Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Early Buddhist sermons are independent of the "birth-after-death" Brahminic concepts

I. How the teachings of the Buddha came to us.

1. The main teachings of the Buddha (who lived in North India some six centuries before Christ) were written down by Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka some 5 centuries after the Buddha's passing away. Mahinda, the brother or son of the Emperor Asoka is said to have brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the 3rd Century CE. The Buddha, (literally, the enlightened one), is a moral teacher who claimed that others too can reach his level of moral perfection and happiness when, having overcome all greed, and lust, one reaches a state of benevolent happiness and satisfaction. This mental state is Nirvana or Nibbana in Pali, the language said to have been used by the Buddha.  Unlike normal people who continue to have new desires, new cravings and lusts, the mind of a person who has reached Nirvana will overcome all desires (Thanha), and will NOT regenerate new desires, lusts and cravings. Such a person is called an Arhanth.  This is the end of the cycle of rebirths of such cycles of craving.  The Buddha is an Arhanth and a teacher who attained enlightenment and showed the way to others. 

We will show from the Buddha's early sermons that the word rebirth (punnab-bava) applies to the regeneration of Thanha (i.e., greed, lust, cravings,desires), and not to  rebirth at the end of physiological life, as is usually claimed by traditional Buddhists who follow a modified version of the Hindu concept of a cycle of lives after each death.

2. The Sinhalese language, very like the Pali language, is a vernacular form (Prakrit) related to Sanskrit. It  had been the vehicle that contained the Buddha's teaching, reverently preserved by the oral method of memorizing and reciting them in "Pirith sanghayana", i.e., group recitals of the teaching of the Buddha. Such "pirith recitations" occur even today in Buddhist countries.

3. Unlike the Jews and Christians, the Buddhists do not consider their texts to be revealed, sacred  truths. They are more like the dialogues of Socrates, and take the form of reports of sermons or Sutras,  which begin with "Thus have I heard ...". So there is no such thing as "heresy" in Buddhism, and there are no heretics, in the Judo-Christian sense.
However, different Buddhist groups have debated various philosophical  views in many learned councils (sanghaayana) held in the course of time. The Buddha himself discourgaed "metaphysical" speculations, e.g., about the origin and end of the universe., idealism versus materialism etc., as being meaningless debates.

In a discussion about the mind-brain problem Bhikku Samāhita intervened and stated his extremely idealist position that the mind is the source of everything.  If I understood him correctly, he seem to  even assert that the mind is 'non-local' and moves about outside the physical bodies. When I challenged his idealist views using examples from neuroscience, he intervened to explain his knowledge of neuroscience etc., and defend his position. See:
Then I pointed out in some detail  that what he says are his personal opinions, and not found in the Buddhist Suttas, where the Buddha has stated that this type of discussion is really  metaphysics, and Buddhists should not engage in such fruitless discussions. In out view, although the topic was metaphysical during Buddha's time, today we do have some tools to examine the problem scietifically and the 'mind' seems to be an emergent property of the brain and nothing more. Finally Bhikku Samahita agreed and withdrew from the discussion saying the following:
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I hereby apologize unconditionally for having diverted attention
this irresolvable mind-brain issue, since I this morning realized
that it is a variant of the 10 indeterminable subjects deliberately
undeclared by the Buddha:

1: The cosmos is eternal
2: The cosmos is not eternal,
3: The cosmos is finite...
4: The cosmos is infinite...
5: The soul (mind) & the body (brain) are the same. (inseparable)
6: The soul (mind) is one thing and the body (brain) another.

7: After death a Tathagata exists...
8: After death a Tathagata does not exist...
9: After death a Tathagata both does & does not exist...
10: After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does he not exist.

“And they lived arguing, quarreling, and disputing, wounding one another
weapons of the mouth, saying, "The Dhamma is like this, not like that.
The Dhamma's not like that, it's like this." Ud 6.4
End of Diversion

There are other Buddhist texts preserved in other countries like Tibet and China, and containing many Sutras. The corpus of Buddhist texts is Hugh. The content is more or less the same, with additions and adumbrations in keeping with the culture and background of the nation which adopted Buddhism.

4. So it is normal to expect that the Sutras contain much adulatory material. Thus, as we progress from the early sermons of the Buddha, we find that there are increasing adaptations and additions of the local beliefs. Buddha, as well well as those who have attained emancipation from their Thanha  are assigned miraculous powers. the Buddha is even declared to be "Sarvaggna", i.e., all knowing. There are many incidents in the life of the Buddha which show that he was certainly not able to know the future. Nevertheless, pious believers would believe in nothing less than an "all-knowing" Buddha.

