Revised June 16, 2019
1. In the previous post we discussed how repeated immoral actions of a teenager can bring about a specific type of existence (bhava) even during the current life and that this is called a kamma bhava.
- We also discussed how such kamma bhava can get stronger with time and become strong enough to lead to a whole new existence at death; this is called an uppatti bhava.
- Thus there are two types of “bhava“: those that can bring about “experiences” during the current life (kamma bhava) and those that become strong enough to power a whole new existence (uppatti bhava).
- This is explained in the “Paṭiccasamuppāda vibhaṅga“: “Tattha katamo upādānapaccayā bhavo? Bhavo duvidhena—atthi kammabhavo, atthi upapattibhavo“, i.e., “What is upādānapaccayā bhavo? Two types of bhava – kamma bhava and upppatti bhava“.
2. Another way to look at the concept of a “bhava” is to treat it as a seed. As we discussed in the previous post, when we do any act with ignorance (and greed or hate), that leads to the generation of a kamma seed with some energy to bring about results in the future; this is the same as saying that a “bhava” was created by that action. The concept of a kamma seed is easier to comprehend.
- Just like a normal seed has the potential to give rise to a plant, a kamma seed (or a “bhava“) has the potential to bring about a “jāti” or a “birth”, either during this life or in preparing a new life.
- In most posts, I write it as jāti (which is the conventional English term used), but it really is pronounced “jāthi“.
3. Let us take the example of the teenager that we discussed in the previous post, “Phassa paccayā Vēdanā….to Bhava“. Because of the influence of his friends, the teenager starts dealing and using drugs and gradually gets drawn into the gang to become a gang member, and eventually starts doing violent acts of beating and killing people.
- When he did the first beating his friends probably had to encourage or even force him to do it. Now let us suppose that he did not have a sansāric habit of doing that kind of violent acts. So, when he did the first act, a small kamma seed (or a “bhava“) was energized.
4. The next time he did something similar, this initial kamma seed made it easier for him to do the second act. Once he did that, the seed got bigger, and the next time he may not need much encouraging, and so on. The more he does it, the more easily he can get into that “bhava“, i.e., the stronger that kamma seed becomes.
This is none other than many idapaccayātā PS cycles running that start with “avijjā paccayā sankhāra” (doing immoral deeds due to avijjā), and leading to “upādāna paccayā bhava”, making that bhava (or kamma seed) strong.
- This is another way of expressing “habit (gati; pronounced “gathi”) formation” that I have discussed in many other posts. The more one does acts suitable for a certain “bhava“, the viññāna for similar behavior grows, and it is easier for one to be “born” in a corresponding state; this is “pati+ichcha” leading to “sama+uppāda” as pointed out in the introductory post, “Paticca Samuppada – “Pati+ichcha”+”Sama+uppāda”.
- Thus, the more the teenager does violent acts, it becomes easier for him to be “born in that state”, i.e., easier for him to do similar acts.
- In other words, repeated sankhāra leads to strengthening the corresponding mindset or viññāna, and it propagates down the paticca samuppāda series to make “kamma bhava“.
5. Now let us consider when that kamma seed or “kamma bhava” gives rise to a “jāti” in idapaccayātā paticca samuppāda. One day, his drug deal is sabotaged by a rival gang member, and he gets angry. Now he is easily “born” in that “animal-like violent state”. He starts beating up that guy. This is “jāti” in this case.
- When the beating is almost done, that “jāti” is almost over with; it is at the “jarā” (decay) stage and when it is done that is the end or death (“marana“) of that “jāti“.
- Thus when that episode is over, that temporary “jāti” of “a violent existence” is over.
- The rest of it, “sōka, paridēva, dukkha, dōmanassa” or many forms of suffering comes later in that life or even in future births. The kamma seed that helped him do that act, itself got even stronger.
6. The kammic energy of that kamma seed was not spent giving rise to that jāti that happened during that particular instance. That is because that was not a case of kamma vipāka. Rather, that kamma seed got stronger, because the teenager did more apunna abhisankhāra (i.e., immoral deeds).
