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   Buddhist Writings.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
II. The Doctrine
 
Rebirth Is Not Transmigration
 
1. Translated from the Milindapañha (7116)
 
 
SAID the king: “Bhante Ngasena, does rebirth take place without anything transmigrating [passing over]?”  1
  “Yes, your majesty. Rebirth takes place without anything transmigrating.”  2
  “How, bhante Ngasena, does rebirth take place without anything transmigrating? Give an illustration.”  3
  “Suppose, your majesty, a man were to light a light from another light; pray, would the one light have passed over [transmigrated] to the other light?”  4
  “Nay, verily, bhante.”  5
  “In exactly the same way, your majesty, does rebirth take place without anything transmigrating.”  6
  “Give another illustration.”  7
  “Do you remember, your majesty, having learnt, when you were a boy, some verse or other from your professor of poetry?”  8
  “Yes, bhante.”  9
  “Pray, your majesty, did the verse pass over [transmigrate] to you from your teacher?”  10
  “Nay, verily, bhante.”  11
  “In exactly the same way, your majesty, does rebirth take place without anything transmigrating.”  12
  “You are an able man, bhante Ngasena.”  13
 
2. Translated from the Milindapañha (465)

  “Bhante Ngasena,” said the king, “what is it that is born into the next existence?”
  14
  “Your majesty,” said the elder, “it is name and form that is born into the next existence.”  15
  “Is it this same name and form that is born into the next existence?”  16
  “Your majesty, it is not this same name and form that is born into the next existence; but with this name and form, your majesty, one does a deed—it may be good, or it may be wicked—and by reason of this deed another name and form is born into the next existence.”  17
  “Bhante, if it is not this same name and form that is born into the next existence, is one not freed from one’s evil deeds?”  18
  “If one were not born into another existence,” said the elder, “one would be freed from one’s evil deeds; but, your majesty, inasmuch as one is born into another existence, therefore is one not freed from one’s evil deeds.”  19
  “Give an illustration.”  20
  “Your majesty, it is as if a man were to take away another man’s mangoes, and the owner of the mangoes were to seize him, and show him to the king, and say, ‘Sire, this man hath taken away my mangoes;’ and the other were to say, ‘Sire, I did not take away this man’s mangoes. The mangoes which this man planted were different mangoes from those which I took away. I am not liable to punishment.’ Pray, your majesty, would the man be liable to punishment?”  21
  “Assuredly, bhante, would he be liable to punishment.”  22
  “For what reason?”  23
  “Because, in spite of what he might say, he would be liable to punishment for the reason that the last mangoes derived from the first mangoes.”  24
  “In exactly the same way, your majesty, with this name and form one does a deed—it may be good, or it may be wicked—and by reason of this deed another name and form is born into the next existence. Therefore is one not freed from one’s evil deeds.”  25
  “Give another illustration.”  26
  “Your majesty, it is as if a man were to take away the rice of another man, … were to take away the sugar-cane, … Your majesty, it is as if a man were to light a fire in the winter-time and warm himself, and were to go off without putting it out. And then the fire were to burn another man’s field, and the owner of the field were to seize him, and show him to the king, and say, ‘Sire, this man has burnt up my field;’ and the other were to say, ‘Sire, I did not set this man’s field on fire. The fire which I failed to put out was a different one from the one which has burnt up this man’s field. I am not liable to punishment.’ Pray, your majesty, would the man be liable to punishment?”  27
