Last week on the 8th waning day of Thadingyut when we gave the discourse on the fourth part of the Sutta, we had dealt with the exposition on the Truth of Suffering. Today, we will go on with the exposition of the Truth of the Origin of Suffering. First, we shall go over again the headings of the Four Truths:
1 Dukkha saccã the Truth of Suffering
2 Samudaya saccã the Truth of the Origin of Suffering
3 Nirodha saccã the Truth of the Cessation of Suffering
4 Magga saccã the Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering
As explained in the fourth part of the discourse, after defining the Truth of Suffering which he had personally discovered by penetrative insight, the Blessed One went on giving the definition of the Truth of the Origin of Suffering.
Idam kho pana, Bhikkhave, dukkha-samudayo ariya saccaõ: Yayaõ tathã ponobhavikã nandirãgasahagatã tatra tatrãbhinandini . . . seyathidam, kãmatathã, bhavatathã, vibhavatathã.
“Bhikkhus, what I will presently teach is the Noble Truth concerning the origin of suffering or the Truth which Nobles Ones should know. There is this hunger, this craving which gives rise to fresh rebirth and is bound up with pleasure and attachment (or has the nature of pleasure and attachment); seeks delight, finds gratification now here, now there, everywhere. What is this tanhã (craving)? It is the three kinds, namely, kãmatanhã (sensual craving, desire for enjoyment of sensuous pleasures), bhavatanhã (craving for eternal existence, holding the eternity belief), vibhavatanhã (craving for non-existence (self-annihilation)), believing that there is nothing after death. These three kinds of craving are the Truth of the Origin of Suffering.”
The Truth of the Origin of Suffering, i.e. craving, is the causal agency responsible for all kinds of suffering, already explained, starting from the suffering of fresh becoming to suffering of the five aggregates of grasping. To eliminate suffering, it is essential to know the cause of suffering. It is like making a diagnosis to know the cause of an ailment so that it may be cured. The Blessed One had personally penetrated to this truth of the cause of suffering and had consequently entirely eradicated suffering by removing its cause. The samudaya saccã is nothing but tanhã, craving for hunger. It is like feeling thirsty or hungry. Tanhã is thirst or hunger for sense objects.
The craving for sense objects gives rise to fresh becoming (ponobhavikã). So long as one remains in the grip of this tanhã, continuous rebirths will take place. We shall discuss how fresh rebirths take place later in the discourse. This tanhã finds pleasure in sense objects and clings to them. Like oil or dye solution remains absorbed on any surface it happens to come into contact, tanhã is delighted with seemingly pleasant sense objects and holds onto them tenaciously. This tanhã finds gratification here, there, everywhere. There is never any boredom or monotony in the pursuit of pleasure. Any seemingly pleasurable sense object, wherever it presents itself gives delight.
In the human world, life in the lower strata of society may be anything but attractive or pleasant to people of higher station. Unfortunately, there are people (who are born into poor circumstances) still enjoying their lives wherever they may be. Likewise, to the human mind, animal life is unpleasurable, repulsive, horrible. To assume the physical body of a snake or an insect is an abominable thought for a human being. Yet, if rebirth takes place in an animal world, a being is quite pleased with his physical body and finds delight in its life. It is because of the nature of tanhã which finds gratification in every existence, in every sense object, wherever it may be. The Blessed One had, therefore, described tanhã as finding pleasure here, there, in every existence, in every sense object. This is well-illustrated by the stories of Sampeya Naga king and Queen Upari.
THE STORY OF SAMPEYA NAGA KING
In one existence, the Bodhisatta was born into a poor family in the vicinity of the river Sampa. Envious of the life of pleasure enjoyed by the Sampeya Naga king, the Bodhisatta engaged himself in the good deeds of giving alms and observing the precepts. As a result, when he passed away he was reborn spontaneously in the realm of the Nagas and found himself seated on the throne of the Sampeya Naga king in the full shape and form of a Naga being. The Naga is a species of snake. To be reborn as a snake from the human existence is really frightful and abominable. The Bodhisatta, looking at his repulsive, horrible new form, reflected thus: ‘As a result of my good deeds of charity and observance of morality, I could have been reborn in any of the six realms of the devas, but because I had wished for the pleasures of the Naga king, I am reborn into this world of reptiles. Oh! To die would be better than to live the life of a snake’. He even played with the idea of committing suicide.
Meanwhile, a young Naga female by the name of Sumana gave signal to other young Naga females to commence entertaining their new king. The young Naga females, assuming the appearance of beautiful devis and goddesses, started singing and dancing and playing various musical instruments. Seeing the beautiful goddesses entertaining him with song, dance and music, the Sampeya Naga king imagined his Naga abode to be the palace of the kind of the gods and felt very pleased. He also took on the appearance of a god himself and joined the female Nagas in their revelry with much delight.
However, being a Bodhisatta, he easily regained the sense of reality and resolved to be born again as a human being so that he could further promote his pãramis, the virtuous qualities of alms-giving, keeping precepts, etc. In pursuance of this resolution, the Sampeya king later came to the human world and sought solitude in a forest, and kept observance of the moral precepts.
The point we wish to make in this story of the Sampeya Naga king is that from the human point of view, the body of a reptile is horrible, repulsive. At the initial stage of the Naga life, the Bodhisatta also viewed his new life with horror and revulsion, but the sight of the attractive female Nagas brought about a change in his outlook, which kept him revelling and delighting in the Naga existence as if it were the home of gods. It is tanhã which seeks delight here, there, everywhere rebirth takes place that made the Bodhisatta enjoy his Naga life after the initial revulsion. There was also the wish he had made, while he was a poor man in the human world, for the pleasurable life of a Naga king. This wish or craving was also tanhã which landed him in the realm of the Nagas, in accordance with the words of the Blessed One: ‘Ponobhavikã . . . gives rise to new birth’.
THE STORY OF QUEEN UPARI
Queen Upari was the chief queen of King Assaka who once ruled over the country of Kasi at its capital Patali. She was said to be of great beauty. Ancient kings used to select the most attractive maidens of their kingdom to become their queens. Consequently, all their queens were noted for their charm and loveliness. Queen Upari was outstanding amongst them because of her raving beauty and enchantment. Bewitched by her alluring comeliness, King Assaka had lost his heart to her.
Much adored by the monarch and while still in the prime of her beauty and charm, Queen Upari went to the gods’ abode. Now, ‘to go to the abode of the celestial beings’ is a Burmese cultural usage to denote the death of a royal personage. Likewise, ‘flying back’ means the passing away of a Buddhist monk, a mere cultural usage. A dead person finds rebirth in an existence as conditioned by kamma, the previous volitional activities. As it happened, Queen Upari, in spite of the saying according to the cultural usage that ‘she had gone to the gods’ abode’, actually made her rebirth in the abode of the lowly beetles.
With the passing away of his adored queen, King Assaka was consumed by fiercely burning fires of sorrow and lamentation. He caused the corpse of the queen embalmed in oil, to be placed in a glass coffin and kept underneath his bedstead. Overwhelmed by grief, the king lay on the bed without food or sleep, wailing, moaning over the loss of his beloved queen. The royal relatives and his wise ministers tried to console him and give his solace by reminding him of the nature of impermanence and conditionality of existence, all to no avail. The corpse in the coffin, being embalmed in oil, would remain well-preserved just like being treated with chemical preservatives of modern times. The queen would therefore appear to the king as if she was lying, sleeping in the coffin. The sight of the corpse acted like fuel to his burning sorrows and lamentations which continued to consume him for seven days.
At that time, the Bodhisatta was a hermit, endowed with abhiññã (supernormal jhãnic powers) living in the forest of the Himalayas. He happened to scan the whole world using his abhiññã and saw King Assaka in the throes of intense sorrow. He knew also that no one but himself could save the king from his misery. He then made his way to the royal garden of King Assaka by means of his jhãnic powers.
There a young Brahmin came to meet the hermit who asked him about King Assaka. The young man told him how the king was being overwhelmed by grief and requested him to save the king. “We do not know the king, but if he came and asked us, we could tell him about his wife’s presence existence”, replied the hermit. Thereupon, the young man went to the king and said, “Great Sir, a hermit endowed with celestial eye and celestial ear has arrived in the royal garden. He claims he could show the present existence of the departed queen. It would be worthwhile to go and see him.”
Upon hearing this, the king immediately took off for the royal garden in a carriage. On arrival, the king paid respectful homage to the hermit and addressed him, “Reverend Sir, is it true that you claim to know the present existence of the queen Upari?” When the hermit admitted his claim, the king wanted to know where she was reborn.
