Part 6: BIRTH, DEATH AND NIBBANA
6.1 Samsara, the Cycle of Births and Deaths
Beginning of Samsara
‘Inconceivable indeed is the beginning, O disciples, of this faring on. The earliest point is not revealed of the running on, the faring on of beings, cloaked in ignorance, tied by craving.’
~S. II: 118
How Long Have We Been in Samsara?
If a man were to prune out the grasses, sticks, boughs and twigs in this India and collecting them together, should make a pile laying them four inches long and saying for each:
‘This is my mother; this is my mother’s mother, etc, Monks, the grasses, sticks, boughs and twigs in India would be used up, ended before the mothers of that man’s mother were to come to an end.’
It is said that the tears we have shed for being united with the undesirable and being separated from the desirable are far greater in amount than the waters of the four great oceans. So long is our wandering in Samsara, where no beginning can be perceived.
Different Stages of Birth
Birth is explained in the following terms:
1/ Jati: conception becoming.
2/ Sanjati: formation of six senses.
3/ Okkanti: appearance of development of consciousness.
4/ Abhinibbatti: spontaneous birth with developed physical body
5/ Khandanam Patubhavo: birth in form and formless worlds.
6/ Ayatananam Patilabho: stage of grasping objects by the six senses.
What is Rebirth? - Naca So Naca Anno
‘A person who dies here and is born elsewhere is neither the same person nor another.’
‘An entity (permanent) does not travel from birth to birth. ‘What travels in Samsara is our consciousness itself’ is false view and is firmly rejected from the standpoint of dependent origination.’
~M. I: 256f
6.2 Death and Rebirth
Birth is the Cause of Death
The Buddha said to Ananda, If you were asked:
‘Has aging-and-death a condition for its existence?’
You should answer:
‘Aging-and-death is conditioned by birth’ and so on. Thus, if there is no birth, there could be no aging-and-death; birth is a necessary condition for their arising.’
~D. I: 55
Life is but Death
‘All creatures have to die. Life is but death.
And they shall fare according to their deeds,
Finding the fruit of merit and misdeeds;
Infernal realms because of evil works,
Blissful rebirth for meritorious acts.’
~S. I: 96; KS. I: 122
What is Death?
According to the Buddha, death never occurs unless and until all the following energies separate from the body:
1/ Kammic energy generated (from a previous birth) to condition this life - once this energy is extinguished survival is impossible.
2/ Heat energy - the energy which sustains life amongst the bundle of elements.
3/ Consciousness - mental energy.
~M. I: 296
How Rebirth Occurs
The mental forces conditioning the life process consists of:
1/ Avijja - Ignorance
2/ Tanha - Craving
3/ Kamma - Mental Energy (wholesome and unwholesome)
4/ Upadana - Clinging
5/ Bhava - Kamma Formations which condition the future life.
When the five components break up upon death in a previous birth they combine with the cosmic energies to condition and produce the following five formations in rebirth:
a/ Vinnana - consciousness
b/ Nama-Rupa - Mind and Body
c/ Salayatana - Development of six senses
d/ Phassa - Contact
e/ Vedana - Feeling
Three Premonitory Visions of a Dying Person
In the absence of a ‘Death - Proximate Kamma’, a habitual good or bad act - Acinna Kamma is presented, such as the healing of the sick in the case of a good physician, or the teaching of the Dhamma in the case of a pious bhikkhu, or the theft in the case of a thief. Failing all these, some causal minor good or bad act - Katatta Kamma, becomes the object of the dying thought process.
Kamma Nimitta - symbol -
A mental reproduction of any sight, sound, smell, taste or idea which was predominant at the time of some important activity, good or bad, such as the vision of knives or dying animals in the case of a butcher, of patients in the case of a physician, the object of worship in the case of a devotee, etc.
Gati Nimitta - symbol of destiny
‘Some symbol of the place of future birth. This frequently presents itself to dying persons and stamps its gladness or gloom upon their features. When indication of the future birth are bad, they an at times be remedied. However, such remedies are only temporary.
The weightier kamma predominate after the good influences have worn off. This explains infant deaths and other short lives. Such premonitory vision of destiny may be fire, forest and darkness, if the kamma is bad; flower, water falls, celestial mansions and divine beings, if the kamma is good.’
Why It is Difficult to Realize the Truth
‘The Unaffected is hard to see;
It is not easy to seek Truth.
To know is to uncover craving;
To see is to have done with owning.’
