10: Rebirth:

Rebirth is transfer of life from one physical body to another.

Normally soul is supposed to be a permanent entity residing in the body of a living being that differentiates it from non-living things. When a living being dies that soul leaves the body and finds another body to be reborn as another living being.

But in reality there exists no such permanent entity as soul. There is just a continuation of consciousness. Rebirth is in the form of continuous change in our body and mind. Thus we are continuously born and reborn. This concept is equally applicable to both form of rebirth that of rebirth in same life and after life. So you do not need a proof of rebirth for this chapter to be applicable to you.

Rebirth is a very important doctrine in Buddhism. Buddha refuted following doctrines as not true and will not lead to human development:

  1. One of nihilism that says that there is no birth after this birth. Thus there is no future opportunity to do good or rectify our bad karma.
  2. One of fatalism where one’s future is predetermined and there is no role of our will and no way to rectify our future.
  3. Where one’ future is determined by an act of external agent.

When we speak of Rebirth in Buddhism, we must give reference to the three Universal truths relating to existence:

  1. Dukkha
  2. Anatta
  3. Anitya
  1. Dukkha: (discussed in chapter 2 under Four Noble Truths) is also translated as unsatisfactoriness. This unsatisfactoriness of our life is what gives rise to our Karma, which in turn is the cause for continuation of our life. Until our karma and desire for life are exhausted life continues.
  2. Anatta: is the concept of no soul or no self. As discussed earlier, there is no such thing as a permanent soul that is transferred from one body to another. Instead it is a continuation of our consciousness. This continuation of consciousness is not only on rebirth but it happens all the time for all living beings. From birth till death we are continuously changing both physically and mentally. Our thoughts, values, tastes, circumstances all change continuously. But there is a link between the changes our awareness, our memories, our link to the changing physically body and mind. This link of awareness and memories associated with life is what we call consciousness. As the link of consciousness exists from birth till death, the same continues even after death to the new body to form what we call rebirth.
  3. Anitya i.e. impermanence: We change, our relatives change, our friends change, our environment change, our situations change. They give us temporary illusion of permanence. We still consider these as permanent. We have grown up with this illusion and we even teach the same to our children.

Nama and Rupa: Illusion of permanent entity or Identity is given by “nama and rupa” or Mind and Form duality. We confuse Name or Identity with form, and Form with name or Identity. Our language plays an important part in misleading us into believing that the name and form are one. While the form keeps changing we give it the same name, giving the impression of permanence. A popular analogy from “Milinda-Panha” (Questions of king Milinda) is that of a river, we call the river with the same name while the water is continuously flowing and at no moment there is same water in it to be called the same river. So is it with us, we keep on changing but still are referred by the same name.

The same process occurs at the time of death and rebirth. Our body changes, our consciousness is transferred to other body, we are reborn. The process is nothing different that during we are alive. Another analogy from the same book “Milinda Panha” is that of milk – milk first transforms into curd, curd into butter and butter into ghee. Once milk transforms into curd, we do not call it milk. Similarly for butter and for ghee, we do not call it milk or curd or butter once it has transformed. Thus after rebirth we cannot call ourselves the same person we were before rebirth nor can we call ourselves a totally different person as we have the same origin.

Concept of Rebirth builds on the concept of Karma that we discussed in previous chapter. The cycle of karma and its result forms the basis for the cycle of birth and death. Rebirth need not take place into human beings only. A person can be born into any of the 32 world systems depending on the gravity of the karma performed during this lifetime and previous lives.

Nirvana and rebirth: There is an important relations between rebirth and nirvana. After attaining nirvana, there is no desire left, no karma left, no continuity of consciousness, body continues its journey to old age and death and there is no further rebirth. While on attaining nirvana there is no rebirth at consciousness level during the lifetime, after death even body ceases to be reborn.

Rebirth and Karma are two important concepts that must be understood properly. They form an important part of right understanding or Wisdom and a strong basis for why we must maintain morality.


