Lê Sỹ Minh Tùng
OR DESTINY OF HUMANITY?
Since the existence of the human race on Earth, there have been numerous philosophies and religions encompassing different viewpoints on the human life and the cosmos, spreading from the Eastern to Western Hemispheres. As a result, various styles and concepts of life have been created among mankind. However, we are probably more familiar and accustomed to the philosophies of life from the East, predominantly China. In the following, we will attempt to present in great detail different philosophies of destiny in contrast to the Buddhist Law of Karma. It is our hope that this information will empower readers with a more practical understanding of the daily life events that they have experienced. With this knowledge, not only will our readers be able to enhance their present living conditions but also to prepare for a better future, ultimately making this world more peaceful and consequently less suffering for humanity.
1) God’s Will: The concept of God’s Will was the primary focus of Confucianism (551 BCE). Confucius believed that the evolution in Heaven and on Earth including life and death of people and animals were dictated by the Jade Emperor, or simply put, everything primarily followed God’s will. In other words, the Jade Emperor would give happiness to the people that he liked. However, if he wanted someone dead, that person would have to die. As a result, in a monarchy, the king proclaimed that he was the Jade Emperor’s son; therefore, his decisions would be final. Consequently, during the period of the Emperor Wu of Han (ruling from 141-87 BCE), Dong Zhongshu, a Confucianist, said that “When the king wants one of his assistants dead, if that assistant refuses to die, he will be considered disloyal. When a father wants his son dead, if the son refuses to die, he will be considered undutiful.”
Notorious for his brutality and cruelty was Qin Shi Huang (260-210 BC), the first king of China. In 221 BC, Qin Shi Huang unified the country and established an autocracy. He was the first person in the history of China to unify this country, conquer 6 other states during the Warring States Period, and form a vast country. However, he was also known as a tyrant due to his strict and cruel policy. Throughout the governing period of Qin Shi Huang, he was well known for his brutality and cynicism, treating people like trash. Qin Shi Huang was primarily a dictator who displayed no virtue or gratitude. To him, the only way to govern was to use brutality to threaten and suppress civilians. He buried students alive, burned Sages’ books, and killed everyone who was against him. For instance, he ordered to have 460 people at Ham Duong buried alive since they opposed him.
Not only was Qin Shi Huang popular for his creation of the Great Wall of China, but also the construction of the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor. Many innocent people had sacrificed their lives just to satisfy his surreal interest. When he became the king of the age of 13, he initiated the construction of the 3-level mausoleum, located in Lingtong District, Xi’an, Shaanxi province of China. The top level was the outer chamber, next was the inner chamber, and last was the main tomb chamber. This was an underground world consisting of a kingdom with temples, magnificent palaces, Mercury Rivers, and caves with ceilings made of pearls giving the impression of a bright night sky. He died at the age of 49 when the construction was completed. There were 700,000 soldiers and workers participated in this construction. Upon completion, it was so cruel of him to have the tunnel filled up to bury all those people alive, turning them into his wealth keepers, and at the same time keeping his mausoleum confidential.
With a deep longing for an immortal life to enjoy delights in this world, Qin Shi Huang ordered so many people to search for an elixir. He was probably the only king who was so irrationally afraid of death. During a walk at the National Historic Library, this tyrant accidentally found an antique book talking about using liquid mercury to achieve a permanent life and stay young forever. He was so happy that he ordered many people to go to various places to collect a very large amount of liquid mercury and bring it back to the palace. Mr. Romney, an archaeologist, said that “Perhaps liquid mercury was the reason for Qin Shi Huang’s death. The tyrant had swallowed liquid mercury hoping to possess an everlasting life. However, to the contrary, it was the liquid mercury that ended the life of this tyrant.”
When Xiang Yu (232-202 BC) led troops to Xianyang (China’s Capital in the Qin Dynasty) to eradicate the Qin Dynasty, he ordered his people to excavate the grave of Qin Shi Huang and burn all the Qin’s manificient palaces. The fire lighted up the sky for several months. Subsequently, Xiang Yu ordered to have all the Qin’s descendants killed. This showed that no one escapes causality and karma!
Another well-known monarch of China was Wu Zetian (Empress Wu (624-725)). She was one of the nine wives, in the 5th rank as “Talented Ladies”, of King Li Shimin (Emperor Taizong of Tang Dynasty (599-649)). The line of imperial succession in a descending order was Empress, Consorts, Imperial Concubines, Beautiful Ladies, and Talented Ladies. However, in the palace, she was having an affair with Li Zhi, King Li Shimin’s son. Later, King Li Shimin died. Based on the law of Tang Dynasty, she had to die with her husband. However, she went to live in a temple and had her life saved. When Li Zhi became king, despite extensive criticism, she returned to the palace and became his wife (titled “Imperial Concubine”). During this short period of time, she changed her role from being the wife of the former king (father) to the wife of the new throne (son). In the year of 654, she had her first baby girl. Empress Wang (Xuanzong) made a visit. After she left, Wu squeezed her own baby’s nose to suffocate her. She then framed Empress Wang for killing her baby resulting in the Empress having her title revoked. Wu gradually stepped up her rank to Consort and eventually became the Empress. To avoid consequences, Wu brutally killed Empress Wang and her daughter. When King Li Zhi became seriously ill, she requested the king to have her take part in official business despite staff’s objections. To ensure a smooth transition for her son Li Hong, heir to the throne, to become king, titled as Emperor Gaozong of Tang, she ordered to have whoever against her killed. However, she then revoked Li Hong’s title and made her second son, Li Xian, heir to the throne. Later, she revoked Li Xian’s title and made Li Xian’s son heir to the throne. When King Li Zhi died, Li Xian’s son became king, titled Emperor Zhongzong of Tang. However, a month later, she dethroned Emperor Zhongzong and made Li Xulun king, titled Emperor Ruizong of Tang. During later years, she continued to have the Li’s descendants being removed from power and replaced with the Wu’s empowered descendants. Eventually, in the year of 690, Wu Zetian became monarch, establishing the Zhou Dynasty. Many people had died under the bloody hands of this first female ruler of China. Besides being well-known as a brutal murderer, Wu was also popular for her romance life. After having seized complete power at the age of 61, she continued to search for fine men who were healthy, handsome, and outstanding in sexual activities and brought them to the palace to serve her. Her ongoing sexual affairs throughout the nights seemed to never cease. This female ruler, a sex abuser, could not lack men at night. At the age of 80, she continued to choose strong, potent men to satisfy her sexual pleasures. There was one hilarious thing about her. Even though she was famous for being the number one killer and sex abuser, she always wanted people to address her as “Buddha”!
