5. The Law of Cause and Effect (The Law of Karma.)
5.1 The Firm Faith in the Law of Karma
THE Law of Karma is keynote, or one of the mainstays, of Buddhism, being one of the themes most frequently emphasised by the Buddha Himself. Buddhists with an unshakable faith in this aspect of the doctrine is sure to abstain, through the dictate of their own conscience, from doing evil. Whatever causes trouble or hurts others they are willing to avoid, This even though they know how, being unseen and unknown at the moment, they can go scot-free as far as the temporal punishment is concerned.
On the positive side, they are always reedy, being "faithful" enough, to do good, once again even though they know they will be unseen and therefore unsung in doing so. This is how belief in the Law of Karma is the necessary infra-structure for the edifice of morality in any society. Since a firm faith or confidence in this Law can serve as an effective stimulus to the virtue of sacrifice, be it the sacrifice of property or wealth, health and even one's own life, it is necessary to do so for the sake of righteousness, justice or social upliftment. If this sounds abstract in the sense of being vague and impractical, it is then advisable to refer to a concrete, personal instance in the Order of Sagha, whose virtues Buddhists are piously acquainted within the chanting Pali passages as follows:
- supatipanno bhagavato svakasagho;
- Ujupatipanno bhagavato svakasagho;
- yapatipanno bhagavato svakasagho;
- Smcipatipanno bhagavato svakasagho.
"Well-behaved is the Blessed One's Order of Sangha disciples, strictly following the Doctrine and the Discipline.
Uprightly behaved is the Blessed One's Order of Sangha disciples, their practice being sincere, not hypocritical.
For the sake of Knowledge is the practice of the Blessed One's Order of Sagha disciples, being targeted at achievement of the Path, the Fruition and Nibbna.
Worthily behaved is the Blessed One's Order of Sagha disciples, who are worthy of worship and offerings"
It is true that Buddhists have long been acquainted with the above passages praising the virtues of the Order of Sagha as one of the Triple Gem. However, it is also true that not many of them can properly understand the meaning implied by those passages. Moreover, few will understand why the Order of Sagha should be praised like that, particularly the phrase yapatipanno which, literally translated, means "to practise for the sake of Knowledge". The term has such a wide scope of meaning, and it is advisable that in the meanwhile we have to be temporarily satisfied with such a translation.
Another fact worthy of note is that the Sangha mentioned in the previous passages refer to those who are Noble (Ariya) Disciples, not those who are still worldlings (Puthujana). This we know from the passages that follow viz. Yadida Cattri Purisayugni Atthapurisapuggal : which means "the four pairs of Noble Disciples," comprising firstly, those who attain the Path, and then the Fruition, of the Stream-winner; those who attain the Path, and then the Fruition, of the Once-returner; those who attain the Path, and then the Fruition, of the Non-returner; and those who attain the Path, and then the Fruition, of the Arahatship (i.e. the fully liberated Ones)
But not is in not all there is in the meaning implied by the term Sagha. For most people the Noble Disciples refer only to the Bhikkhus, those who live a homeless life, whereas in point of fact it connotes anybody, lay disciples as well as Bhikkhus, and children (aged 7 at least) as well as adults. The girl Viskh in the time of the Buddha, for instance, who was a Stream-winner at the age of seven, was considered included in the term Sagha as well. The millionnaire Sudatta, a contemporary lay disciple, was another instance of this fact.
Now, a question may arise why a girl at that age should be firmly established in the four bases of Noble Conduct or practices mentioned above throughout her life, be she in the secret or open place and no matter in what social status she is. For such Noble Disciples no kind or amount of loss, whether of wealth or of life, can compel or force them to do evil or anything against their own conscience. This paragon of virtue can be expected to belong to them, even after the dissolution of the body, following them to the hereafter, in case they are, say, the Stream-winners, who are destined to some more rebirths.
5.2 A Stream-winner
There are underlying reasons that account for such a courageous self-sacrifice, raising them beyond the power of threats and temptations on the one hand and spurring them always to altruistic ideal and practices on the other. Those reasons by which a Stream-winner is characterized as follows:
5.2.1 To have a firm, unshakable faith in the Buddha, believing that He is, for instance, the Arahant, the Self-Enlightened One, the Blessed One, being perfect in Knowledge, Conduct and Abhi (i.e. Psychic Powers), together with the systematic practices for attainment of those virtues. 5.2.2 To have a firm, unconditional faith in the Dhamma, i.e. the Buddha's Teachings, believing that they have been well expounded by the Buddha, that they are the Truths, perfect and absolute and that they can at any time, or at all times, lead the aspirants to the Ultimate Goal, being thereby timeless in yielding the fruits of 5.2.3 To have a firm, irrevocable faith in the Sagha, believing that those Who have obtained the Eye of Dhamma (Dhammacakkhu), having realized and penetrated firsthand the Buddha's well-expounded Dhamma, are sure to establish themselves firmly i.e. irrevocably in the Law of Moral-ity in all circumstances and at all times. 5.2.4 To be habitually established in Precepts (Sla) or Morality. For such aspirants this virtue is deep-seated, becoming their "second nature", so to speak. Thus they can be relied upon not to violate any Precept. This is their absolute, irrevocable quality in all circumstances and at all times. In other words, they are ready to part with everything, even their lives, for the sake of the perfection of Precepts. 5.2.5 To penetrate the meaning of the Law of Dependent Origination. This includes, for instance, the knowledge that human beings are not born through the will of any divine being. It is their own Consciousness (Vina) that is their own creator. This is in accordance with this Law, which states that "There being Consciousness, there is to be what is called Name-and-Form or, in simple terms, Mind-and-Body", Thereafter, sentient beings are destined to fare strictly under the Law of Karma, there being no exception for this truth.
