Transmigration in Early Buddhist Philosophy

Transmigration: Latin, from ‘trans’, meaning across, beyond and through, and ‘migration’ meaning the non-random movement of people, animals or other entities from one defined place, state, or stage to another.  In that it is the notion that a certain ‘something’ survives the dying process, or remains untouched by the act of physical death, and in so doing traverses into a new body.  This equates exactly with the Greek concept of metempsychosis.  This is indicative of how re-birth concepts are generally conceived.  Within Buddhism, however, the concept of ‘Punnabhava’, or ‘again becoming’ is markedly different in that although the Buddha teaches that re-birth is possible for those existing within the unenlightened stage of being, there is no ‘soul’, or ‘atman’ that actually undergoes the re-birth process.  This apparent contradiction exists because the Buddha is teaching from a position of the perfected mind that is fully aware and beyond expedient stages of being.  Interestingly, early Buddhism suggests that when produced states in the mind come to an end, then there is the cessation of constructed consciousness, and with this cessation, the end of re-birth based upon the artificial creating of false (deluded) mental states.  The Buddha taught very carefully and consistently, that the mind creates delusive states over and over again.  Re-birth, from the Buddhist scriptural perspective, is presented as a delusive state which creates the conditions for transmigration to occur.  Through the application of appropriate meditative technique, these states can, through the attainment of insight, be brought to an end.  This ending, however, should not be viewed as an end (of existence) in and of itself, but rather as a means of entry into a fully rounded conscious experience.  The Buddha’s philosophy seeks to ‘remove’ that in the mind which is not required, and which continuously diverts the attention away from the true nature, or essence of the mind itself.  What is correct is revealed by removing the layers of obscuration that prevent its clear perception.  For the Buddha there is no separate ‘soul’ or ‘atman’ knowable through the mind, and yet sitting separate and distinct from the mind itself.  There are many early scriptural examples of the Buddha’s teaching on re-birth.  The following may be taken as a typical example:

On Arising Through (Mental) Charactistics.

Thus have I heard: once the Lord dwelt near Savatthi in the Jeta Grove on Anathapindika’s campus.  There (he) addressed the monks, saying;

“A monk endowed with faith, with (right) conduct, with the Word, with renunciation, with wisdom.  It occurs to him; ‘O that I might arise in the company of wealthy nobles, Brahmins, or merchants; or with devas or Brahmas on the breaking up of the body at death.’  He addresses his mind to that, fixes his attention on it, with it.  Those (mental) characteristics and projections, (when) developed and made much of, are conducive to arising (in those places).

Further, a monk is endowed with faith, with (right) conduct, with the Word, with renunciation, with wisdom.  It occurs to him: ‘O that, with the distractions rooted out, I might reach and experience mental freedom and the freedom of wisdom that are undistracted, having realised them through my own gnosis in this life.’  (And he brings that about.)  That monk arises nowhere and in no place.”

Thus spoke the Lord.[1]

Although the Buddhist concept of re-birth is unique in world philosophy and religion, the notion of re-birth in the metempsychosis model has been fairly well known, with many cultures developing their own particular versions of it.  The West is no exception to this.  According to Roman records, the Druids of Europe adhered to a re-birth theory, as did the Greeks and Romans themselves, and as will be shown, so did the early Christians.  Re-birth as an ideal should not be treated as a completely unknown concept in the West, despite the contemporary lack of recognition the subject generally receives through the various Western (modernistic) narratives.  Surely it is not the case that the West has inherited the re-birth concept from foreign cultures, but rather that foreign cultures, quite independently of one another also developed a theory of transmigration – in conjunction with the West.