Princess Taiping was Wu Zetian’s daughter. She was the princess with a great deal of malicious ambitions and power during the Tang Dynasty. Taiping was also cunning and cruel like her mother, forcing Wu Zetian to abdicate her throne to Emperor Zhongzong (2nd time to throne) and started to abuse her power. However, in the end, Taiping was still killed by her nephew whom she supported to throne.
We are now living in the 21st Century. A monarchy with typical inequalities such as “king orders staff die; father orders children die” or harsh requirements towards women like “a lady obeys her father while at home, obeys her husband when gets married, and obeys her son when her husband dies” (Three Obediences) should be abolished. The practice of looking up to males and looking down to females as in “a man may have 5 to 7 wives, whereas a woman can only have one husband” should also be abandoned. This form of government is no longer fit in a democracy with freedom, equality, scientific civilization, and progress of mankind. Under this democratic system, even a President, a Prime Minister, or any country leader could be removed from office or put in prison for abuse of power, corruption, or misconduct contrary to justice.
2) Fate: A number of astrologers believe that the evolution on Earth and human destiny are influenced by the positions of the stars in the sky. Depending on the particular date and month of one’s birth, the hallmark of the stars will affect one’s destiny and progress in life. They believe that right at the instance of one’s birth, one’s fate was already pre-determined based on the time, date, month, and year that one was born. No exception! For example, if the “Thien Quy” Star was positioned at the Ox/Goat Arc, then that person would be a hero in this world… Depending on the arcs and your age, certain years could be in your favor, whereas other years could be disadvantageous to you. During those favorable years, everything will be smooth sailing; in the adverse years, things could be challenging.
Christians believe that what happen to them are based on God’s will. Human beings are the product from God. As such, certain people are blessed with wealth and happiness, whereas others may suffer from poverty and hunger; they essentially struggle their whole life, not having even a small token of comfort. Under any circumstances, people may not go against God's will but can only pray for His compassion in hope of being granted with something better. Even for people with cruel fate, they should not complain to God or feel pity for themselves. In fact, there are individuals who feel that they might have committed some sins to displease God, thus resulting in their misery.
During the Song dynasty (960-1270) in China, Doan Tran, aka Zi Wei Dou Shu, invented the horoscope. He argued that there are 93 stars (14 primary and 79 secondary) being arranged around the 12 arcs and the coordination of the stars represent the unique characteristics of each individual. Today, the practice of horoscope is no longer considered an occult science since it cannot explain each circumstance of an individual smoothly and reasonably. For instance, there are currently a total of six to seven billion people in this world. If based on a particular combination of dates, hours, months, and year of births, there will be 518,400 different horoscopes for those six to seven billion people on the basis of the five Chinese Zodiac cycles (60 years), 12 months, 12 hours, and 2 genders. For example, all people who were born in the same Dragon hour, Dragon month, and Dragon year will share the same horoscope. However, there are people who are happy, but why are there also those who suffer?
The use of horoscopes (Zi Wei Dou Shu) was started about 2,000 years before Confucius or 2,500 BC. Perhaps, it was considered the most civilized practice of astrology from the Confucius era to the Tang Dynasty, totaling 1,000 years. During this period, without having a telescope, astrologers observed the night sky with their naked eyes and saw only 5 planets in the Solar System. They saw Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. They were not able to see Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. Today, Pluto is no longer considered a planet but is rather called a dwarf planet (not an asteroid) since it orbits the Sun and has sufficient mass for its self-gravity. Pluto is not a satellite of a planet. In order to study the movement of those 5 planets, astrologers recorded the position of those planets after a certain interval of time. The best time to conduct an astrological observation was once a month, at the beginning or end of the month, and with the moon completely obscure. They used the North Star for reference and followed the Bagua chart (8 symbols which are 8 trigrams used in Taoist Cosmology) to determine the orientation of each star. They used the time frame of one year on Earth as a reference to establish how long it would take each of the 5 planets to orbit the Sun. For instance, Earth took 365 days; Mercury took 88 days; Venus took 225 days; Jupiter took 433 days; and Saturn took 10,760 days. Astrologers discovered that the 4 planets, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, would converge at one point (different from the initial position) every 20 years; more specifically, all of these 4 planets would return to the original position every 60 years. At this very instance, Venus is located nearly opposite to the original position and requires another 4 months to unite with the other 4 planets. There was a big margin of error in estimating the reunion of those planets every 60 years. The year 2000 was the year of the Golden Dragon which, many Chinese people believed, would not return for another 60 years. As a result, the number of persons born in 2000 was mostly from China since they believed that people born in the year of the Golden Dragon will be blessed with happiness.
Since those astrologers were not aware of the fact that there were 3 additional planets in the Solar System, their predictions based on the Bagua were quite erroneous. More specifically, among all the persons who were born in the year of the Dragon, there are people who enjoy their happy lives; however, we would also find those who live in poverty and misery.
To explain this inconsistency, it was argued that in addition to the date, hour, month, and year of birth, their horoscopes were also dependent upon their and their family’s merit. Thus, in summary, predictions based on horoscopes were just basically derived from the Buddhist Law of Karma. In fact, a number of people, who practiced horoscope, astrology, and divination, concluded that a person’s destiny also depends on the bed oriented easterly or westerly, the kitchen facing south or north, or the signature curling this or that direction.
