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Theravada Buddhism

(Continued)

IMPERMANENCE
We cling to ourselves, hoping to find something immortal in them, like children who would wish to clasp a rainbow. To the child a rainbow is something vivid and real but the grownup knows that it is merely an illusion caused by certain rays of light and drops of water. The light is only a series of waves of undulations having no more reality than the rainbow itself, while "water" is merely a name for a certain combination of particles of hydrogen and oxygen, a combination which has no permanency whatsoever. Like the rainbow are all things : there is a process, a conditioning, but nowhere the least trace of anything permanent.
Life is thus merely a phenomenon, or, rather ,a series, a succession of phenomena, produced by the law of cause and effect. An individual existence is to be looked upon not as something permanent but as a succession of changes, as something that is always passing away. Each of us is merely a combination of material and mental qualities. In each individual without exception, the relation of the component, constituent parts is ever changing so that the compound is never the same for-two consecutive moments. And this compound, this individual, remains separate as long as it persists in Samsara or existence as we know it. It is this separateness which is the cause of life and, therefore, of sorrow.
Our present life is only a link in the infinite chain of existence ; what subsists is only the unbroken continuity of the processes that constitute life. Assemble together the parts of a battery and there is electricity.

CAUSE AND CONTINUITY Of LIFE
As long as the cause of life persists, the sense of separateness the craving for existence, so long will life continue ; remove the cause and life does not come about. Remove the clinging to life and life is not continued. The continuity of life is like the flame of a lamp. The light appears to come from the lamp throughout the night; yet every instant oil and wick and lamp-holder and the air that feeds the flame are constantly changing. It is the same, yet not the same ; the infant that comes to birth is different from the old man who dies, yet both are called the same person. The fire will bum as long as there is fuel to feed it; so will life continue as long as there is craving.

The beginning and end of the river are called source and mouth, though they are still composed of the same water as the rest of the river; even so is the source and mouth of the river of life called birth and death though still composed of the water of life. At death, the flow of the stream from life to life seems to be interrupted but there is no real interruption, only a more obvious, a more violent breach in the continuity than in normal life. To the Buddhist death is not anything very important but merely an incident between one life and its successor. Birth and death have great significance only to those who believe in a single life. The true Buddhist regards death with something like indifference because he knows that he has experienced it countless times already. Nor does he desire death, by suicide for instance, for death cannot end his troubles. Suicide would be useless to himself and rather painful to his friends.

A lamp may go out with the exhaustion of oil or wick or both, or by a sudden gust of wind.
If at death the craving for life has not been completely destroyed then this craving gathers fresh life, body and mind. The result is a new individual, new in a sense. There is nothing that passed from one life to another. It is the kamma produced by us in our previous lives and in this life that brings about the new life. The new body and mind is merely the result of the previous body and mind. Just as this life is the result of the kamma of past lives. Our next life is the product of that kamma plus the kamma of the present life. If we use the word character as a convenient term the sum-total or out activities, the fruit of all our lives, then we may say that our "character" is reproduced in the new life.

INTRODUCING THE AUTHOR
Professor G. P. Malalasekera PhD. (Lond), D. Litt, was a Pali Scholar, who knew many languages, and a great son of Sri Lanka. He served for many years as President, All Ceylon Buddhist Congress. Was Ceylon's Ambassador in London, in Moscow, UN and in Canada. He passed away in April 1973.

 

 

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