The secular, intellectual climate, and the predominant theological perspective in the contemporary West, tends to ignore or denigrate the notion of ‘re-birth’ (or re-incarnation).  Indeed, this reality can be viewed as something of a peculiarity, when ancient Greek thought is taken into account, with its theory of ‘metempsychosis’.[2]  Early Christianity actually taught the doctrine of re-incarnation, and parts of the synoptic gospels can be viewed as implying this belief (Matt 16:13-4, 17:12-13, 11:11-14).[3]  As Christianity borrowed heavily from established Greek philosophical teachings – albeit radically redefining as it did so – it can be reasonably assumed that that the notion of rebirth was automatically accepted as correct.  In this respect, the ancient Egyptians had already established a theory of transmigration, as did the Kabbalah doctrine of Judaism – which has its roots in the Torah.  In Asia, re-incarnation was also established in the Brahmanic and Buddhistic cultures.  Between around 500 BCE and 500 CE there appears o be a more or less world wide acceptance of the idea that the essence or core of a human being enters a ‘new’ body at conception, (or there abouts),  and leaves the old body at the point of death.  However, although the Asiatic religions and philosophies have by and large retained their distinctive re-incarnation beliefs, the West, as an intellectual and spiritual entity appears to find the concept ‘alien’ and therefore ‘unfamiliar’.  Rebirth, as a concept, is definitely not the normal philosophical position, and certainly not normally a default theological perspective.  As the concept was very well known in earlier times in ancient Greece, and considering the fact that Europe tends to derive a certain intellectual legitimacy from the great thinkers of ancient and classical Greece, why is it that reincarnation today, is viewed as some kind of exotic import?  The answer is not that the West has developed a separate and distinct intellectual tradition from that of the superstitious East, or that re-incarnation, as a distinct concept, has been unknown in the West, but rather that this conceptual rupture (between now and then), has been brought about by a political act of religious interference.  By around 500 CE, Christianity had already been established as the state religion of Rome.  In 529 CE, the emperor Justinian issued an edict that banned the teaching of Greek philosophy at the University of Athens. [4]  This single act brought a thousand years of exquisite Greek thought to a conclusion, in favour of the teachings of Christian theology.  Justinian sought to bring the various Christian groups together, into one unified church, with himself as head.   In this regard, he convened the Second Council of Constantinople (in 533 CE), and in so doing, issued a number of anathemas upon existing Christian thought – one of which theologically outlawed the Christian teaching of re-incarnation.[5]   From this moment onward, this idea, along with the premise of ancient Greek philosophy was abandoned in the West, and did not re-emerge until the Renaissance of the 15th CE.  By this time, as the theological cloak was thrown off, the Greek method of logical assessment was re-engaged as a means to intellectually assess and understand the physical world.  Although re-incarnation is evident in the work of Pythagoras, Plato, Plotinus, and others, (despite the logical emphasis upon thought construction), as a concept it has remained obscure in the modern West.  A long with certain other Greek cultural practices and conventions, it has been de-emphasised, and left out of formal education.  In this way, the re-incarnation teaching of ancient Greece has been excluded from assuming a position within cultural paradigms that defines a nation.  Asian religions and philosophies that have become apparent in Europe in the last 200 years or so, have brought with them their particular re-incarnation theories, which in essence have not differed greatly from that of metempsychosis.  For instance, the (Brahmanic) Sanskrit term ‘atman’, can be equated with the Greek term ‘psyche’, as both concepts represent the notion of a life giving breath.  The Brahmanic teachings emphasis the idea that re-birth can occur in an animal or a human body, depending upon the moral tone of previous actions.  Both Buddhism and Brahmanism make use of a particular form of moral retribution referred to as ‘karma’, and although these two schools of thought differ about exactly how karma should be interpreted and applied, they share a certain over-view with Greek philosophy, whose equivalent moral force is termed ‘adrasteia’.  Adrasteia translates as ‘inescapable’ in this context, and refers to events that must be experienced, due to the culmination of past habits.[6]  This may be compared to Christian scripture, (which reflects its earliest expressions), when Jesus (and others), equates the following of the true holy life, to that of the pursuing of correct modes of physical behaviour.  The early teachings of Buddhism, although denying the philosophical validity of the Brahmanic concept of ‘atman’, nevertheless, do appear to describe re-incarnation as a probability for those who have not realised the cessation of greed, hatred and desire in the mind.