“Oh, great King, Queen Upari took delight in her beauteous appearance and was very vain about it. She had spent her time engaged only in beautifying herself to make herself more alluringly attractive, forgetting all the while to perform meritorious deeds, to give alms and observe moral precepts. As a result, she has passed over to a lowly existence. She is presently reborn as a female cow dung beetle in this very garden,” the hermit told the whole story very frankly.
Persons favoured by fortune enjoying privileges of wealth, family, education, rank, physical beauty, etc., are prone to exhibit haughtiness in their dealings with others. Shrouded in their own vanity and self-esteem, they become neglectful in their performance of meritorious deeds. Humility plays no part in their make-up. The Blessed One had taught in the Culakammavibhaïga Sutta that such vain, glorious, haughty persons are liable to land up in lowly inferior rebirths. On the other hand, unpretentious persons who show humility and pay reverential respects to those deserving of homage will be reborn in noble families.
Queen Upari of our story was extremely beautiful and, being the chief queen of the ruling monarch, was of very high status in life. She had her head turned by these pre-eminent qualities and looked down with contempt on those she should have shown her respects. For such unwholesome attitudes and actions, it may be presumed she was reborn a lowly, female cow dung beetle. On hearing this account of the rebirth of his beloved queen, King Assaka promptly rejected it, saying “I don’t believe it.”
The hermit replied, “I can show you the female beetle and make her talk, too.” The king replied, “All right. Please do and make her talk, too.” The hermit, using his supernatural powers of abhiññã made a vow for both the male and female beetles to make their appearance before the king.
When the male and female beetles emerged from the heap of cow dung into the presence of the king, the hermit said, “Oh King, the female beetle which is following from behind was your chief queen Upari devi. Having abandoned you, she is now trailing the male cow dung beetle wherever it goes. Oh King, have a good look at the female beetle who was lately your chief queen Upari.”
The king refused to believe the hermit. “I can’t believe that such an intelligent being as my queen Upari was reborn as this female beetle,” said the king.
True, for those who do not quite believe in the laws of kamma and its resultant effect, who do not understand the principles of conditionality or causal relationship as explained in Paticca Samuppãda, it would be difficult to accept that a being of the human world should have gone down so low as to become a mere beetle. Even in these days of sasanã when the Buddha’s teachings are widely prevalent, there are some people holding the view that ‘when man dies, he cannot descend into an existence inferior to that of a human being’. So it is not surprising that during the dark ages when the Buddha’s dispensation was yet unheard of, such stories of reincarnation were received with scepticism.
Nevertheless, according to the teachings of the Buddha, for so long as one has not yet attained the status of an ariya, one can descend from the human world or the celestial realm into the four lower states of existence. Conditioned by bad kamma and the mental reflex just before death, rebirth may take place in the lower order of beings. On the other hand, conditioned by good kamma and wholesome mental attitude on the threshold of death, ascent may be made from an inferior sphere of existence into the higher realm of human and celestial beings.
There is the story of a Bhikkhu named Reverend Tissa who developed attachment to his saffron robes when he was about to die. As a consequence, he was reborn a body louse making his home on those very robes. There is another story of a frog who met its death while listening to a discourse by the Buddha. He became a celestial being in Tavatimsa celestial abode. These are examples which serve as evidence of various transformations at the time of rebirths.
However, King Assaka, not having heard of such discourses, could not accept that his queen had become a female beetle. Accordingly, he refused to believe it. The hermit, therefore, proposed that he would make the female beetle talk. The king accepted the proposal. Thereupon, the hermit made the vow using his supernatural powers to have the conversation between him and the female beetle, comprehensible to the king and his audience.
“Who were you in your past life?” the hermit asked.
“I was the chief queen Upari of King Assaka,” replied the female beetle.
“What now, female beetle, do you still love King Assaka or do you love only this cow dung beetle?”
To which the female beetle gave the reply: “True, King Assaka was my husband in my past life. At that time, I used to roam about in this garden in the company of King Assaka, enjoying the five sense-pleasures of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. But, now that I am in the new existence, I have nothing to do with King Assaka.”
The commentarial version of the female beetle’s reply is as follows: ‘In my present existence, I could relish killing King Assaka and with the blood from his throat, wash the feet of the cow dung beetle who is my present beloved husband.” This commentarial exposition makes the beetle’s reply sound very harsh and unfeeling, but as she was talking in the presence of her dear husband, the male beetle, it is natural that she wanted to please him. We can easily see in everyday life many conspicuous examples of estrangement between ex-husbands and wives, who get separated not through death but in this very life on grounds of incompatibility, and examples of loving tenderness heaped on their new partners in life. The remarks in the commentary appears, therefore, to be quite in order.
The Jãtaka Pãli texts describe the female beetle’s reply thus: ‘Reverend Sir, I who had loved King Assaka had roamed about in this garden many a time together with King Assaka who had loved me and who was my beloved husband then, enjoying each other’s company. But now, the joys and troubles of the present new life have obscured, covered up the joys and troubles of the old life. The new joys and troubles have transcended the old joys and troubles. I love my present husband, the male cow dung beetle, more than I did King Assaka.”
The commentary exposition of the words ‘love more than’ makes interesting reading. It says ‘love more than’ means ‘love hundred times more, love one thousand times more’, indicating the intensity of love in favour of the new husband.
King Assaka was greatly distressed to hear the harsh, unfeeling words of estrangement from the lips of the female beetle. He thought to himself: ‘I had loved and adored her so much. I could not betake myself to throw away her dead body. Yet she had become so antipathetic and nasty to me.’
He felt so disgusted with his old queen Upari that he ordered, even while sitting there, “Go and have that woman’s body removed.” Then, having bathed and washed himself, the king went back to the palace. He made another court lady his chief queen and carried on ruling over his country wisely. The hermit, Bodhisatta, after giving good advice to the king, went back to the Himalayan sanctuary.
The moral from this story is that queen Upari, while in the human world, had taken delight in being a human person, and a queen at that. She would never have even dreamt of being reborn a female beetle. But in accordance with her past kamma, when she was reborn a female beetle, she at once took to the life and delight in the physical body of a beetle. She esteemed and adored the physical body of the male beetle hundred times, thousand times more than that of King Assaka.
That she felt quite at home in her lowly existence as a cow dung beetle is due to tanhã (craving) which finds delight everywhere. That is why the Buddha had said, “Tatra tatrã-bhinandini” – tanhã has the tendency to delight wherever it finds rebirth.
Reborn as a dog, it takes delight in a dog’s existence; reborn as a pig, as a fowl, there is always delight in each existence. Even having been born as children of affluent parents of upper social class, there are cases of them sinking down to poverty-stricken existences and yet enjoying their lives therein. Some of them even resisted the efforts of their parents to take them back into the fold of the family since they are finding their new life quite enjoyable. It is tanhã again which is giving them pleasure wherever they are, delighting in whatever sense object presents itself.
HOW FRESH REBIRTH TAKES PLACE
We shall now deal with ponobhavikã (tendency to give rise to new births) which we had earlier postponed.
Since tanhã has the nature of delighting and clinging, a being finds delight in whatever existence it is born into and enjoys any sense-object that presents itself. Because it finds its existence so delightful and pleasurable, there comes the wish for this existence to remain everlasting, stable and pleasurable objects to be endurable and lasting. In endeavouring to maintain them as one wishes, volitional activities come into play. These kammas or volitional activities, which may be wholesome or unwholesome are the cause of rebirths in new existences.
Thus, when a person is about to die, one or the other of these meritorious or demeritorious kammas may present itself before his mind’s eyes. Or, it may be a kamma-nimitta, a symbol of the kamma (which is any sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or idea which had obtained at the time of the commission of that kamma). Or, gati-nimitta, a sign of destiny, that is a sign of the next existence where he is destined to open his new life in consequence of the said kamma. The kamma, kamma-nimitta or gati-nimitta which presents itself to the dying person is tenaciously grasped at because of tanhã and cannot be dispelled from his mind. Just like the shadows of a mountain thrown by the evening sun falls on the surface of the land and covering it, so also these sense-objects of kamma, kamma-nimitta or gati-nimitta which present themselves at the sense-doors completely occupy his mind. These sense-objects are tenaciously held by the maranasaññã-javana, otherwise called abhisaïkhãra viññãna.
