A Broad View of the “Person” Trying to be a “Better Person”

1. Let us see how and why we act with greed, hate, and ignorance. Stated simply, all we do during a day does not happen by chance. We act based on our “character” AND “our way of thinking about this world”.

  • For example, if one does not believe in a rebirth process, or the law of kamma (that each action has consequences), then it may be easier to seek enjoyment at the expense of other beings.

2. What our character or world view today is due to a complex combination of many things, but the main factors are: (i) sansaric habits (also called gathi and asavas), (ii) biological parents who provide parts of the physical body (this is also related to kamma vipaka), (iii) the environment that one grew up AND the current environment (i.e., physical environment and people one associates with).

  • Even though the complexity of a “person” cannot be reduced to simple things, those are major ones. As the Buddha pointed out in the Sabbasava sutta (see, “Habits, Goals. and Character (Gathi)”), the main things that CAN BE changed NOW are “physical environment and people one associates with” which is a part of (iii) above. If we are talking about a child, then (iii) applies in its entirety.
  • Once these “external influences” are taken care of, next is to purify the mind by “taking in” good things and “discarding” bad things or “anapana“; see, “What is Anapana?“.

3. When we are conceived in the mother’s womb, a “blueprint” of the new life is in the form of a manomaya kaya (which is made of undetectably fine matter) descends to the womb and combines with the zygote formed by the combination of an egg from the mother and the sperm from the father. The manomaya kaya comes with three rupa kalapas called the kaya dasaka (blueprint for the physical body), bhava dasaka (whether male or female), and vatthu dasaka (mind element, which has the “gathi” in it) that were determined by the kamma vipaka that led to the birth; we will discuss these later in the Abhidhamma section.

  • Thus the physical body of the new life is now going to be affected by not only the kaya dasaka, but also the genetic material in the egg and the sperm (DNA of the parents). As the fetus grows, it will also be affected by the food intake by the mother as well as her mental state, home environment, etc. After the birth until death, the physical body (as well as the mind) will be affected by many other factors including the diet and the environment.

4. Thus there is no “unchanging self” either mentally or physically; everything is in constant flux. But one cannot say “there is no-self” either because the character qualities (gathi and asava) that comes in with the manomaya kaya will keep “evolving”; even though they change, there is a continuation of a particular lifestream. Each person or animal that born is unique with a complex set of mental and physical parameters that evolve moment-to-moment like a flowing river; see, “What Reincarnates? Concept of a Lifestream”.

  • We will discuss some of these factors in various sections, but the key point I wanted to get across is the fact that each person has a unique set of character qualities (gathi and asava) that have evolved over uncountable number of lives in the past. And those are the key to one’s destiny. One has the power to change those.

5. What makes one person different from another is this set of “gathi and asava”, which can be loosely translated as, “character qualities and deep-seated cravings”. Some people are calm and quiet while others are rough and boisterous; some like music while other like to watch things or engage in physical activities; the possibilities are endless and there are innumerable combinations of them. That is why each person is different.

  • Hidden in these apparently harmless “habits” and “cravings” are the defilements or the tendencies to engage in certain types of activities that are harmful to oneself or the others.
  • The key is to focus on the glaring character flaws first: if one engaged in activities such as fishing or hunting, that means willfully taking the life of other beings for one’s pleasure. Does that makes sense within the wider world view of any given being repeatedly born in any of the 31 realms? Within that broader view, we can see that any animal, how small or insignificant, has an attachment to its life; and we could have had that very life in the past.
  • Take another example of a transaction between two people. The goal should be to make a decent profit for oneself making sure one covers the cost and make enough profit to “stay in business and provide for the family”, but not to make the transaction too burdensome on the other party. As we discussed in the post, “Kamma, Debt, and Meditation”, one could get into deep debt to other people and beings by exploiting them in many different ways.

6. The easiest way to deal with this is to look at each action mindfully and decide whether that act is “fair” to everyone involved. Of course one could check to see any of the ten defilements (dasa akusala) are committed by that action; see, “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala)“.

  • As I keep saying, one needs to focus on the more extreme violations first. There is no point in worrying about inadvertently killing some insects while gardening if one is engaged in lying and deceit or killing animals for pleasure. It is good to get an idea of the severity of different acts; see, “How to Evaluate Weights of Different Kamma”.

7. This is why it is important to learn Dhamma as much as possible, while engaging in meditation. The Path becomes clear as one learns the subtleties in key Dhamma concepts. I am amazed how much I learn each and every day; it is like a picture becoming clearer by the day. You start to see the even smallest detail, and instead of becoming distraught you get a sense of clarity and peacefulness by cleansing the mind. You realize that no one is perfect until the Arahanthood and the key is to make progress, no matter where you are. Each step in the right direction makes you feel better.

Next, “How Habits are Formed and Broken – A Scientific View“, ……….

 

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