Again, as with Brahmanism and early Christianity, as well as ancient Greek philosophy, the historical Buddha appears to be linking behaviour on the physical plane, with states of mind on the inner plane.[7] However, the Buddhist teaching is far from being theological in nature.  As a system it is very well developed.  The Buddha, in numerous sutras teaches that when the state of enlightenment is achieved, re-birth is finished as an experience.  In this sense, re-incarnation is presented as ‘real’ in the unenlightened state, and non-existent in the enlightened state.  An arahant who has realised enlightenment no longer produces or accumulates karma in the sense of detrimental physical experiences or negative mental states, but as a physical body is still inhabited, and considering the Buddhist teachings suggest that physical form is created and held together by desire in the mind, the arahant will still experience certain karmic states (in the body), created many lives ago, but the force of this karma is greatly weakened by the enlightened state.  The point is that no ‘new’ karma is being produced, and that the structure of the physical body will hold together as long as the (initial) creative karma associated with it, holds it together.[8]  The Buddhist notion of karma is very subtle and not necessarily obvious.  For instance, when the Buddha was asked whether unhappiness is made by oneself, by another, by both, or by neither, being spontaneous (or without cause), he denied that any of these assumptions were correct.  If unhappiness is created by oneself, that would imply ‘externalism’, if created by another, then this would suggest ‘annihilism’, as the self ends at death, etc.  These answers are always referring the enquirer back to the chain of dependent origination, a chain that varies in number throughout the early Buddhist sutras, with 12 links being the fully developed and received teaching.[9]

The essence of ignorance as defined by Buddhist thinking as the product of the three ‘outflows’.  These three conditions that create the circumstance for ignorance to arise are kamasava – the outflow of sexual desire, bhavasava – the outflow of desire for being, and ditthasava – the outflow of attachment to views.  Punnabhava (becoming again, or ‘re-birth’) is the process whereby ‘desire for being’, (bhavasava), creates the conditions for existence to re-occur, and for the wheel of suffering (samsara) to turn again, as an individual is formed and a life unfolds.  Re-birth is a significant aspect of early Buddhist thinking, which is emphasised not only throughout the sutras, but which also conceptually forms the basis of the collection of 574 shot stories known ‘Jataka’, or ‘Birth Stories’ of the Buddha.  These stories are a diverse array of times, circumstances, and situations, as well as serving as indicators of what was considered at the time to be morally correct, or ethically preferred modes of behaviour.  The Buddha appears as a character in each story, conveying the notion that ‘something’ related to him has transmigrated from one unenlightened birth to the next, passing in each life in a karmically positive manner, cultivating various important and crucial Dharmic qualities, culminating in his final re-birth as the Prince Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha to be.  Indeed, the Buddha teaches that it is this craving for a false belief in a separate and eternal ‘self’ that is the base delusion that leads to re-birth.  When this defilement is finally uprooted, there exists no further foundation for a future life to be built upon.  The Buddha explains enlightenment in terms of what it is not, rather than in terms of what it actually is.  This is interesting from an art perspective, as early stupa engravings on rock often represent the Buddha’s presence by his physical absence, usually only indicating that the Buddha is present by certain symbols ascribed with meaning, such as two foot-prints, an umbrella, adoring disciples and a tree.[10]  This is an obvious allusion to the ‘sunyata’, or ‘emptiness’ teaching of the Buddha that would become so important in both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions.  The implication regarding re-birth is that the unenlightened mind ‘can know’ that re-birth does not ultimately exist.  Only when viewed through the enlightened mind is the condition of re-birth known to be non-operative as a distinct concept.  The unenlightened intellect can appreciate the position regarding the apparent dichotomy between re-birth existing in the deluded state, and not existing in the enlightened state, with the caveat that the Buddha disagreed with philosophical positions that suggest eternalism and nihilism.  However, although the intellect can reject re-birth, it can not actually or truly ‘know’ the real nature of re-birth.  If the unenlightened intellect can know the true nature of re-birth, then this simple fact would make a mockery of the Buddha’s enlightenment.  The enlightenment would not hold the unique quality that it does in world philosophy.  Without a unique occurrence the Buddha’s enlightenment loses its value and validity – it becomes merely a set of clever ideas, amongst many other clever ideas.  The Buddha posited that the deluded are re-born due to their unenlightened nature, but for this to be true, did not require those of deluded nature to understand or accept his teaching for it to be valid.  The acceptance or rejection of the re-birth ideal by the unenlightened intellect is philosophically meaningless for the Buddha, as the mind that is assessing and judging is the very same mind that the Buddha strove to over-come on his journey toward enlightenment.

