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Jun 23rd
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Home Teachings Dependant Originations What is Dependant Origination - Becoming to Birth

What is Dependant Origination - Becoming to Birth

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Article Index
What is Dependant Origination
Ignorance to Formations
Formations to Consciousness
Consciousness to Mind-and-Body
Mind-and-Body to Six Bases
Six Bases to Contact
Contact to Feeling
Feeling to Craving
Craving to Clinging
Clinging to Becoming
Becoming to Birth
Birth to Suffering
The Three Periods
Other Aspects
All Pages

Becoming to Birth

Rebirth occurs in the human, celestial or lower realms because of wholesome or unwholesome kamma. So rebirth stems from kamma, which results from attachment and craving. Craving is rooted in the contact between the six sense-objects and their corresponding sense-organs. In other words, consciousness, mind and matter, six sense-bases, contact, and feeling arise in the present life as the result of ignorance, mental formations, etc., in a previous life. Furthermore, craving and attachment produce new kamma, thus providing the basis for more rebirth. It is like a man committing a crime while on parole for a previous conviction, or incurring a new debt before the old one has been settled. Such fresh kammas accumulate by the thousand in a single lifetime. Under the right conditions one of these kammas becomes a deathbed vision and leads to rebirth, while other kammas will cause rebirths in the future. If any residual kammas from previous lives possess great force, they can take precedence over present kamma, appear as deathbed visions and cause rebirth in a lower or higher realm. The destiny of the person after death in such cases is determined by this kamma.

Four Kinds of Kamma

Kamma is of four kinds according to the manner in which it bears fruit: 1) weighty kamma (garukamma), 2) habitual kamma (bahula or ācinnaka kamma) , 3) death-proximate kamma (āsanna kamma), and 4) residual kamma (katattā kamma) .

The five weighty unwholesome kammas are killing one's mother or father, killing an arahant, injuring a Buddha, and causing a schism .html" target="" title=""> schism .html" target="" title=""> schism in the Sangha. The weighty wholesome kammas are the rūpa and arūpa jhānas which lead to rebirth in the fine-material and immaterial realms. Weighty kamma delays the fruition of other kammas and leads to rebirth. Weighty unwholesome kamma leads directly to hell after death, so it is termed 'ānantariyakamma' — kamma (with results) that follow without delay. One who murders their father or mother, whether knowingly or unknowingly, can never attain jhāna or nibbāna in the present life; they are condemned to hell after death, nor can any amount of wholesome kamma save them. This is evident in the story of Ajātasattu.

The Story of Ajātasattu

Ajātasattu was the son of King Bimbisāra of Māgadha, a devoted follower of the Buddha. Before the birth of the prince, the queen had a craving to drink blood from the king's right arm. When the king learnt of this, he had the blood taken out to fulfil her wish. The astrologers predicted that the unborn child would become the king's enemy. So he was given the name 'Ajātasattu,' which means 'the unborn enemy.' The queen tried to abort the child but as the king's kamma and the child's kamma were powerful she did not succeed. Thereafter, the king ordered the queen to be supervised closely until the child was born. When the young prince came of age, he was appointed heir-apparent. Then he fell into the clutches of the evil-minded Devadatta, who misused his psychic power to manipulate Ajātasattu. Turning himself into a boy with a snake coiled around his waist, he appeared before Ajātasattu and then showed himself as a bhikkhu. The prince was deeply impressed, which is not surprising, for people are very interested in miracles and have blind faith in anyone who can perform them.

The prince held Devadatta in high esteem and became his devoted follower. Then Devadatta made another move for the success of his wicked scheme. He told the prince that since people did not live long, he (the prince) should kill his father and become king while still in the prime of his life. He (Devadatta), on his part, would kill the Buddha. The prince failed in his attempt on the life of the king, but when Bimbisāra learnt of his son's ambition, he handed over his kingdom. The transfer of power nevertheless fell short of Devadatta's scheme. On his advice, Ajātasattu imprisoned his father and starved him. The queen was the only person who was allowed to visit the king. She secretly brought food by various means until she was forbidden to visit the prison. From that day, the king got nothing to eat, but managed to keep himself healthy by pacing to and fro. Then, on Ajātasattu's order, the barbers caused such injury to his father's feet as to make it impossible for him to walk. According to the commentary, he was thus injured because in a previous life he walked with footwear on the platform of a pagoda and trod with unwashed feet on a mat meant for the bhikkhus.