9: Karma or Kamma

What is Karma?

Karma or kamma in simple sense is any action that can have a good or bad future effects. It is sometimes referred as cause eg. “Whatever is happening in your life is because of your good karma or bad karma”. Similarly karma is also referred as effect eg. “What is happening to you is your karma”. This is also the natural law of morality and not enforced by anybody. It works like all other natural laws.

All actions do not lead to effects in future. These actions with no future implications are non-volitional kamma (actions). These are actions that do not involve will or desire, like eating, drinking water, answering call of nature, walking, sleeping, etc. Thus only actions that involve will/desire/volition forms a karma and have future effects. Thus karma has a cause and effect relationship with our good or bad future, karma being the cause and our good or bad future being its result. This cause and effect relationship is also called as the Law of Kamma. This law also explains why some people suffer while some don’t, why some are poor and some are rich, why some are beautiful and some are ugly, why some are healthy and some are sick, why some are stupid and some are wise.

We will definitely argue that there are people doing all the wrong things and still living a happy life and there are people who do nothing wrong but suffer endlessly.

The law of karma is complex and we tend to forget what we have done. Also we never think of associating what has happened to what we have done. We also lack the ability of Buddha to link every karma to a past action, sometimes extending to infinite previous births (Jataka Tales are stories of Buddha’s previous births).

Factors affecting karma

  1. Kamma is a natural law and no one enforces this law, like Newton’s laws of motion, Thermodynamics, etc.
  2. Kamma cannot be transferred
  3. It does not end with end of present life.
  4. Everything that happens to us cannot be attributed to karma.
  5. Depending on cause, Kamma can be classified into
    1. Good karma,
    2. Evil or bad karma
    3. Neither good nor bad karma.
  6. Depending on the how the karma bears fruit it is classified as
    1. Weighty (serious karma – good or bad)
    2. Proximate (karma at time of death – which determines our next birth),
    3. Habitual
    4. Reserve (other than all three).
  7. Depending on time it bears fruit
    1. Present birth
    2. Next birth
    3. Subsequent births
  8. Depending on function it can be classified into:
    1. Reproductive (that which bears result),
    2. Supportive (they do not bear result but support the result of other karma),
    3. Obstructive (they reduce the effect of other karma) and
    4. Destructive (they nullify the effect/result of other karma).
  9. Not everything that happens to us can be attributed to karma.

8: The Insight Chart

Dependent Origination chart in Buddhism
Dependent Origination as Insight Chart

This Insight Chart is adapted from ‘Dependent Origination’ or ‘Wheel of Life’ chart ?

On the day Buddha attained Nirvana, during his meditation, he saw the true nature of all things and why people are unhappy. He understood the dependent origination. One thing leads to other and it forms a cycle which is difficult to break without proper understanding. Buddha understood why some people are happy and some are unhappy and are suffering. What he found out after years of effort, he made it available to everyone to benefit. He found the nature of all things, the dependent origination and the path to Nirvana. Now it is on each of us to put in effort and be free from suffering.

The Dependant Origination:

1.  Ignorance – It is the root cause of suffering

2.  Volitional Activities – With Ignorance arises Volitional Activities

3.  Relinking Consciousness – With Volitional Activities arises Relinking Consciousness

4.  Name and Form – With Relinking Consciousness arises Name and Form duality

5.  Six Senses – Name and Form is accompanied by the Six Senses of Sight, Hearing, Taste, Touch, Smell and  the Mind emulates all other five senses.

