Death and Rebirth Theravada Buddhism
Introduction and Warning
First off, this is very important subject and should be treated as such; it is not a castles of sand - it is based on ancient religious teachings of Arahants and Buddhas and sages of very great inner attainments and generations upon generations of experience...it is not some recently found science still developing...
and as I personally stand behind everything that is published and taught on this website - and we know this website is dedicated to different religious traditions - using different descriptions and terminology for the same things...
I felt some words of introduction and warning would be in place...
1. While teachings on Death and Rebirth as understood by Theravada Buddhism - are correct in all general lines...and hopefully should make happy all people strictly believing in Theravada Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism only...
Hence, for the sake of better research and more profound understanding of the questions concerning Death and Rebirth as such... I would strongly recommend to study also Tibetan Book of the Dead - which decribes the same things more profoundly from the point of view of Tibetan Buddhism.... and also I recommend to study the same subject from Bhagavad Gītā, especially Book 8 to those Hindu - minded... Both places are correct and detailed enough... but terminology differs very much...
2. And now Second Note... on - terminology... I realise - there are many discussions among the educated and snobic public - whether there is no Rebirth but Reincarnation or Rebirth takes place and no Reincarnation - and what is a difference between them... For an average person - if you are not a proffessour of philosophy - the difference is not so great...
or similar question - if Buddhists say- there are no permanent soul and God- and other religions say - there is an eternal and indestructible soul and god - who is right, who is wrong - now what should we do... What does reincarnate if Buddhists say - there is no soul?!
Here, in order to answer the rhetoric questions above - we should remember - that for Buddhists - what really exists - is Nāma-Rūpa exists - all mental and material processes exist, 5 organs of senses and the mind exists and their corresponding objects exist...
and if... somebody is searching for any eternal thing or soul or God - perceivable by organs of senses and mind... they are wrong... ohh ... they are wrong... and Buddhism describes it very well and correct...
But what it refuses to do... is to describe what is behind... what is it that transcends the human senses and mind?! What is it which is left described as "Thus Gone" or "Nirvana" - the end of the world of existing - about which nobody can tell - whether it exist or doesn't exist?!
Yes, in traditional Religious terminology of Hinduism and other religions - that which is behind the borders of human perception and thinking - it is the eternal soul and God.... and - it is again Correct, in it's own way... there are no contradictions... whether you name it - the next moment of Consciousness, as Buddhists do... or you call it Eternal Consciousness, alias Soul, which ends only in Liberation - in merging with the Transcendental God...
However the Buddhist doctrine of rebirth should be differentiated from the transmigration and reincarnation of other systems, because Buddhism denies the existence of a transmigrating permanent soul, created by a God or emanating from a Paramātmā (Supreme or Universal Soul).
Everything comes into existence depending on an instance previous to it and everything must also give rise to an instance, depending on itself.
2. How Rebirth Takes Place
Starting with the conception of a human, the Buddha said that a germ of life is planted only when 3 conditions are met: Mother and father must unite, it is the mother’s period (ovum is ripe) and “the being to be born " is present. For a being to be born here, a being with craving for Becoming must die somewhere.
It should not be taken to mean that “a being to be born or soul is waiting for the egg and sperm to unite and then enter it.” Parents only provide us with the cellular material in the rebirth process.
Death according to Buddhism is the cessation of the psycho-physical life of any one individual existence. It takes place by the passing away of the life faculty (jivitindriya), heat and consciousness.
The instant death occurs, a new mental process called the Rebirth Consciousness (patisandhi citta) conditioned by the Reproductive Kamma (or kamma-bhava, the kamma process of becoming) arises together with three kamma-produced material groups constituting the body, sex and base (seat of consciousness). They condition the arising of mental & material processes of the embryo, now called a being in the conventional sense.
The Rebirth Consciousness and the 3 kamma-produced material groups are collectively termed “the being to be born.” This term is used only in this particular connection, and must not be mistaken for a permanent soul waiting to enter a suitable womb to be reborn.
To understand this relationship, we need to realize that in reality, there is no such thing called a being, only mental & material processes called nama-rūpa. Even during one's lifetime, these nama- rūpas arise and pass away continuously.
Rebirth is the immediate arising of a new consciousness called the rebirth or re-linking consciousness, together with the new nama-rūpa. It is called re-linking consciousness because it joins the new existence with the old one.
If this kamma is wholesome, rebirth will take place in a happy existence. If unwholesome, rebirth will take place in an unhappy existence. This is what the Buddha meant when He said that ‘all beings are born of their Kamma (Kammayoni)’.