If the opposite were to hold true – that the Buddha’s enlightenment is only a set of contrived ideas, then the authority with which he talks in the sutras would be nothing more than a very strong self-confidence in an intellectual concept that has no real basis in personal experience.  The enlightenment would be reduced to nothing more than a text book of facts and figures of a particular subject amongst many subjects.  The fact that this does not appear to be the case raises Buddhist thinking to the level of high philosophy, on a par with any European thinker.  Buddhist philosophy is not a simple exercise that the intellect can grasp, it is the product of direct experience.  It is the examination of the concepts of ‘meaning’, ‘knowledge’, and ‘wisdom’, and is therefore very illusive in its translucent structure.  As soon as the intellect appears to get a definitional hold of its workings, the temporary meaning becomes immediately redundant and falls away.  Attachment to any particular view-point simply compounds the situation and prolongs the unenlightened state.  In a very real sense, the Buddha presents his understanding in such a way that makes it ‘unknowable’ by the unenlightened intellect.  Of course, viewpoints about viewpoints, completely misses the essence of the Buddha’s message.  The true nature of re-birth is unknowable, even though the Buddha gives certain and specific indicators in his teaching.  What is interesting about this type of philosophy is that its structure and claims to knowledge are not measurable in any conventional sense – re-birth can not be quantified, collected or categorised – it remains a purely abstract phenomenon.  It is interesting to note that in every other religious or philosophical system that advocates a belief in re-birth, Buddhism appears to be the only system of thought that although allowing for the concept of re-birth to exist as a possibility, also advocates that in an enhanced state of existence (accessed through the mind), re-birth no longer exists as a product of deluded being.  Although not denying the legitimacy of re-birth within a certain context, Buddhist philosophy leads the aspirant away from a reliance upon it.  As long as the mind is deluded, re-birth is apparently real, but as soon as the mind is enlightened, re-birth ceases to have significance in being.  In reality, there is a certain postmodern contradiction in the presentation of the Buddhist teachings regarding re-birth, as the re-birth appears to ’exist’, and ‘not exist’, at the same time.  This contradiction is not a duality.  It is not two opposing theories competing for acceptance or supremacy amongst many competing theories of varying meaning, but rather is a complete theory in and of itself, which attempts to explain the world as it appears to the unenlightened mind, from the perspective of what it is to see the world through the enlightened mind.  It is a matter of energy frequency, with the perfected mind being the unenlightened mind – post-realisation.  One state is contained within the other, and may be viewed as the arbitrary creation of a teacher who was required to explain non-dualistic concepts using polarised imagery.