The local deities of the land (e.g., Vishnu, Naga, Vakula, Avalokitheshvara) etc., are elevated to the status of people who are aspiring to be future Buddhas, and they are  accorded a divine status. The existing belief system and the cosmology of the period, which usually included hells (underground abodes populated by sinners) and heavens (celestial abodes populated by gods), are also included and absorbed into Buddhism.

II. Some common beliefs of the ancient world.

1. A common belief of the ancient world was that when a person dies, his soul transmigrates to a new born and this is described as the process of "rebirth". The Greek orphists and the Indian Brahamins believed in such cycles of Birth. Such beliefs were common in the Buddha's time, while there were also "lokayathas", who believed that there is no such rebirth. Such beliefs existed in ancient china, while Tao himself may have been a person who denied the existence of supernatural forces and a next world.

2. The Jewish and Christian traditions regard "sin" as the denial of God. Leading a saintly life does not guarantee that you would go to heaven. Only God's grace would get you to heaven. God may choose a horrible criminal and give him grace, while overlooking a saint.

3. In Indian religions "sin" and "merit" (the opposite of sin) were at first defined as  morally "bad" actions (sin), and morally good actions (merit). The Buddhists modified this by asserting that only the intention or volition (chethana), driving the action is relevant. Thus "sin" is bad intentions.
These  mental events (chethana) become habits and begin to mold your life. This process is known as the working of the "Karma".  This concept was attached to a system of punishment and reward where good "Karma" will make you a better and happier person, while bad karma will make you a worse, less happy person. if Karma is understood as habits or conditioned reflexes stored in the neuron circuits of the non-derivative memory, then all this makes good sense. However, the Indian religions extended the working of the karma to the future births as well, while the present life was claimed to be conditioned by the karma of past births, in the cycle of re-births. This cycle of rebirths was known as "Samsara"

III. How relevant is the Brahminic concept of rebirth to Buddhism?

The traditional Buddhist would insist that the concept of rebirth is fundamental to Buddhism. However, we find that the early sermons of the Buddha does not refer to a life  after physical death. They refer to the process of generation of Thanha states and such mental states, their growth, development, decay and rebirth. That is, the rebirth, or "punabbava" applies to states of consciousness associated with Thanha as the driving force. In section IV we look at the first sermon of the Buddha in detail to show that the Brahminic concept of life after death is an interpretation put in their by those who wrote the down the sermon into the Tripitaka. The content of the sermon actually addresses the incessant generation and regeneration (re-birth) of Thanha, a mental state! This is entirely clear from the first sermon of the Buddha (see below).

Another very important early sermon of the Buddha is the Anatta-lakhana-Sutta. The Brahmins believed that every being has a soul, and when someone dies, the soul transmigrates to a foetus and a new life begins. The Buddha criticized this doctrine of the "transmigration of the soul". In a very revolutionary sermon, he denied that there was any persistent identity-preserving entity called the soul (atma). The doctrine that there is no-soul is "anatta". A living person is a succession of conscious states associated with the bodily states evolving in time, with no such thing as a soul threading through them. The only thing that holds them together is the continually evolving thanha, or cravings. In expounding this doctrine, one would immediately ask, what happens at death (i.e., disintegration of the bodily states)?  If the Brahmin concept of rebirth is cardinal to Buddhism, as asserted by traditional teachers, then at this point the Buddha would have said so. In fact, he says nothing about re-birth. Nevertheless, traditional Buddhist writers have brought the concept of the soul into popular Buddhism via the back door, by claiming that when the person dies, his "consciousness transmigrates to a new foetus" and begin a new life. Thus, they are using "consciousness" as the ersatz "soul"  in such traditional presentations of Buddhism (see, e.g., in  Bhikku Samhitha's  "Buddha-direct" clips).

Even a superficial reading of the Annatta-lakhana-sutta shows that the Buddha did not care to emphasize the traditional Brahminic concept of a cycle of rebirth. The important  teachings in Buddhism, the cardinal teachings, are elevated to a high level by the addition of the adjective "Arya". Thus there are the "Chatur- arya satya", or the "four noble truths", and then there is the  "Noble eight-fold path" (Arya-ashtanga-magga). If the Brahaminic concept of rebirth was such a vital matter, it too should have been included as an "Aarya-sathya". But this is NOT so. The Buddha did not need it.

