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Home Teachings Rebirth An Explanation of Rebirth - Putting an End to Rebirth

An Explanation of Rebirth - Putting an End to Rebirth

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Article Index
An Explanation of Rebirth
A Precious Human Rebirth
Rebirth is NOT Reincarnation
Debate of King Milinda
Putting an End to Rebirth
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Putting an End to Rebirth

Buddhists believe that death is always followed by rebirth until one attains enlightenment (Arahantship), which means the eradication of all ignorance and attachment. With this attainment the Arahant puts an end to kamma, so the cycle of rebirth and consequent suffering, old age, and death is cut off at the death of an Arahant or Buddha, which is called his parinibbāna.

The Noble Ones

If a wise disciple of the Buddha practises insight meditation diligently and attains nibbāna for the first time he or she puts and end to rebirth in the lower realms of suffering: hell, ghosts, demons, and animals. At this first stage of enlightenment, the meditator is called a Stream-winner (sotāpanna), because he or she has entered the stream that leads to the final liberation of Arahantship. The Stream-winner has destroyed the wrong view of a permanent self, soul, or ego, and so is incapable of doing any evil deeds such as killing living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, telling lies, or taking drugs and alcohol. He or she has attained unshakeable confidence in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha due to direct experience of the Four Noble Truths. For the same reason, the Stream-winner is not attached to rites or rituals. However, the Stream-winner has not yet eradicated the deeply rooted mental defilements of ill-will, lust, attachment to material existence, attachment to immaterial existence, pride, restlessness, and ignorance. Since sensual attachment is a strong fetter, a Stream-winner can lead a fairly normal family life, but he or she will never do any immoral deeds, and will always pay the deepest respect to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. The Stream-winner will be reborn at the most seven times in the human realm, before attaining final liberation as a human being, or in the celestial realms.

At the second stage of enlightenment, the Once-returner removes the stronger forms of lust and anger. He or she can still enjoy married life, but will be more serene than a Stream-winner.

The Non-returner who has attained the third stage of enlightenment is strikingly different to ordinary people, since he or she has no lust or anger at all. Such a saintly person has no sexual desire at all, so will be naturally inclined to ordain as a monk or nun, but may remain as a lay person to fulfil social commitments.

At the final stage of Arahantship, all the remaining mental defilements are destroyed totally. All conditions for rebirth are eradicated, so the Arahant is not born again, but attains the end of all suffering after living out his or her remaining life span. Such a perfect human being is worthy of the highest honour and deepest respect. The benefit of paying respect to such perfect ones, or offering alms to them is immeasurable. The consequences of insulting, harming, or bearing malice towards them are dire too. To kill a perfect one is equivalent to killing one's own mother or father, leading inevitably to rebirth in hell after death.

Anyone who abuses or harms an Arahant will soon suffer one of ten calamities: severe pain, loss of wealth, bodily injury, grievous illness, madness, oppression by the king, a serious accusation, loss of relatives, destruction of his property, or destruction of his house by fire. On the dissolution of the body, such a foolish person will be reborn in hell1 (unless he begs for forgiveness from the Arahant he has offended). To offend any Noble One is a serious offence that will obstruct one's spiritual progress.

The Buddha advised that these four should be treated with great care and respect, even if they are young: a poisonous snake, a royal prince, a virtuous monk, and a fire. A bite from even a small snake can kill. A young prince has a lot of influence and will one day become king. A virtuous monk will never harm anyone, but insulting or harming a virtuous disciple of the Buddha is powerful bad kamma. A small fire, if left unattended, can burn down an entire village.

Likewise, one should not allow ill-will to grow out of control, nor should one overlook minor wrong-doing. As a water-jar is filled with drops of water, a foolish man gathers evil little by little. According to the Buddha, mental evil is worse than verbal or physical evil. Mind is chief, mind is the forerunner, if one speaks or acts with an evil mind, suffering follows as the wheel follows the hoof of the ox that pulls it. So wrong views, ill-will, and covetousness are powerful mental unwholesome kammas that should not be overlooked. Everyone knows that lying, adultery, stealing, and killing are wrong so they usually try to avoid these evils. However, mental evils are usually overlooked due to ignorance. The Buddha laid stress on mental development (bhāvanā) to remove these mental evils. Studying the Buddha's teaching is mental development; so too are chanting suttas, and tranquility and insight meditation.

With the development of insight, one can gradually put an end to kammas that lead to rebirth, but one should be wary of false teachings. Because the Buddha said, "Avijjä paccaya sankhärä — mental formations (kammas) arise dependent on ignorance" some foolish teachers advocate that one should not make any effort to practise meditation, as all striving means fresh kamma. If one removes all the good timber from a forest, only weeds, vines, and brambles will remain. Likewise, if one is negligent in performing wholesome kamams such as almsgiving, morality, and meditation, the mind will naturally incline towards evil deeds. Only one needs to be wary of "making merit" that supposedly will lead one to nibbäna automatically, without the need to meditate. No such path exists.

Therefore, one should be quite clear that eating little, sleeping little, talking little, and diligently practising the exercises in transquillity and insight meditation is wholesome kamma of the highest order that will culminate in the attainment of nibbāna.

With the technique of bare awareness one observes the mind and body objectively, remaining equanimous in the face of pleasure and pain. This equanimity breaks the link between feeling (vedanā) and craving (tanhā), and puts an end to the cycle of dependent origination. One must cultivate patience and restraint.



 

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" Do not associate with those who are dear, and never with those who are not dear to you; not seeing the dear ones is painful, and seeing those who are not dear to you is also painful. "

The Dhammapada


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