Tuesday Reading Material

Releasing into Natural Mind at Peace | 7 . 10 . 18

NaturalMindPeace

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Bhāra Sutta: The Burden

Pali CanonSN 22.22 PTS: S iii 25
Translation: K. Nizamis

At Sāvatthī… There the Blessed One said this:

“I will teach you, the burden, the bearer of the burden, the taking up of the burden and the putting down of the burden. Hear this.

“And whatt is the burden? That of which it should be said: the five clung-to aggregates. “Which five?
1.The form clung-to aggregate,
2. the feeling clung-to aggregate,
3. the perception clung-to aggregate,
4. the formative mental functions clung-to aggregate,
5. the sensory consciousness clung-to aggregate. This, monks, is called the burden.

And what is the burden-bearer? It is the individual person, who is this venerable one, of such a name, of such ancestry. This, monks, is called the burden-bearer.

“And what is the taking up of the burden? That which is this craving leading to rebirth, connected with delight and passion, finding delight here and there: namely,
– craving for sensual pleasure,
– craving for being,
– and craving for extinction.
This is called the taking up of the burden.

“And what is the putting down of the burden? That is this – release of craving,
– it is cessation by means of the absence of desire without remainder:
– the abandoning, the forsaking, the freedom, the non-attachment.
That is called the putting down of the burden.”

This said the Blessed One. Having said this, the Fortunate One, the Teacher, furthermore said this:

Ah, surely, the five aggregates are burdens,
And the individual person is the burden-bearer;
Taking up the burden is suffering in the world,
Putting down the burden is bliss.

Having put down the heavy burden,
Without taking up another burden,
Pulling out craving along with its root,
One is without hunger, fully extinguished.

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Cetana Sutta An Act of Will

Pali Canon AN 11.2 PTS: A v 312
Translation: Thanissaro Bhikkhu

“For a person endowed with virtue, consummate in virtue, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May freedom from remorse arise in me.’ It is in the nature of things that freedom from remorse arises in a person endowed with virtue, consummate in virtue.

“For a person free from remorse, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May joy arise in me.’ It is in the nature of things that joy arises in a person free from remorse.

“For a joyful person, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May rapture arise in me.’ It is in the nature of things that rapture arises in a joyful person.

“For a rapturous person, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May my body be serene.’ It is in the nature of things that a rapturous person grows serene in body.

“For a person serene in body, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May I experience pleasure.’ It is in the nature of things that a person serene in body experiences pleasure.

“For a person experiencing pleasure, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May my mind grow concentrated.’ It is in the nature of things that the mind of a person experiencing pleasure grows concentrated.

“For a person whose mind is concentrated, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May I know & see things as they actually are.’ It is in the nature of things that a person whose mind is concentrated knows & sees things as they actually are.

“For a person who knows & sees things as they actually are, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May I feel disenchantment.’ It is in the nature of things that a person who knows & sees things as they actually are feels disenchantment.

“For a person who feels disenchantment, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May I grow dispassionate.’ It is in the nature of things that a person who feels disenchantment grows dispassionate.

“For a dispassionate person, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May I realize the knowledge & vision of release.’ It is in the nature of things that a dispassionate person realizes the knowledge & vision of release.

“In this way,
– Dispassion has knowledge & vision of release as its purpose, knowledge & vision of release as its reward.

– Disenchantment has dispassion as its purpose, dispassion as its reward.

– Knowledge & vision of things as they actually are has disenchantment as its purpose, disenchantment as its reward.

– Concentration has knowledge & vision of things as they actually are as its purpose, knowledge & vision of things as they actually are as its reward.

– Pleasure has concentration as its purpose, concentration as its reward.

– Serenity has pleasure as its purpose, pleasure as its reward.

– Rapture has serenity as its purpose, serenity as its reward. Joy has rapture as its purpose, rapture as its reward.

– Freedom from remorse has joy as its purpose, joy as its reward. Skillful virtues have freedom from remorse as their purpose, freedom from remorse as their reward.

“In this way, mental qualities lead on to mental qualities, mental qualities bring mental qualities to their consummation, for the sake of going from the near to the Further Shore.”

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Anana Sutta: Debtless

AN 4.62 PTS: A ii 69
translation: Thanissaro Bhikkhu

“And what is the bliss of [making use of] wealth? There is the case where the son of a good family, using the wealth earned through his efforts & enterprise, amassed through the strength of his arm, and piled up through the sweat of his brow, righteous wealth righteously gained, partakes of his wealth and makes merit. When he thinks, ‘Using the wealth earned through my efforts & enterprise, amassed through the strength of my arm, and piled up through the sweat of my brow, righteous wealth righteously gained, I partake of wealth and make merit,’ he experiences bliss, he experiences joy. This is called the bliss of [making use of] wealth.

“And what is the bliss of debtlessness? There is the case where the son of a good family owes no debt, great or small, to anyone at all. When he thinks, ‘I owe no debt, great or small, to anyone at all,’ he experiences bliss, he experiences joy. This is called the bliss of debtlessness.

“And what is the bliss of blamelessness? There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones is endowed with blameless bodily kamma, blameless verbal kamma, blameless mental kamma. When he thinks, ‘I am endowed with blameless bodily kamma, blameless verbal kamma, blameless mental kamma,’ he experiences bliss, he experiences joy. This is called the bliss of blamelessness.