In our view, the Buddha did not insist on the re-birth after death doctrine at all, as he understood that the process of life and death occurs all the time, as is the modern view in biology (see below).  In the Buddha's "parable of the arrow", the Buddha explains that the urgent need is to save the person struck with an arrow  from pain and suffering, and the issue of from where the arrow came, and of what wood it is made of etc., etc., were of no concern. In the same way, the Buddha did not attempt to explain cosmology or biology to his audiences. He probably accepted the belief system of the time. But it is clear that he took care to avoid trapping himself into claims about life after death etc., as these are NOT relevant to the teaching.

This is clearly seen in the early sermons of the Buddha, where "punabbava", or regeneration, is applied to the incessant regeneration of Thanha, and not to the rebirth of the dead. If  thanha mental states have been controlled, and if the person has emancipated himself and become an arhant, then there is no regeneration (punabbava) of such thanha.

The rewriting of the Buddhist texts some 500 years after the Buddha's passing, in a milieu dominated by the ancient belief of the transmigration of the soul has led to a casting of Buddhism with rebirth and the cycle of Births (samsara) as important parts of traditional belief. The Jathaka katha, a collection of ancient folk tales which are the common stock of early Indo-European moral stories have been retold as Buddhist moral tales extolling the meritorious past lives of the Buddha, just as they have been used for the past lives of the Munivars (teacher-saints) of Jain and Brahamin (Hindu)  belief systems.

The addition of "miraculous" texts and assimilation of local doctrines associated with Gods, Maras, nagas etc., become more and more abundant in the later sermons. But the essence of the teaching is  found in the early sermons. Indeed, the first four sermons contain most of Buddhism. 

IV. Birth, death and heredity - biology and Buddhism.

A human being is a collection of cells working together very closely, like a close-knit city. A city also takes in food stuffs etc., creates and uses energy, and sends out waste. The body also has many thousands of microbes (like migrant workers in a city), without whom the person cannot exist. There are also harmful bacteria which are being constantly attacked and killed by a defence force of cells, just as a city has a police force.  But there is no persistent, identifiable  "soul"  in the city, just as in the body. The city may have started with just one or two initial pioneers.

In the same way, the human body also started with the single cell formed by the fusion of the sperm of a father and the ovum of a mother. This cell divided into two, and once again into two, and within a short time multiplied into a large number. As cells becomes 20 minutes or more old, they also begin to die. So there is a growth process (cell division), as well as a death process (cell death). The dead cells, and the nutrient used up in forming new cells form waste products.  When the growth process is faster than the death process, the organism grows. But birth and death are happening all the time. Each time a new cell is formed, it is made as a copy of the previous cell, as given in the DNA template of the cell. In old age, the rate of death of cells is faster than the rate of growth of cells, and the copying process becomes inaccurate.

If there is any sense to the phrase "cycle of rebirth", then that is happening already in a foetus, and it applies to the cells that form the foetus.

This foetus does not have any brain cells or neurons at the start. So it has no consciousness. It is not complex enough to "receive" a "consciousness of a dying person", as is claimed by those who believe that there is a transmigration of consciousness at "rebirth".

The foetus soon begins to develop brain cells, as required by the design template known as the DNA contained and copied into all the cells of the foetus. The DNA gives the architecture and heredity of the child. The DNA decides if  the person is going to have blue eyes, or crooked teeth, or if it is going to be strongly heterosexual, or possibly lesbian or gay. The DNA will also have the genes which would endow the baby with talents like the potential for being a mathematical or musical genius. These are traits he/she inherits from the mother or the father, and not from some "karma" of his past life. There is no such past life. The science of genetics, the biochemistry of DNA, and molecular biology have now, beyond doubt established that the traits of the child come from the parents and not from somewhere else. These traits can be modified during childhood and during life, according to now well understood biochemical mechanisms of learning.

The biochemical mechanisms of learning involve modification of synapses and neuronal connections in the brain. These are associated with the non-derivative memory (unconscious, reflex-action like memory not under our control), and the conscious parts of the memory. the latter is actually a very small segment of mental activity, as most things happen involutarily, without our knowledge.  A good, easy to read description is given in the Nobel Laureat Eric Kendal's book, "In search of memory" see:  icarusfilms.com/new2009/mem.html

The Buddhist teaching contained in the early sermons suggest that the word  "punabbbavo" (or regeneration), the Buddha mostly considered the regeneration of mental states associated with desire (Thanha). These are precisely those  which lead to the formation of habits (synaptic neural paths formed by learning).  When we recognize that Buddhist sermons  do not imply  the Brahminic rebirth of a soul or the transmigration of a consciousness, and that they apply to the incessant process of cell-birth and cell-death contained in the single life of an organism, biology becomes completely consistent with the early sermons.