In accordance with the Teaching, kammam khettan, viññãnam bijan, tanhã sincho’ of Angutara Pãli Canon, Tika Nipãta, for the appearance of patisandhi viññãna (birth-consciousness) of new becoming, meritorious or demeritorious kamma serves as a field in which it may grow. Abhisaïkhãra viññãna serves as the seed for the growth of the patisandhi viññãna, and tanhã, which delights in every sense-object in every existence, may be likened to the moisture or water element (which promotes its growth). Here, abhisaïkhãra viññãna (that conditions new becoming) is, according to the commentary, consciousness accompanying the volitional kamma, cetana. In the same way it arises together with the first volitional kamma, so also it accompanies the later kamma activities and as such, consciousness which appears later should also be designated abhisaïkhãra viññãna. Particularly, maranasaññã javana consciousness which takes as its object kamma, kamma-nimitta and gati-nimitta should be called the abhisaïkhãra viññãna because it is from this maranasaññã javana consciousness that patisandhi viññãna arises. In addition, in the same way a seed germinates only when it comes into contact with water element, moisture, the seed of consciousness receiving support and encouragement by tanhã which accompanies or precedes it in close proximity, tenaciously holds onto kamma, kamma-nimitta or gati nimitta as its object and gives rise to patisandhi viññãna.
Then, immediately after the dissolution of the death-moment, aggregates of rupa, nãma, patisandhi citta, the birth consciousness, holding onto the kamma, kamma-nimitta or gati-nimitta as its object, arises at a new site in a new existence complete with its physical base upon which it depends. With each consciousness arise also its mental concomitants, cetasikas. The patisandhi viññãna, the re-linking consciousness is followed by bhavanga consciousness, the life-continuum, which goes on continuously throughout life as prescribed by one’s own kammic energy. The arising of new existence is brought about by two factors: one’s own kamma and tanhã. Without tanhã, however, kamma by itself cannot bring about new becoming.
For an Arahat, his past meritorious deeds will come to good fruition before his death, parinibbãna. Multifarious gifts gained by Venerable Sivali, perfect health enjoyed by Venerable Bakula, are examples of good fruition. His demeritorious deeds will, however, bear bad fruits as, for instance, lack of alms-food for Venerable Losakatissa, or the fate met by the Venerable Moggalana who was cudgelled to death by felons. These kammas, however, do not have anymore potentialities for causing fresh rebirths as they are devoid of tanhã. Lacking the support and encouragement of tanhã at the time of maranasaññã, the abhisaïkhãra viññãna cannot arise and, hence, no rebirth. For this reason, only tanhã is attributed to be the cause of fresh existence . . . ponobhavikã.
Therefore, tanhã forms the root cause of fresh becoming. For this reason, the Blessed One had pin-pointed tanhã to be the cause of new existence . . . ponobhavikã. These are the words which the Blessed One had used in the very first discourse to teach the existence of after-life. In spite of this clear teaching, there is a group of people who maintain that ‘the Blessed One taught only about the present existence. He did not touch on future life.’ We could not be sure whether these people were attempting to associate the Buddha’s teaching with uccheda vada, the theory of annihilation, a very misguided effort we must say! In reality, however, so long as tanhã endures, through failure to develop the Eightfold Path, or even if developing, not being fully advanced in accomplishment, so long this tanhã will continue to serve as the cause for fresh existence.
When the Eightfold Path has been fully accomplished and arahatta path and fruition attained, tanhã will be completed eradicated and there will be no more rebirth. Thus, when exercising retrospection on attainment of enlightenment as a Buddha or an Arahat, the thought always occurs to the Noble Ones: ‘Ayaõ antima jãti, natthi dani ponabhavoti … This is the last existence. There is no more rebirth.’ This reflection is also included in the later section of the Dhammacakka Sutta. Such reflections make it obvious that unless tanhã is completely rooted out, continuous fresh existences, new becomings are inevitable.
How this tanhã brings on repeated rebirths will now be illustrated by a few stories. There are thousands of stories illustrating this fact, but it will suffice by taking three stories from the Pãli commentaries and four or five from the modern period.
IN BRAHMA LAND HE SHINES BRIGHT; IN PIG’S PEN, TOO, HE FINDS DELIGHT
At one time, the Blessed One went into Rãjagiri for almsround. On seeing a young female pig, the Blessed One smiled. Noticing the white radiation which shone forth from the teeth of the Buddha, the Venerable Ànandã knew that the Buddha was smiling. Accordingly, he asked: “What has caused, Sire, to smile?”
The Blessed One pointed out the young female pig to Ànandã and said, “See that young female pig? She was a young woman in human existence during the dispensation of Kakusanda Buddha. When she died, she was reborn a hen in the neighbourhood of a monastic feeding hall. The small hen fell victim to an eagle. But earlier she happened to have heard the recitation by a yogi Buddhist monk of a meditation subject which aroused in her wholesome thoughts. By virtue of these merits, the small hen was reborn as a princess named Ubbari in a royal family. The princess Ubbari later left the household life and became a wandering mendicant. Residing in the mendicants’ residence she happened one day to gaze at the maggots in the latrine. The worms served as an object for meditation (contemplation of ugliness of worm-infested corpse or contemplation of a white object) by which she attained the first jhãna. When she passed away, she was reborn a Brahma in the first jhãnic Brahma world. On expiry from the Brahma world, she became the daughter of a rich man in the human world which she left again only to be born a pig now. I saw all these events which made me smile.”
On hearing this story of repeated births in various existences, Venerable Ànandã and other monks became greatly alarmed and agitated with religious emotion. The Blessed One stopped going on alms-round and while still standing on the roadway, started teaching the dhamma in six verses, the first one of which stated:
Yathãpi móle anupaddove dal.he,
chinnopi rukho punareva róhati
evaõpi tanhã nusaye anuhate
nibbattati dukkhamidaõ punappunam
‘If the main roots of a tree remain undamaged and in good condition, even when the upper branches are cut off that tree will grow again developing new buds and shoots. Likewise, if there remains defilements (lying dormant) which are not yet eradicated by ariya magga, this suffering of rebirth will arise time and again successively.’
What is conveyed by this verse is this: ‘During her existence as princess Ubbari, she renounced the world to become a wanderer. By practising meditation, she attained the first jhãna which could dispel or put away by vikkhambhana pahãna (elimination by discarding) only the defilements of pariyutthana class, i.e. craving for sensual pleasure which appears as sensuous thoughts at the mind’s door. By means of vikkhambhana pahãna, jhãna can put away the defilements only to a certain distance for a certain period of time. Thus, she was able to dispel the craving for sensual pleasure when she attained the first jhãna and later in the Brahma world. But when she was born again in the human world as the daughter of a wealthy man, the craving for sensual pleasure reappeared because it had not been rooted out by the ariya magga. The bhava tanhã (craving for existence), of course, persisted even when she had attained the jhãna. Because the latent defilements had not been completely uprooted, she had to descend from the Brahma world, through the human world, into a pig’s existence. So long as the craving persists, repeated rebirths will take place in this way in various existences.’
In reference to this story of descent from the Brahma world to a pig’s existence, ancient Sayadaws had left an aphorism, ‘In Brahma land, she shines bright; in pig’s pen, too, she finds delight’. But it is not possible to be reborn as a pig straight from the Brahma world, nor as any other animal nor in the realms of petas (starving ghosts) nor in the states of misery. By virtue of the upacãra bhãvanã, the access meditation, proximate to the jhãna previously attained, rebirth can take place only as a human being or in the celestial abode. The young female pig of the above story also passed through human life where she was born as the daughter of a wealthy man. It is quite possible that she landed in a pig’s existence after being the daughter of a wealthy man because of the bad kamma she had committed then, in being haughty and insolent to those she should have shown respect.
When the young female pig died, she was reborn in a royal family of Suvannabhumi, which is generally taken to be the country of Thaton. Some scholars, however, take Suvannabhumi to be the Sumatra island, relying on the bronze inscriptions made by the King Devapala about 1500 Buddhist era.
From being a princess of Suvannabhumi, she passed over to Varanasi, India, as a woman. She then became a woman in Varãnasi, in south-east of Bombay. From there, she was reborn the daughter of a horse-merchant in the seaport town of Supparaka, north-west of Bombay. Next, she became the daughter of a shipowner at the port of Kavira in the south-easternmost part of the Indian peninsular. This is the coastal district inhabited by the Tamil people, formerly called Damila. After that life, she was reborn in the family of a government official at Anuradha or present day Sri Lanka. Her next life was as a daughter of a rich man, named Sumana from Bhokkanta, a village south of Anuradha. She took the same name as her father, Sumana. Later her father left that village and settled down in the Mahãmuni village of the Dighavapi District. One day, a minister of the king Dutthagãmini, named Lakundala Atimbara, happened to visit the Mahamuni village on a certain business. Upon seeing the young lady Sumana, he fell madly in love with her. He married her with great pomp and ceremony and carried her off to his village, Mahãpunna.
