Continuity of Life



Ven Dickwelle Mahinda Thera


There are three main concepts that hold away regarding the ultimate origin of beings. Two of them are religious concepts and the other is a scientific concept. Some scientists believe that all beings originated or evolved from matter. Many religious leaders attribute the ultimate origin of man to God and are of opinion that go God created man. But Buddha rejected both these concepts.

It is also mentioned in (the Visuddhi Magga) The Path of Purification as follows :

Na hetha - Devo và Brahmà và
Saüsàrassathi kàrako
Suddhadhammà pavattanti

There is no God or Brahma who is the creator of this world. Empathy phenomena rolls on, all subject to causality.

Whatever other religions and science may teach with regard to the ultimate origin of human beings, Buddhism pertinently says :- "(Anamataggo yaü Bhikkhave Saüsàra pubbàkoti na pa¤¤àyati avijjànivaraõànaü sattàü taõhà saüyojanànaü sandhàvataü. Anamatagga Sutta)

Inconceivable is the beginning Bhikkhave, of this faring on. the earliest point is not revealed of this running on, the faring on, of beings located in ignorance, tied to craving.

What is the Buddha's concept? The Buddha's concept is beginningless and endless in this Round of Birth. That all beings are result of a Karmic process determined by action which is the cause of which the effects is birth or rebirth.

Evaü Kammavipàke ca
Vattamane sahetuke
Bãja rukkhàdãnanva
Pubba koti na nyàyati.

In this manner action and re-action cause and effect death and birth, prevail and continue to prevail. It is like the tree producing the fruit and the fruit in turn producing the tree and continue to prevail as an unbroken process. We can only see it happening in the present context. But we cannot trace back to the beginning of this process nor can we visualize the end before the attainment. However much we try we would never find the first mango tree nor can we find the last mango tree but we can see how a tree produces the fruit and how the fruit produces another tree.

As an example let us think that there is a mango tree in our compound. This mango tree bears a fruit, from the time that this fruit was born and upto the time it fell what has it been doing? Did it just exist? No.

It protects, feeds and nourishes the germ to produce another tree in the future. As the germ grows and matures the food content covered and protected by the peel also increase and mature. When it is fully matured it falls to ground. While falling too this process continues. Even after falling it continues.

Though the fruit has fallen and though the fruit may decay the germ or the energy it has to produce another tree does not die. Once it comes into contact with the earth being nurtured by the four primary Elements - Pathavi (the earth element) Apo (the watery element) Tejo (the heat element) Vàyo (the wind element) it produces another tree of the same kind namely another mango tree.

The separation of the fruit is like the death. Its contact with the earth is birth. There is no interval as such between the tree and the fruit and the fruit and tree. It continues to grow. Thus from the day the fruit was born by the tree and up to the producing of another tree, similarly within the human mind there is an energy to produce another being. Similarly human being may die but the energy to be reborn does not die completely. It grows gradually. But it faces to the momentary decay and death, as (uppàda, tithi, bhaïga) genetic, static and dissolving. This energy is craving and ignorance and the resultant Karmas or action, which will continue to accumulate till one gets rid of all defilements with the rise of wisdom and the resultant cessation of craving and kamma which will put an end to rebirth ultimately reach Nibbàna.

This process can be thus elaborated :-
Ignorance and craving-attachment-kamma-rebirth
Wisdom-no craving-detachment-no kamma-no rebirth.
This existence of beings is thus determined.
Kammàvipàkà vattanti
Vipakàkamma sambhavo
Tasmà punabbhavo hoti
Evaü loko pavattati
(Visuddhi Magga)

Because of action cause and craving a being is born. After birth too he accumulates kamma craving and cause. Therefore he is reborn. Thus the Saüsàra or the continuity of life prevails. It is called the Kamma Niyama and it also related to the Citta Niyamaya.

Khandhàna¤ca patipàtã
Dhatu ayatanàna ca
Abbocchinnaü vattamànaü
Saüsàroti pavuccati.

Saüsàra Round of Rebirth, is the unbroken chain of the five-fold Khandha-combination, or aggregates which constantly are changing from moment to moment follow continuously one upon the other through inconceivable periods of time.

Although there is a division of time into past, present and future everybody is living now. We do not live in the past or in the future. We cannot exactly say it is the present. But it moves forward as in the case of the second arm of a watch or as in case of figures that take place in an electronic wrist watch.

Thus what goes to the future is present what goes to the past is also the present. When it goes forward the mind and matter grow. When it goes backwards the mind and matter decay. So growth actually means decay. Thus from the time of birth the mind and matter decay. It is a dual process.

Yathà idaü Nàma Råpaü
Paccayato bhavissati
Evantãtepi nàgate
Abhavittha bhavissati.
( Paññhàna)

Just as now mind and matter exist with cause, they existed even in the past, in future also they will exist.

What the dual process, one can understand by this example is someone travels from Colombo to Anuradhapura by train. When he travels by train he can see the train is moving fast forward and the trees and buildings are moving backward. The same thing happen to our mind and matter.

This is known as Anicca or impermanency. Because of the nature of imperanency there is suffering because of the presence of a mind. Where there is only matter there is no suffering because of the absence of a mind. So where there is a mind and matter there is impermanency and suffering and nothing else. There is no permanent entity in the form of soul or spirit. What prevails is Anàtma (Anicca, Dukkha Anatta).

The Buddha has also mentioned the fact that whatever kamma that we accumulate in this life are being carried over to the next.

