Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Kamma, Re-birth and Caste

I have studied Rebirth and Kamma in TBAHD, based on Dr. Ambedkars unique interpretation of the pali canon. And intend to study it further to help justify my understanding of the unique position of TBAHD on this to our people and to other buddhisms. I see this as an important social service,almost as one of my key contributions to the movement. I want to help stop misunderstandings that people spread on this topic.

In one section, Dr. Ambedkar quotes Buddha about rebirth
1. Did the Buddha believe in rebirth ?
2. The answer is in the affirmative.

In another section Dr. Ambedkar agrees with buddha about the law of karma
1. The Law of Karma was enunciated by the Buddha. He was the firstto say: " Reap as you sow."
2. He was so emphatic about the Law of Karma that he maintained that there could be no moral order unless there was a stern observance ofthe Law of Karma.

But Dr. Ambedkar limits the law of karma to present life in one section
3. The Buddha's Law of Karma applied only to Karma and its effect on present life

But see Dr. Ambedkars answer to the key question about the rebirth in one of the sections
§3. Rebirth of Whom?
1. The most difficult question is Rebirth of Whom.
2. Does the same dead person take a new birth ?
3. Did the Buddha believe in this thesis ? The answer is " Most improbable.";
4. The answer depends upon the elements of existence of the deadman; meeting together and forming a new body then the possibility of the Rebirth of the same Sentient
being is possible.
5. If a new body is formed after a mixture or the different elements of the different men who are dead then there is rebirth but not the rebirth of the same sentient

In TBAHD Book IV, part II, Section Karma, CH 3, Pt 2, Dr.Ambedkar wanted us to understand that part of each individuals misery is socially caused and environmentally caused. The social cause is implied in pt. 21 of this  section and the environmental cause is implied in pt. 12 of same section.

I have thought this through and am sure that
1. I am not misinterpreting Dr. Ambedkar or the Buddha
2. Rejecting rebirth is misinterpretation of both Ambedkar, Buddha and lot of proof, including some scientific studies.
4. Dr Ambedkars re-interpretation of the relationship betweenre birth and kamma is his largest and deepest contribution to theworld.
5. I challenge anyone who says that accepting Dr. Ambedkars positions (defined above) on rebirth and kamma implies acceptance of the caste system. This is patently untrue.

Buddha clearly says that re-birth does happen, but that there is no soul and gives the much quoted example of candle lighting another candle in explaining this. How can a "law" suddenly start operating and suddenly stop operating? Any such law would hardly be universal. It would be locationally and temporally limited. Buddhism describes the universal law which has no beginning and ending. My interpretation of TBAHD is that Kamma (in mind) at birth is a combination of the kamma of multiple past individuals, just like the body is a combination of the components of multiple past bodies. Clearly there is a social and environmental component to the kamma of the individual. To me this is the key contribution of Dr.Ambedkar. The initial kamma of an individual at birth is clearly dependent on social causes and environmental causes. I can quote the relevant sections of TBAHD on this.I have come accross same view as one of the views in a book on "kamma and rebirth" by Nagapriya of FWBO.

It seems that at birth, each individual inherits a small part of the past kamma (embedded in the mind-energy lying around in space) and the inherited kamma cannot be traced to any single past individual. This implies that the inherited kamma can at best be traced to social and environmental causes, which is manifested through the social andenvironmental gestalt at the place and time of birth. This is what Dr.Ambedkar says in my opinion.
1. Man inherits part of parents kamma. The kamma is the result of theentire gestalt at the space time at the moment of birth. Thus it includes environmental factors, social factors, etc.
2. The activities of men create/modify their environment/society etc.
3. As more and more people follow dhamma, man, society and environment can exist without dukkha/strife.

I find the above consistent with my experience.
a. Initially one must modify/create/recreate one's own self
b. After this, one finds that the dukkha that remains requires one to help others remove their dukkhac.

As (b) happens, society and environment improve. As that improves,more and more people come out of their dukkha.I also find the above consistent with "Buddha and his Dhamma", albeit not explained adequately.

Please note that Dr. Ambedkar has not said that answer to whether same sentient being in reborn is this this is highly improbable (but possible as per Dr.Ambedkar) scenario of an individual decomposing and re-assembling. If this is the case, then how does one explain the arising of the consciousness in a baby. Dr. Ambedkars view on this item in sub-section 4 of part IV of book III does not explain how the law of kamma applies. While sowing in this life itself results in outcomes in this life, what determines the conciousness in a baby is not clear. Is there is no previous life in Ambedkar's Buddhism? Should we say that birth consciousness is a tabula rasa (an empty box like in western philosopy -like locke beleived), which starts capturing learnings? If so, then what caused it to be created empty? Buddha never talks about something getting created out of nothing. TBAHD refers to the example of a candle passing on the flame to another candle. In Book IV, section II, sub-section 2, item 37 to 39 and item
32 and 33, Dr. Ambedkar has come close to nailing the mind and consciouness, but abstracts it with energy.

So what is Dr. Ambedkars view (as I understand it) about what determines individuals status in his/her life starting from birth (consciousness in a baby)?
Individual is not alone responsible for his status in life. There  is a biological cause, social cause and an environmental cause. Sure, a person's status in life depends upon his/her own action, action of others with regard to him/her, and depends upon his/her health too. The actions of individuals impact and are impacted by the moral  order around the individual.In Book III, part III, section § 6 clearly says "To believe that Karma is the instrument of Moral Order is Dhamma". Moral order interlinks personal, social and environmental  structures.

What is the difference between environmental and social structures?
This is not well stated. I am probably stretching Dr. Ambedkars canvas. But I guess that "pollution" and "ozone hole" are examples of results of human action influencing environmental structures, only to be impacted back. Social structures like untouchablity and varna system are clearly maintained through mental structures ingraining into Indian minds as per Dr. Ambedkar. It takes buddhism to remove that dirt from the mind. Actually vipassana practice clearly illustrates that it is the mental dirt which sustains our perceptions of me-versus-them structures.
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