July 6, 2019; revised October 4, 2021; November 3, 2022
Rebirths Arise Due to Our Actions
1. Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda describes how we create our rebirths. Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda explains how we make our kamma vipāka. The post, “Bhava paccayā Jāti….Jarā, Marana,…” discusses the differences between kamma bhava and uppatti bhava.
- Both types of bhava or existences arise due to the generation of (abhi)saṅkhāra due to avijjā. We remember that we do all kinds of kamma (kaya kamma, vaci kamma, mano kamma) with saṅkhāra (kaya, vaci, and mano saṅkhāra) or “how we think and then act on such thinking.”
- ALL saṅkhārā arise in the MIND. As we know, saṅkhārā make kammā that lead to future rebirths with physical bodies. That is why the Buddha said: “Mano pubbangamā dhammā..” or “ALL dhammā arise with the mind as precursor..”.
- When we generate (abhi)saṅkhāra that creates a “future expectation” or a viññāna; see, “Viññāna Aggregate.” That ALWAYS leads to a kamma bhava, which is a “seed” to bring about a future existence in this life or future life.
- A kamma bhava can become a uppatti bhava if it becomes strong enough to give rise to rebirth. For example, killing a parent WILL generate a uppatti bhava that WILL bring in birth in an apāya in the very next rebirth.
2. That is the crucial difference between Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda and Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda; see “Paṭicca Samuppāda Cycles.”
- Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda generates kamma seeds or kamma bhava moment-to-moment.
- Those bhava (or kamma seeds or kamma bija) that bring kamma vipāka during a lifetime (whether in this life or WITHIN a future life) are called “kamma bhava.”
- Some bhava are strong enough to bring in a new future existence (whether in a bad realm or a good realm) and are called “uppatti bhava.”
Regardless of whether it is a kamma bhava or a uppatti bhava, we generate them every time we act with avijjā and make viññāna via the steps, “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” and “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna.”
- Then subsequent Paṭicca Samuppāda steps invariably lead to “bhava paccayā jāti” and “jāti paccayā jarā, marana, soka, perideva, dukkha, domanassa” or “the whole mass of suffering.”
Grasping a Bhava Happens Automatically
3. We do not have any control over which “uppatti bhava” comes at the end of a bhava (cuti, not marana.) The strongest with the most “upādāna” associated with it gets to the front automatically. The Buddha gave a simile to explain how this selection of a “uppatti bhava” or a potent kamma seed happens at the cuti-paṭisandhi transition at death.
- Imagine a barn that keeps the cows in for the night. In the morning, all the cows are anxious to get out and roam around. When the gate opens, the strongest cow comes to the front and is out of the gate first. The weaker cows don’t even make an effort to go to the gate.
- Just like that, the most potent “kamma seed” or a “paṭisandhi bhava” wins at the cuti-paṭisandhi transition.
- We discussed the case of a teenager in the previous post, “Bhava paccayā Jāti….Jarā, Marana,…” Suppose he created a potent kamma seed with an action depicting “animal-like” behavior. In that case, it will bring about an animal’s existence at the cuti-paṭisandhi transition.
4. A Buddha could analyze such a paṭisandhi Paṭicca Samuppāda cycle in detail to pinpoint even the type of animal. That is because a Buddha can see not only a person’s whole history in the present life but going back many eons. Thus, he could see which kamma seed will bring the following existence and exactly which kind of “gati” are associated with that kamma seed. We can only discuss the general trends, and here we have discussed only the main ideas of how these Paṭicca samuppāda cycles operate.
- Going back to the teenager, In this case, it is the paṭisandhi Paṭicca samuppāda cycle that operates, and “bhava paccayā jāti” here leads to the birth in a new existence as an animal using that uppatti bhava.
Difference Between Bhava and Jāti
5. It is essential to realize that the cuti-paṭisandhi transition DOES NOT necessarily happen when a human dies. They can be reborn many times as humans within a given “human bhava“; see “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein.”
- Once born (jāti) in such an animal existence (bhava), that animal will grow and then start old age (“jarā“) and eventually die (“marana“).
- Since most violent animals have shorter lifetimes, only a fraction of that kammic energy is likely to have been spent. That animal will keep going through many similar births (“jāti“) until the power of that kamma seed is consumed. Many animals keep coming back to the same life many hundreds of times.
6. That is the difference between “bhava” and “jāti.” Once one gets a new existence or “bhava,” one could have many births (“jāti“) in that existence until the energy in the kamma seed runs out. I keep repeating this because it is essential to understand the difference between “bhava” and “jāti.”
- Thus, we can see that the last step of “jāti paccayā jarā, marana, sōka, paridēva, dukkha, dōmanassa” will be with that “teenager” for a long time to come. It is not just one birth but many that will correspond to that existence as that animal.
- In general, while in the human “bhava,” one could be reborn many times before the energy of that “good kamma seed” is depleted. That is why some people can recall memories from recent past lives. A human bhava can last thousands of years, but each human birth (jāti) lasts only about 100 years.
- However, getting another “human bhava” is difficult; see “How the Buddha Described the Chance of Rebirth in the Human Realm.”
