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Buddhism Karma - Birth, Life and Death

Discussion in 'Interfaith Dialogues' started by Archived_member14, May 27, 2011.

  1. Archived_member14

    Archived_member14
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    Seeker9 ji,


    You may like to consider the following:
    There is what is called ‘life-faculty’ as a material reality conditioned by karma; this is what differentiates a dead person from the live one, or a tree from an animal. At death, since consciousness does not arise anymore, no karma exists to give rise to such materiality. But here itself, you can see that death is related to the non-arising of consciousness in a particular body and that the materiality which is life-faculty, this is dependent on whether consciousness arises or not. But let me try to give more explanations.

    Perhaps you will understand better if we consider what ‘birth’ is and what ‘life’ is.
    Let’s start with life. What is it? Are material objects alive and therefore can we say that they have life? A human being when alive, we say that he is living or has life, but is that life in his hand, is it in his feet, is it in the brain, is it in the heart? Biologists will say based on their set of criterion, that these things are, or that each cell in the body is alive. And I would agree with them if what they are referring to is in fact the life-faculty as a materiality.

    However there is also the mental reality called life-faculty, and this arises with each instance of consciousness. Besides there is the resultant consciousness known as life-continuum, which is what is there during deep sleep and in between the experience through the different sense doors and the mind. This life-continuum is what might be considered “life†since it is that which links birth and death and is conditioned by the same karma. It is this type of consciousness which when during sleep, conditions the breath. Indeed, when we observe someone in deep sleep, we don’t observe the body complexion to judge whether he is alive or not, we point to the fact that he is still breathing.

    Can we not draw the conclusion then that “life†must depend on consciousness; in fact that it is consciousness, one moment at a time through the five senses and the mind? And as I said in my last message, consciousness requires a physical base upon which to arise, and so it is the karma which is accumulated in the consciousness which intermittently produces these material bases at the corresponding sense and mind doors for the different types of consciousness. So although consciousness requires a material to arise, these bases couldn’t in fact exist without karma producing them prior to that.

    What about “birth� Is birth simply the fact of a sperm and ovum coming together to form a new kind of cell? Is it defined by the formation of the heart or recognizable body parts? Don’t we refer to the idea of ‘conception’ when we think that a “new life†has been formed, and is this not a reference to the fact of there now being consciousness?

    With this understanding about life and birth, I think you should now agree that “death†too must be a reference to a mental reality and not to the fact of physical body ceasing to function. Besides according to what I’ve learnt, materiality lasts 17 times longer than mentality, such that when death consciousness arises, the materiality which is conditioned by karma continues for that little time more before it ceases completely.

    The point being made was about the difference in perception, kind of observation and the conclusions drawn. If the observation is based exclusively on what is seen through the eye, then mentality is not taken into consideration. Of course, we must take into account also what is seen when we observe death in another person. However, with the understanding about mentality, we can factor this in and already our perception changes.

    I believe our difference comes down to what I call “viewâ€. Yours appear to be one which inclines towards making mentality a product of materiality, as in cognition being due to some activity in the brain or some such. Mine is based on the understanding for example, that at the moment of touching, there is tactile consciousness experiencing say, the earth element. From this experience I understand therefore, that there are two very distinct realities, one mentality (here tactile consciousness) and materiality (the earth element). And although these two are dependent in this case, the conditions involved for their arising are totally different. I cannot therefore be lead to think that either is the “cause†for the other.

    Also you will see that in identifying these two realities, that I also make a distinction between what is ‘concept’ and what is ‘reality’. And it would seem to me, that if this distinction is not made, any statement made about one’s experience must be a case of having taken concept for reality. If for example, instead of understanding this way, I had believed that “I touch a tableâ€, this would be a misperception. Not knowing that “I†and “table†are concepts, I’d have proliferated further into stories about these two without ever knowing what the reality is now.

    The view that I think you hold, does not acknowledge the existence of these two realities, nor does it distinguish between what is reality and what is concept. By default it must then be a case of taking for reality what is in fact concept. Concept being the product of thinking, leads to more thinking to create more concepts to substantiate and prove right. At no point does it encourage direct study of the present moment experience, which I believe is the only valid base for asserting what is real and what is not.

    As for death, although we can never observe our own since there will not be any consciousness after that one to know it. We can however understand that it must be a mental reality of the nature of resultant, based on the understanding of the different kinds of consciousness which make up ‘life’. And it is with this understanding, that whenever we perceive the death in other people or animals, that we conclude that it is not in fact about materiality, but mentality. In the case of someone being shot in the brain, we can therefore come to a conclusion based on the overall observation, that death has occurred, but when exactly, this can’t be known. However we shouldn’t make a direct connection between the fact of brain being damaged and death since we know also, that life could have continued for some time depending on other conditions, in particular, karma.

