Death & Dying

Understanding Rebirth

`Rebirth’ in this context means uncontrolled rebirth, the nature of which is suffering. Human beings experience human suffering because they have taken human rebirth, animals experience animal suffering because they have taken animal rebirth, and so on. Samsaric rebirth is the basis from which all the sufferings of the six realms arise.

The main causes of taking rebirth are our own actions, our accumulated throwing karma.

The main causes of taking rebirth are our own actions, our accumulated throwing karma. The secondary, or co-operative, causes of rebirth – the conditions of rebirth – are of two kinds, distant and close. The distant condition is the karma of our parents to have us as their child. Examples of close conditions are our parents having sexual intercourse, and the sperm and ovum joining in our mother’s womb. All these causes and conditions must come together for there to be rebirth.

If a bardo being is to take a human rebirth it circles closer and closer to the place of rebirth like a fly circling around meat. It comes closer to the home of its new parents, to the room, to the bed. When the bardo being sees its new parents copulating it develops a strong desire to join in. If it is to be female it tries to embrace the father, and if it is to be male it tries to embrace the mother; but its desire is frustrated and so it dies in anger. As it dies, the bardo being experiences all the signs of death very rapidly; and when the clear light of death ceases, its consciousness enters the union of the sperm and ovum inside the mother’s womb. It enters by passing through the mouth of the father, descending to the sex organ, and then emerging through the sex organ into the mother’s womb. The first moment after con- ception only black appears to the mind of the new human being, and then all the remaining signs of dying are experienced in reverse order as the consciousness becomes more and more gross. At first, the body in the mother’s womb is liquid, like reddish-coloured yoghurt. It gradually hardens, and after a few weeks it resembles a fish. A few weeks later it resembles a turtle, and then a lion. Eventually, the body resembles a human being. After nine months and ten days the baby is born.

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All quotations from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's books copyright The New Kadampa Tradition - International Buddhist Union, all rights reserved worldwide. For more information on Geshe Kelsang's books visit Tharpa Publications.