“These are the four kinds of bliss that can be attained in the proper season, on the proper occasions, by a householder partaking of sensuality.”

Knowing the bliss of debtlessness,
& recollecting the bliss of having,
enjoying the bliss of wealth, the mortal
then sees clearly with discernment.
Seeing clearly — the wise one —
he knows both sides:
that these are not worth one sixteenth-sixteenth
of the bliss of blamelessness.

 

Right Action & Karma | 7 . 3 . 18

HandTouchWater

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Right Actions

Body
Refrain from taking the life of any being
Refrain from taking what is not freely given
Refrain from inappropriate sexual conduct
Speech
Refrain from lying
Refrain from divisive speech
Refrain from using harsh words
Refrain from idle talk (gossip)
Mind
Refrain from coveting other’s possessions
and positions (greed)
Refrain from resenting the good fortune of others
(hatred/jeaoulsy)
Refrain from holding a closed mind about things
one doesn’t fully understand (ignorance/delusion)
_____________________

Intentional Action [kamma (Skt: karma)]

 

Pali Canon Pali Canon — MN 61
Reflecting on one’s actions
(The Buddha teaches his young son)

[The Buddha:] “What do you think, Rahula: What is a mirror for?”

[Rahula:] “For reflection, sir.”

[The Buddha:] “In the same way, Rahula, bodily acts, verbal acts, and mental acts are to be done with repeated reflection.

“Whenever you want to perform a bodily act, you should reflect on it: ‘This bodily act I want to perform — would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful bodily act, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful bodily act with painful consequences, painful results, then any bodily act of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do. But if on reflection you know that it would not cause affliction… it would be a skillful bodily action with happy consequences, happy results, then any bodily act of that sort is fit for you to do.

“While you are performing a bodily act, you should reflect on it: ‘This bodily act I am doing — is it leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful bodily act, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it is leading to self-affliction, to affliction of others, or both… you should give it up. But if on reflection you know that it is not… you may continue with it.

“Having performed a bodily act, you should reflect on it… If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful bodily act with painful consequences, painful results, then you should confess it, reveal it, lay it open to the Teacher or to a knowledgeable companion in the holy life. Having confessed it… you should exercise restraint in the future. But if on reflection you know that it did not lead to affliction… it was a skillful bodily action with happy consequences, happy results, then you should stay mentally refreshed and joyful, training day and night in skillful mental qualities.

…[similarly for verbal and mental acts]…

“Rahula, all the brahmans and contemplatives in the course of the past who purified their bodily acts, verbal acts, and mental acts, did it through repeated reflection on their bodily acts, verbal acts, and mental acts in just this way.

“All the brahmans and contemplatives in the course of the future… All the brahmans and contemplatives at present who purify their bodily acts, verbal acts, and mental acts, do it through repeated reflection on their bodily acts, verbal acts, and mental acts in just this way.

“Therefore, Rahula, you should train yourself: ‘I will purify my bodily acts through repeated reflection. I will purify my verbal acts through repeated reflection. I will purify my mental acts through repeated reflection.’ Thus you should train yourself.”

____________________

Five pleasant things to be gained by acting skillfully

Pali Canon — AN 5.43

“These five things are welcome, agreeable, pleasant, and hard to obtain in the world. Which five? Long life… beauty… pleasure… status… rebirth in heaven… Now, I tell you, these five things are not to be obtained by reason of prayers or wishes. If they were to be obtained by reason of prayers or wishes, who here would lack them? It’s not fitting for those who desires long life to pray for it or to delight in doing so. Instead, one who desires long life should follow the path of practice leading to long life (actions). In so doing, one will attain long life, either human or divine…(Same instruction for beauty, pleasure, status, and rebirth in heaven).
_____________________

The most noble kamma of all: the ending of kamma

Pali Canon — AN 4.235

“These four types of kamma have been directly realized, verified, & made known by me. Which four? There is kamma that is dark with dark result. There is kamma that is bright with bright result. There is kamma that is dark & bright with dark & bright result. There is kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma.

“And what is kamma that is dark with dark result? There is the case where a certain person fabricates an injurious bodily fabrication, fabricates an injurious verbal fabrication, fabricates an injurious mental fabrication. Having fabricated an injurious bodily fabrication, having fabricated an injurious verbal fabrication, having fabricated an injurious mental fabrication, he rearises in an injurious world. On rearising in an injurious world, he is there touched by injurious contacts. Touched by injurious contacts, he experiences feelings that are exclusively painful, like those of the beings in hell. This is called kamma that is dark with dark result.

“And what is kamma that is bright with bright result? There is the case where a certain person fabricates a non-injurious bodily fabrication… a non-injurious verbal fabrication… a non-injurious mental fabrication… He rearises in a non-injurious world… There he is touched by non-injurious contacts… He experiences feelings that are exclusively pleasant, like those of the Ever-radiant Devas. This is called kamma that is bright with bright result.

“And what is kamma that is dark & bright with dark & bright result? There is the case where a certain person fabricates a bodily fabrication that is injurious & non-injurious… a verbal fabrication that is injurious & non-injurious… a mental fabrication that is injurious & non-injurious… He rearises in an injurious & non-injurious world… There he is touched by injurious & non-injurious contacts… He experiences injurious & non-injurious feelings, pleasure mingled with pain, like those of human beings, some devas, and some beings in the lower realms. This is called kamma that is dark & bright with dark & bright result.