The Venerable Mahã Anuruddha, who resided at the monastery of Taungsun, happened to visit her village for alms-round. While waiting for offer of almsfood at the gate of Sumana’s house, he saw Sumana and said to his monk followers: “Bhikkhus, how wonderful, what a marvel! The young female pig of the Blessed One’s time is now the wife of the minister Lakundaka Atimbara.”
On hearing this exclamation, Sumana, the wife of the minister, developed jatissara ñãna (knowledge of previous existences). With the help of this faculty, she recalled to her mind the previous existences she had passed through. In consequence, she became agitated with fear at the prospect of repeated births in the cycle of existences. Asking permission from her minister husband, she went to a bhikkhuni monastery and got herself ordained. After ordination, she listened to the discourse on Satipaööhãna Sutta at Tissa Mahã Vihãra monastery. Practising mindfulness meditation in accordance with the sutta, she became a sotapanna, well-established as a stream-winner in the first stage of the Path and Fruition. Then, when king Dutthagamini came on the throne, she went back to her native village, Bhokkanta, where at the Kalla Mahã Vihãra monastery she heard the discourse on Asivisopana Sutta which enabled her to attain the fourth stage of the Fruition and became an Arahat, completely free from influxes, passions.
Going over the thirteen existences of Sumana thoughtfully and mindfully, one could get aroused with religious emotion. When, as the young woman at the time of the Kakusanda Buddha died, she left behind her family, possessions and her own physical body. The bereft family and friends would have grieved over her death. She became a hen. What a frightful thought, a human being to be reborn a hen! That hen would have a family and friends, too. She met with a terrible death, from decapitation, when an eagle seized her and struck her fiercely with its beak. There is consolation, however, that she was reborn a princess for the merit accrued from having heard a discourse on meditation. The hen would not, of course, know anything of the dhamma, but as she had given devout attention to the discourse, certain merit would have accrued to her for which she was reborn a princess. Listening to a dhamma discourse is thus very beneficial and fruitful.
It is a matter for gratification that she became a Brahma after being a princess by virtue of her jhãnic attainments. It is gratifying too that from the Brahma world she was reborn in the human world into a wealthy family. But it is very distressing to know that she left behind her family, friends and possessions reluctantly to be reborn a female pig. It is really frightful to think of descending to human plane from the Brahma world and to sink further still into animal kingdom as a pig. This should be enough to excite alarm and religious emotion because so long as the noble ariya magga has not been established, anyone is liable to find himself landed in lowly states of existence. It was with the intention of arousing religious emotions and exhorting the bhikkhus to take to dhamma in all earnestness that the Blessed One had told them the account of the female hen’s succession of existences.
How the young female pig met her death was not mentioned in the texts, but it could be presumed that she was slaughtered by her breeder as in modern times. The young female pig must have had a family and friends which she left behind, causing grief to them. It was comforting that she was reborn afterwards as a human being in six places from Suvannabhómi to Anurãdha. But in each of these existences, every time she departed from one life there must have been considerable suffering from sorrow, lamentation and grief for her and her dear ones. That she finally became Bhikkhuni Sumana Theri is the most heartening part of the story.
The cause of the succession of her existences departing from one life to be reborn in another is tanhã or samudaya saccã, the Truth of the Origin of Suffering. Other people who are not yet rid of tanhã will likewise go through the cycle of rebirths, dying from one life to be reborn in another. It is extremely important, therefore, to get established in the practice of the Noble Ariyan Path in order to eradicate tanhã, otherwise called the Truth of the Origin of Suffering. Sumana Theri first heard the discourse on Satipatthãna Sutta. Then she practised mindfulness in accordance with the Satipatthãna method which helped her attain the status of sotapanna (the stream-winner). Then, hearing the Asivisopana Sutta, she devoted herself more ardently to the practice and attained Arahatta Fruition to become a female Arahat. Tanhã, otherwise samudaya, was completely eradicated from her. Therefore, there would be no more rebirth for her and she would be enjoying peace after her parinibbana.
Sumana Theri, therefore, declared to her colleagues that she would fully pass away (parinibbhuto) after the ayusaïkhãra, the vital principle for her present existence had become exhausted. Thereupon, her colleagues, bhikkhus and bhikkhunis requested of her the story of her existences. “I was a human woman at the time of the Kakusanda Buddha. When I died from there, I became a hen. I was killed by an eagle which broke off my head and devoured me. Then I became a princess in the human world . . .” she continued to recount her past existences till the time of her final existence at Bhokkanta village. She concluded, “Thus have I passed through thirteen existences encountering the ups and downs, vicissitudes of life in each existence. In this last existence, being wearied of the cycle of rebirths, I have become an ordained bhikkhuni and finally attained Arahatship. I urge all of you, my righteous bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, to put forth your endeavour mindfully to become fully accomplished in sila, samãdhi and paññã.” Then she passed away, causing religious agitation in the minds of her audience, consisting of men, women, bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. This story of the young female pig is fully described in the commentary to the Dhammapada.
THE STORY OF SAMANA DEVA
Even if one were engaged in meditation practice to dispel tanhã, samudaya saccã until one became fully developed in the knowledge of the path, tanhã could still give rise to rebirth. This fact is borne out by the story of a deva named Samana.
During the lifetime of the Buddha, a certain young man, having established faith in the dispensation of the Buddha, got himself ordained and stayed with his preceptor for five vassa periods. He performed all the major and minor incumbent duties for his upajjhãya and learnt thoroughly the two codes, dve matikã of Pãtimokkha discipline for the bhikkhus. He also mastered the procedure for purifying himself from serious as well as trifling offences. Then, taking a meditation object of his choice, he departed to a solitary abode in the forest and devoted himself incessantly to the practice of meditation.
His efforts at meditation were very strenuous. Even at midnight, which the Blessed One had allowed as the time for rest and sleep, he continued with the practice. Thus striving day and night and getting enervated by lack of sufficient nourishing food, he was suddenly seized with a cutting pain, a paralytic stroke which ruptured the spinal nerve causing him instant death. He was meditating while walking and thus said to have passed away in the course of performing the duties of a bhikkhu.
According to the commentary, if any bhikkhu passes away while engaged in walking up and down the cloister walk or standing leaning against the leaning post, or sitting or lying down at the head of the cloister walk with the double robe on his head, he is said to ‘die in harness’. A bhikkhu is also said to ‘die in harness’ if he passes away in the course of preaching a sermon, particularly on liberation from the chain of existences.
As the bhikkhu of our story was engaged in meditating while walking up and down the cloister walk, we could take it that he passed away while he was contemplating the nãma, rupa of the body postures in accordance with the teaching in the Satipatthãna Sutta. Although he had put in a great deal of effort in the practice of meditation, he passed away without attaining the arahatta magga because he was not yet fully endowed with supporting acts of perfections (pãrãmis) necessary for such attainments.
Complete eradication of tanhã is not possible unless arahatta magga has been attained. That this bhikkhu had not yet developed even up to the stage of the stream-winner will become clear later. Therefore, because of tanhã which can cause rebirth (ponobhavikã) he was reborn in the celestial abode of Tãvatiõsã. A magnificent celestial palace awaited him in consequence of the merit he had acquired in the practice of meditation. By spontaneous rebirth, he appeared, as if just awakened from sleep, at the entrance of the palace, a celestial being resplendent in full celestial attire.
At that moment, about one thousand celestial princesses who had been awaiting the arrival of the master of the palace said, “Our Lord has arrived. Let us entertain him.” They gathered around him, holding musical instruments in their hands to welcome him joyously. The deva lord of the palace, however, did not even realize that he had taken a new existence in a new world. He was under the impression that he was still a bhikkhu of the human world. On the sight of the celestial damsels, he took them to be female visitors to his monastery. He covered up his bare left shoulder with the upper garment and remained seated, his eyes lowered, assuming a very dignified and reserved pose.
Realizing at once that the new being must have been a bhikkhu in his previous existence, the celestial ladies addressed him, “My lord, this is the abode of the celestial beings. It is not the time to be observing the code of bhikkhu discipline. It is the occasion for enjoyment of celestial pleasures.” But he continued maintaining solemn reserve and dignity. “This deva has not realized that he has become a celestial being in the realm of the devas. Let us drive home this fact to him by our welcoming revelries.” So saying, the celestial damsels started playing the musical instruments accompanied by songs. The deva all the more tightened his retiring disposition, maintaining his dignified solemnity, thinking that the female visitors had come to his forest abode to abandon themselves to frivolous merriment.