  “Assuredly, bhante, would he be liable to punishment.”  28
  “For what reason?”  29
  “Because, in spite of what he might say, the man would be liable to punishment for the reason that the last fire derived from the first fire.”  30
  “In exactly the same way, your majesty, with this name and form one does a deed—it may be good, or it may be wicked—and by reason of this deed another name and form is born into the next existence. Therefore is one not freed from one’s evil deeds.”  31
  “Give another illustration.”  32
  “Your majesty, it is as if a man were to ascend to the top story of a house with a light, and eat there; and the light in burning were to set fire to the thatch; and the thatch in burning were to set fire to the house; and the house in burning were to set fire to the village; and the people of the village were to seize him, and say, ‘Why, O man, did you set fire to the village?’ and he were to say, ‘I did not set fire to the village. The fire of the lamp by whose light I ate was a different one from the one which set fire to the village;’ and they, quarreling, were to come to you. Whose cause, your majesty, would you sustain?”  33
  “That of the people of the village, bhante.”  34
  “And why?”  35
  “Because, in spite of what the man might say, the latter fire sprang from the former.”  36
  “In exactly the same way, your majesty, although the name and form which is born into the next existence is different from the name and form which is to end at death, nevertheless, it is sprung from it. Therefore is one not freed from one’s evil deeds.”  37
  “Give another illustration.”  38
  “Your majesty, it is as if a man were to choose a young girl in marriage, and having paid the purchase-money, were to go off; and she subsequently were to grow up and become marriageable; and then another man were to pay the purchase-money for her, and marry her; and the first man were to return, and say, ‘O man, why did you marry my wife?’ and the other were to say, ‘I did not marry your wife. The young, tender girl whom you chose in marriage, and for whom you paid purchase-money, was a different person from this grown-up and marriageable girl whom I have chosen in marriage, and for whom I have paid purchase-money;’ and they, quarreling, were to come to you. Whose cause, your majesty, would you sustain?”  39
  “That of the first man.”  40
  “And why?”  41
  “Because, in spite of what the second man might say, the grown-up girl sprang from the other.”  42
  “In exactly the same way, your majesty, although the name and form which is born into the next existence is different from the name and form which is to end at death, nevertheless, it is sprung from it. Therefore is one not freed from one’s evil deeds.”  43
  “Give another illustration.”  44
  “Your majesty, it is as if a man were to buy from a cowherd a pot of milk, and were to leave it with the cowherd, and go off, thinking he would come the next day and take it. And on the next day it were to turn into sour cream; and the man were to come back, and say, ‘Give me the pot of milk.’ And the other were to show him the sour cream; and the first man were to say, ‘I did not buy sour cream from you. Give me the pot of milk.’ And the cowherd were to say, ‘While you were gone, your milk turned into sour cream;’ and they, quarreling, were to come to you. Whose cause, your majesty, would you sustain?”  45
  “That of the cowherd, bhante.”  46
  “And why?”  47
  “Because, in spite of what the man might say, the one sprang from the other.”  48
  “In exactly the same way, your majesty, although the name and form which is born into the next existence is different from the name and form which is to end at death, nevertheless, it is sprung from it. Therefore is one not freed from one’s evil deeds.”  49
  “You are an able man, bhante Ngasena.”  50
 