Feng shui refers to wind and water and was originated from China more than 3,000 years ago. Later, this concept was expanded based on Lao Tzu’s theory of Yin and Yang.
Based on the Chinese legends, wind and water are closely related to people’s health. Good feng shui would bring good fortune, whereas bad feng shui would yield misfortune. According to Lao Tzu’s theory, Chinese people believed that soil has life (Earth God) and abundant energy. Therefore, purchasing a home or selecting a piece of land that is harmonious with feng shui would effectively enable a good flow of energy and in turn bring good fortune. As a result, more feng shui related situations were developed requiring, for instance, certain orientation of the bed and arrangement of things in the bedroom, position of the headboard in harmony with age, and position of the bed based on ages of husband and wife. Other requirements also include feng shui for the house such as the house’s orientation, how to alleviate the negative energy of the house, how to decorate the house in harmony with feng shui, and thousands of other situations.
The energy that Lao Tzu referred to above was just a reflection of the human mind. For instance, an ordinary person would tend to be plain and simple with home decoration and his own appearance. On the other hand, a complex person would be fancy and sophisticated in such. Being simple would make life less stressful. Conversely, being difficult and complicated would make life more discomforting. Therefore, feng shui, in light of Buddhist spirit, is to simplify one’s life by becoming less attached thus achieving self-peace and joy. On the contrary, by making life more complicated, one would encounter more obstacles and pain. A human mind is just like a living room. A simple but meaningful looking room would give a relaxing feeling, whereas a messy, overcrowded room would tend to make people uncomfortable. As a result, it’s not necessary to adjust the position of the beds, reconstruct the kitchens, change the signatures, look for houses facing a particular direction, or relocate items in the house to make life better. It’s more important to purify the mind first; everything else will follow suit and improve.
Life improves only when people know to correct their wrongdoings, do good and avoid evil, and do charity to help those in need. In other words, when people live morally, their lives will certainly be peaceful, and families will be in harmony, without having to re-position the beds, reconstruct the kitchens, or change the signatures. If making adjustments to the beds, kitchens, and signatures can change life, then all those fortune-tellers would have been rich, not wandering on the streets. In America, one of the famous fortune-tellers was Sylvia Browne (proclaimed herself as Spiritual Teacher and Psychic; however, some people wondered whether she was psychic or con artist?) who published many books and appeared on numerous T.V. shows. She didn’t become rich or popular because of her psychic powers. Instead, she was taking advantage of the superstition of listeners and readers to sell her books. Her predictions were not verifiable, but only pleased the listeners. If indeed those fortune-tellers and psychics do have real talent, why wasn’t there anyone who volunteered out of compassion to help the Malaysian Airline look for the aircraft MH370 that crashed over a year ago with 239 passengers on board? Today, in a family life, sometimes husbands and wives, children, parents, brothers and sisters, or friends have disagreements leading to arguments that sabotage relationships. Some people believe in conflict of age, for instance, the group of Tiger, Monkey, Snake, and Pig being referred to as 4 conflicting ages, and that of Monkey, Rat, and Dragon as 3 harmonious ages. Constantly arguing in a relationship is not due to conflict of age since people from the West have no knowledge of such conflicting age concept like Monkey, Snake… Yet, they can still live their lives peacefully and naturally, so why do the Chinese people continue to cling to those meaningless taboos? Constantly arguing is due to people having different opinions. Everyone has a distinct perspective about life. However, instead of respecting and listening to accommodate each other, they live so egotistically with everyone having the mentality that what he/she think is correct or what he/she says is better. Now, let’s listen to the Buddha. When everyone leaves their egotism behind and respects others' opinions, their lives will be peaceful like before, despite conflicting Tiger, Monkey, Snake, and Pig ages. Even among those of the so called harmonious Monkey, Rat, and Dragon ages, there are considerably a lot of people getting divorced. Therefore, one of the taboos from the Buddha to monks was not to get involved with divination.
3) Destiny is apparently a very complex function consisting of many thoughts from Confucius, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Xun Zi …That is,
Destiny = God's will + Earth's will + Human's will
Based on the above function, for human destiny, 70% depends on fate (God's will + Earth's will), and the other 30% depends on human actions to change their destiny, hence the saying ''Best human efforts could change God's will''. Nevertheless, in reality, even though people may strive to correct their wrongdoings, their destiny is still at the mercy of God and Earth.
4) Law of Karma: Unlike the concept of God’s will from Confucius, Fate as defined by Doan Tran, or even Destiny as defined by using a combination of different thoughts from several Chinese philosophers, the Law of Karma is very unique and flexible. Buddhism’s Law of Karma totally negates the concept of God’s will, Fate (solely controlled by the movement of stars), or even Destiny (God’s will + Earth’s will + Human’s will). Why? Because based on the Law of Karma, each individual has complete control over his own life which does not depend on any external powers. In other words, based on the Buddhist spirit, there is no God in Heaven or on Earth, or Zi Wei Dou Shu who can decide or change a person’s destiny. One creates his own destiny and lives by it.
In Majjhima Nikàya, the Buddha taught as follows: “Each individual is the owner of his karma and is also the one who inherits the karma that he himself created. Karma is a womb from where a person is born. Karma is one’s relatives and his place of support.” As a result, the existence of each person in this world is the existence of his good and bad karma from the infinite past. Indeed, karma always takes the initiative to create conditions for rebirth in this and many future lives. Thus, whether a person is born with misery, joy, success, failure, good or bad appearance, good health, sickness, intelligence, or foolishness etc. in this life depends on the karma that he himself created in past lives. It is not due to any reward or punishment from God or Pluto. When we truly understand the concept of Karma, then karma will no longer govern our lives. In other words, when facing a trauma, we don’t moan to God or resent the Buddha; when experiencing joy, we do not overly exult. We recognize that these happenings come from the motion of karma which we ourselves created. Now, just looking at karma from the perspective of causality, the Buddhism’s Law of Karma seems to be purely fate, predetermined, and forcing people to do nothing but accept. However, the wonder of the Law of Karma doesn’t stop here since karma may be altered. If karma is not changeable, then who would be willing to correct his wrongdoings? If karma was not mendable, then how could Prince Siddhartha become the Buddha? Since one is the master of his Karma, one can control it; one is not a slave to be dictated by his Karma.