In this situation, both ‘re-birth’, and ‘non-re-birth’ cease to have any real meaning outside of their intended, enlightening functions.  These are descriptive terms that contain an immediate redundancy of meaning as soon as they are ‘grasped’ into dualistic, unenlightened habits of thought.  Therefore, the habit of the unenlightened intellect forming an opinion about concepts which only the fully enlightened mind has grasped, is a habit that although may well contain a certain usefulness in the ordinary world, is an irrelevance to the enlightened mind itself, which appears to function in a fully comprehensive reflective manner, rather than through a narrow reductive procedures.  Whereas the unenlightened intellect ‘reduces’ and ‘confines’, so that it may understand, the enlightened mind does not reduce or narrow its observational function, but retains maximum reflectivity, so that the ‘whole’ is conveyed over the ‘partial’.  In this model, the enlightened mind perceives all through the reflection of ‘all’.  The unenlightened intellect, however, only knows about that which it can grasp through reducing it to a sizable nugget of information, relevant to the power of the particular intellect at hand.  Having established this juxtaposition, that is between the ‘enlightened’ and ‘unenlightened’ positions of mind, the Buddha is very careful not to allow this temporary descriptive concept to concretise into a dogma of opposing ideological viewpoints.  Ultimately, there is no difference between the two apparently different states of being, as the same empty (i.e. ‘non-contrived’) mind-base underlies what amounts to two ideas conceived within the surface of the discursive mind.[11] The world is presented as a projection of the mind, and the type of re-birth experienced, a product of will action through the karmic process.  It is this process that the Buddha’s philosophy seeks to control.  By cultivating wholesome roots, and uprooting and discarding unwholesome roots, the karmic process – through insight – is gradually changed so that greed, hatred and delusion can be fully transcended through the process of cessation.  It is important to bear in mind that karmic action is ‘willed’ by the individual, and that wilful actions have a particular and definite direction.  According to this teaching, the world, full of ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’, is just as it should be for the individual creating and experiencing it.

The physical world is mind made, and is directly reflecting the nature of the mind concerned.  The Buddhist teachings lead the mind to ever purer states of being, the final stage of which is the ending of deluded being and re-being.  As the purification process can take many lifetimes of continuous endeavour, re-birth is a living reality for those upon the Buddhist path.  The disavowing of this philosophical principle (in a modern context), would create a rupture through the very centre of Buddhist thought.  Karma would become meaningless, and the real experience of the cessation of greed, hatred and delusion would be replaced by that of a mere intellectual understanding of what this process might be like.  Enlightenment would become simply a self-imposed idea, an idea no different in structure from any other idea or intellection created within the (deluded) mind.  The Buddha’s teaching is multifaceted, but continuous in presentation and direction.  Everything he says in the scriptures is logically created so that one utterance upon a subject in a particular place, supports and re-enforces an utterance about another subject, delivered in a different place.  All the teachings remain constant over decades of presentation, even allowing for adaptations due to differing people and circumstance.  Bearing in-mind that Buddhism, as a distinct body of scripture, (and is often viewed as a continuation of Upanishadic philosophy), re-birth, as a belief, may well have been common in the Buddha’s lifetime.  His teaching takes the aspirant away from this idea with the cessation of consciousness, but leaves the aspirant subject to this idea whilst the mind remains untrained.  The untrained mind is unable to see beyond its own ignorance, or lack of awareness.