V. The first sermon of the Buddha.

There are many versions of the first sermon. They all begin roughly in the same way, and in they seem to differ in different versions in the last verses which mention Gods, Brahmas and Maras.

For a typical rendering, see www.san.beck.org/Buddha.html
                                         or   www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nanamoli/wheel017.html
                                          or  www.budsas.org/ebud/ebsut001.htm

(a) The text contains the part:
Now this, monks, is the noble truth of the cause of pain:
...the craving, which leads to rebirth..... That this
refers to rebirth of pain and thanha is very clear from the original Pali  ("yaayam thanha punobhavika"),  where thanha is the noun qualified by "punobhavika".  This is also the only translation consistent with the totality of the earlier stanzas.
(b). There is also the translated phrase  "this is my last existence;
now there is no rebirth."

but this is not how I would translate "ayam anthima jatha  natthi daani punabbbavo", because the Buddha is here referring to the end  of the birth (jaathi) of "Thanha" - cessation of Thanha, and not of life itself. The translator has unconsciously incorporated his own implicit beliefs into the translation of a very subtle text.

  Our interpretation alone is  consistent with all that came before, in the 1st sermon, and what is said in the second sermon of the Buddha. If it was existence of life, it should have been, more consistently, anthimabbavo, and not anthma jaattha.

VI. The discourse on the  non-existence of the soul  (Annatta-Lakhana-Sutta)

A translation of this  sutta is given in


by Bhikku Nanamoli. Unlike in the case of the first sermon, there are no uncertainties in the translation.  After declaring that there is no entity called "soul", the Buddha does not attempt to  defend "rebirth" in terms of a "transmigration of consciousness", as is done in traditional popular Buddhist books.  In fact, there is absolutely no mention of rebirth here. It is irrelevant and inconsistent. However, traditional Buddhists bring in the old doctrine of the soul by the back door, by calling it consciousness. There is no room for that in the sermons of the Buddha.

Bhikku Nanmoli's discussion of the first sermon also correctly under-emphasizes  the traditional "rebirth" interpretation.  Bhikku Nanamoli discusses in detail the second and third suttas as well. They all fit in  consistently with our discussion.

    The nature of Nirvana (Nibbana)

 The concept of Nirvana also should be looked at keeping in mind the anatta (no-soul) doctrine, and the view that the rebirth concept is not fundamental to the Buddha's teaching. However, the concept of a final "blissful state" named nirvana is found in Brahmin and Jain teachings that preceded the Buddha's time. In these teachings the soul is not finally reborn, but comes to some  `union with Brahma, or the Parama-athma ( or what ever), there by  'endying the cycle of rebirth'.  This view has entered into mainstreal Buddhist writings as well, although the Buddha refused to be drawn into a discussion of `paramartha', `end of the cyclic process' etc., and relagated them to metaphyiscal questions. 

Discussing the nature of Nirvana is discouraged by the Buddha as mostly a meaningless metaphysical questionThese metaphysical questions were taken up by the later buddhists in Nalanda,  as well as Hindu-Buddhist fusion philosphers like
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nagarjuna, Nagarjuna, 3rd century CE.

However,  from the four Nobel truths we see that the essense of the state of 'Nivana'  is the gradual attainment of a full control over one's desires or 'thanha'.   Up-bringing and mind training can help modify and also control one's conscious desires. But a good fraction of our desires are controlled by the autonomous part of the  mind that is not under our control. That is, the 'subjective unconscious', 'subconscious modules'  etc.. These are  essentially  beyond the control of the conscious mind. However, we know that even here, some Yogis can control their hunger, pulse, and even lower their body temperature (to a small extent).  

The Dalai Lama has pushed for neuro-science experiments on expert medidators in states of 'Samadhi' to understand what is happening.  As such tests in neuroscience labs are  in the  initial stages, the extent of mind-control remains a very open question. However, achieving a good control of the conscious part of the mind is generally thought to be possible. Even  a person of such fully-controlled, compassionate temper could still make mistakes of fact, as he is not all-knowing (see our discussion of 'sarvaggna' given below).  But his behaviour ' would be as implacable as possible' within the facts available to him.