To Buddhism, repentance is to practice self-discipline and promise oneself not to recommit in evil actions. Nevertheless, even though we promise ourselves not to engage in those adverse deeds from now on, the fact remains that we did commit those wrongdoings in our past. Therefore, repentance can never erase those committed evil deeds, but changing karma will enable us to improve our life. For instance, when a person committed a bad karma, it doesn’t matter how much he repents, the bad karma still exists in his mind. However, if he starts helping more people and accumulates more good karma, it would then offset his other bad karma. It doesn’t mean that the bad karma will be completely erased, but rather the good karma will comfort his mind and thus end the misery. In America, you can finance the purchase of a car. If for some reason, you fail to make several monthly payments, the bank will record a bad credit in your account. Even if you then continue to make payments on time until your loan is paid off, the previous bad credit still remains in your account. Later, when you want to buy a house or another car, the new bank will find out your bad credit when they review your credit report. However, if you have a strong credit history overall with only one instance of bad credit, your strong credit will help offset that bad credit. As a result, a person with much merit would still live after a big plane crash or car accident, talking about having such good luck. One with less merit will suffer a minor injury. One without any merit will receive the full retribution.
There are people who, throughout their whole life, commit wrongdoings and cause suffering to others. Near the end of their life, they feel guilty, so they repent, build bells and temples, construct Buddha statues, and do charity. Can they completely erase all their sins? Based on the Buddhist spirit, the answer is no. If one committed a bad karma, one has to accept the consequences from his wrongdoings once the condition warrants. However, if one accumulates a great deal of good karma, then someday he will collect good results for his good deeds. If karma can be erased, one can just live his whole life fulfilling his selfish desires, overly pursuing pleasures, and killing beings. He then waits until near the end of his life to start repenting to erase all the bad karma that he created. However, since karma cannot be erased, it is from this very instance onward (not waiting until nearing death) that people need to practice mental awareness, live a moral life, self-correct themselves to accumulate merit, purify the mind to cultivate virtue, and end all bad karma now. This approach will enable people to refrain from committing more bad karma, thus securing a better future for themselves in this life as well as accumulating merit for their next lives. Hence, the doctrine of causality is fair and impartial. Each individual is his sole master with complete power to choose a lifestyle for himself based on his own wishes. Therefore, heaven or hell, constant suffering or joy, depends on each person’s choice of karma. The living condition of one’s present life depends on his actions in the past of this life or during his past lives; it is not as a result of punishment from God or Buddha. Obviously, there is no one who has the authority to erase karma, reward, or punish anyone in this universe.
Therefore, if that bad karma materializes someday, bringing misery and misfortune, one should calmly accept it, then it will go away. Anything that happens in this life is a result (or a consequence) of the karma (cause) that one created previously and now has to accept the resulting karma (effect). If receiving good treats, these are blessings from one’s kind acts in the past. On the contrary, if encountering a mishap, it originates from the bad karma that one committed from his wrongdoings in the past.
While the Buddha was in this world, someone asked Him the following question:
-Buddha, what predetermined human beings’ fate? After birth, why are there people who are poor and miserable, those who are healthy and happy, those who live long, those who die prematurely, those who are weak and ill, those who are healthy, those who are dull, and those who are intelligent?
The Buddha answered as follows:
-All distinctions among individuals are due to the karma that they created, resulting in achievers vs. failures. People who don’t commit the karma of killing beings will live long. Those with the karma of killing beings will die prematurely. Those with the karma of making others miserable will often get ill. Those with the good karma of comforting and helping people to survive catastrophes will be healthy and cheerful. People who, in their past lives, did good deeds, made donations, and helped those in poverty and sickness will be born with wealth and joy in this life. People in their past lives, who did not know to make donations or help those in need, and even were greedy to siphon others’ possessions, will be born poor and deprived in this life. Those in their previous lives, who were diligent in learning and understanding the truth and enjoyed helping others to learn and understand, will be intelligent in this life. People in their past lives, who were lazy to learn and recognize the truth and prevented others from learning, will be dull and obtuse in this life.
Living in poverty is a consequence of not having the goodness to help others and rescue animals when necessary, not believing in causality, thus often committing evil acts. Not only do these people not live a wealthy life but also they have to face distress and misery. Now, if these people would attempt to earn more merit by practicing good and avoiding evil, and living a moral life, they will be able to improve their future and not end up in extreme poverty.
Based on the Law of Causality and Retribution,
-Killing: The act of directly or indirectly killing, beating, mistreating, or hurting people and/or animals is considered killing with retribution such as various illnesses, physical disability, premature death, disasters, and family separation.
-Stealing: The act of using or taking others’ money or belongings without their consent is considered stealing with retribution such as poverty or having possessions seized by others.
-Adultery: The act of committing obscenity, activities related to sexual identity, or sexual misconducts is considered adultery with retribution such as having violent spouse, infidelity, wife getting raped, and a humiliating life.
-Lying: The act of speaking untruthfully, testifying wrongfully, being untrustworthy is considered lying with retribution such as being despised by others.
-Provocative Language: The act of speaking provocatively, using words to make people become sexually aroused is considered using provocative language with retribution such as having no one believe or absorb a word you said, not being able to speak clearly, and having no one understand your expressions.
-Backstabbing: The act of trying to hurt the reputation of someone or sabotaging peoples’ relationships is considered backstabbing with retribution such as the separation of relatives and having evil kinship.
