Kamma and Paṭicca Samuppāda – Introduction

March 27, 2020

The uniqueness of Buddha Dhamma (Buddhism)

Kamma and Paṭicca Samuppāda are closely related, with saṅkhāra bridging the gap. We will get to the role of saṅkhāra in the next post.

1. Many Eastern religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism) believe in kamma and rebirth. So, what is the difference in Buddhism?

  • Abrahamic religions do not believe in rebirth. But they also teach that the way to get to a state of permanent happiness is to live a moral life. That means one needs to do good kamma and avoid doing bad kamma.
  • On the other hand, all religions other than Buddhism are based on finding a permanent existence of happiness in a heavenly world. Buddha Dhamma does not promise sensory pleasures in a heavenly realm. Attachment to sensory pleasures is what leads to future suffering.
  • By the way, Buddhism is not a religion. It is a fully self-consistent world view. When one comprehends that world view, one can see a permanent solution to the problem of suffering.
  • Understanding the Four Noble Truths first requires understanding that suffering exists in the rebirth process. That understanding will reveal three more truths at the same time. (i) The Causes of future suffering, (ii) that those causes CAN BE REMOVED, and (iii) the WAY to stop that suffering from arising. Therefore, it is necessary to first understand the “previously unknown suffering” that the Buddha revealed to the world.

2. Buddhism (Buddha Dhamma) says the following.

(i) There is no existence in this world where suffering is absent permanently. There are existences in higher-realms that are almost suffering-free, but they also have limited lifetimes.
(ii) Even if one does good deeds and lives a moral life, one can have bad future births because of kamma from previous lives.
(iii) On the other hand, even if one has lived immorally in this life, it is possible to attain Nibbāna in this life.

  • Those three points may not be clear. In the next few posts, I will address those issues.
  • The answers to those questions will also clarify the following. The Buddha taught that it is not a good starting point to insist on whether a “self” exists or not. Instead, we need to start by investigating how future births (and thus future suffering) arise. Just like in science,
  • Like science, Buddha Dhamma is based on the Principle of Causality. Nothing can happen without causes. Yet, NOT all causes inevitably lead to their outcomes. That is a crucial point to understand too.
Causes and Conditions Bring Future Births

3. If all causes just lead to their consequences, then kamma would lead to deterministic outcomes. For example, some religions teach that immoral deeds WILL lead to their results. So, they try to find ways to remove existing bad kamma. That is what the Buddha also tried to do for six years while striving to attain the Buddhahood.

  • On the night of his Enlightenment, the Buddha discovered that causes could bring their effects (results) ONLY if the right conditions are there. That is Paṭicca Samuppāda, the Principle of Causes and Conditions. But one must understand what those conditions are. That is why Paṭicca Samuppāda is a profound concept.
  • By the way, Paṭicca Samuppāda pronounced, “patichcha samuppaada.” The way Pāli words are written is different from standard English; see, ““Tipiṭaka English” Convention Adopted by Early European Scholars – Part 1” and ““Tipiṭaka English” Convention Adopted by Early European Scholars – Part 2.”
  • Paṭicca Samuppāda explains how causes lead to their effects UNDER suitable conditions. Therefore, we do not need to remove past kamma. We can purify our minds so that CONDITIONS for those bad kamma to bring vipāka will be absent. That is how Angulimāla, who killed almost a thousand people, was able to attain the Arahanthood; see below.
  • Since this principle of CAUSES and CONDITIONS is a crucial point, let us discuss this a bit more with that analogy of a seed.
An Example of the Requirement of Conditions

4. An apple seed has the POTENTIAL to bring an apple tree to life, so the CAUSE is there in the seed.

  • Suppose one prepares a plot by preparing the soil, providing water, and plants the seed there. If sunlight is also available, the apple seed will germinate, and an apple tree will grow. Those are the necessary CONDITIONS for that apple seed to germinate and give rise to an apple tree.
  • However, if one keeps the apple seed in a cool, dry place, it will not germinate, i.e., necessary CONDITIONS are not present in that case for an apple tree to come to life. After a long time, the seed will become a “dud” and will never be able to give rise to a tree.
  • Furthermore, when an apple seed is planted, a mango tree will not result from that, only an apple tree. The RESULT (vipāka) is according to the CAUSE (kamma or more specifically kamma bīja).
Example From Tipiṭaka – The account of Angulimāla

5. In the same way, someone who attains the Arahanthood may have done highly immoral deeds even in the present life. But he/she would have eliminated the CONDITIONS that can bring the results of those deeds to fruition.

  • The account of Angulimāla is a good example to illustrate this point. He had killed almost a thousand people. Thus he had done enough bad kamma to be born in the apāyā many times. Yet he was able to attain the Arahanthood in a few weeks! See, “Account of Angulimāla – Many Insights to Buddha Dhamma.”
  • When one does a bad kamma, a kamma bīja (kamma seed) is created. Under suitable conditions, that kamma seed can “germinate” and lead to a new birth, just as a seed can lead to the birth of a plant. We will discuss how such a kamma seed is created by one’s powerful thoughts (javana citta.)
  • However, unlike in the case of plant seed, even potent kamma CANNOT bring vipāka to an Arahant to bring rebirth. In the case of Angulimāla, the strong bad kamma of killing almost a thousand people was done in the same life that he attained Parinibbāna. At his death, those kammic energies were there, but his mindset would not grasp them, i.e., the “upādāna paccāyā bhava” step in PS would not take place.
  • Of course, we need to discuss that last point in detail in the upcoming posts.

