Now that we have discussed rebirth from the Buddhist perspective,
we can return to the teaching of dependent arising, this time
in relation to the rebirth process.
Does rebirth go on automatically and inevitably?
Is there any causal structure behind this process of rebirth?
Does it go on automatically and inevitably? Or is there a set
of causes that sustains it and keeps it rolling?
There is, the Buddha says, a distinct set of causes underlying
the rebirth process, and its causal structure is set out in
the teaching of Dependent Arising.
Ignorance -> craving
Ignorance is the most basic root of all becoming. Due to ignorance
we perceive things in a distorted way. Due to these distortions
or perversions things appear to us to be permanent, pleasurable,
attractive and as our self. Due to these distortions there arises
in us craving, craving for sense pleasures, for existence,
for sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch sensations
Craving pleasant feeling we require agreeable objects such
as agreeable sights, smells etc. in order to experience pleasant
feeling. In order to obtain the pleasure these objects can
give, we have to make contact with these objects. To
contact these objects we need sense faculties that can
receive the sense objects, that is the six sense faculties — the
eye to receive sight, the ear to receive sound, etc. In order
for the sense faculties to function we need the entire psycho-physical
organism, the mind-body complex.
The seamstress craving
Just as a seamstress sews together different pieces
of cloth, so does craving sew together one life to another.
It ties together the succession of lives. Craving is so powerful
that it can bridge the gap created by death and rebuild the
whole house of sentient existence again and again.
We are not hopeless prisoners of our past — kamma
We now come to a question. When we see the tremendous variety
among the living beings in the world, people and animals
of all sorts, we ask what it is that causes
rebirth in a particular form? Does it happen through by
chance, without any reason, or is there some principle behind
it? Kamma, the Buddha says, is the factor which determines
the specific form of rebirth, and it is Kamma, volitional action,
again which determines a good number of the experiences we
undergo in the course of our life. (You learned about kamma
in Lesson 9.)
The twin teachings on kamma and rebirth have several important
implications for understanding our own lives.
First they enable us to understand that we are fully responsible
for what we are. We can't blame our troubles on our environment,
on our heredity, on fate or on our upbringing. All these factors
have made us what we are, but the reason we have met
these circumstances is because of our past kamma. This
might seem to be at first a pessimistic doctrine. It seems
to imply that we are the prisoners of our past kammas,
that we have to submit to their effects. This is a distortion.
is volitional action, and volitional action always takes
place in the present.
It is true that very often we have to reap the results of
our past kamma. But the important point to understand
is that kamma is volitional action, and volitional action
always takes place in the present, only in the present. This
means at present it is possible for us to change the
entire direction of our life.
If we closely examine our lives we'll see that our experience
is of two types: first, experience that comes to us passively,
which we receive independently of our choice; and second, experience
which we create for ourselves through our choices and attitudes.
The passive side of experience is largely the effect of past
kamma.We generally have to face this and learn to accept it.
But within those limitations there is a space, the tremendous
space of the present moment, in which we can reconstruct our
world with our own minds.
If we let ourselves be dominated by selfishness, hatred,
ambition and dullness, then, even if we are wealthy and
powerful, we'll still be living in misery and suffering and keep
planting seeds for rebirth in the world of suffering. On the
other hand, even if we are poor and in sad circumstances,
with much pain and misfortune, if we observe pure conduct,
develop a mind of generosity, kindness and understanding, then
we can transform our world, we can build a world of love
Going beyond kamma - the ultimate aim of the Path
The ultimate aim of the path of the Buddha is not simply to
achieve good results by performing good kamma. This is a mundane
aim. The true aim of the path is to go entirely beyond
the chain of kamma and results.
As long as we go on performing kamma and accumulating
kamma, we remain subject to birth and death, and we will meet
with suffering in its diverse forms. Whether one is living
in a fortunate world or an unfortunate world is secondary.
All states of existence are impermanent, without substance
Kamma is generated due to clinging, clinging to good or bad
actions. Clinging rests upon ignorance. By developing
mindfulness and insight, by learning to see things as they
really are, we can put an end to clinging and break free from
kamma. Then we discover the freedom beyond kamma, the freedom