Whereupon the celestial ladies brought out a body-length mirror and placed it in front of the deva. On seeing his reflection in the mirror, he finally realized that he had left the bhikkhu’s existence and taken rebirth in the celestial land. The Samana deva was greatly perturbed then. He reflected: ‘I did not take up meditation to be reborn in this celestial land. My object was to attain the most profitable goal of Arahatta fruition, but I am now like a boxer who entered the boxing competition aiming at the championship gold medal but was awarded only a bundle of turnips.’
Extremely agitated in mind, he thought: ‘The celestial pleasures are easily attainable. The lifetime of an Enlightened One is a rare occasion. To hear the teaching of the Buddha and to attain the ariya magga is of utmost importance. By wallowing in the celestial pleasures, there is the danger of losing the opportunity of meeting the Buddha.’ So without taking the trouble of entering the palatial building, he repaired hastily to the presence of the Buddha while the restraining sila he had observed as a bhikkhu still remained intact. His celestial damsels also accompanied him as they were anxious not to lose sight of him. On reaching the presence of the Buddha, he addressed him: “Most Venerable Blessed One. In what manner will it be possible to avoid and proceed along past the Nandavana garden otherwise known as the Mohana garden, the grove of stupidity because it serves to encourage foolish behaviour in the celestial beings who visit it, where thousands of female celestial beings indulge in singing and yodelling, where numerous demons, goblins and spirits haunt.”
Here the deva referred to the celestial females as demons and goblins and to the Nandavana garden as the grove of stupidity because he was still in a repulsive mood towards sensual pleasures as a consequence of his intense efforts at Vipassanã meditation. The commentary explanation of the deva’s query as to ‘how to proceed along’ was that he was requesting the Blessed One for guidance on vipassana which provides access to the arahatta phala.
The Buddha reflected on all the circumstances concerning the deva and taught him the Noble Eightfold Path in three verses:
1 Ujuko nãma so magga
abhaya nãma sa disã
ratho akujano nãma
“Oh deva, who is anxious to flee away, the straight path for a quick escape is the Eightfold Path of vipassanã you had already trod while a bhikkhu.”
Here, we have given, for the benefit of the present audience, the explanatory meaning of the first line in the verse which just says ‘the straight path is that path’. That bare translation would have been quite incomprehensible to this audience, but to the deva who looked as if he had come straight from the monastery, where he had devoted himself to meditation, the meaning was quite clear.
The commentary exposition is as follows: On giving meditation training to someone not yet established in sila, etc., the Blessed One always advised him, “Purity your sila (moral conduct), develop mindfulness and concentration, straighten out your views on kamma and its resultant effects,” and directed the yogi to get firmly established in these fundamental practices initially. To one already engaged in meditation, he instructed him only in vipassanã, the proximate to the arahatta magga. The deva was already practising meditation exercises and his sila remained unimpaired. It was only the ariya magga that he needed to accomplish, having already developed its precursor pubba magga vipassanã Path. Thus, in order to instruct him in vipassanã, the Blessed One taught him the three verses.
In this commentary exposition, the fact of his sila remaining unimpaired even after he had passed over from a bhikkhu’s existence to that of a celestial being, should be well-noted. It means that having not breached any of the precepts such as killing, stealing, sexual relationships, etc., he still continued to maintain his sila. It should be understood, therefore, that even without formal vow of keeping the precepts, sila remains unimpaired if one abstains from evil deeds which one should not commit. It should also be noted that these verses taught vipassanã.
As we had explained above, ‘the best and straightest way of quick escape from the Nandavana garden of the celestial world with its celestial females is the vipassanã path which he had trod along while he was a Bhikkhu’.
Regarding the next query on the danger-free place of refuge, the Buddha said, “The danger-free place of refuge is that sanctuary, namely, Nibbãna, which you had aspired to as a bhikkhu.” This means that he had to strive on till he attained Nibbãna.
As to what type of vehicle should be employed to make the passage, the Blessed One said, “For a silent escape with no one becoming aware of it, you need a silent carriage which is the Vipassanã two-wheeler fitted with two wheels of physical exertion and mental exertion.”
The mental effort involved in noting every physical activity is known as cetasika viriya (mental exertion). When noting the bodily actions of going, standing, sitting, the physical effort required to maintain the body in respective postures is called kãyika viriya (physical exertion). Meditation while lying down involves only mental exertion, not physical exertion. Here, as the use of a two-wheeler with wheels of mental exertion and physical exertion was advised, it must be taken to mean the vipassanã meditation which requires heedful noting of walking, standing and sitting. Thus, to ride on the grand carriage of the vipassanã magga fitted with two wheels of physical exertion and mental exertion, we must be engaged in mindful noting while occasionally walking up and down. That is to say, we must note ‘walking’, ‘raising’, ‘stepping forward’, ‘dropping’ as prescribed in the discourse on Satipatthãna Sutta, namely, gacchanto vã gacchãmiti pajãnãti.
While striving thus, as the concentration gets strengthened, the yogi will come to distinguish with each noting, the rupa which causes stiffness and moves, from nãma, the mental act of noting it. As the concentration still gets further strengthened, the yogi will come to distinguish the cause from the effect. He knows: ‘Because of the intention to go, there appears the physical process of going, because there is the object to know, there is knowing. With further progress, the arising of such phenomenon for a moment . . . the intention to go, the physical process of going, the noting mind . . . followed by its dissolution is clearly perceived as if it is grasped in one’s own hand. It is realized plainly then that what arises momentarily only to vanish soon is not permanent; that what arises and vanished incessantly is fearsome suffering. The yogi will also comprehend clearly that the phenomena are occurring of their own accord, following nobody’s will and, therefore, anatta, not subjected to anyone’s control. Then the heedful noting should continue while standing or sitting occasionally.
The silent carriage mentioned here is a reference to the horse-drawn vehicles of ancient days. Some carriages are by themselves noiseless, but when burdened with many passengers or heavy loads, are liable to produce creaky sound. However, the ‘magga vehicle’ is able to carry an unlimited number of passengers without producing any sound. Sometimes, while listening to the teachings of the Buddha, passengers numbering eighty-four thousand rode on this ‘magga vehicle’, piloted by ‘vipassanã magga’ which transported them noiselessly to their final destination, Nibbãna. Thus this carriage was admired as a noiseless vehicle. Intimation was in this way given by the Buddha to the deva that it would be possible to make his silent escape, without letting the celestial females know, by means of this transport.
2. Hiri tassa apalambo, satyassa parivaranam,
dhammaham sarathim byuhi, sammãditthi pure javam.
Hiri, sense of shame and horror to commit evil deeds, serves as the leaning board of seats on the carriage without which passengers are liable to fall backwards when the carriage moves. The ‘magga vehicle’ has excellent leaning boards of hiri and ottappa.
The meditating yogi feels repulsed and horrified at the possible arising of unwholesome thoughts concerning some objects which he may have missed in his heedful noting. It is like the revulsion one feels towards coming into with filth after having a nice, clean bath. The conscientious concern (solicitude) for non-arising of unwholesome thoughts and revulsion towards them is termed hiri or otherwise sense of shame. There is also fear of unwholesome thoughts leading to evil actions which will yield unwholesome resultant effects, and hinder escape from samsãra (the cycle of existences). This fear of evil deeds and its unwholesome consequences is termed ottappa.
Because of this sense of shame (hiri) and fear of evil deeds (ottappa), the yogi devotes himself in a reverential attitude to the task of noting every physical and mental phenomenon without missing any. In this way, magga path is kept developing with each passing moment. This is like the manner in which the leaning boards of the carriage prevent the passengers from falling backwards, maintaining them in their positions. That is the reason why the Blessed One had termed hiri and ottappa as the leaning boards of the vipassanã magga vehicle.
Then the Blessed One went on to explain how the mindfulness is like the covering drapery or the awning of the magga vehicle. In the same way, the shielding awning fitted in a carriage guards against the danger of stones or sticks being thrown in. Mindfulness of every mental and physical phenomenon, as it arises, keeps oneself secure from the danger of demeritorious deeds. Therefore, the four foundations of mindfulness such as the contemplation of the body, etc., are termed the covering drapery of the magga vehicle.
The Blessed One continued: “I call the right view pertaining to ariya magga ‘ariya magga sammãditthi’, preceded by vipassanã sammãditthi (the right view pertaining to vipassanã) the driver of the carriage.”