6.  Contact – With Six Senses arises contact with their respective Sense objects that of Sight Object, Sound, Taste object, touch object, smell object and mental objects

7.  Sensation – With contact arises sensation

8.  Craving – With sensation arises carving

9.  Attachment – With carving arises attachment

  1. Kamma – Bhava – With attachment arises Kamma – Bhava, our reactions
  2. Birth – With Kamma – Bhava (our reactions) arises birth or becoming
  3. Old Age and Death – With birth arises Old Age and Death and all other related sufferings

There are two charts here. One is the original and lively pictorial chart in chapter on Dependent Origination, and the other, Insight Chart in this chapter, is the same chart mapped on the palm for better memorization and practice in daily life. Readers here have a choice to prefer the first chart or the second chart or both for different place and time. For being constantly aware of the dependent origination, we have had it adapted to be plotted on our Right Palm where we do not have to make any changes.

This chart shows how some people make their life miserable with their wrong thoughts, speech and action and how some people enjoy good life after freeing themselves of the root causes of suffering (Ignorance, greed and anger). It also shows the cause and effect relationship that makes our future good or bad and also how we can break the chain of cause and effect to become free of suffering and attain Nirvana.

Starting from the center of the palm,

1.  The three root causes of suffering ignorance, greed and anger depicted by the edges of inner triangle of the palm.

2.  Beings sliding down into life of suffering (marked by the dark arrow pointing down adjacent to line of greed in the picture) and Beings climbing up (Marked by a white arrow adjacent to edge of ignorance).

3.  The Six worlds (marked on the mounts of the palm) of that of Human, Titans or asuras, Gods, Animals, Hungry Ghosts and Hell beings.

4.  The Four fingers with their three phalanges each shows the twelve links of cause and effect relationships.

5.  The thumb which has control of all activities of the palm represents the Mara – The God of Death who does not the let the activities stop.

6.  The term Dependent Origination is also used for the 12 links forming a cycle of life & death or of each karma and its result. Each link is a cause for next link. We can stop the wheel/break the cycle by breaking any one of the 12 links. Thus the simplest way to attain Nirvana is breaking the cycle of karma. And breaking the cycle is breaking just one link. It is very easy, but to do that we need a lot of discipline and also right understanding. That brings us back to following the 8 fold path. This book will guide you through the process of freeing you from the cycle of karma. Of the 12 links we can observe 4 links being broken with each of the link being broken as we progress. Refer fig. 1 & 3. First fig shows the eight fold path on the palm, with action, speech, thought, awareness and concentration marked from top to bottom. Compare this with the 12 links in fig. 3. As soon as you start observing your actions and speech you start to break the cycle at the kamma-bhava (actions) link on index finger. When you observe your thoughts you break the cycle at craving link on middle finger as craving is followed by a flood of thoughts. With awareness you break the contact link on tip of ring finger as you are aware when there is any sense contact. You will observe how finer control is gained as you progress. With meditation you get still finer control of your karma on the little finger as your Volitional Activities are under control. Finally when you move towards your right hand and with insight you completely eradicate ignorance and you become finally free from the cycle of karma/wheel of life and move towards achieving Nirvana.

7: Dependent Origination

WheelOfLife or Dependent Origination Chart
Wheel Of Life, source:http://www.SuanMokkh.org

The ‘Dependent Origination’ is also known as The ‘Wheel Of Life’ or Bhavachakra. It shows how and why beings suffer due to their karma or willful actions.
At the center of the chart there is

  • A pig with its ears falling over its eyes representing ignorance / delusion,
  • A cock who feeds continuously representing greed / lust
  • A snake representing anger.

All three animals are seen holding the other animal’s tail representing dependent relation between delusion, greed and anger I.e. Dependent on delusion arises greed/lust, with greed/lust arises anger and with anger arises further delusion. We can fall down far lower than what can be represented by these poor animals.
Next to it is another ring showing beings falling down in lower realms and beings rising in better realms – engrossed or freed from greed, anger and delusion.
Surrounding it are the six world systems or realms where a being can exist dependent on their karma.


