Ven. D. Mahinda Thera

(Sri Lanka)


Buddhism is not based on blind faith or superstition. It is based on reality. This is known as the four noble truths. When one's mind is full of superstitious ideas, such a one cannot understand the Buddha's teaching. Most Buddhists who live in the West as well as in the East, do not get an opportunity to read the Tipitaka (Pali Canon). They do not listen to the Dhamma either. Hence they are unable to live up to the Dhamma. This will result in their not understanding the doctrine. They waste their precious time thinking of the past and the future. When they live in this manner they do not know that such thoughts are harmful to both themselves and to others. The Supreme Buddha advised them, "Do not repent over the past: Do not think of the future: but do your duties with diligence by doing what you have to do at present."

On the other hand most of the Buddhists do not know what Kamma is. They waste their precious time thinking of Kamma without making an effort. This is a wrong idea. Kamma is a very deep subject. Even monks during. the Buddha's time found it very difficult to understand this doctrine of Kamma. For instance everybody knows the story of Cakkhupàla Thera who led a contemplative life. As a result of his contemplation on the subject of pacing up and down in the ambulatory, he, attained Arahatship. (the, final stage of Sainthood). Yet, his attainment and blindness occurred simultaneously.

On the following day, early in the morning when he was pacing up and down in the ambulatory, he killed many insects unintentionally. Visiting monks seeing the blood-stained ambulatory complained to the Buddha that he had committed the offence of killing. The Buddha explained to them that he was not guilty as he was an Arahant. He had no intention to kill insects. His idea in walking up and down the ambulatory was not to kill insects. The Buddha asked them "Do you know what 1 mean by Kamma? It means intentional activity or doing. It may be physical verbal or mental volitional action, otherwise called moral and immoral action."

When a farmer is ploughing his field he destroys many insects unintentionally. Is it a sinful action ? It is not a sinful action, because he has no intention of killing insects. His idea is to cultivate his field. When you are walking to the office from home you trample so many insects unintentionally. Is it a sinful or an immoral action? It is not, because his intention in walking to office was not to kill insects.

When a small child scolds his parents, they regard it as a simple matter, because the child does not know what is good and what is bad. They think that it is not a sinful action. This is misunderstanding Kamma. How are we to solve this problem? We want to find out whether the child scolds his parents intentionally or unintentionally. The child abuses his parents intentionally. Therefore, it is an immoral or a sinful action. But the child does not know what is good and what is bad. It cannot be treated lightly. Buddhism does not regard the differences between persons. Whoever does a good or bad deed intentionally will accumulate Kamma.

One of the most important teachings of the Buddha is Kamma and Vipàka (cause and effect). According to the four Noble Truths, what is Kamma? Kamma is the cause of suffering or craving. Vipàka is Dukkha or the truth of suffering. On the other hand Kamma and Vipàka are regarded as Hetu-Phala (cause and effect). Hetu (cause) is the second Noble Truth. Phala is the First Noble Truth. According to the Paticca Samuppàda (Dependent origination) a human being is divided into ten aspects; ignorance, formation, craving and so on. Five of them from ignorance to action or becoming are regarded as Kamma or Hetu (cause). The rest are regarded as Vipàka or Phala (effect). In one sense Vipàka means rebirth.

Another point misunderstood by most Buddhists is that Buddhism is a religion meant for the other world and not for the world that we live in. This is entirely wrong. The Buddha had delivered many discourses such as Sigàlovà Sutta, Vyaggpajja, Paràbhava, Mangala and so on for the benefit of human beings in order that they may live a happy life in this world.

There is a wrong belief among many Buddhists that flower wreaths are not essential for funerals. According to Buddhism, flower-wreaths are essential. The reason is to show the impermanence of life.

Just as the beautiful flowers decay and fade away, so life too is shown to decay and fade away. When flowers decay no one likes them. They are thrown away. Similarly after death no one likes the decaying body. This understanding comes when one sees flower-wreaths at a funeral. If flower-wreaths are absent at a funeral that understanding hardly occurs.

Another important thing is the burning of an oil lamp at funerals near the coffin. Some people believe that this is not necessary. Yet, it is necessary from the Buddhist standpoint.

The oil lamp is extinguished in four different ways: even though oil is there yet if the wick is burnt, the lamp goes out: even though the wick is there is no oil, the lamp goes out: thirdly by the simultaneous exhaustion of oil as well as the wick, the lamp goes out. Lastly even though oil and the wick are there and the lamp too is burning, still if a wind blows the lamp goes out.

In the same way, just as the lamp goes out by exhaustion of oil, death occurs by exhaustion of the life-span. This is called, âyukkhaya Maraõa. Just as the extinguishing of the lamp due to exhaustion of the wick, death occurs with the exhaustion of Kamma. This is Kammakkhjya Marana. Just as the extinguishing of the lamp due to both the exhaustion of wick and oil, so by exhaustion of both Kamma and life-span, death occurs.

This is Ubhayakkhaya Marana. Just as the burning lamp is extinguished by the blowing of the wind, so death occurs accidentally through sudden circumstances even if one has life-span as well as Kamma. This is called Upachedaka or Akàla Marana.

Therefore all lives are like lamps. No one knows at what time they extinguish. One must always reflect on this four-fold ways of death, This is an ancient religious custom practised by many.