It is to be noted that all the Noble Disciples have the following belief, or rather realization, in common. They have understood where there is Consciousness, theme is Nma-Rpa or Mind and Body, how as long as there is a grain of Kilesa or Defilement inherent in their mind, so long will they have to be born once again. Their rebirth is then to be determined by their own Karma or Defilement, based action-mental, verbal and physical. Whether it will be refined or crude, high or low, in a realm of bliss or one of woe, is up to their own free choice of Karma as the original, intrinsic cause. Heredity, environment, family and other external factors are but instrumental causes. This may be liked to a plant or a tree, the kind and quality of which is inherent within its owl seed. Such factors as temperature, soil and water or moisture are secondary, instrumental ones. The Noble Disciples of the Buddha, having understood and penetrated these truths of the Law of Karma and Dependent Origination, are unruffled, as far as their faith in the Triple Gem is concerned, in all circumstances, be they of the tempting, discouraging or threatening kind.
5.3 Another Source of Morality
There can be, however, another concept as another source of morality or conscience. This may stem from the sincere belief that there used to exist nothing that we see existing today. What could be said to be existing at all was nothingness and, as a result, darkness. However, in the midst of this nothingness and darkness there existed God in the form of Soul equipped with the omnipotent and omniscient power which (or should we say who) could create anything and everything. Thus the worlds of heavenly bodies viz. planets, stars, galaxies etc. and those of living beings viz. human, celestial and hellish beings were all created by that "power". who or what it be. Even the laws of nature governing and regulating all the processes of animate and inanimate things were likewise born of that Creative Power.
Now, since there can be nothing and nobody that can go beyond this all-knowing "Power", it follows that whatever we have done, be it good or evil, openly or secretly, is ipso facto to be seen and known by this all-seeing eye. Once again by this very fact it is from this source of knowledge and Power that due reward or punishment, for the good and evil done, is meted out fairly and justly, also strictly and infallibly. Such is the all-inclusive work or the all-powerful, all-time and all-seeing Soul.
It is known that a sincere, whole-hearted acceptance of the above mentioned statements can spur the believers to doing good and uplifting their minds to a considerable extent. Inspired by that faith and not bothering to argue anything, people can be expected to be both law-abiding and religious-minded citizens, being thereby valuable assets of any society or country they belong to. They are sure to avoid whatever is harmful to others and also to perform whatever is beneficial to society as a whole. All these through the confident belief that, having pleased their God to such an extent, they will be duly rewarded by the all-seeing and all-knowing Power. In other words whatever meritorious acts they have performed, although unseen and unsung here, cannot be lost or wasted. This is how such a belief, being sincere, whole-headed and unshaken is an invaluable asset both for themselves and their society.
But when the belief becomes wavering, being plagued by doubt as to its trustworthiness or reality, the edifice of faith will be shaken to the core. The courage to do good will be gradually weakened by the thought that there might be no all-seeing eye to witness or record the good deeds secretly done and as a result no all-powerful agency to mete out the justice and, most important, the due reward. Such shaken belief, allowed to continue unchecked or without a proper treatment, will certainly result in the loss of courage, of the will power to do good as a spiritual upliftment.
5.4 Karma as Source of Morality
Now for those who put their trust in the Law of Karma, who have intelligently studied and understood its working power from the beginning, the adverse circumstances will not dim or weaken their courage. Knowing how Karma functions justly i.e. spontaneously and infallibly they will be more convinced of its truth, with their faith, and spiritual brilliance (Pasda) as the corollary, gradually intensified. As confirmation of this fact the following three characteristics of a Stream-winner, the lowest grade of Noble Disciples, should be referred to.
5.4.1 Abandonment of what is termed Sakkyaditthi i.e. wrong, misguided concept regarding self or Mind-Body (Nma-Rpa). This is the capacity to stand firm, not being disheartened despite disappointing events. The Stream-winners understand clearly the truths of life and death, of survival and evolution of life, of progress and decline, and of happiness and suffering, knowing what are the cause of those phenomena. Finally they know how to develop themselves positively and negatively, through the processes of cultivation and abandonment, to reach the condition of perfection in the long run. 5.4.2 Absolute elimination of doubt as regards the Triple Gem. This implies the absolute certainty and confidence in the virtue of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sagha, also in the truths of birth and death, of the Law of Karma, of heaven and hell. In short, it is the whole-headed, unconditional trust in whatever the Buddha had taught. 5.4.3 Abandonment of what is called Slabbataprmsa the misplaced belief and trust in what has no intrinsic value in itself. These include the rites, customs, traditions, practices and others that have no essential value or merit in themselves, except the trappings which produce sheer excitement and casual enjoyment. In other words, such Noble Disciples are in a position to do away with unreasonable, superstitious belief of all kinds. 5.5 The Law of Karma as It is Generally Known
The well-known aspect of the Law of Karma is the Buddha's summary statements such as "Whatever one sows one reaps", and "Doing good receives good and doing evil receives evil". Another one giving more details is, "We have our Karma as our own, being thereby the inheritor of our own Karma, which is our birthplace, kinsman and refuge. Whatever we have done, be it good or evil, is sure to bear fruits to us".
There are in fact several other sources such as the Clakammavibhagastta, wherein the Buddha said to the effect, "Peoples are born Different is because of their own Karma. Thus some have long life, whereas others have short one; some are healthy, whereas others are afflicted by many diseases; some have good complexion, whereas others have poor one; some hold high positions, whereas others have low ones; some are wealthy, whereas others are poor; some are born to high families, whereas others to low ones; Some have a high degree of wisdom, whereas others are foolish. Those peoples used to do different kinds of Karma. For instance, those who are afflicted by many diseases used to do harm to others considerably, whereas those who have only a few diseases used to harm other not so much That some live a short life is the result of their killings in the former lives, and that others can live a long life is because in their former lives they hardly ever killed any living being."
In the Nidhikandastta, the Buddha also said to the effect, "Whatever one achieves is due to one's own accumulation life after life of the Ten Perfections. The instances to have good complexion, to have a sweet voice, to be good-looking, to be in an influential position with great retinue, to be a king or even a universal king, then to be born in a celestial realm, to attain the Path and Fruition, to realise Nibbna, to be endowed with Psychic Powers or fluencies, to become an Arahant, a Private Buddha or an All-Enlightened Buddha. All these are results of long periods of accumulating the Ten Perfections or Parm, throughout hundreds or thousands of lives. In case it is the attainment of Buddhahood, the time taken for the purpose must be counted in oeons."
