TALKS DEALING WITH BUDDHISM IN GENERAL
WHAT DID THE BUDDHA DO FOR THE WORLD
I am going to talk about what has been contributed to the world in mental and spiritual wealth by him we call the Buddha, a title which means the Awakened or Enlightened One. He was so called because he was awakened or enlightened as to the inner nature of man, and the destiny that lies before man as regards his inward. psychical nature.
The Buddha is a great benefactor of humanity, because he taught men that there is no need for them to look outside themselves to any being supposed to be superior to themselves for help to reach the highest condition of mind and heart possible for them. He told men that they could find within themselves, and must find within themselves, all strength required for this task. He told men that they could be strong, strong enough in themselves to achieve their own deliverance from delusion, ill-will and selfishness, selfish craving. He pulled men to their feet with his gospel of self- help, and asked them to go forward by their own strength towards the goal he pointed out to them. And he told them that they could do this if they but tried.
It follows from the Buddha's proclamation of self-help as the one true way to deliverance from evil, that he condemned all sacrifices, performed in the name of religion, of any kind and particularly those that involved blood-shed, the killing of animals. You are familiar with the idea that 'sin' or evil can be atoned for, or done away with, by killing some animal in the name of God of the people who have such a religion.
In India, in the time of the Buddha, there were animal sacrifices. A great horse sacrifice is specially mentioned in one of the Buddhist Scriptures and there still are such today. If you go down the street in Calcutta where the temple of Pali stands, a feeling of nausea and repulsion and almost illness comes over you from the fumes hanging in the air of the goats there sacrificed to the goddess Kali, just as one feels when one passes near one of the big slaughter-houses.
From such horrors the Buddha did the world the service of proclaiming that they are alike useless and cruel, unnecessary and futile as a means of pleasing or placating any god. Men should purify and elevate themselves by their own good deeds till they stand higher than any gods, certainly higher than any that require death as tributes to their power, or to win their favour. And he also condemned the cruelty of taking life from creatures that are so entirely in our power that it is shameful to anyone of fine feeling to take advantage of them, as so many men do, in slaying them to save themselves, as they imagine, from the consequences of their own misdeeds. All shedding of blood, taking of life, as a part of religion, is the very antithesis of all that his religion means. The Buddhist religion means looking on all beings, all living creatures of every kind, high or low, as sharers of life, with equal rights to live their lives to the full, uninterfered with by any other creature.
More than that, the Buddha adjures man to practise active loving-kindness towards all beings, including animals. Societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals did not begin in the West. Long ago, in the days of Emperor Asoka of India, as we find recorded in durable characters on stone pillars in different spots in Northern India to this day, that great emperor ordered the establishment of hospitals for both man and beast in his great domains, and advised his subjects to practise kindly and considerate behaviour towards all living beings. Not only to abstain from hurting and killing animals, but actively to tend them when ill and guard them from hurt, was one of the edicts of the great Emperor Asoka, which he had learned to practise in his own life after he had learned the teaching of the Buddha on this point.
Another contribution to the world's welfare, was made by the Buddha when he condemned slavery in every shape and form. It was not William Wilberforce who was the pioneer of the movement for the abolition of slavery, it was very long before he did it. It was done 2,500 years ago when the Buddha began his teaching and laying down as a rule for the right manner of earning ones living, that one should not engage in any form of trafficking in human beings. Human beings might be engaged for service in the house and elsewhere, but it was enjoined that they must be treated with as much consideration as the members of one's own family as regards their personal rights, and even invited to share in little treats on special occasions.
In the pacifist movement the Buddha also was the great pioneer. One of our Scriptures tells us of a case where two sets of people had come to the verge of warfare over the right to take water from a river. They were all ready to shed each other's blood and destroy their lives when the Buddha appeared on the scene and enquired what the dispute was about. They told him that it was about some water each claimed the right to take. The Buddha asked them which was the more precious fluid, blood or water? Of course, he was told 'blood!' 'So then', he said, 'you are going to spill and destroy what is more precious for that which is less precious. Is that the conduct of sensible men? Go away together and see if you cannot compose your differences in some more reasonable way than this'. And the war was stopped through the Buddha's good advice and influence.
He had not a good word to say to 'conquerors'. 'Conquest engendereth hatred, for he who is conquered is wretched', he once said. And because the conquered one is wretched he wants to get out of his wretchedness and plans and schemes to conquer in turn his conqueror; and so the whole miserable business of revenge and counter-revenge goes on and on without any end to it. Against this insanity the Buddha advised men to have sane reasonable ways and not to be like ravening beasts of prey who are guided by nothing but their unreasoning greed.