-Cruel Language: The act of scolding people brutally and cruelly is considered using cruel language with retribution such as often being insulted by others and facing many dispute lawsuits.
Batons and guns are not the only weapons to inflict pain on people. A person’s tongue, if not under proper control, can also cause a great deal of harm. Therefore, the Buddha taught that: “The tongue is like a sharp knife that can kill people without bloodshed”. Be careful with words since harsh, cruel words can really hurt someone. When angry, your words, not your actions, become the most dangerous weapon to attack your opponent. At that moment, you just say whatever to relieve your anger without thinking about emotions or sufferings of others. It’s the anger that takes way your inherent reasoning ability and sanity.
-Greed: The act of excessively craving wealth, appearance, fame, etc. then becoming addicted without any intent to stay detached is considered greed with retribution such as not knowing when something is enough and not getting bored with craving.
-Anger: The act of becoming upset and furious when encountering something not to your liking is considered anger with retribution such as often interacting with insane, perturbing people resulting in discomfort, or being harmed. The Buddha taught that: “Keeping the anger is like holding hot coals in your hand with the intent to throw it at others. You are the first one to get burned”. The outcome of anger is only to hurt yourself and is even more dangerous when you vent that anger on the people around you. In the Dhammapada, the Buddha taught: “Overcome the anger by non-anger; overcome the wicked by goodness; overcome the miser by generosity; overcome the liar by truth.” The Buddha taught that human beings should practice Right Mindfulness to control anger, use a tranquil mind to observe things and recognize that those who made you angry are also suffering themselves; they are experiencing some discomfort and not sure how to resolve it to relieve the anger resulting in their inappropriate behavior. Hence, they deserve our pity more than anger. As a result, our anger will gradually diminish, and our mind will return to serenity.
-Doubt: Retribution will be such as being born in a family having wrongful thinking, born in remote areas lacking Buddhism and civilization, having flattery mind, not being virtuous, being extremely crafty, and enjoying people with a flattery mind.
Even the Buddha and Arahants, although their mind was already liberated, meaning the causes for suffering ended, the suffering itself was not ceased since they still had the body from the five aggregates; therefore, the effect of past karma was still active. Hence, the Buddha still felt “delight, suffering” when He still had the body from the five aggregates. Only when the Buddha entered Parinibbāna that the physical feeling of “delight, suffering” completely extinguished.
In the early age, an ascetic sect of Nigantha intended to kill Venerable Moggallana since they thought that killing the Venerable would make his reputation and fortune decline. They hired a group of bandit killers to murder the Venerable who then stayed at the Hac Nham province near Rajgir. Those killers surrounded the monastery, but the first time the Venerable used magic to escape through the keyhole, and the second time, Venerable escaped through the roof. For two months long, they were not able to kill the Venerable. By the third month, those killers surrounded the monastery once again. This time, the Venerable recognized that he still had to pay the bad karma that he committed in the past, so he did not use magic to escape. As a result, the Venerable was arrested and beaten up by those killers until all his bones were crushed. After that, they discarded the body of the Venerable in the bush since they thought that he was already dead. Then, the Venerable used the Meditation power to revive and came to meet the Buddha at the Ky Vien monastery. The Venerable told the Buddha that the Venerable would enter Parinibbāna. The Buddha suggested that the Venerable should preach to the public for one last time.
After the Venerable entered Parinibbāna, monks were very sad and did not understand why an Arahant with the most magical power could get killed by those murderers. The Buddha heard and then taught that: “Monks, based on the fact that Moggallana had lived a religious life in this lifetime, he should not have gone through such death. However, in one of his past lives, he committed a big sin against his parents who were both blind. In the beginning, he was a very good son. After he got married, his wife suggested that he should get rid of his parents. He used a stagecoach and took his blind parents to a jungle where he had beaten them up to death. He made the scene appeared as if his parents were killed by a bandit. Because of that evil karma, he got killed by murderers in his last life.”
Later, the Buddha taught that Arahants as well as human beings have to fulfill their ultimate retribution through The Dhammapada, The Buddha's Path of Wisdom, Verse 127 as follows:
“Neither in the sky nor in mid-ocean, nor by entering into mountain clefts, nowhere in the world is there a place where one may escape from the results of evil deeds.”
According to Buddhism, once the “cause” has materialized into an “effect”, despite hiding in high mountains, flying to the blue sky, or diving to the bottom of the ocean, everyone has to pay their karma. The Buddha and Arahants cannot avoid karma, thus no human being can escape it. However, for the Buddhist Arahants, this is the last death since they will not get reborn. On the contrary, for human beings, as long as karma exists, there will be rebirth, life, and death.
“He, who has reached the goal, is fearless, free from craving, passionless, and has plucked out the thorns of existence — for him this is the last body.” (The Dhammapada, The Buddha's Path of Wisdom, Verse 351).
The wonder of the Law of Karma is that karma can be altered, thus allowing human beings to go from human to Arahant or from human to demon. The Law of Karma clearly states that: “Cause + Conditions = Effect”. If a cause created in the past is not linked with bad conditions in the present, it will not produce a bad effect to put people in misery. For instance, if a rice grain (cause) doesn’t get cooked (water and flame are the conditions), then there will never be rice (effect). Therefore, in our daily life, we can control our own destiny by creating a lot of good conditions and avoiding those bad conditions. The good effects will then suppress those bad effects, or even if the bad effect already materialized, it will turn into something small, insignificant, and not harmful. For instance, since we were busy, we did not have time to take good care of the lawn in front of the house, so it became dry and yellow indicating the “cause” is not good. If based on the concept of fate, the grass will die. On the other hand, if based on the Buddhist Law of Karma, even though the “cause” was not good, if we now start fertilizing and watering the grass well, thus creating good “conditions”, then the grass will turn green again next week, hence indicating good “effect”. The same principle applies to the human life. Today, we encounter a great deal of adversity and misery, implying that the consequence of the bad “causes” from the past now turned into “effect”. Pessimistically, we just moan to God or resent Earth, while other tragic “effects” continue to surface making life more miserable, hence serving no good purpose. Now, with the understanding of the Law of Karma, we begin to change from being pessimistic to optimistic. We have to take proactive steps to improve our life, and not just accept our fate as something already predestined. More specifically, from now on we have to recognize the harm and goodness of karma along with the Law of Karma in order to foster and create more good “conditions” thus making our life more prosperous and happy. Bad karma is just like a poisonous pill, and we will die if we swallow it. However, if we start creating a lot more good karma, like as if we were building a large pond, even if we put that poisonous pill in the pond and drink that water, we still remain unharmed.
