Becoming Explained – The Loka, Bhava, and Mula Suttas

by

The Following is an excerpt from my book Becoming Buddha.

Introduction

There is much confusion as to the meaning of “becoming.” Due to this confusion, great license is taken in interpreting what is meant by becoming as taught by the Buddha. This confusion and the following misapplication of the Dhamma can be avoided by simply looking at the Buddha’s own words from the following three sutta’s.

Depending on the context, becoming can refer to immediately giving birth to another moment rooted in ignorance giving rise to further confusion, deluded thinking, and suffering, giving rise to further becoming a “self’ prone to suffering.

In the context of remaining ignorant and future becoming, becoming refers to the becoming that would give rise to a future birth, lacking present self-identification, but continuing the experience of suffering rooted in ignorance. Continuing the impersonal experience of suffering does not establish a “permanent self.” Continuity obscure impermanence but does not negate impermanence.

In the overall context of impermanence and the arising and passing away of all phenomena, becoming and non-becoming refers to the arising – becoming – and the passing away – non-becoming – of stress.

Consciousness rooted in ignorance and influenced by the five physical senses can only reinforce deluded wrong views unless the Eightfold Path is developed to interrupt the ongoing process of becoming. It is for precisely this reason that the Buddha taught an Eightfold Path.

Consciousness rooted in ignorance “conditions” thinking in such a way that continually either ignores or “embraces” suffering as described in the Loka Sutta: “The world is aflame. Rooted in ignorance the world is afflicted by sensory contact and perceives suffering as ‘self.’ Rooted in ignorance, it misunderstands ‘self’ and becomes anything other than ‘self.’

The twelve observable causative links of Dependent Origination: [1]

  • From ignorance as a requisite condition comes fabrications. (when this is that is)
  • From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness.
  • From consciousness as a requisite condition comes Name-And-Form.
  • From Name-And-Form as a requisite condition comes to Six Sense Base.
  • From the Six Sense Base as a requisite condition comes contact.
  • From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling.
  • From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving.
  • From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging and maintaining.
  • From clinging and maintaining as a requisite condition comes becoming.
  • From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth.
  • From birth as the requisite condition comes sickness, aging, death, sorrow, regret, pain, distress, and despair. Such is the origination of the entire mass of confusion, deluded thinking, and suffering.

 

The Loka Sutta

The newly-awakened Siddartha, now Buddha, was enjoying the peace of release. Established in concentration he observed the world around him. He noticed human beings aflame with the fires born of the defilements of passion, aversion, and deluded consciousness.

Realizing the significance of what he was seeing he thought:

“The world is aflame. Rooted in ignorance the world is afflicted by sensory contact and perceives suffering as ‘self.’ Rooted in ignorance, it misunderstands ‘self’ and becomes anything other than ‘self.’

“Becoming anything other than self, the world clings to becoming, is afflicted by becoming, and yet delights in that very becoming. Where there is delight there is fear. Where there is fear there is stress.

Fear arises from clinging to what is delightful and fearing the loss of what is delightful.

“The life integrated with the Eightfold Path is lived for the abandoning of becoming. Those that say that escape from becoming is by non-becoming are never released from becoming, I declare.

“Stress (Dukkha) arises in dependence on becoming ‘self.’ With the ending of clinging to ‘self’ and maintaining ‘self,’ no stress will arise.

“Look at the world: Human beings afflicted with ignorance crave for and cling to becoming. All forms of becoming, anywhere, in any way, are impermanent, stressful, always subject to change.

“Knowing this – the arising and the passing away – from Right View craving for becoming and non-becoming is abandoned.

The arising and the passing away refers to all phenomena. All phenomena is impermanent including the phenomenon of “self.” As the Buddha teaches in the Anatta-Lakkhana Sutta in the next chapter:  “Now what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, is (not) fit to be regarded as: ‘This is mine, this is I, this is my self’?”

“From the abandonment of craving for becoming and non-becoming comes unbinding. For those unbound from lack of clinging and maintaining there is no further becoming. They have conquered ignorance, completed the task, and have gone beyond becoming. (a self rooted in ignorance)

In this context self-referential views resulting in self-identifying as “I am suffering” results in craving for becoming anything other than a “suffering self” and craving for non-becoming. Rather than understanding impermanence and that all phenomena arises and passes away impersonally, wrong views of self obscures impermanence creating the appearance of a continuing self and continues the experience of dukkha. This describes the interrelationship of the Three Marks of existence and the feedback loop the Buddha describes in the Nagara Sutta.

End Of Sutta

The Bhava Sutta

Even during the Buddha’s time there was confusion regarding the meaning of becoming. Here, Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin and chief attendant asks for clarity:

On one occasion Ananda went to the Buddha, bowed, and sat to one side. He was unsure of the meaning of becoming and so asked the Buddha, “Becoming, becoming, to what extent is there becoming?”

“Ananda, if there were no karma ripening within the feeling-property, would the feeling-property be noticed?”

