In this Poson month, which marks the lunar month when the Buddha Dharma was first introduced to this island of Sri Lanka around 230 years BCE,  I feel it is apt to consider where one stands in relation to one’s own existence in sansara. The word ‘sansara’ is used to mean the stream of existences [...]


How do we cope with Sansara?


In this Poson month, which marks the lunar month when the Buddha Dharma was first introduced to this island of Sri Lanka around 230 years BCE,  I feel it is apt to consider where one stands in relation to one’s own existence in sansara. The word ‘sansara’ is used to mean the stream of existences we go through whilst we are all still in a non-emancipated position; emancipation being the achievement of Nirvana, after which rebirth ceases and we are out of sansara. This state of affairs is described only in the Teachings of The Buddha.

If one did not have any previous life experience and were starting life de novo as a brand new human being, then one would expect to arrive in this world with a brain as blank as a new slate, ready to record all information presented to it, like ink to a blotting paper. Such information is normally obtained through the five external senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and feeling, plus the so-called sixth sense –the internal sense of the ‘mind’. In broad terms,the brain will usually assimilate, categorise and store information presented to it, thereafter making this information available as and when required. This is fine until one sees things beyond the scope of this arrangement. Therefore I find this very simplistic. This is because there are no rational explanations for certain situations we find within this existence.

For example, there are times when one is surprised at seeing somebody as s/he seems so familiar and one could vouch that one has met or known this person before. Similarly, there are times when a place one visited for the first time appears very familiar, and one feels as if one has been there before. There are also times when one sees a certain person for the first time, but develops an unexplained dislike right away. The opposite situation is also familiar: a feeling of particular affection towards some people for no apparent reason.

Then there are children who excel in certain subjects, such as mathematics or show unusual abilities with languages that they were never exposed to before. We hear of exceptional children who can read, speak or write in languages that are unfamiliar to them. Also how does one explain the abilities of those children who can recite the ‘scriptures’ in ‘foreign’languages? We know that Mozart was picking out chords on the harpsichord at the age of three, playing short pieces at four and composing music at five. Not everybody can do such exceptional things.

All these examples, along with a large number of other similar experiences that have been widely documented, direct the enquiring mind to look for reasons or mechanisms through which such idiosyncrasies could be explained.One palpable direction of enquiry would be to consider the possibility that we indeed have had past experiences. These experiences are likely to be the sources of the exceptional abilities demonstrated by some people. Therefore, they are not common to all of humanity.

The Buddha’s Teaching has been with us Sri Lankans for over two and a half thousand years. One important teaching  of  The Buddha is the Principle of ‘Karma’ – a universal law. It deals with how one’s actions cause appropriate reactions, not confined to this existence alone but may arise from previous existences as well, such as say, if one had been an eminent teacher in a past life those experiences may be responsible for the expertise shown in this life. In a similar way, another universal law of ‘cause and effect’(Patich-cha Samup-pada)could also be an influence. Good karmic deeds are followed by good effects that remain helpful to the doer like the ‘shadow that never leaves’, whilst bad karmic deeds will reciprocate similar bad results to the doer, like the ‘cart wheel that follows the ox’.

Karma is not dictated by any external force, but occurs simply as natural justice.If ‘Karma’ is ‘reality’, and it is understood as such, then the possibility of past life experience having an effect in this life is not inconceivable.Thus karma brings to the fore another important principle in The Buddha’s Teaching – ‘Rebirth’. Karma cannot remain separate from rebirth, and rebirth cannot occur without karma. They are therefore bilaterally interlinked. As such, in the case of exceptional people, one could accept thattheir proficiency is not entirely new, but occurs according to their karma under universal law.

As mentioned in simplified form above, karma and rebirth are intrinsically interlinked. Therefore, depending on one’s karma, rebirth can happen within pleasant situations or otherwise. While there is no guarantee of a good outcome at one’s next birth or in those thereafter, it is in one’s own interest to make a fervent effort to avoid repeated births, be they good ones or not-so-good ones. The Buddha’s advice for breaking away from sansara is to make the effort to develop ‘Samma Ditthi ‘or Right Understanding.

This is the first entry in The Noble Eight-Fold Path. Right Understanding will help one to realise the true nature of sansara. One is therefore more likely to work towards Emancipation. The only way to achieve this completely is to follow The noble Eight-Fold Path to the full. This will lead to the achievement of one or all of the four stages of sainthood, which will ensure ultimate emancipation and freedom from rebirth.

As some do, it is ridiculous to hope for it in the next birth or the one after that, as this merely prolongs the uncertainty that one is trying to be free of. Death comes unannounced, so there is no time to lose. This is not a job for tomorrow, but one for right now, with no delay! Therefore, the most important question to ask ourselves is: Have we got the resolve to make this most laudable journey, in earnest?

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