VII. Was the Buddha a "sarvaggna"

Pious but uninformed Buddhists sometimes claim that the Buddha is omniscient, i.e., he knew the past, and that he also knew what would happen in the future. Such a person is a "sarvaggna" - an "all-knowing" person. If the Buddha, or anyone else can know the future, then the future is pre-determined. This means a human being has NO capacity to choose what he will do ( no volition  or  free will). This is entirely inconsistent with the Buddha's teaching that a person can choose to do good, or bad, and that a large class of intentions (chethana) are under the control of the person. Further more, a person learns to exercise greater and greater control on his voluntary and involuntary thought processes by meditative mind exercises. Acquiring good mental habits (i.e., good Karma) are a cardinal part of the Buddha's eight-fold path of moral conduct. 

Christian theologians, having claimed that God is omniscient, have to now grapple with the fact that a "GOOD, all-powerful, all knowing  GOD" would allow the horrors and evil, tsunamis and epidemics that hit even the innocent, plague the earth. The is the conundrum of the existence of evil in a world created by a "good god".

The naive concept of the Buddha being an "omniscient" person, or "Sravaggna" is thus inconsistent with his doctrine of Karma as mental habits (volitions or chethanas) under the control of the doer. We also see from many incidents in the Buddha's life, that he could not foretell the future, and did not make that claim. His devotee and friend, King Bimbisaara was imprisoned and tortured by the prince Ajathasattu. The Buddha did not foresee it, and learnt what happened to Bimbisara only afterwards.

Sutra no 140 of the Majjima Nikaya about the recluse Pukkusaati is well known
Once when the Buddha, while traveling as a mendicant,  stayed the night in a Potter's shed. There he came across another recluse named Pukkussati. This latter recluse was travelling out to meet the Buddha and ordain under him. The Buddha explained to him that  Pukkusaati  has to get  three robes and a begging bowl to equip himself to lead the life of a monk. Pukkusaati, in his enthusiasm left for the village immediately to get these items, but did not return.  Later the Buddha learnt that Pukkusaati  had been gorged by a bull and killed.

There are many such examples from the Buddha's life, showing that he did not fore-see the future, and there is no credible basis for the belief that the Buddha was "omniscient". These are  attempts to raise him to the level of a super-God figure by some of his uncritical devotees.

VIII. The Buddha and the scientific method

The Buddha was a moral teacher who was more concerned with the relief of suffering in the world, rather than attempting to explain the empirical world. Empirical matters are described by "is" sentences, e.g., "the grass IS green". All statements in science can be reduced to a collection of "is" statements. However,  science is value neutral, and all moral statements can be reduced to a collection of "ought" sentences. The Buddha was mostly concerned with the latter set. H explicitly said this in the story of the parable of the arrow.

How is empirical knowledge gathered?

Science does not use direct perception through sense organs as they are very unreliable and not not cover all the signals. Instead, a variety of measuring instruments covering all energy scales and all length scales are used, and the measurement is presented as sets  of pointer readings (or digitized numbers) so that there is no confusion. Thus colors are presented as numbers (giving the frequency) resolved by a spectroscope. Images are represented by numbers in pixels etc.

The method of doing the measurement is given in full detail (without trade secrets) so that any sufficiently motivated group can try it out themselves and come to one's own conclusions. So there is cooperation, discussion, and transparency, and these were advocated by the Buddha in the Saptha aparihaaneeya Dharama.  The Buddha discovered the basic ideas of the scientific method long ago. Humans applied it to the physical world in the 15th century (The Buddha applied it to  moral knowledge in the 5th century BC).  So, over the years, a corpus of knowledge has been accumulated, for example,  about elementary particles, atoms and molecules, about how animals reproduce children and die, or about how the brain works.

We have not talked about the famous  Kaalama sutta. What the Kaalama sutta does is to reject revealed truth said to be found in sacred texts, and it criticizes  accepting them purely on authority. Furthermore,  the "Gnana sutta" is supposed to  say that " if you want to find out if a piece of metal is gold or not, then use a touchstone and test it out; and so, in the same way, verily, Bhikkus, test out the Dhamma, my teaching,  to your satisfaction" --  i.e., "Ehipassiko".

