King Mahānāman’s Worries About Rebirth
Question: In place after place, the Buddha instructed one to contemplate
conditioned dharmas as impermanent, suffering, empty,
and devoid of self, thus causing people to gain the Path. How then
can you state that, when one posits the reality of “impermanence,”
that constitutes an erroneous view?
Response: In place after place, the Buddha spoke of impermanence
and in place after place, he spoke of [certain factors] “not
Story: King Mahānāman’s Worries about Rebirth
Take for instance when the Shākyan King, Mahānāman, came to
where the Buddha dwelt and addressed the Buddha, saying, “The
population of Kapilavastu is huge. Sometimes when I encounter a
speeding chariot, a runaway horse, a crazed elephant or battling
people, I lose the thought focused on mindfulness of the Buddha.
At these times, I think to myself, “If I died now, where would I be
The Buddha told Mahānāman, “You should not be frightened.
Do not fear. At such a time, you would not be reborn in one of the
wretched destinies. You would certainly proceed to a good place.
This is analogous to a tree which has always leaned well to the east.
If there is someone who cuts it down, it will certainly fall toward
“The situation is identical in the case of a person who is good.
When the body deteriorates and one then dies, because throughout
the long night [of time], the mental consciousness of the wholesome
mind has imbued the mind with faith, moral virtue, learning, giving,
and wisdom, one will certainly gain the benefit of it and thus
achieve rebirth in the heavens.”
Concluding Exegesis Discussion
If it was the case that all dharmas are impermanent by virtue of
being produced and destroyed in every thought moment, why did
the Buddha say that, because all of the meritorious qualities permeate
the mind, one will certainly gain a superior rebirth? On account
of this, one should realize that [dharmas] are not impermanent by
nature.Question: If impermanence is not actually the case, why did the
Buddha speak of impermanence?
Response: The Buddha accorded with what was appropriate for
[particular] beings and so spoke that dharma for their sakes. It was
in order to refute the inverted view [which imagines] permanence
that he spoke of impermanence.
[In the opposite case], because people were unaware of or did
not believe in later existences, he spoke of the mind going on into
a later existence and being reborn in the heavens, [explaining that]
the karmic causes and conditions of offenses and merit are not lost
even in a million kalpas.
These are instances of the counteractive siddhānta (doctrinal perspective).
They do not reflect [the ultimate truth of] the supreme
meaning siddhānta. The true character of dharmas does not involve
either the concept of permanence or the concept of impermanence.
Then, too, the Buddha spoke in place after place of the emptiness of
dharmas. In the emptiness of dharmas, impermanence is nonexistent.
It is for these reasons that it is stated here that to claim that the
world is impermanent is an erroneous view. Hence one refers to the
emptiness of dharmas.
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From Nagarjuna's commentary on the PP sutra; translated by Bhikshu Dharmamitra as Marvelous Stories from the Perfection of Wisdom.
Distrust everyone in whom the impulse to punish is powerful!
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