Why Beings Fare As They Do After Death

· Articles & Essays · ,

by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was wandering by stages in the Kosalan country with a large Sangha of monks, and eventually he arrived at a Kosalan brahmin village named Sala.

The brahmin householders of Sala heard: “It is said that the ascetic Gotama, the Sakyan son who went forth from a Sakyan clan, has been wandering in the Kosalan country with a large Sangha of monks and has come to Sala. Now a good report of Master Gotama has been circulating thus: ‘That Blessed One is an arahant … that is perfectly complete and purified.’ Now it is good to see such arahants.”

Then the brahmin householders of Sala went to the Blessed One. Some paid homage to him and sat down to one side; some exchanged greetings with him and, after their greetings and cordial talk, sat down to one side; some saluted him reverentially and sat down to one side; some remained silent and sat down to one side.

When they were seated, they said to the Blessed One: “Master Gotama, what is the cause and condition why some beings here, on the breakup of the body, after death, are reborn in a state of misery, in a bad destination, in the lower world, in hell? And what is the cause and condition why some beings here, on the breakup of the body, after death, are reborn in a good destination, in a heavenly world?”

Photo by Dave Bassett

Photo by Dave Bassett

“Householders, it is by reason of unrighteous conduct, conduct not in accordance with the Dhamma, that some beings here, on the breakup of the body, after death, are reborn in a state of misery, in a bad destination, in the lower world, in hell. It is by reason of righteous conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, that some beings here, on the breakup of the body, after death, are reborn in a good destina- tion, in a heavenly world.”

“We do not understand the detailed meaning of Master Gotama’s statement, which he has spoken in brief without expounding the detailed meaning. It would be good if Master Gotama would teach us the Dhamma so that we might understand the detailed meaning of his statement.”

“Then, householders, listen and attend closely to what I shall say.”

“Yes, venerable sir,” they replied. The Blessed One said this:

 

“Hosueholders, There Are Three kinds of unrighteous bodily conduct, conduct not in accordance with the Dhamma. There are four kinds of unrighteous verbal con- duct, conduct not in accordance with the Dhamma. There are three kinds of unrighteous mental conduct, conduct not in accordance with the Dhamma.

“And how, householders, are there three kinds of unrighteous bodily conduct, con- duct not in accordance with the Dhamma? Here someone kills living beings; he is murderous, bloody-handed, given to blows and violence, merciless to living beings. He takes what is not given; he takes by way of theft the wealth and property of others in the village or forest. He commits sexual misconduct; he has intercourse with women who are protected by their mother, father, mother and father, brother, sister, or relatives, who have a husband, who are protected by law, and even with those already engaged. That is how there are three kinds of unrighteous bodily conduct, conduct not in accordance with the Dhamma.

“And how, householders, are there four kinds of unrighteous verbal conduct, conduct not in accordance with the Dhamma? Here someone speaks falsehood; when summoned to a court, or to a meeting, or to his relatives’ presence, or to his guild, or to the royal family’s presence, and questioned as a witness thus: ‘So, good man, tell what you know,’ not knowing, he says, ‘I know,’ or knowing, he says, ‘I do not know’; not seeing, he says, ‘I see,’ or seeing, he says, ‘I do not see’; in full awareness he speaks falsehood for his own ends, or for another’s ends, or for some trifling worldly end. He speaks maliciously; he repeats elsewhere what he has heard here in order to divide [those people] from these, or he repeats to these people what he has heard elsewhere in order to divide [these people] from those; thus he is one who divides those who are united, a creator of divisions, who enjoys discord, rejoices in discord, delights in discord, a speaker of words that create discord. He speaks harshly; he utters such words as are rough, hard, hurtful to others, offensive to others, bordering on anger, not conducive to concentration. He engages in idle chatter; he speaks at the wrong time, speaks what is not fact, speaks what is useless, speaks contrary to the Dhamma and the Discipline; at the wrong time he speaks such words as are worthless, unreasonable, immoderate, and unbeneficial. That is how there are four kinds of unrighteous verbal conduct, conduct not in accordance with the Dhamma.

“And how, householders, are there three kinds of unrighteous mental conduct, conduct not in accordance with the Dhamma? Here someone is covetous; he covets the wealth and property of others thus: ‘Oh, may what belongs to another be mine!’ Or he has a mind of ill will and intentions of hate thus: ‘May these beings be slain and slaughtered, may they be cut off, perish, or be annihilated!’ Or he has wrong view, dis- torted vision, thus: ‘There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed; no fruit or result of good and bad actions; no this world, no other world; no mother, no father; no beings who are reborn spontaneously; no good and virtuous ascetics and brahmins in the world who have themselves realized by direct knowledge and declare this world and the other world.’ That is how there are three kinds of unrighteous mental conduct, conduct not in accordance with the Dhamma. So, householders, it is by reason of such unrighteous conduct, such conduct not in accordance with the Dhamma, that some beings here on the breakup of the body, after death, are reborn in a state of misery, in a bad destination, in the lower world, in hell.

 

“Householders, There Are Three kinds of righteous bodily conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dhamma. There are four kinds of righteous verbal conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dhamma. There are three kinds of righteous mental conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dhamma.

“And how, householders, are there three kinds of righteous bodily conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dhamma? Here someone, abandoning the destruction of life, abstains from the destruction of life; with rod and weapon laid aside, conscientious, merciful, he dwells compassionate to all living beings. Abandoning the taking of what is not given, he abstains from taking what is not given; he does not take by way of theft the wealth and property of others in the village or in the forest. Abandoning sexual misconduct, he abstains from sexual misconduct; he does not have intercourse with women who are protected by their mother, father, mother and father, brother, sister, or relatives, who have a husband, who are protected by law, or with those already engaged. That is how there are three kinds of righteous bodily conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dhamma.

