Buddhist view on Rebirth and Kamma

The question of human destiny is probably the most difficult question one can ask. If we do not reject the idea of ​​a possible continuation after death, this will undoubtedly influence how we behave in this life and what we do.

There are three different  views that one can consider :
1. The materialistic point of view is that there is no further life. They say that a man consists of a being made of matter, and that the mind is only a by-product of matter. With death, all consciousness comes to an end. The life process becomes totally extinct and nothing remains but the dead body.

2. The second view is represented by the Western Theistic Religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam. This view represents the belief that there is an eternal life after death. According to these religions, we live a single life in this world, and then after death, in a state of eternal existence, conditioned by our present faith and behavior, we will end either in an eternal heavenly world or in an eternally enduring hell.

3. Then there is a third point of view which we find in Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. This is the idea of ​​rebirth. It is said that this life is only a link in the chain of countless lives that goes far back into the past and farther into the future. This chain of rebirths is called Samara. This word means: continually advancing. It describes the cycle of birth, growth, getting old and death, and repeats itself again and again and again. Buddhism and Hinduism share the concept of rebirth, but the concept in Buddhism differs somewhat from that of Hinduism.

In Hinduism , one proceeds from a permanent soul, a conscious entity that travels from one body to the next. The soul and personality inhabit this body, and when life is extinguished in this body, the soul casts this body off, and continues to take a new body. The Bagavagita compares this to a man who simply changes his suit. The man remains the same, but the suits differ. As such the soul remains the same, from one life to the next.

The Buddhist doctrine is different in this regard. The Buddhist term for rebirth is PUNABBHAVA , which means re-exist. Buddhism does not regard the rebirth as a continuation of a perpetual soul, but as a new emergence of the process of existence. PUNABBHAVA can also be called “re-becoming”. There is, however, a continuity, a transmission of influences, a causal link between one life and another. But there is no soul, no permanent entity, which goes from one life to the next.

The concept of rebirth, without a soul, usually raise certain questions: How can rebirth come about without a self or a soul that is undergoing a process of reincarnation? How can we say that we have lived past lives when there is no soul or self? To understand this, we first need to understand the nature of individual identity in a life where individual identity is possible in a life.

What is individuality according to the teachings of the Buddha?

What we are is a functionally combined combination of 5 clusters. They consist of two basic processes. First there is a material process. A flow of material energy. Then there is the spiritual process, a river of spiritual events. The mind and the spiritual factors, both of these streams, consist of elements which are the object of momentary origin and passing away. What we call the physical body is not a single substantial unity, but a combination of many elements.

The mind, too, is not a single, ongoing ego-unity, but a series of spirited processes. Consists of the so-called spiritual accumulations: feelings, perception, mental designs, and consciousness.
These mental processes or thought moments are called Pali CITTAS, Every Citta is an individual act of the mind, an act of consciousness. Each Citta is created, lingered for an absolutely brief moment, fulfills its task and passes away. When he passes, he does not leave any trace of himself, he has no core or essence that remains. But as soon as this Citta disappears, immediately afterwards a different Citta emerges. Another act of the mind comes to the origin, touches the object of experience and passes away. And so it goes on, one citta after another. And so we see that the mind is a succession of these Cittas, this momentary act of consciousness. When each individual Citta is lost, he conveys to the following whatever impressions arose in him, what experiences he has made. The perceptions, the emotions, the willed actions, all this is relayed to the next Citta. And so each mental process leaves its impression in the constantly flowing consciousness. (the CITTA-SNNTANA , the continuity of consciousness.

This transfer of influences, this causal continuity, gives us a sense of permanence, of identity. Because of this continuity, we remain the same personal being throughout our lives, even if there is no ego or self behind the process. The physical body and the stream of mental processes are closely related. The body provides the basis for the succession of Cittas, the flow of mental processes. The mental process uses the body as its instrumental foundation. When death comes, the body can no longer serve as a physical basis for consciousness.
When the body breaks apart at the moment of death, however, the flow of mental processes does not cease .
In the spirit of the dying man, a last thought will arise, called death consciousness. This last thought moment signals the complete life-ending.

