowls and ducks is terrible indeed. Some are eaten up while still in the eggs. If they emerge from the eggs they do not live long but are killed when they grow up a little. They are born only to be killed for human consumption. If the fate of a living being is thus to be repeatedly killed it is gloomy and frightful indeed.
But the fowls and ducks appear to be well content with their lot in life. They apparently enjoy life, quacking, crowing, eating and fighting with one another. They may think that they have a lot of time to live although in fact they have little time to be happy, their life being a matter of days or months, with each of them coming into existence and then dying after a short time.
The span of human life, too, is not very long for the man in his fifties or sixties the past seems in retrospect as recent as yesterday. Sixty or seventy years on earth is a day in the life of a deva which is, however, very short in the eyes of a Brahma who may live as long as the duration of the worlds (//kappa//). But even the Brahma who outlives hundreds of worlds is insignificant and his life is short in the context of samsaric eternity. Devas and Brahmas, too, have to age and die eventually. Although they are not subject to sickness and marked dotage, age tells on them invisibly in due course of time. So every living being has to face old age and death and nobody can escape from these evils of life.
Reflection Of The Bodhisatta
Reflecting on the origin of old age, the bodhisatta traced back the chain of dependent origination from the end to the beginning. Old age and death have their origin in rebirth which in turn is due to //kammabhava// (condition or kamma for renewed existence). Kammabhava stems from grasping or attachment (upadana) which is caused by craving (tanha). Craving arises from feeling (vedana) which is produced by sense-bases (ayatana) such as eye, visual form, etc. Sense-bases are the product of nama-rupa (consciousness and corporeality) which results from //vinnana// (consciousness) which is again caused by //nama-rupa//.
The full Pali texts about Paticcasamuppada attribute vinnana to sankhara (kamma-formations) and sankhara to avijja (ignorance). But the bodhisatta's reflection is confined to the interdependence of //nama-rupa// and vinnana in the present life. In other words, he reflected on the correlation between vinnana and nama-rupa, leaving out of account the former's relation to past existence. We may assume, therefore, that for the yogis, reflection on the present life will suffice to ensure the successful practice of vipassana.
The bodhisatta reasoned about the correlation between vinnana and nama-rupa thus: This vinnana has no cause other than nama-rupa. From nama-rupa there results vinnana; from vinnana there arises nama-rupa. Hence, from the correlation between vinnana and nama-rupa there arises birth, old age and death; there may be successive births or successive deaths.
Moreover vinnana causes nama-rupa; nama-rupa causes sense-bases (ayatana). From sense-bases there arises contact; contact leads to feeling; feeling gives rise to craving; craving to grasping; and grasping results in rebirth which in turn leads to old age, death, anxiety, grief and other kinds of mental and physical sufferings.
Then the bodhisatta reflected on dependent origination negatively. If there were no vinnana there could be no nama-rupa; if no nama-rupa, then no ayatana and so on. The negation of the first link in the chain of causation leads to the extinction of suffering that has beset us
ceaselessly in the infinite series of samsaric existences. After this reflection on dependent origination in its positive and negative aspects, the bodhisatta contemplated the nature of the aggregates of grasping. Then he attained the successive insights and fruitions (magga-phala) on the Ariyan holy path and finally became the all-Enlightened Buddha. Every bodhisatta attained supreme Enlightenment after such contemplation. They did not learn what and how to contemplate from others but owing to cumulative potential (parami) that they had acquired through innumerable lifetimes, they contemplated as mentioned before and attained Enlightenment.
Beyond Reasoning And Speculation
Then when it was time to preach, the Buddha thought thus: This dhamma which I know is very profound. It is hard to understand; it is so sublime and so conducive to inner peace. It is not accessible to intellect and logic (atakkavacaro). It is subtle and it is to be realized only by the wise.
All over the world, philosophers have racked their brains about freedom from old age, sickness and death. But freedom from these evils means Nibbana and Nibbana is beyond the reach of reason and intellect. It is to be realized only through the practice of the middle way and vipassana. Most philosophers rely on intellect and logic, and there are various doctrines which they have conceived for the welfare of all living beings. But these doctrines are based on speculations that do not help anyone to attain vipassana insight, let alone the supreme goal of Nibbana. Even the lowest stage of vipassana insight, viz., insight into the distinction between nama and rupa does not admit any intellectual approach. The insight dawns on the yogi only when, with the development of concentration, and in accordance with Satipatthana method he watches the nama-rupa process and distinguishes between consciousness and corporeality, e.g. the desire to bend the hand and bent hand, the ear and the sound on the one hand and the consciousness of hearing on the other and so forth. Such knowledge is not vague and speculative; it is vivid and empirical.
It is said on the authority of scriptures that nama-rupas are in a constant flux and that we should watch their arising and passing away. But for the beginner this is easier said than done. The beginner has to exert strenuous effort to overcome hindrances (nivarana). Even freedom from nivarana helps him only to distinguish between nama and rupa. It does not ensure insight into their arising and passing away. This insight is attained only after concentration has been developed and perception has become keen with the practice of mindfulness. Constant mindfulness of arising and vanishing leads to insight into anicca, dukkha and anatta of all phenomena. But as merely the beginning of lower vipassana, this insight is a far cry from the path and its fruition. Hence the description of the dhamma as something beyond logic and speculation.
Dhamma Is Only For The Wise
The dhamma is subtle (nipuno); it is to be realized only by the wise (panditavedaniyo). Here the wise means only those who have wisdom (panna) relating to vipassana and the path and its goal. The dhamma has nothing to do with the secular knowledge //per se// possessed by world philosophers, religious founders, writers or great scientists who can split atoms. But it can be realized by any one irrespective of sex, age or education; anyone who contemplates nama-rupa at the moment of their arising, passes through vipassana insights progressively and attains the Ariyan path and its goal.
Taking stock of the nature of all living beings, the Buddha found that most of them were mired in sensual pleasure. There were of course a few exceptions like the five companions of Siddhattha in the forest retreat or the two brahmins who were later to become the two chief disciples of the Buddha. But the majority of mankind regard the enjoyment of pleasure as the summum bonum of life. They are like children who delight in playing with their toys the whole day. The child's toys and games make no sense to adults but grown-up people too derive pleasure from the toys of the sensual world, that is, from the company of their children and grand-children. Such sensual pleasure has no appeal for Buddhas and Arahats. It is highly esteemed by ordinary men and devas because they have no sense of higher values such as jhana, vipassana and Nibbana.
A person who is thus fond of sensual pleasure may be likened to a peasant living in out-of-the-way rural areas. To the urbanites those places are wholly devoid of the amenities of life, what with poor food, poor clothes, dirty dwellings, muddy footpaths and so forth. But the villagers are happy and they never think of leaving their native place. Likewise, common people and devas delight in their sensual objects. Whatever the teaching of the Buddha and the Arahats, they love pleasure and spend all their time indulging in it. They feel ill at ease in the absence of sensual objects. They are so much pleased with their families, attendants and possessions that they cannot think of anything higher than sensual pleasure. Because of their deep rooted love of pleasure, it is hard for them to understand or appreciate the subtle, profound Paticcasamuppada and Nibbana.
Difficulty Of Understanding
The Buddha-dhamma makes little appeal to the masses since it is diametrically opposed to their sensual desire. People do not like even an ordinary sermon, let alone a discourse on Nibbana, if it has no sensual touch. They do not seem interested in our teaching and no wonder, since it is devoid of melodious recitation, sentimental stories, hilarious jokes and other attractions. It is acceptable only to those who have practised //vipassana// or who seek the dhamma on which they can rely for methods of meditation and extinction of defilements.
But it is a mistake to deprecate, as some do, the sermons containing stories, jokes, etc., as sutta sermons. Suttas differ basically from popular sermons in that they are profound, as witness Anattalakkhana sutta, Satipatthana sutta and so forth. The doctrine of Dependent Origination too belongs to Sutta Pitaka. It is to be labelled Abhidhamma only because it is preached in the fashion of Abhidhamma Pitaka.
