On Becoming

“You are not a living being — you are a living becoming.” This is a catchy New Agey kind of a thing to say. When people hear this saying they usually smile and get all excited. They are unaware that this active and continual becoming is a problem.This becoming is the process known as “rebirth” in the Scripture.

Kamma is the culprit. If there were no kamma then there would be no rebirth of anger, happiness, sadness, joy, desire and the myriad experiences we find on our emotional roller coaster. Kamma is sort of like a flood. Mind, as personality, is like a leaf caught at the very front of the flood. It has no choice but to go where the water takes it. The route of the flood is determined by the landscape that has been created by eons of causes and conditions that have affected the geography of the terrain. When the water goes forward only to turn right that is where leaf goes. Then the flood goes straight again by angling left. There is the rebirth of “straight.” If the flood moves to the right again, because the conditions of the landscape make it head that way, there is a rebirth of “right.”

Mind works like this. Causes and conditions determine which way the flood goes just as the causes and conditions of our experience determine which way our kamma pushes us. Similar stimuli lead to similar kamma arising. 

Becoming takes place on three levels, sensual, form and formlessness.  They provide an opening for clinging in the present and the future. When examining the process of becoming as a factor in dependent co-arising, the Buddha does not define it. Instead, he simply points out that it happens on these three levels.

“Which becoming? These three becomings: sensuality-becoming, form becoming,

& formless-becoming. This is called becoming.” — Samyutta Nikaya 12:2

In another discourse the Buddha notes that these three levels can be ranked on ascending levels of refinement, and that they are produced by levels of kamma that grow ever more refined. Not only do they arise here and now but also in the future and even after that.

Craving and clinging determine the location of a particular becoming within the range of possibilities offered by the field of kamma. Craving and clinging are conditions that have determined the course of the mental terrain in which mind works. The act of locating, however, is also an act of definition. When an act of craving and clinging grasps on to a particular goal, it acts as a kernel around which a sense of self-identity coalesces, as one identifies the goal—or whatever aggregates can be used as a means toward that goal—as “me” or “mine” and viola, an ego or personality arises. 

The discourses tend to state this familiar psychological truth “formally” as “the five aggregates.” If a person’s desires, i.e., craving and clinging, consistently center on raising a child, one becomes increasingly defined by their actions, in their mind as a parent, and this identification emerges in the mind of others, like the individual’s own parents, friends or business associates. If a person is devoted to playing music, they will find they are increasingly defined as a musician by both themselves and others to the exclusion of all else.

This process of definition tends to take on such solidity and reality that we often lose sight of its fabricated nature. The more solid and real it seems, the more we let ourselves be limited by it and the more we invest in it. This is why the Buddha’s approach of analyzing it into its component factors, such as the five aggregates, is such a useful first step in overcoming those limitations.

Then Ven. Ananda went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, bowed down to him and sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One, “Lord, this word, ‘becoming, becoming’ — to what extent is there becoming?”

“Ananda, if there were no kamma ripening in the sensuality-property, would sensuality-becoming be discerned?”

“No, lord.”

“Thus kamma is the field, consciousness the seed, and craving the moisture. The consciousness of living beings hindered by ignorance & fettered by craving is established in/tuned to a lower property. Thus there is the production of renewed becoming in the future.

“If there were no kamma ripening in the form-property, would form-becoming be discerned?”

“No, lord.”

“Thus kamma is the field, consciousness the seed, and craving the moisture. The consciousness of living beings hindered by ignorance & fettered by craving is established in/tuned to a middling property. Thus there is the production of renewed becoming in the future.

“If there were no kamma ripening in the formless-property, would formless-becoming be discerned?”

“No, lord.”

“Thus kamma is the field, consciousness the seed, and craving the moisture. The consciousness of living beings hindered by ignorance & fettered by craving is established in/tuned to a refined property. Thus there is the production of renewed becoming in the future. This is how there is becoming.”

About Sensei Mui

Sensei Mui is a Buddhist monk who took formal refuge and bhikkhu ordination as a Theravada monk in Thailand during the early 1970s. Since those days he has both studied and was ordained in multiple Mahayana lineages. Today the main focus of his practice and teaching is from the Pure Land perspective. He currently acts as the Director and Administrator for Hongaku Jodo, an educational and practice oriented organization of Buddhist teachers of Dharma, pure and simple.
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