“He, who by good deeds covers the evil he has done, illuminates this world like the moon freed from clouds.” (The Dhammapada, The Buddha's Path of Wisdom, Verse 173)
Generally speaking, in all human behaviors ranging from thoughts to words and even actions, the Law of Causality and Karma is always present in life. One who speaks kindly will be well liked by others, whereas one who blusters will chase others away. People will earn merit by practicing good deeds. Conversely, those who created a bad “cause” will simply receive the suffering” effect” sooner or later. There is no exception even to those who practice other religions. For instance, the Christian Bible taught people to do good and avoid evil in order to go to Heaven someday. Priests strive to improve themselves to advance further in their religious path and ultimately reunite with God. Everything purely follows causality. The Law of Causality and Karma forewarns people to be careful with their thoughts, words, and actions. It’s like the Australian Boomerang; if a person creates a “cause”, then someday he will receive the good or bad “effect” on himself, resulting in happiness or misery in life. Hence, as Buddhists, we should always try to live our life consciously and righteously in order to master our thoughts, words, and actions, thus making our world a place without conflict and misery.
Even though the Law of Karma is present in our daily life, when an event happens, we cannot determine whether it is a “cause” or an “effect”. Since causality describes the relationship of events in three different time spans including the past, present, and future, when an event happens in the present, it could be a “cause” resulting in an “effect” in the future, or it could be an “effect” in the present resulting from a “cause” from the past. In other words, the outcome of causality clearly depends on the “cause” of the present and the “cause” in the past, the outcome of “conditions” and “cause” of the present, and the outcome of “cause” and “conditions” of the present and all the “causes” from the past. The last thing to examine is the “effect” in the present as well as in the future. Only the Buddha is omniscient and therefore is the only one who can see clearly the relationship of all events; even the Arahants might not have this ability. For instance, when a person’s driving led to an accident injuring him and the other party, the accident is considered a “cause”; was it possible that the accident was indeed an “effect” due to a “cause” created in the past? Was it a “cause” or an “effect” that the person got injured?
Where do human beings come from?
After reaching the enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, the Buddha spent seven days to introspect the fully liberated happiness of Nirvana. During the last night of the 7th day, the Buddha reviewed the doctrine of Twelve Conditional Factors. This doctrine referred to the concept of “Dependent Co-Arising” meaning when this (Cause) exists, then that (Effect) exists and when this (Cause) perishes, then that (Effect) will perish. In other words, “Conditions” in the “Twelve Conditional Factors” mean “Dependent Co-Arising”, or simply how one depends on another to arise. More specifically, “because this one is present, the other is present; because this one is not present, the other is not present; because this one arises, the other arises; because this one perishes, the other perishes”.
Paticca-samuppada-vibhanga Sutta: Analysis of Dependent Co-arising
Dwelling at Savatthi... "Monks, I will describe & analyze dependent co-arising for you.
"And what is dependent co-arising? From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications. From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness. From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form. From name-&-form as a requisite condition come the six sense media. From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.
"Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications. From the cessation of fabrications comes the cessation of consciousness. From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form. From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering.
"Now what is aging and death? Whatever aging, decrepitude, brokenness, graying, wrinkling, decline of life-force, weakening of the faculties of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called aging. Whatever deceasing, passing away, breaking up, disappearance, dying, death, completion of time, break up of the aggregates, casting off of the body, interruption in the life faculty of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called death.
"And what is birth? Whatever birth, taking birth, descent, coming-to-be, coming-forth, appearance of aggregates, & acquisition of [sense] media of the various beings in this or that group of beings that is called birth.
"And what is becoming? These three are becomings: sensual becoming, form becoming, & formless becoming. This is called becoming.
"And what is clinging/sustenance? These four are clingings: sensuality clinging, view clinging, precept & practice clinging, and doctrine of self clinging. This is called clinging.
"And what is craving? These six are classes of craving: craving for forms, craving for sounds, craving for smells, craving for tastes, craving for tactile sensations, craving for ideas. This is called craving.
"And what is feeling? These six are classes of feeling: feeling born from eye-contact, feeling born from ear-contact, feeling born from nose-contact, feeling born from tongue-contact, feeling born from body-contact, feeling born from intellect-contact. This is called feeling.
"And what is contact? These six are classes of contact: eye-contact, ear-contact, nose-contact, tongue-contact, body-contact, intellect-contact. This is called contact.
"And what are the six sense media? These six are sense media: the eye-medium, the ear-medium, the nose-medium, the tongue-medium, the body-medium, the intellect-medium. These are called the six sense media.
"And what is name-&-form? Feeling, perception, intention, contact, & attention: This is called name. The four great elements, and the form dependent on the four great elements: This is called form. This name & this form are called name-&-form.
"And what is consciousness? These six are classes of consciousness: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, intellect-consciousness. This is called consciousness.
"And what are fabrications? These three are fabrications: bodily fabrications, verbal fabrications, mental fabrications. These are called fabrications.
"And what is ignorance? Not knowing stress, not knowing the origination of stress, not knowing the cessation of stress, not knowing the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress: This is called ignorance.