    Besides it is a fact that in general, any two person experiencing the same physical damage, be this through injury or disease, the extent that life continues is never the same. Some die immediately, some later and some even recover. And when taking into account the whole body and its different organs, we can see that everything including breathing stops after death, regardless of whether the brain was blown away or there was a heart attack or cancer in the blood. Should it then not be that it is ‘death’ which caused all the other organs to stop working and the breathing to stop instead of the other way round?

    There is cause / effect and there is conditionality. Example of the first is the law of karma, namely good leads to good results and evil to bad results. Examples of the latter are; in order there to be seeing consciousness, there has to be visible object hence these two are said to “condition†the other, or that feeling, perception, intention, life faculty etc. can’t arise without consciousness and so these are said to condition each other. Conditionality also include such things as, if greed arises now, it accumulates as tendency such that this will increase the probability of greed arising in the future. Therefore in the case of a good or evil act through the body, speech or mind, not only is this karma which will bring a result in the future; it also accumulates by conditions, as tendency.

    Or we could at that very moment know that it is thinking with attachment and at once realize that this is karma, and the stories and theories are just that. ;-)

    I encourage the understanding of karma and its result now. It may be that I don’t even need to use the particular label, but I did, and this is because I thought that Sikhs did believe in it. Anyway, in your case it is simply a matter of having till now, a ‘theory’ in mind which you either accept or reject. So while you continue to think about the concept only as theory, then sure, mine will appear as just another one to you. What I will say however, is that *karma is reality* and any unwillingness to accept it must be due in fact to having taken instead, certain concepts for reality, and this is a case of delusion.

    I should have made it clearer.

    There is only the karma of each person to consider. Thinking in terms of a conventional situation like a tsunami, it is alright to say that 20,000 people died at the same time due to the tsunami. However when considering ‘reality’, this is that each person’s death is the result of his or her own karma in the past. So surely that karma wasn’t done ‘collectively’ with all those remaining people, was it?

    This is why I suggested that the idea of ‘collective karma’ must be due to misperception and misunderstanding. Those who conceive of the idea although they do accept in principle, that there is such a law as karma. However, because they do not really understand that both karma and it’s result are in fact a reference to particular types of consciousness arising one at a time, they get caught up in ideas about ‘self’ and ‘situations’. And here we have 20,000 selves all dying at the same time, and so he thinks that there must be some kind of connection between all these people. But there isn’t, except what thinking makes appear.

    The reason I said when referring to the tsunami, that “things happen†and then compared this to an earthquake, car accident and slipping in the bath room, was to show that there are other conditions, outside that of the individual’s karma, to come in and hasten death. Indeed one could even include the individual’s prior decision to live in a tsunami prone area.

    Although the karma which conditions birth also determines the life-span, this is only under ideal conditions. Food habits leading to disease, choice of career (as in joining the army) and outside events such as earthquakes, can be a condition whereby what is needed to support ‘life’ is discontinued. This is why I also cautioned against taking the idea of karma as predestined in terms of when, where and how.

    Well, for one thing, both are living beings.
    And we are not talking about the degree of application, but just understanding such things at the intellectual level, such that we do not continue making excuses for doing what we do. It is one thing to know where one is at and accepting it while at the same time acknowledging that one has done wrong, and another to insist on doing the wrong and using the fact of one’s ignorance and craving as excuse.

    Yes.
    Feeling is a mental factor which arises with all instances of consciousness. According to one classification, there are five kinds of feelings.
    1. Pleasant mental feeling.
    2. Unpleasant mental feeling.
    3. Neutral mental feeling.
    4. Pleasant bodily feeling.
    5. Unpleasant bodily feeling.

    4 and 5 refers to what is experienced through touch. With reference to what arises at the mind, 2 arises with all instances of aversion and in all its forms. With regard to attachment, the feeling accompanying it is either pleasant or neutral. This is the same with kindness; the feeling accompanying this is either pleasant or neutral.

    I was referring to the nearness between attachment and kindness as defined not only by the similar kind of feeling accompanying both, but also to the fact that in this regard, both stand in contrast to the unpleasant feeling accompanying aversion. So although kindness is the opposite of aversion, because of our overwhelming ignorance we end up judging the difference by way of accompanying feeling instead of other more important aspects such as restlessness vs. calm and clinging vs. non-clinging. And when this is the case, it is so easy to arrive at the conclusion that attachment is a good thing, since this too in terms of feeling, stands in contrast to aversion, but in fact, both are restless and neither of these is characterized by detachment.