The consciousness of death is followed by another Citta, another act of the Spirit: the first Citta of the new life. And this Citta emerges with a new physical organism as its basis, a freshly fertilized egg. The first Citta of the new life receives the stream of consciousness, which has just left the old deceased body. The stream of consciousness is not a single unit but a process, and the process continues. The consciousness of death is followed by a new moment of consciousness that arises with the new physical organism as its basis. The first act of this consciousness is called PATISANTI-CITTA , ( consciousness of connection).

It is called connection consciousness because it connects the two separate lives together. It belongs to the same continuum. The connection consciousness inherited all the impressions of past experiences, which were made in the stream of the consciousness of a previous existence, and also from all the many lives before. In this way, all impressions are retained and stored in this continuing existence, the individual stream of experience. All these are now transferred to the Citta of the new life. When this first Citta passes, he continues to pass on these accumulated experiences to the second moment, including his own additions. The second reaches it further to the third, the third to the fourth, and so on, from thought moment to thought moment. One Citta follows the other Citta.

From birth to death. When this life comes to an end, the stream of Cittas will carry on to the next life, carrying the stored impressions with it. And so the whole process is repeated ….
We can give an example of how the preservation of our identity can take place without self-identical self-reliance. Imagine a candle burning, say at 8 o’clock and we come back an hour later and see that this candle is still burning, and also see that it is the same candle.

From the viewpoint of conventional linguistic usage, this assertion is also absolutely correct. But when we examine this fact in more detail, we see that this candle burns different parts of the wax at any moment, it burns another part of the wick at any moment, and consumes other parts of the air molecules every minute. As long as the wax, the wick or the oxygen are not consumed, this flame will always be different – from moment to moment. And yet, because the moments of the flame are connected to a continuity – a moment where the flame is burning, the next moment arises – we can say that it is the same flame, and yet the flame is different from moment to moment, }
And this flame in itself is an absolute dependent phenomenon. Conditioned by wax, wick and air. Apart from that, it is actually nothing. A structure, formed because these three components have come together at a certain temperature.

And now we go on to the next step. Suppose the flame reaches the bottom of the candle, and then take a new candle, hold the wick to the flame, and catch the flame of the old candle with the new one. Then the flame of the old candle goes out. The flame has now passed to a new candle. Is it the same flame or other flame?
From a certain point of view, we can say that it is the same flame because it follows a continuity; it belongs to the same series. But now the flame burns with a new physical foundation, a new candle as support. It burns new air particles, new wick pieces, new wax. We can say that it is the same flame as that of the old candle, and yet there is no absolute identity between the one and the other candle, for there is no condition that contributes to this flame which is absolutely identical with the conditions of the previous flame. And also it can not be called another flame. This would be beyond the scope of conventional language usage. Conventionally, we say it is the same flame, although there is no absolute identity;
This example can be applied to the case of rebirth!

The body of the flame is like the physical body of a person. The wick is comparable to the senses, which function as a condition for consciousness processes. The air particles are like the sense objects and the flame is comparable to consciousness. Consciousness always arises with a physical body as a support, and always comes through a certain sense organ: the eye, the nose, the taste. the smell, the sense of touch and the thought. It always has an object. Seen, heard, etc.
The body and organs of the mind are constantly changing, and therefore consciousness also constantly changes with the spiritual factors. But because each mental act, every moment of thought, comes in the order of the preceding, and brings forth the next, because the content of mental impressions, tendencies, predispositions, etc., are passed from one moment to another, we speak of a body-mind connection the same person at different times. We say it is the same woman, the same man, etc.
When the body loses its vitality and death occurs, it is like the first candle that has come to an end. The continuation of the flame to the next candle is like the continuation of the stream of consciousness, the spiritual continuum, to the next life. When the spiritual continuum takes the new body, it is like the continuation of the flame from the old to the new candle. And just as the causal transmission from one candle to another candle is proceeding, similarly, there is a continuation of the mind, the mental process, from one physical body to the next.
The Buddha teaches that this sequence of fertilization can take place, the presence of the current of consciousness, this spiritual process, is absolutely necessary. Without the spirit, or the spiritual continuum, there can be no rebirth. The Buddha says that there must be three necessary conditions for a conception to take place: first, there must be the union of father and mother, secondly, the mother must be receptive, and there is a third condition which the Buddha GANDHABBA called. The GANDHABBA is the stream of the consciousness of the deceased person, the flow of spirit ready to take new birth. {} When these three conditions come together, fertilization may take place. The egg is fertilized and forms the first cells, and the new life process begins.
Here is another question: Is there any causal structure behind this process of rebirth? Or is it simply automatic and unavoidable, or is there a kind of cause underlying this process, nurturing it and sustaining it?

