Six Root Causes – Loka Samudaya (Arising of Suffering) and Loka Nirodhaya (Nibbāna)

July 19, 2018; re-written August 21, 2022; revised December 10, 2023

Lōka Samudaya is not about “creating a whole new world.” When someone dies and is reborn, that is “arising into a new world” for that person. The stopping of the rebirth process is lōka nirōdhaya, the same as Nibbāna.

Meanings of Samudaya and Nirōdhaya

1. Lōka Samudaya (“san” “udaya“) means “arising (again) into this suffering-filled world.” Lōka nirōdhaya (“nir” “udaya“) means “stopping the rebirth process permanently.” Then the world will cease to exist for that lifestream.

  • As we have discussed before, the meanings of words (whether Pali or in any language) need to be understood in the context. Thus, lōka Samudaya is not about “creating a whole new world/universe.” It is about being reborn upon death.
  • That may sound bad. But that will make sense when one understands that most rebirths are into realms filled with suffering.
  • Let us consider an example to understand the implied meaning.
Life in the 31 Realms Arise Due to Six Root Causes

2. There are six root causes (mūlika hētu) that lead to the arising of one’s world: lōbha (greed), dōsa hate/anger), mōha (having ten types of micchā diṭṭhi), and alōbha (non-greed), adōsa (non-hate/anger), amōha (absence of mōha). Those latter three are only “superficial” and thus are mundane versions of alōbha, adōsa, and amōha. 

  • When one acts with one or more of lōbha, dōsa, and mōha, one is giving rise to kamma bīja (kammic energy) that can lead to rebirth in the four “bad realms” or the apāyās. In other words, one is generating bad abhisaṅkhāra or “apuñña abhisaṅkhāra,” therefore, “bad viññāna,” etc., which lead to “bad bhava” and “bad jāti” (see, “Paṭicca Samuppāda“).
  • In the same way, one or more mundane alōbha, adōsa, or amōha give rise to kamma bīja that can lead to rebirth in the “good realms” at or above the human realm. There, one is generating good abhisaṅkhāra or “puñña abhisaṅkhāra” with “good viññāna,” etc., which leads to “good bhava” and “good jāti.”
There Are No “Good Realms” In Ultimate Reality

3. However, those “good realms” at and above the human realm are also NOT free from suffering. Old age and death are inevitable in any realm.

  • To look at it from another point of view, the two sets of root causes are like the two faces of a coin. Getting rid of just one face of a coin is impossible.
  • In other words, getting a “good rebirth” does not mean one will not get “bad rebirths” later. Most rebirths are in the “bad realms.”
  • Only when one comprehends the Four Noble Truths (closer to Anāgāmi/Arahant stages) can one understand the futility and dangers of rebirths in ANY realm of “this world.”
  • That is why one must follow the path sequentially. See “Is It Necessary for a Buddhist to Eliminate Sensual Desires?
Lōbha, Dōsa, Mōha Lead to Apāya Births – Mundane Alōbha, Adōsa, Amōha to Births in Good Realms

4. Lōbha, dōsa, and mōha are food (āhāra) for the apāyās (the lowest four realms.) They give rise to the worse form of saṅkhāra, i.e., apuñña abhisaṅkhāra (or apuññābhisaṅkhāra.) One does pāpa kammā (immoral deeds) with lōbha, dōsa, and mōha.

  • One does puñña kammā (moral deeds) with the mundane versions of alōbha, adōsa, and amōha, i.e., with puññābhisaṅkhāra.
  • The problem is that not only pāpa kammā but also puñña kammā are done with avijjā (ignorance.) The ignorance here is that of the Four Noble Truths (which says birth in any of the 31 realms will not stop future suffering.)
Moha and Mundane Amoha Can Arise in Any Average Human (Puthujjano)

5. In an average human, thoughts can arise with EITHER moral roots (based on mundane amoha) OR immoral roots (based on moha.)

  • Moral deeds (puñña kamma) are done with mundane amoha and involve puñña abhisaṅkhāra (puññābhisaṅkhara.) Immoral deeds (pāpa kamma) done with moha involve apuñña abhisaṅkhāra (apuññābhisaṅkhara.).
  • Puñña kammās make a mind joyful and bring good vipāka. Pāpa kammā leads to a stressed-out mind and leads to bad vipāka.
  • For an average human, avijjā remains as anusaya (hidden) even with mundane amoha. This is why a puñña kamma done by an average person belongs to puññābhisaṅkhara that arises with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” in “Akusala-Mūla Upapatti Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
  • Only kusala kamma can lead to Nibbana. Puñña kammās automatically become kusala kammās with the comprehension of Four Noble Truths//Paṭicca Samuppāda/Tilakkhana.
All Six Root Causes Sustain the Rebirth Process

6. Therefore, all six root causes lead to the continuation of the rebirth process. However, one needs to work to stop only the three “bad root causes”  to stop the rebirth process (AND cultivate paññā):rāgakkhayo dosakkhayo mohakkhayo—idaṁ vuccati nibbānan’ti.See “Sāmaṇḍaka Sutta – SN 39.1