On the contrary, evil Karmas produce the opposite results, the degree or intensity of which depends on what kind of evil it is and then on how much and how long those evils have been accumulated. Violations of Precepts, for instance, will certainly produce evil results to the doers themselves. This is, as already, mentioned in accordance with the all-inclusive law that "whatever one sows one is to reap." This shows how a Karma yields a fruit or effect of its own kind, in proportion to the quantity and intensity of its cause. Hence a short and diseased life as the inevitable effect of Karma of habitually harming other lives. Those who live a life of dire poverty, earning but a meager income, must have been habituated to the crimes of theft, directly or indirectly, such as cheating, stealing, extorting or taking an unfair advantage of others as regards money or property. Of course, for many people this may be rather difficult to agree since it is obvious that many of those wealthy people are seen to have acquired wealth and power through ants of cheating, corruption or trickery of various kinds.
This is true, but only superficially and temporarily. For quite a number of such people have been known to be less happy than their wealth and appearances would suggest. And as many have met their nemesis within the present life-time. It should be noted, therefore, that the function of each Karma, in the network of other interrelated Karmas, is a very complicated picture necessitating a high degree of Insight and longer period than only one brief life-span of a human being. What takes place in the present life cannot be considered an absolute truth. A short-sightedness due to impatience is sure to produce confusion and discouragement to many, who have the termerity to contradict the Buddha's Teaching, thereby saying that it is now not always true that one is to reap whatever one has sown, or that those who do good will receive good and those who do evil will receive evil.
As a matter of fact, the Buddha's Instruction implying Karma and its effect is in The Doctrine of Dependent Origination (Paticcasamuppda), when He said that there being Sakhra (Will or Volition), there is Consciousness (Vina). and there being Consciousness, there is Name-and Form (Nma-Rpa). These items or links (in the chain of Dependent Origination) have a very comprehensive and profound meaning. Suffice it to say, for the practical purpose at present, that the Law of Karma, with all its implications and connotations, is founded on, and thus expanded from, the above-mentioned Formulas, It is the thorough understanding of both Formulas that a person can come to a realization that the Law Karma is a natural law much like other laws of nature, which are unchangeable and admit of no exception, with all things to function strictly in accordance therewith. Such a realization will bring in its train the understanding of the truths of Karma mentioned in other places.
It is also advisable that we should know what the Buddha was enlightened in, that prompted Him to summarize the Law of Karma in the sentence. "What one sows, so one reaps." This connotes the truth that a good Karma certainly produces good effects and an evil Karma inevitably yields evil effects. That peoples are born different in their characters and destinies, is intrinsically because of their own Karma, not their environment or heredity, each of which is only of secondary significance. Just as the kind of plant or a tree depends essentially upon its seed, not merely the soil, the temperature or the moisture, so what a person essentially depends likewise on his or her own Karma first of all. But many people nowadays tend to cherish the concept that peoples are born different is due to the present environmental factors such as families and opportunities. Born to poor families and in miserable conditions, they are deprived of the opportunity for education and development and thus are irresistibly driven to committing crimes or at least remaining in such a hopeless condition for the rest of their lives. Given the favourable circumstances and opportunities, so they argue, these people would likewise be able to advance in life just as others. This idea neglects to take into account the truths that such environment and opportunities are determined by their Karma previously accumulated and that, according to the Buddha, sentient beings have their Karma as their own property, being thereby inheritors of their own Karma; it is their Karma that is their birthplace, kinsman and refuge.
As earlier mentioned, the Essence of Karma the Buddha referred to first of all in the Doctrine of Dependent Origination, in which He said, "There being Sakhra (Will or Volition), there is Vina (Conciousness); there being Consciousness, there is Nma-Rpa (Name-and-Form or Mind-and-Body). Thus it is necessary to study in-depth the meaning implied by those Formulas in order to have a sincere, unquestioning belief of the truth of Karma, independent of other external factors.
5.6 The Truths of Karma for Comprehensive Understanding by Oneself
The subtle truth behind the Buddha's Declaration of the Law of Karma is His ability to recollect the former lives, both of His own and other sentient beings, throughout an innumerable numbers of past lives, be they hundreds or thousands or more. Thus He was able to know, at once and at will, what kind of person an individual was born in that life-time, and where, and how he or she fared at the time, including whatever Karmas, good and evil, that person used to do, how long the person live, how much happiness and suffering the person had experienced and so forth. Moreover, He was able to see and know how the deceased of this world fare in the hereafter – – where they have taken birth, in what cosmic dimension they are living, how much or how little they are suffering or enjoying there. What is worth noting here is that such knowledge of the Buddha was not merely an idea or a conception. Instead, He had seen, heard and experienced through other sense perceptions much the same way as we are seeing and hearing a movie film recording previous happenings or as we are looking, and hearing, a drama of real life through a powerful telescope which, as its name implies, can "telescope" i.e. condense those episodes into an immediate, spontaneous knowledge. All these abilities are naturally to be expected of Him, being called Recollection of Former Lives and of how sentient beings fare i.e. take birth, experience joy and suffering and die (Pubbenivsnusatiana and Cutpaptana). They are included in one of the Buddha's epithets: Perfect in Knowledge and Conduct. Should there be Buddhists denying these manifestations of the Buddha's Insight, their faith in, and their understanding of, the Buddha's virtues would be deplorably limited and their chanting the passages "Vijcaranasampanno" would be of little value and benefit to themselves.
5.7 Why many People do not Believe
Belief, and trust, in the truth of Karma require belief, and confidence, in the fact of survival; the fact that we used to be born innumerable times and that we are destined to take more, innumerable births in the future. This as long as there is even a grain of Defilement (Kilesa) left in the depth of our minds. Now, that many people cannot bring themselves to believe in the Law of Karma is because they feel they just cannot believe in survival ; endless rebirths and redeaths. This shows how such a belief, and trust, are indispensable in this respect. 5.8 The Buddha's first Reference to The Law of Karma
Referring once again to the Two Formulas of the Doctrine of Dependent Origination i.e. "There being a Will or Volition, there is Consciousness; and there is Name-and-Form", What can be extracted from both Formulas is the fact that parents are not the original causes of the birth of their offspring. In other words, each of us is not the direct, biological effect of father and mother coming together. There is behind such an obvious biological process something less obvious but more subtle and intrinsically indispensable. This is independent of the materials visible cause. It is called, in terms of Buddhism, Vina or Consciousness. A comparison may be seen in the case of growing a plant, – which is, as its name implied, the process of helping it to grow, and not making or creating it. This involves taking care of it, giving it proper soil, water, moisture and so forth. Parents are like that. They just offer a channel of birth for Consciousness but they cannot create it, cannot always mould it the way they want to. Putting it the other way, children are not the "houses" that a person can freely build to respond obediently to his or her wish and money power. These show how, in the absolute sense of the term, parents are not, as generally understood, the creator or the original giver of birth to their offspring.