“And what is kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma? right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is called kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma.”

 

Buddha Recalls His Past Lives | Karma’s Origins | 6 . 26 . 18

Fire

 

Buddha’s Awakening

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– Pali Canon, Mahjima Nikaya

“Unflagging persistence was aroused in me, and unmuddled mindfulness established. My body was calm & unaroused, my mind concentrated & single. Quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, I entered & remained in the first jhana:

1. rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.

With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, I entered & remained in the second jhana:

2. rapture & pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance.

With the fading of rapture I remained in equanimity, mindful & alert, and physically sensitive of pleasure.
I entered & remained in the third jhana:

3. of which the noble ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, one has a pleasant abiding.’

With the abandoning of pleasure & pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — I entered & remained in the fourth jhana:

4. purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain.

“When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of recollecting my past lives. I recollected my manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two… five, ten… fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand, many eons of cosmic contraction, many eons of cosmic expansion, many eons of cosmic contraction & expansion: ‘There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.’ Thus I remembered my manifold past lives in their modes & details.

“This was the first knowledge I attained in the first watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed; knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed; light arose — as happens in one who is heedful, ardent, & resolute.

“When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of the passing away & reappearance of beings. I saw — by means of the divine eye, purified & surpassing the human — beings passing away & re-appearing, and I discerned how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their kamma: ‘These beings — who were endowed with bad conduct of body, speech & mind, who reviled noble ones, held wrong views and undertook actions under the influence of wrong views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. But these beings — who were endowed with good conduct of body, speech, & mind, who did not revile noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the good destinations, in the heavenly world.’ Thus — by means of the divine eye, purified & surpassing the human — I saw beings passing away & re-appearing, and I discerned how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their kamma.

“This was the second knowledge I attained in the second watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed; knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed; light arose — as happens in one who is heedful, ardent, & resolute.

“When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of the ending of the mental fermentations. I discerned, as it had come to be, that ‘This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress… This is the way leading to the cessation of stress… These are fermentations… This is the origination of fermentations… This is the cessation of fermentations… This is the way leading to the cessation of fermentations.’ My heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, was released from the fermentation of sensuality, released from the fermentation of becoming, released from the fermentation of ignorance. With release, there was the knowledge, ‘Released.’ I discerned that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’

“This was the third knowledge I attained in the third watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed; knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed; light arose — as happens in one who is heedful, ardent, & resolute.

“Now, brahman, if the thought should occur to you, ‘Perhaps Gotama the contemplative is even today not free of passion, not free of aversion, not free of delusion, which is why he resorts to isolated forest & wilderness dwellings,’ it should not be seen in that way. It’s through seeing two compelling reasons that I resort to isolated forest & wilderness dwellings: seeing a pleasant abiding for myself in the present, and feeling sympathy for future generations.”

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Alaya-vijnana | Buddhist Concept

(Similiar to Akashic Record)
– Source: Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

Alaya-vijnana, (Sanskrit: “storehouse consciousness”) key concept of the Mahayana Buddhism.

Since this school maintains that no external reality exists, while retaining the position that knowledge, and therefore a knowable exists—it assumes that knowledge itself is the object of consciousness. It therefore postulates a higher storage consciousness, the final basis of the apparent individual.

The universe consists in an infinite number of possible ideas that lie in wait as potential, in storage. That storage consciousness contains all the past impressions of previous experiences (vasanas, “perfumings”), which form the seeds (bija) of future karmic action­—an illusive force that creates displays that are in fact only fictions. That illusive force (maya) determines the world of difference (duality) that belongs to human nature, producing the erroneous notions of an I and a non-I. That illusion of duality is disolved only by awakening which extinguishes the fuel of rebirth.

(The fuel of rebirth is the karmic wheel of craving and clinging caused by ignorance.)
________________________________________

Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

The source of our perception, our way of seeing, lies in our store consciousness (Alaya-vijnana). If ten people look at a cloud, there will be ten different perceptions of it. Whether it is perceived as a dog, a hammer, or a coat depends on our mind — our sadness, our memories, our anger. Our [karmic] perceptions carry with them all the errors of subjectivity.