The Temperance Movement that has made such progress in the West was also a movement that had its beginning in the word of the Buddha, which enjoined on his followers to abstain from using intoxicating liquors because they cause mental distraction and dullness. The idea of hospitals is another great thing which the world owes to the Buddha.
In connection with the establishment of hospitals there is a story about the Buddha. When he was wandering about teaching and preaching and visiting various communities, he once found among them a monk, who was very ill, and no one caring for him and keeping him clean. The Buddha at once looked after him, and calling the Bhikkhus together told them that those who were ill must always be looked after by those who were well. 'Those who succour the sick, succour me', he said.
Another great service the Buddha did the world was to declare the absolute wrongness of all distinctions between man and man based on birth. In his own country, India, such distinctions were and still are, the foundation on which the whole social system of the land was, and still is, built, i.e., caste. In India every Hindu has his lot in life determined and fixed for him just by the fact that his father was of this or that or the other of the four great castes of the Brahmins or teachers, the warriors or soldiers, the merchants or traders, and the hand-workers or peasants.
The Buddha made the unheard-of, the hitherto unparalleled declaration for an Indian to make, that a man's birth had nothing whatever to do with what he was fitted to be taught in religion or in anything else. He asserted the absolute equality of all men, no matter how or where they had been born, in their right to an open path to the highest truth their mind could receive. That was a terribly shocking thing to say to the upper classes of his countrymen. But he did it, and he was himself of the highest class as the castes were then classified, since his father was a king. And he not only said it, but he acted on it to the fullest extent. Once when thirsty, he asked for some water to drink from a peasant. The peasant looking at the noble features of the Prince, and his robe of a holy man, said timidly: 'Sir. I cannot give you anything to drink or eat, I am not of high caste'. The Buddha replied: 'Friend. I don't ask you for caste, I ask you for water'.
So you see, Buddhism is a religion of understanding. To acquire understanding, right understanding of what we are, and where we are, and what we have to do and then to do it, that is the whole of the Buddhist teaching.
THE NATURE OF MAN AND HIS DESTINY
(Extract from talk of above title)
Everyone reacts according to his own particular nature, there fore knowing how and why we differ in thought and outlook in life, we are able to make ample allowances for all types and are thus able to live more harmoniously with others. When we are young spiritually it is mostly physical and emotional pleasure that appeals to us, and while we remain young in evolution we shall not grow out of this stage. When we grow older in evolution, literature and study appeal to us. and we gain happiness through our intellectual pursuits. Finally, when we grow older still, we realize that spiritual happiness is the highest because it is real and lasting. This is our goal.
We can increase that growth at will, just as we can develop our muscles with constant exercise. With practice we can grow towards perfection; intellectually through the attainment of perfect knowledge, emotionally through the control and use of the emotions, spiritually through the attainment of perfect realization, physically through the attainment of perfect health and control of the body. The lower our nature is, to the greater extent our pleasure is dependent upon outside sources; the higher our nature is, the more influence we have over our happiness.
How can we develop or change ourselves? The word alchemy is made up of two Arabic words, 'al kimia'. the secret art of changing or fusion. There are two kinds of alchemy, physical and spiritual, and in both, men are doing the same thing, trying to find out the same great secret, how to change base, worthless, common things, into pure, valuable rare gold. The physical alchemist tries to change or transmute other metals into gold, while the spiritual alchemist tries to change the lower human passions of anger, jealousy, hate, etc.. into the pure gold of peace, kindness, love and generosity.
Many spiritual alchemists who have succeeded in changing all that was base, common and bad in their nature, into purity, goodness and love, are now willing to teach us how to do the same. They are so pure, so strong and so beautiful that we cannot but love and reverence them; they are the masters of wisdom, and what they have done we can do if only we persevere. They tell us that the only failure is in ceasing to try.
Just as at the end of a school year or term there is an examination, which some pupils succeed in passing while others fail, so at the end of a term or period in the life of a person there is an examination in spiritual alchemy, and only those who are of pure gold in character pass. Those who fail have to come back to school and try again.
We have all come back to school, and each one of us is now busy at two kinds of work, reaping and sowing: reaping the result of what we have sown in our past lives, and sowing seeds of joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, for reaping in our lives to come. According to the Buddhist Teaching the main purpose of life should be to learn how to pass the final examination in spiritual alchemy, and thereby succeed in changing all that is base, common and bad in our nature into purity, goodness and love, and thus to reach our goal, the goal of perfect peace, happiness and enlightenment.
WHAT KAMMA IS
Kamma is a Pa!i word meaning action. It is called Karma in Sanskrit. In its general sense Kamma means all good and bad actions. It covers all kinds of intentional actions whether mental, verbal or physical - thoughts, words and deeds. In its ultimate sense Kamma means all moral and immoral volition. The Buddha says: 'Mental volition, O Bhikkhus, is what I call action (Kamma). Having volition one acts by body, speech and thought'. (Anguttara Nikaya III.).