Thus the Buddha advocates testing out his moral path by trying it out oneself. It is also said that the fruits (benefits) of trying out the moral path occur in no time (akaaliko), i.e., without delay.  Here again  the benefits are indicated to occur in this birth, and not in some future birth as the proponents of re-incarnation theories would have it.

IX. Conclusion

The early Buddhist sermons contain little or no support for the rebirth after death concept, or for the concept of the transmigration of consciousness into a foetus, carrying a legacy of past karmas. The word "punabbavo" has been used in these suttas to describe the re-generation of Thanha, and not the regeneration of life.

The concept of a transmigration of consciousness, carrying its legacy of past Karmas into a new foetus (and a new life), and associated theories of rebirth are completely at odds with what we know about reproduction, molecular genetics and living organisms. However, when we understand the early sermons in the light of the observation that the Buddha's use of Punabbbavo referes to the regeneration of Thanha in this (only) life, we see that the Buddha's moral teaching is unfettered by Brahaminic myth.



  1. Excellent analysis. Thank you so much.

  2. I find the discussion on the scientific method, and the Buddhist approach, very illuminating. I was not aware of the gnana sutta, which has not been discussed much. I was able to trace a discussion of that in the Book by Tchirbatsky on "Buddhist Logic".

  3. I'm very much impressed by your article. Thank you

  4. It is a brillient article. Thank you.

  5. IF Bodhi read more about Karma, you will understand the other side of Karma too. Almost every karma except some can become Ahosi karma.

    As you are a physicist, you may understand if you assume that every thing is connected to any other thing and some of these events can exert more influence which make the future pre-determined.

    On the other hand, Nirvana is something in the mind and you may understand that the mind is our whole body and at the other extreme it becomes the body of every one else and the whole universe. So, that includes everything. When that happensBuddha should be a Sarva-ghana.

  6. Even those saaththara kaarayaas who get Certain gods' power into them has that ability.

    Parachiththa vijanana is some thing that everybody has. Only thing is we need to meditate and improve it, and that ghana should be able to improve to include the whole universe.

  7. Samyak Buddha is everything and he is sarva-ghana. IF not the one can not beomce a Samyak Sambuddha.

    Buddha had told that understanding KArma is very complex and Buddha also understood it init's full perspective only in the morning That AScetic became a Samyak Buddha.

    A Summery of kalama sutta(charter on free inquiry ) a guideline to seek the truth wisely ,as taught by the Buddha.
    1.Do not simly belive what you hear just because you have heard it for a long time.
    2.Do not follow tradition blindly merely because it has been practiced in that way for many generations.
    3.Do not be quick to listen to rumours.
    4.Do not confirm anything just because it agrees with your scriptures .
    5.Do not foolishly make assumption .
    6.Do not abruptly draw conclusion by what you see and hear.
    7.Do not fooled by outward appearances.
    8.Do not hold on tightly to any view or idea just because you are comfortable with it
    9.Do not accept as fact anything that you yourself find to be logical.
    10 Do not be convinced of anything of anything out of respect and reference to your spiritual teachers.

    you should go beyond opinion and belief .you can rightly reject anything which when accepted ,practiced and perfected ,leads to more anger (aversion),more greed (craving) and more delusion (ignorance ).

    the knowledge that you are angry ,greedy or deluded does not depend on either belief or opinion .Remember that anger ,greed and delusion are things universally condemned. they are no beneficial are to be avoided .

    Conversely you can accept anything which when accepted and practiced leads to unconditional,Love ,contentment and wisdom. these things allow you time and space to develop a happy and peaceful mind.Therefor ,these praise unconditional love ,contentment and wisdome.

    THis should be your criteria on what is and what is not the truth ;on what should be and what shouldnot be the spiritual practice".-BUDDHA

  9. Excellent article. Buddhism has been adulterated by many believes that prevailed at that time and mostly rejected by Buddha himself.

  10. Very insightful article. I personally do not have the skill to translate and understand Pali therefor I have no way to verify your assumptions at this stage. However your thoughts on this are fascinating and more original that most things I have come across in recent times. This has certainly got me excited and thinking! I have some questions -

    Are you rejecting rebirth as understood by modern Buddhists - a stream of consciousness across an unending sequence of births (physical or other)? OR is it more of a rejection of rebirth in scientific terms?

    I'm guessing it is NOT the latter but more of a rejection of rebirth as currently understood by Buddhists.