– The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Parallax Press,

All About Karma and Rebirth | Part Three 6 . 19 . 18

KarmaPartThreeWEB

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Q&A with Thanissaro Bhikku

16. But how could a human mind possibly know these things? (to understand karma and rebirth work) There are two ways to answer this question: the typical way and the Buddha’s way. The typical way— which has been typical from ancient India until now—is to define what a human being is, or what the mind is, and from that definition to decide what a human mind can know. If, for instance, you define the mind as just a brain, and a brain is just a bunch of atoms, there’s not much that it can know for sure. But the Buddha’s approach was the other way around. As he said, if you define yourself, you place limitations on yourself. So instead of starting out with a definition of the mind, he explored the skills that the mind could develop, to see what those skills could enable it to know. That’s how he learned that there was a lot more to the mind than he had originally thought, and that it was capable of knowing many things that he hadn’t imagined possible. By his example, he’s showing how to drop some of your own cultural baggage—such as materialistic, Romantic, or Judeo-Christian views of what you are—and to try on views that will allow you to test whether he was right: by developing the same skills he did.
17. Can’t I just be an agnostic about karma and rebirth, and practice without taking a position on these issues? Even though you can’t know the truth of karma and rebirth prior to your first taste of awakening, you’re placing bets on these issues all the time. Every time you act, you’re calculating whether the results will be worth the effort. The fact that you’re expecting results means you believe in the power of karma to at least some extent. Even if you deny that you’re acting with any expectation of results, part of the mind is calculating that your denial will give good results of one sort or another. If you do something you know is unskillful, but tell yourself it won’t matter, you’re taking a position against karma. If your calculation of the results doesn’t include the possibility that they could extend into future lifetimes, you’re taking a position against rebirth. So you’re taking positions on these issues all the time. The Buddha’s simply pointing out that you’ll benefit from adopting his position consciously and consistently.
18. But karma and rebirth focus on past and future. Doesn’t the dharma teach us to focus totally on simply being mindful—fully present—in the present moment? The Buddha talks about the importance of focusing on the present moment only in the context of karma: You focus on the present because you know that there’s work to be done in training the mind in developing skillful present intentions, and you don’t know how much more time you have to accomplish that training. If you don’t train it now, you’ll suffer both now and on into the future. And it’s important to note that mindfulness doesn’t mean being fully present in the present moment. It means keeping something in mind. Right mindfulness means keeping in mind lessons from the past—either teachings you’ve learned from others, or lessons you’ve learned from your own experience—so that you can apply them skillfully in shaping your present intentions. When the Buddha discusses karma, his references to past and future almost always come back to the present. He discourages people from asking what particular actions led to their present state, or what particular future state they can expect from their current actions. Instead, he asks them to keep the general principle in mind—that skillful actions lead to good results, and unskillful actions to bad—and to focus on being as skillful as possible in the present moment, ideally for the sake of reaching awakening through the level of skill that puts an end to karma. So the present isn’t divorced from the past and future in the practice. It’s tied to the past and future through the dynamics of karma, and the goal of the practice is to get beyond past, present, and future entirely.
19. Why focus on issues of skillful and unskillful actions when we can instead open up to the sense of emptiness or space that already surrounds us? That emptiness is conditioned. It, too, is the result of actions—subtle perceptions, but actions nonetheless. The freedom that’s truly unconditioned lies right next to our freedom of choice in the present moment. The only way to know unconditioned freedom is to get more sensitive to our freedom of choice. And we do that best by trying to get more sensitive to what’s skillful and what’s unskillful in our actions. As this sensitivity develops, we’ll be in a better position to judge when we’re still making subtle choices, and when we’re experiencing something in which no act of intention was involved at all.
20. Does this mean that awakened people have no intentions? There’s no intention at the moment of awakening. But when fully awakened people return to the world of the senses, they do experience old karma. They also have new intentions, but they disolve the potential for those intentions to yield karmic results. As the Buddha did, they disolve the seeds as they arise. But to understand what that means, you have to gain awakening yourself!
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Pali Canon | The Buddha

SN 44.9 PTS: S iv 398
CDB ii 1392
Kutuhalasala Sutta: With Vacchagotta
Question:
“And at the moment when a being sets this body aside and is not yet reborn in another body, what do you designate as its sustenance then?”
Buddha’s Answer:
“Vaccha, when a being sets this body aside and is not yet reborn in another body, I designate it as craving-sustained, for craving is its sustenance at that time.”
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Pali Canon | The Buddha

AN 5.57 PTS: A iii 71
Upajjhatthana Sutta: Subjects for Contemplation
Considers this: I am not the only one who is owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator; but also one who — whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.
To the extent that there are beings — past and future, passing away and re-arising — all beings are the owner of their actions, heir to their actions, born of their actions, related through their actions, and have their actions as their arbitrator.
Whatever beings do, for good or for evil, to that will they fall heir.’ When one often reflects on this, the path takes birth.
One sticks with that path, develops it, cultivates it. As one sticks with that path, develops it and cultivates it, the fetters are abandoned, the obsessions destroyed.
Subject to birth, subject to aging, subject to death,
ordinary people are repelled by those who suffer
from that to which they themselves are subject.
And if I were to be repelled by those who are repelled, that would not be fitting for me to act as they do.
As I maintained this attitude, knowing the Dhamma
without paraphernalia, I overcame all intoxication with health, youth, & life
—as one who sees renunciation as rest.

