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

July 19, 2018; revised December 23, 2018; re-written June 3, 2021 

Lōka Samudaya is not about the “creation of 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, 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 arising into this world permanently.” “This world” means the wider world of 31 realms.

  • However, 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 the “creation of a whole new world/universe.” Let us consider an example to understand the implied meaning.
Clarification With an Example

2. Suppose a Deva dies and is reborn a Brahma. Deva‘s world is very different from the Brahma world. A Deva can experience all 6 sensory experiences, but a Brahma cannot experience taste, smell, or physical touch, and thus food, odors, and solid bodies are absent in Brahma loka. Thus, when Deva dies, that is the end of his “Deva world,” and now he is born in an entirely different Brahma world.

  • Why is death not the end for that Deva? It is not the end because that “lifestream” had accumulated kammic energies (kamma bija) to initiate not only a Brahma bhava but many more bhava into the future. So, when Brahma dies in the future, he may be reborn in another realm, including the animal realm. Compared to a few billion people, there are billions of times animals on this Earth (number of ants is many trillions); see #2 of “Rebirth – Connection to Suffering in the First Noble Truth.”
  • That example illustrates the following: (i) Within the rebirth process, one’s world in one realm ends periodically. But that is not the end because there are enough bhava energies accumulated to sustain existences (bhava) among many realms well into the future. (ii) That process would end ONLY when avijjā (and taṇhā) are removed without a trace, i.e., upon attaining the Arahant stage. At the end of that existence, that “pure mind” would not grasp (upādāna) a new bhava. See, “Concepts of Upādāna and Upādānakkhandha.”
  • Another critical point is that most rebirths are in the lowest four realms (apāyās.) That is why there is NET suffering in the rebirth process.
  • Therefore, lōka Samudaya means the accumulation of new bhava (kammic energy.) Lōka nirōdhaya means Nibbāna.
Cause and Effect in Buddha Dhamma – Paṭicca samuppāda

3. The above example in #2 provides a long-term view of “life.” Most of us tend to live this life and don’t worry about what happens after we die. The above worldview of the Buddha is different from two other worldviews: (i) All other major religions say there can be a place of permanent happiness (heaven) after death. (ii) Materialists (or atheists) believe that death is the end, and there is no need to seek Nibbāna. See “Origin of Life.”

  • But Budha Dhamma is based on the causes and effects of those causes. As long as there are causes (hētu) for the world to arise for a given living being, that living being will be reborn repeatedly. During that rebirth process, there will be much more suffering in the apāyās than any temporary happiness experienced in the “good realms” at or above the human realm.
  • With the removal of those causes (lōbha, dōsa, mōha), the rebirth process will stop, and one would be free of suffering and would have attained Nibbāna.
What Is Nibbāna?

4. The ultimate answer lies in the following description in Abhidhamma. When reduced to the “ultimate realities,” there are only 4: citta, cetasika, rupa, and Nibbāna. 

  • The first three belong to “this world of 31 realms.” Nibbāna does not have anything that belongs to this world
  • The absence of ANYTHING of this world in Nibbāna is stated clearly in many suttās. Details in “Nibbāna “Exists,” but Not in This World.”
Life in the 31 Realms Arise Due to 6 Root Causes

5. 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 3 are only “superficial” and thus are mundane versions of alōbha, adōsa, amōha. 

  • When one acts with one or more of lōbha, dōsa, 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 of mundane alōbha, adōsa, 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 lead to “good bhava” and “good jāti.”
There Are No “Good Reams” In Ultimate Reality

6. 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 3 root causes are like the two faces of a coin. It is not possible to get rid of just one face of a coin.
  • It is only when one really comprehends the Four Noble Truths (closer to Anagami/Arahant stages) that one can clearly 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

7. Lōbha, dōsa, mōha are food (āhāra) for the apāyās (the lowest 4 realms.) That is why they are called kilēsa or “impurities.”  That means they are food for the kamma bīja that give rise to births in the apāyās.