    Our life is virtually a series of movements towards objects believed to arouse pleasant feelings and away from those which arouse unpleasant feelings. This is not limited only to that which is experienced through the five senses, but also what happens in the mind, for example, our beliefs and philosophies. Because of ignorance we not only do not know how much attachment there is, but we also end up believing something to be right just because it *feels* good. This is all about attachment.

    In contrast, aversion being characterized by unpleasant feeling, does not come across to us as desirable. We may be attached to the idea of hating someone, but this will be a case of being attracted to the idea which is accompanied by pleasant feeling. So again this shows how much more dangerous attachment is as compared to aversion.
     

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  3. Seeker9

    Seeker9 United Kingdom
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    Thanks Confused Ji

    I am studying at present but will certainly return to this
     
  4. spnadmin

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    This thread has been moved to Interfaith Dialogs/Buddhism.
     
  5. Archived_member14

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    Seeker9 ji,



    Thanks for letting me know about this. I would like to encourage you to stick with it.
    I wish that my understanding was of such level that instead of being so technical and long-winded, which I’m sure puts many people off; I could instead express myself in terms of things people can easily relate to. But then again, the root of the problem is in the wrong perception and wrong understanding which happens at the pre-verbal level. And so I guess that I would still in the end, need to break things down in order to bring to attention such things anyway.

    All day long, we are involved in actions through body, speech and mind, the reality behind which we are completely ignorant about. And we also make judgments as to their rightness and wrongness, our own as well as that of others. When it comes to this latter activity, not only is there ignorance but also ‘wrong understanding’ must be involved as well.

    Ignorance is at the root of all evil, and as long as it has not been eradicated, we’d continue to be attached and have conceit. However, if wrong understanding is not acknowledged or recognized, there is no way that these and other kinds of unwholesome states is ever going to be reduced. While all other kinds of evil states act as hindrances to the arising of good states by virtue of their very arising, wrong understanding, in turning the attention towards some mistaken view about cause and effect, actually encourages more evil.

    One of the grosser wrong understandings is that which leads to the rejection of karma. Now although I do not expect people who have never heard about such things, to have any level of ‘right understanding’ about this, still it must be better that they believe in the idea than not believe in it. Indeed it may be that there is some understanding at least, that there must be some kind of law of cause and effect in matters of morality which lead some people to accept the concept. And as I said, people do evaluate their actions anyway, and this would come from some belief in cause and effect, however this must by default, then be a “wrong†one.

    And really, if the beliefs are wrong, no one can consistently follow just one, but according to the situation, one would be lead in fact, to rely on other kinds of wrong beliefs, sometimes even opposing ones. This is likened to always being able to find an excuse to act wrongly, and underlying this is the fact of ignorance being ever present. Indeed this phenomena has been compared to a person lost in the dark forest with no sense of direction, he moves one moment this way and another that, ends up going in circles and always in a state of conflict.

    So from my point of view, no one can get away from karma, even the very act of not believing in it, is itself, karma. And although we are largely ignorant about it, at least we can recognize the extent of our own ignorance, accept it, and be willing to look in the right direction, even if the movement forward is hardly noticeable. Better this than move erratically in this and that direction and being fooled to think that one is getting somewhere.

    And by the way, I don’t really believe that Sikhism rejects karma but only a particular interpretation of it. This is why I placed this under ‘General Discussion’ and not in the Interfaith / Buddhism section as it is now in. I think people are wrong who say that Sikhism totally rejects the concept.
     
  6. Archived_member14

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    Randip ji,


    I suspect that the inference is yours and this must be based on some misconception about karma. There may be other reasons why the concept is not emphasized that much, but I don't think that it is because it will otherwise lead to a belief in caste system. Perhaps the people at the time had a strong tendency to think about karma more as “fate”. Perhaps they confused causes and results such that what is in fact karma or cause now, is seen as being predetermined and therefore no effort is made towards doing what must be done.

    Indeed it could also be that those who did believe in the caste system would then be encouraged to believe in it even more strongly. However this is not the same as saying that caste system is a natural consequence of the belief in karma. On the other hand, some here have suggested that the concept of Karma was in fact invented by those who wished to perpetuate the belief in caste system. Although it can and has been used for the purpose of justifying it by some groups of people, the fault lies in the particular tendency on the part of those people and not in the concept of karma, would it not?

    After all, one can see that the same tendency exists also amongst people who do not believe in karma, for example, those who believe in the superiority of particular race of people or those who think in terms of class. Hitler and the people who practiced slavery come to mind. Those who have the tendency will latch on to any existing beliefs or create new ones in order to justify continue doing what they do. So why not acknowledge the tendency instead of dismissing the concept which one group of people happen to misunderstand and misapplied?