- Now, if during that confrontation with the other rival gang member he himself gets beaten up, then that is due to a kamma vipāka.
- In either case, that “birth” or ‘jāti” (the confrontation with the rival gang member) would give him only misery at the end: “sōka, paridēva, dukkha, dōmanassa”.
- Many such idapaccayātā samuppāda cycles can operate during even a day and he may be “born” repeatedly in that confrontational state. Some may be minor, like getting mad at his friends but some could be violent. He has prepared the “bhava” and he can get into “jāti” or be “born in that bhava” easily. I am mixing up English and Pali words in order to make the meanings clear and to get used to those terms.
- Just like when a seed is made it is easy to get that seed to germinate, once we prepare a “bhava” it is easy to be born in that type of existence.
7. Now we can see that a “bhava” or a “kamma seed” is the potentiality for a particular kind of existence or a “state of mind” during the current life itself.
- He will be easily transitioned to that “state of mind” (or bhava). For example, he may be having a good time with his family and be with a “normal state of mind”. Then he gets a phone call from a fellow gang member asking for his help with a gang-related activity.
- He will instantly be transitioned to the “gang mentality” and be born a gang member. Then he will engage in whatever gang activity.
- But any birth (or jāti) will come to an end. When that activity is over, he may come home and be part of the family life.
- However, that “bad jāti” will ALWAYS lead to “jarā, marana, soka, parideva, dukkha domanassa”. Even if that particular was successful and he leaves there happily, that ACTIVITY will lead to suffering in the future. He had accumulated more kammic energy for that “bad bhava”.
8. But the important thing to remember is that “bhava paccya jāti” does not mean he is guaranteed to be born in that state. It is likely that he will be born in that state under suitable conditions, for example with provocation.
- But if he comes to his senses and realizes the perils of such actions, he can make an effort and slowly degrade the potency of that kamma seed. The first thing is to stop doing those more violent acts. If the teenager has enough determination and if he has moral support from his family, he may be able to get into the moral path.
- If he makes a determination to change, it will be hard in the beginning. It is like trying to stop a moving car. If the car has a lot of speed, it takes a bigger effort to stop. It is easier to stop a slowly moving car, before it gains speed. In the same way, it is easier to revert back if one realizes that one is on the wrong path early.
9. If the teenager does not change his ways, but only gets involved more and more with the violent activities, then that kamma seed (or kamma bhava) will grow bigger and can become strong enough to energize a whole new existence (rebirth) or “uppatti bhava“. Or he can even make a single huge kamma seed by killing someone.
- We all are likely to have acquired several or even many such large bad kamma seeds (i.e., many bad “uppatti bhava“) suitable to yield rebirths in the lowest four realms; we have no way of finding out.
- Of course, we are also likely to have many good kamma seeds (i.e., many good “uppatti bhava“) suitable to yield rebirths in the higher realms.
10. And we do not have any control over which “uppatti bhava” is selected at death. 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 strong kamma seed happens at the cuti-patisandhi 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. But when the gate opens, it is the strongest cow that has come to front and is out of the gate when it is opened. The weaker ones don’t even make an effort to be at the front.
- Just like that, it is the strongest “kamma seed” or a “patisandhi bhava” that wins at the cuti-patisandhi transition.
- In the case of the teeenager that we discussed above, if the kamma seed that he nourished during this life as a violent person with “animal-like” behavior is the strongest one of all his accumulated kamma seeds, then it will bring about an animal existence at the cuti-patisandhi transition.
11. A Buddha could analyze such a patisandhi paticca samuppāda cycle in finer details to pin-point even what type of animal would it be. This is because a Buddha can see not only a person’s whole history in the present life, but going back to many aeons; thus he could see which kamma seed will bring the next existence and exactly which kind of “gathi” are embedded in that kamma seed. We can only discuss the general trends, and here we have discussed only the main ideas of how these paticca samuppāda cycles operate.
- Going back to the teenager, In this case it is the patisandhi paticca samuppāda cycle that operates, and “bhava paccayā jāti” here leads to the birth in a new existence as an animal using that uppatti bhava.
