Is it a Religion?
It is neither a religion in the sense in which that word is commonly understood, for it is not "a system of faith and worship
owing any allegiance to a supernatural being."
Buddhism does not demand blind faith from its adherents. Here mere belief is dethroned and is substituted by confidence
based on knowledge, which, in Pali, is known as Saddha. The confidence placed by a follower on the Buddha is like that
of a sick person in a noted physician, or a student in his teacher. A Buddhist seeks refuge in the Buddha because it was He
who discovered the Path of Deliverance.
A Buddhist does not seek refuge in the Buddha with the hope that he will be saved by His personal purification. The Buddha
gives no such guarantee. It is not within the power of a Buddha to wash away the impurities of others. One could neither purify
nor defile another.
The Buddha, as Teacher, instructs us, but we ourselves are directly responsible for our purification.
Although a Buddhist seeks refuge in the Buddha, he does not make any self-surrender. Nor does a Buddhist sacrifice his
freedom of thought by becoming a follower of the Buddha. He can exercise his own free will and develop his knowledge even
to the extent of becoming a Buddha himself.
The starting point of Buddhism is reasoning or understanding, or, in other words, Samma-ditthi.
To the seekers of truth the Buddha says:
"Do not accept anything on (mere) hearsay -- (i.e., thinking that thus have we heard it from a long time). Do not accept
anything by mere tradition -- (i.e., thinking that it has thus been handed down through many generations). Do not accept anything
on account of mere rumors -- (i.e., by believing what others say without any investigation). Do not accept anything just because
it accords with your scriptures. Do not accept anything by mere suppositions. Do not accept anything by mere inference. Do
not accept anything by merely considering the reasons. Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your pre-conceived
notions. Do not accept anything merely because it seems acceptable -- (i.e., thinking that as the speaker seems to be a good
person his words should be accepted). Do not accept anything thinking that the ascetic is respected by us (therefore it is
right to accept his word).
"But when you know for yourselves -- these things are immoral, these things are blameworthy, these things are censured
by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken conduce to ruin and sorrow -- then indeed do you reject them.
"When you know for yourselves -- these things are moral, these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise,
these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to well-being and happiness -- then do you live acting accordingly."
These inspiring words of the Buddha still retain their original force and freshness.
Though there is no blind faith, one might argue whether there is no worshiping of images etc., in Buddhism.
Buddhists do not worship an image expecting worldly or spiritual favors, but pay their reverence to what it represents.
An understanding Buddhist, in offering flowers and incense to an image, designedly makes himself feel that he is in the
presence of the living Buddha and thereby gains inspiration from His noble personality and breathes deep His boundless compassion.
He tries to follow His noble example.
The Bo-tree is also a symbol of Enlightenment. These external objects of reverence are not absolutely necessary, but they
are useful as they tend to concentrate one's attention. An intellectual person could dispense with them as he could easily
focus his attention and visualize the Buddha.
For our own good, and out of gratitude, we pay such external respect but what the Buddha expects from His disciple is not
so much obeisance as the actual observance of His Teachings. The Buddha says -- "He honors me best who practices my teaching
best." "He who sees the Dhamma sees me."
With regard to images, however, Count Kevserling remarks -- "I see nothing more grand in this world than the image of the
Buddha. It is an absolutely perfect embodiment of spirituality in the visible domain."
Furthermore, it must be mentioned that there are not petitional or intercessory prayers in Buddhism. However much we may
pray to the Buddha we cannot be saved. The Buddha does not grant favors to those who pray to Him. Instead of petitional prayers
there is meditation that leads to self-control, purification and enlightenment. Meditation is neither a silent reverie nor
keeping the mind blank. It is an active striving. It serves as a tonic both to the heart and the mind. The Buddha not only
speaks of the futility of offering prayers but also disparages a slave mentality. A Buddhist should not pray to be saved,
but should rely on himself and win his freedom.
"Prayers take the character of private communications, selfish bargaining with God. It seeks for objects of earthly ambitions
and inflames the sense of self. Meditation on the other hand is self-change."
-- Sri Radhakrishnan.
In Buddhism there is not, as in most other religions, an Almighty God to be obeyed and feared. The Buddha does not believe
in a cosmic potentate, omniscient and omnipresent. In Buddhism there are no divine revelations or divine messengers. A Buddhist
is, therefore, not subservient to any higher supernatural power which controls his destinies and which arbitrarily rewards
and punishes. Since Buddhists do not believe in revelations of a divine being Buddhism does not claim the monopoly of truth
and does not condemn any other religion. But Buddhism recognizes the infinite latent possibilities of man and teaches that
man can gain deliverance from suffering by his own efforts independent of divine help or mediating priests.
Buddhism cannot, therefore, strictly be called a religion because it is neither a system of faith and worship, nor "the
outward act or form by which men indicate their recognition of the existence of a God or gods having power over their own
destiny to whom obedience, service, and honor are due."
If, by religion, is meant "a teaching which takes a view of life that is more than superficial, a teaching which looks
into life and not merely at it, a teaching which furnishes men with a guide to conduct that is in accord with this its in-look,
a teaching which enables those who give it heed to face life with fortitude and death with serenity," [*] or a system to get
rid of the ills of life, then it is certainly a religion of religions.
As long as this Kammic force exists there is re-birth, for beings are merely the visible manifestation of this invisible
Kammic force. Death is nothing but the temporary end of this temporary phenomenon. It is not the complete annihilation of
this so-called being. The organic life has ceased, but the Kammic force which hitherto actuated it has not been destroyed.
As the Kammic force remains entirely undisturbed by the disintegration of the fleeting body, the passing away of the present
dying thought-moment only conditions a fresh consciousness in another birth.
It is Kamma, rooted in ignorance and craving, that conditions rebirth. Past Kamma conditions the present birth; and present
Kamma, in combination with past Kamma, conditions the future. The present is the offspring of the past, and becomes, in turn,
the parent of the future.
If we postulate a past, present, and a future life, then we are at once faced with the alleged mysterious problem -- "What
is the ultimate origin of life?"
Either there must be a beginning or there cannot be a beginning for life.
One school, in attempting to solve the problem, postulates a first cause, God, viewed as a force or as an Almighty Being.
Another school denies a first cause for, in common experience, the cause ever becomes the effect and the effect becomes
the cause. In a circle of cause and effect a first cause is inconceivable. According to the former, life has had a beginning,
according to the latter, it is beginningless.
From the scientific standpoint, we are the direct products of the sperm and ovum cells provided by our parents. As such
life precedes life. With regard to the origin of the first protoplasm of life, or colloid, scientists plead ignorance.
According to Buddhism we are born from the matrix of action (Kammayoni). Parents merely provide an infinitesimally small
cell. As such being precedes being. At the moment of conception it is past Kamma that conditions the initial consciousness
that vitalizes the fetus. It is this invisible Kammic energy, generated from the past birth that produces mental phenomena
and the phenomenon of life in an already extent physical phenomenon, to complete the trio that constitutes man.
For a being to be born here a being must die somewhere. The birth of a being, which strictly means the arising of the five
aggregates or psycho-physical phenomena in this present life, corresponds to the death of a being in a past life; just as,
in conventional terms, the rising of the sun in one place means the setting of the sun in another place. This enigmatic statement
may be better understood by imagining life as a wave and not as a straight line. Birth and death are only two phases of the
same process. Birth precedes death, and death, on the other hand, precedes birth. The constant succession of birth and death
in connection with each individual life flux constitutes what is technically known as Samsara -- recurrent wandering.
What is the ultimate origin of life?
