Five Questions on the Buddhist view of Kamma answered by Mahathera Ledi Sayadaw

anony17's picture

Average: 4.6 (5 votes)

Five Questions on the Buddhist view of Kamma answered by Mahathera Ledi Sayadaw, Aggamahapandita, D.Litt.

The Monywa Ledi Sayadaw was approached by a group of French thinkers of Paris who submitted certain questions on kamma and kindred subjects. The following is an English translation of the questions-five in number-and of the Venerable Sayadaw's replies thereto. The translator from the original French and Burmese texts frankly acknowledges the difficulty of his task, taking into consideration that the subjects dealt with are of the deepest metaphysical import. His acknowledgments are due to U Nyana, the learned Patamagyaw of Masoyein Kyaungdaik, whose wide reading of the Buddhist scriptures and deep knowledge of Pali have been of much help to the translator.
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambudhassa.
I. Q.-- Do the kamma of parents determine or affect the kamma of their children? (Note-physiologically, children inherit the physical characteristics of their parents).
A.-- Physically, the kamma of children are generally determined by the kamma of their parents. Thus, healthy parents usually beget healthy offspring, and unhealthy parents cannot but beget unhealthy children. On the other hand, morally, the kamma of a father or mother does not in any way affect or determine the kamma of their child. The child's kamma is a thing apart of itself-it forms the child's individuality, the SUM-total of its merits and demerits accumulated in its innumerable past existences. For example, the kamma of the Buddha-to be, Prince Siddattha, was certainly not influenced by the joint kamma of his parents, King Suddhodana and his spouse, Queen Maya. The glorious and powerful kamma of our Buddha-to-be transcended the kamma of his parents which jointly were less potent than his own.
II. Q.-- If the kamma of parents do not influence those of their children, how would the fact be explained that parents who suffer from certain virulent diseases are apt to transmit these evils to their offspring?
A.-- Where a child inherits such a disease it is due to the force of the parent's characteristics because of the force of the latter's utu (conditions favourable to germination). Take, for example, two seeds from a sapling; plant one in inferior, dry soil, and the other in rich, moist soil. The result, we will find, is that the first seed will sprout into a sickly sapling and decay, while the other seed will thrive and flourish, and grow up to be a tall, healthy tree.
It will be observed that the pair of seeds taken from the same stock grow up differently according to the soil into which they are put. A child's past kamma (to take the case of human beings) may be compared to the seed; the physical disposition of the mother to the soil, and that of the father to the moisture which fertilizes the soil. Roughly speaking, to illustrate our subject, we will say that, representing the sapling's germination growth and existence as a unit, the seed is responsible for say one-tenth of them, the soil for six-tenths, and the moisture for the remaining, three-tenths. Thus, although the power of germination exists potentially in the seed (the child), its growth is powerfully determined and quickened by the soil (the mother), and the moisture (the father.)
Therefore, even as the conditions of the soil and moisture must be taken as largely responsible factors in the growth and condition of the tree, so must the influences of the parents (or progenitors, in the case of the brute world) be taken into account in respect to the conception and growth of their issue.
The parents' (or progenitors') share in the kamma determining the physical factors of their issue is as follows: If they are human beings, then their offspring will be a human being. If they are cattle, then their issue must be of their species. If the human beings are Chinese, then their offspring must be of their race. Thus, the offspring are invariablyof the same genera and species, etc., as those of their progenitors. It will be seen from the above that, although a child's kamma be very powerful in itself, it cannot remain wholly uninfluenced by those of its parents. It is apt to inherit the physical characteristics of its parents. Yet, it may occur that the child's kamma, being superlatively powerful, the influence of the parents' joint kamma cannot overshadow it. Of course, it need hardly be pointed out that the evil (physical) influences of parents can also be counteracted by the application of medical science. All beings born of sexual cohabitation are the resultant effects of three forces--one, the old kamma of past existences, the next the seminal fluid of the mother, and the third, the seminal fluid of the father. The physical dispositions of the parents may, or may not, be equal in force. One may counteract the other to a lesser or greater extent. The child's kamma and physical characteristics, such as race, colour, etc., will be the product of the three forces.
III. Q.-- On the death of a sentient being, is there a 'soul' that wanders about at will ?
A.-- When a sentient being leaves one existence, it is reborn either as a human being, a deva, a Brahma, an inferior animal, or as a denizen of one of the regions of hell. The sceptics and the ignorant people hold that there are intermediate stages--antarabhava--between these, and that there are beings who are neither of the human, the deva or the Brahma worlds, nor of any one of the states of existences recognized in the scriptures but are in an intermediate stage. Some assert that these transitional beings are possessed of the five kkhandha.[1]
Some assert that these beings are detached 'souls' or spirits with no material envelopes, and some again that they are possessed of the faculty of seeing like devas, and further, that they have the power of changing at will, at short intervals, from one to any of the existences mentioned above. Others again hold the fantastic and erroneous theory that these beings can, and do, fancy themselves to be in other than the existence they are actually in. Thus, to take for example one such of these suppositious beings: He is a poor person--and yet he fancies himself to be rich. He may be in hell-and yet he fancies himself to be in the land of devas, and so on. This belief in intermediate stages between existences is false, and is condemned in the Buddhist teachings. A human being in this life who by his kamma is destined to be a human being in the next will be reborn as such; one who by his kamma is destined to be a deva in the next, will appear in the land of devas; and one whose future life is to be in hell will be found in one of the regions of hell in the next existence.