Since our teaching is unadulterated dhamma, some people confuse it with Abhidhamma and cannot follow it, much less grasp the Path and Nibbana which it emphasizes. Paticcasamuppada is hard to understand because it concerns the correlations between causes and effects. There is no ego entity that exists independently of the law of causation. It was hard to accept this fact before the Buddha proclaimed the dhamma.
The commentaries also point out the abstruse character of the doctrine. According to them there are four dhammas which defy understanding, viz., the four noble truths, the nature of a living being, the nature of rebirth and dependent origination.
It is hard to understand and accept the truth of suffering, the truth about its cause, the truth about its cessation and the truth about the way to its extinction. It is hard to appreciate these truths, still harder to teach them to other people.
Secondly, it is hard to understand that a living being is a nama-rupa process without any separate self, that the nama-rupa complex is subject to the law of kamma that determines a man's future life according to his good or bad deeds.
In the third place, it is hard to see how rebirth takes place as a result of defilement and kamma without the transfer of nama-rupa from a previous life.
Lastly, it is equally hard to understand Paticcasamuppada. It involves the above three abstruse dhammas. Its negative aspect concerns the first two noble truths as well as the nature of a living being and rebirth while its positive aspect involves the other two truths. Hence, it is most difficult to grasp or teach the doctrine. It may be easy to explain it to one who has attained the path and Nibbana or one who has studied the Pitaka but it will mean little to one who has neither the illumination nor scriptural knowledge.
The writer of the commentary on the doctrine was qualified to explain it because he might have attained the lower stages of the path or he might have a thorough knowledge of the Pitaka. He refers to its difficulty probably in order that its exposition might be seriously studied by posterity. He likens the difficulty to the plight of a man who has jumped into the sea and cannot get to the bottom. He admits that he has written the exegesis on the basis of the Pitaka and the old commentaries handed down by oral tradition. The same may be said of our teaching. Since it is hard to explain the doctrine, the yogi should pay special attention to it. If he follows the teaching superficially, he will understand nothing and without a fair knowledge of the doctrine, he is bound to suffer in the wilderness of samsaric existence.
The substance of the Paticcasamuppada teaching is as follows.
From ignorance there arises sankhara (effort or kamma-formation). From kamma-formation there arises consciousness of the new existence. Consciousness gives rise to psycho-physical phenomena or nama-rupa. Nama-rupa leads to ayatana (six bases). From ayatana arises the phassa (impression). Phassa causes feeling; feeling leads to craving. From craving there results clinging (upadana). Because of clinging there is the process of becoming (kamma-bhava), from the process of becoming there arises rebirth (jati) and rebirth leads to old age, death, sorrow, grief and lamentation. Thus arises the whole mass of suffering.
What is Avijja (Ignorance)?
According to the Buddha, avijja is ignorance of the four Noble Truths, viz., the truths about suffering, its cause, its cessation and the way to its cessation. In a positive sense avijja implies misconception or illusion. It makes us mistake what is false and illusory for truth and reality. It leads us astray and so it is labelled //miccha-patipatti-avijja//.
Avijja, therefore, differs from ordinary ignorance. Ignorance of the name of a man or a village does not necessarily mean misinformation whereas the avijja of Paticcasamuppada means something more than ignorance. It is misleading like the ignorance of a man who has lost all sense of direction and who, therefore, thinks that the east is west or that the north is south. The man who does not know the truth of suffering has an optimistic view of life that is full of dukkha (pain and evil).
It is a mistake to seek the truth of dukkha in the book for it is to be found in one's own body. Seeing, hearing, in short, all nama-rupa arising from the six senses are dukkha. For this phenomenal existence is impermanent, undesirable and unpleasant. It may end at any time and so all is pain and suffering. But this dukkha is not realized by living beings who look upon their existence as blissful and good.
So they seek pleasant sense-objects, good sights, good sounds, good food, etc. Their effort to secure what they believe to be the good things of life is due to their illusion (avijja) about their existence. Avijja is here like the green eye-glass that makes a horse eat the dry grass which it mistakes for green grass. Living beings are mired in sensual pleasure because they see every thing through rose-coloured glasses. They harbour illusions about the nature of sense-objects and nama-rupa.
A blind man may be easily deceived by another man who offers him a worthless longyi, saying that it is an expensive, high quality longyi. The blind man will believe him and he will like the longyi very much. He will be disillusioned only when he recovers his sight and then he will throw it away at once. Likewise, as a victim of avijja, a man enjoys life, being blind to its anicca, dukkha and anatta. He becomes disenchanted when introspection of nama-rupa makes him aware of the unwholesome nature of his existence.
Introspection of nama-rupa or vipassana contemplation has nothing to do with bookish knowledge. It means thorough watching and ceaseless contemplation of all psycho-physical phenomena that comprise both the sense-objects and the corresponding consciousness. The practice leads to full awareness of their nature. As concentration develops, the yogi realizes their arising and instant vanishing, thereby gaining an insight into their anicca, dukkha and anatta.
Avijja makes us blind to reality because we are unmindful. Unmindfulness give rise to the illusion of man, woman, hand, leg, etc., in the conventional sense of the terms. We do not know that seeing, for instance, is merely the nama-rupa or psycho-physical process, that the phenomenon arises and vanishes, that it is impermanent, unsatisfactory and unsubstantial.
Some people who never contemplate die without knowing anything about nama-rupa. The real nature of nama-rupa process is realized by the mindful person. But the insight does not occur in the beginning when concentration is not yet developed. Illusion or the natural way of consciousness precedes contemplation and so the beginner does not gain a clear insight into the nature of nama-rupa. It is only through steadfast practice that concentration and perception develop and lead to insight-knowledge.
If, for example, while practising mindfulness, the yogi feels itchy, he is barely aware of being itchy. He does not think of the hand, the leg, or any other part of the body that is itchy nor does the idea of self as the subject of itchiness, "I feel itchy" occur to him. There arises only the continuous sensation of itchiness. The sensation does not remain permanent but passes away as he notes it. The watching consciousness promptly notes every psycho-physical phenomenon, leaving no room for the illusion of hand, leg and so on.
Illusion dominates the unmindful person and makes him blind to the unsatisfactory nature (dukkha) of all sense-objects. It replaces dukkha with sukha. Indeed avijja means both ignorance of what is real and mis-conception that distorts reality.
Because he does not know the truth of dukkha, man seeks pleasant sense-objects. Thus ignorance leads to effort and activity (sankhara). According to the scriptures, because of avijja there arises sankhara but, there are two links, viz., tanha and upadana between them. Ignorance gives rise to craving (tanha) which later on develops into attachment (upadana). Craving and attachment stem from the desire for pleasure and are explicitly mentioned in the middle part of the doctrine of Paticcasamuppada. When the past is fully described, reference is made to avijja, tanha, upadana, kamma and sankhara.
Ignorance Of The Origin Of Dukkha
People do not know that craving is the origin (samudaya) of suffering. On the contrary they believe that it is attachment that makes them happy, that without attachment life would be dreary. So they ceaselessly seek pleasant sense-objects, food, clothing, companions and so forth. In the absence of these objects of attachment they usually feel ill at ease and find life monotonous.
For common people life without attachment would be indeed wholly devoid of pleasure. It is tanha that hides the unpleasantness of life and makes it pleasant. But for the Arahat who has done away with tanha, it is impossible to enjoy life. He is always bent on Nibbana, the cessation of conditioned suffering.
Tanha cannot exert much pressure even on the yogis (meditators) when they become absorbed in the practice of vipassana. So some yogis do not enjoy life as much as they did before. On their return from meditation retreat they get bored at home and feel ill at ease in the company of their families. To other people the yogi may appear to be conceited but in fact his behaviour is a sign of loss of interest in the workaday world. But if he cannot as yet overcome the sensual desire, his boredom is temporary and he usually gets re-adjusted to his home life in due course. His family need not worry over his mood or behaviour for it is not easy for a man to become thoroughly sick of his home life. So the yogi should examine himself and see how much he is really disenchanted with life. If his desire for pleasure lingers, he must consider himself still in the grip of tanha.