3. Translated from the Visuddhi-Magga (chap. xvii.)

  It is only elements of being possessing a dependence that arrive at a new existence: none transmigrated from the last existence, nor are they in the new existence without causes contained in the old. By this is said that it is only elements of being, with form or without, but possessing a dependence, that arrive at a new existence. There is no entity, no living principle; no elements of being transmigrated from the last existence into the present one; nor, on the other hand, do they appear in the present existence without causes in that one. This we will now make plain by considering birth and death as they occur every day among men.
  51
  For when, in any existence, one arrives at the gate of death, either in the natural course of things or through violence; and when, by aconcourse of intolerable, death-dealing pains, all the members, both great and small, are loosened and wrenched apart in every joint and ligament; and the body, like a green palm-leaf exposed to the sun, dries up by degrees; and the eye-sight and the other senses fail; and the power of feeling, and the power of thinking, and vitality are making the last stand in the heart—then consciousness residing in that last refuge, the heart, continues to exist by virtue of karma, otherwise called the predispositions. This karma, however, still retains something of what it depends on, and consists of such former deeds as were weighty, much practised, and are now close at hand; or else this karma creates a reflex of itself or of the new mode of life now being entered upon, and it is with this as its object that consciousness continues to exist.  52
  Now while the consciousness still subsists, inasmuch as desire and ignorance have not been abandoned and the evil of the object is hidden by that ignorance, desire inclines the consciousness to the object; and the karma that sprang up along with the consciousness impels it toward the object. This consciousness being in its series thus inclined toward the object by desire, and impelled toward it by karma, like a man who swings himself over a ditch by means of a rope hanging from a tree on the hither bank, quits its first resting-place and continues to subsist in dependence on objects of sense and other things, and either does or does not light on another resting-place created by karma. Here the former consciousness, from its passing out of existence, is called passing away, and the latter, from its being reborn into a new existence, is called rebirth. But it is to be understood that this latter consciousness did not come to the present existence from the previous one, and also that it is only to causes contained in the old existence,—namely, to karma called the predispositions, to inclination, an object, etc.,—that its present appearance is due.
        As illustrations here may serve
Echoes and other similes.
Nor sameness, nor diversity,
Can from that series take their rise.
  53
  As illustrations of how consciousness does not come over from the last existence into the present, and how it springs up by means of causes belonging to the former existence, here may serve echoes, light the impressions of a seal, and reflections in a mirror. For as echoes, light, the impressions of a seal, and shadows have sound, etc., for their causes, and exist without having come from elsewhere, just so is it with this mind.  54
  Moreover
        Nor sameness, nor diversity,
Can from that series take their rise.
For if, in a continuous series, an absolute sameness obtained, then could sour cream not arise from milk; while, on the other hand, if there were an absolute diversity, then could not a milk-owner obtain sour cream. The same argument holds good in regard to all causes and effects. This being so, it would be more correct not to use the popular mode of stating the case, but that would not be desirable. Therefore, we must merely guard ourselves from supposing that there is here either an absolute sameness or an absolute diversity. Here some one will say,
  55
  “This explanation is not a good one. For is it not true that if there be no transmigration, and both the Groups and the fruitful karma which belong to this existence in the world of men cease, nor arrive in the new existence, the fruit of this karma would then be borne by a different thing from that which produced the karma itself? If the reaper ceased to exist, it would not be he experienced the fruit. Therefore this position is not good.”  56
  The following quotation will answer this:
        “The series which doth bear a fruit,
Is not the same nor something else.
The fabricating power in seeds
Will show the meaning of this word.”
  57
  For when the fruit arises in a series, as absolute sameness and absolute diversity are both excluded, it cannot be said that the fruit is borne by the same thing nor yet by something else.  58
  The fabricating power in seeds will show this. For when the fabricating power in the seed of mangoes and other plants operate, inasmuch as any particular kind of fruit is dependent on the previous part of its series, it cannot come from other seeds, nor in dependence on other fabricating powers; nor yet is it those other seeds, or those other fabricating powers, which arrive at fruition. Such is to be understood to be the nature of the present case. Also when education, training, and medicaments have been applied to the body of a young person, the fruit will appear in after time in the mature body, etc. Thus is the sense to be understood.  59
  Now as to what was said, “If the reaper ceased to exist, it would not be he experienced the fruit,” consider the following:
        “As when ’tis said, ‘The tree bears fruit,’
As soon as fruit on it appears;
Just so the Groups are reapers called,
As soon as karma’s fruit springs up.”
  60
  Just as in the case of those elements of being which go under the name of tree, as soon as at any point the fruit springs up, it is then said, “The tree bears fruit,” or, “The tree has fructified”—so also in the case of those Groups which go under the name of “god” or “man,” when a fruition of happiness or misery springs up at any point, then it is said, “That god or man is happy or miserable.” Therefore is it that we have here no need of any other reaper.  61
 
4. Translated from the Visuddhi-Magga (chap. xvii.)

  He, then, that has no clear idea of death and does not master the fact that death everywhere consists in the dissolution of the Groups, he comes to a variety of conclusions, such as, “A living entity dies and transmigrates into another body.”
  62
  He that has no clear idea of rebirth and does not master the fact that the appearance of the Groups everywhere constitutes rebirth, he comes to a variety of conclusions, such as, “A living entity is born and has obtained a new body.”  63
 
5. Translated from the Visuddhi-Magga (chap. xxi.)

  Therefore have the ancients said:
        “‘The Groups break up, and only they,’ the wise say,
‘And death consisteth in their dissolution.’
The thoughtful man of insight sees them vanish;
They’re like the jewel shattered by the diamond.”
  64
 

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