  • In the same way, mundane alōbha is food or āhāra for the human (manussa) and Deva realms.
  • Mundane versions of alōbha and adōsa are āhāra for the Brahma realms.
  • Both alōbha and adosa involve some level of amoha, but not necessarily paññā (the wisdom that comes from understanding the Noble Truths.).
  • However, amōha is not a cētasika (mental factor.) Thus, it is the paññā cētasika that one cultivates in the Noble Eightfold Path. Optimization of paññā happens at the Arahant stage.
All 6 Root Causes With Mundane Amoha Sustain the Rebirth Process

8. 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 AND paññā.
  • To attain Nibbāna, one MUST be 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

9. 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.) If one understands one of those three, one would understand the other two as well.

  • 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 truly understanding how the cultivation of 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 Sammā Ñāna stage (when paññā is optimized.) Then one attains Sammā Vimutti (complete release from this world), i.e., “dasa aṅgehi samannāgatō Arahant.”
  • Before we discuss lokottara amoha, let us discuss the six root causes a bit more.
Moha and Mundane Amoha Can Arise in Any Average Human (Puthujjano)

10. Thoughts can arise in mind 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 kammā 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 is not strictly a kusala kamma. They belong to puññābhisaṅkhara that arise with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.”
Kusala-Mula Paccayā Saṅkhāra” In Kusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda

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

  • That is why the type of saṅkhāra in the kusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda arekusala-mula paccayā saṅkhāra. Thus such saṅkhāra may be called kusala 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 with 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 be kusala kamma, but since an Arahant would not have defilements, there are no akusala to deal with. Thus, any puñña kamma done by an Arahant is a puñña kriyā (just a good deed without kammic power.)
Difference Between Puñña Kammā and Kusala Kamma

12. Puñña kammā are meritorious actions that CAN lead to rebirth in the higher realms. However, when one does puñña kammā without any comprehension of the Noble Truths, avijjā is involved indirectly; this is called “upanisa paccayā, and I need to write a post on that. Even though done with mundane amoha, avijjā contributes indirectly to puñña kammā.

13. Therefore, one can do puñña kamma without getting rid of avijjā, i.e., without cultivating paññā. Most people engage in giving, have compassion for others, etc. That is a crucial point to remember.

  • Anyone who has any of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi HAS NOT removed mōha, and thus HAS NOT started cultivating paññā. Such a person can still do good deeds (like giving.) However, their javana power is not high compared to someone who has removed the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi.
  • By the way, the javana power of kusala citta goes up even more when one starts comprehending Tilakkhaṇa. In the Abhidhamma language, javana power is high in “ñāṇa sampayutta citta,” where ñāna is wisdom (paññā). And paññā grows with increasing comprehension of the Noble Truths/Tilakkhaṇa/Paṭicca samuppāda.
Two Eightfold Paths

14. 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 craving for some things and is willing to share those with others. In “lōkuttara alōbha,” one just loses craving by seeing the worthlessness of things in this world.
Until Comprehending Noble Truths, All Kamma Perpetuate the Rebirth Process

15. 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. Until then, 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 may 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, an action without kammic consequences.
Nibbāna – Complete Elimination of lōbha, dōsa, mōha 

16. Suppression or temporary absence of lōbha, dōsa, mōha lead to mundane levels of alōbha, adōsa, and amōha. At that time, one would be able to comprehend the Four Noble Truths and cultivate paññā when paññā peaks at the Arahant stage of Nibbāna, lōbha, dōsa, and mōha leave without any residue.

  • Once one comprehends the futility and dangers of remaining in the rebirth process, one will do “good deeds,” not expecting anything in this world. In other words, one would engage in “good deeds” only with the expectation of attaining Nibbāna, i.e., to stop the rebirth process.
  • That is what is meant by “seeing the anicca nature.” All our efforts with the expectation of happiness in this world are only an illusion. All such efforts are with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhārā.” Then one would only engage in “kusala-mula paccayā saṅkhāra.”
  • That is a central idea to comprehend. As one progresses on the mundane eightfold path — removing the 3 immoral roots — ten types of micchā diṭṭhi will disappear. At that time, it will be possible to comprehend the Four Noble Truths/Paṭicca samuppāda/Tilakkkhana and paññā will start to grow, and all 6 root causes for rebirths among the 31 realms will diminish and disappear. That is lōka nirōdhaya or Nibbāna.

17. This was a long post. I tried to include as many key points as possible. But it is highly condensed and one needs to read the links to find details.

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