Such being the case, the Buddha's Saying, "There being Consciousness, there is Name-and-Form," implies the fact that there is to be Consciousness in a fertilized egg within the mother's womb before the egg can develop into an embryo and a fetus respectively. Other secondary factors, although present in full, would certainly be useless without the prime factor i.e. Consciousness (Vina). And as such the menstrual process would occur as usual.
However, the relative sense or the process is also to be taken into account. This means that, even with Consciousness present, there is required once again the presence of appropriate environment as secondary factors. This is like a seed that, although in good condition, not rotted and ready for growth, yet requires other factors such as soil, water and temperature before it can grow. In like manner the Buddha's Saying, "There being Consciousness, there is Name-and-Form," refers to the fact that, without the presence of Consciousness in the fertilized egg, it would be like a person, having prepared the soil well enough through giving it proper temperature and moisture, does not or cannot yet obtain a seed which he intends to grow. Thus by the term Nma-Rpa or Name-and-Form'' is meant the embryo in the mother's womb, the prime factor for conception. That it is called "Name-and-Form" (or psycho-physical unit by some scholars) is due to the fact that an individual is composed of two essential parts, one of them being the mind and the other the body. The term Vina or Consciousness herein refers to what is scripturally called the Bhavaga Vina or the mind in the subconscious (or super-conscious) level, where it functions, comparatively speaking, unconsciously or seemingly without deliberation. It is this level or strata of Consciousness that transforms, behind the scene that is, all substances in the mother's blood into the ingredients nourishing and developing the organs of the body within the womb. It is again this level of Consciousness that regulates and controls the behaviours and functions of those various parts. That the Buddha was able to see through all these truths was due to His attainment of the two mentioned Insights viz. Recollection of Former Lives, both of His own and others and also of the Births (i.e. rebirths) and (re) Deaths of sentient beings. These enabled Him to realize the valuable fact that beings have been born for countless times and are to be reborn indefinitely as long as they have not yet done away with the minutes grain of their Defilements (Kilesa). Now for those who have not yet achieved such Insights it is advisable to observe the fact that whatever is done by sentient beings is to be always purposeful i.e. it can be explained for what purpose it is intended to serve. Now, whatever is purposeful is to be ipso facto the effect of will or thought or desire or capacity, call it, what you will, of that agency. This assumption can be verified through the study of whatever has been made by man and animals. All can be unmistakably traced back to the mind or the will in accordance with the capacity of their makers or builders. It is this simple but subtle fact that the Buddha referred to when He proclaimed the Formula, "There being Consciousness, there is Name-and-Form or Mind-and-Body."
The body or material aspect of man and animal is not merely the coming together, or combination, of chemical substances. It is also endowed with such intangible but significant aspect as thought and emotion, love and hate, desire and aversion. All these are what are called Feeling
(Vedan), Perception (Sa) and Sakhra (Mental Formation). These are concomitant manifestations of Consciousness. That is why the Buddha said, "There being Consciousness, there is Mind-and-Body."
Moreover, the term Bhavaga Vina, literally Consciousness as basis or foundation of Bhava, refers to the Mind-and-Body i.e. Nma-Rpa. The word Bhava here does not mean the planet Earth, our present home, nor any other plane in any other cosmic dimension. The passage is comparable to what is meant when we say that the seed of a mango is the Bhava of a mango tree, or the seed of a jack-fruit is the Bhava of a jack-fruit tree, In both cases the meaning implied is that within the former lies the potentiality of the latter. Whether or not and what quality the latter may take is up to the quality of the former. In like manner whether or not Mind-and-Body will take birth, and when and where, in a realm of bliss or one of woe, is up to the nature or quality of the Bhavaga Vina, functioning as it does like the seed of a fruit determining the kind and quality of a future tree.
It should be observed that the potentiality of a seed is the accumulated result of the "behaviours" of its own ancestors, generation after generation. This is the immediate cause determining the quality of a future tree to grow out of it. In the same way a human being's action, be it physical, verbal or mental and be it on the good or evil aspect, serves to embed a potentiality or "seed" on the subconscious strata of the mind called Santna in scriptural term, which may also be rendered character or inclination. Such a result is, in Pali, called Vipka with its functions as indicated above. While, for instance, a person is reading, the Vipka is knowledge occurring to him and accumulated in the depth of his mind. How much is the knowledge gained, and what form it is, depend on the line of study and the degree of attention focused on it. In the moral aspect, a person who frequently tells lies steadily accumulates the habit of telling lies. These are instances of the Buddha's Saying, "As one sow, so one reaps" and "Those who do good receive good (i.e. good habits), and those who do evil receive (habit)." It is therefore the Vipka, call it habit, character or tendency if you will, that is meant in this passage.
Again, it is this Vipka that determines the kind and quality of a person's rebirth since the term is neutral and can be used both in the good and in the evil senses, depending on the case in question. This Vipka, therefore, is what was meant when the Buddha said, "Where there is Sakhra (Will or Volition), there is Consciousness and where there is Consciousness there is Mind-and-Body", thereby equating Vipka with Sakhra or Will and Volition. To repeat, each time a person does a Karma, be it physical, verbal or mental and be it good or evil there is the Vipka or "seed" of that kind and degree embedded in the depth of Consciousness. The Karma done is past and, of course, cannot be undone, but the Vipka or impression is left there as an indelible record on a personss character. A plant of a tree is dead, yet its seed remains and within the seed is the potential plant or tree of that kind. Hence the alternate cause and effect of each other in the process of rebirths of a tree. This, of course, as long as the seed does not rot and the condition is made favourable with the presence of soil, temperature and moisture suitable for its growth.