Based on the above Buddha’s teaching, the rebirth of human beings can be explained from the perspective of arising of suffering as follows:
Because of their Ignorance, people have lived their life without conscious awareness, mistaken unreality for reality, and viewed suffering as joy, thus allowing Fabrications to arise. Therefore, ignorance is the “cause”, and fabrications are the “effect”. Fabrications are the intention to create karma including bodily karma, verbal karma, and mental karma and consisting of good karma, bad karma, and neutral karma. Having created karma is the "cause" for rebirth; therefore, cessation of karma is the only way to avoid rebirth. When Fabrications connect with a certain “condition", Consciousness arises as an "effect". This Consciousness, under the influence of governing Fabrications and the karmic force, connects with the father’s sperm & mother’s oocyte to form an extremely tiny shape like a needle head in the mother's womb. This shape is called Name-&-Form (effect) which is created as a result of the (re-born) Consciousness (cause) connecting with the father’s sperm & mother’s oocyte (condition). Then, the fetus develops into a human being with eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind, so called the Six Senses, to feel all emotional aspects of life. This is as a result of Name-&-Form (cause) connecting with a certain “condition” to create the Six Sense Media (effect). After the child is born and growing up, he/she comes in Contact with environmental “conditions” (life: sights, sound, smell, taste, touch, thought) and Feels the suffering and joy of life. Consequently, Craving arises. Once he/she feels attached to someone/something, he/she will try to seize that object, resulting in Clinging/Sustenance. Because of Clinging/Sustenance, people act as slaves for their own aspirations and blindly chase after delights. Depending on the intensity of Clinging/Sustenance, karma arises and is called Becoming which leads to the re-Birth of people. However, based on the law of impermanence of nature, if there is Birth, there is Aging, and eventually Death. This is called arising of suffering.
The “Twelve Conditional Factors” or the doctrine of “Dependent Co-Arising” is very sophisticated and profound and is a process of samsara within the chain relationship of causality. Since the doctrine of ''Dependent Co-Arising'' is the truth, it cannot be deduced by means of human knowledge. To understand it more clearly, practitioners need to diligently perform insightful meditation and constantly observe and think about it. Gradually practicing this doctrine until being able to fully understand it, practitioners will achieve an unselfish, carefree, and peaceful life at present. Because of the importance of ''The Twelve Conditional Factors'', the Buddha taught that: ''One who sees The Twelve Conditional Factors sees the Dharma. One who sees the Dharma sees the Buddha''.
While the Buddha was in this world, in Hinduism, it was believed that the soul was called Atman and was created by the Almighty and that every being on this Earth has a soul. The soul keeps on migrating from one body to another until liberation. At this instant, one’s true self, Atman, will integrate with the transcendent self, Brahman, also known as God, or the soul of the universe. At the advent of Buddhism, the Buddha denied that human beings were created by God; therefore, in Buddhism, there is no soul but only Consciousness. Consciousness, also known as Mind, is the knowledge that constantly changes based on the variation of human psychology and physiology.
Karmic force is the power of karma and is the primary motive that causes human beings to be connected with samsara. It is the karmic force that converts the Consciousness (near death) into the Consciousness (re-birth) to create the life of a fetus. In Buddhism, it is erroneous to assume that people, who were just born, were created by God and had no connection with their previous lives. Furthermore, even the viewpoint that a soul from a previous life reincarnates into a new life is also considered incorrect based on Buddhism. In the spirit of Buddhism, the creation of Name-&-Form in a new life is due to ignorance, craving, and karma from a previous life. Even though the new life is not a reincarnation of the old life, it is not that the new life did not come from the old life. For instance, when one uses a burning candle to light up the flame on another candle, the flame on the second candle is not that of the first candle, but the second candle's flame cannot arise without the flame from the first candle. These two candles are completely distinct and have different sizes, colors, and flames. Hence, from appearance, personality, talent etc. to misery and joy in this life, everything is a direct reflection from the karma that people created in the past. The two different flames represent two distinct lives. For example, one person in his past life was wealthy, noble, but greedy, miserly and often harmed others (the first candle's flame). Coming into this life, this person is poor and often gets hurt by others (the second candle's flame).
The Buddha taught that “the five aggregates are not-self” meaning “the five aggregates are a void” and that, when having all of the required conditions, they materialize as form, feeling, perception, fabrications, and consciousness. This is the active state of human beings while they are alive. When the associated conditions become extinct, death will take place, and the aggregates gradually disintegrate and return to their original state. More specifically, after one dies, the form aggregate will decay into ashes; basically dust returns to dust. Since the form aggregate ceases, the feeling aggregate will also cease. Since there is no more of the feeling aggregate, the perception aggregate no longer exists. Feeling and perception aggregates discontinue, and so will the fabrications aggregate. When an ordinary human being (not an Arahant) dies, his karmic force, not his own desire, will dictate his rebirth. The karmic force will direct Consciousness (re-birth) to connect with the (condition) mother’s oocyte (while the father’s sperm has just entered the mother’s womb) to create a fetus, consisting of Name (re-born Consciousness) and Form (father’s sperm & mother’s oocyte). Sperm is required for the life of the unborn baby; therefore, today whether people use artificial insemination or other means, sperm is indispensable.
In general, there are several basic types of Karma in Buddhism as follows:
-Accumulate Karma: karma created in this life and past lives combined.
-Custom Karma: karma that is created in this life and constantly happens to the point that they become habits, customs, and individual lifestyles. For instance, when one recites the name of the Buddha and practices meditation every day, the activities become habits and turn into good karma. On the other hand, when one likes to hang out at the bars every night, the activity also becomes a habit; however, this is bad karma.
-Extreme Karma: essential karma that has the capacity to strongly influence the outcome of one’s rebirth in an infinitesimal duration immediately after death. People who successfully purify themselves will get reborn in Heaven (a world with much merit) right after death. On the other hand, those who commit bad karma like murdering parents, sabotaging Sangha, making the Buddha bleed etc. will face damnation (misery, torture) immediately after death.