The idea of an entity or 'soul' or spirit 'going', 'coming', 'changing', 'transmigrating' from one existence to another is that entertained by the ignorant and the materialistic, and is certainly not justified by the dhamma. There is no such thing as 'going', 'coming', 'changing', etc., as between existences. The conception which is in accordance with the dhamma may perhaps be illustrated by the picture thrown out by the cinematograph, or the sound emitted by the gramophone, and their relation to the film or the sound-box and disc respectively. For example, a human being dies and is reborn in the land of devas. Though these two existences are different, yet the link or continuity between the two at death is unbroken in point of time. And so in the case of a man whose future existence is to be the nethermost hell. The distance between hell and the abode of man appears to be great. Yet, in point of time, the continuity of 'passage' from the one existence to the other is unbroken, and no intervening matter or space can interrupt the trend of this man's kamma from the world of human beings to the regions of hell. The 'passage' from one existence to another is instantaneous, and the transition is infinitely quicker than the blink of an eye or 'a lightning-flash.
Kamma determines the realm of rebirth and the state of existence in such realm of all transient beings (in the cycle of existences which have to be traversed till the attainment at last of Nibbana).
Kamma in their results are manifold and may be effected in many ways. Religious offerings (dana) may obtain for a man the privilege of rebirth as a human being, or as a deva in one of the six deva-worlds according to the degree of the merit of the deeds performed. And so with the observance of religious duties (sila). The five jhana or states of enlightenment, are found in the Brahma worlds or Brahma-lokas up to the summit, the twentieth Brahma world. And so with bad deeds, the perpetrators of which are to be found, grade by grade, down to the lowest depths of the nethermost hell. Thus, our kamma, past, present and future, were, are and will ever be the sum-total of our deeds, good, indifferent or bad, according as our actions are good, indifferent or bad. As will be seen from the foregoing, our kamma determine the changes in our existences.
'Evil spirits' are therefore not beings in an intermediate or transitional stage of existence, but are really very inferior beings, and they belong to one of the following five realms of existence, which are: the world of men, world of devas, the regions of hell, animals below men; and petas. They are very near the world of human beings. As their condition is unhappy, they are popularly considered as evil spirits. It is not true that all who die in this world are reborn as evil spirits, though human beings who die sudden or violent deaths are apt to be reborn in these lowest worlds of devas.
IV. Q.-- Is there such a thing as a human being who is reborn and who is able to speak accurately of his or her past existence ?
A.-- Certainly, this is not an uncommon occurrence, and is in accordance with the tenets of Buddhism in respect to kamma. Such a person is called a jatisara puggalo from jati existence; sara, remembering; and puggalo, rational being.
The following (who form an overwhelming majority of human beings) are unable to remember their past existences if and when reborn as human beings:
1. children who die young
2. those who die old and senile
3. those who are strongly addicted to the drug or drink habit.
Those whose mothers, during their conception, have been sickly or have had to toil laboriously, or have been reckless or imprudent during pregnancy, the children in the womb being stunned and startled lose all knowledge of their past existences.
The following are possessed of a knowledge of their past existences: Those who are not reborn (in the human world) but proceed to the world of devas, of Brahmas, or to the regions of hell, remember their past existences. Those who die sudden deaths from accidents while in sound health may also be possessed of this faculty in the next existence, provided that the mothers, in whose wombs they are conceived, are healthy, clean-lived and quiet women. Again, those who live steady, meritorious lives and who (in their past existences) have striven to attain, and have prayed for this faculty often attain it. Lastly, the Buddha, the arahants and ariyas attain this gift which is known as pubbenivasa-abhinnana.
V. Q.-- Which are the five abhinnana? Are they attainable only by the Buddha?
A.-- The five abhinnana (psychic powers) (Pali abhi, excelling, nana wisdom) are: iddhividha--creative power; dibbasota--divine ear; cittapariya nana--knowledge of others' thoughts; pubbenivasanussati--knowledge of one's past existences; and dibbacakkhu--the divine eye.
The five abhinnana are attainable also by arahants and ariyas and not only the above, but by ordinary mortals who practise according to the Scriptures, as was the case with the hermits, etc., who flourished before the time of the Buddha and who were able to fly through the air and traverse different worlds.
In the Buddhist Scriptures we find, clearly shown, the means of attaining the five abhinnana; and even nowadays, if these means are carefully and perseveringly pursued, it would be possible to attain these. That we do not see any person endowed with the five abhinnana today is due to the lack of strenuous physical and mental exertion towards their attainment.

1. KHANDHA: The 5 'groups' are called the 5 aspects in which the Buddha has summed up all the physical and mental phenomena of existence and which appear to the ignorant man as his ego, or personality, to wit: 1) the corporeality-group (rupa-kkhandha), 2) the feeling-group (vedana-kkhandha), 3) the perception-group (sanna-kkhandha), 4) the mental formation-group (sankhara-kkhandha), 5) the consciousness-group (vinnana-kkhandha). 'Whatever there exists of corporeal things whether one's own or external, gross or subtle, lofty or low, far or near. all that belongs to the corporeality-group. Whatever there exists of feeling. . . of perception . . . of mental formations . . . of consciousness ... all that belongs to the consciousness-group' (S. VII. 8f) 'Buddhist Dictionary' Nyanatiloka.

LeslieTripathy's picture

Thank you for clarifyin Buddha's ideologies

Thank You for mentionin all those stuff,we usually were confused abt

LeslieTripathy | Tue, 01/13/2009 - 11:34
priyrawal's picture

Thanks for writing on Buddha ideologies

What are the symptoms of enlightenment. How do we identify?

priyrawal | Sat, 12/05/2015 - 06:24