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This short book examines the Buddhist concept of the 31 planes of existence, explaining what they are, including Kama Loka (the Sensual World), Rupa Loka (the Material World), and Arupa Loka (the Immaterial World). One of the main tenets in the Buddha’s Teachings is that all things happen due to a cause. In the context of birth and death, these two phenomena are actually one process. Death is followed by immediate rebirth in accordance with a law known as the Law of Causality.
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One of the main tenets in the Buddha’s Teachings is that all things happen due to a cause. In the context of birth and death, these two phenomena are actually one process. Death is followed by immediate rebirth in accordance with a law known as the Law of Causality. Death signals the end of a phase of kamma and at that point the beginning of the next phase of kamma gives immediate rebirth in another plane of existence as dictated by the quality of the kamma arising at that moment in time. I can do no better than to append herewith some pertinent writings by Anagarika Sugatananda (Francis Story) on the spirit world in introducing “The Thirty-One Planes of Existence” by Venerable Bhante Suvanno.
“In accordance with the universal Law of Causality, death is followed by immediate rebirth in one of the thirty-one planes of existence as a result of previous kamma. That is to say, a being arises in the appropriate sphere to which past conscious actions and habitual tendencies culminating in the “death-proximate kamma”, or last conscious thought-moment, have led him. If his actions of the three types (mental, physical and vocal, manifesting in thought, action and speech) have been directed by a purified consciousness, he will re-manifest in a higher plane or Brahma-loka; if they have been of mixed type he will be reborn in one of the intermediate spheres of the kama-loka (world of desire or sensory gratification). If his kamma has been predominantly bad, with a strong reflex at the moment of death, he will be reborn in what are called the Duggatti (unhappy) states, including the world of earthbound spirits or peta-loka. The death-proximate kamma is an important factor in deciding the immediate rebirth. It may be good or bad, but whichever it is, it tends to be the state of mind characteristic of the individual in his previous life, which takes possession of his last moments of consciousness before it leaves the body. Thus a person whose predominant characteristic is a mental attitude of hate will at once remanifest in a form embodying his hatred, as that is his death-proximate kamma, induced by habitual past thoughts.
If he has cultivated Metta and Karuna (benevolence and sympathy) it is that consciousness that will arise in a higher plane where these characteristics manifest. The most common type of habitual consciousness is neither of active love nor active hatred, but desire (tanha). It is desire and attachment that bind the individual to the wheel of Samsara. They provide the motives of all activities: hatred and love themselves arise from the root cause of desire; love towards the object of attraction, hatred when the desire is thwarted. Most kamma, therefore, is of a mixed type and its effects alternate in the experiences of the future life in the kama-loka. The world wherein we now find ourselves is in the kama-loka, as it is one of the spheres dominated by desire and sensual attachment.
The highest doctrine (of the Buddha) teaches the basic truth of anatta, which means that even in the earthly life-continuity of the individual there is no persistent or unchanging entity. All things are in a condition of flux; a causal continuum of successive thought-moments and material conformations arising and passing away in obedience to the Law of Dependent Origination. That which is developed by mental discipline and spiritual purification is not a personality, but a tendency. An infant carries the latent tendencies of the past existence and the seeds of the future life before it; but the child of five is not the same personality as the subsequent boy of fifteen or man of fifty. Body, mind and all the elements will have changed many times between these stages of the individual’s life. When we allude to them as the same ‘person’ we are only using a necessary convention; there is no identity linking the child of five, the boy of fifteen and the man of fifty. There is only a causal continuity; because the child existed the man exists, and his ‘personality’ is the aggregate of his thoughts, words, actions and experiences during the intervening period. It is the function of memory alone which gives this causal-continuum an appearance of being an identical personality continuous in time. When age, or any organic alteration of the physical brain, causes the faculties to decay, further changes of character or personality arises, this time caused solely through change in the material structure of the body. This is further explained in the Buddhist doctrine of anicca (impermanence of all phenomena).
We are in a better position to understand what actually takes place at death and rebirth. The being that is reborn bears the same relationship; a causal one, to the being of the previous life as the boy of fifteen does to the child of five, or the man of fifty to the boy of fifteen. It is the same ‘person’ only in the sense that the one carries on the cause-effect current of the other. To use a familiar illustration: if we knew a boy of fifteen and then lost sight of him until he reached the age of fifty, we should find scarcely anything by which to recognise him. Unless he bore some unusual physical characteristic of a kind to endure all his life, even his own mother would not be able to identify him.
End of excerpt.