It is very important to realize that:
(a) There is no soul or permanent entity that leaves the old body and enters another new body. Lack of this understanding usually leads to the belief in the transmigration of souls or reincarnation, namely: the wrong view of eternity.
(b) As Volitional Activities or Kamma depend on Ignorance and Craving, beings that have not completely eradicated these defilements will still accumulate Kamma and undergo rebirth after death. Lack of this understanding usually leads to the wrong belief in annihilation after death, which is held by modern materialists.
4. Modes of Death
(b) Expiration of the lifespan.
such as chanting the Three Refuges and Five Precepts mentally, recalling one’s pilgrimage to the holy places to arouse faith, listening to the Dhamma (tape recording or monks chanting), recollections of the Virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, recollections of one’s Virtues or Generosity, practicing mental culture such as Loving Kindness or the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipaṭṭhāna).
Such wholesome actions will condition the arising of wholesome mental states to determine the last Kamma process before death and lead to rebirth in happy realms. As death can strike at any moment, one should be prepared to face this eventuality.
such as knives in the case of a butcher, patients in the case of a doctor, an object of worship such as the Buddha image or Bodhi tree in the case of a devotee, or happy memories of one’s pilgrimage to India.
If these indications of future birth are bad, they could be turned into good by influencing the thoughts of the dying man, so that his good thoughts may now act as the Proximate Kamma and influence the type of Reproductive Kamma to condition his rebirth.
hellish fires for those who are bound for rebirth in hell,
animals and forests for those bound for rebirth as animals,
dark apparitions for those bound for rebirth as ghosts,
deceased parents and relatives for those bound for rebirth as humans and
celestial mansions and chariots for those bound for rebirth in the celestial realms.
Chinese folklore, too, abound with stories about dying people who claim to hear the sound of chains or see visions of King Yama’s guards with hideous faces resembling horses or bulls coming with chains to take them to the underworld for judgment.
Psychologically these mental stages may be termed as illusion, hallucination or delusion. Therefore people whose minds are lucid and unconfused at their dying moments may not experience any death-bed vision at all.
7. The Dying Consciousness
In the thought process before death, the Javana process is weak and runs for only 5 thought- moments. This last Javana-process is very important as it determines the reproductive kamma of the next life.
Next the registering consciousness which identifies the object may or may not follow. After this, occurs the death-consciousness (cuticitta), the last thought-moment to be experienced in the present life.
This renewed life-flux inherits all past experiences. This new being is neither absolutely the same as the past one owing to its different composition, nor totally different, being the identical stream of Kammic energy.
What actually conditions rebirth is not the death consciousness (cuticitta) but the last Javana process described earlier. If it is wholesome, rebirth takes place in a happy realm; if unwholesome, rebirth takes place in a woeful state of existence.
Understanding this and the fact that death can strike at any moment in one’s life, one should always be heedful and practise as many skilful actions as possible to face this eventuality before it is too late.
8. Modes of Birth
There are four modes of birth, namely:
(a) Egg-born creatures such as birds, reptiles and fish.
(b) Womb-born creatures such as humans, mammals and some earth-bound deities.
(c) Moisture-born creatures such as certain insects that take moisture as material for their growth.
(d) Creatures having spontaneous births. They are generally invisible to the human eye. Conditioned by past Kamma, they appear suddenly, independently of parents. Brahmas, devas, petas, asuras and hell-beings belong to this class.
There are 9 material groups that are produced by Kamma, namely:
base or seat of consciousness, life principle, male sex, female sex and five sensitive material qualities of eye, ear, nose, tongue and body. They are fully developed in beings that are born spontaneously. As such, beings of spontaneous birth do not need parents to provide the material layer or cells for their birth.
The 4 planes of existence are:
a) Sensual plane of misery (apāya or kamaduggati bhūmi)
b) Sensual plane of bliss (kamasugati bhūmi)
c) Fine material or form plane (rūpa bhūmi)
d) Non-material or formless plane (arūpa bhūmi)
• The sensual plane of misery comprises 4 states, namely: niraya or hell, animal kingdom, peta or ghost world and the host of asuras or demons. Rebirth in any of these 4 woeful states is conditioned by unwholesome reproductive kamma that predominates at the moment of death.
However, rebirth as a degraded human being who is blind, deaf, dumb, retarded or deformed by birth, or as an earth- bound degraded asura of the lower realm of Four Great Kings, is conditioned by inferior wholesome reproductive kamma.
• In total, the 4 planes comprise 31 states of existence.