“And how, householders, are there four kinds of righteous verbal conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dhamma? Here someone, abandoning false speech, abstains from false speech; when summoned to a court, or to a meeting, or to his relatives’ presence, or to his guild, or to the royal family’s presence, and questioned as a witness thus: ‘So good man, tell what you know,’ not knowing, he says, ‘I do not know,’ or know- ing, he says, ‘I know’; not seeing he says, ‘I do not see’ or seeing, he says, ‘I see’; he does not in full awareness speak falsehood for his own ends, or for another’s ends, or for some trifling wordly end. Abandoning malicious speech, he abstains from malicious speech; he does not repeat elsewhere what he has heard here in order to divide [those people] from these, nor does he repeat to these people what he has heard elsewhere in order to divide [these people] from those; thus he is one who reunites those who are divid- ed, a promoter of friendships, who enjoys concord, rejoices in concord, delights in concord, a speaker of words that promote concord. Abandoning harsh speech he abstains from harsh speech; he speaks such words as are gentle, pleasing to the ear, and loveable, as go to the heart, are courteous, desired by many, and agreeable to many. Abandoning idle chatter, he abstains from idle chatter; he speaks at the right time, speaks what is fact, speaks on what is good, speaks on the Dhamma and the Discipline; at the right time he speaks such words as are worth recording, reasonable, moderate, and beneficial. That is how there are four kinds of righteous verbal conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dhamma.

“And how, householders, are there three kinds of righteous mental conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dhamma? Here someone is not covetous; he does not covet the wealth and property of others thus: ‘Oh, may what belongs to another be mine!’ His mind is without ill will, and he has intentions free from hate thus: ‘May these beings be free from enmity, affliction, and anxiety! May they live happily!’ He has right view, undistorted vision, thus: ‘There is what is given and what is offered and what is sacrificed; there is fruit and result of good and bad actions; there is this world and the other world; there is mother and father; there are beings who are reborn spontaneously; there are good and virtuous ascetics and brahmins in the world who have themselves realized by direct knowledge and declare this world and the other world.’ That is how there are three kinds of righteous mental conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dhamma. So, householders, it is by reason of such righteous conduct, such conduct in accor- dance with the Dhamma that some beings here, on the breakup of the body, after death, are reborn in a good destination, even in a heavenly world.

 

“If Householders, One Who observes righteous conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, should wish: ‘Oh, that on the breakup of the body, after death, may I be reborn in the company of well-to-do nobles!’ it is possible that, on the breakup of the body, after death, he will be reborn in the company of well-to-do nobles. Why is that? Because he observes righteous conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dhamma.

“If, householders, one who observes righteous conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, should wish: ‘Oh, that on the breakup of the body, after death, may I be reborn in the company of well-to-do brahmins! … in the company of well-to-do householders!’ it is possible that, on the breakup of the body, after death, he will be reborn in the company of well-to-do house- holders. Why is that? Because he observes righteous conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dhamma.

“If, householders, one who observes righteous conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, should wish: ‘Oh, that on the breakup of the body, after death, may I be reborn in the company of the devas of the realm of the Four Great Kings! … in the company of the Tavatimsa devas … the Yama devas … the Tusita devas … the devas who delight in creating … the devas who wield power over others’ creations … the devas of Brahma’s company … the devas of radiance … the devas of limited radiance … the devas of immeasurable radiance … the devas of streaming radiance … the devas of glory … the devas of limited glory … the devas of immeasurable glory … the devas of refulgent glory … the devas of great fruit … the aviha devas … the atappa devas … the sudassa devas … the sudassi devas … the akanittha devas … the devas of the base of the infinity of space … the devas of the base of the infinity of consciousness … the devas of the base of nothingness … the devas of the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception!’ it is possible that on the breakup of the body, after death, he will be reborn in the company of the devas of the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. Why is that? Because he observes righteous conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dhamma.

Photo by William Fung

Photo by William Fung

“If, householders, one who observes conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, righteous conduct, should wish: ‘Oh, by realizing it for myself with direct knowledge, may I in this very life enter upon and dwell in the liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, that is taintless with the destruction of the taints!’ it is possible that, by realizing it for himself with direct knowledge, in this very life he will enter upon and dwell in the liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, that is taintless with the destru tion of the taints. Why is that? Because he observes righteous conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dhamma.”

 

When This Was Said, the brahmin householders of Sala said to the Blessed One: “Magnificent, Master Gotama! Magnificent, Master Gotama! Master Gotama has made the Dhamma clear in many ways, as though he were turning upright what had been overthrown, revealing what was hidden, showing the way to one who was lost, or holding up a lamp in the darkness so those with good eyesight can see forms. We now go for refuge to Master Gotama, to the Dhamma, and to the Sangha of monks. Let Master Gotama accept us as lay followers who have gone for refuge from today until life’s end.”

Photo by Alda Cravo Al-Saude

Photo by Alda Cravo Al-Saude


Bhikkhu Bodhi is an American Buddhist monk who was ordained in Sri Lanka in 1978 by the late Ven. Ananda Maitreya. He later became president of the Buddhist Publication Society, where he served as editor, author and translator for many important Buddhist publications. He returned to the United States in 2002 and currently teaches at Chuang Yen Monastery and at Bodhi Monastery.

From In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon. Copyright © 2005 by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Reprinted by permission of Wisdom Publications, Inc.

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