    The reason I ask this is because there has been some research done on rebirth (or to be more precise re-incarnation) by various individuals and results published (eg - Dr. Ian Stevenson)? There are also case studies on 'past life regression in hypnosis'. Obviously there is no way for any of this to be proved or debunked concretely. Scientific theories as I understand is more of an understanding of what we percieve things behave as opposed to an absolute explanation (I could be wrong, that is an assumption only as I'm not a scientist).

    How do we reconcile the above with your insights into rebirth?
    If Buddha did not theorise a life after death through rebirth, what is the need for the teaching? How do we explain the varying degrees of suffering of some living beings against others (is it just a coincidence)?

  11. The idea of a "stream of consciousness", where the "consciousness" leaves the dying person and enters a suitable fetus is merely bringing back the concept of a (changing) soul by the back door. This enables one to exactly `identify' the new being as the previous being. Buddha rejected such identity as identity is possible only if a SINGLE CAUSE produces a SINGLE effect. But if multiple causes are involved, then there is no specific agent who caused the effect. The birth of a new being is a result of multiple causes.

    Furthermore, the fetus in the womb develops 'consciousness' only gradually, since it does not have a brain or a nervous system for at least 3-4 weeks.
    Ven. Buddhaghosa correctly points out in the "Vshuddhi-Magga" that according to the Suthras, consciousness is another organ (Indriya) of the body, just like sight, hearing, taste etc. That is, 'consciousness' grows just as your hearing, sight etc grow. In fact, according to modern science, your consciousness is not fully grown until you are about 16, when all your bodily hormones and neuro-chemicals (which control your consciousness) are in place. So just as the other Indriya do not come from a previous birth, we should conclude that the 'consciousness' too does not come from a previous birth.

    In fact, we all know that the new being inherits the characteristics, illnesses, talents etc., of the father AND the mother. Even scientifically, the new baby is a genetic continuation of the father AND the mother, as their genes are mixed to get the new genes for the new baby. It is not a continuation of a SINGLE consciousness, in the way rebirth as understood by some Buddhists - i.e., as a stream of consciousness across an unending sequence of births ( like a single river which is changing all the time but guarding its identity). There is NO IDENTITY in Buddhism.

    There is a big literature about the work of people like Ian Stevenson, and also people recounting "lives" under hypnosis. Careful critical studies have shown there these "claims" do not hold water when examined. I have no space here to discuss Ian Stevenson and summarize all those studies which show that Stevenson was misled. I will do that some day in another blog.

    If you go to Italy where people believe deeply in Christianity, every year there are claims that some one began to bleed from their hands and feet exactly where the nails went into Jesus who was crucified. Or it is claimed that some crucified figure of Jesus in some church began to bleed on the day of Easter. There are people like Ian Stevenson who write books claiming that these Easter bleedings are authentic.
    These too are held to be true by the strong believers.

    1. Thank you for replying promptly.

      I think I can now understand what you're saying which I assume is the denial of an identity as there is no continuation of a single consciousness across sequential births.

      Whilst I have come to gradually understand your argument, I can't say I fully understand its implications. I must say I 'feel' a little 'enlightened' and 'liberated' after reading your blog. I will need some time digest this and re-evaluate my current understanding of Buddhism.

      I hope you will continue writing and expanding on this blog. I think it is our duty as Buddhists to critically analyse all aspects of the dhamma without blind following or approval of the Suttas.

  12. I agree with this post in every regard though one aspect I feel might deserve expansion upon is the scope of Karma in relation to "re-birth". Could one consider the "future lives" that will be affected by our Karma to simply be the lives of people not yet born? If we look at the concept of Karma as a reflection upon the very literal and observable way in which our actions affect other people this could be the case. For instance, every decision I make will affect the lives of my children in some way. From my choice of partner determining their genetic makeup, the mental attitudes I cultivate playing a part in how I raise and treat them to the ways in which those factors will affect their decisions and actions in life, the range of influence in my hands is immense. Our capacity to choose and act in life is as much a contribution to the goings forth of the world as the weather converging to grow a forest. In the same way we live in social structures created by governmental decisions made by our ancestors in the wakes of wars fought by our ancestors, so too shall we shape the world our descendants will live in. We are causes and we are effects like every other thing in existence, shaped by conditions and circumstance as well as creating them; part of the grand happening of the universe. Since there is no static person for Karma to revisit in the future this view is the only sensible one to me.