Kamma is neither fatalism nor a doctrine of predetermination. The past influences the present but does not dominate it, for Kamma is past as well as present. The past and present influence the future; the past is the background against which life goes on from moment to moment, the future is yet to be. Only the present moment exists, and the responsibility of using the present moment for good or for ill lies with each individual.
Every action produces an effect and it is a cause first and effect afterwards, we therefore speak of Kamma as 'the law of cause and effect'. Throwing a stone, for example, is an action. The stone strikes a glass window and breaks it. The break is the effect of the action of throwing, but it is not the end. The broken window is now the cause of further trouble. Some of one's money will have to go to replace it, and one is thus unable to save the money or to buy with it what one wants for some other purpose, and the effect upon one is a feeling of disappointment. This may make one irritable, and if one is not careful one may allow the irritability to become the cause of doing something else which is wrong and so on. There is no end to the result of action, no end to Kamma, so we should be very careful about our actions, so that their effect will be good. It is therefore necessary for us to do a good, helpful action which will return to us in good Kamma and make us strong enough to start a better Kamma.
Throw a stone into a pond and watch the effect. There is a splash and a number of little rings appear round the place where it strikes. See how the rings grow wider and wider till they become too wide and too tiny for our eyes to follow. The little stone disturbs the water in the pond, but its work is not finished yet. When the tiny waves reach the edges of the pond, the water moves back till it pushes the stone that has disturbed it.
The effects of our actions come back to us just as the waves do to the stone, and as long as we do our action with evil intention the new waves of effect come back to beat upon us and disturb us. If we are kind and keep ourselves peaceful. the returning waves of trouble will grow weaker and weaker till they die down, and our good Kamma will come back to us in blessings. If we sow a mango seed, for instance, a mango tree will come up and bear mangoes, and if we sow a chili seed, a chili plant will grow and produce chilis. The Buddha says:
According to the seed that's sown,
So is the fruit ye reap therefrom,
Doer of good will gather good,
Doer of evil, evil reaps,
Sown is the seed, and thou shalt taste,
The fruit thereof.
(Samyutta Nikaya Vol. 1.).
Everything that comes to us is right. When anything pleasant comes to us and makes us happy, we may be sure that our Kamma has come to show us that what we have done is right. When any thing unpleasant comes to us, hurts us or makes us unhappy, our Kamma has come to show us our mistake. We must never forget that Kamma is always just. It neither loves nor hates, neither rewards nor punishes. It is never angry, never pleased, it is simply the law of cause and effect.
Kamma knows nothing about us. Does fire know us when it burns us? No. It is the nature of fire to burn, to give out heat. If we use it properly it gives us light, cooks our food for us or burns anything we wish to get rid of, but if we use it wrongly it burns us and our property. Its work is to burn and our affair is to use it in the right way. We are foolish if we grow angry and blame it when it burns us because we have made a mistake.
There are inequalities and manifold destinies of men in the world. One is, for example, inferior and another superior. One perishes in infancy and another at the age of eighty or a hundred. One is sick and infirm, and another strong and healthy. One is handsome another ugly. One is brought up in luxury and another in misery. One is born a millionaire another a pauper. One is a genius and another an idiot.
What is the cause of the inequalities that exist in the world? Buddhists cannot believe that this variation is the result of blind chance. Science itself is indeed all against the theory of 'Chance', in the world of the scientist all works in accordance with the laws of cause and effect. Neither can Buddhists believe that this unevenness of the world is due to a God-Creator.
One of the three divergent views that prevailed at the time of the Buddha was: 'Whatsoever happiness or pain or neutral feeling a person experiences, all that is due to the creation of a Supreme Deity'. (Gradual Sayings, I.). Commenting on this fatalistic view the Buddha said: 'So, then, owing to the creation of a Supreme Deity men will become murderers, thieves, unchaste, liars, slanderers, abusive, babblers, covetous, malicious, and perverse in view. Thus for those who fall back on the creation of a God as the essential reason, there is neither the desire to do, nor necessity to do this deed or abstain from that deed'. (ibid).
Referring to the naked ascetics who practised self-mortification, the Buddha said: 'if, 0 Bhikkhus, beings experience pain and happiness as the result of God's creation, then certainly these naked ascetics must have been created by a wicked God, since they are at present experiencing such terrible pain', (Devadaha Sutta, No. 101. Majjhima Nikaya, 11.).
According to Buddhism the inequalities that exist in the world are due, to some extent, to heredity and environment and, to a greater extent, to a cause or causes (Kamma) which are not only present but proximate or remote past. Man himself is responsible for his own happiness and misery. He creates his own heaven and hell. He is master of his own destiny, child of his past and parent of his future.