12. Once born in such an animal existence, that animal will grow and then start the old age (“jarā“), and eventually die (“marana“).
- At that death, it is likely that the kammic energy of that kamma seed has not been depleted. Since most violent animals have shorter lifetimes, only a fraction of that kammic energy is likely to have been spent and “he” will keep going through many of similar births (“jāti“) until the energy of that kamma seed is spent. It is said that many animals keep coming back to the same life many hundreds of times.
13. This 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 of the kamma seed is totally spent.
- Thus we can see that the last step of “jāti paccayā jarā, marana, sōka, paridēva, dukkha, dōmanassa” will be with “him” for a long time to come. It is not just one birth but many that will correspond to that existence as that animal.
- For us also, in general, when one is in the human “bhava” one could be reborn many times before the energy of that “good kamma seed” is depleted. This is why those rebirth memories can be recalled from adjacent lives. However, it is very difficult to get another “human bhava“; see, “How the Buddha Described the Chance of Rebirth in the Human Realm“.
14. Before closing this section let us discuss another important point. We mentioned earlier than everyone has accumulated numerous good and bad kamma seeds strong enough to give rise to good and bad rebirths. Then the question arises: Does a person attain the Sōtapanna stage (i.e., make bad rebirths in the lowest four realms void) 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. Many kamma seeds may be removed by the Ariya metta bhavana discussed in the “Bhavana (Meditation)” section, but there could be left overs. It is said that the Buddha had 11 instances of bad kamma vipāka including a back problem. We will discuss this point in a separate post.
- Therefore, it is very likely that we all have many good and bad kamma seeds strong enough to energize many good and bad rebirths.
- What happens at the cuti-patisandhi moment involves the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step in the patisandhi paticca samuppāda cycle. As we recall, this is the step that is responsible for energizing “uppatti bhava” as well as “kamma bhava“.
- But this same step is involved in grasping the strongest “uppatti bhava” at the end of the current “bhava“. If a person dies and if that was the last possible human birth for him/her, then at the dying moment, that comes closest and he/she will willingly grasp it because that will match the dominant “gathi” of him/her.
15. Let us consider the case of the violent teenager again. Suppose he continued with his violent acts and built up an “uppatti bhava” suitable for a violent 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 will also see a gun closeby. By his natural instincts he will get angry, grab the gun, and shoot that person. This is an example of a “gathi nimitta“.
- That is the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step for the new existence. He has willingly grasped the mindset of an animal, and he will be born as an animal. His next thought moment is in that animal which comes out of that dead body of the teenager as a “gandhabba” with a fine body that cannot be seen.
- This is described in detail in other posts; it needs more background material in “manomaya kaya” for understanding the technical details, but that is not critical here. However, now we can get an idea of how a new existence is grasped at the end of a “bhava” in the patisandhi paticca samuppāda cycle.
16. Let us now go back to the question of how a Sōtapanna avoids such bad rebirths even if he/she has many bad kamma seeds. Suppose that Sōtapanna has the same kind of kamma seed as that teenager (could be from a previous life), and that it is the strong enough to come to forefront of his/her mind at the dying moment.
- What happens is that a Sōtapanna will not grab the gun and shoot that person even if it is his/her worst enemy doing something that could make him/her mad. His/her mindset or “gathi” have been 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, that will be rejected too. Eventually, he/she will grasp a rebirth that is compatible with his/her “gathi” at that dying moment, which for a Sōtapanna will never be the “gathi” of a being in one of the four lowest realms. This happens automatically and very quickly. We do not have conscious control over it.
- Thus one’s rebirth will determined by the way one lives (and had lived previous lives). If one lived like an animal, one will be born an animal no matter how much one wishes to have a “good birth”. The real danger, as we discussed above, is that we do not know how we had lived our previous lives.
- This is why paticca samuppāda means “pati + ichcha” leading to “sama” + “uppāda” or what one grasps willingly and habitually is what one that will operate automatically at the dying moment; see, “Paticca Samuppada – “Pati+ichcha”+”Sama+uppāda“.