As 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.
It 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.
If 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
Either there must
be a beginning or there cannot be a beginning for life.
One school, in
attempting to solve the problem, postulates a first cause, God, viewed
as a force or as an Almighty Being.
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.
From 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
According 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 constitutes man.
For 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.
What is the ultimate
origin of life?
The Buddha declares:
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."
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.
The 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.
But how are we
to believe that there is a past existence?
The 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.
instructions, his disciples also developed this knowledge and were
able to read their past lives to a great extent.
There 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.
In hypnotic states some relate experiences of their past lives; while a few others, read the past lives of others and even heal diseases.
get strange experiences which cannot be explained but by rebirth.
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
The Buddha tells
previous associations or present advantage, that old love springs
up again like the lotus in the water."
some reliable modern psychics, ghostly phenomena, spirit communications,
strange alternating and multiple personalities and so on shed some
light upon this problem of rebirth.
Into 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?
How 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, etc.?
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?
The 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.
If 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.
It 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
A Western writer
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
It should be stated
that this doctrine of rebirth can neither be proved nor disproved
experimentally, but it is accepted as an evidentially verifiable fact.
The 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
The result of
this analytical method is summed up in the Paticca Samuppada.(Dependent