The Buddha declares:
"Without cognizable end is this Samsara. A first beginning of beings, who, obstructed by ignorance and fettered by craving,
wander and fare on, is not to be perceived."
This life-stream flows ad infinitum, as long as it is fed by the muddy waters of ignorance and craving. When these
two are completely cut off, then only, if one so wishes, does the stream cease to flow, rebirth ends as in the case of the
Buddhas and Arahats. An ultimate beginning of this life-stream cannot be determined, as a stage cannot be perceived when this
life-force was not fraught with ignorance and craving.
The Buddha has here referred merely to the beginning of the life-stream of living beings. It is left to scientists to speculate
on the origin and the evolution of the universe. The Buddha does not attempt to solve all the ethical and philosophical problems
that perplex mankind. Nor does He deal with theories and speculations that tend neither to edification nor to enlightenment.
Nor does He demand blind faith from His adherents. He is chiefly concerned with the problem of suffering and its destruction.
With but this one practical and specific purpose in view, all irrelevant side issues are completely ignored.
But how are we to believe that there is a past existence?
The most valuable evidence Buddhists cite in favor of rebirth is the Buddha, for He developed a knowledge which enabled
Him to read past and future lives.
Following His instructions, His disciples also developed this knowledge and were able to read their past lives to a great
Even some Indian Rishis, before the advent of the Buddha, were distinguished for such psychic powers as clairaudience,
clairvoyance, thought-reading, remembering past births, etc.
There are also some persons, who probably in accordance with the laws of association, spontaneously develop the memory
of their past birth, and remember fragments of their previous lives. Such cases are very rare, but those few well-attested,
respectable cases tend to throw some light on the idea of a past birth. So are the experiences of some modern dependable psychics
and strange cases of alternating and multiple personalities.
In hypnotic states some relate experiences of their past lives; while a few others, read the past lives of others and even
heal diseases. [*]
* [See Many Mansions and The World Within by Gina Cerminara.]
Sometimes we get strange experiences which cannot be explained but by rebirth.
How often do we meet persons whom we have never met, and yet instinctively feel that they are quite familiar to us? How
often do we visit places, and yet feel impressed that we are perfectly acquainted with those surroundings?
The Buddha tells us:
"Through previous associations or present advantage, that old love springs up again like the lotus in the water."
Experiences of some reliable modern psychics, ghostly phenomena, spirit communications, strange alternating and multiple
personalities and so on shed some light upon this problem of rebirth.
Into this world come Perfect Ones like the Buddhas and highly developed personalities. Do they evolve suddenly? Can they
be the products of a single existence?
How are we to account for great characters like Buddhaghosa, Panini, Kalidasa, Homer and Plato; men of genius like Shakespeare,
infant prodigies like Pascal, Mozart, Beethoven, Raphael, Ramanujan, etc.?
Heredity alone cannot account for them. "Else their ancestry would disclose it, their posterity, even greater than themselves,
Could they rise to such lofty heights if they had not lived noble lives and gained similar experiences in the past? Is
it by mere chance that they are been born or those particular parents and placed under those favorable circumstances?
The few years that we are privileged to spend here or, for the most five score years, must certainly be an inadequate preparation
If one believes in the present and in the future, it is quite logical to believe in the past. The present is the offspring
of the past, and acts in turn as the parent of the future.
If there are reasons to believe that we have existed in the past, then surely there are no reasons to disbelieve that we
shall continue to exist after our present life has apparently ceased.
It is indeed a strong argument in favor of past and future lives that "in this world virtuous persons are very often unfortunate
and vicious persons prosperous."
A Western writer says:
"Whether we believe in a past existence or not, it forms the only reasonable hypothesis which bridges certain gaps in human
knowledge concerning certain facts of every day life. Our reason tells us that this idea of past birth and Kamma alone can
explain the degrees of difference that exist between twins, how men like Shakespeare with a very limited experience are able
to portray with marvelous exactitude the most diverse types of human character, scenes and so forth of which they could have
no actual knowledge, why the work of the genius invariably transcends his experience, the existence of infant precocity, the
vast diversity in mind and morals, in brain and physique, in conditions, circumstances and environment observable throughout
the world, and so forth."
It should be stated that this doctrine of rebirth can neither be proved nor disproved experimentally, but it is accepted
as an evidentially verifiable fact.
The cause of this Kamma, continues the Buddha, is avijja or ignorance of the Four Noble Truths. Ignorance is, therefore,
the cause of birth and death; and its transmutation into knowingness or vijja is consequently their cessation. The
result of this analytical method is summed up in the Paticca Samuppada.
Paticca means because of, or dependent upon: Samuppada "arising or origination." Paticca Samuppada,
therefore, literally means -- "Dependent Arising" or "Dependent Origination."
It must be borne in mind that Paticca Samuppada is only a discourse on the process of birth and death and not a
theory of the ultimate origin of life. It deals with the cause of rebirth and suffering, but it does not in the least attempt
to show the evolution of the world from primordial matter.
Ignorance (Avijja) is the first link or cause of the wheel of life. It clouds all right understanding.
Dependent on ignorance of the Four Noble Truths arise activities (Sankhara) -- both moral and immoral. The activities
whether good or bad rooted in ignorance which must necessarily have their due effects, only tend to prolong life's wandering.
Nevertheless, good actions are essential to get rid of the ills of life.
Dependent on activities arise rebirth-consciousness (Vinnana). This links the past with the present.
Simultaneous with the arising of rebirth-consciousness there come into being mind and body (Nama-rupa).
The six senses (Salayatana) are the inevitable consequences of mind and body.
Because of the six senses contact (Phassa) sets in. Contact leads to feeling (Vedana).
These five -- viz., consciousness, mind and matter, six senses, contact and feeling -- are the effects of past actions
and are called the passive side of life.
Dependent on feeling arises craving (Tanha). Craving results in grasping (Upadana). Grasping is the cause
of Kamma (Bhava) which in its turn, conditions future birth (Jati). Birth is the inevitable cause of old age
and death (Jara-marana).
If on account of cause effect comes to be, then if the cause ceases, the effect also must cease.
The reverse order of the Paticca Samuppada will make the matter clear.
Old age and death are possible in and with a psychophysical organism. Such an organism must be born; therefore it pre-supposes
birth. But birth is the inevitable result of past deeds or Kamma. Kamma is conditioned by grasping which is due to craving.
Such craving can appear only where feeling exists. Feeling is the outcome of contact between the senses and objects. Therefore
it presupposes organs of senses which cannot exist without mind and body. Where there is a mind there is consciousness. It
is the result of past good and evil. The acquisition of good and evil is due to ignorance of things as they truly are.
The whole formula may be summed up thus:
Dependent on Ignorance arise Activities (Moral and Immoral)
" " Activities arises Consciousness (Re-birth Consciousness)
" Consciousness arise Mind and Matter
" " Mind and Matter arise the six Spheres of Sense
" " the Six Spheres of Sense
" " Contact arises Feeling
" " Feeling arises Craving
" " Craving arises Grasping
" " Grasping
arise Actions (Kamma)
" " Actions arises Rebirth
" " Birth arise Decay, Death, Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain, Grief, and
Thus does the entire aggregate of suffering arise. The first two of these twelve pertain to the past, the middle eight
to the present, and the last two to the future.
The complete cessation of Ignorance leads to the cessation of Activities.
The cessation of Activities leads to the cessation of Consciousness.
" " " Consciousness leads to the cessation of mind
" " " Mind and Matter leads to the cessation of the six Spheres of Sense.