  • The path to Nibbāna involves the reduction of the three immoral roots and the cultivation of the three mundane moral roots first.  Then, one must comprehend the Four Noble Truths and cultivate paññā or wisdom. That is when one can turn puñña kammā to kusala kammā.
  • To attain Nibbāna, one MUST be born in a good realm. Therefore, the first objective is to avoid births in the apāyās. The three bad roots (lōbha, dōsa, mōha) are also called kilēsa (or keles or impure) because they can lead to rebirths in the apāyās.
  • Once one is born in a good realm (especially the human realm), one can learn the Noble Truths from a Nobel Person (Ariya) and, with sufficient work, comprehend them. That will elevate mundane amoha to paññā gradually.
Paññā Is Not Mundane Amoha – It Is Comprehension of Noble Truths

7. Mundane amoha is just the absence of lobha (greed) and dosa (hate/anger.) The deeper (lokottara) amoha is paññā (wisdom) comprehension of the Four Noble Truths (which is the same as comprehending Paṭicca Samuppāda or Tilakkhana.) One would understand all three if one understands one of those three.

  • When one comprehends the Four Noble Truths, one will lose the desire to be reborn in the “good realms,” too. That is the same as “seeing the anicca nature.” It is also the same as genuinely understanding how cultivating various types of saṅkhāra (with avijjā) leads to births among the 31 realms.
  • When one’s paññā becomes optimum at the Arahant stage, one’s MIND will not go through the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step in Paṭicca Samuppāda leading to ANY rebirth. See “Concepts of Upādāna and Upādānakkhandha.”
  • That is why completing the eighth step of  Sammā Samādhi in the Noble Eightfold Path enables one to get to the Sammā Ñāna stage (when paññā is optimized.) Then one attains Sammā Vimutti (complete release from this world), i.e., “dasa aṅgehi samannāgatō Arahant.”
Kusala-Mula Paccayā Saṅkhāra” In Kusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda

8. When someone starts following the Noble Path, that avijjā anusaya will be removed in stages. Thus, at least some puñña kamma will be effectively become kusala kamma.

  • That is why the type of saṅkhāra in the kusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda arekusala-mula paccayā saṅkhāra. Thus such saṅkhāra may be calledkusala saṅkhāra.”
  • Kusala” comes from “ku” + “sala,” or getting rid of immoral (“ku“). All kusala kammā involve the three “good roots” of alōbha, adōsa, amōha, AND comprehension of the Noble Truths. 
  • As we know, puññābhisaṅkhara come under “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” in akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda. See #6 of “Saṅkhāra – What It Really Means.”
  • By Arahanthood, all puñña kamma would become puñña kriyā. Since an Arahant would not have defilements, there is no akusala to deal with. Thus, any puñña kamma done by an Arahant becomes NOT a kusala kamma but a puñña kriyā (just a good deed without kammic power.)
Difference Between Puñña Kammā and Kusala Kamma

9. Therefore, one can do puñña kamma without getting rid of avijjā, i.e., without cultivating paññā. Most people (not even Buddhists) give, have compassion for others, etc. Being a Buddhist (in particular, a Noble Person) is more than that. That is a crucial point to remember.

  • Only Noble Persons (at or above the Sotapanna Anugāmi stage) can do kusala kamma. That requires understanding the Four Noble Truths/Paṭicca Samuppāda/Tilakkhana.
  • Therefore, for Noble Persons (up to the Arahant stage), a puñña Kamma effectively becomes a kusala kamma. 
  • An Arahant has no akusala to remove. Thus any puñña Kammā by an Arahant becomes a puñña kriyā (just a good deed without kammic power), as explained in #8.
Two Eightfold Paths

10. Before getting to the Noble Eightfold Path, one must follow the mundane eightfold path; see “Mahā Cattārisaka Sutta (Discourse on the Great Forty).”

  • Therefore, “good deeds” are done at two levels: within the mundane eightfold path, one can do puñña kamma.  More and more of the same deeds become “kusala kamma” as one starts comprehending the Noble Truths; see, “Puñña Kamma – Dāna, Sīla, Bhāvanā.”
  • In other words, puñña kamma are “contaminated” to some degree, and they become more potent kusala kamma in the Noble Path with the increasing comprehension of Tilakkhana.
  • For example, in “mundane alōbha,” one loses the craving for some things and is willing to share those with others. In “lōkuttara alōbha,” one loses craving by seeing the worthlessness of things in this world.
Until Comprehending Noble Truths, All Kamma Perpetuate the Rebirth Process

11. It is inevitable that even the most moral “average person (puthujjano)” WILL generate “bad abhisaṅkhāra” either during this life or in the future life until one REMOVES the three bad root causes from the mind via comprehending Tilakkhaṇa. They remain as anusaya and come to the surface under suitable conditions.

  • For example, X may see an enticing object and greed (lōbha) may come to his mind.
  • But at another time, X may see a hungry person and buy that person a meal with MUNDANE non-greed (alōbha), non-hate (adōsa), and amōha.
  • An Arahant has removed all six root causes. But he/she may provide a meal to a hungry person out of paññā (wisdom) — doing the appropriate thing; it is also called a kriyā, just action without kammic consequences.
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