The Buddha teaches that there is a distinct sequence that is subject to the rebirth process that this process has a causal structure. This structure is explained in the doctrine of Conditional Formation. (Paticca-samuppada).

Let us look at this doctrine and explain it in the specific context of the rebirth process.

First of all, in this life the most fundamental root of all is present in us, and that is the ignorance (AVIJJA). And because of our ignorance, we perceive things in a distorted way. Things seem to us to be non-transient, joyous, attractive, and that they are in any relation to us, that they are a self, or a self. Because of these distortions, the desire, the desire, arises in us.
Desire for sensuality, desire for existence, for forms, sounds, smells, tastes, physical touches and ideas. Basically, the desire for pleasant feelings hangs. The Buddha says: feeling requires desire, It is created by experiencing pleasant feelings and we yearn for the continuity of pleasant experiences, and their repetition in the future. In order to have a pleasant feeling, we need a corresponding object. Corresponding forms, sounds, odors, tastes, physical touches and ideas. In order to experience these pleasures that these objects can give us, we must contact these objects. We need contact or touch. And to contact these objects, we need the sense organs that are capable of receiving the sense impression which can function as an instrument of experience. In other words, we need the 6 basis of meaning. In order to be able to see shapes, we need the eyes in order to be able to hear sounds, we need the ears,
The entire psycho-physical organism is required, NAMA-RUPA, ie, the mind-body complex.

The sense organs function not in the bodyless space, but as part of a whole organism. And because of desire, the mind clings to this presently existing organism as long as it lives. Why? So that he has the 6 sense bases to contact pleasant objects through the senses. In order to be able to enjoy the pleasant feelings that arise through the sensory contact. As long as life lasts, we hold fast to the same psycho-physical organism.

When death comes, the body does not provide an adequate foundation to get pleasure through the senses; because the senses depend on the rest of the body. When the life of the body comes to an end, the senses become inactive, they can no longer serve as the mediator between the spirit and the world. But because of this desire, the desire, the mind wants the world. He wants to experience the world of forms, sounds, odors, taste, physical touch and ideas, and to do that he needs a physical body. The old body can no longer do this, no longer support the mind. But as long as desire is still present, the train for pleasure, for more experience, for further existence, for forms, sounds, etc., what can be done? The mind process lets go of this body. But because of the desire for existence, the spirit process takes a new body. And thus the desire brings the spirit stream to emerge again, and to grasp after a fertilized egg, to settle there, and so bring the whole ‘Memory’ of accumulated impressions with itself into the new psycho-physical organism. And so we see how a new being is received.

For this reason, the Buddha calls the desire (or the desires) as a thread. Just as a thread joins the different parts of the material, the desire combines the one life with the next, the successions of the lives are connected to one another. And so SAMSARA , the wandering in the cycle of life, is preserved through the desire. As long as the desire is maintained, the process continues. Death is not an obstacle to the continuity of this process, for the renewal of experience through the 6 senses. Desire is so powerful that it is capable of bridging the gaps created by death and can thus build a new house of sensual existence.