" " " the six Spheres of Sense
leads to the cessation of Contact,
" " " Contact leads to the cessation of Feeling.
" " " Feeling leads to the cessation
" " " Craving leads to the cessation of Grasping.
" " " Grasping leads to the cessation of Actions.
" " Actions leads to the cessation of Re-birth.
" " " Re-birth leads to the cessation of Decay, Death, Sorrow, Lamentation,
Pain, Grief, and Despair.
Thus does the cessation of this entire aggregate of suffering result.
This process of cause and effect continues ad infinitum. The beginning of this process cannot be determined as it is impossible
to say whence this life-flux was encompassed by nescience. But when this nescience is turned into knowledge, and the life-flux
is diverted into Nibbanadhatu, then the end of the life process of Samsara comes about.
Anatta or Soul-lessness
This Buddhist doctrine of re-birth should be distinguished from the theory of re-incarnation which implies the transmigration
of a soul and its invariable material rebirth. Buddhism denies the existence of an unchanging or eternal soul created by a
God or emanating from a Divine Essence (Paramatma).
If the immortal soul, which is supposed to be the essence of man, is eternal, there cannot be either a rise or a fall.
Besides one cannot understand why "different souls are so variously constituted at the outset."
To prove the existence of endless felicity in an eternal heaven and unending torments in an eternal hell, an immortal soul
is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, what is it that is punished in hell or rewarded in heaven?
"It should be said," writes Bertrand Russell, "that the old distinction between soul and body has evaporated quite as much
because 'matter' has lost its solidity as mind has lost its spirituality. Psychology is just beginning to be scientific. In
the present state of psychology belief in immortality can at any rate claim no support from science."
Buddhists do agree with Russell when he says "there is obviously some reason in which I am the same person as I was yesterday,
and, to take an even more obvious example if I simultaneously see a man and hear him speaking, there is some sense in which
the 'I' that sees is the same as the 'I' that hears."
Till recently scientists believed in an indivisible and indestructible atom. "For sufficient reasons physicists have reduced
this atom to a series of events. For equally good reasons psychologists find that mind has not the identity of a single continuing
thing but is a series of occurrences bound together by certain intimate relations. The question of immortality, therefore,
has become the question whether these intimate relations exist between occurrences connected with a living body and other
occurrence which take place after that body is dead."
As C.E.M. Joad says in "The Meaning of Life," matter has since disintegrated under our very eyes. It is no longer solid;
it is no longer enduring; it is no longer determined by compulsive causal laws; and more important than all, it is no longer
The so-called atoms, it seems, are both "divisible and destructible." The electrons and protons that compose atoms "can
meet and annihilate one another while their persistence, such as it is, is rather that of a wave lacking fixed boundaries,
and in process of continual change both as regards shape and position than that of a thing." [*]
* [C.E.M. Joad, The Meaning of Life]
Bishop Berkeley who showed that this so-called atom is a metaphysical fiction held that there exists a spiritual substance
called the soul.
Hume, for instance, looked into consciousness and perceived hat there was nothing except fleeting mental states and concluded
that the supposed "permanent ego" is non-existent.
"There are some philosophers," he says, "who imagine we are every moment conscious of what we call 'ourself,' that we feel
its existence and its continuance in existence and so we are certain, both of its perfect identity and simplicity. For my
part, when I enter most intimately into what I call 'myself' I always stumble on some particular perception or other -- of
heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never catch myself... and never can observe anything but
the perception... nor do I conceive what is further requisite to make me a perfect non-entity."
Bergson says, "All consciousness is time existence; and a conscious state is not a state that endures without changing.
It is a change without ceasing, when change ceases it ceases; it is itself nothing but change."
Dealing with this question of soul Prof. James says -- "The soul-theory is a complete superfluity, so far as accounting
for the actually verified facts of conscious experience goes. So far no one can be compelled to subscribe to it for definite
scientific reasons." In concluding his interesting chapter on the soul he says: "And in this book the provisional solution
which we have reached must be the final word: the thoughts themselves are the thinkers."
Watson, a distinguished psychologist, states: "No one has ever touched a soul or has seen one in a test tube or has in
any way come into relationship with it as he has with the other objects of his daily experience. Nevertheless to doubt its
existence is to become a heretic and once might possibly even had led to the loss of one's head. Even today a man holding
a public position dare not question it."
The Buddha anticipated these facts some 2500 years ago.
According to Buddhism mind is nothing but a complex compound of fleeting mental states. One unit of consciousness consists
of three phases -- arising or genesis (uppada) static or development (thiti), and cessation or dissolution (bhanga).
Immediately after the cessation stage of a thought moment there occurs the genesis stage of the subsequent thought-moment.
Each momentary consciousness of this ever-changing life-process, on passing away, transmits its whole energy, all the indelibly
recorded impressions to its successor. Every fresh consciousness consists of the potentialities of its predecessors together
with something more. There is therefore, a continuous flow of consciousness like a stream without any interruption. The subsequent
thought moment is neither absolutely the same as its predecessor -- since that which goes to make it up is not identical --
nor entirely another -- being the same continuity of Kamma energy. Here there is no identical being but there is an identity
Every moment there is birth, every moment there is death. The arising of one thought-moment means the passing away of another
thought-moment and vice versa. In the course of one life-time there is momentary rebirth without a soul.
It must not be understood that a consciousness is chopped up in bits and joined together like a train or a chain. But,
on the contrary, "it persistently flows on like a river receiving from the tributary streams of sense constant accretions
to its flood, and ever dispensing to the world without the thought-stuff it has gathered by the way." [*] It has birth for
its source and death for its mouth. The rapidity of the flow is such that hardly is there any standard whereby it can be measured
even approximately. However, it pleases the commentators to say that the time duration of one thought-moment is even less
than one-billionth part of the time occupied by a flash of lightning.
*[See Compendium of Philosophy, Tr. by Shwe Zan Aung (Pali Text Society, London) -- Introduction p. 12.]
Here we find a juxtaposition of such fleeting mental states of consciousness opposed to a superposition of such states
as some appear to believe. No state once gone ever recurs nor is identical with what goes before. But we worldlings, veiled
by the web of illusion, mistake this apparent continuity to be something eternal and go to the extent of introducing an unchanging
soul, an Atta, the supposed doer and receptacle of all actions to this ever-changing consciousness.
"The so-called being is like a flash of lightning that is resolved into a succession of sparks that follow upon one another
with such rapidity that the human retina cannot perceive them separately, nor can the uninstructed conceive of such succession
of separate sparks." [*] As the wheel of a cart rests on the ground at one point, so does the being live only for one thought-moment.
It is always in the present, and is ever slipping into the irrevocable past. What we shall become is determined by this present
* [Compare the cinematograph film where the individual photographs give rise to a notion of movement.]
If there is no soul, what is it that is reborn, one might ask. Well, there is nothing to be re-born. When life ceases the
Kammic energy re-materializes itself in another form. As Bhikkhu Silacara says: "Unseen it passes whithersoever the conditions
appropriate to its visible manifestation are present. Here showing itself as a tiny gnat or worm, there making its presence
known in the dazzling magnificence of a Deva or an Archangel's existence. When one mode of its manifestation ceases it merely
passes on, and where suitable circumstances offer, reveals itself afresh in another name or form."
Birth is the arising of the psycho-physical phenomena. Death is merely the temporary end of a temporary phenomenon.
Just as the arising of a physical state is conditioned by a preceding state as its cause, so the appearance of psycho-physical
phenomena is conditioned by cause anterior to its birth. As the process of one life-span is possible without a permanent entity
passing from one thought-moment to another, so a series of life-processes is possible without an immortal soul to transmigrate
from one existence to another.