What Passes from Death to the Next Birth
The last moment of consciousness of the present life is called ‘cuti’, because it terminates the life process in the present life. The succeeding moment of consciousness is called ‘patisandhi’ - rebirth-linking for it causes the functioning of the stream of consciousness as a new life. Since this is another ‘event’ of the stream of consciousness, nothing has come here from the past life and nothing goes from here to the future life.
‘An echo, or its like, supplies
The figure here; connectedness
By continuity denies
Identity and otherness.’
Just as an echo, a reflection, or a seal impression is produced respectively by sound, light, a seal. Each of the latter is the cause of the former but without transferring anything substantial from the cause to the effect similarly the ‘cuti’ moment produces the ‘patisandhi’ moment.
And with the stream of continuity there is neither identity nor otherness. If there was absolute identity, there would be no forming of curd from milk. If there were absolute otherness the curd would not be derived from milk. (Continuation of an entity is denied).
~M. I: 256f; VISM
How the Buddha Consoled Ananda Before His Passing Away
When Ven. Ananda wept before the Buddha’s passing away, the Buddha said:
Enough Ananda, do not weep. For have I not taught that it is the nature of all things beloved that we must suffer separation from them and are severed from them? For that which is born, comes to be and is compounded also is subjected to dissolution. How could it be otherwise? For a long time have you, Ananda, served the Tathagata with thoughts, words and deeds of love, graciously, pleasantly and with whole heart. You have gathered great good. Now you should put forth energy and soon you will be free from defilements.’
~D. II: 144
Do Not Grieve Upon Death
‘The life of mortals here cannot be predicted by any sign, and (its duration) is uncertain, difficult and brief and that too is fraught with suffering.’
The Way of the World
For there is no means whereby those born do not die. Even so (for one) arriving at old age there is death, for of such a nature are living creatures.
Just as for ripe fruit there constantly is fear of falling, so constantly for mortals who are born there is fear of death.
Thus the world is smitten by death and old age. Therefore wise men do not grieve, knowing the way of the world.
Ultimate Aim of Buddhist Practice
‘The religious practice - brahmacariya under the Lord is conducted for utter nibbana without attachment. So it is, monks, that this religious practice - brahmacariya is not for advantage or gains, honors, fame; it is not for advantage in knowledge and vision. That, monks which is unshakable freedom of mind, this is the goal, monks, of this practice, this the pith, this the culmination.’
~M. I: 197, 204-5; MLS. I: 244
Hard to Discern
‘This, too, were a matter hard to discern, to wit, the tranquilization of all the activities of (worldly) life, the renunciation of all the substrates of rebirth, the destruction of natural cravings, passionlessness, cessation, Nibbana.’
~S. I.: 136; KS. I: 172
The Unconditioned State
There is, O bhikkhus:
a/ ajata - an unborn
b/ abhuta - unoriginated
c/ akata - unmade
d/ asamkhata - non-conditioned state
If, O bhikkhus, there were not this unborn, unoriginated, unmade and non-conditioned, an escape for the born, originated, made and conditioned, would not be possible here. As there is an unborn, unoriginated, unmade and non-conditioned state, an escape for the born, originated, made and conditioned is possible.’
~Ud: 80, It: 37
According to the commentary these four terms are used as synonyms. Ajata means that it has not sprung up on account of causes or conditions hetupaccaya. ‘Abhuta’ (lit., not become) means that it has not arisen. As it has not sprung up from a cause and has not come into being, it is not made akata by any means. Becoming and arising are the characteristics of conditioned beings such as mind and mater but Nibbana, being not subject to those conditions is non-conditioned asamkhata.
Nibbanam paramam sukham - Nibbana is the highest bliss.
It is bliss supreme because it is not a kind of happiness experienced by the senses. It is a blissful state of positive relief from mundane experiences.
Definitions of Nibbana
The word can have many interpretations, the following having been recorded in the great Sarvastivadin commentary, Abhidharma-mahavibhasa-sastra:
a/ Vana, implying the path of rebirth, + nir, meaning leaving off’ or ‘being away from the path of rebirth.’
b/ Vana, meaning ‘stench’, + nir, meaning ‘freedom’; ‘freedom from the stench of distressing kamma.’
c/ Vana, meaning ‘dense forests’, + nir, meaning ‘to get rid of’ = ‘to be permanently rid of the dense forest of the five aggregates (panca skandha), or the ‘three roots of greed, hate and delusion (lobha, dosa, moha)’ or ‘three characteristics of existence (impermanence, anitya; unsatisfactoriness dukkha; soulessness, anatma).’
d/ Vana, meaning ‘weaving’, + nir, meaning ‘knot’ = ‘freedom from the knot of the distressful thread of kamma.’