Without tanha we would feel discomfited. In conjunction with avijja, tanha makes us blind to dukkha and creates the illusion of sukha. So we frantically seek sources of pleasure. Consider, for example, men's fondness for movies and dramatic performances. These entertainments cost time and money but tanha makes them irresistible although to the person who has no craving for them they are sources of suffering.
A more obvious example is smoking. The smoker delights in inhaling the tobacco smoke but to the non-smoker it is a kind of self-inflicted suffering. The non-smoker is free from all the troubles that beset the smoker. He leads a relatively care-free and happy life because he has no craving for tobacco. Tanha as the source of dukkha is also evident in the habit of betel-chewing. Many people enjoy it although in fact it is a troublesome habit.
Like the smoker and the betel-chewer, people seek to gratify their craving and this tanha-inspired effort is the mainspring of rebirth that leads to old age, sickness and death.
Suffering and desire as its cause are evident in everyday life but it is hard to see these truths for they are profound and one can realize them not through reflection but only through the practice of vipassana.
Ignorance Of The Third And Fourth Noble Truths
Avijja also means ignorance of the cessation of dukkha and the way to it. These two truths are also profound and hard to understand for the truth about cessation of dukkha concerns Nibbana which is to be realized only on the Ariyan holy path, and the truth about the way is certainly known only to the yogi who has attained the path. No wonder that many people are ignorant of these truths.
Ignorance of the end of suffering is widespread and so world religions describe the supreme goal in many ways. Some say that suffering will come to an end automatically in due course of time. Some regard sensual pleasure as the highest good and reject the idea of a future life. This variety of beliefs is due to ignorance of the real Nibbana. Even among Buddhists some hold that Nibbana is an abode or a sort of paradise and there are many arguments about it. All these show how hard it is to understand Nibbana.
In reality Nibbana is the total extinction of the nama-rupa process that occurs ceaselessly on the basis of causal relationship. Thus according to the doctrine of Paticcasamuppada, avijja, sankhara etc., give rise to nama-rupa, etc., and this causal process involves old age, death and the other evils of life. If avijja, etc., becomes extinct on the Ariyan path, so do their effects and all kinds of dukkha and this complete end to dukkha is Nibbana.
For example, a lamp that is refuelled will keep on burning, but if it is not refuelled there will be a complete extinction of flame. Likewise for the yogi on the Ariyan path who has attained Nibbana, all the causes such as avijja, etc., have become extinct and so do all the effects such as rebirth, etc. This means total extinction of suffering, that is, Nibbana which the yogi must understand and appreciate before he actually realizes it.
This concept of Nibbana does not appeal to those who have a strong craving for life. To them the cessation of nama-rupa process would mean nothing more than eternal death. Nevertheless, intellectual acceptance of Nibbana is necessary because on it depends the yogi's whole-hearted and persistent effort to attain the supreme goal.
Knowledge of the fourth truth, viz., truth about the way to the end of dukkha is also of vital importance. Only the Buddhas can proclaim the right path; it is impossible for anyone else, be he a deva, a Brahma or a human being, to do so. But there are various speculations and teachings about the path. Some advocate ordinary morality such as love, altruism, patience, alms-giving, etc., while others stress the practice of mundane jhana. All these practices are commendable. According to the Buddhist teaching, they lead to relative welfare in the deva-Brahma worlds but do not ensure freedom from samsaric dukkha such as old age, etc. So they do not form the right path to Nibbana although they are helpful in the effort to attain it.
Some resort to self-mortification such as fasting, living in a state of nature and so forth. Some worship devas or animals. Some live like animals. From the Buddhist point of view all these represent what is termed //silabbataparamasa// which means any practice that has nothing to do with the Eightfold Path.
The Noble Eightfold Path comprises right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right contemplation. The path is of three kinds, viz., the basic path, the preliminary path and the Ariyan path. Of these the most vital is the Ariyan path but this path should not be the primary objective of the yogi nor does it require him to spend much time and energy on it. For, as the vipassana practice on the preliminary path develops, the insight on the Ariyan level occurs for a thought-moment. For example, it requires much time and effort to produce fire by friction but ignition is a matter of a moment's duration. Similarly, the insight on the Ariyan path is instantaneous but it pre-supposes much practice of vipassana on the preliminary path.
Right View, Etc.
Vipassana insight is the insight that occurs at every moment of contemplation. The yogi who notes every psycho-physical phenomenon becomes aware of its real nature. Thus he focuses his attention on the bending of his arms or legs and he realizes the elements of rigidity and motion. This means right view in connection with //vayodhatu//. Without mindfulness there will arise illusion of "It is the hand", "It is a man", and so forth. Only the mindful yogi sees things as they really are.
The same may be said of right view in regard to sensation in the body, e.g. imagination, intention. When the mind becomes fixed and calm, the yogi finds the nama-rupa phenomena arising and vanishing and so he gains insight into their anicca, dukkha and anatta.
Right belief implies right intention and other associative dhamma on the path. Insight on the path occurs at every moment of contemplation. With the attainment of perfect insight into the three characteristics of existence, the yogi sees Nibbana. Hence, if Nibbana is to be realized here and now, the practice of vipassana is essential. The yogi who cannot as yet practise vipassana should focus on the path that is the basis of vipassana practice. This basic path means doing good deeds motivated by the belief in Kamma. In other words, it is the practice of dana, sila etc., in the hope of attaining Nibbana.
All the paths (magga) - the basic, the preliminary and the Ariyan, form the three-fold path leading to Nibbana. In particular, the yogi must recognize the Ariyan path as the dhamma that is to be desired, cherished and adored. Such a recognition is essential to strenuous effort in the practice of vipassana. The yogi must also accept the vipassana magga as a noble dhamma and know how to practise it.
Some people are ignorant of the way to Nibbana. On top of that they belittle the Nibbana-oriented good deeds of other people. Some deprecate the teaching and practice of other people although they have never practised vipassana effectively. Some criticize the right method because they are attached to their wrong method. All these people have avijja which means ignorance of and misconception about the right path. It is avijja not to know that dana, sila and bhavana lead to Nibbana and it is avijja too to regard dana, etc. as harmful to one's interest. The more destructive avijja is ignorance of and illusion about the right method of contemplation.
Ignorance of the right path is the most terrible form of avijja. For it makes its victims blind to good deeds and creates illusions, thereby preventing them from attaining human happiness or divine bliss, let alone the Ariyan path and Nibbana. Yet most people remain steeped in ignorance, unmindful of the need to devote themselves to dana, sila and bhavana.
Avijja Leads To Sankhara
To them sensual pleasure is the source of happiness, Nibbana as the extinction of nama-rupa is undesirable and the way to it is arduous and painful. So they seek to gratify their desire through three kinds of action (kamma) viz., bodily action, verbal action and mental action. Some of these actions may be ethically good and some may be ethically bad. Some people will practise dana, etc. for their welfare hereafter, while some will resort to deceit or robbery to become rich.
A Pali synonym for kamma (action) is sankhara. Sankhara is also of three kinds, viz., sankhara by thought, sankhara by speech and sankhara by body. Sankhara pre-supposes cetana (volition). The function of cetana is to conceive, to urge or to incite and as such it is the mainspring of all actions. It is involved in killing, alms-giving, etc. The yogi knows its nature empirically through contemplation.
In another sense there are three kinds of sankharas, viz., punnabhi (wholesome) sankhara, with its good kammic result, apunnabhi (unwholesome) sankhara, with its bad kammic result and anenjabhi-sankhara that leads to wholesome arupajhana which literally means immobile jhana. Rupajhana and all the good actions having the kammic results in the sensual world are to be classified as punnabhi-sankhara. Punna literally means something that cleanses or purifies. Just as a man washes the dirt off his body with soap, so also we have to rid ourselves of kammic impurities through dana, sila and bhavana. These good deeds are conducive to welfare and prosperity in the present life and hereafter.
