A. I would like to know if we only receive vipāka in this life, or is there vipāka in a future life as well?
B. According to the Buddhist teachings one receives the results of one’s deeds in future lives as well. We read in the Kindred Sayings (Saṃyutta Nikāya I, Ch. III, Kosala, 2, §10, Childless 2) that when the Buddha was staying at Sāvatthi, King Pasenadi came to see him. A rich man who had lived as a miser had just died. He had performed both good deeds and bad deeds and he therefore had to receive both kusala vipāka and akusala vipāka, which he experienced during different lifespans. He had given alms to a "Silent Buddha" of a former period, but afterwards he regretted his gift. As a result of his good deed of almsgiving to a Silent Buddha he was reborn seven times in heaven, where he could enjoy pleasant vipāka. After his existences in heaven he was reborn as a human being, which is kusala vipāka as well. He was born from rich parents, but his accumulation of stinginess prevented him from enjoying the pleasant things of life. Because he regretted his gift to the Silent Buddha, as a result he did not utilize his riches for himself or for others.
After his existence as a human being he was again bound for a different rebirth. He had committed akusala kamma of a heavy kind and this akusala kamma would bring akusala vipāka of a heavy kind. He had killed the only son of his brother because he wanted to get his brother’s fortune. This very heavy kamma caused him to be reborn in hell where he would stay for many hundred thousands of years. The sutta points out how one can receive different results in different existences.
A. Is the existence of heavens and hells not mere mythology?
B. People have different accumulated inclinations which make them perform different kamma. No person acts in the same way as another. Each act brings its own result, either in this life or in the following existences. To be reborn in a heavenly plane or in the human plane is the result of a wholesome deed, to be reborn in a sorrowful plane is the result of an unwholesome deed. Heaven and hell are conventional terms which are used to explain realities. They explain the nature of the vipāka which is caused by kamma. Since both akusala kamma and kusala kamma have different degrees, akusala vipāka and kusala vipāka must have different degrees as well.
Names are given to different heavenly planes and different sorrowful planes in order to point out the different degrees of akusala vipāka and kusala vipāka. Deva, which means "radiant being," is a name given to those who are born in heavenly planes. In the Anuruddha Sutta (Middle Length Sayings III, No. 127) Anuruddha spoke about different degrees of skill in meditation which bring their results accordingly. A monk who was not advanced was reborn as a deva "with tarnished light." Those who were more advanced in meditation were reborn as devas with a greater radiance. There are different devas with different degrees of brightness.
A. I find it difficult to believe in devas and in different planes of existence.
B. You do not experience devas and different planes of existence right at this moment. But is it right to reject what you cannot experience yet? If one has right understanding of the cittas of the present moment one will be able to understand more about the past and about the future.
Rebirth-consciousness can arise in any plane of existence. When the right conditions are present a good or a bad deed which has been accumulated can produce a result, it can produce rebirth-consciousness in the appropriate plane.
A. What is the first vipāka in this life?
B. There has to be a citta at the very first moment of life. Without a citta we cannot have life. A dead body has no citta, it is not alive. What type of citta would be the first citta? Would it be an akusala citta or a kusala citta, thus a type of citta which could bring a result? Or would it be another type of citta, for example, a citta which is not a cause but a result, a vipākacitta?
A. I think it must be a vipākacitta. To be born is a result; nobody asks to be born. Why are people born with such different characters and in such different situations? Are the parents the only cause of birth and the only cause of the character of a child?
B. Parents are only one of the conditions for the body of a child, but they are not the only condition.
A. What about the character of a child? Are there not certain tendencies in a child’s character he inherits from his parents? Is this not proved by science?
B. The character of a child cannot be explained by the character of the parents. Brothers and sisters and even twins can be very different. One child likes to study, another child is lazy; one child is by nature cheerful, another depressed. Parents may have influence on a child’s character after its birth in that education, a cultural pattern or a family tradition in which a child is brought up will be conditions for cittas to arise. But a child does not inherit its character from its parents. The differentiations in character are caused by accumulations of experiences from previous existences as well.