THE LAWS OF COSMIC ORDER
Although Buddhism teaches that Kamma is the chief cause of the inequalities in the world yet it does not teach fatalism or the doctrine of predestination, for it does not hold the view that everything is due to past actions. The law of cause and effect (Kamma) is only one of the twenty-four causes described in Buddhist philosophy (see Compendium of Philosophy, p. 191), or one of the five orders (Niyamas) which are laws in themselves and operate in the universe. They are:
These five orders embrace everything in the world and every mental or physical phenomenon could be explained by them. They being laws in themselves, require no lawgiver and Kamma as such is only one of them.
CLASSIFICATION OF KAMMA
Kamma is classified into four kinds according to the time at which results are produced. There is Kamma that ripens in the same lifetime. Kamma that ripens in the next life, and Kamma that ripens in successive births. These three types of Kamma are bound to produce results as a seed is to sprout. But for a seed to sprout, certain auxiliary causes such as soil, rain, etc.. are required. In the same way for a Kamma to produce an effect, several auxiliary causes such as circumstances, surroundings, etc., are required. It sometimes happens that for want of such auxiliary causes Kamma does not produce any result. Such Kamma is called 'Ahosi Kamma' or 'Kamma that is ineffective'.
Kamma is also classified into another four kinds according to its particular function. There is Regenerative (Janaka) Kamma which conditions the future birth: Supportive (Upatthambaka) Kamma which assists or maintains the results of already-existing Kamma, Counteractive (Upapilaka) Kamma which suppresses or modifies the result of the reproductive Kamma and Destructive (Upaghataka) Kamma which destroys the force of existing Kamma and substitutes its own resultants.
There is another classification according to the priority of results. There is Serious or Weighty (Garuka) Kamma which produces its resultants in the present life or in the next. On the moral side of this Kamma the highly refined mental states called Jhanas are weighty because they produce resultants more speedily than the ordinary unrefined mental states. On the opposite side, the five kinds of immediately effective serious crimes are weighty. These crimes are: matricide, patricide, the murder of an Arahanta (holy-one or perfect saint), the wounding of a Buddha and the creation of a schism in the Sangha.
Death-proximate (Asanna) Kamma is the action which one does at the moment before death either physically or mentally - mentally by thinking of one's own previous good or bad actions, or having good or bad thoughts. It is this Kamma which, if there is no weighty Kamma, determines the conditions of the next birth. Habitual (Acinna) Kamma is the action which one constantly does. This Kamma, in the absence of death-proximate Kamma, produces and determines the next birth.
Reserved (Katatta) Kamma is the last in the priority of results. This is the unexpended Kamma of a particular being and it conditions the next birth if there is no habitual Kamma to operate.
A further classification of Kamma is according to the place in which the results are produced, namely:
(I) Ten immoral actions and their effects:
Immoral Kamma is rooted in greed (Lobha), anger (Dosa) and delusion (Moha).
There are ten immoral actions (Kamma) - namely, killing, stealing, unchastity (these three are caused by deed); lying, slandering, harsh language, frivolous talk (these four are caused by word): covetousness, illwill and false view (these three are caused by mind).
Of these ten, killing means the destruction of any living being including animals of all kinds. To complete this offence of killing five conditions are necessary, viz: a being, consciousness that it is a being, intention of killing, effort and consequent death.
The evil effects of killing are: short life, diseasefulness, constant grief caused by separation from the loved and constant fear.
To complete the offence of stealing five conditions are necessary, viz: property of other people, consciousness that it is so, intention of stealing, effort and consequent removal. The effects of stealing are: poverty, wretchedness, unfulfilled desires and dependent livelihood.
To complete the offence of unchastity (sexual misconduct) three conditions are necessary, viz: intention to enjoy the forbidden object. effort and possession of the object. The effects of unchastity are: having many enemies, getting undesirable wives, birth as a woman or as an eunuch.
To complete the offence of lying four conditions are necessary, viz: untruth, intention to deceive, effort, and communication of the matter to others. The effects of lying are: being tormented by abusive speech, being subject to vilification, incredibility and stinking mouth.
To complete the offence of slandering four conditions are necessary, viz: division of persons, intention to separate them, effort and communication. The effect of slandering is the dissolution of friendship without any sufficient cause.
To complete the offence of harsh language three conditions are necessary, viz: someone to be abused, angry thought and using abusive language. The effects of harsh language are: being detested by others although blameless, and harsh voice.
To complete the offence of frivolous talk two conditions are necessary, viz: the inclination towards frivolous talk and its narration. The effects of frivolous talk are: disorderliness of the bodily organs and unacceptable speech.
To complete the offence of covetousness (abijjha) two conditions are necessary, viz: another's property and strong desire for it, saying would this property were mine'. The effect of covetousness is unfulfilment of one's wishes.
