5. Questions on the Theory of Karma
The theory of Karma
Question:Do the Karmas of parents determine or affect the Karmas of their children?
Answer:Physically, the Karma of children is generally determined by the Karma of their parents. Thus, healthy parents usually have healthy offspring, and unhealthy parents have unhealthy children. On the effect or how the Karma of their children is determined: the child’s Karma is a thing apart of itself – it forms the child’s individuality, the sum-total of its merits and demerits accumulated in innumerable past existences. For example, the Karma of the Buddha-to-be, Prince Siddhartha was certainly not influenced by the joint Karma of his parents, King Suddhodana and Queen Maya. The glorious and powerful Karma of our Buddha-to-be transcended the Karma of his parents which jointly were more potent than his own.
Question:If the Karma 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 offsprings?
Answer: Where a child inherit such a disease it is due to the force of the parents’ 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 is that the first seed will sprout into a sickly sapling and soon show symptoms of disease and decay; while the other seed will thrive and flourish and grow up to be a tall and healthy tree.
It will be observed that the pair of seeds taken from the same stock grows up differently according to the soil into which they are put. A child’s past Karma may be compared to the seed: the physical disposition of the mother to the soil; and that of the father to the moisture, which fertilised 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 one-tenth of them, the soil for six-tenths, and the moisture for the remainder, 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, as in the case of the animal world) be taken into account in respect to the conception and growth of their offspring.
The parents’ share in the Karma 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 being is Chinese, then their offspring must be of their race. Thus, the offspring are invariably of the same genera and species, etc., as those of the progenitors. It will be seen from the above that, although a child’s Karma is very powerful in itself, if cannot remain wholly uninfluenced by those of it parents. It is apt to inherit the physical characteristic of its parents. Yet, it may occur that the child’s Karma, being superlatively powerful, the influence of the parent’s joint Karma cannot overshadow it. Of course, it need hardly be pointed out that the evil 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:
1. The old Karma of past existence;
2. The seminal fluid of the mother, and
3. 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 Karma and physical characteristics, such as race, colour, etc., will be the produce of the three forces.
Question:On the death of a sentient being, is there a ‘soul’ that wanders about at will?
Answer:When a sentient being leaves one existence, it is reborn either as a human being, a celestial being, (Deva or Brahama), and inferior animal, or a denizen of one of the regions of hell. The sceptics and the ignorant people held that there are intermediate stages – antrabhava– between these; and that there are being who are neither of the human, the celestial, the Deva or the Brahma worlds nor of any one of the stages of exist recognised in the scriptures – but are in an intermediate stage. Some assert that these transitional stages are possessed of the Five Khandhas (Five Aggregates: they are Matter (rupa); Feeling (vedana); Perception (sanna); 4. Mental-activities (sankhara); and Consciousness(vinnana).
Some assert that these beings are detached ‘souls’ or spirits with no material encasement, and some again, that they are possessed of the faculty of seeing like Devas, and further, that they have power of changing at will, at short intervals, from one to any of the existence mentioned above. Others again hold the fantastic and erroneous theory that these beings can, and so, 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 the 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 Karma is destined to be a human being in the next, will be reborn as such; one who by his Karma is destined to be a Deva in the next will be appear in the land of the 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’ or ‘transmigrating’ from one existence to another is an idea entertained by the ignorance and materialistic, and is certainly not justified by the Dhammas that 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 a cinema projector, or the sound of emitted by the gramophone, and their relation to the film or the sound-box and records 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. The same is true in the case of a man whose further existence is to be in 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 a man’s Karma 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 eyelid or a lightening-flash.
Karma determines the realm of rebirth and the state of existence in that realm of all transient being (in the cycle of existences, which have to be traversed till the attainment, at last, of Nibbana).
The results of Karma 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 jhanas or states of absorption, are found in the Brahma world or Brahmalokas 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 Hell. Thus are Karma, past, present and future were, are, and will ever be the sum total of our deeds, good, indifferent or bad. As was seen from the foregoing, our Karma determines the changes of our existences.
"Evil spirits" are, therefore, not beings in an intermediate or transitional stages of existence, but are really very inferior beings, and they belong to one of the following five realms of existence:
1. World of Men: 2. The Lowest plane of deva-world; 3. The region of hell; 4. Animals below men, and 5. Petas (ghosts).
Number 2 and 5 are very near the world of human beings. As their condition is unhappy, and they are popularly considered evil spirits. It is not true that all who die in this world are reborn as evil spirits; nor is it true that beings who die sudden or violent deaths are apt to be reborn in the lowest plane of the world of devas.
Question: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?
Answer:Certainly, this is not an uncommon occurrence, and is in accordance with the tenets of Buddhism in respect to Karma.
The following (who form, an overwhelming majority of human beings) are generally unable to remember there past existences when reborn as human beings: Children who die young. Those who die old and senile. Those who are 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 started, lose all knowledge of their past existence.
The following are possessed of a knowledge of their past existences, viz: Those who are not reborn (in the human world) but proceed to the world of the devas, of Brahmas, or to the regions of Hell, remember their past existences.
Those who die suddenly deaths from accidents, while in sound health, may also be possessed of this faculty in the next existence, provided that their mothers, in whose womb they are conceived, are healthy. Again, those who live steady, meritorious lives and who in their past existences have striven to attain, often attain it.
Lastly the Buddha, the Arahantas and Ariyas attain this gift which is known as pubbenivasa abhnna(Supernatural Power remembering previous existences).
Question:Which are the five Abhinna? Are they attainable only by the Buddha?
Answer:The five Abhinna (Supernatural Powers): Pali - abhi, excellent, nana, wisdom) are:
Iddhividha= Creative power;
Dibbasola= Divine Ear;
Cetopariya nana= Knowledge of others’ thoughts;
Pubbenivasanussati= Knowledge of one’s past existence;
Dibbacakkhu= The Divine eye.
The Abhinna are attainable not only by the Buddha, but also by Arantas and Ariyas, by ordinary mortals who practise according to the Scriptures (as was the case with 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 Abhinna. 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 Abhinna today is due to the lack of strenuous physical and mental exertion towards their attainment.