From this perspective it is unable to ascertain whether re-birth, as a concept, is real or not.  Therefore, the untrained mind is not able to comprehend reality as perceived by the mind of the (enlightened arahant).  The revising of Buddhist philosophy away from its central premise signifies a descent into the realm of base intellection.  Essentially, this would indicate a corruption of Buddhist thought similar to suggesting that those who unsuccessfully challenged the Buddha in the Sutras, (using contrary ideas or counter-arguments), would have been judged to have defeated the Buddha in open argument.  Obviously, this is not the historical case.  The Buddha is offering an explanation of how the physical universe appears to have manifest, and that is through the idea (or agency) of ‘desire’ for being.  This agency of production is mind-made, and powered by the will, which can be conceived as the ability to focus and direct energy.  The physical world of material objects does not cease to exist after the cessation of ordinary, deluded consciousness.  Even in the early Buddhist Suttas, arahants who attained to this state, did not end their physical existences at the point of enlightenment.  They continued to physically live within the material world, until the natural process of death allowed the body to fall away.  This process of a final physical death – parinirvana – signifies that the mind of the individual, through many existences, has been thoroughly cleansed of impurities and now abides in the nirvanic state of the cessation of consciousness associated with greed, hatred and delusion.  In the Buddhist Suttas, this kind of attainment is never attributed to a single lifetime, but is always presented as the accumulative effect of many previous incarnations.  Just as the Buddha’s Jataka stories number around 574, his philosophy assumes a substantial time-span of previous existences, during which time much repeated delusive actions have been performed.  As the Jataka stories seem to suggest, purification is a slow, gradual process.  A pious lifestyle, although showing a preference toward eventual enlightenment, nevertheless, ends without the realisation of final enlightenment.  The karma associated with this kind of life leads the aspirant toward the ideal birth conditions whereby the Buddha’s teachings can be encountered and put into practice.  Through the whole-some habit of directing the mind toward the good, the physical world is created with each new birth that is conducive to the realisation of a particular Dharmic attribute.  This habit of producing positive karma throughout lifetimes, leads eventually to enlightenment.  Time and space implications abound through this philosophical system.  Linear time and space, although apparently real, (and the basis of empirical science), can not, in fact, be ultimately real.  It necessarily follows that the ideal state that the Buddha is believed to have discovered through the mind, can not be described by, or limited to, the observational science of empiricism.  To do so, of course, is to ignore the basis of the Buddha’s claim to unique knowledge, and misinterpret it through the filter of a different set of unrelated philosophical premises.  In this situation, the uniqueness of Buddhist philosophy is distorted out of its self-contained, and complete closed system of universal explanation.  In this situation, the logically structured philosophical approach of the Buddha’s teaching is undermined, and its core theoretical underpinnings removed, leaving a set of randomly associated principles and directives that can be further dissolved through dispersal and redundancy.

Again, this would point directly to the philosophers of the Buddha’s day, who tried in vain to reduce the Buddha’s arguments to discredited utterances.  The Buddhist response is clear in the early Sutras – the unenlightened intellect can not ‘know’ the totality of knowledge that exists beyond its own boundary limitations.  The Buddha’s path is a system of discipline and behavioural modification that allows the aspirant to train the mind, through carefully elucidated stages, so that the cessation of contrived consciousness is achieved and the true nature of the mind perceived.  It has nothing to do with intellection as a function, but rather advocates the development of the mind ‘beyond’ the confines of everyday logic constructs.  Buddhism has nothing to say about secular science, and does not judge it as such.  When the Buddha’s concept of re-birth is assessed by the undeveloped intellect, its true meaning can not be ascertained.  This leads invariably to the situation where the re-birth teaching is abandoned, and with it, the essence of Buddhism.  Buddhism, as a complete world-view, can not be ‘progressed’ in any way, as that would suggest that something is lacking in its structure.  Any attempt to progress it, (by altering its teaching), only leads to the collapse of the logic system it professes.  If Buddhism is to be intellectually assessed, it must be analysed in its entirety.  Taking aspects of Buddhism, and then applying them out of context, has no logical place in the Buddha’s teaching.

[1] Evans, David, W, (Translator), The Discourses of Gotama Buddha Middle Collection, (Janus Publishing Company- 1992), Page 369.  The footnote accompanying the translation of this Pali Sutta explains the use of the term ‘Brahma’ in the text, and reads: ‘Various grades of celestial beings and their attractions are mentioned.’  

[2] Greek: Metempsychosis – from ‘meta’ (after), and ‘empsychos’ (animated psyche).  Psyche translates as ‘breath’, and refers to the spark of life.  Much later this term became synonymous with the unrelated Germanic term ‘soul’.  Metempsychosis, as a Greek concept, suggests that the ‘psyche’ continues to exist after the death of a physical body, and moves into a new body, either human or animal.  See:

MacKenna, Stephen, Plotinus The Enneads (Penguin Classic)  Page 167, which reads: ‘Those who have attained the human level are men once more.  Those that have lived wholly to the sense become animals…’

[3] Roland, Paul, Reincarnation (ARCTURUS – 2008), Page 50-57, for a very good introduction to the subject of re-incarnation within early Christian teaching.