Of the six kinds of right views, namely, kammasakata sammãditthi, jhãna sammãditthi, vipassanã sammãditthi, magga sammãditthi, phala sammãditthi and paccavekkhanã sammãditthi, the right view concerning the Fruition (phala sammãditthi) is the resultant effect of the magga. Similarly, paccavekkhanã sammãditthi (the right view concerning recollectedness) is the reflective knowledge which appears after attainment of the Path and Fruition. Therefore, it needs no particular effort to develop them. Kammassakata sammãditthi (the right view concerning kamma and its effect) has to be established even before one starts the practice of meditation. The right view concerning jhãna is related to the purification of mind which is the base for vipassanã. Thus, the proximate knowledge which has to be developed for the promotion of right view concerning the ariya magga is the right view concerning vipassanã. When the vipassanã knowledge is fully developed, knowledge of ariya magga, otherwise called the right view concerning the magga, arises spontaneously. It is just like a royal procession coming along after the roads have been cleared by the police and military escorts. Therefore, it is said that vipassanã sammãdiööhi proceeds, followed by ariya sammãditthi. While engaged in Vipassanã meditation, vipassanã ñãna leads the way for the development of other maggas. At the moment of attainment of ariya magga, magga ñãna gives the lead to other maggas. For this reason, the Buddha had called the vipassanã sammãditthi and ariya magga sammãditthi, the drivers of the carriage.
The last verse runs as follows:
3. Yassa etadisanyanam, Itthiya purisassa vã,
sa ve etena, yanena nibbãnasseva santike.
‘Any woman or man possessing this eightfold magga vehicle can get to the presence of Nibbãna by means of the vehicle.’
In accordance with this last verse, the owner of the eightfold magga vehicle, irrespective of sex, is definitely bound to ‘reach’ Nibbãna. So it is very clear that anyone desirous of reaching Nibbãna must develop ariya magga based on the vipassanã magga.
It is common knowledge that in this mundane world, the owner of some form of transport is able to reach the required destination by using it. However, just having the knowledge of the mechanism of the transport without actually possessing it will not get anyone anywhere. Likewise, by just knowing how to enumerate the various types of rupas and nãmas, or the different kinds of maggas, no one can reach Nibbãna. It must be definitely noted that only by coming into possession of the vipassanã magga vehicle through contemplation of the actual arising and dissolution of nãma and rupa and riding on the carriage of the Eightfold Path, one can reach Nibbãna. The three verses explained above are summarised as follows:
1 The straight path is magga, the destination is Nibbãna, free from danger.
2 Fitted with two wheels of energetic efforts, the magga carriage is silent.
3 Hiri and ottappa serve as the leaning board while mindfulness forms the drapery and awnings of the carriage.
4 Magga ñãna preceded by vipassanã ñãna is the driver of the carriage.
5 Owners of such carriage may be either man or woman.
6 One may ride comfortably in it to reach Nibbãna.
After teaching the three verses, the Buddha also gave the discourse on the Four Noble Truths which we shall discuss again when we come to the section on the Truth of the path, magga saccã.
The deva Sumana, while listening to the discourse, reflected on the meditation practices of his former existence. Although he had not been able to attain to higher knowledge as a bhikkhu in spite of strenuous efforts at meditation, in the existence of a deva whose physical body was free from impurities, in no time he was able to develop successive vipassanã ñãnas step by step until he attained the Path and Fruition of the first stage and realized Nibbãna, thus becoming a sotapanna (stream-winner).
The main point which this story of Sumana deva has brought home is that although the bhikkhu had been engaged ardently in vipassana meditation, as ariya magga, which could cut off the tanhã had not yet been attained, this tanhã, otherwise called samudaya saccã, had after death caused rebirth in the new existence of a celestial being. The story also pointed out how ariya magga could be developed and how as a deva higher knowledge could be attained with ease.
Another point brought out in the story is that if attachment lingers on in an individual or an object, bhava tanhã (craving for existence) is likely to cause rebirth in the vicinity of such a person or object. How attachment to an object will lead to renewed existence in close proximity to it is borne out by the well-known story of Bhikkhu Tissa who died with great craving for his robes and consequently was reborn in the form of a body louse on those very robes.
Now we shall deal with the account of how attachment to one’s wife had caused rebirth as a snake, a dog and a cattle.
ATTACHMENT TO WIFE LEADS TO REBIRTHS AS A SNAKE, A DOG, A CATTLE
There lived in a village in Sri Lanka, a man who was misbehaving with the wife of his elder brother. The woman was more passionately attached to her paramour than to her lawful husband. She, therefore, instigated her lover to get rid of his elder brother. The man remonstrated, “Woman! Don’t ever talk like that,” but after she had repeated her evil suggestions for three times, the lover asked, “How would I go about it?” She replied, “You go with an axe and wait for him at the riverside near the big caper tree. I’ll send him there.” Thereupon, the man proceeded there and lay in wait for his elder brother, hiding amongst the branches of the tree.
When the husband came back from work in the forest, the wife made a show of loving affection for him and fondly brushing his hair said, “Your hair needs cleaning, it is too dirty. Why not go and shampoo it at the riverside near the big caper tree?” Happy with the thought ‘my wife is very tender with her affections for me’, he went accordingly to the bathing place at the riverside. He was preparing to wash his hair, bending his head down, when his younger brother came out from the hiding place and cruelly chopped his head off with the axe.
Because of the clinging attachment to his wife, he was reborn a green snake (rat snake according to Sri Lankan scholars). Still attached to his wife, the snake took to dropping himself down from the roof of the house upon the woman. Realizing that the snake must have been her former husband, she caused it to be killed and removed. Even after passing away from the snake’s existence, his attachment for his former wife still remained strong and he was reborn a dog in his old house. As a dog it was still clinging to his former wife, following her everywhere even when she went to the forest. People made derisive remarks, ‘The hunter woman with the dog is going out. Wonder where she is headed for?’ The woman asked her lover again to kill the dog.
His attachment, still intense and persisting, the dog was reborn a calf in the same house. The young calf also followed her everywhere, drawing laughter and ridicule from the people again, ‘Look, the cowherd has come out. Wonder which pasture her cattle are going to graze in?” Again the woman asked her man to kill the young calf, but his tenacious attachment to his wife caused rebirth again, this time in the womb of herself.
In the human world which he regained, he was born endowed with jãtissara ñãna (faculty of recalling previous existences). Exercising this faculty, he went over the past four existences and was greatly distressed when he came to know that they were all terminated at the insistence of his former wife. “What an irony to have taken rebirth in the womb of such an enemy,” he lamented.
He would not let his mother, the enemy, touch him. Whenever the mother tried to hold him, the baby cried vociferously. So the grandfather had to take over the task of bringing up the child. When the child reached the age when he could speak, the grandfather asked him, “My dear child, why do you cry when your mother tries to hold you?” “This woman is no mother to me. She is my enemy who killed me in four successive existences.” So saying, he recounted to his grandfather the story of his previous lives. On hearing this sad tale, the old man wept embracing the child and said, “Come, my poor grandchild, let us get away. I see no gain in staying here.” They went away and stayed in a monastery where both of them received ordination and in time, through practice of meditation, were able to attain arahatta path and fruition and gained Arahatship.
The moral to be drawn from this episode is that attachment gives rise to repeated new existence at the very location of that attachment. This story clearly bears out the truth of the teaching, ponobhavikã, ‘attachment brings about fresh existences’. After the existences of a snake, a dog, a calf, and meeting violent death in each, in the last life of a human being when he attained Arahatship, the tanhã was completely extinguished. There would be no more rebirth for him and he would be free from all forms of suffering.
It would be well to take to heart the moral of this story and strive for freedom from all suffering through the practice of vipassana meditation. There would be no end of quoting similar stories from the Pãli texts and commentaries. Let us now come to the experiences and episodes met with in modern times.
A DHAMMA TEACHING SAYADAW
From 1291 to 1301 B.E. we were resident at Taikwine monastery of Moulmein. At that time there was a dhamma-preaching Sayãdaw of great repute. At the traditional feeding ceremony, a week after the death of a lawyer donor of his, he gave the following sermon at the merit-sharing service for the departed one.
“This life of mine is transitory, but my death is truly permanent. I must die inevitably. My life will end only in death. Life alone is impermanent; death, on the other hand, is definitely stable, permanent.”
