How Are Sentient Beings In Continuous Succession Reborn? 众生如何相续生死?

[Excerpt From] Śūraṅgama Sūtra: Eighth Scroll’s Sixth Chapter


[Śākyamuni Buddha]: ‘Ānanda, all [in the] world [are in the cycle of] births [and] deaths, [in] continuous succession. [When] alive, [they] follow [and] accord [with their] habits, [and when] dead, follow [their] changing flow.

[Note 1: Rebirths (轮回) in the cycle of births and deaths occur due to unbroken habitual forces (习气) linked to the six realms (六道) (of hell-beings [地狱众生], hungry ghosts [饿鬼], animals [畜生], human beings [人], asuras [阿修罗] and heavenly beings [天人]). Although these forces are habitual, their manner of flow can still change in time before rebirth, if enough efforts are exerted. The objective of spiritual cultivation in everyday life and when dying is to transform negative habitual forces to be positive and pure ones.]


When approaching [the] end [of life], yet [to] give up warmth [of] touch, one lifetime’s good [and] evil together [at the same] time suddenly appear, [with] death opposed [and] birth accorded [with, these] two habits intersect [with] one another.

[Note 2: The last warm spot on the body after death is where the consciousness (神识) is currently leaving, or has just left the body. Upper body spots are signs of having rebirths in good (i.e. higher) realms (善道), while lower body spots are signs of having rebirths in evil (i.e. lower) realms (恶道). If it is the crown, it means there is rebirth in a Pure Land (净土). If it is the eyes, it means there is rebirth in the heavenly realm (天道). If it is the heart, it means there is rebirth in the human realm (人道). If it is the belly, it means there is rebirth in the hungry ghost realm (饿鬼道). If it is the kneecaps, it means there is rebirth in the animal realm (畜生道). If it is the soles, it means there is rebirth in the hell realm (地狱道). The above is summarised in this verse:


From the crown to be sages
and from the eyes to be heavenly beings born,
to be humans from the heart
and hungry ghosts from the belly,
to be animals from the kneecaps they depart,
to be hell-beings from soles of the feet they exit.

One lifetime’s good and evil done can appear in terms of flashing visions with the ripening of mixed karma. For non-Pure Land practitioners, there will usually be habitual greedy attachment to the transpiring or transpired life and fearful aversion of death (贪生怕死) at the same time.]


[For those] purely [with] thoughts, [there is] immediate flight, [for] definite birth [in a] heaven above.

[Note 3: These are those with 100% rational thoughts and no negative emotions. Being only with ‘thoughts’ refers to only having rational and wise thinking, instead of irrational and deluded thinking. The more is one so, the higher will one rise in the realms. Corresponding with those having much good karma (善业), the more there is, the swifter will higher rebirth be. Conversely, the more evil karma (恶业) there is, the swifter will lower rebirth be too. With Amitābha Buddha’s (Āmítuófó: 阿弥陀佛) great receiving Other-power (他力), upon firm connection with the Three Provisions (三资粮) (of profound Faith [深信], sincere Aspiration [切愿] and true Practice [实行]), the swiftest rebirth is in his Pure Land.]


If [in] flight’s mind within, simultaneously [with] blessings [and] wisdom, and with pure aspiration, naturally [will their] minds awaken, [to] see [the] ten directions’ Buddhas. [Of] all Pure Lands, according [to their] aspirations [will they be] reborn.

[Note 4: As the saying goes, ‘For blessings and wisdom both cultivate’ (福慧双修), these two qualities are to be accumulated and perfected for Buddhahood to be attained. Connected to Āmítuófó with profound Faith and sincere Aspiration while mindful of him, there will be sight of him, to be received and guided for rebirth in his Pure Land. Even if the relatively very pure see many Buddhas, there has to be focus on connecting to one, to reach his Pure Land. The easiest Pure Land to reach is Āmítuófó’s Pure Land, through which all other Pure Lands can be reached later.]


[For those with] emotions little [and] thoughts much, [they will be] lightly raised [but] not [for] far, immediately as flying ascetics, great-powered ghost-kings, flying yakṣas [and] ground-walking rākṣasas, [who] travel in [the] Four [Heavenly Kings’] Heaven, [with] places gone without obstacles.

[Note 5: ‘Emotions’ refer to negative emotions based on deluded (痴) attachment (贪) and aversion (嗔) to what is worldly, including life and death. They also include all other negative emotions such as jealousy, (which is a half-and-half mix of delusional attachment to what others have, with delusional aversion to not having them) and others. Note that there are positive or pure emotions based on the Four Immeasurable Minds (四无量心) of loving-kindness (慈), compassion (悲), rejoice (喜) and equanimity (舍).]