Buddhism does not totally deny the existence of a personality in an empirical sense. It only attempts to show that it does
not exist in an ultimate sense. The Buddhist philosophical term for an individual is Santana, i.e., a flux or a continuity.
It includes the mental and physical elements as well. The Kammic force of each individual binds the elements together. This
uninterrupted flux or continuity of psycho-physical phenomenon, which is conditioned by Kamma, and not limited only to the
present life, but having its source in the beginningless past and its continuation in the future -- is the Buddhist substitute
for the permanent ego or the immortal soul of other religions.
This process of birth and death continues ad infinitum until this flux is transmuted, so to say, to Nibbanadhatu,
the ultimate goal of Buddhists. The Pali word Nibbana is formed of Ni and Vana. Ni is a negative particle
and Vana means lusting or craving. "It is called Nibbana, in that it is a departure from the craving which is called
Vana, lusting." Literally, Nibbana means non-attachment.
It may also be defined as the extinction of lust, hatred and ignorance, "The whole world is in flames," says the Buddha.
"By what fire is it kindled? By the fire of lust, hatred and ignorance, by the fire of birth, old age, death, pain, lamentation,
sorrow, grief and despair it is kindled."
It should not be understood that Nibbana is a state of nothingness or annihilation owing to the fact that we cannot perceive
it with our worldly knowledge. One cannot say that there exists no light just because the blind man does not see it. In that
well known story, too, the fish arguing with his friend, the turtle, triumphantly concluded that there exists no land.
Nibbana of the Buddhists is neither a mere nothingness nor a state of annihilation, but what it is no words can adequately
express. Nibbana is a Dhamma which is "unborn, unoriginated, uncreated and unformed." Hence, it is eternal (Dhuva),
desirable (Subha), and happy (Sukha).
In Nibbana nothing is "eternalized," nor is anything "annihilated," besides suffering.
According to the Books references are made to Nibbana as Sopadisesa and Anupadisesa. These, in fact, are
not two kinds of Nibbana, but the one single Nibbana, receiving its name according to the way it is experienced before and
Nibbana is not situated in any place nor is it a sort of heaven where a transcendental ego resides. It is a state which
is dependent upon this body itself. It is an attainment (Dhamma) which is within the reach of all. Nibbana is a supramundane
state attainable even in this present life. Buddhism does not state that this ultimate goal could be reached only in a life
beyond. Here lies the chief difference between the Buddhist conception of Nibbana and the non-Buddhist conception of an eternal
heaven attainable only after death or a union with a God or Divine Essence in an after-life. When Nibbana is realized in this
life with the body remaining, it is called Sopadisesa Nibbana-dhatu. When an Arahat attains Parinibbana, after the
dissolution of his body, without any remainder of physical existence it is called Anupadisesa Nibbana-dhatu.
In the words of Sir Edwin Arnold:
"If any teach Nirvana is to cease Say unto such they lie. If any teach Nirvana is to love Say unto such they err."
From a metaphysical standpoint Nibbana is deliverance from suffering. From a psychological standpoint Nibbana is the eradication
of egoism. From an ethical standpoint Nibbana is the destruction of lust, hatred and ignorance.
Does the Arahat exist or not after death?
The Buddha replies:
"The Arahat who has been released from the five aggregates is deep, immeasurable like the mighty ocean. To say that he
is reborn would not fit the case. To say that he is neither reborn nor not reborn would not fit the case."
One cannot say that an Arahat is reborn as all passions that condition rebirth are eradicated; nor can one say that the
Arahat is annihilated for there is nothing to annihilate.
Robert Oppenheimer, a scientist, writes:
"If we ask, for instance, whether the position of the electron remains the same, we must say 'no'; if we ask whether the
electron's position changes with time, we must say 'no'; if we ask whether the electron is at rest, we must say 'no'; if we
ask whether it is in motion, we must say 'no'.
"The Buddha has given such answers when interrogated as to the conditions of man's self after death; [*] but they are not
familiar answers from the tradition of the 17th and 18th century science."
* [Evidently the writer is referring to the state of an Arahat after death.]
The Path to Nibbana
How is Nibbana to be attained?
It is by following the Noble Eight-fold Path which consists of Right Understanding (Samma-ditthi), Right Thoughts
(samma-sankappa), Right Speech (samma-vaca), Right Actions (samma-kammanta), Right Livelihood (samma-ajiva),
Right Effort (samma-vayama), Right Mindfulness (samma-sati), and Right Concentration (samma-samadhi).
1. Right Understanding, which is the key-note of Buddhism, is explained as the knowledge of the four Noble Truths.
To understand rightly means to understand things as they really are and not as they appear to be. This refers primarily to
a correct understanding of oneself, because, as the Rohitassa Sutta states, "Dependent on this one-fathom long body with its
consciousness" are all the four Truths. In the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path, Right Understanding stands at the beginning
as well as at its end. A minimum degree of Right Understanding is necessary at the very beginning because it gives the right
motivations to the other seven factors of the Path and gives to them correct direction. At the culmination of the practice,
Right Understanding has matured into perfect Insight Wisdom (vipassana-panna), leading directly to the Stages of Sainthood.
2. Clear vision of right understanding leads to clear thinking. The second factor of the Noble Eight-fold Path is therefore,
Right Thoughts (samma-sankappa), which serves the double purpose of eliminating evil thoughts and developing
pure thoughts. Right Thoughts, in this particular connection, are three fold. They consist of:
i. Nekkhamma -- Renunciation of worldly pleasures or the virtue of selflessness, which is opposed to attachment,
selfishness, and possessiveness;
ii. Avyapada -- Loving-kindness, goodwill, or benevolence, which is opposed to hatred, ill-will, or aversion; and
iii. Avihimsa -- Harmlessness or compassion, which is opposed to cruelty and callousness.
3. Right Thoughts lead to Right Speech, the third factor. This includes abstinence from falsehood, slandering, harsh
words, and frivolous talk.
4. Right Speech must be followed by Right Action which comprises abstinence from killing, stealing and sexual misconduct.
5. Purifying his thoughts, words and deeds at the outset, the spiritual pilgrim tries to purify his livelihood by
refraining from the five kinds of trade which are forbidden to a lay-disciple. They are trading in arms, human beings, animals
for slaughter, intoxicating drinks and drugs, and poisons.
For monks, wrong livelihood consists of hypocritical conduct and wrong means of obtaining the requisites of monk-life.
6. Right Effort is fourfold, namely:
i. the endeavor to discard evil that has already arisen;
ii. the endeavor to prevent the arising of unarisen evil;
the endeavor to develop unarisen good;
iv. the endeavor to promote the good which has already arisen.
7. Right Mindfulness is constant mindfulness with regard to body, feelings, thoughts, and mind-objects.
8. Right Effort and Right Mindfulness lead to Right Concentration. It is the one-pointedness of mind, culminating
in the Jhanas or meditative absorptions.
Of these eight factors of the Noble Eightfold Path the first two are grouped under the heading of Wisdom (panna),
the following three under Morality (sila), and the last three under Concentration (samadhi). But according to
the order of development the sequence is as follows:
I. Morality (sila)
II. Concentration (samadhi)
III. Wisdom (panna)
Morality (sila) is the first stage on this path to Nibbana.
Without killing or causing injury to any living creature, man should be kind and compassionate towards all, even to the
tiniest creature that crawls at his feet. Refraining from stealing, he should be upright and honest in all his dealings. Abstaining
from sexual misconduct which debases the exalted nature of man, he should be pure. Shunning false speech, he should be truthful.