A. Are parents not the real cause of birth?
B. Parents are only one of the conditions for birth; kamma is the real cause of birth. A deed, done in the past, brings its result when it is the right time: it can produce the vipākacitta which is rebirth-consciousness. We read in the "Discourse on the Lesser Analysis of Deeds" (Middle Length Sayings III, No. 135) that, when the Buddha was staying near Sāvatthi in the Jeta Grove, Subha came to see him and said:
- "Now, good Gotama, what is the cause, what the reason that lowness and excellence are to be seen among human beings while they are in human form? For, good Gotama, human beings of short life-span are to be seen and those of long life-span; those of many and those of few illnesses; those who are ugly, those who are beautiful; those who are of little account, those who are of great account; those who are poor, those who are wealthy; those who are of lowly families, those of high families; those who are weak in wisdom, those who are full of wisdom. Now what, good Gotama, is the cause, what the reason that lowness and excellence are to be seen among human beings while they are in human form?"
"Deeds are one’s own, brahman youth, beings are heirs to deeds, deeds are matrix, deeds are kin, deeds are arbiters. Deed divides beings, that is to say by lowness and excellence."
B. If there were reincarnation, a soul or "self" would continue to exist and it would take on another body in the next life. However, there is no soul or "self." There are cittas which succeed one another from birth to death, from this life to the next life. One citta has completely fallen away when the next citta arises. There can be only one citta at a time, and there is no citta which lasts.
Cittas arise and fall away completely, succeeding one another. Death is the conventional word for the end of one’s lifespan on a plane of existence, but actually there is birth and death at each moment of one’s life, when a citta arises and falls away. There isn’t any citta one can take for a soul or "self." Since there is no soul or "self" in this life, how could there be a soul or "self" which is reborn in the next life? The last citta of this life is the dying-consciousness. The dying-consciousness arises and falls away, and it is succeeded by the rebirth-consciousness of the next life. The rebirth-consciousness is conditioned by the previous citta, the dying-consciousness, but it is not the same citta.
A. I can see tendencies in people’s character which seem to be the same all through their lives. Moreover, there is rebirth in the next life. Therefore there must be continuity in life. However, I do not understand how there can be continuity if each citta completely falls away before the next citta arises.
B. There is continuity because each citta conditions the next citta and thus accumulated tendencies can be carried on from one moment to the next moment. All accumulations of past existences and of the present life condition future existences.
When people asked the Buddha whether it is the same person who is reborn or another person, the Buddha answered that it is neither the same person nor another person. There is nobody who stays the same, not even in this life, because there is no "self." On the other hand, it is not another person who is reborn, because there is continuity. Former existences condition this life, and this life also conditions the following lives.
A. What is the last vipāka in this life?
B. The dying-consciousness (cuti-citta) is the last vipāka in this life.
Since there are many deeds which have not yet produced a result, one of the deeds will produce rebirth-consciousness after death. As long as there is kamma there will be vipāka, continuing on and on. There will be future lives, so that the results of one’s deeds can be received.
When the dying-consciousness falls away, a deed of the past, or kamma, immediately produces a vipākacitta: the rebirth-consciousness of the next life. When the dying-consciousness has fallen away, the rebirth-consciousness follows upon it immediately, and thus all that has been accumulated is carried on from the past into the next life.
A. What causes the rebirth-consciousness of the next life?
B. Everyone has performed akusala kamma and kusala kamma. Each deed brings its own result. The vipākacitta which is the rebirth-consciousness can therefore only be the result of one deed, of akusala kamma or of kusala kamma.
A. Is birth in the human plane the result of kusala kamma?
B. Birth in the human plane is always the result of kusala kamma. Akusala vipāka which arises afterwards in life is the result of kamma that is different from the good deed that produced the rebirth-consciousness. After birth in the human plane there can be many moments of akusala vipāka, every time one experiences an unpleasant object through one of the five senses. Those moments are the result of other unwholesome deeds performed in the past.
If the rebirth-consciousness is akusala vipāka one cannot be born as a human being. The rebirth has to take place in another plane of existence, such as the animal world or one of the woeful planes like the hells or the ghost realm.
A. Can a human being be reborn as an animal?
B. Some people behave like animals, how could they be reborn as human beings? Everyone will receive the result of his deeds accordingly.