  13. I look at the whole thing with an open mind. I agree with what you say in your article, yet, I believe, that consciousness is an energy, that energy wave leaves a body when the life span of body is over. This energy wave will die, when the base is lifeless. Yes, we can call it Tanha. Until such time it continues it's route, and dwells in a suitable place according to the power of Tanha. I am open to hear views of others too.

  14. Your article is valuable for me and for others. Thanks for sharing your information!


  15. Dear Mr. Dhanapala,

    I read with interest your article The Buddha’s Anatta Doctrine and Mathematical thinking. It was an interesting article and it carries value as it comes from a Mathematician-–a scientist. I also read some of the articles in your Blog.

    I am just an ordinary Buddhist without any scientific background and I do not see the Anatta Theory, Rebirth, and Paticcasamuppada in the same way as you see it. For me Rebirth, Kamma,, and Paticcasamuppada are essential part of the teachings of the Buddha without which it would not be his teachings. By reading and scientific investigation of dhamma you get a better understanding of the teachings , but it does not provide the same awareness that comes from experiencing the Dhamma. I mean through meditation, which gives an insight into the teaching which no amount of reading and reflecting would give. This of course Mr.Dhanapala is my opnion and I do not intend to criticise you or challenge your arguments as you have a right to have your own opinion on the subject.

    But when we search to understand the Anathma theory we understand it as the Buddha had said without looking for any proof beyond what the Buddha has said. For instance in insight meditation on impermanence( anitya bhavana) we see the body without the mind as a composition of four elements, and at death separated from the mind the body decays in 9 stages and disappear. We also see that form, feelings,perception,mental factors and the Consciousness are all impermanent entities that constantly change and that there is no soul or any permanent entity that could be called a soul present any where.

    That is anatma. We also see that there is no creator as every conceptual phenomena follows a cause ( paticcasamuppada). That the birth is the result of a Kamma accumulated through ignorance(avidya) of the four noble truth. The effort in meditation (vipassana)is to make the mind deeply understand (avabhodhaya) that it has made an error in accepting the form (rupa) as a being, and that there is in reality no such permanent entity. That is there is therefore an anatma sangna- no soul.


  16. Dear Mr. Dhanapala,

    I thank you very much for your reply. It is said that to learn the teachings of the Buddha you should listen or read the discourses, reflect on what you have heard or read, and above all discuss what you have heard or read. Therefore it’s a great priviledge to be able to discuss the Dhamma with you as you look at it from a different dimension-scientifically, to which I am a stranger and traverse such paths with trepidation. We normally discuss Dhamma with people who are of equal understanding, but you offered me a chance to discuss what I know with you , and I see no reason why I should take a “kithul polla”.

    The Dhamma is timeless and it is open to any challenge. Buddha’s teaching is without contradictions, and it is by itself scientific; you see it in Abhidhamma which Buddha did not want to confuse the ordinary people by introducing it to them. Therefore, even if you see certain aspects of the Dhamma differently, the basic teachings of the Buddha remain the same and it is wrong to call it old fashioned Buddhism because you think Science is new to Buddha and his teachings become dignified by giving to it a modern scientific twist.

    I have listened to the American Scientists meeting in Dharmsalaa to discuss Buddhism with Dalai Lama and I found it interesting.

    The question about parental genes go to make a child, are physical variations. It is like planting a seed and from it a tree grows or it is like respiration or circulation of blood. They cannot be attributed to Kamma. But the conception itself is kammic which involves the kamma of the parents and that of the being conceived.

    After all what we learn from Dhamma purifies our mind to the extent of our understanding, and prepares the mind to be concentrated into the departing citta of a dying person(cuti citta), and it is the kammic force within it that makes it reach a fertile womb with similar kammic vibrations to join with a relinking citta( patisandhi citta) to create a nama-rupa- a being. That is absolute Kamma, according to paticcasamuppada.

    I do not think the Buddha had a problem with different people understanding his teaching differently provided he follows the basics correctly to enter the path of Nibbana. Afterall the Buddha did not “invent” the teachings he found a teaching that was already there. Every Buddha is born to revive that same old teachings, so it is not different if you learn the teachins of the Gautama Buddha or in future from the Metteiya Buddha.

    What is important is how much of Dhamma we have absorbed and what our reaction would be when we are faced with the vision of death( gati nimitta etc) when we are about to die. Will we have the mind concentrated, calm and aware of the impermanence to prevent attachment at that moment when the final cuti citta is about to depart ?

    Thank you Mr. Dhanapala to have given me the courage to enter into this simple Dhamma discussion with you,

    Wih metta,