Another meaning of punna is the tendency to fulfil the desire of the doer of the good deed. Good deeds help to fulfil various human desires, e.g. the desire for health, longevity, wealth and so forth. If a good deed is motivated by the hope for Nibbana, it leads to a life that makes it possible to attain his goal or it may ensure his happiness and welfare till the end of his last existence. Abhisankhara is the effort to do something for one's own welfare. It tends to have good or evil kammic results. So punnabhi-sankhara is good deed with good kammic result. There are eight types of good deed in sensual sphere (kamavacarakusala) and five types in fine-material sphere (rupavacara). All these may be summed up as of three kinds, viz., dana, sila and bhavana.
Giving dana gladly means wholesome consciousness which is kammically very fruitful. So the donor should rejoice before, during and after the act of alms-giving. In the scriptures, this kind of dana is credited with great kammic productivity. The attitude of the donor may also be one of indifference (upekkha) but, if the mind is clear, his act of dana too has high kammic potential Any act of alms-giving that is based on the belief in kamma is rational and it may bear fruit in the form of rebirth with no predisposition to greed, ill-will and ignorance. An act of dana that has nothing to do with a sense of its moral value or the belief in kammic result is good but unintelligent and it will lead to rebirth with no great intelligence. It may bear such kammic fruit in everyday life but it does not make the donor intelligent enough to attain the path in his next life.
Again one may do a good deed spontaneously without being urged by others (asankharika-kusala); some do good deeds at the instigation of others (sasankharika-kusala). Of these two kinds of good deeds, the former is kammically more fruitful than the latter. When we consider the four kinds of good deeds mentioned earlier in terms of these last two attributes, we have a total of eight types of wholesome consciousness in the sensual sphere. Whenever we do a good deed, we are prompted to do so by one of these kusala dhammas; when we practise concentration and meditation, we have to begin with these eight types of wholesome dhammas.
If it is bhavana that can lead to jhana, the yogi attains rupavacara jhana when his samadhi is well-developed. Jhana means total concentration of mind on an object of mental training. Samatha jhana is concentration for bare tranquillity. Jhana samadhi is like the flame burning in still air. According to the Suttas, the rupavacara jhana has four levels; in Abhidhamma it has five levels.
Opposed to punnabhisankhara is apunnabhisankhara or unwholesome kamma formations. These immoral deeds lead to lower worlds and evils in human life such as ugliness, infirmities and so forth. They number twelve in terms of consciousness, viz., eight rooted in greed (lobha), two rooted in ill-will (dosa) and two rooted in ignorance (moha).
The lobha-based dhammas comprise four with wrong belief and four without it. Of the four dhammas with wrong belief, two are joyful, spontaneous (asankharika) dhamma and joyful but unspontaneous (sasankharika) dhamma. The neutral (upekkha) unwholesome dhammas may be classified in the same way. Likewise there are two joyful lobha-based dhammas without wrong belief and two lobha-based dhammas without joy or wrong belief. Every kamma is characterized by one of these eight lobha-based dhammas. The dosa-based dhammas are of two kinds, viz., spontaneous kamma and unspontaneous kamma. This dosa-based consciousness is the mainspring of anger, dejection, fear and revulsion.
The two kinds of moha-based consciousness are doubt (vicikiccha) and restlessness (uddhacca). The former concerns doubts about the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, sila, samadhi, the idea of a future life and so forth. The latter refers to the person who is distracted and absent-minded. The mind is seldom calm and it usually goes wandering when it is not restrained through the practice of bhavana. It is said, however, that uddhacca does not lead to the lower worlds. The other eleven unwholesome dhammas do so under certain circumstances and even in case of a good rebirth, they usually have bad kammic effects such as sickliness. These twelve kinds of unwholesome volition (cetana) are called apunnabhisankhara.
All over the world people wish to be happy and so they strive for their material welfare in the present life and hereafter. But it is greed and ill-will that largely characterize their activities. Wholesome consciousness is confined to those who have good friends, who have heard their dhamma and who think rationally.
Some go morally astray, being misled by their selfish teacher. In the lifetime of the Buddha, a lay Buddhist abused good monks and so on his death he became a peta in the latrine of the monastery he had donated to the Sangha. He told the elder thera Moggallana about his misdeed when the latter saw him with his divine eye. What a terrible fate for a man who had materially supported the Sangha for his welfare in after-life, but was misguided to the lower world by his teacher. This shows that the person whose company we seek should possess not only deep knowledge but also good character.
The mark of a good man is abstinence from any act, speech or thought that is harmful to other people. Those who keep company with good men or good bhikkhus have the opportunity to hear the good dhamma and if he thinks wisely, his thoughts will lead to wholesome kammas. On the other hand evil teachers or friends, false teachings and improper thoughts may lead to moral disaster. Some who bore unblemished character in the beginning were ruined by corrupt thoughts. They were convicted of theft, robbery or misappropriation and their long-standing reputation was damaged once and forever. All their suffering had its origin in the illusion of happiness. Contrary to their expectations, they found themselves in trouble when it was too late. Some misdeeds do not produce immediate kammic results but they come to light in due course and lead to suffering. If retribution does not follow the evil-doer here and now, it overtakes him in afterlife as in the case of the donor of the monastery who became a peta for his evil words.
His teacher who had misguided him fared worse after his death. For he occupied a place below his former pupil and had to live on his excreta. The kammic result of his misdeed was indeed frightful. He had committed it for his own end but it backfired and he had to suffer terribly for it.
Some jungle tribes make animal sacrifices to gods for good harvest, security, etc. These primitive beliefs still prevail among some urban people. Some worship the chief nat'as if he were the Buddha. Some kill animals to feed guests on the occasion of religious alms-giving. Even some ignorant Buddhists have misgivings about this practice. Whatever the object of the donor, killing has bad kammic result and it is not a good deed despite the belief of the killer to the contrary.
A good deed bears the mark of moral purity. Killing or hurting a living being cannot be morally pure in any sense if you identify yourself with the victim. He faces death or endures ill-treatment only because he cannot avoid it. He will surely retaliate if he is in a position to do so. Some people pray for vengeance and so the killer is killed in his next existence or he has suffer in hell for his misdeed. The Pitaka abounds in many instances of the kammic consequences of killing.
Some long for human or deva life and devote themselves to dana, sila and bhavana. Their good deeds serve to fulfil their wishes and lead to welfare in afterlife, but every life is subject to old age and death, and human life is inextricably bound up with ill-health, and mental suffering. Some crave for the Brahma-world and practise jhana. They may live happily for many kappas (world-systems) as Brahmas. But when life has run its course, they will be reborn as human beings or devas and any evil deed that they do may bring them to the lower worlds. After all, the glorification of the Brahma-life is an illusion.
The illusion of happiness is not confined to common people. The illusion (vipallasa and avijja) that makes us regard dukkha as sukha lingers at the first two stages of the holy path, and even at the anagami stage the yogi still mistakes material life (rupa-bhava) and immaterial life (arupa-bhava) for a life of bliss. So the object of the Ariyas at the first three stages is to do good. As for the common people, they are mired in all the four illusions that make them regard the impermanent as permanent, the dukkha of nama-rupa as sukha, the impersonal as personality (atta) and the unpleasant as pleasant. Associated with these illusions are the four avijjas. Because of these misconceptions and ignorance, every bodily, verbal or mental action gives rise to good or bad kamma. A good kamma arises only from volitional effort coupled with faith, mindfulness and so forth. If the mind is left to itself, it is likely to produce bad kamma.
Rejection Of Good Kamma Means Bad Kamma
Some people misinterpret the lack of good or bad kamma on the part of the Arahat and say that we should avoid doing good deeds. For an ordinary person the rejection of good kamma will mean the upsurge of bad kamma, just as the exodus of good people from a city leaves only fools and rogues, or the removal of useful trees is followed by the growth of useless grass and weeds. The man who rejects good deeds is bound to do bad deeds that will land him in the lower worlds. It will be hard for him to return to the human world.