Avoiding pernicious drinks that promote heedlessness, he should be sober and diligent.
These elementary principles of regulated behavior are essential to one who treads the path to Nibbana. Violation of them
means the introduction of obstacles on the path which will obstruct his moral progress. Observance of them means steady and
smooth progress along the path.
The spiritual pilgrim, disciplining thus his words and deeds, may advance a step further and try to control his senses.
While he progresses slowly and steadily with regulated word and deed and restrained senses, the Kammic force of this striving
aspirant may compel him to renounce worldly pleasures and adopt the ascetic life. To him then comes the idea that,
"A den of strife is household life, And filled with toil and need; But free and high as the open sky Is the life the homeless
It should not be understood that everyone is expected to lead the life of a Bhikkhu or a celibate life to achieve one's
goal. One's spiritual progress is expedited by being a Bhikkhu although as a lay follower one can become an Arahat. After
attaining the third state of Sainthood, one leads a life of celibacy.
Securing a firm footing on the ground of morality, the progressing pilgrim then embarks upon the higher practice of Samadhi,
the control and culture of the mind -- the second stage on this Path.
Samadhi -- is the "one-pointedness of the mind." It is the concentration of the mind on one object to the entire exclusion
of all irrelevant matter.
There are different subjects for meditation according to the temperaments of the individuals. Concentration on respiration
is the easiest to gain the one-pointedness of the mind. Meditation on loving-kindness is very beneficial as it is conducive
to mental peace and happiness.
Cultivation of the four sublime states -- loving-kindness (Metta), compassion (Karuna), sympathetic joy (Mudita),
and equanimity (Upekkha) -- is highly commendable.
After giving careful consideration to the subject for contemplation, he should choose the one most suited to his temperament.
This being satisfactorily settled, he makes a persistent effort to focus his mind until he becomes so wholly absorbed and
interested in it, that all other thoughts get ipso facto excluded from the mind. The five hindrances to progress -- namely,
sense-desire, hatred, sloth and torpor, restlessness and brooding and doubts are then temporarily inhibited. Eventually he
gains ecstatic concentration and, to his indescribable joy, becomes enwrapt in Jhana, enjoying the calmness and serenity of
a one-pointed mind.
When one gains this perfect one-pointedness of the mind it is possible for one to develop the five Supernormal Powers (Abhinna):
Divine Eye (Dibbacakkhu), Divine Ear (Dibhasota), Reminiscence of past births (Pubbenivasanussati-nana).
Thought Reading (Paracitta vijanana) and different Psychic Powers (Iddhividha). It must not be understood that
those supernormal powers are essential for Sainthood.
Though the mind is now purified there still lies dormant in him the tendency to give vent to his passions, for by concentration,
passions are lulled to sleep temporarily. They may rise to the surface at unexpected moments.
Both Discipline and Concentration are helpful to clear the Path of its obstacles but it is Insight (Vipassana Panna)
alone which enables one to see things as they truly are, and consequently reach the ultimate goal by completely annihilating
the passions inhibited by Samadhi. This is the third and the final stage on the Path of Nibbana.
With his one-pointed mind which now resembles a polished mirror he looks at the world to get a correct view of life. Wherever
he turns his eyes he sees nought but the Three Characteristics -- Anicca (transiency), Dukkha (sorrow) and anatta
(soul-lessness) standing out in bold relief. He comprehends that life is constantly changing and all conditioned things are
transient. Neither in heaven nor on earth does he find any genuine happiness, for every form of pleasure is a prelude to pain.
What is transient is therefore painful, and where change and sorrow prevail there cannot be a permanent immortal soul.
Whereupon, of these three characteristics, he chooses one that appeals to him most and intently keeps on developing Insight
in that particular direction until that glorious day comes to him when he would realize Nibbana for the first time in his
life, having destroyed the three Fetters -- self-illusion (Sakkaya-ditthi), doubts (Vvicikiccha), indulgence
in (wrongful) rites and ceremonies (Silabbataparamasa).
At this stage he is called a Sotapanna (Stream-Winner) -- one who has entered the stream that leads to Nibbana.
As he has not eradicated all Fetters he is reborn seven times at the most.
Summoning up fresh courage, as a result of this glimpse of Nibbana, the Pilgrim makes rapid progress and cultivating deeper
Insight becomes a Sakadagami (Once Returner) by weakening two more Fetters -- namely Sense-desire (Kamaraga)
and ill-will (Patigha). He is called a Sakadagami because he is reborn on earth only once in case he does not attain
It is in the third state of Sainthood -- Anagama (Never-Returner) that he completely discards the aforesaid two
Fetters. Thereafter, he neither returns to this world nor does he seek birth in the celestial realms, since he has no more
desire for sensual pleasures. After death he is reborn in the "Pure Abodes" (Suddhavasa) a congenial Brahma plane,
till he attains Arhatship.
Now the saintly pilgrim, encouraged by the unprecedented success of his endeavors, makes his final advance and, destroying
the remaining Fetters -- namely, lust after life in Realms of Forms (Ruparaga) and Formless Realms (Aruparaga),
conceit (Mana), restlessness (Uddhacca), and ignorance (Avijja) -- becomes a perfect Saint: an Arahant,
a Worthy One.
Instantly he realizes that what was to be accomplished has been done, that a heavy burden of sorrow has been relinquished,
that all forms of attachment have been totally annihilated, and that the Path to Nibbana has been trodden. The Worthy One
now stands on heights more than celestial, far removed from the rebellious passions and defilements of the world, realizing
the unutterable bliss of Nibbana and like many an Arahat of old, uttering that paean of joy:
"Goodwill and wisdom, mind by method trained, The highest conduct on good morals based, This maketh mortals pure, not rank
As T.H. Huxley states -- "Buddhism is a system which knows no God in the Western sense, which denies a soul to man, which
counts the belief in immortality a blunder, which refuses any efficacy to prayer and sacrifice, which bids men to look to
nothing but their own efforts for salvation, which in its original purity knew nothing of vows of obedience and never sought
the aid of the secular arm: yet spread over a considerable moiety of the world with marvelous rapidity -- and is still the
dominant creed of a large fraction of mankind."
Is Buddhism an Ethical System?
It no doubt contains an excellent ethical code which is unparalleled in its perfection and altruistic attitude. It deals
with one way of life for the monks and another for the laity. But Buddhism is much more than an ordinary moral teaching. Morality
is only the preliminary stage on the Path of Purity, and is a means to an end, but not an end in itself. Conduct, though essential,
is itself insufficient to gain one's emancipation. It should be coupled with wisdom or knowledge (panna). The base
of Buddhism is morality, and wisdom is its apex.
In observing the principles of morality a Buddhist should not only regard his own self but also should have a consideration
for others we well -- animals not excluded. Morality in Buddhism is not founded on any doubtful revelation nor is it the ingenious
invention of an exceptional mind, but it is a rational and practical code based on verifiable facts and individual experience.
It should be mentioned that any external supernatural agency plays no part whatever in the moulding of the character of
a Buddhist. In Buddhism there is no one to reward or punish. Pain or happiness are the inevitable results of one's actions.
The question of incurring the pleasure or displeasure of a God does not enter the mind of a Buddhist. Neither hope of reward
nor fear of punishment acts as an incentive to him to do good or to refrain from evil. A Buddhist is aware of future consequences,
but he refrains from evil because it retards, does good because it aids progress to Enlightenment (Bodhi). There are
also some who do good because it is good, refrain from evil because it is bad.