To complete the offence of ill-will (Vyapada) two conditions are necessary. viz: another being and the intention of doing harm. The effects of illwill are: ugliness, various diseases and detestable nature.
False view (Micchaditthi) means seeing things wrongly without understanding what they truly are. To complete this false view two conditions are necessary, viz: perverted manner in which an object is viewed and the misunderstanding of it according to that view. The effects of false view are: base attachment, lack of wisdom, dull wit, chronic diseases and blameworthy ideas. (Expositor Pt. 1, p. 128).
(II) Good Kamma which produces its effect in the plane of desires:
There are ten moral actions - namely;
'Generosity' yields wealth. 'Morality' causes one to be born in noble families in states of happiness. 'Meditation' gives birth in planes of form and formless planes, and helps to gain higher knowledge and emancipation.
'Reverence' is the cause of noble parentage. 'Service' is the cause of a large retinue. 'Transference of merit' causes one to be able to give in abundance in future birth. 'Rejoicing in others merit' is productive of joy wherever one is born. Both hearing and expounding the Doctrine are conducive to wisdom.
(III) Good Kamma which produces its effect in the planes of form. It is of five types which are purely mental, and done in the process of meditation, viz:
(IV) Good Kamma which produces its effect in the formless planes. It is of four types which are also purely mental and done in the process of meditation, viz:
Kamma, as has been stated above, is not fate, is not irrevocable destiny. Nor is one bound to reap all that one has sown in just proportion. The actions (Kamma) of men are not absolutely irrevocable and only a few of them are so. If, for example, one fires off a bullet out of a rifle, one cannot call it back or turn it aside from its mark. But if, instead of a lead or iron ball through the air, it is an ivory ball on a smooth green board that one sets moving with a billiard cue, one can send after it and at it another ball in the same way, and change its course. Not only that, if one is quick enough, and one has not given it too great an impetus, one might even get round to the other side of the billiard-table, and send against it a ball which would meet it straight in the line of its course and bring it to a stop on the spot. With one's later action with the cue, one modifies, or even in favourable circumstances, entirely neutralizes one's earlier action. It is in much the same way that Kamma operates in the broad stream of general life. There, too, one's action (Kamma) of a later day may modify the effects of one's action (Kamma) of a former day. If this were not so, what possibility would there ever be of a man's getting free from all Kamma forever. It would be perpetually self-continuing energy that could never come to an end.
Man has, therefore, a certain amount of free-will and there is almost every possibility to mould his life or to modify his actions. Even a most vicious person can by his own free-will and effort become the most virtuous person. One may at any moment change for the better or for the worse. But everything in the world including man himself is dependent on conditions, and without conditions nothing whatsoever can arise or enter into existence. Man therefore has only a certain amount of free-will and not absolute free-will. According to Buddhist philosophy, everything. mental or physical, arises in accordance with laws and conditions. If it were not so, there would reign chaos and blind chance. Such a thing, however, is impossible, and if it would be otherwise, all laws of nature which modern science has discovered would be powerless.
The real, essential nature of action (Kamma) of man is mental. When a given thought has arisen in one's mind a number of times, there is a definite tendency to recurrence of that thought.
When a given act has been performed a number of times, there is a definite tendency to the repetition of that act. Thus each act, mental or physical, tends to constantly produce its like, and be in turn produced. If a man thinks a good thought, speaks a good word, does a good deed, the effect upon him is to increase the tendencies to goodness present in him, is to make him a better man. If on the contrary, he does a bad deed in thought, in speech or in action, he has strengthened in himself his bad tendencies, he has made himself a worse man. Having become a worse man, he will gravitate to the company of worse men in the future, and incur all the unhappiness of varying kinds that attends life in such company. On the other hand, the man of a character that is continually growing better, will naturally tend to the companion ship of the good, and enjoy all the pleasantness and comforts and freedom from the ruder shocks of human life which such society connotes.
In the case of a cultured man, even the effect of a greater evil may be minimized, while the lesser evil of an uncultured man may produce its effect to the maximum according to the favourable and unfavourable conditions. The Buddha says:
'Here, O Bhikkhus, a certain person is not disciplined in body, is not disciplined in morality, is not disciplined in mind, is not disciplined in wisdom, is with little good and less virtue, and lives painfully in consequence of trifles. Even a trivial evil act committed by such a person will lead him to a state of misery.
'Here, O Bhikkhus, a certain person is disciplined in body, is disciplined in morality, is disciplined in mind, is disciplined in wisdom, is with much good, is a great being, and lives without limitation. A similar evil act committed by such a person is expiated in this life itself and not even a small effect manifests itself (after death), to say nothing of a great one.