A. Is it due to one’s kamma that one is born in favourable circumstances, for instance, in a royal family or in a rich family?
B. Yes, this is due to a wholesome deed performed in the past.
A. I notice that even people who are born in the same circumstances, as for example in rich families, are very different. Some rich people are generous, others are stingy. How could this be explained?
B. People are different because they have different accumulated inclinations and tendencies which cause them to behave in different ways. We read in the sutta that I quoted above about the person who was born from rich parents, but who could not enjoy the pleasant things of life because of his accumulated stinginess. Although he had the opportunity to let other people share in his fortune he did not want to do this. Other people again who have received pleasant things in life grasp every opportunity to give things away to others. The different inclinations people have accumulated condition them to do unwholesome deeds which will bring them unpleasant results, or to do wholesome deeds which will bring them pleasant results. People take different attitudes towards vipāka. The attitude one takes towards vipāka is more important than vipāka itself, because one’s attitude conditions one’s life in the future.
A. Can kusala vipāka be a condition for happiness?
B. The things which are pleasant for the five senses cannot guarantee true and lasting happiness. Rich people who have everything that is pleasant for the five senses can still be very unhappy. For instance, when one is sitting in a beautiful garden with sweet-smelling flowers and singing birds, one can still be very depressed. At the moment one is depressed the cittas are akusala cittas. One cannot always be happy with pleasant things around. Unhappiness and happiness depend on one’s accumulations of unwholesomeness and wholesomeness.
If one feels unhappy it is due to one’s own defilements. Unpleasant feeling is conditioned by attachment. If one does not get what one wants one feels unhappy. If one has no attachment at all there would be no unhappiness. One can be perfectly happy if one is purified from defilements.
We read in the Gradual Sayings (Aṅguttara Nikāya, Book of the Threes, Ch. IV, §34, Of Alavi) that when the Buddha was staying near Alavi, Hatthaka was wandering there and saw the Buddha seated on the ground strewn with leaves. He asked the Buddha:
- "Pray, sir, does the Exalted One live happily?"
"Yes, my lad, I live happily. I am one of those who live happily in the world."
"But, sir, the winter nights are cold, the dark half of the month is the time of snowfall. Hard is the ground trampled by the hoofs of cattle, thin the carpet of fallen leaves, sparse are the leaves of the tree, cold are the saffron robes and cold the gale of wind that blows."
Then said the Exalted One: "Still, my lad, I live happily. Of those who live happily in the world I am one."
A. How can we purify ourselves so that we take the right attitude towards vipāka?
B. We can purify ourselves only if we know the cause of defilements. The cause of all defilements is ignorance. Out of ignorance we believe in a "self," we cling to a "self." Ignorance conditions attachment and aversion or anger, it causes all unhappiness in the world. Ignorance can only be cured by wisdom. In vipassanā or "insight meditation" the wisdom is developed which can gradually eradicate the belief in a "self." Only when this wrong belief has been completely eradicated can all defilements be eradicated stage by stage.
The Arahat, the perfected one who has attained the final stage of enlightenment, has eradicated all defilements. He has no more attachment, ill-will or ignorance. As he has no defilements he is perfectly happy. After he has passed away there will be no more vipāka for him in a future life, there will be no more rebirth for him.
In the "Discourse on the Analysis of the Elements" (Middle Length Sayings III, No. 140) we read that the Buddha taught Dhamma to Pukkusāti when they were staying in the potter’s dwelling. The Buddha taught him about physical phenomena and mental phenomena and he taught the mental development which leads to Arahatship. The Arahat does not cling to life. In order to describe the state of the Arahat the Buddha used the simile of the oil-lamp which burns on account of oil and wick but which goes out if the oil and wick come to an end. It is the same with the conditions for rebirth. So long as there are defilements there will be fuel for rebirth. When defilements have been eradicated completely there is no more fuel left for rebirth. The sutta goes on to say that the highest wisdom of those who have attained enlightenment is the "knowledge of the complete destruction of anguish."
The knowledge or wisdom developed in vipassanā leads to Nibbāna, which is the end of all sorrow.