All About Karma & Rebirth | Part Two of Three | 6 . 12 . 18

CityReflection

Everything you wanted to know about karma but were afraid to ask

– Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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10. Other people’s actions are experienced through the senses, which are shaped by your old karma. But you say that people have freedom to choose their actions in the present. Isn’t there a conflict here? Like you, other people are free to choose their intentions in the present, but you don’t directly experience their intentions. You experience actions inspired by their intentions, and how you experience those actions will be filtered by your past and present karma. Your good seeds may sprout in time to help you not to suffer from someone’s bad intentions toward you, or your bad seeds may be sprouting in a way that interferes with their efforts to help you.
Lotus Bud. Courtesy of Hiroshi Wantanabe/Gallerystock.
Courtesy of Hiroshi Wantanabe/Gallerystock.
11. Can the Buddha’s teachings on karma be divorced from his teachings on rebirth? Not really. If there were no life before birth, karma would have no role in explaining pleasure and pain early in life. And as the Buddha said, many people are rewarded in this lifetime for doing unskillful things—he cited people who kill the enemies of a king, or who steal from an enemy of a king, or tell a lie that entertains a king—and you can probably think of similar examples in modern politics. Sometimes the results don’t even show in the next lifetime— because the causal principle underlying karma is so complex.
12. But karma and rebirth are metaphysical issues. Didn’t the Buddha avoid metaphysical issues? There’s no word for “metaphysics” in ancient Indian languages. The Buddha avoided two sorts of issues that we would call metaphysical—the size of the cosmos and the identity of the self—because they were distractions on the path. But because he taught a path of action to put an end to suffering, he had to explain the metaphysics of action: whether it’s real, whether it gives results, what determines those results, and how far action goes in causing suffering in the first place. If he hadn’t taken a stand on these matters, he wouldn’t have been able to explain how action had the power to bring suffering to an end.
13. If there’s no self, what gets reborn? The Buddha never said that there is no self. He also never said that there was a self. The whole question of whether or not the self exists was one he put aside. There’s a common misconception that the Buddha started with the idea of there being no self and, in the context of no self, taught the doctrine of karma, which makes no sense: If there’s no self, nobody does the karma and nobody receives the results, so actions wouldn’t matter. But that’s putting the context backward. Actually, the Buddha started with the reality of karma and then viewed ideas of “self” and “not-self ” as types of karma within that context. In other words, he focused on seeing the way we define our sense of self as an action. Then the question becomes this: When is the activity of identifying things as your self skillful, and when is it not? When is the activity of identifying things as not-self skillful, and when is it not? Similarly with rebirth: He avoided talking about what gets reborn—which, however you defined it, wouldn’t be anything you were responsible for anyway—and instead focused on how it happens, as a process. Because the process is a type of karma, this is something you are responsible for, and it’s also a skill you can master: either with relative skill, reaching a comfortable rebirth, or with consummate skill, learning how not to be reborn at all.
The Buddha was very clear on the point that some of his teachings couldn’t be proven until you had put them into practice.
14. Didn’t the Buddha teach people to believe only things they can see for themselves? How can people see karma and rebirth for themselves? The Buddha was very clear on the point that some of his teachings couldn’t be proven until you had put them into practice. This means that they have to be adopted as working hypotheses. A discourse on this topic (MN 60) includes teachings on topics like these: karma, the results of karma, fatalism, the experience of formlessness, and the reality of nirvana. In each case, you have to take a position on these issues if you want to put an end to suffering, so you choose whichever side seems most conducive to following a path toward that end. Similarly, when the Buddha was teaching the Kalamas to test views for themselves (AN 3.65), the test was this: When this view is adopted, does it lead to skillful or unskillful actions? So the same principle applies to the teaching on karma and rebirth: If you adopted these views as a working hypothesis, would they lead you to be more careful or less careful about your actions? A good experiment would be to devote a year to living as if you really believed in karma and rebirth, and to see how that affected the way you lived your life.
15. Didn’t the Buddha simply pick up his ideas on karma and rebirth from the culture around him? It’s true that the word karma already existed in his culture, but the questions of whether karma was real, whether it bore results, and whether you had any control over your karma were all hotly debated. Similarly with rebirth: Some people believed in it, others didn’t, and even those who did believe in it didn’t agree as to whether karma had any impact on it. So given that there was no general agreement on these topics, we can’t say that the Buddha simply absorbed his teachings on them unthinkingly from his environment. Instead, he saw on the night of his awakening that people’s intentional actions did have an impact on their rebirth, and that if they didn’t believe in karma and rebirth, they tended to create bad karma that led to the suffering of bad rebirths. That’s why he taught karma and rebirth as the major points of basic right view.

________________________

Pali Canon
The Buddha: On Craving and Rebirth

This sutta begins with an account of birth, noting that the birth of a human being requires not only that the parents have intercourse but also that a “gandhabba” is present. Usually in the Canon, the term gandhabba means a being on the lowest level of the celestial devas. However, the Commentary notes that gandhabba in this context means a being whose kamma enables it to take birth on that occasion, an interpretation supported by a discussion in MN 93.
Excerpt from Sutta: — SN 23.2
By introducing a “being” into the discussion, the Buddha might be suspected of introducing a “what” into his discussion of birth. However, on the level of dependent co-arising, the Buddha did not treat the concept of a “being” as a “what.” His definition of a “being” shows that he recommended that it, too, be regarded as a process:
As he was sitting there, Ven. Rādha said to the Blessed One: “ ’A being,’ it’s said. To what extent is one said to be ‘a being’?”
“Any clinging, obsession, or craving for form Rādha: When one is caught up there, tied up there, one is said to be ‘a being.’
“Any clinging, obsession, or craving for existence, feeling… perception… fabrications…
When one is caught up there, tied up there, one is said to be ‘a being.’