[4] Shand, John: Philosophy and Philosophers (UCL Press – 1993), Page 1.  It is generally accepted that the time period representing Greek philosophy stems from 585 BCE, (with the birth of Anaximenes), and ends with Justinian’s banning edict of 529 CE.  However, Greek thought extends back before this time, to Thales – the first recognised philosopher – who lived 624 BCE-546 BCE..

[5] Roland, Paul, Reincarnation (ARCTURUS – 2008), Page 54-55.  This explains the historical background to the rift between the Eastern and Western Christian Church traditions.  Ironically, the Western Pope did not automatically endorse these anathemas, but as he did not attend the Second Council of Constantinople, (only 6 of his bishops attended in his name), he found himself out-voted by the 159 bishops from the Eastern Church.

[6] MacKenna, Stephen, Plotinus The Enneads (Penguin Classic)  Page 148, (verse 13) which reads ‘Hence arises the awesome word Adrasteia (the Inevitable Retribution); for in very truth this ordinance is an Adrasteia, Justice itself is a wonder and a wisdom.’

[7] Warder, AK, Indian Buddhism, (Motilal – 2000) – Pages 118-182 for a very comprehensive exploration of the Buddhist concept of karma (action).

[8] Nyanaponika, Thera, The Vision of Dhamma, (Rider & Co – 1986), Pages 146.  Here, (in the Itivuttaka 44), a distinction is drawn between the nirvana-element with groups of existence still remaining, (that is, an enlightened mind existent in a physical body), and the nirvana-element with no groups of existence remaining – that is the enlightened state no longer trapped in a physical body – in Pali ‘sa-upadisea-nibbanadhatu’, and ‘anupadisea-nibbanadhatu’ respectively.

[9] Payutto, pa, Dependent Origination – The Buddhist Law of Conditionality, (Buddhadharma Foundation – 1994), for a very accessible and informative account of this key teaching.  Payutto points out that although ‘ignorance’ is placed at the beginning of the developed chain, ignorance itself arises from the ‘asavas’, or ‘outflows’.

[10] For a perfect example of this kind of ‘aniconology’, (the non-depiction of the Buddha), see the Buddhist Stupa of Amaravathia, originally situated by the banks of the River Krishna in the Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh, India, parts of which are preserved in the British Museum.  The engravings are of a very high quality, created between 300 BCE and 300 CE.  The earliest engravings of the Buddha depict him as being absent and replaced by various meaningful symbols, whereas later engravings actually begin to depict the physical form of the Buddha, in both seated and standing postures.

[11] Ling, Trevor, The Buddha’s Philosophy of Man, (Everyman’s Library – 1993), Pages 55-69 for a chapter entitled ‘The Soul Theory’, and a very readable translation of the ‘Potthapada Sutta’.  Potthapada (a member of the Brahman caste) was a very wealthy man who questioned the Buddha about the relationship between ‘consciousness’ and ‘atman’.  The Buddha reiterates that there is not a single effect that does not have a cause, and that through training, some ideas arise, and by training others pass away.  The Buddha explains that when a monk meditates, he creates in his mind states such as joy and peaceful well-being, and although blissful to experience, the monk becomes ‘conscious’ of the fact that these states are produced through attachment and must be given up.  Through conscious self-awareness of the inherent redundancy within each new insight, the monk progresses through to the perception of infinite space, but this is not the end of the training.  The monk becomes ‘aware’ (i.e. ‘conscious’) of the fact that he is ‘conceptualising’ (i.e. engaging the intellect about) the mind states he is achieving.  By ceasing to ‘think’, or allowing the mind to move, the cessation of conscious is achieved, and no new levels of attainment occur.  The Buddha teaches Potthapada that there is only one summit of attainment, but many summits reaching it.  Each new attainment contains the seeds of it own redundancy, so that a deeper level can be achieved.  Ultimately, the final cessation is reached through apparent stages, that although distinct, nevertheless, have no permanency, even though they are temporarily experienced.  As emptiness of consciousness is achieved, no atman is perceived in the process.

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