Vipka embedded in the Bhavaga Viana is like that. But, unlike the seed of a plant, it does not rot and is not lost. It is always there as long as it is not overcome of replaced by a stronger Vipka of another kind. It follows, potentially, the doer life after life. Comparatively speaking, Consciousness does not dissolve or disappear with the dissolution and disappearance of the body. By this way life is not lost, except the life of the visible body. Thereafter Consciousness is the creative factor of another Mind-and-Body on another plane called Opaptika, the plane of spontaneous birth. It is from this kind of planes that Consciousness "departs" to take birth in the world of human beings through the mother's womb.
It should be remembered also that "where there is Consciousness there is to be the Mind and the Body," the only exception being in the planes called Arpa or the Formless. However, the Rpa or body can exist in various dimensions, sometimes being what is called astral, which is more refined but material after all. It is through these realms, or planes of existence that sentient beings travel rebirths and redeaths, sometimes in a realm of bliss, and at other times in one of woe, sometimes in a crude realm as or the planet Earth whereas at other times on a more subtle i.e. invisible one called Opaptika. There may come a time when the whole world will be destroyed, either by fire or by flood, unable to harbour life any more. Yet all men and animals can live on, in the more refined, invisible planes until - it could be aeons - the world will evolve to a condition where life can exist once again. Then a number of beings in the Opaptika realms will be drawn towards it and as a result life starts once again, This is how sentient being are born through creative force of "nature", which implies the nature and quality of Consciousness (Vina) itself.
The term Sakhra in the Formula was already explained by the Buddha as being of three kinds: Pubhisakhra i.e. Will on the meritorious aspect, Apubhisakhra i.e. Will on the evil side and Anejbhisakhra, Will on the unshaken level i.e. one in the Formless realms. The first kind includes all wholesome acts such as observance of Precepts and dispensing of charity. In another place Pua or merit was divided into ten kinds called Puakiriyvatthu. With each time a meritorious act is done, there is inevitably the Vipka of that kind embedded and accumulated in the depth of Consciousness. It is this Vipka that is the determining factor conditioning the doer's rebirth in a realm of bliss. That is why Vipka can be also called a Conditioner, which is the literal meaning of Sakhra. In like manner whatever is evil and unwholesome is included in the second category. With each time an evil act is done, there is sure to occur the evil Vipka functioning the same way as its meritorious counterpart and conditioning rebirth in a realm of woe for the doer.
It may be observed that only the term Sakhra is used in the Formula of the Dependent Origination, whereas in its explanation the term is used with the prefix, becoming Abhisakhra, literally the Great Conditioners. This carries, with it the implicit meaning that it is greater than the creative power of any divine being outside. This is like a plant which takes on the quality, including the kind, shape, size and colour ingrained in the seed, rather on any divine order or power outside.
Another point worthy of note is that the term Sakhra here must not be interpreted as the body since the term can be used with different meanings in different places. Thus there it one sense of Sakhra or one of the Five Aggregates and another sense as one of Three Common Characteristics. The term used in the verse for the cremation rites is often misunderstood, being taken as referring only to the body, – which is not enough. In that verse "Anicc vata Sakhra" the body is but a fraction of the meaning implied, since the term refers to a whatever is conditioned (by other factors), immaterial as well as material. Hence the meaning of Sakhra as Vipka, Will or subtle Karmic effect as the great conditioning agencies, is implied for this Formula of the Dependent Origination, "Sakhrapaccay Vina," "there being Sakhra, there is Consciousness."
5.13 Explanation of Karma As Belongings and Heritage
The Buddha's Sayings "Kammassakomhi : Karma belongs to us." It has a subtled meaning than most people ever think of. It means that even such outside properties as wealth, family, body and life can not really be regarded as our own since, at the moment of death, we have to take leave of them all, with nothing to follow us to the hereafter. It is our own Karma, both the merit and the evil we have done, that follow to produce the fruits of their kinds to us, life after life. As such it is nothing but "our own". The second sentence is the extension of the first one. That "Karma is our heritage." means it is left to us by our own Vipka, which is something like our parents. In the material world, some parents there are who just cannot leave anything for their offspring or who have left something but due to some adverse circumstances the offspring may be deprived of it. But in the case of Karma there cannot be such a failure. The Karmic heritage is infallible being flawless in its function, both here and in the hereafter.
5.14 Explanation of Karma As Birth-determiner
By the Saying, "Karma is our birth" is meant the endless rebirths as long as there is a Vipka to create another Mind-and-Body as its corollary. It is possible, in this world, that some parents cannot give birth to an offspring due to, say, their being sterile. Even if they can it is again impossible that the offspring produced should entirely conform to their wishes. Parents, it must be remembered, are the grower of plants so to speak. They cannot create those plants. Thus it is the Karma, or Karmic Vipka, that determines when, where and how an individual is to take birth. The popular belief that one just can not choose where, when and how to be born is partly true, or rather true to a certain extent. It signifies the fact that for most people their Vipka for a free choice is not enough, so they are irresistibly and unconsciously drawn to a rebirth most suitable to them at the given moment. If, on the contrary, a person's understanding is profound enough, with the consequent free-choice Vipka being strong enough, rebirth can be self-determined to a certain degree. How much or how little is the degree of the "free choice" is up to the strength and development of the Vipka in each case.
5.15 The Explanation of Karma As Kinsmen
The Passage "Karma is a person's kinsmen" points to the fact that where an individual is born, in what circumstances or environment, to which family, with what kind of relatives and retinue, is once again ordained by his or her own Karma i.e. Karmic Vipka, which chooses what is most appropriate for that person at that given moment.
5.16 The Explanation of Karma As Refuge
With regard to the Saying, "Karma is a person's refuge", the term "refuge" refers to the storehouse of merit previously accumulated by himself or herself. That some people are blessed with progress and prosperity in their lives, being always helped through difficulties and disasters to security, is certainly the result of their own meritorious Karma some time before they were born. From the outside, material point of view, it may be argued that those who are born to a wealthy and virtuous family obviously have their parents, not anything of their Karmic Vipka, as their own refuge. But, looking a little further or deeper, we shall see that it is nothing but their own Karmic Vipka that has drawn, or moved, them to such parents. On the other side of the coin, a number of orphans or children in poor families, who were born and forced to live in the midst of squalid conditions and sordid poverty, have been known to rise triumphantly above their parents and relatives. This certainly is nothing but the power of their own Vipka on the meritorious aspect serving as their refuge in time of need.