Ya¤ca karoti kàyena
Vàcàya uda cetasà
Tamhi tassa sakaü hoti
Ta¤ca àdàya gacchati.
Ta¤cassa anugaühoti
Chàyàva anapàyinã
(Kosala Sanyutha)

Whatever wholesome or unwholesome (kusala, akusala) Kammas that one accumulates by the way of mind speech or action in this life are being carried over to the next.

Eso nidhã sunihito
Ajeyya anugàmiko
Pahàya gamanãyesu
Etaü àdàya gacchati.
(Nidhi Kandha Sutta)

Whatever good or bad kammas that you have accumulated, like a treasure, cannot be taken away from you. It follows you and is being carried by you to the next life. How do we carry over these good or bad kammas?

Let us now examine this and the results we derive when we carry over those Kammas to the next life. Let us take the example of the mango tree to elaborate this as well.

If the mango tree in our compound is of "Gira" variety when a fruit that is detached from the branch falls to the ground and produces another mango tree also would be of the "Gira" variety and the fruit that is born by this tree will have the same qualities of the mango fruit that originally fell from the tree. It will also have the same taste and the same shape. This shows that the taste qualities and shape are being carried forward.

Similarly beings also carry forward whatever good or bad kamma that one accumulates in this life and this kamma will determine the nature of the next life.

Suvaõõatà sussuratà
Susanthàõa susråpatà
âdipacca parivàrà
Sabba metena labbhati - (same Sutta)

Golden complexion, softness, correct features, pleasant qualities, leadership and retinue are derived from good kammas.

Mànusikà ca sampattã
Deva loke ca yàrati
Yàca nibbàõa sampatti
Sabba metena labbhati - (same Sutta)

Not only this all comforts and pleasures of the human world and all comforts and pleasures of the world of Devas, ultimately Nibbàna will be achieved by such meritorious actions or kusala kammas which are being carried forward from life to life.

Yàdisaü vapate bãjaü
Tàtisaü harate phalaü
Kalyaõakàrã kalyàõaü
Pàpakàrã ca pàpakaü -
(Saüyutta Nikàya)

As you saw, so shall you reap. Good action promotes good results. Bad action promotes bad results.

The mango fruit fell under the same tree. But the ground is not fertile and as such it does not grow properly. It may be a fruitless tree and that depends on the place, where the fruit has fallen.

Someone takes away this mango fruit and plants it in his garden where the place is fertile. He adds compost and waters it. It grows properly. It bears fertile mango fruit. The fertility or infertility depends on the place.

Even so according to the good and bad kamma we will be reborn in hell or heaven. The happiness and unhappiness depend on the place where he was born.

The four Modes of Birth are :

  1. Egg-born creatures (Andaja), such as birds, snakes, etc.
  2. Womb-born creatures (Jalàbuja), all human beings, some earth-bound deities, and those animals that take their conception in a mother's womb, belong to this class.
  3. Moisture born creatures (Saüsedaja) such as certain insects that that take moisture as materials for their growth.
  4. Creatures having spontaneous births (Opapatikà). They are generally invisible to the naked eye. Conditioned by past kamma, they appear suddenly, independently of parents. Bramas, Devas of heavenly realms, Petas, and miserable ones who are subject to torments and sufferings in states of woe (Niraya) are included in this class.

According to Buddhism there are five natural orders or processes (Niyàmas) which operate in the physical and mental realms. There are :-

  1. Utu Niyàma, physical inorganic order! eg. the seasonal phenomena of winds and rains, the unerring order of seasons, characteristic seasonal changes and events, the causes of wind and rains, the nature of heat etc.
  2. Bãja Niyàma :- (physical organic order) order of germs and seeds; e.g. rice produced from rice seed, sugar taste resulting from sugar-cane or honey, the peculiar characteristics of certain fruits, etc. The scientific theory of cells and genes and the physical similarity of twins may be ascribed to this order.
  3. Kamma Niyàma : order of act and result, e.g. desirable and undesirable acts produce corresponding good and bad results. As surely as water seeks its own levels, so does Kamma, given opportunity, produce its inevitable result in the form of rewards or punishments but as an innate sequence. This sequence of deed and effect is as natural and necessary as the way of the sun and the moon.
  4. Dhamma Niyàma : order of the norm: e.g. the natural phenomena occurring at the advent of a Bodhisatta in his last birth. Gravitation and other similar laws of nature, the reason for being good, and so forth, may be included in this group.
  5. Citta Niyàma: order of mind or psychic law. e.g. processes of consciousness, arising and perishing of consciousness, constituents of consciousness, power of mind, etc, Telepathy and telesthesis, retrocognition, premonition, clairvoyance, clairaudience, through reading - all psychic phenomena which are inexplicable to modern science are included in this class.

(Manual of Buddhism)

Activities of mind,

Patisandhi bhavaïga vãthiyo
Cuticeva tathàa bhavantare
Puna patisandhi bhavaïga miccayaü
Parivattati citta Santatiü.
(Vihanga Atthakata)

Just as rebirth, life continuum, processes of thought and decease occur in this existence, even so will rebirth, life-continuum, processes of thought and decease occur in the next existence. Thus will this conscious continuum turn round incessantly.

So to those who have thus got rebirth, the same kind of consciousness, as attended rebirth, occupied with the same field of objects, starting straight away after the moment of rebirth, goes on in the absence of any process of cognition, in unbroken flux like the stream of a river till the uprising of death-consciousness. And this full of mind, because it is a condition of being, it called continuance of the condition of being. At end, by reason of doing, it becomes consciousness of re-decease and then ceases. After that, rebirth-consciousness and the rest, revolving according to circumstances, like the wheel of a chariot, go on and on. (From the four essential doctrines of Buddhism).