Abhidhamma Series no 17. Death and Rebirth.
- Dear friends,
Death and Rebirth.
What is birth, and what is it actually that is born? We speak about
the birth of a child, but in fact, there are only n�ma and r�pa which
are born. The word ``birth'' is a conventional term. We should
consider what birth really is. In order to understand what causes
birth we should know what conditions the naama and ruupa which arise
at the first moment of a new lifespan.
The citta which arises at that moment is called the rebirth-
consciousness or pa.tisandhi-citta. Pa.tisandhi means relinking, it
�links� the previous life to the present life. It is usually
translated as rebirth-consciousness, but, since there is no person
who is reborn, birth-consciousness would be more correct. Since there
isn't any citta which arises without conditions, the pa.tisandhi-
citta must also have conditions. The pa.tisandhi-citta is the first
citta of a new life and thus its cause can only be in the past. One
may have doubts about past lives, but how can people be so different
if there were no past lives? We can see that people are born with
different accumulations. Cittas which arise and fall away succeed one
another and thus each citta conditions the next one. The last citta
of the previous life (dying-consciousness) is immediately succeeded
by the first citta of this life, without there being any interval.
That is why tendencies one had in the past can continue by way of
accumulation from one citta to the next one and from past lives to
the present life. Since people accumulated different tendencies in
past lives, they are born with different tendencies and inclinations.
Rebirth-consciousness is the result of kamma, it is vipaakacitta. Our
life starts at the moment the pa.tisandhi-citta arises together with
the ruupa which is at the same time produced by kamma. A lifespan
ends when the last citta, the dying-consciousness (cuti-citta) falls
Kamma produces r�pa not only at the first moment of life but
throughout our life. Kamma does not only produce the vip�kacittas
which experience pleasant and unpleasant objects through the sense-
doors, it also produces throughout our life the ruupas which can
function as the sense-doors through which these objects are received.
Some kammas produce results in the same life in which they have been
performed, some produce result in the form of rebirth-consciousness
of a future life, or they produce result in the course of a future
life. We have performed deeds in past lives which could produce
rebirth but which have not yet come to fruition. We cannot know which
kamma will produce our next rebirth.
If akusala kamma produces the rebirth of the next life there will be
an unhappy rebirth. In that case the cittas which arise shortly
before the dying-consciousness are akusala cittas and they experience
an unpleasant object. The pa.tisandhi-citta of the next life which
succeeds the cuti-citta (the dying-consciousness), experiences that
same unpleasant object. If kusala kamma produces the rebirth there
will be a happy rebirth. In that case kusala cittas arise shortly
before the cuti-citta and they experience a pleasant object. The
pa.tisandhi-citta of the next life experiences that same pleasant
The object experienced shortly before the dying-consciousness may be
a sign of kamma one performed, or a sign of one�s future destiny, or
it may be any object experienced through one of the senses.The kamma
that will produce the next rebirth conditions the last javana-cittas
arising before the cuti-citta to experience that object.
There is no self who transmigrates from one life to the next life;
there are only naama and ruupa arising and falling away. The present
life is different from the past life but there is continuity in so
far as the present life is conditioned by the past.
The Visuddhimagga (XVII, 164-168) explains by way of similes that
although the present is different from the past there is continuity.
The being who is born is not the same as the being of the past life,
but it is conditioned by the past. There is ``neither absolute
identity nor absolute otherness'', as the Visuddhimagga explains. We
read with regard to the pa.tisandhi-citta:
�An echo, or its like, supplies
The figures here; connectedness
By continuity denies
Identity and otherness.
And here let the illustration of this consciousness be such things as
an echo, a light, a seal impression, a looking glass image, for the
fact of its not coming here from the previous becoming and for the
fact that it arises owing to causes that are included in past
becomings. For just as an echo, a light, a seal impression, and a
shadow, have respectively sound, etc., as their cause and come into
being without going elsewhere, so also this consciousness.�
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