About the skandhas and rebirth in Advayavada Buddhism.

Traditional Buddhism presupposes that the human being is composed of some five skandhas or clusters of which, at death, the one physical rupa skandha disintegrates and dissolves completely and the non-physical arupa skandhas simply cease to occur altogether. And according to Advayavada Buddhism, there is further no human rebirth other than by sexual reproduction and the so-called new life that is produced in this manner is again, or yet, traditionally composed of some five khandhas or skandhas. Sexual reproduction is by definition a karmic activity. Karma is, in Advayavada Buddhism, how interdependent origination or pratityasamutpada operates here and now at the sentient level, including personal choices and responsibility. Karma is neither the cause nor the effect, but the everchanging knot of ongoing events as such. Our own share of this karma is the everchanging knotlet of biopsychosocial (bps) events in which we are personally embedded. In the case of human rebirth, the main event is the division or concatenate multiplication of the mother as a result of the fertilization of her egg or eggs by the father.

The main karmic activity is here, in other words, the wondrous event of physical love, pregnancy and parturation. The genetic and social factors transmitted to and inherited by the so-called new human being are all fully reflected at birth with minor changes or variations in its own set of skandhas. There are no so-called karmic seeds in the vijñana cluster that will ripen as yet in this or a future life, as is implied in the Yogacara vipaka theory – there is no evidence at all of an alaya-vijñana or store-house consciousness that might contain and carry such seeds forward into the future. Nor is there any evidence of a patisandhi-viññana, the connecting consciousness encountered in Theravada ontology, nor of any other form of re-incarnation, transmigration, or of afterlife or resurrection. Instead, everything is already there in the skandhas or clusters of the so-called new being produced sexually by the parents, geared and ready to grow into an adult human being. Modern scientific investigation in the field of genetics must yet supply many answers. The khandhas or skandhas theory is but a very rudimentary presupposition of the actual process of heredity and mutation. Biophysics must in fact yet uncover how exactly a living organism, indeed any biological system, can generate, copy and eventually transmit its data.

But we can safely state that from the moment of conception onwards everything that happens in the whole of existence, including, though not primarily, what this so-called new human being does or does not do itself, will affect it accordingly in its further life. This includes the mechanical action of switching on or off of a light: if somebody trips over a chair in the dark and breaks his or her neck, this is most certainly the result of how interdependent origination operates at the sentient level, the result of karma. This event will at the very least modify to a considerable extent the structure and relative arrangement of this particular conventional set of skandhas. Also his or her cetana (will or volition), which formally forms part of the human being’s samskara (forces) cluster, will no doubt be affected by the challenge in accordance with its intensity and the endurance the person can muster.

Karma, we must stress, is, in our view, pratityasamutpada or interdependent origination at our sentient level, including personal choices and responsibility – it is the immanent universal dynamic principle of existence as it also operates incessantly within the human being, in the relations between all sentient beings and in their interaction with the environment. Wholesome human activities are necessarily those which are in agreement with the overall otherwise indifferent pattern and direction of existence. It is, indeed, for this reason that they are experienced by us as such. You will no doubt agree that there cannot be two sets of rules at play, one for totality and one as devised by humankind itself for its own affairs only. ~ from advayavada dot org

Advayavada Study Plan – week 28

[Advayavada Study Plan – week 28] Advayavada Buddhism does not tell you what to do or believe, but invites us all to make the very best of our own lives by attuning as best as possible, by means of the Noble Eightfold Path, with wondrous overall existence advancing over time now in its manifest direction; we seek to become a true part of the whole in this way and our reference standard is wondrous overall existence and not misguided and failing mankind.

In Advayavada Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is fully personalized: it is firmly based on what we increasingly know about ourselves and our world, and trusting our own intentions, feelings and conscience. Adherence to the familiar five precepts (not to kill, not to steal, sexual restraint, not to lie, and refraining from alcohol and drugs), a well-considered understanding of the Buddha’s four noble truths and of the, in Advayavada Buddhism, four signs or marks or basic facts of being (lakshanas), suffice to start off and proceed on the Noble Eightfold Path at any time.

Evolution or, in human terms, our natural impulse or drive to thrive and advance, is recognized, in Advayavada Buddhism, as the fourth sign of being or caturtha lakshana (cf. conatus). To follow the personalized Noble Eightfold Path is our way of responding to it and when the Path is followed conscientiously, it becomes nothing less than the main karmic (and neuroplastic) factor in one’s life, i.e. in one’s fleeting share in the universal interdependent origination process (madhyamaka-pratityasamutpada) that brings forth wondrous overall existence.

The purpose of this autonomous and open-ended 13-week Advayavada Study Plan (ASP), which can conveniently be repeated four times in a calendar year, is that we study and debate in a local group, the family circle or with good friends the meaning and implications of the weekly subject, not as a formal and impersonal intellectual exercise, but in the context of whatever we ourselves are presently doing or are concerned with, or about, or affected by, such as our health, relationships, work, study, social environment and circumstances, etc.

Last week the first preliminary subject of this third quarter of 2021 was again anicca (Pali) or anitya (Sanskrit), which means impermanent, changeable, unstable, transitory, and is traditionally considered the first of the three (in Advayavada Buddhism, four) signs or marks or basic facts of being (lakshanas); the Buddhist aniccata or anityata doctrine teaches that impermanence or changeability is the most fundamental property of everything existing.

The second preliminary subject of this third quarter is again this week anatta (Pali) or anatman (Sanskrit), which literally means no-self and is traditionally considered the second of the three (in Advayavada Buddhism, four) lakshanas. The Buddhist anatta or anatmata doctrine teaches that no immutable and immortal soul, spirit or self exists ‘in the sense of a permanent, eternal, integral, and independent substance within an individual existent’.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the nissvabhava doctrine teaches further that as all things without exception are produced by interdependent origination (pratityasamutpada, all-conditionality) indeed all are, in fact, empty (shunya) of self-nature (svabhava); thus the ego e.g. is ‘no more than a transitory and changeable empirical personality put together from the five aggregates (skandhas): form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness’.

Svabhava-shunyata (lit. self-nature emptiness) is a central notion in Madhyamaka philosophy: in Advayavada Buddhism, the selflessness [and, therefore, finitude] of all things is, as stated above, the second of the four lakshanas, the other three being the impermanence or changeability of everything (as explained last week, week 27), the ubiquity of existential suffering (see next week, week 29), and evolution or, in human terms, progress (see week 30).

Please take care of yourself and others by following the official pandemic guidelines, particularly those concerning hand washing, social distancing and where and when to use a mask! Please be supportive of the vaccination programmes as they are rolled out; beware of false information about the vaccines and of conspiracy theories generally – herd immunity, also known as population immunity, is a must. Feel free to share this post: these systematic teachings are beneficial for anyone and those interested can follow this weekly ASP themselves on, for instance, advayavadabuddhism dot org and/or by joining our research network on Facebook. Our recently updated website advayavada dot org contains comprehensive information about the Advayavada understanding of Buddhism and has a handy search box at the bottom of each page.