    Besides, for every one person who has wrongly applied the concept of karma, many times more have been and continue to be inspired to good moral conduct because of it. And this is in spite of having only a limited understanding. So are we not then throwing the baby out with the bath water?

    Indeed I would like to try and show you in this response, why a better understanding about karma would lead one to see no reason for pride of any kind and this includes 'pride of birth'. I'll start off with a couple of points which will likely put you off even more, but this may be necessary as a kind of preamble, so please be patient.

    According to the Buddha, although human birth is result of good karma and the most ideal in terms of opportunity to develop wisdom, however in terms of simply being result of deeds in the past, there are several other planes of existence, better than this one. Second, (those with feminist tendencies may not like to hear this) being born a female is a result of karma of an inferior kind as compared to that of a male. This however, is related not to any mental capacity, but to that of the physical body. But of course, this then has the consequence in that a Buddha can't then be a female. Enlightened, yes, but only as a disciple, not as a Buddha. Also, within this and any other realm of existence, several degrees exist in terms of the kind of birth. A person handicapped from birth is said to be a result of karma of inferior kind as compared to a normal person. Also we can talk generally, about being born in particular places and into families with the idea that one either receives more good results or more bad results in the form of experiences through the five senses.

    When it comes to mental capacity, there is also the fact of being born with different “roots”. And this has nothing to do with being male or female. A person, mentally retarded from birth is said to be with no roots. But generally a human being is said to be with either two or three roots, one, with non-attachment and non-aversion and the other with these two plus non-delusion. Those with the latter are therefore said to have a greater potential for wisdom. But of course, unless someone is born handicapped, one can't know who is with two and who is with three roots.

    All this is however only a very broad distinction. The fact is that due to many factors, including such things as reproductive karma, supportive karma and destructive karma, there are countless permutations.

    The above must no doubt come across as pure “theory”, and not only to you, but also to a good extent, me as well. I however have a different background, one which you do not share, at least with reference to this particular life. And the main difference is that mine consists of moments where karma is also seen in terms of experiences of the present moment, and this makes it more than just theory. So even though some of the things that I've written about has not and will never be understood directly, they however are informed by a level of confidence got as a result of understanding accumulated over time. On the other hand, as far as I can see, you come in not only with some misconception about karma, but other preconceived ideas as well.

    And before I proceed further, I'd like to say this.
    Karma is to be *understood*. And the first step is to acknowledge that it is all about the moment to moment experience that makes up our life. Any rejection of the concept must then mean that it has been conceived of as an abstract idea with no relevance to the experience “now”. Perhaps one will then seek to have “proof” of karma instead of trying to understand it, but this will not lead anywhere, since it is clearly a wrong approach. Even if one were transported to other realms of existence or made somehow to have a vision about one's own past lives, this does absolutely nothing to reduce doubt. One may perhaps “believe” in it, but this belief will not be with any degree of confidence, since it is based simply on giving value to one idea over another, and not on the development of understanding. And when it comes to this understanding, even at the baby-steps level, one does not ask for evidence outside of the present moment, but the understanding itself is its own proof. With this comes the conviction that here and now is where the understanding must be. Although once this has happened, one may perhaps also begin to see evidence of karma in the outside world as well.

    But I’ll continue.

    Although I do not believe in such things as the caste system, I do however believe that we are not all born equal. This is obvious not only when I consider the effects as observed in the conventional world, but also when considering the varying types and degrees of moral and immoral actions and reasoning that the cause must match the result. And although none of this ever translates into what could then be conceived of as castes or classes of people, however if someone were to mention to me that a particular person is of high birth, I can take this as a metaphor instead of just rejecting it.

    A metaphor for what?
    The fact of being in a situation where one then gets to experience more pleasant objects through the five senses and the positive side of the eight worldly conditions, namely, pleasure, gain, praise and honour as opposed to pain, loss, blame and disrepute. This implies that it is not so much what any person thinks, namely that such and such person is a brahmin, or he is an aristocrat, or he is rich etc. but who receives more good fruits. And of course there is always the possibility of other karmas coming in to change the course of events. For example a gardener living in a rich and kind man's house in pleasant conditions may well be considered better-off than some billionaire who owns a big mansion but is a miser or too sick to even eat. So although the one that conditioned birth itself was one thing and what most people would continue to go by, the situation in terms of the reality now is actually reversed. Any reason to feel proud though, if there is the kind of understanding?