This contemplation on death was used as the theme of his sermon. We were present on the occasion of that ceremony and had heard his sermon personally. Within a few days after this event, we heard the sad news of the demise of the dhamma-preaching Sayãdaw. We had thought then that he would have passed away contemplating on death as he had preached only a few days ago. We heard that the Sayãdaw had met a violent death at the hands of assassins who had stabbed him with a dagger.
About three years later, a certain young boy from Mergui came to Moulmein accompanied by his parents. He had been worrying his parents, asking them to take him to Moulmein. On arriving at the monastery of the former Sayãdaw, the boy informed his parents that in his previous existence he was the presiding Sayãdaw of that monastery. He could tell every thing about the monastery and whatever he said was found to be true. He remembered all the leading monks from the nearby monasteries and addressed them by names he had used to call them previously.
When he was asked by mentioning the name about a certain man, who was a close disciple of the late Sayãdaw, the boy replied, “Afraid, afraid.” When questioned what he was afraid of, he recounted how that man in association with some persons had stabbed him to death, how he had run away from them, and coming to the river bank and finding a boat, he made his escape riding on the boat. Later, arriving at the village on the Mergui coast, he said he entered the house of his present parents.
The visions he saw of how he had fled from his assassins, how he found a boat on the river bank, how he took a ride on it and came to the house of his parents, were all gati nimittas (signs of destiny) which had appeared to him at the approach of death. This is also a notable incident which confirms the fact that attachment brings forth new existence.
BORN A BUFFALO FOR THE SUM OF 40 KYATS?
In a certain town in Monywa district, there lived a man who was engaged in the business of money-lending during the British regime. He asked for the return of a loan from a certain farmer who replied he had already repaid the money he had borrowed. The moneylender repeatedly insisted that the farmer had not yet repaid the loan. Finally, he declared, “May I become a buffalo in your house if I had really asked for a double payment of the forty kyats which you said you had already returned.” With this oath, he pressed again for the return of his loan. The poor farmer was thus forced to make knowingly a double settlement of the loan he had taken.
Soon after, the moneylender passed away. And there was born in the house of the farmer, who had made a double payment of his loan, a young buffalo. Guessing that the moneylender had made a rebirth in his house as a buffalo, the poor farmer called out to the young buffalo, “Sayã, Sayã, please come,’ in the same way he used to address the old moneylender. The young buffalo answered his call and came to him. Believing now that the old moneylender had really become a buffalo in his house according to his oath, the farmer started to talk about this incident. Thereupon, the daughter of the departed moneylender went to court suing the poor farmer for defaming her father.
The judge who heard the case sent for the appellant, the defendant and the young buffalo together with witnesses for both sides. In the court, the farmer called out ‘Saya, Saya, please come’ to the buffalo in the same way he used to address the moneylender. The buffalo responded to his call by coming to him. The moneylender’s daughter used to address her father as ‘Shi, Shi’. In the court when she said ‘Shi, Shi’, the buffalo went to her. The judge came to the conclusion that the poor farmer was making an honest statement (without any intention of defamation) and accordingly discharged the case.
From this story it is not hard to believe that a human being may be reborn a buffalo. It is plain, therefore, that tanhã will cause rebirth. It should be observed also that swearing a false oath is liable to land one in dire calamity.
NGA NYO’S SMALL MEASURE OF RICE
There was a village of about 400 houses called Chaungyo, ten miles north-west of Taungdwingyi. Two young men of the village, Nga Nyo and Ba Saing, who were friends earned their living by going round villages selling betel leaves. Coming back one day from the rounds, Ba Saing went short of rice on the way. He borrowed a small measure of rice from Nga Nyo to cook his dinner. After dinner, while they made their way back to the village leisurely in the moonlit night, poor Ba Saing was bitten by a poisonous snake and met instant death. It was sometime between 1270 and 1280 B.E. when the two friends were about the ages of twenty or so.
Probably because he hung into the thought of the loan of the small measure of rice, at the time of his death, he was born a cockerel in Nga Nyo’s house. Nga Nyo trained it to become a fighting cock and entered it in fighting competitions. The first three competitions were won by Nga Nyo’s cock which unfortunately lost the fourth fight because its opponent happened to be older and stronger than itself. Nga Nyo expressed his disappointment and anger by holding his cock by its leg and thrashing it against the ground. Bringing the half-dead cock home, he threw it down near the water-pot where Nga Nyo’s cow came and touched it with her lips (as if expressing her sympathy).
The poor cock died afterwards and took conception in the womb of the cow. When the calf had grown up considerably, it was bought for four kyats by his friends for a feast which Nga Nyo would also join. While they were butchering the calf and cutting up the meat in preparation for their feast, a couple from Taungdwingyi, a clerk and his wife, happened to arrive on the scene. Expressing her sympathy for the calf, the clerk’s wife said, “If it were my calf, I wouldn’t have treated it so cruelly. Even if it had died a natural death, I wouldn’t have the heart to eat its flesh. I would just bury it.”
Sometime afterwards, a son was born to the clerk’s wife. The child remained without speech till he was seven when, one day his father told him, “Son, do utter some words and talk to us. Today is pay day. I’ll buy and bring back some nice clothes for you.” Keeping his promise, the father came back in the evening with some pretty garments for his son. He said, “Here, Son, these beautiful clothes are for you. Do speak to us now.” The boy then uttered, “Nga Nyo’s measure of rice.”
The father said, “Son, just talk to us. Not only a measure, but a whole bag of rice we will pay back the loan for you.” Thereupon the boy said, “If so, put the bag of rice on the cart. We will go now to settle my debt.” After putting a bag of rice on the cart, they set off on their journey. The father asked the son, “Now, where to?” The child directed his father to drive towards the north of Taungdwingyi. Eventually they came to Chaungyo village when the son said, “That’s it. That’s the village,” and kept directing his father through the village lanes until they came to Nga Nyo’s house. Upon enquiring whether it was indeed U Nyo’s house, U Nyo himself confirmed it by coming out from the house. As he approached the cart, the child hailed him, “Hey Nga Nyo, do you still remember me?” The elderly man was offended to be rudely addressed as ‘Nga Nyo’ by a mere child, the age of his son, but became pacified when the clerk explained, saying, “Please do not be offended, U Nyo. This child is under some strange circumstances.”
When they got into the house, the boy began, “So, Nga Nyo, you don’t remember me? We were once together going round the villages selling betel leaves. I borrowed a small measure of rice from you. Then I was bitten by a poisonous snake and died before I could return the loan. I then became a cockerel in your house. After winning three fights for you, I lost the fourth fight because my opponent was much stronger than I was. For losing that fight, you beat me to death in anger. Half dead, you threw me down near the water pot and a cow came and kissed me. I took conception in her womb and was reborn a cow. When I became a heifer, you all killed me to eat. At that time a clerk and his wife, who are now my father and mother, came nearby and had expressed sympathy for me. After my death as a cow, I was born as a son to my present father and mother. I have now come to repay my debt of the measure of rice.”
All that the child recounted were found to be true by U Nyo who wept, feeling repentant for all the ill-treatment he had meted out to his former friend.
With this story we want to stress again that unless tanhã has been rooted out, repeated rebirths in new existences are unavoidable.
TERRIBLE LIFE NOW AS A DEMON, NOW AS A COW
About 1300 B.E., there was resident in the Payãgyi monastery of Mandalay a student bhikkhu called U An Seinna. He was of good build, clear complexion and full of faith in the dhamma. He was a good student, too, devoting himself wholeheartedly to the study of Pitaka literature. One day, while washing the almsbowl he addressed his colleagues, “I urge you to take care, Revered sirs, to be of good behaviour while you are living on the almsfood of the donors. I am living a heedful life, having had the personal experiences of three existences.”
One of his colleagues was curious and asked him about his previous lives. He recounted thus, “I passed away from human life to become a female demon. I suffered terribly in that life, having scarcely anything to eat, no decent place to live in, roaming here and there to look for a resting place. From a female demon, I became a draught cattle. I was herded in the same pen with a team mate, whose nostrils were running with putrid nasal fluid. As its nasal smell was becoming unbearable, I goaded it to keep it away from me and the owner beat me up thinking I was bullying the other cattle, domineering over it. When I passed away from that existence, I regained human life and becoming agitated with religious emotion, have now taken to the life of a bhikkhu.”
This story also serves to emphasise the fact that as long as tanhã persists, rebirth is inevitable. It also shows what a horrible life is that of demon and how, handicapped by the inability to communicate, a cattle is liable to be misunderstood by man and could be subjected to maltreatment consequently. These accounts should serve to cause terror and incite religious emotions in us.