To understand the exceptionally high standard of morality the Buddha expects from His ideal followers, one must carefully
read the Dhammapada, Sigalovada Sutta, Vyaggapajja Sutta, Mangala Sutta, Karaniya Sutta, Parabhava Sutta, Vasala Sutta,
Dhammika Sutta, etc.
As a moral teaching it excels all other ethical systems, but morality is only the beginning and not the end of Buddhism.
In one sense Buddhism is not a philosophy, in another sense it is the philosophy of philosophies.
In one sense Buddhism is not a religion, in another sense it is the religion of religions.
Buddhism is neither a metaphysical path nor a ritualistic path.
It is neither sceptical nor dogmatic.
It is neither self-mortification nor self-indulgence.
It is neither pessimism nor optimism.
It is neither eternalism nor nihilism.
It is neither absolutely this-worldly nor other-worldly.
It is a unique Path of Enlightenment.
The original Pali term for Buddhism is Dhamma, which, literally, means that which upholds. There is no English equivalent
that exactly conveys the meaning of the Pali term.
The Dhamma is that which really is. It is the Doctrine of Reality. It is a means of Deliverance from suffering, and Deliverance
itself. Whether the Buddhas arise or not the Dhamma exists. It lies hidden from the ignorant eyes of men, till a Buddha, an
Enlightened One, realizes and compassionately reveals it to the world.
This Dhamma is not something apart from oneself, but is closely associated with oneself. As such the Buddha exhorts:
"Abide with oneself as an island, with oneself as a Refuge. Abide with the Dhamma as an island, with the Dhamma
as a Refuge. Seek no external refuge."
-- Parinibbana Sutta
Some Salient Features of Buddhism
The foundations of Buddhism are the four Noble Truths -- namely, Suffering (the raison d'etre of Buddhism), its
cause (i.e., Craving), its end (i.e., Nibbana, the Summum Bonum of Buddhism), and the Middle Way.
What is the Noble Truth of Suffering?
"Birth is suffering, old age is suffering, disease is suffering, death is suffering, to be united with the unpleasant is
suffering, to be separated from the pleasant is suffering, not to receive what one craves for is suffering, in brief the five
Aggregates of Attachment are suffering."
What is the Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering?
"It is the craving which leads from rebirth to rebirth accompanied by lust of passion, which delights now here now there;
it is the craving for sensual pleasures (Kamatanha), for existence (Bhavatanha) [*] and for annihilation (Vibhavatanha)."
* [Craving associated with "Eternalism" (Sassataditthi) (Comy)]
** [Craving associated with "Nihilism" (Ucchedaditthi)
What is the Noble Truth of the Annihilation of Suffering?
"It is the remainderless, total annihilation of this very craving, the forsaking of it, the breaking loose, fleeing, deliverance
What is the Noble Truth of the Path leading to the Annihilation of Suffering?
"It is the Noble Eightfold Path which consists of right understanding, right thoughts, right speech, right action, right
livelihood, right endeavor, right mindfulness, and right concentration."
Whether the Buddhas arise or not these four Truths exist in the universe. The Buddhas only reveal these Truths which lay
hidden in the dark abyss of time.
Scientifically interpreted, the Dhamma may be called the law of cause and effect. These two embrace the entire body
of the Buddha's Teachings.
The first three represent the philosophy of Buddhism; the fourth represents the ethics of Buddhism, based on that philosophy.
All these four truths are dependent on this body itself. The Buddha states: "In this very one-fathom long body along with
perceptions and thoughts, do I proclaim the world, the origin of the world, the end of the world and the path leading to the
end of the world." Here the term world is applied to suffering.
Buddhism rests on the pivot of sorrow. But it does not thereby follow that Buddhism is pessimistic. It is neither totally
pessimistic nor totally optimistic, but, on the contrary, it teaches a truth that lies midway between them. One would be justified
in calling the Buddha a pessimist if He had only enunciated the Truth of suffering without suggesting a means to put an end
to it. The Buddha perceived the universality of sorrow and did prescribe a panacea for this universal sickness of humanity.
The highest conceivable happiness, according to the Buddha, is Nibbana, which is the total extinction of suffering.
The author of the article on Pessimism in the Encyclopedia Britannica writes: "Pessimism denotes an attitude of hopelessness
towards life, a vague general opinion that pain and evil predominate in human affairs. The original doctrine of the Buddha
is in fact as optimistic as any optimism of the West. To call it pessimism is merely to apply to it a characteristically Western
principle to which happiness is impossible without personality. The true Buddhist looks forward with enthusiasm to absorption
into eternal bliss."
Ordinarily the enjoyment of sensual pleasures is the highest and only happiness of the average man. There is no doubt a
kind of momentary happiness in the anticipation, gratification and retrospection of such fleeting material pleasures, but
they are illusive and temporary. According to the Buddha non-attachment is a greater bliss.
The Buddha does not expect His followers to be constantly pondering on suffering and lead a miserable unhappy life. He
exhorts them to be always happy and cheerful, for zest (Piti) is one of the factors of Enlightenment.
Real happiness is found within, and is not to be defined in terms of wealth, children, honors or fame. If such possessions
are misdirected, forcibly or unjustly obtained, misappropriated or even viewed with attachment, they will be a source of pain
and sorrow to the possessors.
Instead of trying to rationalize suffering, Buddhism takes suffering for granted and seeks the cause to eradicate it. Suffering
exists as long as there is craving. It can only be annihilated by treading the Noble Eightfold Path and attaining the supreme
bliss of Nibbana.
These four Truths can be verified by experience. Hence the Buddha Dhamma is not based on the fear of the unknown, but is
founded on the bedrock of facts which can be tested by ourselves and verified by experience. Buddhism is, therefore rational
and intensely practical.
Such a rational and practical system cannot contain mysteries or esoteric doctrines. Blind faith, therefore, is foreign
to Buddhism. Where there is no blind faith there cannot be any coercion or persecution or fanaticism. To the unique credit
of Buddhism it must be said that throughout its peaceful march of 2500 years no drop of blood was shed in the name of the
Buddha, no mighty monarch wielded his powerful sword to propagate the Dhamma, and no conversion was made either by force or
by repulsive methods. Yet, the Buddha was the first and the greatest missionary that lived on earth.
Aldous Huxley writes: "Alone of all the great world religions Buddhism made its way without persecution censorship or inquisition."
Lord Russell remarks: "Of the great religions of history, I prefer Buddhism, especially in its earliest forms; because
it has had the smallest element of persecution."
In the name of Buddhism no altar was reddened with the blood of a Hypatia, no Bruno was burnt alive.
Buddhism appeals more to the intellect than to the emotion. It is concerned more with the character of the devotees than
with their numerical strength.
On one occasion Upali, a follower of Nigantha Nataputta, approached the Buddha and was so pleased with the Buddha's exposition
of the Dhamma that he instantly expressed his desire to become a follower of the Buddha. But the Buddha cautioned him, saying:
"Of a verity, O householder, make a thorough investigation. It is well for a distinguished man like you to make (first)
a thorough investigation."
Upali, who was overjoyed at this unexpected remark of the Buddha, said:
"Lord, had I been a follower of another religion, its adherents would have taken me round the streets in a procession proclaiming
that such and such a millionaire had renounced his former faith and embraced theirs. But, Lord, Your Reverence advises me
to investigate further. The more pleased am I with this remark of yours. For the second time, Lord, I seek refuge in the Buddha,
Dhamma and the Sangha."