King Bimbisāra probably died at the age of 67. His son Ajātasattu was not evil-minded at heart. His good nature was evident in his devotion to the Buddha after he had killed his father, his adoration and enshrinement of the Buddha relics, and the wholehearted support that he gave to the First Council . It was his association with a corrupt teacher that led him astray to the point of parricide. His life affords us a lesson that we should carefully bear in mind.

On the very day of his father's death, his wife gave birth to a son. On hearing the news, he became overwhelmed with great affection for the child. This reminded him of his father and he ordered the imprisoned king's release, but it was too late. When he later learnt from his mother how much he was loved and cared for by his father in his childhood, he was seized with remorse. His life became wretched and miserable. He could not sleep at night, being haunted by visions of hell and smitten by his conscience for the crime against his father, who was a devout disciple of the Buddha.

So, led by the physician Jīvaka, he went to see the Buddha. At that time the Lord was surrounded by more than a thousand bhikkhus. However, since they were deep in meditation, there was absolute silence. Deeply impressed, the king said, "May my son Udayabhadda be blessed with the kind of serenity that these bhikkhus possess!" Perhaps he feared that his son would learn how he had seized power and would try to do the same. His fear later became a reality, for right down to his great grandson, each son ascended the throne after killing his father. King Ajātasattu asked the Buddha about the immediate benefits of life in the Sangha. The Lord enlarged on the benefits accruing from the holy life: the reverence and support of the lay community, moral purity, the first jhāna and other higher states of consciousness in the mundane sphere, psychic powers, extinction of defilements and the attainments of the Noble Path. After hearing the discourse, Ajātasattu formally declared himself a disciple of the Buddha. If not for his parricide, he would have attained the first stage on the Path. Nevertheless, from that time on he had peace of mind, and after his death, he was spared the terrors of the deepest hell (Avīci) that would have been in store for him had he not met the Buddha.

The other three weighty kammas — killing an arahant, causing injury to the Buddha and wilfully causing a schism in the Sangha — are also bound to drag the offender to hell.

Habitual and Death-Proximate Kammas

Another type of kamma is habitual kamma. Immorality may become habitual, and will have unpleasant effects in a future life, if no step is taken to change it. So lay Buddhists should live by the five precepts. If they fail, they should reaffirm their will to guard their moral life more vigilantly. Moral purity is equally vital for a bhikkhu. Failure to make amends for any violation of a Vinaya rule, whether deliberate or unintentional, will create habitual kamma. So the bhikkhu should regain moral purity through confession and reaffirm his will to preserve it. Good habits like regular almsgiving, reverence for parents and teachers, contemplation of the Buddha, meditation, etc., are also habitual kammas that can bear immediate fruits.

In the absence of any decisive habitual kamma, some action done near the end of life determines rebirth. In one Abhidhamma book, death-proximate kamma is described as more potent than habitual kamma, but perhaps that is so only in exceptional cases. As the commentaries say, habitual kamma probably takes precedence in bearing fruit. Nevertheless, in the light of stories in ancient Buddhist literature we can confidently rely on death-proximate kamma. A dying man who had been an executioner for over fifty years was reborn in Tusita heaven after offering food to Venerable Sāriputta and hearing his discourse. This story finds an echo in the case of a Sinhalese fisherman who was reborn in the celestial realm after his encounter with a thera just before his death.

Unwholesome death-proximate kamma is just as potent. A Sinhalese layman who practised meditation for many years was disappointed because he had never seen any lights. He then concluded that the Buddha's teaching was not the way to liberation. Because of this wrong view he became a hungry ghost after his death. Failure to encounter lights, etc., in the practice of meditation may be due to a wrong method, insufficient effort or the lack of basic potential. Similarly, the monk Sunakkhatta, mentioned before, attained the divine-eye but not the divine-ear because he did not have the potential for it, and was impeded by his obstructive kamma. So one should not be disheartened if the meditation practice does not produce the desired effect. Mostly, practice along the right path leads to unusual experiences. With tranquility and purity of mind, the object of contemplation and the contemplating consciousness become clearly distinct. So too, do their causal relations and their constant, rapid arising and dissolution. At that stage, one may see light, or at least one experiences joy, ecstasy, tranquility, equanimity, etc., which are the factors of enlightenment (bojjhanga), so vital to the development of insight. Provided there is no impediment, contemplation of mind and matter will lead to these higher states of consciousness if the method is right, and the effort is sufficient.

In the absence of habitual or death-proximate kamma, residual kamma, which means a kamma that one has done once in this or the previous lives, will give its effect instead.


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The Dhammapada

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