[Of] them within, if having good aspirations [and] good minds, [they will] protect [and] uphold my Dharma, or protect [the] prohibitive precepts, accordingly upholding people [who uphold the] precepts, or protect spiritual mantras, accordingly upholding those [who] uphold mantras, or protect [those in] meditative concentration, protecting [and] soothing [those with] Dharma Forbearances. These [and] others personally abide [at] Thus Come [Ones’] seats below.

[Note 6: These are those who will learn, practise and/or protect the Dharma and/or Dharma practitioners.]


[For those with] emotions [and] thoughts equal, [they will] not fly [and] not fall, [and be] born in [the] human world. [With] thoughts bright thus intelligent, [with] emotions dark thus dull.

[Note 7: These are those with about 50% of negative emotions and 50% of rational thoughts. They are somewhat balanced in the heart and head, or feeling and thinking, in terms of the negative and positive. Thus, they neither rise nor fall.]


[For those with] emotions much [and] thoughts little, [they will] flow into [the] animal [realm to be] born. [Those] heavier [are] as fur-bearing flocks, [and those] lighter [are] as feathered clans.

[Note 8: These are those with about 80% of negative emotions and 20% of rational thoughts, who are thus instinctively animalistic.]


[For those with] seven [parts of] emotions [and] three [parts of] thoughts, [they will] sink below [the] water disc, [to be] born at [the] fire [disc’s] border, [to] receive [the] air [of] fierce fires, [with] bodies as hungry ghosts, [who are] constantly by [fires] burnt, [and with] water able [to] harm [them]selves, without food [and] without drinks, passing [a] hundred thousand kalpas.

[Note 9: These are those with about 70% of negative emotions and 30% of rational thoughts, who will thus be karmically reborn within a world system to suffer for a very long time. Under the earth disc (地轮), where human beings are, is the water disc (水轮), followed by the fire disc (火轮), with the next larger than the previous.]


[For those with] nine [parts of] emotions [and] one [part of] thoughts, [they will be] below [the] hole [of the] fire disc, [with] bodies entering [where] wind [and] fire [is, at the] duo’s intersecting ground. [Those] lighter [are] born [in] Interrupted [Hells, and those] heavier [are] born [in] Uninterrupted [Hells, with these] two kinds [of] hells.

[Note 10: These are those with about 90% of negative emotions and 10% of rational thoughts, who will thus be karmically reborn. Under the fire disc, is the wind (or air) disc (风轮), with the latter larger than the first. The Interrupted Hells (有间地狱) are where those with heavy but still relatively lighter evil karma have intermittent suffering, while the Uninterrupted Hells (无间地狱) are where those with the heaviest evil karma have ongoing suffering, without respite.]


[For those] purely [with] emotions, [there is] immediate sinking, [to] enter Avīci Hell.

[Note 11: These are those with 100% negative emotions and no rational thoughts, who will enter the Uninterrupted Hells very quickly.]


If [in the] sunken mind within, having slander [of the] Great Vehicle, destroying [the] Buddha’s prohibitive precepts, [with] deceit arrogantly speaking [the] Dharma, [with] falsehood greedy [for that the] faithful give, excessively bearing reverence, [with the] Five Heinous [Transgressions and] Ten Heavy [Precepts broken, they will] again [be] born [in the] ten directions’ Avīci Hells. Following created evil karma, although then [with that] personally attracted, [with] sentient beings [having the] same parts within, simultaneously having [their] original grounds.’

[Note 12: The Five Heinous Transgressions (五逆罪) are the killing (杀) of (1) Father (父), (2) Mother (母), (3) Arhat (阿罗汉), (4) shedding a Buddha’s body’s blood (出佛身血) and (5) breaking a harmonious Saṃgha community (破和合僧). The Ten Heavy Precepts (十重戒) are to abstain (戒) from (1) killing (杀), (2) stealing (偷), (3) sex(ual mis/conduct) (淫), (4) false speech (妄语), (5) selling alcohol (酤酒), (6) speaking of the fourfold assemblies’ transgressions (说四众过), (7) self-praising and/or slandering others (自赞毁他), (8) stingily and grudgingly giving, in addition slandering (others doing so properly) (悭惜加毁), (9) with angry mind not accepting repentance (嗔心不受悔) and (10) slander of the Triple Gem (谤三宝). Beings from different world systems but with similar karma can be reborn in the same realm within one world system.]

Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an

Related Article:

The Three Great Essentials When Approaching The End Of Life: The Third Great Essential


‘Ānanda, these [and] others [are] all [like] this. Those many sentient beings, [with their] personal karma that respond, [and their] creating [of the] ten habits’ causes, receive [the] six reciprocating retributions.

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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