 

 

All About Karma & Rebirth | Part One | 6 . 5 . 18

Everything you wanted to know about karma but were afraid to ask

Click here for PDF: AllAboutKarmaRebirthPartOne6.5.18

– Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Karma and rebirth are often treated as Buddhism’s cultural baggage: a set of Indian beliefs that—either because the Buddha wasn’t thinking carefully, or because his early followers didn’t stay true to his teachings—got mixed up with the dharma even though they don’t fit in with the rest of what he taught. Now that the dharma has come to the West, it’s time, we believe, to leave all this unnecessary baggage unclaimed on the carousel so we can focus on the Buddha’s true message in a way that will speak directly to our own cultural needs. However, the real problem with karma and rebirth is that we tend to misunderstand what these teachings have to say. This is because Buddhism came to the West at the same time as other Indian religions, and its luggage got mixed up with theirs in transit. When we sort out which luggage really belongs to the tradition, we find that the bags marked “Karma” and “Rebirth” actually contain valuables. And to help show how valuable they are, here are my answers to some frequently asked questions on these topics.
1. What is karma? The word karma has two meanings, depending on context. Primarily, it means intentional actions in thought, word, and deed; secondarily, it refers to the results of intentional actions, past or present—results that are shaped by the quality of the intention behind those actions.
2. How do actions determine results? Skillful intentions tend toward pleasant results, and unskillful intentions toward painful results. It’s important to stress the word tend here, since there’s no ironclad, tit-for-tat deterministic connection between an intentional act and its results. The causal principle underlying actions and results is actually very complex. Your present experience is shaped by three karmic factors: the results of past intentions—and this includes all your sense spheres; present intentions; and the results of your present intentions. Past intentions provide you with the raw material or potentials for your present experience, but your present intentions are what shape those raw potentials into your actual experiences. Because the results of many past actions could be offering all sorts of raw materials at any point in time, and because you’re potentially free to create any type of new karma at all, these conditions can interact in many complex ways. In fact, in your experience of the present, your current intention arises prior to your awareness of the senses. Without present intentions, you’d have no experience of space and time. You’d be free from their limitations. On the ultimate level, this fact is what makes awakening possible. On the immediate level, it means that even though you may have bad “karma seeds” from past unskillful intentions ripening in your “karma field,” you have some freedom in how you treat the ripening seeds so that you don’t have to suffer from them. You can be proactive in preventing suffering. This is why we meditate: to sensitize ourselves to our present intentions, some of which are very subtle. This sensitivity enables us to expand the range of our freedom in the present, training the mind in the skills it needs to create positive present karma, to deal positively with the raw material from past negative karma, and eventually to go beyond the karma of intentions entirely.
3. If your intentions influence the quality of the result, does this mean that every action done with good intentions will tend toward a good result? For an intention to give good results, it has to be free of greed, aversion, and delusion. Now, it’s possible for an intention to be well-meaning but based on delusion, in which case it would lead to bad results: believing, for instance, that there are times when the compassionate course of action would be to kill or to tell a lie, or for a teacher to have sex with a student. To give good results, an action has to be not only good but also skillful. This is why the Buddha taught his son, Rahula, to develop three qualities in his actions: wisdom—acting for longterm happiness; compassion—intending not to harm anyone with his actions; and purity—checking the actual results of his actions, and learning from his mistakes so as not to be fooled by an intention that seems wise and compassionate but really isn’t. This is how good intentions are trained to be skillful. Beyond that, there are two main levels of skill: the skillful actions that lead to a good rebirth, and those that lead beyond rebirth entirely, to the deathless.
4. Is it possible to burn off old karma? No. In the Buddha’s times, the Jains believed that they could burn off old karma by not reacting to the pain of their austerities, and the Buddha reserved some of his sharpest ridicule for that belief. As he said, they should have noticed that the pain experienced during their austerities ended when they stopped the austerities, which meant that the pain was the result not of old karma being burned off, but of their present karma in doing the austerities. Still, it is possible to minimize the results of bad past karma. The Buddha compared past bad karma to a big lump of salt (Anguttara Nikaya 3.101). If you put the salt into a small glass of water, you can’t drink the water because it’s too salty. But if you toss it into a large, clean river, it doesn’t make the water of the river too salty to drink. The river stands for a mind that has developed infinite goodwill and equanimity, grown mature in virtue and discernment, and has trained itself not to be overcome by pleasure or pain.
5. Does karma shape everything you experience? The Buddha used the teaching on karma to explain only three things: (1) your experience of pleasure and pain; (2) the level of rebirth you take after death, in terms of such things as your wisdom or lack of wisdom, wealth or lack of wealth, and the length of your life span; and (3) what to do to get out of the cycle of rebirth. The noble eightfold path is this last type of karma: the karma that puts an end to karma. Beyond that, he said that if you tried to work out all the implications of the results of karma, you’d go crazy. Because his teaching deals simply with suffering and the end of suffering, that’s as far as he took the issue.
6. Is it true that “if you want to see a person’s past actions, look at his present condition; if you want to see his future condition, look at his present actions”? That’s much too simplistic. It implies that you have a single karma account, like a bank account, with your present situation showing the running balance. Remember that karma is like seeds in a field. You’re planting karma seeds in your field with every intention, and those seeds mature at different rates. So you’ve got lots of karma accounts at different stages of development. All you can see at any one moment are the seeds that are currently sprouting. As for the other seeds that haven’t yet sprouted, good or bad, you can’t see those at all.
7. Doesn’t the teaching on karma teach people to be callous toward the sufferings of others? Since you have both good and bad seeds in your field that haven’t yet matured, the teaching on karma teaches you to ask this question instead: what’s the wisest way to view other people whose bad seeds are currently sprouting? And the answer is: with compassion. Is your compassion so rarified that you give it only to people who have never done anything wrong? If it were, you wouldn’t find anyone to receive it. So when you see someone suffering, you don’t say, “They deserve it,” and leave them to their suffering. Actions yield results, but nobody “deserves” to suffer. The path is for putting an end to suffering, “deserved” or not. You look for the potential good seeds in other people’s fields that are about to mature, and try to give them whatever aid you can that will help them not to suffer from the bad seeds. After all, that’s how you would like them to treat you when your bad seeds start to mature.
8. But can’t karma be used to justify social injustices? Only by people who don’t really believe in karma. If someone has the karma that tends to poverty or a painful death, there are plenty of natural causes or accidents that will provide an opportunity for that karma to bear fruit. But if you decide to oppress that person economically or bring about his painful death, that bad karma now becomes yours.
9. Don’t people believe in karma just because they want the universe to seem just? If they do, they’re in for a disappointment. When you sow seeds in your karma field, you get the same kind of plant whose seed you sow, but the size of your harvest will vary in line with many other factors—for example, other actions you do before or after, or your state of mind when the seed ripens. This means that a minor action might yield huge results, or a major action, small results. One discourse (Majjhima Nikaya 86) tells of Angulimala, who murdered many people but then had a total change of heart and became an arahant. The only karmic result of all those murders was that people threw things at him when he was on his alms round. The relatives of those he killed probably didn’t think that justice was served, but that was how karma worked in that case. And we’re fortunate that karma isn’t always just. As the Buddha said, if we had to pay back all the bad karma we’ve done in the past before reaching awakening, no one would ever awaken.
To Be Continued Next Week

