Kamma, Rebirth and Nibanna —

2 of 2

Qualities of the Dharma
The Four Noble Truths
The Noble Eightfold Path
The True Nature of Existence
  The Five Aggregates of Clinging
  Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta
  Dependent Arising
  Kamma, Nibbana and Rebirth


The Sangha
The Buddhist Sangha



Dependent Arising and Rebirth

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 and ideas.

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 and rebirth

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.

Kamma 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 and peace.

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 and unsatisfactory.

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 of liberation.