THE VITAL LINK IN THE WHEEL OF LIFE
Myan-Aung U Tin
Vol. IX, No. 2, 1962
The Buddhists are firm believers in the doctrine of the wheel of life or round of rebirths. Even boys and girls have a smattering of Paticca Samuppada, which means Dependent Origination or Dependent Arising. It explains the process of birth and death, the cause of rebirth and its concomitants: decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair, which are summed up in one word— suffering.
Whatsoever we do, whether it be almsgiving (Dana), virtuous living (Sila), or mental development (bhavana), we express our wish, 'May this good deed of mine or ours be a condition to the attainment of Nibbana! 'Nibbana' is our ultimate goal. We believe that "the process of birth and death will continue ad infinitum until the flux is transmuted, so to say, to Nibbana-dhatu" However, in practice, because of our ignorance or negligence, we seldom do the right thing that will lead us to Nibbanasooner than later, but instead, knowingly or unknowingly, we intensify the kammic force which turns the wheel of life.
In the Buddhist Texts, we come across a gradual instruction, graduated sermon, discussing the four points of the ladder of 'holiness'; dana-katha (charity), sila-katha (morality), sagga-katha (heavens) and magga-katha(the Path to Nibbana). It will be easily observed that most of us are not pursuing in regular succession the ever higher values of the four points, particularly those of the last one.
The Buddha instructs us to give dana (alms). "He who is giving alms, is bestowing a fourfold blessing: he helps to long life, good appearance, happiness and strength. Therefore long life, good appearance, happiness and strength will be his share, either amongst the heavenly beings or amongst men."(A.IV, 57)
Five blessings accrue to the giver of alms: his being liked by many, noble association,good reputation, self-confidence, and heavenly rebirth:" (A.V, 34)
The benefits of sila (virtuous living) are described in several texts. "Virtues are profitable; they have non-remorse as their aim and non-remorse as their benefit (A.V, 1)
"One who is virtuous, possessed of virtue, comes into a large fortune as a consequence of diligence; of him a fair name is spread abroad; when he enters an assembly, he does so without fear or hesitation, he dies unconfused; on the break-up of the body, after death, reappears in a happy destiny, in the heavenly world. (D. ii, 86)
There are the many benefits of virtue beginning with being dear and loved and ending with destruction of cankers orasavas. (M.i, 33)
Bhavavais of two kinds. Samatha bhavana (development of tranquility) and Vipassana-bhavana (development of insight). Samatha bhavana leads to concentration (samadhi), and Vipassana-bhavana leads to wisdom (panna). Concentration of mind bestows a threefold blessing: favourable rebirth, a present happy life, and purity of mind which is the condition to insight or wisdom. The bene fits of developing concentration are described by the Blessed One:
(1) Various kinds of supernormal power, (2) Knowledge of the Divine Ear Element, (3) Knowledge of Penetration of Minds of others, (4) Knowledge of Recollection of Past Life and (5) Knowledge of the Passing Away and Reappearance of Beings.
The development of absorption concentration (jhana) provides the benefits of an improved form of existence in the Brahma World—Fine-material world (rupa loka) and Immaterial World (arupa loka).
Indeed, the Buddha points out the benefits of charity, morality and mental development in this life as well as hereafter. But theBuddha does not stop there. The Blessed One goes further and points out the ultimate goal, Nibbana and the Path thereto. Unfortunately, most of the worldlings, including so- called Buddhists, are far more concerned with the worldly benefits—material and mental— than with the cessation of the round of rebirths.
Those who get an opportunity to enjoy these worldly benefits as a result of their good deeds may be compared to those who, because of their position or money, travel in carriages de luxe. Those whose kamma is not as good or worse travel as first, second or third class passengers. Those whose kamma is very bad are comparable to the workmen and attendants on the train, or the servants of the higher class passengers. But then the train is running ceaselessly on a circular railway, and the passengers of all descriptions are going round and round with no final destination in sight. By far the majority of them are thinking only of improving their lot during their long and tedious journey. Only a small minority posses the know-how to break that circular journey, and still less who make a real effort to make use of that know-how to achieve the end.
Paticca Samuppada explains the cause of rebirth and suffering. The Four Noble Truths are: (1) The truth of suffering, (2) of the cause of suffering, (3) of the cessation of suffering, and (4) of the Eightfold Path leading to the cessation of suffering.
The first truth teaches that all forms of existence whatsoever are unsatisfactory and subject to suffering.
The second truth teaches that all suffering, all rebirth, is produced by craving.
The third truth teaches that the cessation of craving results in the cessation of rebirth and suffering.
The fourth truth shows the Path or the means by which the cessation of rebirth and suffering is to be attained.
Dependent on ignorance of the Four Noble Truths (avijja) arise activities (sankhara). The activities, whether moral or immoral, good or bad, rooted in ignorance, turn the wheel of life or round of rebirths.
Dependent on activities arises rebirth-consciousness (vinnana). This is the connecting link between the past and the present existence.
Simultaneous with the arising of rebirth- consciousness, mind and body (nama-rupa) come into being.
Dependent on mind and body are six senses (salayatana), which bring about contact (phassa). (By contact is meant sensorial or mental impressions, which result in feeling (vedana).
These five, namely rebirth-consciousness, mind and body, six senses, contact and feeling are the effects of past actions, forming the passive side of the present life.
The active side of the present life are craving (tanha), grasping (upadana) and bhava (kamma-bhava).
Dependent on feeling arises craving. Craving develops into grasping, which is the cause of kamma-bhava .It is kamma-bhava that conditions future rebirth and its inevitable consequences: decay, death, etc.