'It is as if, O Bhikkhus, a man were to put a lump of salt into a small cup of water. What do you think. O Bhikkhus? Would now the small amount of water in this cup become saltish and undrinkable?' 'Yes, Lord'. 'And why?' 'Because, Lord, there was very little water in the cup, and so it becomes saltish and undrinkable by this lump of salt.'
'Suppose, O Bhikkhus. a man were to put a lump of salt into the river Ganges. What think you, O Bhikkhus? Would now the river Ganges become saltish and undrinkable by the lump of salt?'
'Nay, indeed, Lord'. 'And why not?'
'Because, Lord, the mass of water in the river Ganges is great, and so it would not become saltish and undrinkable'.
'In exactly the same way. O Bhikkhus, we may have the case of a person who does some slight evil deed which brings him to a state of misery; or again, O Bhikkhus, we may have the case of another person who does the same trivial misdeed, and expiates it in the present life. Not even a small effect manifests itself (after death), to say nothing of a great one.
'We may have, O Bhikkhus, the case of a person who is cast into a prison for a half-penny, for a penny, or for a hundred pence; or again, O Bhikkhus, we may have the case of a person who is not cast into prison for a half-penny, for a penny, or for a hundred pence.
'Who, O Bhikkhus, is cast into prison for a half-penny, for a penny, or for a hundred pence? Whenever, O Bhikkhus, anyone is poor, needy and indigent: he, O Bhikkhus, is cast into prison for a half-penny, for a penny, or for a hundred pence.
'Who, O Bhikkhus, is not cast into prison for a half-penny, for a penny, or for a hundred pence? Whenever, O Bhikkhus, anyone is rich, wealthy and affluent: he, O Bhikkhus, is not cast into prison for a half-penny, for a penny, or for a hundred pence.
'In exactly the same way, O Bhikkhus, we may have the case of a person who does some slight evil deed which brings him into a state of misery; or, again, O Bhikkhus, we may have the case of another person who does the same trivial deed, and expiates it in the present life. Not even a small effect manifests itself (after death), to say nothing of a great one'. (Anguttara Nikaya, Part 1.).
LESSONS TAUGHT BY KAMMA
The more we understand the law of Kamma, the more we see how careful we must be of our acts, words and thoughts, and how responsible we are to our fellow beings. Living in the light of this knowledge, we learn certain lessons from the doctrine of Kamma.
WHAT IS DEATH?
According to Buddhism death is 'the temporary end of a temporary phenomenon'. It is not the complete annihilation of the being, for although the organic life has ceased, the kammic force which hitherto actuated it is not destroyed. Our forms are only the outward manifestations of the invisible kammic force. This force carries with it all characteristics which usually lie latent but may rise to the surface at any moment. When the present form perishes another form takes its place according to a good or bad volitional impulse (kamma that was the most powerful) at the moment before death.
At death the kammic force remains entirely undisturbed by the disintegration of the physical body, and the passing away of the present consciousness conditions the coming into being of a fresh one in another birth. The stream of consciousness flows on. It constantly flows on like a river 'receiving from the tributary streams of sense constant accretions to its flood, and ever dispensing to the world around it the thought-stuff it has gathered up by the way'. (Compendium of Philosophy, p. 12). The continuity of flux at death is unbroken in point of time, and there is no breach in the stream of consciousness and so there is no room whatever for an intermediate stage between this life and the next or between any two lives. The only difference between the passing of one ordinary thought moment (or one unit of consciousness) to another, and of the dying thought-moment (consciousness) to the rebirth-consciousness, is that in the former case the change is invisible and in the latter case a marked perceptible death is visible. Rebirth takes place immediately.
It may be asked: is the place always ready to receive this rebirth? The answer is: as a point in the ground is always ready to receive the falling stone, so there is always an appropriate place to receive the rebirth which is conditioned by the natural law of kamma.
Death being a momentary incident, rebirth is immediate. Some years ago it might have been doubtful about such rapidity in the transmission of the life-force; but in these days of scientific methods of investigation we know of such rapid transmission of energy in wireless telegraphy and telephony. Solid walls do not prevent the radio waves from reaching an appropriate receiving set within a room. The transmission of the life-force from one existence to another may be compared to a receiving set that responds to the particular wave-length sent out from a distance of thousands of miles. It is more like the tuning-fork which vibrates in response to a particular note of a particular wave-length in the musical scale. So long as a musical note sets up vibrations in the air, so long will some tuning-fork that is responsive to that particular note, vibrate in unison. When the vibrations of the musical note cease, the tuning-fork will cease to vibrate to that note. And so it is with that restless kammic force, or life-force, which continues to bring about births through appropriate germ plasms or other life-conditions till that restless kammic force ceases to exist in the peace of Nibbana.