Rebirth & Current Research

A Commentary on
Rebirth in Early Buddhism and Current Research

Author: Bhikkhu Analayo
Review: Guy Armstrong

5  .  29  .  18

Click here for PDF: Rebirth_CurrentResearch5.29.18

What happens when we die?
This question has vexed us humans for as long as we’ve been able to conceive of a future. Opinions abound. The materialist believes nothing happens; everything simply ends. The eternalist believes we will all have everlasting existence in either eternal joy or misery. The agnostic says we can’t know, so it’s not worth thinking about. Some Buddhists believe we will be reborn, and that the circumstances of one’s rebirth are influenced by past actions. These stances are often strongly held even though, if pressed, those who hold them will admit they don’t actually know.
In Rebirth in Early Buddhism and Current Research, Bhikkhu Analayo, author of the highly regarded book Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realization, approaches this question from multiple perspectives, examining the tenet of rebirth through early discourses of the Buddha, historical debates, accounts of near-death experiences, and modern research. Although Analayo is a deeply committed practitioner and scholar in the tradition of early Buddhism, this is no polemical tract. He writes early on that, while he is sympathetic to the idea of rebirth, “for me personally rebirth is not a crucial issue.”
Analayo’s goal is not to persuade but rather to understand “things as they really are.” As such, he writes in the balanced, dispassionate style of an academic who expects to be challenged on any statement not supported by facts. Yet Analayo does not shy away from controversy, taking up an array of viewpoints on the issue and thoughtfully considering each. This alone makes the book a refreshing approach to a topic often muddied by polarizing opinions.
Rebirth in the Buddha’s Teachings
In Buddhist countries such as Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand, the idea of rebirth is almost universally accepted. But in the West, practitioners are more apt to question tradition and approach foundational teachings with skepticism. Today many Buddhist teachers deny that the Buddha even taught rebirth, arguing that the numerous references to the concept in the early discourses were a later addition. Others claim the Buddha taught rebirth only to conform to the pervasive cultural belief of his day. Analayo begins his investigation by examining these ideas in light of the Buddha’s teachings on rebirth as found in the Pali Nikayas and Chinese Agamas, his sourcebooks for early Buddhism. In so doing, he contends that teachings on rebirth are integrated so fully into the early discourses that they could not have been interpolated later. The Buddha spoke of his recollection of past lives not as a speculative theory but as a truth he realized on the night of his awakening and as an insight available to anyone who trains in the required meditative discipline.
Rebirth was so central to the Buddha’s message that it was part of the standard formula for right view.
Analayo begins by analyzing the role of rebirth in the chain of causal links of dependent arising (paticca samupada), which describes in detail the genesis of suffering. He focuses especially on the link between consciousness and name-and-form. Here “consciousness” refers to the mind’s capacity to have any experience at all, while “name” is the mental capacity for naming elements of sense experience, and “form” refers to the physical body. In one discourse the Buddha asks Ananda, “If consciousness did not enter the mother’s womb, would there be name-and-form?” And Ananda replies, “No.” In other words, the Buddha taught that consciousness, continuing from the previous life, meets with a newly forming embryo in order to make possible the body (form) and cognitive process (name) of the new being.
In the materialist view, a rebirth doctrine would imply a mind-body dualism, which would be unacceptable. As Analayo shows, however, the Buddha’s understanding of the mind-body relationship is more nuanced than either a strictly unitary or strictly dualistic view would permit. The Buddha spoke of the mutual dependency between consciousness and name-and-form, comparing them to two sheaves of reeds leaning against one another. Consciousness, a fundamental aspect of mind, may be somewhat separate from body, but the cognitive process (name) is so closely tied to the body (form) as to be described as just one factor. The Tibetan Wheel of Life painting illustrates this link as two people sharing one boat.
In examining the relationship between consciousness and name-and-form, Analayo in effect refutes the materialist view, widely held in the West, which asserts that mind is simply a byproduct of the functioning of the body that ends completely at death. This belief was also common at the time of the Buddha, who in a list of wrong views in the Brahmajala Sutta called it “annihilationist.” The fact that the Buddha felt compelled to address the annihilationist view refutes the notion that rebirth was universally accepted in ancient India.