In point of fact, the Arahat's dissociation from good kamma means only that because of the extinction of avijja, his action is kammically unproductive. Indeed the Arahats do good deeds such as revering the elder theras, preaching, giving alms, helping living beings who are in trouble and so forth. But, with their total realization of the four noble truths and the elimination of avijja, their good actions do not have any kammic effect. So it is said that the Arahat does not have good kamma, not that he avoids doing good deeds.
An ordinary person who does not care for good deeds because of his avijja and mistaken view, will build up only bad kamma that are bound to lead to the lower worlds. In fact the lack of the desire to do good is a sign of abysmal ignorance that makes the holy path. and Nibbana remote. The mind becomes inclined to good deeds in so far as avijja loses its hold on it. A sotapanna yoga is more interested in doing good than when he was an ordinary man. The same may be said of those at the higher stages of the Ariyan path. The only difference is the increasing desire to give up doing things irrelevant to the path and devote more time to contemplation. So, good deeds should not be lumped together with bad deeds and purposely avoided. Every action that is bound up with avijja means either good kamma or bad kamma. In the absence of good kamma all will be bad kamma.
Ignorance and Illusion
Truth and falsehood are mutually exclusive. If you do not know the truth, you accept falsehood and vice versa. Those who do not know the Four Noble Truths have misconceptions about dukkha which, posing as sukha, deceive and oppress them.
Apart from tanha which, when gratified affords pleasure, everything in the sensual world is real dukkha. All sense-objects are subject to ceaseless flux and unreliable. Yet to the ignorant person they appear to be good and pleasant. They make him nostalgic about what they regard as their happy days in the past and optimistic about their future. Because of their misconception, they long for what they consider to be the good things in life. This is the cause of their dukkha but they do not realize it. On the contrary they think that their happiness depends on the fulfilment of their desires. So they see nothing wrong with their desire for sensual pleasure. In fact, the truths about the end of dukkha and the way to it are foreign to most people. Some who learn these truths from others or accept them intellectually do not appreciate them. They do not care for Nibbana or the way to it. They think that the way is beset with hardships and privations.
The hope for happiness is the mainspring of human action. Actions in deed, speech or thought are called kamma or sankhara. We have referred to three kinds of sankhara, the two kinds of good kamma comprising the first sankhara, viz., the eight good kammas in the sensual world and the good kammas in the material world; we have also mentioned two kinds of good kamma or consciousness, viz., one associated with intelligence and the other divorced from intelligence. In the practice of vipassana the yogi's mind is intelligent if it becomes aware of the real nature of nama-rupa (anicca, dukkha, anatta), through contemplation. It is not intelligent if it means little more than the recitation of Pali words and superficial observation. In ordinary morality a sense of moral values is intelligent if it is associated with the belief in the law of kamma.
Some people say that an intelligent act of dana must involve the contemplation of the anicca, dukkha and anatta of the donor, the recipient and the offering. This view is based on Atthasalini (a commentary on Abhidhammapitaka) which mentions the contemplation on the impermanence of everything after giving alms. But the reference is to contemplation after the act of dana, not before or while doing it. Moreover, the object is not to make the act intelligent but to create wholesome kamma in vipassana practice. If by intelligent dana is meant only the dana that pre-supposes such contemplation, all the other dana of non-Buddhists would have to be dubbed unintelligent acts and it is of course absurd to do so.
The accounts of alms-giving by bodhisattas make no mention of contemplation nor did the Buddha insist on it as a pre-requisite to an act of dana. The scriptures say only that the kammic potential of dana depends on the spiritual level of the recipient and this is the only teaching that we should consider in alms-giving. If the donor and the recipient were to be regarded as mere nama-rupa subject to anicca, etc., they would be on equal footing. The act of dana would then lack inspiration and much kammic potential.
In fact the object of alms-giving is not vipassana contemplation but the benefits accruing to the donor. So the Buddha points out the would-be recipients who can make dana immensely beneficial and the importance of right reflection (belief in kamma).
On one occasion Visakha, the lay woman asked the Buddha for lifelong permission to make eight kinds of offering to the Sangha; these were (1) bathing garments for the bhikkhus, (2) food for guest-monks, (3) food for travelling monks, (4) food for sick monks, (5) food for the monk who attended on a sick monk, (6) medicine for the sick monk, (7) rice-gruel for the Sangha and (8) bathing garments for the bhikkhunis. The Buddha asked Visakha what benefits she hoped to have in offering such things and the substance of Visakha's reply is as follows.
"At the end of the lent, the bhikkhus from all parts of the country will come to see the Buddha. They will tell the Lord about the death of certain monks and ask him about their rebirth and stages on the holy path that they (the deceased monks) had attained. The Lord will reveal their spiritual attainments. I will then approach the visiting monks and ask them whether their late fellow-monks had ever visited Savatthi city. If they say yes, I will conclude that the Noble one who is now at the sotapanna or any other stage on the holy path must have certainly used one of my offerings. This remembrance of my good kamma will fill me with joy. It will be conducive to peace, tranquillity and self-development."
Here it is worthy of note that the reference is not to the contemplation on the impermanence of the namarupa of the deceased monks but to the spiritual attainments that distinguished them in afterlife. Importance is attached to the contemplation that leads to ecstasy and training in self-development. Hence, the most appropriate object of contemplation in doing dana is the noble attributes of the recipient such as the noble character of the Buddha when laying flowers at the shrine, the holy life of the bhikkhu when offering food and so forth.
Preaching or hearing the dhamma is a wholesome kamma and it is an intelligent act if the dhamma is understood. Every good deed based on the belief in kamma is an intelligent kamma. Without the belief, a good act is wholesome but unintelligent as are the good acts of some children who imitate the elders and worship the Buddha image and the good acts of some people who reject the belief in kamma but are helpful, polite and charitable.
The five material wholesome dhammas (rupakusala-dhamma) are those associated with five jhanas. They are accessible only through the practice of samatha that leads to jhana. The eight wholesome dhammas and the five material wholesome dhammas form the punnabhisankhara. Apunnabhisankhara or unwholesome kammas number twelve in terms of consciousness. Here sankhara means volition (cetana). Of the twelve unwholesome sankharas eight are based on greed, two on anger and two on ignorance.
The greed-based (lobha-mula) consciousness is of eight kinds viz., four with joy and attachment and four without joy, but with attachment (upekkha sahagutta). Of the first four kinds two are bound up with belief and, of the two with the belief or without the belief, one is non-spontaneous (sasankharika) and the other is spontaneous (asankharika). Belief is of three kinds, viz., belief in ego-entity, belief in immortality of ego, and belief in annihilation of the ego without there being any kammic effect of good or bad deeds.
Few people are free from the belief in ego-entity. The belief dominates those who do not know that life is a nama-rupa process without a soul or a being. The belief is weak among those who have some knowledge of Buddhist scriptures but their bookish knowledge does not help them to overcome it completely. The yogis who have had a clear insight into the nature of nama-rupa through contemplation are usually free from the belief. Yet they may hark back to the belief if they stop contemplating before they attain the path. As for the common people, the ego-belief is deep-rooted, making them think that it is the self or the ego which is the agent of whatever they do or feel or think. Again those who believe in total extinction after death and reject the idea of future life and kamma have unwholesome consciousness that is bound up with nihilistic beliefs.
Hatred-based (dosa-mula) consciousness comprises doubt and restlessness. Doubts about the Buddha, Nibbana, anatta and so forth are labelled vicikiccha.
Hatred-based consciousness is of two kinds, viz., voluntary consciousness and involuntary consciousness. But there are many kinds of hatred such as anger, envy, anxiety, grief, fear and so forth. Ignorance-based (moha-mula) consciousness comprises doubt and restlessness. Doubts about the Buddha, Nibbana, anatta and so forth are labelled vicikiccha. The mind is subject to doubt (uddhacca) when it wanders here and there restlessly.
Thus apunnabhisankhara means the eight greed-based mental factors, two hatred-based mental factors and two ignorance-based mental factors. It is opposed to punnabhisankhara. It serves to purify nama-rupa, leads to good rebirth with good kammic results whereas the other defiles the nama-rupa process and leads to bad rebirth with bad kammic results.