6. Furthermore, the result (if it manifests) is compatible with the kamma. That is analogous to only an apple tree arising due to an apple seed. Akusala kamma (an immoral deed) will only lead to a birth in the apāyā. It will not lead to a birth in the human realm or a higher realm.

  • Similarly, a kusala kamma (a good deed) will not lead to a birth in the apāyā. It will only lead to a birth in a good realm.
  • Most importantly, even if the causes are there, corresponding results (vipāka) would not materialize if necessary conditions are not fulfilled.
  • We all have done uncountable kusala and akusala kamma in our previous lives. We need to be mindful to make conditions for good kamma to bring their vipāka AND for bad kamma not to bring their vipāka.
  • So, we can see why both CAUSES and CONDITIONS play roles in our daily life and in the rebirth process.
“Self” and “No-Self” Are Misleading Concepts

7. We can get some insights about the concept of a “self” from the fact that an Arahant would not have a rebirth. If a permanent “self” existed, it would be impossible for an Arahant to attain Parinibbāna and to end the rebirth process. That means there was no everlasting “self” like a “soul” or an “Atman” or “ātma.”

  • However, that Arahant was possibly born in most of the 31 realms uncountable times in the past. During a human existence, for example, there was a “self” living his/her life. He/she was making his/her decisions.
  • When that Arahant was born an animal, it would have had the mindset of an animal. When born In a Deva realm, that Deva would have enjoyed sensual pleasures for a long time.
  • Therefore, the idea that there is “no-self” while one is living life does not make sense either. There is obviously “a self,” making decisions about how to live life. Even a wild animal has to decide how to get the next meal.

8. We can summarize as follows. While we live this life, we cannot deny that we exist. On the other hand, the idea of a “self” is a temporary one. That ‘self” keeps changing even during life, but will change drastically when grasping a “new bhava.” Thus, it is also not correct to talk about an “everlasting self.”

  • The “sense of a self” goes away entirely only at the Arahant stage. Until then, we need to try to comprehend WHY it is unfruitful to take anything in this world to be “mine.”
  • That does not mean one needs to start giving away everything that one owns. We have responsibilities to fulfill. Furthermore, the “giving” and “letting go” will happen AUTOMATICALLY as the mindset changes. I have personally experienced that.
  • Another critical point is that having the “big picture” helps clarify many issues. That may sound contradictory, but that is true. See, “The Framework of Buddha Dhamma.”
The Bigger Picture of 31 Realms

9. As we discussed in many previous posts, our world is much more complicated than what we can experience with our limited senses. I will summarize some relevant key points to the current discussion.

  • The 31 realms in our world belong to three types of “lōka” or “worlds.” The “kāma lōka” has 11 realms, including the human realm. There are 16 realms in “rūpa lōka” where rūpāvacara Brahmā live. Then, there are four realms in “arūpa lōka” for arūpāvacara Brahmā.
  • Those higher-lying two lōkā are the simplest. In those 20 realms, there is only jhānic pleasure. A human can experience all those by cultivating jhāna. The lower four jhānā correspond to the jhānic experiences of the 16 rūpāvacara Brahma realms. The higher four correspond to the four arūpāvacara Brahma realms. All those Brahmā do not have “dense bodies” like ours. Their “bodies” have very little matter. They are even harder to “see” than even gandhabbā.
  • The remaining 11 realms are in the kāma lōka. Sensory pleasures associated with eating, smelling, and body touches are available only in those 11 realms.  Living beings in those 11 realms have relatively “dense solid bodies” or karaja kaya. There is a complex variety of “bodies” in kāma lōka. We can see very high complexity even within the animal realm. In general, Devā in the six realms have “bodies” much lighter than ours but denser than Brahma.
What Leads to Rebirth in Different Realms?

This has answers from the close relationship between kamma and Paṭicca Samuppāda, where saṅkhāra plays a key role.

10. To be born in those higher 20 realms, a human must cultivate jhānā.

  • It is not necessary to follow Buddha Dhamma to cultivate either type of jhānā and to be born in those higher 20 realms. Anāriya (or non-Noble) meditation techniques (breath and kasina meditations) can be used to cultivate those anāriya jhāna.
  • However, that birth in a Brahma realm lasts only for the duration of the life there. Then one will be born back in the kāma lōka based on the strongest kamma vipāka that comes to the mind of that Brahma at the dying moment.
  • Rebirths in various realms in the kāma lōka are much more complex. We will discuss those in the next post, where we will discuss the role of saṅkhāra.

11. We have discussed other ways of looking at the basic principles in Buddha Dhamma before. See, for example, “The Framework of Buddha Dhamma.”

  • The above is a simple summary of yet another way. We will continue to explore the connection between kamma and Paṭicca Samuppāda in the next post.
  • It is essential to grasp the basic framework from different “vantage points.” Then we can slowly get into more profound aspects.
  • Reviewing the “bigger picture” from different angles is necessary to get an idea of the beginning-less rebirth process. The world is complex, and understanding it is like putting together a big jigsaw puzzle. It takes a real effort, but it becomes joyful when one gets some traction.
  • Once one starts understanding the essential aspects, one will see the value of the Buddha, his Dhamma (teachings), and the Sangha, who understood this profound Dhamma and transmitted it faithfully over 2500 years. That is real faith (saddhā.)
  • All previous posts in the series at “Origin of Life.”
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