It is true that there are also a number of evil people who have prospered through their performing such evil acts as cheating and taking an unfair advantage of other people. These people, of course, seem to have their evils as their refuges or pathways leading to such "successes". But such paths, however luring, will eventually lead them to a quagmire of untold suffering in the long run. On the less obvious, more subtle dimension, the Petas or hungry ghosts and other hellish beings also have their evils as their own refuges i.e. sustaining factors until those evils expire. All these point to the profound truth that our parents, relatives, retinue or even our wealth can offer only a temporary superficial refuge. It is our own Karmic Vipka embedded within our minds that can provide a reliable and permanent support for us at all times, life after life.
The truths about the Law of Karma discussed so far are immutably based on one significant point ; acceptance of survival of Karmic effects, at least on the logical, intellectual level cycle of rebirths and redeaths is the matter-of-fact explanation of the Formula, "There being Consciousness, there is Name-and-Form or Mind-and-Body." That it is a matter-of-fact explanation is due to the fact that the Buddha had realized firsthand, through His Insights earlier described, why sentient beings are born vastly different. This is coupled with His realization of how all links in the Chain of Dependent Origination are inter-woven with one another. In addition, that a Stream-winner can be absolutely relied upon to remain stable and secure in treading the Path and thus to avoid all evils in all circumstances is also up to the realization of the truths of Karmic survival, of the endless cycle of rebirths and redeates, of the Dependent Origination and of the Four Noble Truths.
5.17 Face-powder Morality
Such being the case, the way by which to imbue a sense of morality for society, making it grow out i.e. from inside the individuals themselves, is to inculcate in the people a confident belief in the Law of Karma, in the truth of rebirths and redeaths and in how "Where there is Consciousness there is to be a Mind-and-Body." Only through such an inspired confidence and selfish and violent acts be considerably reduced, if not removed, an individual, a society included, be blessed with security and prosperity in the real sense of the term. Other methods, not making use of this realization, will offer only a "face-powder morality", so to speak, dealing with the symptoms and covering the pock-marks and wrinkles temporarily. There have been several instances in the history of Buddhists where a number of people who use to be egoistic, selfish and beastly had completely changed their ways, becoming reliably virtuous to such an extent that they could be assumed never to take to such evil acts for the rest of their lives, including the lives to come.
For such individuals, who had been convinced of the truths of survival, Karma, cycle of rebirths and redeaths, it is assured that whatever evils they had abandoned would be abandoned for ever, and whatever deficiencies have not yet been removed would be steadily reduced and finally eradicated. With all things originating from the mind as fountain-head, when the mind is effectively dealt with and thus moved to security and purity the rest is sure to follow as a-result.
5.18 A Painful Paradox Vicious People enjoying Virtuous Results
It cannot be denied that in real-life drama quite a number of virtuous people there are who deplorably live a miserable life, being thrown into abject poverty, and deprived of promotion or of deserved prosperity. This despite the fact that they have been earnest in doing good for quite a long time. On the other hand, there can be seen far more people who are unmistakably vicious but who are ironically blessed with wealth, name and fame. This paradox is painful to many who are therefore moved to concluding that the Buddha's Words are not always reliable now, at least not as they used to be. However, this Saying of the Buddha, like all other laws of nature, cannot be limited by time. That there seem to be instances of injustices, contradictory to the Buddha's Words, is due to two main factors called Sampatti (favourable or supportive conditions), and Vipatti (unfavourable conditions) each of which can be divided into four kinds as follows:
5.18.1 GATI, here in meaning environment or place of birth. For a seed of a plant the Gati is supportive or favourable when it takes birth and grows in an environment that is appropriate to its requirement. If it happens to be in a place with the kind of soil and temperature or moisture that is not conducive to it, Gati is repressive or inhibitive.
Now for the doer of a Karma. Those who do good are sure to have implanted the seed of good on their minds each time they have done so, in proportion to the strength of good and in accordance with the kind of good being done. To accumulate merit means to do good often, with results of good steadily increased. This is the law without exception as far as the Karmic effects embedded in the character are concerned. These effects survive, the physical death, following the doers life after life, waiting for an opening to bear fruits to the doers. This "opening" is nothing but the opportunity to have or to be in a favourable environment such as a realm of bliss, wherein the potential effects will work themselves out to the full. This is, as earlier mentioned, like a seed in an environment conducive to its requirements for growth.
To come back to those who despite their earnest efforts in doing good have been deprived of the good effects they deserve. One reason is that all of us, those doers of good included, have not been the all-time doers of good. At one time or another in the past we must have done something evil, great or small. We may be at present earnest in doing good, but the previous evil Karmic effects have worked themselves out, sending us to a repressive environment as at present. Whatever virtuous Karmic effects they are not lost, it is true, yet they have yet to find an opening. There is a Pali term "bhabba" referring to this fact of being repressed but not lost. This is like a fullmoon, the light of which cannot penetrate the thick layer of clouds although it is there at all time. This is one reason as an encouragement for those who have done much good yet who are at present deplorably deprived of all good effects. In this case it is due to the influence of environment.
Another fact worthy of note is that it is still possible that some "virtuous" people might enter a realm of woe, whereas a "vicious" one could enter one of bliss. The underlying reason is what was already mentioned ; everybody used to do both good and evil. This was to be expected of worldlings in general. Thus the present life can be either the scene when merit is provided the opening to dominate the evil or vice versa. After all it is but a scene in a long drama with no end in sight and thus a bird's - eye view of the whole picture is necessary for the right perspective. A fish-eye lens, so to speak, would give but a distorted picture and consequently a harmful attitude of mind.