  • Gods(Deva): They have everything they want and have a pleasurable life. They have a very long life which seems eternal. This world is again divided into 16 world ranging from angels to the highest Brahma Loka. But once their good karma has exhausted they have to return back into one of the lower realms. Here a white Buddha can be seen playing harp reminding the Gods that their stay is temporary.
  • Titans/Demi-gods/Demons(Asura): They have everything they want, including wealth and power, but still fight amongst themselves and with Gods for more. Here a green Buddha can be seen with a flaming sword in hand teaching them moral restraint.
  • Humans(Manushya): In this world human beings experience both pleasures and pains of all the other world systems. In addition Humans can have knowledge, will and ability needed to attain Nirvana and be free from suffering. This is why Human birth is fortunate and most suitable for attaining Nirvana among all the realms. This is also the reason why we must not waste this birth and mind our karma, and if possible try to attain Nirvana. We must also note that we now have the Buddha’s teachings – the guide, to attain Nirvana, which may in few 100 or 1000yrs be lost and the world may have to wait for the arrival of the next Buddha, which may be a very long long time. Here a yellow Buddha is seen teaching humans four noble truth and showing path to enlightenment.

Duggati:(woeful states)

  • Hungry Ghost (Peta yoni): They keep on lusting after things, but are unable to get it. It is represented by beings with large belly and small mouth unable to eat enough to fill their stomach. Even what little they swallow causes intense fire in their stomach and whatever they drink turns into blood. Here a red Buddha can be seen holding a bottle of potion to heal these beings and teaching them to be generous.
  • Hell (Naraka): Beings in this realm are tortured mercilessly. The hell is divided into hot and cold hells. Here Mara can be seen at the center holding a mirror in one hand and a weighing scale in other showing beings their deeds and giving punishment as per the weight of their karma. Here an indigo Buddha can be seen holding a lantern showing light of enlightenment in the darkness of hell.
  • Animals (Prani): Here beings lack knowledge about good or bad/right or wrong and hence are unable to control their karma. This is also the only realm visible to us with our limited senses. Here a blue Buddha can be seen with a book in hand imparting wisdom and virtue of ethical conduct.

It can be observed that while some beings experience pain and others pleasure, what is common is that the state is impermanent and leads to Dukkha/unsatisfactoriness and the only way out of Dukkha is Nirvana.
The outer ring is the 12 dependent links or the dependent origination.

  1. Avijja:There is a blind man walking with the help of a stick. It represents Ignorance/Dellusion.
  2. Dependent on Ignorance arises volitional activities. It is represented by a potter making a pot (forming own karma with own actions).
  3. Dependent on volitional activities arises relinking consciousness, represented by a monkey jumping from one branch of tree to another leaving half-eaten fruit for another, like our mind never still for even a moment.
  4. Nama-Rupa: Dependent on relinking consciousness arises name and form duality. It is represented by twins rowing a boat.
  5. On name & form depends our six senses(five senses + mind which can emulate all the other senses). It is represented by a house with five windows and a door.
  6. Dependent on the six senses arises contact of each sense with its corresponding object. It is represented by a man and woman embracing.
  7. Dependent on contact arises sensation or feeling blinding us from choosing right from wrong. It is represented by a man with arrow pierced in his eye.
  8. Depending on contact arises craving. It is represented by a woman offering a drink to a man.
  9. Depending on craving arises attachment, represented by a monkey plucking a fruit from tree – a reaction a result of craving.
  10. kamma-bhava :On attachment arises becoming represented by a man and woman making love and giving rise to new life.
  11. Jati: On becoming arises birth represented by a woman giving birth.
  12. On birth arises sickness, old age and death and all suffering related with life.

This ‘wheel of life’ can be seen rotated continuously by Mara – the symbolic God of death. Mara can be seen with three eyes four legs with claws and with sharp teeth rotating the Wheel of Life and not letting it stop.
Outside the wheel of life Buddha can be seen completely free from the Dependent Origination or the ‘Wheel of Life’ showing his disciple the way of Nirvana.