People do evil deeds for their welfare. They kill, steal, rob or give false evidence at court for their wellbeing. Even those who kill their parents do so to achieve their own ends. For example, prince Ajatasattu killed his father to become king. Misguided by his teacher Devadatta, he had concluded that he would be able to enjoy life as a king for a longer period if he could do away with his father and take his place. For his great evil of patricide and the murder of a sotapanna at that, he was seized with remorse and anxiety that caused him physical suffering as well. Later on, he was killed by his son and reborn in hell where he is now suffering terribly for his misdeed.
In the time of Kakusandha Buddha the Mara called Susi did his utmost to harm the Buddha and the Sangha. Failing to achieve his object, he possessed a man and stoned to death the chief disciple Arahat behind the Buddha. For this horrible crime he instantly landed in Avici hell, the lowest of the thirty-one worlds of living beings. As a Mara he had lorded it over others but in Avici he lay prostrate under the heels of the guardians of hell. He had hoped to rejoice over the fulfilment of his evil desire, but now he had to suffer for his evil kamma. This is true of evil-doers all over the world.
It is the hope for happiness also that forms the mainspring of other two types of action, viz., punnabhisankhara and anenjabhisankhara. Anenjabhisankhara means the four arupajhana-kusaladhammas. Anenja means equanimity or self-possession. A loud noise nearby may upset the equanimity (samapatti) of a yogi who is absorbed in rupa jhana. But arupa jhana is invulnerable to such distractions. Arupa jhana is of four kinds according as it relates to (1) sphere of unbounded space (akasanancayatana jhana), sphere of nothingness (akincannayatana jhana) and (4) sphere of neither perception-nor-non-perception (nevasannanasannayatana jhana). These four jhanas are the sankharas that lead to the four arupa worlds. Apunnabhisankhara leads to the four lower worlds and punnabhisankhara leads to human, deva and rupa-Brahma worlds.
People do these three kinds of kammas or sankharas for their welfare and as a result there arises vinnana or consciousness. With vinnana there also come into being nama-rupa, salayatana, phassa, etc., of the new existence.
Sankhara Causes Vinnana
Because of avijja there is sankhara which in turn causes vinnana. As a result of good or bad kammas in the previous life there arises the stream of consciousness beginning with rebirth consciousness in the new life. Evil deeds may, for example, lead to the four lower worlds. After that there arises the stream of vinnana called bhavanga-citta which functions ceaselessly when the six kinds of vithi consciousness do not occur at the moment of seeing, hearing, smelling, eating, touching and thinking. In other words, bhavanga is the kind of subconsciousness that we have when we are asleep. We die with this subconsciousness and it is then called cuticitta. So the rebirth-consciousness, the subconsciousness and the cuti or death-consciousness represent the mind which results from the kamma of previous life.
The five kinds of consciousness associated with the five unpleasant sense-objects such as unpleasant eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, etc., are due to unwholesome kamma as are (1) the consciousness that is focused on these five sense-objects and (2) the inquiring (santirana) consciousness. There are altogether seven types of consciousness that stem from bad kamma (apunnabhisankhara). As for anenjabhisankhara, because of the four arupakusala-dhammas there arises the resulting arupa-consciousness in the four immaterial worlds in the form of rebirth-consciousness in the beginning, the bhavanga citta in the middle, and the cuticitta as the end of existence.
Similarly, because of the five rupakusala-dhamma there arise five rupa vipakacittas in rupa-brahma worlds. Then there are eight mahavipakacittas corresponding to eight good kammas in the sensual sphere. They form the rebirth, bhavanga and cuticittas in the human world and six deva-worlds. They also register pleasant sense-objects (tadarammana) after seven impulse-moments (javana) that occur on seeing, hearing, etc. Also due to good consciousness associated with five pleasant sense-objects, the registering consciousness, the joyful, inquiring consciousness and the nonchalant, inquiring consciousness. Hence, the resulting (vipaka) consciousness is of thirty-two kinds, viz., four arupavipaka, five rupavipaka, seven akusala vipaka and sixteen kusala vipaka in sensual sphere. All these thirty-two vipaka are resultants of sankhara.
How Sankhara Leads To New Vinnana
It is very important, but hard to understand how sankhara gives rise to rebirth-consciousness. Ledi Sayadaw points out that this part of the teaching on paticcasamuppada leaves much room for misunderstanding. It is necessary to understand the extinction of the last consciousness (cuticitta) together with all nama-rupa as well as the immediate arising of the rebirth-consciousness together with the new nama-rupa as a result of good or bad kammas in the case of living beings who are not yet free from defilements. Lack of this understanding usually leads to the belief in transmigration of souls (sassataditthi) or the belief in annihilation after death (ucchedaditthi) which is held by modern materialists.
The belief in annihilation is due to ignorance of the relation between cause and effect after death. It is easy to see how avijja leads to sankhara and how the sense-bases (ayatana), contact, sensation, craving, etc., form links in the chain of causation for these are evident in the facts of life. But the emergence of new existence following death is not apparent and, hence, the belief that there is nothing after death.
Learned people who think on the basis of faith usually accept the teaching that sankhara gives rise to rebirth consciousness. But it does not lend itself to purely rational and empirical approach and today it is being challenged by the materialistic view of life. The way rebirth takes place is crystal clear to the yogi who has practised vipassana. He finds that the units of consciousness arise and pass away ceaselessly, that they appear and disappear one after another rapidly. This is what he discovers by experience, not what he learns from his teachers. Of course he does not know so much in the beginning. He discovers the fact only when he attains sammasana and udayabbaya insights. The general idea of death and rebirth mental units dawns on him with the development of paccayapariggaha insights but, it is sammasana and udayabbaya insights that leave no doubt about rebirth. On the basis of his insight, he realizes that death means the disappearance of the last unit of consciousness and that rebirth means the arising of the first unit of consciousness in the manner of the vanishing and arising of consciousness-units that he notes in the practice of vipassana.
Those who do not have vipassana insight miss the point. They believe in a permanent ego and identify it with the mind. It is rejected by those who have a good knowledge of Abhidhamma but, it lingers in some people because of attachment to it in their previous lives. Even the contemplating yogi who is not yet intellectually mature sometimes feels tempted to accept it.
Sassata And Uccheda
To the ordinary people who are wedded to the ego-belief, death means the extinction of individual entity or its displacement to another abode or existence. This is a misconception called ucchedaditthi if it is the belief in annihilation, or sassataditthi if it is belief in the transfer of the soul to another body or abode. Some believe that consciousness develops spontaneously with the growth and maturation of the body (ahetukaditthi).
Some have misconceptions about samsara or nama-rupa process. They regard the body as the temporary abode of the life principle that passes on from one abode to another. The disintegration of the physical body is undeniable, but some people pin their faith to the resurrection of the body in due course of time and so they treat the dead body with respect. These views confirm the Ledi Sayadaw's statement that the causal links between sankhara and vinnana lends itself to misinterpretation.
Ordinary Buddhists are not wholly free from these misconceptions but, because of their belief in the Buddhist doctrine of anatta, they do not harbour the illusions so blindly as to harm their vipassana practice. So even without a thorough knowledge about the nature of death, rebirth and nama-rupa, they can enlighten themselves through contemplation.
For example, shortly after the parinibbana of the Buddha, the thera Channa practised vipassana but made little progress because of his ego-belief. Then as he followed Ananda's discourse on Paticcasamuppada, he contemplated, overcame his illusion and attained Arahatship. Again, in the time of the Buddha, bhikkhu Yamaka believed that the Arahat was annihilated after his parinibbana. Sariputta summoned and preached to him. While following the sermon, Yamaka contemplated, and achieved liberation. So those who have faith in the Buddha need not be disheartened. If they practised vipassana zealously and whole-heartedly, they will become enlightened.
