Future Suffering – Why It Arises

January 22, 2017; revised July 19, 2022

In the subsection “Living Dhamma – Fundamentals,” we mentioned that there are two types of suffering that can be eliminated according to Buddha Dhamma. In that subsection, we discussed and explained how some suffering in this life could be stopped from arising. With this post, we will start a discussion on the second type of suffering associated with future rebirths — which is even more important — can be stopped from arising.

1. Let us first review the existing ideas from other religions and philosophies. First, let us discuss the dominant religious view.

  • Most major religions have a worldview based on three “realms” of existence: the human realm, the heavenly realm, and hell. If one lives according to the religious teachings, one will be happy in heaven forever; if not, one will suffer in hell forever.
  • It does not explain how one is born into the human realm. It could be that the Creator created Adam and Eve, and their descendants are just born. In this view, the sentient beings in this world started at just two and will grow with time. How is that possible?
  • In Hinduism, the “eternal realm of happiness” is not heaven but the Brahma realm (there is only one, where one merges with Mahä Brahma). Also, there is no permanent hell, as I understand.

2. In Chrisitianity, based on whether one lives according to the “particular religious teachings” or not, one will be born in heaven or hell FOREVER.

  • Of course, these religious teachings will vary from one religion to another.
  • Furthermore, even within one religion, they can be changed by a decree from the “head of the Church.”
  • Since all those making those decisions are human, It seems illogical that they can decide on their fate.

3. Turning to philosophy, many people today — especially those who believe that the above religious reasoning is illogical — take the materialistic view that one is born out of inert matter only to die and be recycled back to the Earth. They are the so-called atheists.

  • In this case, the logic would say that one could live immorally since immoral actions to benefit oneself would not have consequences.
  • Still, most who belong to this category live moral lives. They have an innate feeling that morality must be adhered to but cannot explain why.

4. I have discussed the above points in several posts:

5. Buddha Dhamma (true and pure Buddhism) does not belong to the above two categories.

  • The complex worldview of Buddha Dhamma is explained in the subsection “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma.” Still, a brief introduction is in the post, “What Reincarnates? – Concept of a Lifestream“.
  • Briefly, one is born in one of 31 realms of existence. From the beginning-less time, we all have been undergoing this rebirth process. But most times, we are born in the lower four realms filled with suffering; thus, the long-term solution is to stop the rebirth process. This is done in four steps, and at the Arahant stage, one stops the rebirth process.
  • This is not a nihilistic or pessimistic view; see “Nibbāna “Exists”, but Not in This World.”

6. So, that is the background for our discussion. Let us discuss how one can get to Nibbāna or stop future suffering.

  • Some Buddhists believe that Nibbāna can be attained by living a moral life and doing meritorious deeds (puñña kamma).
  • We will now discuss why just living a moral life and doing puñña kamma will not lead to Nibbāna, even though they are necessary parts of the process.

7. We are born in one of the 31 realms due to six root causes (hētu): lōbha, dōsa, mōha and alōbha, adōsa, and amōha. This categorization can be used to look at births in different realms differently.

  • Deeds (kamma) done with lōbha, dōsa, and mōha lead to rebirth in the apāyā (lowest four realms). For these deeds, mōha is always present with either lōbha (preta and asura realms births) or dōsa (niraya or the lowest realm). Births in the animal realms can be due to either.
  • Those deeds are done with one or more alōbha, adōsa, or amōha, leading to rebirth in the higher realms, starting with the human realm.

8. As discussed, for example, in the Dutiyasikkhāpada Sutta (AN 4.236), a verse that summarizes the results of meritorious deeds and immoral deeds is:  “Atthi, bhikkhave, kammaṃ kaṇhaṃ kaṇha vipākaṃ;  kammaṃ sukkaṃ sukka vipākaṃ..”

  • Here the word kaṇha means bad or dark. Sukka means pure or white.
  • So, the word “kaṇhaṃ” in the above verse refers to immoral deeds done with lōbha, dōsa, mōha, and other asobhana cetasika. “Sukkaṃ” implies meritorious deeds done with alōbha, adōsa, amōha, and other sobhana cetasika.
  • How different types of cetasika contribute to either defile or purify our minds is discussed in the subsection, “Living Dhamma – Fundamentals.”

9. In this beginning-less rebirth process, this is how we have been born in almost all of the 31 realms because we keep accumulating both kaṇha vipāka and sukka vipāka. 