~Dha. A. A: 409
Venerable Nagasena clarifies King Milinda’s Doubts on Nibbana
‘Venerable Nagasena, this nibbana that you are always talking of - can you make clear to me by a simile, explanation, reason or argument its form, figure, duration or size?’
‘That I cannot, O King, for nibbana has nothing similar to it. By no simile, explanation, reason or argument can its form, figure, duration or size be made clear.’
‘That I cannot believe, Nagasena, that of nibbana which really, after all, is a condition that exists, that it should be so impossible in any way to make us understand either the form, figure, duration or size. How do you explain this?
‘Tell me, O King, is there such a thing as the great ocean?’
‘Well, suppose someone were to ask your majesty, ‘How much water is there in the ocean and how may creatures dwell therein?’ How would you answer him?’
‘I should say this to him, ‘My good fellow, such a question should not be asked and it is a point that should be left alone. The oceanographers have never examined the ocean in that way and no one can measure the water there or count the number of creatures that dwell therein.’ Thus, sir, would be my reply.’
‘But why should your majesty make such a reply about the ocean? The ocean is, after all, a thing which really exists. Ought you not rather to count and tell him, saying, ‘So and so much is the water in the ocean and so and so many the creatures that dwell therein?
‘That would be impossible, sir, for the answer to such a question is beyond one’s power.’
‘As impossible as it is O King, to tell the measure of water in the ocean or the number of creatures dwelling therein though, after all, the ocean exist, so impossible is it in any of the ways you suggest to tell the form, figure, duration or size of nibbana, though, after all, it is a condition that does exist. And even, O King, if one endowed with psychic powers, master over mind, where to be able to ascertain the quantity of water and count the creatures in the ocean, even he would never be able to tell the form, figure, duration or size of nibbana.’
‘There is one quality of the lotus, O King, inherent in nibbana, two qualities of water, three of medicine, four of the ocean, five of food, ten of space, three of the wish-fulfilling gem, three of red sandalwood, three of the essence of ghee and five of mountain peak.’
‘As a lotus is unwetted by water, nibbana is unsoiled by the defilements.’
‘Like water, it cools the fever of defilements and quenches the thirst of craving.’
‘Like medicine, it protects beings who are poisoned by the defilements, cures the disease of suffering, and nourishes like nectar.’
‘As the ocean is empty of corpses, nibbana is empty of all defilements; as the ocean is not increased by all the flow into it, so nibbana is not increased by all the beings who attain it; it is the abode of great beings (the Arahants) in whom the great evils and all stains have been destroyed, endowed with power, masters of themselves, and it is all in blossom as it were, with the innumerable and various fine flowers of purity, knowledge and freedom.’
‘Like food which sustains life, nibbana drives away old age, and death; it increases the spiritual strength of beings; it gives the beauty of virtue, it removes the distress of the defilements, it drives out the exhaustion of all sufferings.’
‘Like space, it is not born, does not decay or perish, it does not pass away here and arise elsewhere, it is invincible, thieves cannot steal it, it is not attached to anything, it is the sphere of ariyans who are like birds in space, it is unobstructed and it is infinite.’
‘Like a wish-fulfilling gem, it fulfills all desires, causes delight and is lustrous.’
‘Like red sandalwood, it is hard to get, its fragrance is incomparable and it is praised by good men.’
‘As ghee is recognizable by its special attributes, so nibbana has special attributes; as ghee has a sweet fragrance, nibbana has the sweet fragrance of virtue; as ghee has a delicious taste, nibbana has the delicious taste of freedom.’
‘Like a mountain peak, it is very high, immovable, inaccessible to the defilements, it has no place where defilements can grow, and it is without favoritism or prejudice.’
‘Hunger is the greatest disease.
The aggregates of being are the greatest suffering.
If a man thoroughly understands this,
He has attained nibbana, supreme bliss.’
Part 7: THE WORLD WITHIN
7.1 The Nature of the Inner World
The World’s End Cannot be Reached
‘Where there is no more being born or growing old, no more dying, no more falling from existence and rising up in another, - I declare that the end of the world is not reached by going.’
~S. I: 62; A. II: 48; GS. II: 56
Rising of the World
Monks, I will teach you how the world comes to be and passes away. What, monks is the arising of the world?
Because of the eye and visible objects arise visual consciousness. Union of the three is contact.
a/ Depending on contact, feeling arises.
b/ Depending on feeling arises craving. This, monks is the arising of the world.
