Friday, June 29, 2012

The Buddhist teaching on man, rebirth, and karma

 Imagine you have a car in front of you. Now imagine you loosen one of the wheels and you put it aside. Is the car identical with this wheel? Then take another wheel and proceed in the same way, asking yourselves the same question. Continue in dissembling the car and do not stop  till each component of the automobile is taken away. Now ask yourselves again: do all these components taken separately represent the automobile? You will logicaly realize the answer is “no”. 

So what really is the vehicle? A name given to an ensemble of elements taken together. What is the man from a Buddhist point of wiev? An ensemble of elements gathered at a given moment. These elements are represented by ideas, sensations, feelings, thoughts, etc. All these united represent the human being. This explanation must be kept in mind if we want to understand Buddhism. The man is not something all by itself but an ensemble of various sensations, feelings, ideas, thoughts etc united at a given moment. The fundamental characteristic of this ensemble is transition, dynamism. When looking at a man one will see an image of this motion, an image of this ensemble in continuous movement. If one looked at that person when he/she was three years old one wouldn’t have seen the same thing. This is because at that time you observed another aspect of the motion. The components of the personality would have had another aspect and a different form. After twenty years you’ll see, for instance, another John, George or Mike. Something is still preserved but at the same time something changes. I am not identical with my three years old self, and in twenty years time I won’t be completely the same with the one I am now. In Buddhism this is called the non-ego doctrine, which we’ve talked about in the beginning when we said that it was the third characteristic of existence, together with impermanence and suffering. All things exists due to causes and conditions, thus they have no nature of their own or an unchanged identity. This is why they are said to be empty. When causes and conditions come together a certain thing exists, when they dissapear, that thing also dissapears. When causes and conditions change that thing changes too.

 Now let us observe another matter. What is causing this ensemble to move? Buddhism’s answer is: desire and craving (thirst). Our different desires and tendencies determine us to move towards one direction or another, they change our personal history and generate the karma, the action. Karma is the law of cause and effect. The term karma comes from the sanskrit word “karman” which means action; acting with thought, deed and word. As a conclusion, there are three types of karma: karma of thought, of speech and karma of action or body. All that we think, speak or do will affect our personal history. What we are now represents the result of what we thought, said or did in the past, in another lifetime or in the present life; and what we think, speak and do in the present will create us in the future. 

We’ve said that the man is in continuous change and that after ten years, for example, he is not identical with the one he is today. We’ve said that although he is not the same, something still remains; well, this something is the causal continuity. When a man sets a stack on fire and the fire extends to the whole village and burns down the house of another peasant situated at the opposite side of the village, the first peasant could say that he has nothing to do with this disaster for the fire which burnt the house of the second peasant is not identical with the flame he used for setting his straws on fire. But there is a causal continuity between the first fire and the one which burnt the second peasant’s house. This is how things are concerning the karma. The ensemble in continuous motion, the man, is moved by a desire which generates karma. We are the result of our own karma. Karma may last forever and determines our birth in another life. So we have arrived to what is called reincarnation. But from the Buddhist point of view a more appropriate word would be rebirth. When using the term reincarnation it is implied the idea that there would be a self dependent, unchangeable thing which passes from one body to another. But we have underlined in our presentation that the ensemble named man is in continuous motion and transformation. So the word rebirth is more adequate. A man in his usual life dies and reborn permanently, according to the changes, the tendencies and the desires which occur. We’ve given earlier the example with the age of three years and twenty years. Physically our cells change every seven years, so we are not even physically the same. 

The moment we die, our personal karma determines the form and the vehicle, that is the body which the being will have in the next birth. Our desires need a vehicle to follow them and fulfill them in another life. The background where we will be born in another life and tha shape we will have depend on the karma.  Buddha states that not even a single man can escape his karma.

“Not in the heaven, not in the middle of the ocean, not in the mountain caves: there is no place in this world were you can hide from (the consequences of) your deeds.”

The doctrine of karma teaches us that we are completely responsible of what we represent and of what we will become. Nobody besides us, be it god, man or any other being, can be held responsible. We deserve what happens to us, even if it is hard to accept that.

- read the article "The influence of past karma and the impossibility of becoming a Buddha in this life"

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