Complexity of Life and the Way to Seek “Good Rebirths”


Revised May 18, 2017; March 14, 2020; July 24, 2022


1. Everything we see around us can be roughly put into three categories: lifeless matter, plant life, and sentient beings (i.e., life with consciousness). Scientists have been most successful in explaining the behavior of inert matter, at least on the macroscopic scale.

  • For example, a rocket can be launched with high precision to land on a given spot on the Moon.
  • However, complexity increases when going to biological matter without consciousness (plants).
  • Complexity is highest for sentient beings.
Complexity of Life

2. The behavior of a sentient being is almost impossible to predict with any kind of precision. This is because the working of a mind with 89 types of citta (thoughts) and 52 types of cetasika (mental properties) is very complex; see “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma” and the posts in the “Abhidhamma” section.

  • However, the Buddha has taught us how to understand why different living beings are born that way and why people are born with wide-ranging health, wealth, beauty, etc.
  • Laws of kamma can explain such phenomena that involve conscious minds.

3. When we look around, we see that animals generally encounter more suffering than humans. Even among people, the range of suffering is enormous. Then some people seem to be enjoying life without showing signs of suffering.

  • Also, some are born rich, healthy, beautiful, etc. others are born in poverty, handicapped, ugly, etc.
  • As discussed above, people’s character also lies in a very broad spectrum.
  • Furthermore, the “fortunes” of a given person could change drastically in a relatively short time. One could go from being penniless to riches or the other way around quickly.
  • When we look at animals, some pets get treated even better than some humans, while others live under horrible conditions. They also have a wide range of personal characteristics.
The complexity of Life – Buddhist Explanation

4. Such apparent vagaries of life have perfectly good explanations in Buddha Dhamma. However, there are no simple one-to-one correspondences compared to the comparatively simpler rules that are available for tracking the behavior of macroscopic inert objects.

5. The behavior of (macroscopic) inert matter can be explained in terms of simpler cause and effect. If one knows the current conditions, one can predict the future using scientifically-found natural laws (the law of gravitation or laws of relativity).

  • However, even this is beginning to change with the advent of quantum mechanics; we are now beginning to probe the realm where matter merges with the mind. See, for example, “Origin of Life” and “Dhamma and Science.”

6. Similarly, the behavior of life can be explained in terms of kamma vipāka (results of one’s actions) together with habits (“gati”) and āsava; see “Saṃsāric Habits and āsavas.” However, unlike cause and effect regarding inter matter, the behavior of life is much more complex because the MIND IS COMPLEX, see “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma.”

  • There are many causes (innumerable kamma vipāka and numerous types of habits and āsava) leading to many effects, versus just one or few causes leading to one or more effects.
  • This is discussed in many suttā, but a good start is the “Cula Kamma Vibhanga Sutta (MN 135)” That site gives translations in several languages, but as with most websites, translations of some key Pāli words may not be accurate.
Good and Bad Kamma Bring Corresponding Vipāka

7. In general, good habits and good kamma vipāka lead to rebirth in realms at or above the human realm. We need to ensure not to commit any akusala (unwholesome) kamma that could lead to rebirth in the four lower realms (apāyās) and to engage in meritorious actions.

  • Another is to realize that āsava (mental fermentations or deeply embedded cravings) could lead to spontaneous actions (in a rage or a sudden mental weakness). Maintaining good habits, removing bad habits, and acting with generosity, kindness, and wisdom help clean up the deeply embedded āsava. That will help prevent such actions impulsively.
Meditation Is Contemplation

8. Any meditation (Samatha, Metta, and Vipassanā) will also be helpful. Just contemplating good thoughts and suppressing bad thoughts as they arise throughout the day is also meditation (this was the original definition of Bhāvanā).

Next, “How to Avoid Birth in the Apāyā

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