long as this kammic force exists there is rebirth, for beings
are merely the visible manifestation of this invisible kammic
force. Death is nothing but the temporary end of this temporary
phenomenon. It is not the complete annihilation of this so-called
being. The organic life has ceased, but the kammic force which
hitherto actuated it has not been destroyed. As the kammic force
remains entirely undisturbed by the disintegration of the fleeting
body, the passing away of the present dying thought-moment only
conditions a fresh consciousness in another birth.
is kamma, rooted in ignorance and craving, that conditions rebirth.
Past kamma conditions the present birth; and present kamma, in
combination with past kamma, conditions the future. The present
is the offspring of the past, and becomes, in turn, the parent
of the future.
we postulate a past, present, and a future life, then we are at
once faced with the alleged mysterious problem "What
is the ultimate origin of life?"
there must be a beginning or there cannot be a beginning for life.
school, in attempting to solve the problem, postulates a first
cause, God, viewed as a force or as an Almighty Being.
school denies a first cause for, in common experience, the cause
ever becomes the effect and the effect becomes the cause. In a
circle of cause and effect a first cause is inconceivable. According
to the former, life has had a beginning, according to the latter,
it is beginningless.
the scientific standpoint, we are the direct products of the sperm
and ovum cells provided by our parents. As such life precedes
life. With regard to the origin of the first protoplasm of life,
or colloid, scientists plead ignorance.
to Buddhism we are born from the matrix of action (kammayoni).
Parents merely provide an infinitesimally small cell. As such
being precedes being. At the moment of conception it is past kamma
that conditions the initial consciousness that vitalizes the fetus.
It is this invisible kammic energy, generated from the past birth
that produces mental phenomena and the phenomenon of life in an
already extant physical phenomenon, to complete the trio that
a being to be born here a being must die somewhere. The birth
of a being, which strictly means the arising of the five aggregates
or psycho-physical phenomena in this present life, corresponds
to the death of a being in a past life; just as, in conventional
terms, the rising of the sun in one place means the setting of
the sun in another place. This enigmatic statement may be better
understood by imagining life as a wave and not as a straight line.
Birth and death are only two phases of the same process. Birth
precedes death, and death, on the other hand, precedes birth.
The constant succession of birth and death in connection with
each individual life flux constitutes what is technically known
as samsara recurrent wandering.
is the ultimate origin of life?
Buddha declares: "Without
cognizable end is this samsara. A first beginning of beings,
who, obstructed by ignorance and fettered by craving, wander and
fare on, is not to be perceived."
life-stream flows ad infinitum, as long as it is fed by
the muddy waters of ignorance and craving. When these two are
completely cut off, then only, if one so wishes, does the stream
cease to flow, rebirth ends as in the case of the Buddhas and
arahats. An ultimate beginning of this life-stream cannot be determined,
as a stage cannot be perceived when this life-force was not fraught
with ignorance and craving.
Buddha has here referred merely to the beginning of the life-stream
of living beings. It is left to scientists to speculate on the
origin and the evolution of the universe. The Buddha does not
attempt to solve all the ethical and philosophical problems that
perplex mankind. Nor does he deal with theories and speculations
that tend neither to edification nor to enlightenment. Nor does
he demand blind faith from his adherents. He is chiefly concerned
with the problem of suffering and its destruction. With but this
one practical and specific purpose in view, all irrelevant side
issues are completely ignored.
how are we to believe that there is a past existence?
most valuable evidence Buddhists cite in favor of rebirth is the
Buddha, for he developed a knowledge which enabled him to read
past and future lives.
his instructions, his disciples also developed this knowledge
and were able to read their past lives to a great extent.
some Indian rishis, before the advent of the Buddha, were distinguished
for such psychic powers as clairaudience, clairvoyance, thought-reading,
remembering past births, etc.
are also some persons, who probably in accordance with the laws
of association, spontaneously develop the memory of their past
birth, and remember fragments of their previous lives. Such cases
are very rare, but those few well-attested, respectable cases
tend to throw some light on the idea of a past birth. So are the
experiences of some modern dependable psychics and strange cases
of alternating and multiple personalities.
hypnotic states some relate experiences of their past lives; while
a few others, read the past lives of others and even heal diseases.
Sometimes we get strange experiences which cannot be explained
but by rebirth. How
often do we meet persons whom we have never met, and yet instinctively
feel that they are quite familiar to us? How often do we visit
places, and yet feel impressed that we are perfectly acquainted
with those surroundings?
Buddha tells us: "Through
previous associations or present advantage, that old love springs
up again like the lotus in the water."
of some reliable modern psychics, ghostly phenomena, spirit communications,
strange alternating and multiple personalities and so on shed
some light upon this problem of rebirth.
this world come Perfect Ones like the Buddhas and highly developed
personalities. Do they evolve suddenly? Can they be the products
of a single existence?
are we to account for great characters like Buddhaghosa, Panini,
Kalidasa, Homer and Plato; men of genius like Shakespeare, infant
prodigies like Pascal, Mozart, Beethoven, Raphael, Ramanujan,
alone cannot account for them. "Else their ancestry would
disclose it, their posterity, even greater than themselves, demonstrate
it." Could they rise to such lofty heights if they had not
lived noble lives and gained similar experiences in the past?
Is it by mere chance that they are been born or those particular
parents and placed under those favorable circumstances?
few years that we are privileged to spend here or, for the most
five score years, must certainly be an inadequate preparation
for eternity. If one believes in the present and in the future,
it is quite logical to believe in the past. The present is the
offspring of the past, and acts in turn as the parent of the future.
there are reasons to believe that we have existed in the past,
then surely there are no reasons to disbelieve that we shall continue
to exist after our present life has apparently ceased.
is indeed a strong argument in favor of past and future lives
that "in this world virtuous persons are very often unfortunate
and vicious persons prosperous."
Western writer says: "Whether
we believe in a past existence or not, it forms the only reasonable
hypothesis which bridges certain gaps in human knowledge concerning
certain facts of every day life. Our reason tells us that this
idea of past birth and kamma alone can explain the degrees of
difference that exist between twins, how men like Shakespeare
with a very limited experience are able to portray with marvelous
exactitude the most diverse types of human character, scenes and
so forth of which they could have no actual knowledge, why the
work of the genius invariably transcends his experience, the existence
of infant precocity, the vast diversity in mind and morals, in
brain and physique, in conditions, circumstances and environment
observable throughout the world, and so forth."
should be stated that this doctrine of rebirth can neither be
proved nor disproved experimentally, but it is accepted as an
evidentially verifiable fact.
cause of this kamma, continues the Buddha, is avijja or
ignorance of the Four Noble Truths. Ignorance is, therefore, the
cause of birth and death; and its transmutation into knowingness
or vijja is consequently their cessation.
result of this analytical method is summed up in the Paticca
Samuppada. (Dependent Arising).