Buddhism is saturated with this spirit of free enquiry and complete tolerance. It is the teaching of the open mind and
the sympathetic heart, which, lighting and warming the whole universe with its twin rays of wisdom and compassion, sheds its
genial glow on every being struggling in the ocean of birth and death.
The Buddha was so tolerant that He did not even exercise His power to give commandments to His lay followers. Instead of
using the imperative, He said: "It behooves you to do this -- It behooves you not to do this." He commands not but does exhort.
This tolerance the Buddha extended to men, women and all living beings.
It was the Buddha who first attempted to abolish slavery and vehemently protested against the degrading caste system which
was firmly rooted in the soil of India. In the Word of the Buddha it is not by mere birth one becomes an outcast or a noble,
but by one's actions. Caste or colour does not preclude one from becoming a Buddhist or from entering the Order. Fishermen,
scavengers, courtesans, together with warriors and Brahmins, were freely admitted to the Order and enjoyed equal privileges
and were also given positions of rank. Upali, the barber, for instance, was made in preference to all other the chief in matters
pertaining to Vinaya discipline. The timid Sunita, the scavenger, who attained Arhatship was admitted by the Buddha Himself
into the Order. Angulimala, the robber and criminal, was converted to a compassionate saint. The fierce Alavaka sought refuge
in the Buddha and became a saint. The courtesan Ambapali entered the Order and attained Arhatship. Such instances could easily
be multiplied from the Tipitaka to show that the portals of Buddhism were wide open to all, irrespective of caste, colour
It was also the Buddha who raised the status of downtrodden women and not only brought them to a realization of their importance
to society but also founded the first celibate religious order for women with rules and regulations.
The Buddha did not humiliate women, but only regarded them as feeble by nature. He saw the innate good of both men and
women and assigned to them their due places in His teaching. Sex is no barrier to attaining Sainthood.
Sometimes the Pali term used to denote women is Matugama, which means "mother-folk" or "society of mothers." As
a mother, woman holds an honorable place in Buddhism. Even the wife is regarded as "best friend" (parama sakha) of
Hasty critics are only making ex parte statements when they reproach Buddhism with being inimical to women. Although at
first the Buddha refused to admit women into the Order on reasonable grounds, yet later He yielded to the entreaties of His
foster-mother, Pajapati Gotami, and founded the Bhikkhuni Order. Just as the Arahats Sariputta and Moggallana were made the
two chief disciples in the Order of monks, even so he appointed Arahats Khema and Uppalavanna as the two chief female disciples.
Many other female disciples too were named by the Buddha Himself as His distinguished and pious followers.
On one occasion the Buddha said to King Kosala who was displeased on hearing that a daughter was born to him:
"A woman child, O Lord of men; may prove Even a better offspring than a male."
Many women, who otherwise would have fallen into oblivion, distinguished themselves in various ways, and gained their emancipation
by following the Dhamma and entering the Order. In this new Order, which later proved to be a great blessing to many
women, queens, princesses, daughters of noble families, widows, bereaved mothers, destitute women, pitiable courtesans --
all, despite their caste or rank, met on a common platform, enjoyed perfect consolation and peace, and breathed that free
atmosphere which is denied to those cloistered in cottages and palatial mansions.
It was also the Buddha who banned the sacrifice of poor beasts and admonished His followers to extend their loving kindness
(Metta) to all living beings -- even to the tiniest creature that crawls at one's feet. No man has the power or the
right to destroy the life of another as life is precious to all.
A genuine Buddhist would exercise this loving-kindness towards every living being and identify himself with all, making
no distinction whatsoever with regard to caste, colour or sex.
It is this Buddhist Metta that attempts to break all the barriers which separate one from another. There is no reason
to keep aloof from others merely because they belong to another persuasion or another nationality. In that noble Toleration
Edict which is based on Culla-Vyuha and Maha-Vyuha Suttas, Asoka says: "Concourse alone is best, that is, all
should harken willingly to the doctrine professed by others."
Buddhism is not confined to any country or any particular nation. It is universal. It is not nationalism which, in other
words, is another form of caste system founded on a wider basis. Buddhism, if it be permitted to say so, is supernationalism.
To a Buddhist there is no far or near, no enemy or foreigner, no renegade or untouchable, since universal love realized
through understanding has established the brotherhood of all living beings. A real Buddhist is a citizen of the world. He
regards the whole world as his motherland and all as his brothers and sisters.
Buddhism is, therefore, unique, mainly owing to its tolerance, non-aggressiveness, rationality, practicability, efficacy
and universality. It is the noblest of all unifying influences and the only lever that can uplift the world.
These are some of the salient features of Buddhism, and amongst some of the fundamental doctrines may be said -- Kamma
or the Law of Moral Causation, the Doctrine of Rebirth, Anatta and Nibbana.
Kamma or the Law of Moral Causation
We are faced with a totally ill-balanced world. We perceive the inequalities and manifold destinies of men and the numerous
grades of beings that exist in the universe. We see one born into a condition of affluence, endowed with fine mental, moral
and physical qualities and another into a condition of abject poverty and wretchedness. Here is a man virtuous and holy, but,
contrary to his expectation, ill-luck is ever ready to greet him. The wicked world runs counter to his ambitions and desires.
He is poor and miserable in spite of his honest dealings and piety. There is another vicious and foolish, but accounted to
be fortune's darling. He is rewarded with all forms of favors, despite his shortcomings and evil modes of life.
Why, it may be questioned, should one be an inferior and another a superior? Why should one be wrested from the hands of
a fond mother when he has scarcely seen a few summers, and another should perish in the flower or manhood, or at the ripe
age of eighty or hundred? Why should one be sick and infirm, and another strong and healthy? Why should one be handsome, and
another ugly and hideous, repulsive to all? Why should one be brought up in the lap of luxury, and another in absolute poverty,
steeped in misery? Why should one be born a millionaire and another a pauper? Why should one be born with saintly characteristics,
and another with criminal tendencies? Why should some be linguists, artists, mathematicians or musicians from the very cradle?
Why should some be congenitally blind, deaf and deformed? Why should some be blessed and others cursed from their birth?
These are some problems that perplex the minds of all thinking men. How are we to account for all this unevenness of the
world, this inequality of mankind?
Is it due to the work of blind chance or accident?
There is nothing in this world that happens by blind chance or accident. To say that anything happens by chance, is no
more true than that this book has come here of itself. Strictly speaking, nothing happens to man that he does not deserve
for some reason or another.
Could this be the fiat of an irresponsible Creator?
"If we are to assume that anybody has designedly set this wonderful universe going, it is perfectly clear to me that he
is no more entirely benevolent and just in any intelligible sense of the words, than that he is malevolent and unjust."
According to Einstein:
"If this being (God) is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every
human feeling and aspiration is also his work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and
thoughts before such an Almighty Being.
"In giving out punishments and rewards, he would to a certain extent be passing judgement on himself. How can this be combined
with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to him."
"According to the theological principles man is created arbitrarily and without his desire and at the moment of his creation
is either blessed or damned eternally. Hence man is either good or evil, fortunate or unfortunate, noble or depraved, from
the first step in the process of his physical creation to the moment of his last breath, regardless of his individual desires,
hopes, ambitions, struggles or devoted prayers. Such is theological fatalism."
-- Spencer Lewis
As Charles Bradlaugh says:
"The existence of evil is a terrible stumbling block to the Theist. Pain, misery, crime, poverty confront the advocate
of eternal goodness and challenge with unanswerable potency his declaration of Deity as all-good, all-wise, and all-powerful."
In the words of Schopenhauer:
"Whoever regards himself as having become out of nothing must also think that he will again become nothing; for an eternity
has passed before he was, and then a second eternity had begun, through which he will never cease to be, is a monstrous thought.
