T 1670B Nāgasena Bhikṣu Sūtra

Part 2: Dialogues

2.21. Name-and-Form and Rebirth

The king asked Nāgasena, “What is reborn after death?”

Nāgasena replied, “Name-and-form (namarupa) is reborn in the next life.”

“Is it the former name-and-form that is reborn?”

“No, it is neither the former name, nor the former form, but by this name-and-form, good and evil deeds are done in this life and (from these deeds), another name-and-form is reborn in the next life.”

“If that be so, by this name-and-form, good and evil deeds are done in this life and this (name and) form is not to be reborn in the next life. Can one be released from the results of his good or bad deeds done (in this life) so that one does not suffer hereafter?”

“If one does good deeds in this life, and is not to be reborn in the next life, then he is released. But people perform good and bad karma continuously without stopping, surely they will reconnect again and therefore they are not released.”

(1) Simile of the fruit

Then Nāgasena gave a simile, “Suppose someone were to steal a fruit from another man, and the owner of the fruit were to seize the man and bring him before the king, saying, ‘This man has stolen my fruit.’ Then if the thief were to say, ‘Your Majesty, I have not taken away this man’s fruit. This man has only planted the small fruit tree but not the fruit. I take the fruit to be mine, why do I need to steal? So I have not stolen this man’s fruit, I am not guilty.’”

Nāgasena said to the king: “Thus the two persons argue with each other as to who is right who is wrong.”

The king said, “The person who has planted the fruit tree is correct, because the fruit comes from that plant. The thief’s argument does not stand up, he is guilty.”

“Why is the thief guilty?” asked Nāgasena.

“The thief is guilty because it was the owner of the fruit tree who had planted it, allowed the tree to grow roots and thus bear fruits.”

Then Nāgasena said, “So it is in the life of a person. If a person, by this name-and-form, does good and evil deeds in this life and then is reborn in the next life, the good and evil deeds done in this life are the causes and conditions (for birth).”

(2) Simile of the crops

Nāgasena gave another simile, “Suppose a man were to steal another man’s crop of ripened grains and the owner were to seize the thief and says, ‘You have stolen my crops.’ The thief argues, ‘I have not stolen your crops, you have sown the cereal grass, but I take the crops, so how can you say that I commit theft?’ The two persons argued with each other and went before the king to tell the king about their dispute. Who is right and who is wrong?”

“The man who has sown the crops is correct, the thief is wrong.” said the king.

“How can you know that the one who steals the crops is wrong?”

“Sowing the paddy is the root cause. If there is no sowing of cereal grass, there is no root cause, thus how can there be crops?”

“So it is in the life of a person. A person, by this name-and-form, does good and evil deeds in this life, and he is reborn in the next life. The good and evil deeds done in this life are the root causes and conditions.”

(3) Simile of fire

Nāgasena gave a simile, “It is like a man who feels cold in the winter and therefore lights a fire in the house to warm himself up. Then he leaves the fire still burning and goes away. After sometime, the fire burns the walls, rooms and the house. Then if the owner of the house were to seize that man and take him before the king, saying, ‘This man lit a fire and that fire has burned my house.’ Then the man who lights the fire says, ‘I lit a small fire in order to warm myself, I did not intend to burn the house.’”

Nāgasena asked, “Who is right, who is wrong?”

The king said, “The person who lit the fire is wrong, because the fire serves as a cause or condition (for the burning of the house).”

Nāgasena said, “So it is in the life of a person. It is like a person who, by this name-and-form, does good and evil deeds in this life, and thus is to be reborn in the next life. The good and evil deeds done in this life serve as causes and conditions.”

(4) Simile of the candle fire

Nāgasena gave another simile, “Suppose a man were to light a candle and put it on the wall, and by that light he takes his meal. After some time, if the flame of the candle were to set the wall on fire, then the bamboo and other wood until at last all the houses were on fire. The fire spreads and at last burns the whole city. Then the people of the whole city were to ask the man, ‘You fellow, what have you set the whole of our city on fire for?’ And then the man would say, ‘I just lit a small candle in order to take my meal by the light. Therefore this big fire is different from that small flame which I lit.’ Now, if they, thus disputing, should go before the king, who is right who is wrong?”

“The person who lit the fire is wrong and guilty.”

“But why?”

“Because, Sir, the cause comes from the fire. After he has had his meal, he did not put out the fire and therefore the whole city caught fire.”

Nāgasena said, “Just so is the life of a person. A person, by this name-and-form, does good and evil deeds in this life, and is reborn in the next life. The good and evil deeds done in this life are the causes and conditions. Because of ignorance (avidya), a person does good and evil deeds, therefore he is not released (from suffering).”

(5) Simile of the marriage

Nāgasena again gave a simile, “Suppose, a man were to choose a young girl in marriage and give a price for her. After some years, she, in due course, grows up to a mature age and another man paid a price to marry her. Then the first man would come and say, ‘You fellow, why have you married my wife?’ Then if the other were to say, ‘You have chosen the young girl for marriage and paid a price for her, but I have chosen the grown up girl for marriage and paid a price for her, how can you say that I have married your wife?’ Thus disputing, should the two men go before the king, who is right, who is wrong?”

“The first one is right.”

“But why?”

“Because, Sir, the grown up girl would have been derived from the young girl. Therefore she is the wife of the first one. So the first one is right.”

“Just so is the life of a person. If a person, by this name-and-form, does good and evil deeds in this life, and then should he be reborn in the next life, the good and evil deeds done in this life are the causes and conditions of the next life.”

(6) Simile of the milk

Nāgasena gave another simile, “Suppose a man were to take a bottle and buy milk from a herdsman. Then he leaves the bottle in the herdsman’s charge and says, ‘I will come back for it later.’ After some time, the man comes back to take his bottle of milk, but that bottle of milk has turned into curds already. Then the man, the buyer, says to the herdsman, ‘I have bought milk not curds. But now you give me curds.’ And then if the other were to reply, ‘It is your milk that has turned into curds.’ If they thus disputing with each other, should go before the king, who is right and who is wrong?”

“The herdsman is right.”

“But why?”

“Because, the man bought milk and left it at the herdsman’s house. The milk itself turned into curds, where is the guilt of the herdsman?”

Nāgasena said, “Just so is the life of a person. If a person, by this name-and-form, does good and evil deeds in this life, and then is reborn in the next life, the good and evil deeds done in this life are the causes and conditions of that.”