  • Furthermore, we have accumulated enough of both kinds to bring about many future births in all those realms.
  • Even if we do not commit a single kaṇha vipāka in this life, we have done enough of them in the past to bring about births in the apāyā in the future. This is a point that not many people understand. Many people have said, “I don’t harm anyone, so I hope to get a good rebirth.” Unfortunately, they are wrong.

10. Punna kamma with “sukka vipāka” leads to two important results in this and future lives that make suitable conditions for attaining Nibbāna:

  • Rebirth in the “good realms” (human realm and above). Attaining Nibbāna- or even working towards it- is possible only in the good realms, especially in the human realm.
  • If done correctly, merits acquired through puñña kamma can lead to a long life (äyusa), flawless sense faculties (vaṇṇa), healthy life without much physical suffering (sukha), and necessary resources to live without hardships (bala). These benefits make suitable conditions for one to focus on attaining Nibbāna. For example, if one is sick or is very poor, it is not easy to follow the Path.

11. On the other hand,  “kaṇha vipāka,” or results of immoral deeds, lead to births in the apāyā where the suffering is intense.

  • We have been born in the human realm due to a good upapatti sukka vipāka.
  • But in this unique human realm, one is subject to both kaṇha vipāka and sukka vipāka as pavutti kamma vipāka that bring results during the lifetime.
  • The way those six root causes lead to rebirths among the 31 realms is discussed in “Kusala and Akusala Kamma, Puñña and Pāpa Kamma.”

12. Births in the human realm could be a tihētuka (“ti” + hētu“, meaning all three of alōbha, adōsa, amōha), dvihētuka (“dvi” + hētu“, meaning alōbha and adōsa), or ahētuka.

  • Those humans with tihētuka births can attain magga phala in this life if they strive enough.
  • Those with dvihētuka births cannot attain magga phala in this life. Since they do not have the amōha root cause, their wisdom level (paññā) cannot grow beyond a certain point. However, they can do puñña kamma and be eligible to be reborn as a human with a tihētuka birth in future lives.
  • Even though the word ahētuka means “without causes,” here it means a weak version of dvihētuka. Here ahētuka means “without sufficiently good hētu” to be able to follow the Path. They are born with obvious mental deficiencies.

13. It is very important to realize that no one (at present) can distinguish between tihētuka and dvihētuka births. On the surface, both types appear the same. For example, there could be people with higher education who are dvihētuka and some with no education who are tihētuka.

  • So, the thing to do is to strive to the best of one’s ability. No matter whether one is tihētuka or dvihētuka, the efforts will pay off in the long run. Furthermore, being tihētuka does not take one automatically to Nibbāna; one has to strive.
  • Furthermore, no one should be discouraged and believe they are dvihētuka if the efforts are not paying off quickly. One prominent example in the Tipiṭaka is the story about the Culapanthaka Thero. He almost disrobed because he could not even memorize a single gāthā after trying hard for months. But with Buddha’s help, he was able to attain Arahanthood in a day and even developed abhiññā powers: “Cūḷa­pantha­ka.”

14. Therefore, by thinking good thoughts, doing good deeds, and by living a moral life, we can improve our chances (but not guarantee) of a good future rebirth. In fact, this is the goal of all major religions (to be born in heaven and live there forever).

  • However, nothing in this world of 31 realms is everlasting. Furthermore, we do not have control over where we will be born in the next life, regardless of how well we live this life.
  • It is important to realize that one or more past bad deeds (kamma vipāka) may still lead to a bad rebirth, and it will be very difficult to again get a good rebirth.
  • This is one aspect of the anicca nature, the futility of believing that there is happiness to be achieved somewhere in this world.
  • The opposite belief that somehow happiness is to be achieved somewhere in this world gives rise to deeply-embedded nicca saññā (a sense of hope) in our minds.
  • One cannot avoid future suffering until one comprehends first that immoral deeds with the nicca saññā lead to kaṇha vipāka and will bring much suffering. Even though moral deeds with the nicca saññā lead to sukka vipāka with happiness, one cannot avoid immoral deeds in the long run, BECAUSE OF this nicca saññā.

15. Therefore, we will never be released from future suffering until we change our wrong view (and the corresponding wrong perception or saññā) that there is happiness to be had in this world.

  • This is the unique message of the Buddha. We will discuss how we can get rid of this nicca saññā and cultivate the anicca saññā in the next post.


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