There is one significant difference between the seed of a plant and the "seed" of Karma. The former kept too long will rot and go bad, being rid of the pawer to grow into a tree, The latter, be it on the evil or meritorious aspect, is not like that. It is possible therefore, that a person having done some evil hundreds of lives ago just suffers its effects in this life-time. On the other hand, other persons may be enjoying the fruits of merit they had done as many hundreds of lives back. Hence the Buddha's Saying to the effect : "An evil-doer, being in the air, in the midst of an ocean or in a valley, just cannot escape from evil effects he deserves, there being no place where, dwelling therein, he would be able to escape from his Karmic effects." (from Dhammapada, section 5).
It is true that there was no mention by the Buddha of the doers of good, but the truth can be regarded as being the same in principle. The underlying truth in these cases is that there have already existed in those minds both the seeds of good and those of evil. What a tree will grow up to be like is similarly up to the kind and quality of its seed.
When a Karma, whether of the good or the evil kind, is done, it cannot, in this sense, be undone. Nevertheless, its Vipka or "seed" or "Karmic effect" remains embedded in the mind as character. Unlike the seed of a plant, it does not rot, but, given an opportunity, will immediately bear fruits. This opportunity is what was earlier described as Gatisampatti i.e. favourable conditions. This is true both in the virtuous and vicious aspects. Thus a vicious person, given the equally vicious circumstances, is sure to prosper doing evil unknown or, even sometimes known, to go scot-free as long as such favourable circumstances exist. On the other hand, a virtuous person in the midst of vicious situations (i.e. repressive conditions) cannot be expected to enjoy whatever he deserves. This is like a quality seed of a plant in the midst of unfavourable environment. It could have only a stunted growth i.e. if it should grow at all.
5.18.2 UPADHI, here in meaning the body or, to be more precise, the quality of the body (including the brains), as another factor which may be supportive or repressive, as the case may be. Some people there are who are sincere and earnest in doing good. But their body or personality is not attractive, even repulsive in some cases. We may cite instances of some women who are not good-looking or even ugly, but who are intelligent, well-behaved and resourceful. It is possible that they should find it difficult to marry or to live a happy family life. This despite the fact that many of them secretly yearn for a happy home and family. The same is also true of some men who are an eyesore or have a diseased body with frail health as a result. Despite their abilities or qualities in other aspects, they may be rid of many opportunities they deserve should they be more handsome or endowed with better health. In all such cases it must be noted that such repressive elements can only temporarily arrest the developments of the opposite aspects, be they those of the meritorious or the evil one. Whatever is repressed is still there and cannot be lost.
On the other hand, an evil person who is good-looking, has an attractive personality, blessed with for instance, charisma and eloquence, is able to repress his or her evil effects for the time being. Such an Upadhi is favourable or supportive for evil-doing and repressive for evil effects. This again is temporary, for there will come a time, be it here or in the hereafter, when the supportive elements for evil will lose their power and the Upadhi i.e. the quality of the body can no longer be of any help. There were mentioned in the Scriptures parallel cases concerning dogs as follows: One belongs to a millionaire or a king, whereas another to a poor man or a beggar. Of course, each would be treated far differently. Even in the case of an equally lovely and beautiful dog, equally loved by both men, the one belonging to a poor man cannot be expected to be as comfortably fed and sheltered as the other belonging to a king. In case it is an ugly dog, the latter is sure to be treated far worse than the former. These are the results of Gati i.e. environment and Upadhi i.e. body combined.
Such is how Upadhi or the quality of the body (brains included) plays another role in the supportive and repressive conditions of Karmic effects. It is to be expected of most worldlings that they must have done both good and evil Karmas, the difference being only in degree, which will decide which one, at a given moment, should outweigh the other. Now the most significant moment to be the watershed for them is when they are going to undergo the transition called death. The dominant kind of Karma will lead to rebirth in another plane in accordance with the nature of that dominating power. If it is of the meritorious kind, the being is sure to eater a realm of bliss; if, on the contrary, a vicious Karma happens to take power at the critical moment, then a realm of woe will certainly be the result.
5.18.3 KLA, i.e. the time involved. Different kinds of trees mature and bear fruits at different times, some sooner than the other, whereas others much later. But there will come a time when they will certainly bear fruits. This is true also of various kinds of Karma or Karmic effects. However, in the case of trees, an expert gardener or agriculturist can predict when such and such kinds should mature and their fruits should ripen. But for Karmic efforts of each individuals, no worldlings are able to give an accurate prediction as to the ripening time. Only those highly developed beings with both Insights are empowered to do so. Those insights are Recollection of Former Lives, of oneself and other beings, and the Supra-mundane eye seeing firsthand in surveying the planes of rebirths of sentient beings. The former is called Pubbenivsnusatina whereas the latter Cutpaptana. Only with these two Insights can one accurately predict when, where and how a Karma of an individual, both of the virtuous and vicious kinds, will mature and bear fruits to their doers. All these are due to what each has done, or accumulated. They could be the recently previous life or hundreds, or more, of lives before that. What is called "good luck" is simply the time when a Karma of the meritorious kind finds a favourable opening to take place, with the evil Karma losing its repressive or inhibitive power. In like manner a "bad luck", as it is called, is nothing but the occasion when there is a favourable condition for an evil Karma, which relegates the power of good Karma to the background. All these, to be sure, are not the omnipotent power of any omniscience being. The Buddha, equipped with these two Insights, was able to predict, with accuracy, what Karma will at a given moment bear fruit to any individual, and when, where and how. This shows how Kla, the time involved in each case, plays another role that cannot be overlooked as far as the maturity of Karma is concerned. In the long run, it is an absolute certainty that there is no "bad debt", whether of an evil or a good Karma of every individual.
A sincere confidence in this Karmic truth will dispel the misunderstanding predominant nowadays that evil people, if they are wise or crafty enough, can effectively evade their evil Karmic results, like tax evasion, and go scot-free thereby. The point not to be overlooked is the time involved for each Karma of each person. This may be compared to viewing a TV movie that is a long story, consisting of so many episodes and thus taking so many days or even months to complete. It would be unreasonable should we, seeing only one or a few episodes in the long drama, start to complain of the injustice the hero or heroine has to suffer and the unfair advantages the villains are seen to enjoy. In like manner, when it comes to the Karmic episodes in the series of long dramas of both the villains and the hero or heroine, it is of paramount importance to look back and forth, using retrospective and progressive reasoning, for both others and ourselves, tracing back to former lives in the remote past and looking into likes in the distant future. It is this ability that will help strengthen our belief in the truth of Karma.