How Are Certain Rebirths Stopped?
7. We mentioned earlier that anyone would have accumulated numerous good and bad kamma seeds strong enough to give rise to good and bad rebirths. Then the following question arises. Does a person attain the Sōtapanna stage by eliminating all those corresponding bad kamma seeds?
- While it is possible to reduce the potency of kamma seeds and maybe even eliminate some, it may not be possible to remove all. The Ariya Metta Bhavanā — discussed in the “Bhavana (Meditation)” section — can lessen the potency of some kamma seeds. Even the Buddha had 11 instances of bad kamma vipāka, including a back problem.
- Therefore, it is very likely that we all have many good and bad kamma seeds strong enough to energize many good and bad rebirths.
8. What happens at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment involves the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step in the uppatti Paṭicca samuppāda cycle.
- Suppose a person dies, and that was the last possible human birth for them. Then at the dying moment, that potent kamma seed will generate a corresponding nimitta (or sign of that kamma).
- Whether they will willingly grasp that nimitta will depend on whether they still have such “gati.”
9. Let us again consider the case of the violent teenager discussed in #3 in the previous post, “Bhava paccayā Jāti….Jarā, Marana,…“. Suppose he continued his violent acts and built up a “uppatti bhava” suitable for a fierce animal. Then, at the dying moment, he could see in his mind (like in a dream) a rival gang member trying to “steal a drug deal”; he would also see a gun close by. That is the nimitta.
- If that person still has the same gati, he will get angry, grab the gun, and shoot that person by his instincts.
- That is the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step for the new existence. That person has willingly grasped the mindset of an animal, and he will be born as an animal.
- This process is explained from beginning to end in detail in the series of posts, “Paṭicca Samuppāda in Plain English.”
How Does a Sōtapanna Avoid Bad Rebirths?
10. Let us now go back to the question of how a Sōtapanna avoids such bad rebirths even if they have many bad kamma seeds. Suppose that Sōtapanna has the same kind of strong (and bad) kamma seed as that teenager (could be from a previous life).
- What happens is that a Sōtapanna will not grab the gun and shoot that person even if it is their worst enemy. His mindset, or “gati,” has permanently changed. Thus “upādāna paccayā bhava” step will not be executed for that kamma seed.
- In that case, now the next potent uppatti bhava will come to the forefront. If that is also a bad one suitable for rebirth in the lowest four realms, Sōtapanna’s mind will reject that too. Eventually, he will grasp a rebirth compatible with his “gati” at that dying moment. A Sōtapanna has removed the “gati” of a being in one of the four lowest realms.
- All that happens automatically and very quickly. We do not have any conscious control over it.
11. How one lives this life AND how one lived previous lives can contribute to future rebirths. One would generate “kamma seeds” or “uppatti bhava” for possible future existences according to how one lives a life.
- However, bad bhava will not result if one has changed one’s gati PERMANENTLY (via attaining at least the Sōtapanna stage). EVEN IF one had committed bad kamma suitable to bring in a “bad bhava,” one’s mind would not grasp a “bad bhava” at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment.
- That is why Paṭicca samuppāda means “pati + ichcha,” leading to “sama” + “uppāda.” What one grasps willingly and habitually is what one that will operate automatically at the dying moment; see, “Paṭicca Samuppāda – “Pati+ichcha” +” Sama+uppāda.”
- It is better to use Paṭicca Samuppāda even in English rather than “dependent origination.” Most Pāli words have “built-in” explanations (pada nirukti.) One needs to understand what those Pāli words mean and use them.
- I have explained this with saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāna as well; see “Mental Aggregates.” Those DO NOT have corresponding SINGLE English words. In particular, it is WRONG to translate viññāna as just “consciousness”; see, “Viññāna Aggregate.”
Relevance to “Origin of Life” Issue
12. I hope it is clear how we create our future births by doing strong kamma. Good kamma lead to good vipāka and good births. Bad kamma leads to bad vipāka and bad births.
- We can also avoid bad births (in the lower four realms) by removing our “bad gati that could lead to such births.” Attainment of the Sōtapanna stage ensures this.
- In the same way, we can stop births in the human and deva realms (remaining realms in kāma lōka). Removal of “kāma gati” or cravings for sense pleasures gets one there. The need to take this step may not become apparent until one attains the Sōtapanna stage.
- Even the higher Brahma realms have some form of suffering (especially at the moment of death). Removal of “all gati,” including craving for jhānic pleasures in Brahma realms, leads to the cessation of all future suffering. That happens, of course, at the Arahant stage.
13. It should also be clear that “new lives” do not randomly come into existence. A new jāti based on a new bhava arises ONLY as a continuation of an existing lifestream; see “What Reincarnates? – Concept of a Lifestream“.
- A living being automatically grasps a new bhava when the current bhava ends (except for an Arahant.)
- That is how the rebirth process continues. And that is also why there is no “traceable beginning to life.”
- A detailed discussion in a new series of posts on “Origin of Life.”
14. A deeper description is at “1.6. Gatikathā” of the Tipiṭaka Commentary Paṭisambhidāmagga.