~SN. II: 61
The same process repeated for the following combinations. Ear and sound; nose and smell; tongue and tastes; body and tangibles; mind and concepts.
Cessation of the World
Because of the eye and visible objects arises visual consciousness. Union of the three is contact.
a/ Depending on contact arises feeling.
b/ Depending on feeling arises craving.
c/ By the utter detachment and ceasing of the craving ceases grasping.
d/ By ceasing of grasping ceases becoming.
e/ By ceasing of becoming ceases birth.
f/ By ceasing of birth ceases decay and death, grief, lamentation and despair. Such is the ceasing of the entire mass of dukkha. This, monks, is the ceasing of the world.
The same process is applied to other senses and sense objects.
~s. ii: 71f
The World is a Mass of Dukkha
Before Enlightenment the Bodhisattva observed the world as such:
‘Alas, this world has fallen upon trouble. There is getting born and growing old, and dying, and falling and being reborn. And yet from this an escape is not known, even from decay and death.’
~S. II: 10; GS. II: 6
Satisfaction of the world
Then, monks, this occurred to Me:
‘That condition in the world owing to which pleasure arises, owing to which arises happiness, that is the satisfaction of the world.’
~A. I: 258; GS. I: 237
Satisfaction in the World Develops Attachment
‘Now herein monks, if there were not satisfaction to be found in the world, beings would not be attached to the world. But since there is satisfaction in the world, beings are attached thereto.’
~A. I: 259; GS. I: 238
Misery in the World
‘That impermanence, that suffering, that changeability in the world, - that is the misery in the world.’
~A. I: 258; GS. I: 237
Misery and Disinterest in the World
‘If there were not misery in the world, beings would not be repelled by the world. But since there is misery in the world, beings are repelled by the world.’
~A. I: 259; GS. I: 238
Freedom from the World
‘That restraint that riddance of desire and passion in the world, - that is the freedom from the world.’
~A. I: 258; GS. I: 237
Discern the All
Monks, I will teach you the All. And what, Monks, is the All? It is eye and forms, ear and sound, nose and smell, tongue and tastes, body and tangible things, mind and concepts. That, monks, is called ‘the All’. Whoso, monks, should say:
‘Rejecting this All, I will proclaim another All’, - it would be a mere topic of talk on his part and when questioned he would not be able to answer and would, moreover, be subjected to vexation. Why? Because it would not be within the range of experience.’
~S. IV: 14
Knowing All is the Perfect Independence Life
‘How, monks, is the independent life perfected in detail? It is when that which is past is put away; when that which is future is given up; and when, with regard to present self-states that we have got, will and passions have been thoroughly mastered. It is thus that the independent life is perfected in detail.’
‘Who overcometh all, who understandeth all
Whoso is very wise, in all things undefiled,
Who all abandoning, in death of craving free,
That is the man of whom I’d say, ‘He lives independently.’
~S. II: 283; KS. II: 193
Everything is Burning
‘The body is burning,
Tangible things are burning,
Tactile consciousness is burning,
Tactile impression is burning,
Also whatever sensation,
Pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant,
Arise on account of tactile sensation,
That too is burning.
Burning with what?
Burning with the fire of lust ...’
‘The mind is burning,
Mental objects (ideas, etc.), are burning,
Also whatever sensation,
Pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant,
Arises on account of the mental impression,
That too is burning.
Burning with what?
Burning with the fire of lust,
With the fire of hate,
With the fire of delusion;
I say it is burning with birth,
Aging and death,
~S. IV: 19
Does Everything Exist or Not?
Does everything exist?
Everything exists - this, brahmin, is one extreme.
Does everything not exist?
Everything does not exist - this, brahmin, is the other extreme. Not maintaining either of these extreme, the Tathagata teaches you dhamma of the middle (central doctrine). Conditioned by ignorance is formations, conditioned by formations is consciousness, conditioned by consciousness is name and form, conditioned by name and form are the six-sense base, conditioned by the six-sense bases is contact, conditioned by contact is feelings, conditioned by feelings is craving, conditioned by craving is grasping, conditioned by grasping is becoming, conditioned by becoming is birth, conditioned by birth is decay-and-death. Such is the arising of this entire mass of dukkha. But from utter detachment and ceasing of ignorance formations cease.
