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

Revised May 18, 2017

1. Everything that 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 mostly successful in explaining the behavior of inter matter, at least in the macroscopic scale.

  • For example, a rocket can be launched with high precision to land on a given spot on the Moon. Complexity increases somewhat when going to biological matter without consciousness (plants).

2. However, 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 types of living beings are born that way, and why people are born with wide-ranging levels of health, wealth, beauty, etc.

3. When we look around, we see that animals, in general, encounter more suffering than humans. Even among people, the range of suffering is enormous, and some people even seem to be enjoying life without any apparent signs of suffering.

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

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 outcome using scientifically-found natural laws (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. We will discuss such instance in the future.

6. Similarly, the behavior of life can be explained in terms of kamma vipaka (results of one’s actions) together with habits (“gati”) and āsava; see, “Sansaric 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 vipaka and numerous types of habits and āsava) leading to many effects, versus just one or few causes leading one effect or a few effects.
  • This is discussed in many suttas, but a good start is the “Cula Kamma Vibhanga Sutta (MN 135)“. That site gives translations in several languages, but as with almost all internet sites, translations of some key Pali words may not be accurate.

7. In general, good habits and good kamma vipaka lead rebirth in realms at or above the human realm. We need to make sure not to commit any akusala (unwholesome) kamma that could lead to rebirth in the four lower realms, 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 cleanup the deeply embedded āsava, thus preventing such actions on sudden impulses as well as being able to be mindful.

8. Any type of meditation (samatha, metta, and vipassana) will also be quite helpful. Just contemplating on good thoughts and suppressing bad thoughts as they arise throughout the day is also meditation (this was the original definition of bhavana).

Next, “How to Avoid Births in the Apayas“, ………..

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