Because of their ignorance and doubts about the nature of death and conception or leaning to uccheda belief, some people ask whether there is a future life after death. The question by itself presupposes atta or soul or life-force in a living being. Materialism rejects the idea of soul but the ego-illusion is implicit in its differentiation of the living from the dead. The question of those who accept the ego explicitly or by implication are hard to answer from the Buddhist point of view. If we say that there is future life, they will conclude that we support the ego-belief. But Buddhism does not categorically deny the future life. Hence, the Buddha's refusal to answer this question. Moreover, it is hard to produce evidence for ordinary people. Psychic persons may be able to point out the hell or the deva-worlds but sceptics will dismiss such exhibition as black magic or chicanery. So the Buddha did not answer the question directly, but said that there is continuum of nama-rupa process in the wake of death without the extinction of defilements.
The problem of future life does not admit any intellectual approach. It is to be settled only through certain Buddhist practices. These practices enable the yogi to acquire psychic powers by virtue of which he can see the dead, the good men who have attained the deva-worlds, as well as the evil persons who are suffering in the nether worlds. What he sees is as clear as what an observer who occupies a position directly opposite two houses sees - persons passing from one house to the other. Among the many devas, animals, etc., of the higher and lower realms, he (the yogi) can easily find the person whom he wants to see.
It is possible for the yogis to attain jhana and psychic powers. There is no teaching which rules out this possibility. Some practising yogis have in fact had paranormal contact with the other world (paraloka). But paranormal gifts are hard to come by. Their emergence depends on intense concentration and so the easier way is to practise vipassana. The problem of life becomes fairly clear when the development of paccaya-pariggaha insight makes the yogi well aware of the nature of death and conception. It becomes clearer when he attains sammasana, udayabbaya and bhanga insights for then he sees clearly how the consciousness units arise and pass away ceaselessly one after another and how death means the passing away of the last unit to be followed by conception or the arising of the first consciousness-unit in a new existence. But this insight is still vulnerable and it is only when the yogi attains at least the sotapatti stage that he becomes wholly free of all doubts about future life. The trouble is that people wish to inquire about it instead of practising vipassana. Some seek the verdict of Western scientists and philosophers while others accept the teaching of those who are reputed to be Arahats with psychic powers. But, the best thing is to seek the answer through vipassana practice instead of relying on other people.
At the stage of udayabbaya insight the yogi can clearly see how in the wake of the consciousness-unit that has passed away, there follows a new unit attached to a sense-object. On the basis of this experience he realizes how the new existence begins with consciousness-unit that arises, conditioned by attachment to an object at the moment of dying in a previous life.
Before death the stream of consciousness depends on the physical body and is continuous with one unit following the other uninterruptedly. After death, the body disintegrates and the stream of consciousness shifts to the physical process in another abode. This may be likened to the continuous appearance of light in an electric bulb through the ceaseless generation of electricity. When the bulb is burnt up, the light goes out but the potential electric energy keeps on coming. Light reappears when the old bulb is replaced with a new one. Here, the bulb, energy and light are all changing physical processes and we should be mindful of their impermanent character.
The commentary cites the analogies of echo, flame, impression of a seal and reflection in the mirror. Echo is reflection or repetition of a sound produced by the impact of sound waves on walls, woods, etc. But it does not mean the transfer of the original sound to a distant place although we cannot deny the causal relation between the sound and the echo either. When you look at a mirror your face is reflected on it, but you must not confuse the reflection with your face although it is causally related to the latter. A lamp, which is burning, may be used to light up another lamp. The flame of the new lamp is obviously not the flame of. the old lamp since the latter is still burning but, neither is it causally unrelated to the flame of the old lamp. Lastly, the seal leaves an impression that is like its face, but it is not the face and it cannot occur in the absence of the seal either.
These analogies help to throw some light on the nature of rebirth process. When a person is dying, his kamma, the signs and visions related to it and visions of the future life appear. After his death, there arises the rebirth consciousness conditioned by one of these visions at the last moment of the previous existence. So rebirth does not mean the passage of the last unit of consciousness to another life but, since it is conditioned by the visions on death-bed, it is rooted in avijja, sankhara, etc., that form the links in the chain of causation leading to the visions of the dying person.
Thus, rebirth consciousness is not the consciousness of the dying person but it is causally related to the previous life. Two consecutive units of consciousness are separate but, given the stream of consciousness, we speak of the same individual for the whole day, the whole year or the whole lifetime. Likewise, we speak of the last consciousness on death-bed together with rebirth consciousness as representing a single person. A man's attainment of deva or any other world is to be understood in the same sense. It does not mean the transfer of nama-rupa as a whole. We speak of a man or a person only because the rebirth concerns the stream of causally related mental units.
So it is ucchedaditthi to believe that a person has nothing to do with a previous life since every person is annihilated on death. Most Buddhists are free from this belief. As the two consecutive lives are causally related, we speak of one person in conventional terms.
But we must guard ourselves against the sassata view that rebirth means the transfer of the ego to a new abode.
The yogi who has mature vipassana insight does not harbour the two beliefs because he is fully aware of the rising and passing away of mental units in the present life and their causal relations. This awareness leaves no room for the illusions of personal immortality or annihilation. The nature of consciousness is evident even to those who think objectively. Joy may be followed by dejection and vice versa or, a serene mind may give way to irritation and vice versa. These changing states of consciousness clearly shows its heterogeneous nature. Moreover, mental states may be associated through similarity, as for example, the intention to do a certain thing at night may occur again in the morning. The mental states do not differ, but are causally related to one another. Those who understand this relation between two consecutive states of consciousness can see that the same relation holds between the two mental elements that are separated only by death.
Consciousness in the new existence is of two kinds, viz., rebirth consciousness and the consciousness that occurs during the whole life. There are altogether l9 kinds of rebirth consciousness, one in the lower worlds, nine in the sensual worlds of human beings and devas, five in rupa-brahma world and four in arupa-brahma worlds. As for the others that occur during the rest of life, they number thirty-two as resultant mental states (vipaka-vinnana). These enumerations will be intelligible only to those who have studied Abhidhamma.
To a dying person, there appears the flashbacks of what he has done in life (kamma), the surrounding conditions associated with his kammic acts (kammanimitta) and the visions of his future life (gatinimitta). Kamma may assume the form of a flashback about the past or the hallucination about the present. A fisherman on his death-bed may talk as if he were catching fish or a man who has given much alms may think in his last hours that he is doing dana. Many years ago, I led a group of pilgrims from Shwebo to visit pagodas in Mandalay and Rangoon. An old man in the group died shortly after our return to Shwebo. He died muttering the words that were reminiscent of his experience during the pilgrimage.
The dying man also has visions of the environment in which kammic deeds were done such as robes, monasteries, bhikkhus, Buddha images, etc., in connection with his acts of dana or weapons, places, victims in case of the murder he has committed.
Then he sees visions of what he will find in his afterlife. For example, he will see hell-fire, hell-guards, etc., if he is bound to land in hell; devas, mansions, etc., if he is to pass on to deva-worlds and so forth. Once a dying brahmin was told by his friends that the vision of the flames which he saw indicated the brahma-world. He believed them and died only to find himself in hell. False beliefs are indeed dangerous. It is said that some people tell their dying friends to visualize their acts of killing a cow for dana, believing that such acts are beneficial.
The Story Of Mahadhammika Upasaka
In the time of the Buddha, there were in Savatthi city five hundred upasakas each with 500 followers. They all practised the dhamma. The eldest of them, Mahadhammika, the head of all upasakas had seven sons and seven daughters who also lived up to the teaching of the Buddha. As he grew old, he became sick and weak. He invited the bhikkhus to his house and while attending their recitation of the dhamma, he saw the celestial chariot arriving to take him to the deva-world. He said to the devas, "Please wait."
The bhikkhus stopped reciting as they thought that the dying man had told them to do so. His sons and daughters cried, believing that he was babbling for fear of death. After the bhikkhus' departure, he came round, told the people around him to throw a garland of flowers up into the air. They did as they were told and lo! the garland remained hanging in the air. The upasaka said that the garland indicated the position of the chariot from Susita heaven, and after advising his daughters and sons to do good deeds like him for rebirth in the deva-world, he died and landed in Susita. This is how the vision of deva-world appears to the good man on his death-bed. A layman in Moulmein said that just before he died he saw a very good pucca building. This, too, may be a vision of the deva-world. Some dying persons who are to be reborn as human beings have visions of their would-be parents, residence and so forth. A Sayadaw in Moulmein was killed by robbers. Three years later a child from Mergui came to Moulmein and identified by name the Sayadaws with whom he said he had lived together in his previous life. He said that the robbers stabbed him when they did not get the money, that he ran away to the jetty where he got into a boat, reached Mergui and dwelt in the home of his parents. The flight, journey by boat, etc., were perhaps visions of the Sayadaw's afterlife.