~S. II: 7
7.2 The Truth of the World Within
A Worldly View About the World
‘Whosoever in past times, monks, whatever recluses or brahmins, saw whatever in the world seemed lovely and pleasant as permanent, saw it as happy, saw it as good, saw it as health, saw it as safety, they made craving to grow. They in making craving to grow made substance to grow; in making substance to grow they made unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) to grow; in making unsatisfactoriness to grow they were no liberated from birth, from old age, from death, from grief, from lamenting, from suffering, from sorrow, from despair - yes, I declare, they were not liberated from ill.’
The same stanza is repeated for recluses and brahmins in the future and in the present.
~S. II: 109f; KS. II: 77f
Feeling and Dissatisfaction
How is it Sariputta, that when you know, when you see, blissful feeling (feeling combined with attachment) is not present with you?
If I should be thus asked, Lord, I should make answer: There are three modes of feeling, - which three? Pleasant, painful, neutral feeling. Now these three modes are impermanent. And when it is discerned that which is impermanent is unsatisfactory, blissful feeling (feeling combined with attachment) is not present. Thus, Lord, should I make answer.
Excellent! Moreover, the way to answer just this in brief is, ‘Whatever is felt is concerned with unsatisfactoriness.’
~KS. II: 40
Thus, as is evident, ‘the world within’ in Buddhism points out its ethical aspects. i.e. the problem of the unsatisfactoriness of existence.
The Doctrine of Dependent Origination - Patica Samuppada
The mental process conditions the life process of becoming in the wheel of existence,. When there is birth there is death. As long as the karmic forces survive the cycle of birth and death (samsara) they result in suffering.
Avijja: Ignorance rooted in defilements is the main cause.
Sankhara: Dependent on Ignorance arise Volitional Activities good or bad.
Vinnana: Dependent on Volitional Activities arises Re-linking consciousness linking the past with the present.
Dependent on Re-Linking Consciousness arises Mind and Matter - Nama and Rupa with the accompanying Six Senses - Slayatana.
Because of the Six Senses - Salayatan, Contact - Phassa sets in, contact leads to Sensations - Vedana.
Tanha: Dependent on Sensations arises Craving.
Craving creates Attachment - Upadana.
Attachment conditions Kamma - Bhava which in turn determines future Birth - Jati with the atendant Decay and Death - Jara Maramna and unsatisfactoriness.
~S. II: 2f
Discerning Conditionality is Discerning Dhamma
This was said by the Lord:
‘Whoever sees conditioned genesis sees Dhamma, whosoever sees Dhamma sees conditioned genesis (paticca samuppada).’
~M. I: 191
How to Reach the End of the World
‘Tis utterly impossible
To reach by walking the world’s end;
But none escapes from suffering
Unless the world’s end has been reached.
It is a sage, a knower of the World,
Who gets to the world’s end, and it is he
By whom the holy life has been live out;
In knowing the world’s end he is at peace
And hopes for neither this world nor the next’.
~S. II: 36; S. I: 63; GS. I: 87
Life’s Inner Joys
‘Herein confidence is man’s best possession
Dhamma well-practiced yields happiness;
Truth indeed is the sweetest of tastes
Life lived with understanding is best, they say.’
Life is Swift
‘Suppose there were four archers mighty with the bow, well trained, expert past masters in their art standing one at each quarter and a man were to come saying: ‘I will catch and bring the shafts let fly by these four archers before they reach the ground.’ What do you think, monks, were this enough for him to be called a swift man possessed of supreme speed?’
‘Even, Lord, if he caught and brought the shafts let fly by only one of the four archers ... before they reach the ground, it were enough for him to be called a swift man possessed of supreme speed. What need to speak of four such bowmen!’
‘Monks, as is the speed of that man, as is the speed of moon and sun swifter than he, as is the speed of those spirits who run ahead of moon and sun swifter than he, swifter than them both, so swifter than even these is the passing away of things of this life. Therefore, monks, you must train yourself thus: ‘We will live earnestly’
~S. II: 266; GS. II: 178
Four Kinds of Rain Cloud and Four Kinds of Men
Monks, there are these four rain-clouds. What four?
‘The thunderer that doesn’t rain. The rainer that doesn’t thunder. The neither thunderer nor rainer. The cloud that rains and thunders. These are the four.’
‘Likewise, monks, these four persons resembling rain clouds are to be found existing in the world. And how is a person a thunderer that doesn’t rain? Thus he is one who speaks but acts not. And how is a person a rainer but no thunderer? In this case, monks, a person is one who acts but speaks not. And how is a person neither a thunderer nor a rainer? In this case a person neither speaks nor acts. And how is a person both a thunderer and a rainer? In this case a person both speaks and acts accordingly. So these are the four persons found in the world.’
~A. II: 100