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.

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5: The Practice Chart


Noble Eight Fold Path in Buddhism mapped on hand
Noble Eight Fold Path

The aim of this chart is to be aware of our deeds/karma as it is being done. In our daily life we are not aware whether what we have done is good or bad karma. With the help of this chart we can see all the karma that we have done after it has been done, like taking intoxicant, speaking lies, etc. After practicing it for some time, we will be at least aware of our actions  as they are being done. Awareness that we should change is important before we can change ourselves.

For practicing this figure is represented on the left palm, so that we can easily make markings on it with our right hand.(Left handed people can use this figure on right hand.).For attaining Nirvana, Buddha taught the Eight Fold Path, which is as under:

  • Sila: 1) Right Speech 2) Right Action 3) Right Livelihood
  • Samadhi: 4) Right Effort 5) Right Awareness 6) Right Meditation
  • Panna: 7) Right Thought 8) Right Understanding

With the help of the figure we can follow Sila and Samadhi aspects of attaining Nirvana. While Panna is left for the Second part of this Book, which will complete all aspects of attaining Nirvana.

The representations are as follows (Kindly re-read the details of each representation in previous chapters. Also see the figure as you read the rest of this chapter) :

The five fingers represent the five precepts or panchsheel (Ch.3).

  1. The little finger (weaker finger): Represents – and reminds us from abstaining from killing or harming living beings.
  2. The Ring finger (With costly ring on it): Represents – and reminds us from abstaining from stealing or taking what is not given.
  3. The (notorious) Middle finger: Represents – and reminds us from abstaining from sexual misconduct.
  4. The index finger (we use to ask someone to be quiet): Represents – and reminds us from abstaining from speaking lies, or speaking ill of others.
  5. The thumb (Representing drink in Thumbs Up position): Represents – and reminds us from abstaining from taking any intoxicants that affects the normal functioning of our mind.

Three other precepts not represented are followed by monks (We should try these in addition to above precepts at least once in a week or fasting days.)

  1. Abstaining from listening to music and other entertainment which affects our presence of mind.
  2. Abstaining from taking high and cushioned seat which makes us lethargic.
  3. Eating once a day but not after sunset, to maintain control on our greed.

The three  phalanges of each finger represent Morality (Sila) in action, speech and thought. As karma or intentional actions (discussed in next Part of this Book) are performed in thought, speech and action, the five precepts are divided and represented into three by the phalanges. This is so that we do not neglect or give less importance to karma performed in either thought, speech or action. Also as it is very difficult to change our source of livelihood if it has already been chosen or we had no choice, it becomes important that we follow the precepts in thought, speech and action so we have control of our mind and make our livelihood better. Those who have yet to choose their livelihood should choose it wisely as it affects our whole life, our minds and our practice.

The outer part of the palm connected to the fingers is used to mark our awareness or mindfulness in daily life. The marks are made from outside to inside. The markings are done like hour mark on a clock. For each hour that we are aware we make a mark indicating we were aware at that time of the day.  Also as we cannot properly represent a 24hr clock, we represent the marks with arrows pointing outwards as day for that hour and the same arrow pointing inwards as night and the mark having arrows at both ends as being aware for that hour both during day and night.

The circle in the center of palm shown in the figure is used to mark our meditation practice. A smaller circle is drawn for small period of meditation and large circle for longer period of meditation. Here again we draw another concentric circle for meditation done more than once during a day.

The long and bold arrows shown pointing from each finger towards center where we mark meditation is used to indicate the five hindrances that affect our meditation practice. These are

  1. Sloth & Torpor (Laziness): This line is drawn from the little finger – the weaker finger, which does very little work than the other fingers.
  2. Restlessness & Worry : This line is drawn from the ring finger, the diamond/golden ring in your finger giving you the cause for worry and restlessness.
  3. Sensual pleasure: This line is drawn from the middle finger, this is again the notorious middle finger associated with sensual pleasure.
  4. Ill-will: This line is drawn from the index finger, pointing to others, thinking evil of others.
  5. Skeptical doubt: This line is drawn from the thumb. The thumb in up direction says ‘go ahead’ and the same in down direction says ‘it sucks’.