Analayo also rejects the assertion that teachings on rebirth were merely acquiescence to a popular cultural belief of the time, pointing out that it was so central to the Buddha’s message that it was part of the standard formula for right view, the first factor of the eightfold path. The Buddha told his disciples that he taught only what he considered essential to awakening: a “handful of leaves” rather than the entire forest he had come to know. If the concept of rebirth were not essential in some way, why would it have been such a prominent part of that handful? Analayo points to its centrality in the Buddha’s description of samsara, the endless cycle of birth and death, with all its attendant suffering. This has provided a compelling motivation for generations of practitioners to dedicate themselves to the goal of full awakening.
Children Who Remember Past Lives
A particularly intriguing section of the book details numerous stories of young children who recounted what they described as memories of previous lives. Such recollections often include precise, verifiable details the children could have no possible way of knowing. Researchers, including Dr. Ian Stevenson at the University of Virginia, have collected thousands of accounts and, when possible, investigated them to assess their accuracy.
A proponent of rebirth might even argue that these stories represent more evidence than materialists have been able to gather in support of their view.
A three-year-old boy in Lebanon recalled having been killed in battle in his former life. He accurately reported how much money the person he had been had in his pockets at the time of his death and identified various personal articles when taken to that person’s home. A two-year-old boy in Turkey claimed he had frozen to death after an airplane crash in his previous life. The person’s family believed the man had died instantly in the crash, but when consulted, a Turkish Airlines official confirmed the man had indeed died from freezing. A two-year-old girl in Thailand remembered living in a monastery in her previous life. When taken there, she knew her way around, recognized a number of monastics, and even detailed what had changed about the buildings in the time since she had lived there. In many such cases, the location of a birthmark on the child’s body is said to correlate with an injury sustained at the time of death in a prior life.
Analayo concludes that “fraud as an explanation for all of them can be safely discarded,” adding that “the body of evidence collected … offers considerable support for the assumption that at least some of these cases do reflect genuine memories of the past.” A proponent of rebirth might even argue that these stories represent more evidence than materialists have been able to gather in support of their view.
The most compelling of the children’s stories is that of Dhammaruwan, a Sri Lankan boy born in 1968. At the age of two, he spontaneously began to sit in meditation and chant for long stretches of time. Eventually someone realized he was chanting Buddhist discourses in Pali, but in a melody and meter more akin to devotional kirtan than to the monotone cadences favored today. The boy explained he had learned the chants in a previous life in India when he served as a reciter monk, one who memorizes sections of the Pali Canon. He said he studied under the renowned monk Buddhaghosa in the fifth century and moved with him to Sri Lanka, where the elder carried out his work of compiling and translating many commentaries, including the Visuddhimagga.
Dhammaruwan’s chants were recorded and circulated, making him famous in Sri Lanka, uncomfortably so for a shy child. By adulthood he had lost the memories of the chants but was still able to recall his impressions of Buddhaghosa, whom he described as a scholar but not a meditator. While the fifth century may be too distant to verify Dhammaruwan’s recollections, Analayo goes to great lengths to analyze the chants themselves to determine whether the child could have learned them by overhearing them in this life. The book includes an exhaustive comparison of the discourses chanted by the child with four different editions of the Pali texts (from Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, and London), establishing that Dhammaruwan’s versions of the texts are not found in any modern source. Therefore, Analyo concludes, the boy had no way of learning them in his current lifetime.
Dhammaruwan is now living as a monk in Sri Lanka under the name Samadhikusala. He was ordained by Bhante Gunaratana.
Buddhism has gained a foothold in the West amid a set of cultural assumptions strongly influenced by both science and Christianity, so it is only natural that the notion of rebirth would not immediately resonate for many practitioners. Yet the doctrine is such an integral part of the Buddha’s teachings that, in the spirit of open-minded inquiry that is a hallmark of the scientific approach, it deserves serious consideration. The rational presentation in Bhikkhu Anālayo’s book is well-suited to this task.
Further Reading
Do You Only Live Once? The Evidence for Rebirth, a profile of reincarnation researcher Jim Tucker
The Tibetan Buddhist View of Death and Rebirth, a teaching by Tibetan Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman
The Buddhist Teachings on Rebirth, a collection of wisdom from ten Buddhist teachers
Reincarnation: Modern Research and Traditional Buddhist Teachings, a comparison
The Rebirth and Reincarnation archives on LionsRoar.com