Karma is the present unfolding of past intentional actions moderated by the present quality of mindfulness. The “feeling-property,” “form-property,” and the “formless-property” relates to the Five Clinging-Aggregates. The form/formless-property also relates to the arising and passing away of stress. Karma and rebirth is explained in detail further on.

“No, wise teacher.”

“In this way karma is the field, consciousness the seed, and craving the moisture. The consciousness of human beings rooted in ignorance and bound by craving is established in wrong view. Established in wrong view, renewed becoming is produced.

“If there is no karma ripening in the form-property, would the form-property be noticed?”

This one sentence contains the implication of the entire Dhamma. With no karma left to “ripen” there are no self-referential views clinging to form. With no self-referential views remaining – no self-identity clinging to impermanent phenomena –  the form-property now is simply a reference point for life dispassionately unfolding.

“No, wise teacher.”

“In this way karma is the field, consciousness the seed, and craving the moisture. The consciousness of human beings rooted in ignorance and bound by craving is established in wrong view. Established in wrong view, renewed becoming is produced.

“If there is no karma ripening in the formless-property, would the formless-property be noticed?”

“No, wise teacher.”

“In this way karma is the field, consciousness the seed, and craving the moisture. The consciousness of human beings rooted in ignorance and bound by craving is established in wrong view. Established in wrong view, (ignorance) renewed becoming is produced.”

With past intentional actions (karma) providing the environment for ongoing thinking (consciousness) rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths and sustained – given sustenance – by craving, one can only “become” continually subject to confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing disappointing and unsatisfactory experiences – dukkha.

End Of Sutta

This sutta also points to what for many is another confusing aspect of the Dhamma: Is it not craving/desire to desire awakening? This is simply a wrong view giving rise to another extreme view. The brilliance of the Buddha is his realization that in order to overcome the common human problem of conditioned thinking – ongoing “consciousness” rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths – there would need to be a way – a “path” – that would provide the framework to recognize conditioned thinking within conditioned thinking.

Right Intention, the second factor of the Eightfold Path, is holding the intention – being mindful of the intention to recognize and abandon craving and clinging rooted in ignorance. Right Intention can be seen as desire but it is certainly skillful desire as intention determines the direction and ultimate conclusion of one’s Dhamma practice.

This is the purpose of the entire Middle Way Eightfold Path. The refined mindfulness of the Eightfold Path, given direction by Right Intention and supported by the concentration developed through Right Meditation – Shamatha-Vipassana meditation – brings the ability to recognize the feedback loop of self-referential views and inclines the mind towards becoming awakened.

The problem of becoming awakened while continuing to be affected by conditioned mind is resolved by developing the framework of the Eightfold Path for ones’ Dhamma practice, and one’s life. This is illustrated in the Mula Sutta in the following chapter.

The Mula Sutta

In this sutta the Buddha asks the assembled monks a rhetorical question:

“Monks, if those of other sects ask you ‘In what are all phenomena rooted, how do they come into play, what is their origination, how are they established, what is their foundation, what is their governing principle, what is their defining state, what is their heartwood, where do they gain footing, and what is their cessation?’ On being asked this you should reply:

“All phenomena are rooted in desire.

“All phenomena come into play through attention.

“All phenomena have contact as their origination.

“All phenomena have feeling as their establishment.

“All phenomena have concentration for their foundation.

“All phenomena have mindfulness as their governing principle.

“All phenomena have discernment as their defining state.

“All phenomena have release as their heartwood.

“All phenomena gain footing in impermanence.

“All phenomena have unbinding as their cessation.

End Of Sutta

Here the Buddha initially is referring to The Five Clinging-Aggregates as “All phenomena rooted in desire” and maintained through attention, contact, feeling, concentration, mindfulness, and discernment, and then, through “heartwood” – the Eightfold Path – gaining release from the effects of desire, developing a profound understanding of the arising and passing away of all phenomena, and complete unbinding from self-referential views rooted in ignorance.

This entire process occurs within the quality of mind that human beings are conditioned to and then through the concentration and refined mindfulness developed through the Eightfold Path gain the Right View to recognize and abandon all self-referential views that would otherwise keep one stuck in the feedback loop the Buddha describes in the Nagara Sutta.

“Becoming” points to the potential inherent in each moment. Each moment holds the potential to continue ignorance and ignore Four Noble Truths and become continually subject to stress, or to develop the Eightfold Path and become awakened, Become Buddha.

[1] Dependent Origination

My Dhamma articles and talks are based primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali, as well as the works of Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland and Maurice Walsh, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight. (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/)

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.  

Every teaching the Buddha presented during his forty-five-year teaching career was taught in the context of Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths. I have made contextual edits to the suttas from the Sutta Pitaka for further clarity, to minimize repetition, and maintain relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths supporting concentration and refined mindfulness developing skillful insight of Three Marks Of Existence.

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