"If birth is the absolute beginning, then death must be his absolute end; and the assumption that man is made out of nothing
leads necessarily to the assumption that death is his absolute end."
Commenting on human sufferings and God, Prof. J.B.S. Haldane writes:
"Either suffering is needed to perfect human character, or God is not Almighty. The former theory is disproved by the fact
that some people who have suffered very little but have been fortunate in their ancestry and education have very fine characters.
The objection to the second is that it is only in connection with the universe as a whole that there is any intellectual gap
to be filled by the postulation of a deity. And a creator could presumably create whatever he or it wanted."
Lord Russell states:
"The world, we are told, was created by a God who is both good and omnipotent. Before He created the world he foresaw all
the pain and misery that it would contain. He is therefore responsible for all of it. it is useless to argue that the pain
in the world is due to sin. If God knew in advance the sins of which man would be guilty, He was clearly responsible for all
the consequences of those sins when He decided to create man."
In "Despair," a poem of his old age, Lord Tennyson thus boldly attacks God, who, as recorded in Isaiah, says, "I make peace
and create evil."
(Isaiah, xiv. 7.)
"What! I should call on that infinite love that has served us so well? Infinite cruelty, rather that made everlasting hell,
Made us, foreknew us, foredoomed us, and does what he will with his own. Better our dead brute mother who never has heard
Surely "the doctrine that all men are sinners and have the essential sin of Adam is a challenge to justice, mercy, love
and omnipotent fairness."
Some writers of old authoritatively declared that God created man in his own image. Some modern thinkers state, on the
contrary, that man created God in his own image. With the growth of civilization man's concept of God also became more and
It is however, impossible to conceive of such a being either in or outside the universe.
Could this variation be due to heredity and environment? One must admit that all such chemico-physical phenomena revealed
by scientists, are partly instrumental, but they cannot be solely responsible for the subtle distinctions and vast differences
that exist amongst individuals. Yet why should identical twins who are physically alike, inheriting like genes, enjoying the
same privilege of upbringing, be very often temperamentally, morally and intellectually totally different?
Heredity alone cannot account for these vast differences. Strictly speaking, it accounts more plausibly for their similarities
than for most of the differences. The infinitesimally minute chemico-physical germ, which is about 30 millionth part of an
inch across, inherited from parents, explains only a portion of man, his physical foundation. With regard to the more complex
and subtle mental, intellectual and moral differences we need more enlightenment. The theory of heredity cannot give a satisfactory
explanation for the birth of a criminal in a long line of honourable ancestors, the birth of a saint or a noble man in a family
of evil repute, for the arising of infant prodigies, men of genius and great religious teachers.
According to Buddhism this variation is due not only to heredity, environment, "nature and nurture," but also to our own
kamma, or in other words, to the result of our own inherited past actions and our present deeds. We ourselves are responsible
for our own deeds, happiness and misery. We build our own hells. We create our own heavens. We are the architects of our own
fate. In short we ourselves are our own kamma.
On one occasion [*] a certain young man named Subha approached the Buddha, and questioned why and wherefore it was that
among human beings there are the low and high states.
* [Culakamma Vibhanga Sutta -- Majjhima Nikaya, No. 135.]
"For," said he, "we find amongst mankind those of brief life and those of long life, the hale and the ailing, the good
looking and the ill-looking, the powerful and the powerless, the poor and the rich, the low-born and the high-born, the ignorant
and the intelligent."
The Buddha briefly replied: "Every living being has kamma as its own, its inheritance, its cause, its kinsman, its refuge.
Kamma is that which differentiates all living beings into low and high states."
He then explained the cause of such differences in accordance with the law of moral causation.
Thus from a Buddhist standpoint, our present mental, intellectual, moral and temperamental differences are mainly due to
our own actions and tendencies, both past the present.
Kamma, literally, means action; but, in its ultimate sense, it means the meritorious and demeritorious volition (Kusala
Akusala Cetana). Kamma constitutes both good and evil. Good gets good. Evil gets evil. Like attracts like. This is the
law of Kamma.
As some Westerners prefer to say Kamma is "action-influence."
We reap what we have sown. What we sow we reap somewhere or some when. In one sense we are the result of what we were;
we will be the result of what we are. In another sense, we are not totally the result of what we were and we will not absolutely
be the result of what we are. For instance, a criminal today may be a saint tomorrow.
Buddhism attributes this variation to Kamma, but it does not assert that everything is due to Kamma.
If everything were due to Kamma, a man must ever be bad, for it is his Kamma to be bad. One need not consult a physician
to be cured of a disease, for if one's Kamma is such one will be cured.
According to Buddhism, there are five orders or processes (Niyamas) which operate in the physical and mental realms:
i. Kamma Niyama, order of act and result, e.g., desirable and undesirable acts produce corresponding good and bad
ii. Utu Niyama, physical (inorganic) order, e.g., seasonal phenomena of winds and rains.
iii. Bija Niyama, order of germs or seeds (physical organic order); e.g., rice produced from rice-seed, sugary taste
from sugar cane or honey etc. The scientific theory of cells and genes and the physical similarity of twins may be ascribed
to this order.
iv. Citta Niyama, order of mind or psychic law, e.g., processes of consciousness (Citta vithi), power of
v. Dhamma Niyama, order of the norm, e.g., the natural phenomena occurring at the advent of a Boddhisatta in his
last birth, gravitation, etc.
Every mental or physical phenomenon could be explained by these all-embracing five orders or processes which are laws in
Kamma is, therefore, only one of the five orders that prevail in the universe. It is a law in itself, but it does not thereby
follow that there should be a law-giver. Ordinary laws of nature, like gravitation, need no law-giver. It operates in its
own field without the intervention of an external independent ruling agency.
Nobody, for instance, has decreed that fire should burn. Nobody has commanded that water should seek its own level. No
scientist has ordered that water should consist of H2O, and that coldness should be one of its properties. These are their
intrinsic characteristics. Kamma is neither fate nor predestination imposed upon us by some mysterious unknown power to which
we must helplessly submit ourselves. It is one's own doing reacting on oneself, and so one has the possibility to divert the
course of Kamma to some extent. How far one diverts it depends on oneself.
It must also be said that such phraseology as rewards and punishments should not be allowed to enter into discussions concerning
the problem of Kamma. For Buddhism does not recognize an Almighty Being who rules His subjects and rewards and punishes them
accordingly. Buddhists, on the contrary, believe that sorrow and happiness one experiences are the natural outcome of one's
own good and bad actions. It should be stated that Kamma has both the continuative and the retributive principle.
Inherent in Kamma is the potentiality of producing its due effect. The cause produces the effect; the effect explains the
cause. Seed produces the fruit; the fruit explains the seed as both are inter-related. Even so Kamma and its effect are inter-related;
"the effect already blooms in the cause."
A Buddhist who is fully convinced of the doctrine of Kamma does not pray to another to be saved but confidently relies
on himself for his purification because it teaches individual responsibility.
It is this doctrine of Kamma that gives him consolation, hope, self reliance and moral courage. It is this belief in Kamma
"that validates his effort, kindles his enthusiasm," makes him ever kind, tolerant and considerate. It is also this firm belief
in Kamma that prompts him to refrain from evil, do good and be good without being frightened of any punishment or tempted
by any reward.
It is this doctrine of Kamma that can explain the problem of suffering, the mystery of so-called fate or predestination
of other religions, and above all the inequality of mankind.
Kamma and rebirth are accepted as axiomatic.