We are yet in the present existence. It is of utmost importance that we appreciate fully our present opportunity to strive to put a stop to the round of rebirths.
In the reverse order of Paticca Samuppada, it will be seen that the cessation of craving leads to the cessation of grasping which is the cause of kamma-bhava. What kamma-bhava. is will become clear presently.
So it is not difficult to understand why it is absolutely necessary for us to strive to kill this craving. But do we? By far the majority of us, who are so-called Buddhists, do not. On the other hand, we choose to linger on in the net of craving. Our needs are few but our wants are many, and they tend to multiply in these days. Life is, indeed, complex and going faster than ever. Even when we are doing meritorious deeds, although we utter the word Nibbana we do not incline our minds towards Nibbana , but have worldly benefits at the back of our minds.
It is true that wholesome kamma is essential as a means to the ultimate end, that is, Nibbana. Unwholesome kamma must ever be eschewed. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that it is kamma-bhava or kamma rocess that brings about kamma -resultant process (Upapatti-bhava). Kamma bhava is the accumulation of good and bad actions, forming the active side of life. Upapatti-bhavais the passive side of life. Kamma bhava of the present existence and sankhara of the past are synonyms. They mean activities or actions—mental, bodily and verbal.
As long as there is kamma process, so long there will be kamma-resultant process. Depending on their good or bad kamma , sentient beings enjoy or are denied the mundane blessings in the round of rebirths. We must strive to transcend both wholesome and unwholesome kamma ,which turn the wheel of life.
If our activities or actions are not motivated by craving, then we shall be able to break up that wheel. If we strive to rise above sankhara or kamma-formations (wholesome and unwholesome volitional activities of body, speech and mind), then we shall get liberated from the round of rebirths.
How, then, shall we kill this craving or nip it in the bud?
Before an attempt is made to answer this question, a story of certain monk may be related. The monks were finding it very difficult to develop concentration at a village where their benefactress had the knowledge of penetration of the minds of others. They were very afraid that their unwholesome thoughts, should they arise, would be discovered by her. So they went and explained to the Buddha their awkward predicament. The Buddha advised them not to bother about it, but to return to the village and keep a constant guard upon their minds or, in other words, do contemplation of consciousness. Soon, all the monks got over their difficultly and achieved their desired goal.
Satipatthana Sutta teaches four kinds of contemplation, (1) contemplation of body, (2) contemplation of feeling, (3) Contemplation of consciousness, and (4) contemplation of mind objects. Let us begin with contemplation of consciousness, upon which we should concentrate. Mind is in a state of flux. It is not the same for two consecutive moments. The meeting of eye and visible object gives rise to eye-consciousness, of ear and audible object to ear-consciousness, of nose and olfactory object to nose-consciousness, of tongue and gustative object to tongue-consciousness, of body and tangible object to body consciousness, and of mind-door and mind object to mind-consciousness.
Now we must strive to contemplate on the appearance and disappearance of these moments of consciousness of six kinds. They arise and vanish in a moment. In practice, the preceding moment of consciousness is noted by the succeeding one. Momentary origination and dissolution gives a clear idea of anicca (impermanence), dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), and anatta (insubstantiality), the three characteristics of life.
This is seeing things as they really are (yatha-bhuta-nana). When the reality is understood, aversion sets in (Nibbida-nana). Aversion prevents the arising of craving from feeling resulting from contact, dependent on consciousness of one kind or the other. The third stage is magga-nana, resulting in the realization of Nibbana.
As a matter of fact, contemplation of consciousness also involves contemplation of six hetu or root-conditions: lobha (craving), dosa (anger or hate), moha (ignorance), and their respective opposites: alobha (disinterestedness), adoa (amity), and amoha (insight or wisdom).
So far as contemplation of body is concerned, in-breathing and out-breathing are watched on the tip of the nostrils or on the upper lip. In the case of contemplation of consciousness, in-breathing and out-breathing are noted mentally. As breathing beings (pana), our existence depends on in-breathing and out-breathing. Hence, the necessity of being mindful of them.
When we strive to contemplate on six kinds of consciousness, six kinds of root conditions as well as on in-breathing and out-breathing our contemplation becomes not only of consciousness but also of mental objects. Of course, contemplations of body and feeling are not ruled out either.
But all the same, we should concentrate on the contemplation of consciousness as in the case of the monks mentioned above.
If we steadily strive on, we shall soon discover that no chance is being given to craving to arise, craving that will lead to next-rebirth. This is the vital link between the passive side and the active side of our present life. We must endeavour our utmost to break it up before it develops into grasping that causes fresh kamma-process, which in its turn, will link the present existence with the future. If we succeed in breaking up the vital link of the present, then the question of the link with the future does not arise, leave alone the link with the past. It is the break-up of the vital link which results in the realization of Four Noble Truths, Four successive Stages of Holiness, and Nibbana.
With this in view, we must strive on with diligence, as enjoined upon us by the blessed One. Otherwise we shall remain so-called Buddhist who stop short at almsgiving, observance of moral precepts, and mind- training, hardly appreciating the higher values of the Path that leads to the ultimate goal, Nibbana. We cannot get it for the asking, that is, by prayers as most of us are practically doing, notwithstanding the exhortation of the Buddha; "You should exert yourselves, the Tathagatas are only teachers."
Whether the wheel of life shall go on, or stop turning depends on our own exertions here and now.
Sir Edwin Arnold writes in the Light of Asia.
Higher than Indra's ye may lift your lot,
And sink it lower than the worm or gnat;
The end of many myriads lives is this,
The end of myriads that.
Only, while turns this wheel invisible,
No pauses, no peace, no staying-place can be;
Who mounts may fall, who falls will mount; the spokes
Go round unceasingly!
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