5.18.4 PAYOGA or Efforts. The term refers particularly to th: extorts expended in the present lifetime edition to what has been done in the past, which may be in the past lives or the past time of this life. Such former efforts, however earnest and intensified, still lack something essential to produce the effects required. Some people, for instance, are intermittent and brilliant, but they are either lazy or ignorant of what is the proper time and place to do or say something. These serve to suppress whatever benefits to be expected of their existing virtues. This is called the Vipatti of Payoga, lack of efforts to the degree which is desired. Referring to this, it should be noted that observance of the Precepts should be fulfilled for all the Five before the full benefits can be expected. Failure in observing one or some of them will as a result produce deficient results. Likewise, practice of the Brahmavihra or Divine States of Mind should be completed for all the four. In case, for instance, there are only Loving-kindness and Compassion and Sympathetic joy, without Equanimity, such a lack can produce a troubled state of mind, instead of the divine one, as their names imply. As far as the Eightfold Path is concerned, its practice must cover all the Eight Noble Elements in a proper balance, otherwise the full and supreme benefits cannot be expected. With regard to the three steps of practice, an aspirant strictly observing Precepts but neglecting Meditation and Wisdom will not be able to go far on the Path, since Precepts alone (or in fact any other step alone) cannot result in deliverance from suffering.
In like manner, those who used to do much good in the former lives, but who are making little effort to strengthen the existing assets, cannot expect to enjoy the full benefits therefrom. Instance can be teen in the case of the Buddha who, despite His enormous store of merit in the background, would not have become an All-Enlightened Buddha had He not exerted His utmost efforts once again such as renunciation of the world and undergoing severe tests of self-mortification and spiritual exertion later on. A seed of the highest quality left alone on a solid rock, being thereby given no soil, moisture, temperature and other kinds of nurturing efforts, will not grow to become a plant or a tree. This is the implication of Payogavipatti, lack of supportive effort.
Many virtuous person who cannot enjoy the fruits they deserve are like that. One of the repressive causes may be the incompleteness somewhere of their meritorious assets. However, most of them being too proud of whatever merits they really have, are too often moved to neglecting whatever virtues they still lack which are also indispensable for the results they look forward to, This eventually results in the deficiencies in a variety of the benefits they would otherwise deserve. The life-story of the Buddha, describing how He had exerted His efforts devotedly and most strenuously before Enlightenment, should serve as a valuable reminder for those who are being disappointed and discouraged by present unfavourable circumstances.
What has been discussed so far many serve to bring home to the readers the truth of the Buddha's Sayings to the effects "as we sow, so we reap, both good and evil being destined to produce, sooner or later, be it within the present life-time or the lives to come, the fruits of its own kind in proportion to the degree it has been accumulated." Like a seed that does not rot, whenever or wherever an occasion arises that is favourable, those Karmas, however long delayed through being repressed, will readily bear their respective fruits to the doers although in some cases it could be hundreds or thousands of lives to come. This as long as the individuals have not yet attained the Noble Path and Fruition. This world may be destroyed by a holocaust of some kind or another, yet human beings who are wiped off from it can still remain in the form of Opaptika beings, in another dimension of the cosmos, with the Karmic assets and liabilities still belonging to them as before. It is to be noted here that the Karmic results, both good and evil, can affect the minds of worldlings only when they have not yet attained the Full-final Liberation Stage of the Arahatship. After that whatever remnants occur, can affect only their bodies, but never their minds, which can no longer be moved to the feeling of joy or grief as in the cases of worldlings. Instances may be seen in the cases of Ven. Sval and Ven. Moggallna, the former being showered all the time with material gains of all forms whereas the latter being brutally murdered by a gang of thugs. Both were the results of their own merit and evil respectively, but such remnants could produce no effect upon their minds, which had risen absolutely beyond the impact of all such happenings.
Another theme that considerably helps promote the understanding of the truth of Karma, is the Law of Dependent Origination or Paticcasamuppda. Herein lie the Buddha's Formulas that deserve a detailed study. Instances are the formulas, "There being Sakhra (Will or Volition), there is
Vina (Consciousness)" and "There being Consciousness, there is Name-and-Form (Nma-Rpa)." Understanding of these themes will confirm the indestructibility of Karmic effects that due to some repressive conditions earlier described, have yet to bear fruits to the doers whenever conditions are favourable. This gives a confident hope and consequently a firm and unshakable faith in the Buddha's Sayings, which are the universal, all inclusive and timeless truths. It is to be noted that a good Karma sincerely done cannot fail to produce mental brilliance and bliss both at the moment it is done and later moments when it is recalled. On the contrary, an evil Karma infallibly results in a guilty conscience both at once and later on. That it has produced such result without being seen or known, cannot be argued to nullify the Buddha's Words although it will as a rule make the evil-doers more triumphantly, elate. This is like the absence of an alarm system to warn them of the imminent danger. Such evil-doers suffer long and most when they meet their "Nemesis", either here or in the hereafter.
In a business or commercial investment there is no absolute guarantee that it will yield substantial profit or at least any profit after all. There is always a risk involved and that is why it is called a venture. But in doing a good Karma or accumulating merit there is, in the absolute sense, no such risk for a Buddhist to undergo. The moment a good deed is done, a good Vipka or Karmic effect occurs in the doer's mind. With such good deeds more often accumulated, the "seed" (i.e. Vipka) of good Karma serves equally often to strengthen the character, intensify the will power and enlarge the treasure-house of virtues. All these, no matter how long delayed or repressed by outside forces, can never be lost or destroyed. About this Buddhists can set their minds at ease.
If it takes a long time before a good Karma can yield a visible, tangible effect (apart from the immediate effect called Vipka), then it means something like the monthly or yearly interest being not withdrawn but instead added to the capital already invested. When the "compound interest" is finally received the amount is sure to compensate for the waiting time and the patience involved. If this is true on the meritorious aspect, it is no less true, although on the opposite aspect, of the "compound interest" that evil-doers are bound to pay and thus to suffer, long and most, when the scales of retributive justice swing back at their expense.
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