    Besides, we know that what conditioned the rebirth is the last consciousness just before the death of the previous life. This consciousness, just like any one now, arose by conditions beyond control. So if one person happens to be born into good conditions in this life and someone else into a bad one, should anyone take any credit for it? Even the Buddha-to-be, someone who in countless lives ago was ripe to become enlightened, but due to conditions put that off so as to be able to help other beings several aeons down the road, even he during this time, ended up being born as animals, again and again.

    Moreover, someone who is reaping the fruits of his good deeds done in the past, if he does not see any value in good deeds now, chances of his having good rebirth in the future is greatly reduced. But even if a person has lived a life full of good deeds, if he is yet to become enlightened, there is no saying what his next life is going to be, given that tendency towards evil has not been eradicated and can arise at any time at all.

    And let us not forget the most important point, that someone who has any understanding about karma, this must be based on his understanding the difference between good and evil states as it occurs in daily life. Given this, would he then not know better than to encourage any kind of evil? Would it not be that as his understanding develops, there'd be moments of shame towards his own ignorance, attachment, aversion and pride? Therefore if someone were to be clinging to his own 'birth' and discriminating, can it be said that he has any understanding about karma at all?

    So really when anyone suggests that the concept of karma leads to a belief in the caste system, it should be noted what they are talking against is not what karma really is, but some kind of wrong conception about it. Indeed it would come across as imperative, that the only cure for this is to try and develop a correct understanding about it instead of dismissing it.
     
  7. Seeker9

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    Dear Confused Ji

    I have returned!

    I have read your posts and will confess I need to re-read them again before I reply

    I am between assignments and will come back to you on this

    Thanks
     
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  8. Seeker9

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    Dear Confused Ji

    It has been a while! But as promised, I will pick up where we left. I hope it is not difficult to read...


    Me:
    Okay, some interesting definitions here which I would relate to conciousness, sentience and sub-conciousness, with the physical aspect of life being manifestations of energy. Everything in the physical world is a manifestation of energy and can be classified in different ways e.g animate, inanimate, organic, inorganic etc

    Me:
    No I don't think so. I am thinking of those poor individuals who are in a severley compromised vegetative state. Alive yes. Are they concious? Well we can see they are awake but are they aware they are awake? Are they aware of anything?


    Me:
    A fascinating concept. Where did you get this idea from? In so far as everything is energy, I guess you could view Karma as a force that manipulates that energy into specific forms?

    Me:
    I think it is both. If the death is of something that has a physical aspect and a non physical aspect, then the death is both physical and non physical


    Me:
    Where did you learn this?

    Me:
    The eye sees, the brain interprets information and the mind will translate into meaning

    Me:
    Not quite. I view the brain as a physical vessel for the mind. So to rephrase, mentality is not a product of materiality but is enabled by materiality. I think this is probably similar to one of your earlier points

    Me:
    No I appreciate the distinction

    Me:
    Actually I think it is a bit of both! By that I mean I appreciate the distinction between reality and concept but understanding reality requires conceptualisation as well. This is demonstrated by the field of theoretical physics, for example, Einstein's famous thought experiments about riding a beam of light.


    Me:
    I am still confused by this. You start of by saying that for our own death "we can never observe our own since there will not be any consciousness after that one to know it" Yet for other deaths, "life could have continued for some time depending on other condition"

    Me:
    No, but you could say death is the result of a process driven by Karma

    Me:
    Ok

    Me:
    Ok interesting point

    Me:
    Yes, it would be delusional in the way you have described it in terms of your understanding but I don't consider myself to be deluded. As my name tag suggests, I am still seeking answers ....



    Me:
    Ok...so when the Karmic force wants to be extra efficient it arranges for 20000 people to die in the one place from the one event? A deliberately silly comment but I still need to understand this better

    Me:
    Yes but it could be said that the impact/result will be determined by Karma. Eg after slipping do you bump your head or break your neck?

    Me:
    Ok

    Me:
    Ok Killing bugs is wrong. Killing humans is wrong. But most of us will be more likely to do the former knowingly than the other. This is because we place more value on the human life than the bug's life. For a lot of us, that is a simple fact of our human life and conditioning in terms of accepted cultural and behavioural norms from a variety of sources. In a seafood restaurant for example, you can be invited to pick from a selection of living lobsters and then the one you choose is killed there and then and cooked for your consumption. I am not saying that is right or just. But that is what happens.


    Me:
    4 and 5 do not require a physical stimulus


    Me:
    Sorry, I remain uncertain for now but may revisit this at some point

    Me:
    Ok but attachment is attachment is it not?


    I hope this reads ok and thanks again for your detailed responses
     
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