Flashbacks of kammic acts and visions of a future life occur even in cases of instant death. According to the commentary, they occur even when a fly on a bar of iron is crushed to pieces with a hammer. Today, there arc nuclear weapons that can reduce a big city to ashes in a moment. From the Buddhist point of view, these weapons have appeared because of the evil kamma of their potential victims. Those who are killed by these bombs also see the flashbacks and visions. This may sound incredible to those who do not know the mechanism of the mind thoroughly but, it presents no difficulty to the yogi who contemplates the nama-rupa in action. For it is said in the scriptures that units of consciousness arise and pass away by the billions in the twinkling of an eye. The yogi who has attained udayabbaya insight knows empirically that hundreds of mental units arise and dissolve in a moment. So he has no doubt about the possibility of consciousness centering or flashbacks and visions in those who meet violent and instant death.
Consciousness is always focused on objects. We often recall what we have done and think of the deva-world or the human society. If a man who has done good deeds dies with these thoughts, he will be reborn as a deva or a human being. The objects of these thoughts on death-bed are called gatinimitta, visions of objects associated with kamma are called kammanimitta.
References to these death-bed phenomena are to be found not only in the commentaries, but also in the Pali pitaka. In the Balapandita and other suttas, the Buddha speaks of the death-bed memories of good or bad deeds and likens them to the shadows of a mountain dominating the plains in the evening. It is impossible to remove them. Once I saw a dying woman who showed great fear as if she were face to face with an enemy who was out to treat her cruelly. She was speechless and her relatives tried to comfort her but, it was in vain. Perhaps she was having a foretaste of her unhappy future as a result of evil kamma.
So it is necessary to do good kamma that will produce mental images of objects and persons associated with it and visions of a good afterlife at the moment of dying. If the good deed is rational, strongly motivated and one of the eight kinds of good deeds in sensual sphere, the resultant consciousness is one of the four kinds of rational vinnana. Rebirth is then associated with amoha (non-ignorance) and as such it takes place with three root-conditions (hetu) viz., amoha, adosa (non-aggressiveness) and alobha (non-craving). A person reborn with these innate tendencies can attain jhana and psychic powers if he practises samatha and can attain the holy path and Nibbana if he devotes himself to vipassana. Good acts that are motivated by the desire for Nibbana lead to such good rebirth and finally to the path, and Nibbana through contemplation or hearing a sermon.
If the motivation is weak or if it is a good, but unenlightened deed, that is, a good deed divorced from the belief in kamma, the result is one of the four kinds of unenlightened (moha-vipaka) consciousness. The rebirth is then devoid of amoha (non-ignorance), there being only the other root-conditions, viz., alobha and adosa. It is termed //dvehetupatisandhika//. A man reborn in this way cannot attain jhanas or the Path as he lacks the innate intelligence for it. If the good deed is unenlightened and half-hearted, the result will be good rebirth consciousness without any good predispositions. The person concerned is likely to have defective eyes, ears, etc.
So when you do a good deed you should do it with zeal and with Nibbana as your objective. If you set your heart on Nibbana, the good deed will lead you to it and the zeal with which you do it will ensure rebirth with good predispositions. It is not necessary to pray for such noble rebirth because you are assured of it if you do good deeds intelligently and zealously. But, if you lack zeal in doing good, yours will be a rebirth with only alobha and adosa.
Some people say that dana and sila mean good kamma-formations (punnabhisankhara) which, being rooted in ignorance, lead to rebirth and samsaric suffering. This is a mistaken view that stems from ignorance. If the practice of dana and sila is motivated by the desire for Nibbana, it will ensure the noblest rebirth and lead to the supreme goal. It was due to dana and sila that Sariputta and other disciples of the Buddha finally attained Nibbana. The same may be said of paccekabuddhas.
The bodhisatta, too, attained supreme enlightenment in the same way by praying that his good deeds contribute to the attainment of omniscience (sabbannutanana). Here rebirth with three good predispositions, viz., amoha, adosa and alobha involved in the genesis of Buddhahood is of two kinds, viz., consciousness associated with joy (somanassa) and consciousness associated with equanimity (upekkha). Again each of these two vinnanas is of two kinds, viz., asankharika (spontaneous) and sasankharika (non-spontaneous). The bodhisatta's rebirth consciousness was powerful, zealous asankharika.
According to ancient commentaries, it was somanassa consciousness. For the bodhisatta wanted very much to promote the welfare of all living beings, he had infinite metta (good-will or loving-kindness) for them. A strong-willed metta is usually coupled with somanassa and, hence, the bodhisatta's rebirth consciousness was tinged with joy.
But, Mahasiva thera suggested upekkha as its (bodhisatta's rebirth) concomitant. In his view, the bodhisatta's mind was firm and profound, thereby making equanimity rather than joy the characteristic of his rebirth consciousness. In any event, this rebirth-vinnana had its origin in his good deed that was motivated by the desire for supreme enlightenment. Thus, although the enlightened good kamma-formations (sankhara) lead to rebirth, it does not prolong samsaric existence; on the contrary it contributes to liberation from the life-cycle.
Consciousness of any kind, whether it be rebirth consciousness or otherwise, is a matter of very short duration. It has only three points of time, viz., arising (//upada//), being (//thi//) and passing away (//bhanga//). According to the commentaries, these mental units arise and pass away by the millions in the twinkling of an eye. The moment of each unit is so short that it does not last even the millionth part of a second.
After the cessation of rebirth-consciousness there follows the stream of subconsciousness (bhavanga) which flows ceaselessly unless it is interrupted by a different kind of consciousness called vithi, that is the kind of mental activity involved in seeing, hearing, and so forth. The stream of bhavanga lasts as long as there is life, its mainspring being sankhara as in the case of rebirth consciousness. Its duration, too, depends mainly on sankhara or kamma. It may be like a stone thrown into the air. The stone will travel a long way if the hand which throws it is strong, but it will not go very far if the hand is weak. The force of kamma may also be compared to the initial velocity of the bullet, rocket, and so forth. Death means the dissolution of the consciousness that is born of the same kammic force. Hence the initial rebirth consciousness, the stream of subconsciousness and the last dying (cuti) consciousness of an existence comprise the mental life that is wholly rooted in past kamma.
Also due the kamma or sankhara are the five kinds of vithi consciousness, viz., those involved in seeing, hearing, smelling, eating and touching as well as the mental unit that focuses on the sense-objects, the consciousness that reflects (santirana-citta) and the consciousness that registers (tadarammana-citta) the objects of impulse-moments (javana). These have their roots in original kamma that leads to rebirth or other kinds of kamma.
The Abhidhamma pitaka attributes all kinds of consciousness, including wholesome, unwholesome and non-kammic or kiriya-citta to sankhara. This view is reasonable since the kiriya-cittas, too, evolve from the bhavanga-citta that is rooted in sankhara. But the doctrine of Paticcasamuppada specifically describes the three rounds (vatta) of defilements, kamma, kammic results and their cause-and-effect relationships. So it ascribes to sankhara only the 32 types of mundane resultant cittas that stem from kamma vatta. Of these 32 cittas we have described 19 cittas that comprise rebirth, subconscious state and death of the other cittas. Of the other cittas some are wholesome according to the sankhara.
In the doctrine of Paticcasamuppada, the first two factors i.e., avijja and sankhara are described as the causes in the past life, vinnana, nama-rupa, phassa and vedana as the consequences in the present life; tanha, upadana and bhava as the causes in the present life and jati and jaramarana (old age and death) as the consequences that will occur in the future life.
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