-Near Death Karma: karma that is created near death and has a very significant influence in the rebirth, especially during the beginning part of the next life. However, Accumulate Karma will later kick in leading to changes in life relative to the good or bad deeds that one has done. For instance, although one has not lived a moral life throughout his lifetime, but while nearing death, he starts reforming himself, reciting the Buddha’s name, and practicing good deeds. This behavioral and mental shift effectively enables him to create for himself a good Near Death Karma which consequently leads to him being reborn in a peaceful environment. Nonetheless, all of his Accumulate Karma will later kick in leading to changes in his life, obviously more misery than joy. On the other hand, there are people who practice good deeds throughout their lifetime. However, while nearing death, they develop hatred, delusion, and craving thus being reborn in misery. Nonetheless, once their Accumulate Karma kicks in, their life will improve and be filled with happiness. Here is an interesting story of Miss Dung Thu Pham, a woman who was addicted to illegal drugs and fooling around at nightclubs in Saigon from dusk to dawn until she became pregnant and delivered a baby at thehospital in 2004. Two days after her baby boy, Sang Quang Pham, was born, she gave up her son and fled the hospital because of her inability to raise him. A few days after his birth, Sang was brought to the orphanage, Tam Binh. In 2007, he was adopted by the American movie star couple, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and subsequently had his name changed to Pax Thien (Pax means peaceful, and Thien is the sky). In his previous life, Pax Thien probably created bad Near Death Karma and thus was not reborn in a good family and had to live in misery. However, when his good Accumulate Karma kicked in, his life was changed from poverty to a life of luxury, pleasures, and happiness.
The karmic force also depends on the intention and action of committing karma as follows:
-Severe action but mild intention: like throwing a stone to threaten, but accidently leading to murder.
-Mild action but severe intention: like loathing the murderer of a family member, but when facing him, you only insult him even though in your mind you really hate his guts.
-Mild action and intention: like using sarcasm towards people that you dislike.
-Severe action and intention: like having the intent to kill for personal revenge and successfully doing so.
When the Accumulate Karma (karma created in the past of this life or in many past lives) that has the chance to affect the rebirth of the next life, or the Near Death Karma (deeds were done just a short moment before death), appears in the mind of a person nearing death, it is called nearing death Mind or last Consciousness. According to Buddhism, when the nearing death person is encouraged to think of good actions, speak kind words, listen to virtuous stories, recite the Buddha’s name, practice meditation, or direct his mind towards a peaceful world, he effectively creates for himself a good Near Death Karma thus enabling him to get reborn in a peaceful environment. However, the Accumulate Karma will later kick in and bring suffering or joy to his life relative to the karma that he created.
How does karma appear in a person’s mind? Those who have killed beings will encounter grisly murder scenes, bloodshed, and flesh falling. Butchers will see and hear the animals crying and groaning. Those who have committed theft and adultery will see scenes relative to their misdeeds. On the other hand, those who have done charity, donations, and built temples/towers will see peaceful scenes and temples before death.
The entire Buddhist teachings’ sole purpose is to help people purify their “body, speech, and mind” to improve their life, making it noble, calm, happy, and peaceful. As a triad, “body, speech, and mind” are three primary factors enabling people to have a safe, happy, and peaceful life. However, on the contrary, it is also this triad that causes human suffering, makes life unstable and miserable, and of course results in people committing bad karma, thus paving the way for unfavorable “effects” in the future. Hence, the Buddha always reminded beings to self-correct themselves to accumulate merit, purify the mind to cultivate virtue, and immediately refrain from creating bad karma by controlling one’s “body, speech, and mind” in order to build up a good life for the present and prepare for a bright future.
How can one earn a good life?
The Buddha taught as follows:
“How would one’s grown fruits turn out?
They depend upon the planted seeds.
Those who do good deeds will get tasty treats,
Those who do evil will see evil.
Let’s plant good seeds and cultivate the trees well,
In due time will come the good fruits”.
(Samyutta 1, page 227 - The Kindred Sayings I, page 293.
Based on what the Buddha taught above, there is no external power that can grant merit or punish anyone. Each individual is the only one that can create joy or misery for himself.
The Buddha also taught as follows: “Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are. It solely relies on what you think (it is called “Mind”) Buddha”.
Because of the importance of the Mind, the Buddha taught in “The Dhammapada, The Buddha's Path of Wisdom” as follows:
Mind precedes all mental states.
Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.
If with an impure mind, a person speaks or acts.
Suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.
Mind precedes all mental states.
Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.
If with a pure mind, a person speaks or acts.
Happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow. (Verse 2)
In summary, whether or not there is such thing as fate or destiny, it really depends on us. When people practice methods to expand their spiritual mind to achieve the “Right View” so that they can control their own lives, there is no fate or destiny. On the other hand, if people are passive, blame fate for everything, or just wait for a miracle or God's blessings, then fate does exist since we do not make use of our ability to change our lives. Now, based on Buddhism, everyone controls their own lives. We create our own joy or misery, and God or the Buddha has nothing to do with our karma. Therefore, in order to be happy, joyful, and carefree, people should live a moral life and always control their “body, speech, and mind”. Practicing the Noble Eightfold Path is the most effective way to accomplish this endeavor. The Buddha often reminded people that the primary cause of suffering is nothing but greed, hatred, delusion, and craving. Knowing how to control these defilements will make life more peaceful and happy.
There is no fire like lust.
There is no grip like hatred.
There is no net like delusion.
There is no river like craving.
(The Dhammapada, The Buddha's Path of Wisdom, Verse 251).
The Buddha taught the doctrine of Karma in an effort to encourage people to practice good Karma to improve their present life as well as to exalt the liberation ideal for future lives. Here is something to keep in mind:
“In life one who borrows will have to pay,
The Law of Causality excludes no one!”