IS THE NEW BEING THE SAME AS THE PREVIOUS ONE?
In the words of the late Bhikkhu Silacara
'This new being which is the present manifestation of the stream of kamma-energy is not the same as, and has no identity with the previous one in its line; the aggregate that makes up its composition being different from, and having no identity with, those that make up the being of its predecessor. And yet it is not an entirely different being, since it has the same stream of kamma energy, though modified perchance just by having shown itself in that last manifestation, which is now making its presence known in the sense perceptible world as the new being'.
If we were to obtain a quick motion picture of any particular individual's life from his birth to his death, the most striking fact that would attract our attention would be the changefulness that we should find running right through the series of pictures. The infant changes to the child, the child to the adult, and the adult to the decrepit old person who collapses to death. This change goes on in every part of the individual's body; and not only in the body but in the mind also. So that any adult individual who surveys his own existence will realize that the child that was, is now no more. That child had a different body, in size as well as in form, different likes and dislikes, and different aspirations. That child is almost a stranger to the present adult individual. And yet the adult individual is responsible for whatever he has done in his childhood because there is a continuity (or identity) in the process of life-force from childhood to manhood, as a child becomes a man.
In exactly the same way the new being has the same stream of kammic energy, or life-force, as its predecessor, so it is responsible for whatever its predecessor has done. This new being has as much identity with the previous one as the adult individual of today has with the child that was; nothing less and nothing more.
This is well expressed in the Milinda Panha. King Milinda asked Arahant Nagasena whether he who is reborn remains the same or becomes another. 'Neither the same nor another', was the answer he received.
'Suppose, 0 King. that a man were to light a lamp, would it burn the night through?'
'Yes, it might do so, Venerable Sir'.
'Now, is it the same flame that burns in the first watch of the night, Sir, and in the second?'
'No, Venerable Sir'.
'Or the same that burns in the second watch and in the third?'
'No. Venerable Sir'.
'Then is there one lamp in the first watch, and another in the second, and another in the third?'
'No, the light comes from the same lamp all the night through'.
'Just so, 0 King, is the continuity of a person or a thing maintained. One passes away, another comes into being; and the rebirth is, as it were, simultaneous. Thus, neither as the same nor as another does a man go on to the last phase of his self-consciousness'.
Asked for another illustration, Arahanta Nagasena gives that of milk which, once it is taken from the cow, after a lapse of time, turns first to curds, and then from curds to butter, and then from butter to ghee. Just as it would not be correct to say that the milk was the same thing as the curds, or the butter, or the ghee, but that they are produced out of it, so he points out the continuity of a person or a thing as being maintained in the same way.
There is also the illustration of a wave of water in a lake or the ocean. A certain mass of water is raised up as a wave. As the wave passes on, or seems to pass on, a moment or so later it is not the same mass of water that forms the wave, but a different mass altogether. And yet we speak of the wave 'passing on'.
The present being, present existence, is conditioned by how one faced circumstances in the last, and in all past existences. One's present position in character and circumstances is the result of all that one has been up to the present; but what one will be in the future depends on what one does now in the present. The true Buddhist regards death as a momentary incident between one life and its successor, and views its approach with calmness. His only concern is that his future should be such that the conditions of that life may provide him with better opportunities for perfecting himself. Holding, as he does, the great doctrine of kamma, he perceives that it is within his power to alter or modify the quality of the life force that continues in the next birth, and that his future environment will depend entirely on what he does, upon how he behaves, in this and in his previous lives.
HOW REBIRTH TAKES PLACE
Every birth is conditioned by a past good or bad kamma (action) which predominates at the moment of death. Our forms are only the outward manifestations of the invisible kammic force, and this force carries with it all our characteristics which usually lie latent, but may rise to the surface at unexpected moments. The death of a person is merely the temporary end of a temporary phenomenon, the present form perishing and another taking its place in accordance with the thought that was most powerful at the death moment.
One unit of consciousness perishes only to give birth to another, persistently flowing on like a river. When a person is about to die, no renewed physical function recurs as from the seventeenth thought moment reckoned backwards from the point of death. The material qualities of the body which are produced by kamma, temperature, mind and nutriment from food, arise no more, this critical stage being comparable to the flickering of a lamp just before it becomes extinguished. Now to this dying man one of three things appear very vividly before his mind's eye, namely, kamma, kamma nimitta or gati nimitta.
By kamma is meant some action of his, whether good or bad; and if it is his WEIGHTY KAMMA, which is one of the four kinds of kamma, or action, that condition the future birth, such weighty kamma will certainly produce results in this life or in the next. Weighty kamma can be good or bad; such a thing as jhanic practice, for example, being good, and killing, which is bad, especially so in the case of the most serious crimes involving matricide, patricide, the murder of an arahant or the mere wounding even of a Buddha. As said above, weighty kamma such as that just mentioned, will for certain produce results in this life or the next.