REGAINING HUMAN LIFE AFTER BEING A CATTLE AND A DOG
About 1310 B.E. the head Sayãdaw of a village monastery in Monywã district was shot to death by a rebel leader who accused the Sayadaw of ‘ill-treating’ his underling. The Sayãdaw is now in human existence, a bhikkhu again. We hear that he had even passed some of the scriptural examinations. This bhikkhu recounted, “I became a cattle after being shot to death, then a dog and now a human being again.” To go down from the level of a bhikkhu in human life to that of a cattle, a dog, is very degrading, If tanhã remains uneradicated, it is possible to go down the ladder of existence further still. There is the instance of Bhikkhu Tissa who became a body louse in the time of the Buddha. Thus realizing that anyone with tanhã remaining uneradicated (ditthi and vicikicchã also still intact) is liable to be subjected to rebirths, it is essential to strive for complete eradication of tanhã or in the very least, to work for elimination of ditthi and vicikicchã.
EVEN REBIRTH AS A CROWING LIZARD IS POSSIBLE
In about 1323 B.E. there appeared in Pha Aung We village near Daiku, a strange young child who said that he was previously the presiding monk of the Ywã Waing village about two miles away. The child was intelligent with good retentive memory. When taken to the monastery which he said he was resident in, he appeared to know all the articles in the building and was able to identify each object by recalling the name of its donor. What he said was found to be all true. He said he had become a crowing lizard in the monastery when he died as the presiding monk. As the crowing lizard, he met his death when he leapt across from the monastery to a palm tree nearby. He missed the tree and fell to the ground breaking his thigh. The injury caused him death. When he died, he rode along on the cart of a farmer from Pha Aung village who had his field near his monastery and stayed in the house of the farmer. What he said about riding on the cart was the appearance of gati nimitta, sign of destiny as death approached.
This story should also cause the realization that with tanhã still lingering, fresh existence could arise and taking fright from this realization, one should develop ariya magga to rid oneself of tanhã. The reason why we bring out these evidential stories of modern times is because there are some people who maintain that there is no such thing as afterlife. Some are undecided and perplexed, not being able to conclude whether there is afterlife or not. In spite of clear accounts of renewed existences in the scriptural literature, many are sceptical of what was written of ancient times. In order to provoke faith in kamma and its resultant effects and belief in afterlife and to remain steady with such conviction, we have brought out these stories. Similar stories abound, which we can produce, but enough has been said to accomplish our aim.
As stated above, because tanhã can cause rebirths, the Blessed One had taught, “This hunger, this thirst, the craving gives rise to fresh rebirth and bound up with pleasure and lust, finds even fresh delight now here, now there.” He also gave the enunciation of this tanhã. What is this craving? Firstly, there is this thirsting desire for sensual pleasures. Secondly, there is attachment to the belief of eternality. Thirdly, there is holding onto the view that there is nothing after life. These three types of craving are the Truth of the Origin of Suffering.
Of these three types, kãma tanhã is craving for pleasurable sense-objects, whether one’s own or belonging to other persons. Craving which arises on seeing a beautiful object of sight is kãma tanhã. Here, object of sight relates not only to appearance, colour, etc., but to the whole form or body of man or woman which serves as the basis of the sight, the clothes worn and other objects pertaining to him or her. Likewise, pleasurable sound and sound objects, delightful smell and its source, delicious taste and food producing the taste, men and women who prepare and serve the delicious food, tactile sensations of rapture and objects producing such sensations – all these constitute objects of pleasure, and craving for them is termed kãma tanhã. In short:
1 desire or craving for any pleasurable sense object is kãma tanhã.
Wishing to be born a human being, a celestial being, wishing to be born a man or a woman; longing to enjoy the sensual pleasures as a human being, as a celestial being, as a man or a woman – all these cravings are also kãma tanhã. Therefore, we say that taking delight in any pleasurable thought or object is kãma tanhã.
On seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching a sense object, if one considers it to be pleasant, a liking is at once developed for it. Thinking it to be pleasant amounts to avijjã, which covers up the true nature of the sense object and give rise to false views about it. Avijjã takes what is transitory to be permanent; what is suffering because of incessant arising and vanishing, to be pleasant; takes mere physical and mental phenomena which are not soul nor living entity as soul or living entity; considers one’s own physical body or other people’s body which are repulsive and disgusting as beauteous and pleasing.
Thus thinking what is unpleasant to be pleasant, liking is developed for it; and liking it and desiring it lead to craving which drives one into activities for the fulfilment of that craving. Such volitional activities are the kammas and saïkhãras which are responsible for formation of new aggregates of nãma and rupa of the new existence. As such, each instance of liking or desiring a sense object amounts to venturing into a new round of becoming.
Influenced by the tanhã, abhisaïkhãra consciousness, otherwise called marana saññã javana tenaciously holds onto the kamma, kamma nimitta or gati nimitta, the three signs which appear as death approaches. Because of this tenacious clinging to the objects seen at death’s door, the moment after death consciousness vanishes pati sandhe (relinking consciousness) arises holding onto the last seen objects to give rise to new birth. Hence, this tanhã is described as ponobhavikã . . . liable to give rise to new birth.
According to the Commentary, bhava tanhã is the tanhã that is accompanied by sassata ditthi (wrong view of eternalism). Here, bhava means becoming or being. Hence, bhava tanhã is craving based on the belief in the permanence and stability of existence. Sassata ditthi is holding to the wrong view that the soul or the living entity does not die or dissolve away – although the coarse physical body perishes, the soul, the living entity is not subjected to dissolution. It enters into a new body and remains there. Even if the world crumbles and breaks up, it remains eternally permanent and never perishes.
Religious faiths outside of the teachings of the Buddha mostly hold this view of eternalism. Some of them believe that, after death, man remains permanently in heaven or suffers eternal damnation in hell according to God’s wish. Others take the view that a being migrates from one existence to another according to kamma and exists permanently. And again, others believe that a being exists eternally changing from one life to another on a prescribed set course.
In short, any belief that holds the view that ‘soul or living entity moves on without dissolution to new existences’ is sassata ditthi, wrong belief of eternalism. For instance, a bird on a tree flies away to another tree when the first tree falls. When the second tree falls, it flies to a third tree. Likewise, the soul or living entity, on the dissolution of a gross body or form on which it is dependent, moves on to another coarse body, itself remaining everlasting, cannot be destroyed.
Tanhã accompanied by the wrong view of eternalism is termed bhava tanhã (craving for existence). This tanhã takes delight in the view that the soul or living entity is permanent, enduring. This ‘I’, which has been in permanent existence since eternity, feels the sensations and will continue feeling them. Believing thus, it takes delight in every object seen, heard, touched or known and also in the objects which one hopes to come to enjoy in the future. It wishes to enjoy a prosperous happy life now and in the future, to be born in good, happy existences; wants to enjoy in the coming existences the rich life of human or celestial beings. Some wish to be born always a man, some a woman. All these are bhava tanhã.
Every time craving arises for sense objects which are presently available or for the existence one is in now, or in looking forward to the existence one wishes to be in, because of this tanhã, a conditioning influence or potential power is being built up for the arising of a new life. That is why the Buddha taught ponobhavikã . . . liable to give rise to new birth. We have summarised thus:
2 Craving for existence with the notion that it is eternal is bhava tanhã.
1 Eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind . . . the six doors of senses. 2 Visual object, sound, smell, taste, bodily impressions and mind objects . . . the six objects of senses. 3 Eye consciousness, ear consciousness, etc. . . . six types of consciousness. 4 Six types of sense impressions, contacts . . . six phassas. 5 Six types of feeling born of sense impressions, etc.These delightful and pleasurable things should be contemplated on in the practice of meditation. Failing to recognize them as impermanent, unsatisfactory, etc. through heedful noting will result in their becoming the breeding grounds for craving. These two types of craving, namely, anusaya tanhã (the dormant craving) for the pleasurable objects which have escaped being noted as they really are at the time of seeing, hearing, etc., and pariyutthãna tanhã, which has arisen from the pleasurable things, constitute the noble Truth of origin of suffering such as birth, etc. This fact should be thoroughly understood and remembered. We have explained the Truth of the Origin of Suffering sufficiently. We must end our discourse on it here. May you all good people present in this audience, by virtue of having given respectful attention to this Great Discourse on the Turning of the Wheel of Dhamma, be able to dispel temporarily or eradicate completely the craving, otherwise called the Truth of the Origin of Suffering by incessant contemplation and through whatever path and fruition you have chosen, achieve speedy realisation of Nibbãna, the end of all sufferings.