If a dying man has no such weighty kamma as the object of his dying thought he may take an action, kamma, done immediately prior to the death moment; this is known as asanna, DEATH PROXIMATE KAMMA. Owing to the great part it plays in determining the future birth, much importance is attached to the type of object of the final dying thought moment; and the custom of reminding the dying man of his good deeds, and making him do good deeds on his death-bed, still prevails in Burma, Ceylon and other Buddhist countries.
Sometimes a bad person may die happily and receive a good birth, if fortunately he remembers or does a good act at the last moment, but although he enjoys a good rebirth this does not mean he will be exempt from the effects of the evil deeds he performed during his previous lifetime. On occasions, a good person may die unhappily by suddenly remembering an evil act of his, or by harbouring some unpleasant thought perchance compelled by unfavourable circumstances. These, however, are exceptional cases, for as a rule the last thought moment is conditioned by the general conduct of a person. In any event it is always advisable to remind the dying person of his good deeds, and to turn his attention away from all worldly bonds and worries.
HABITUAL KAMMA is next in priority of effect. It is the type of action that one habitually performs and remembers, and these habits, whether good or bad, become second nature as it were, tending to form the character of a person. In one's leisure moments one frequently reverts to a characteristic type of thought; a miser, for instance, will constantly be thinking of his money and may not be able to detach his mind from his cherished possessions; a social worker will be interested in his social activities; a spiritual adviser will be always intent on his spiritual work. Thus each one of us may be dominated by our habitual doings, especially at our death moment.
In the absence of all these as objects of the dying thought moment, some casual act is presented from the accumulated reserves of the endless past. Each being has his reserve fund, so to speak, of CUMULATIVE KAMMA which may at any time become the object of the dying thought moment.
So one of these four actions, kammas, naturally appears very vividly before the mind's eye of the dying man. i.e., weighty kamma, death proximate kamma, habitual kamma, cumulative kamma.
In the case of kamma nimitta the object of the dying thought moment is that thing appearing in the form of a sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or idea which has been dominantly associated with the performance of a particular kamma, such as knives in the case of a butcher, patients in the case of a doctor, an object of worship in the case of a devotee, etc.
This means that the object of the dying thought moment takes the form of some sign of the place where the dying man will take rebirth, a thing which frequently happens to dying persons. Symbols of one's destiny may be forests, mountainous regions, mother's womb, celestial mansions, etc. When these indications of the future birth occur, and if they are bad, they can be turned into good. This is done by influencing the thoughts of the dying man so that his good thoughts may now act as good proximate kamma, and counteract the influence of the bad kamma which would otherwise affect his subsequent birth.
Taking kamma, kamma nimitta or gati nimitta for its object, the dying man's thought process reaches the actual death consciousness, the final conscious state in this life. With the cessation of this final conscious state, death actually occurs. Death is merely the temporary end of a temporary phenomenon, it is not the complete annihilation of the being. Although the organic life has ceased, the force which hitherto actuated it is not destroyed; just as electric light is only the outward visible manifestation of invisible electric energy, even so are we only the outward manifestation of invisible kammic energy. When the electric light bulb breaks, the light is extinguished but the current remains, and light again becomes manifest upon concurrence with another suitable bulb. In the same way the kammic force remains entirely undisturbed by the disintegration of the physical vehicle.
The final conscious state in a life that is ceasing, conditions the immediately succeeding conscious state; however, this immediately succeeding conscious state will be occurring in and as the very first state of consciousness in the new life, and so the process continues. The succeeding consciousness inherits all the past activities, but the new being, which is the present manifestation of the stream of kammic energy, is not the same as the previous one. However, to the extent that it inherits the same past causal conditions, neither can it be said to be entirely different.
The stream of consciousness flows on, the transition of the flux being so instantaneous that there is no room whatsoever for an intermediate state. According to Tibetan Buddhist works, there is an intermediate state where beings remain for some days or for some weeks, or until the forty-ninth day; and according to Theosophical teachings, between every two lives we have a beautiful holiday in heaven, called Devachan, in which we think over all that happened to us in our previous life and digest all our experiences gained in our past lives.
According to Buddhism the continuity of flux at death is unbroken in point of time, and there is no breach in the stream of consciousness. The only difference between the passing of one thought moment to another, and of the dying thought moment to the rebirth consciousness, is that in the former case the change is invisible and in the latter case a marked perceptible death is visible. Rebirth is instantaneous.
You may ask, is the place always ready to receive this rebirth?' The answer is that in the same way as a point in the ground is always ready to receive the falling stone, so is there always an appropriate place to receive the rebirth which is conditioned by kamma.
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