THE PROBLEMS OF LIFE
Who? Whence? Whither?
Why? What? are some important problems that affect all humanity.
1) Who is
man? is our first question.
Let us proceed with what is self-evident and perceptible
Man possesses a body which is seen either by our senses or by means
of apparatus. This material body consists of forces and qualities which are in
a state of constant flux.
Scientists find it difficult to define what matter
is. Certain philosophers define "matter as that in which proceed the changes
called motion, and motion as those changes which proceed in matter. "
Pali term for matter is Rupa. It is explained as that which changes or disintegrates.
That which manifests itself is also another explanation.
According to Buddhism
there are four fundamental material elements. They are Pathavi, Apo, Tejo, and
Vayo Pathavi means the element of extension, the substratum of matter. Without
it objects cannot occupy space. The qualities of hardness and softness which are
purely relative are two conditions of this element. This element of extension
is present in earth, water, fire and air. For instance, the water above is supported
by water below. It is this element of extension in conjunction with the element
of motion (Vayo) that produces the upward pressure. Heat or cold is the Tejo element,
while fluidity is the Apo element.
Apo is the element of cohesion. Unlike Pathavi
it is intangible. It is this element which enables the scattered atoms of matter
to cohere and thus gives us the idea of body.
Tejo is the element of heat.
Cold is also a form of Tejo. Both heat and cold are included in Tejo because they
possess the power of maturing bodies, or, in other words, the vitalizing energy.
Preservation and decay are due to this element.
Vayo is the element of motion.
The movements are caused by this element. Motion is regarded as the force or the
generator of heat. Both motion and heat in the material realm correspond respectively
to consciousness and Kamma in the mental.
These four powerful forces are inseparable
and interrelated, but one element may preponderate over another, as, for instance,
the element of extension preponderates in earth; cohesion, in water; heat, in
fire; and motion, in air.
Thus, matter consists of forces and qualities which
constantly change not remaining the same even for two consecutive moments. According
to Buddhism matter endures only for 17 thought-moments. 
At the moment of
birth, according to biology, man inherits from his parents an infinitesimally
minute cell 30 millionth part of an inch across. "In the course of nine months
this speck grows to a living bulk 15,000 million times greater than it was at
outset.  This tiny chemico-physical cell is the physical foundation of man.
to Buddhism sex is also determined at the moment of conception.
matter there is another important factor in this complex machinery of man. It
is the mind. As such it pleases some learned writers to say that man is not Mind
plus Body, but is a Mind-Body. Scientists declare that life emerges from matter
and mind from life. But they do not give us a satisfactory explanation with regard
to the development of the mind
Unlike the material body immaterial mind is
invisible, but it could be sensed directly. An old couplet runs:-
is mind? No matter.
What is matter? Never mind."
We are aware of our
thoughts and feelings and so forth by direct sensation, and we infer their existence
in others by analogy.
There are several Pali terms for mind. Mana, Citta, Viññana
are the most noteworthy of them. Compare the Pali root man, to think, with the
English word man and the Pali word Manussa which means he who has a developed
In Buddhism no distinction is made between mind and consciousness.
Both are used as synonymous terms. Mind may be defined as simply the awareness
of an object since there is no agent or a soul that directs all activities. It
consists of fleeting mental states which constantly arise and perish with lightning
rapidity. "With birth for its source and death for its mouth it persistently
flows on like a river receiving from the tributary streams of sense constant accretions
to its flood." Each momentary consciousness of this ever-changing life-stream,
on passing away, transmits its whole energy, all the indelibly recorded impressions,
to its successor. Every fresh consciousness therefore consists of the potentialities
of its predecessors and something more. As all impressions are indelibly recorded
in this ever-changing palimpsest-like mind, and as all potentialities are transmitted
from life to life, irrespective of temporary physical disintegrations, reminiscence
of past births or past incidents becomes a possibility. If memory depends solely
on brain cells, it becomes an impossibility.
Like electricity mind is both
a constructive and destructive powerful force. It is like a double-edged weapon
that can equally be used either for good or evil. One single thought that arises
in this invisible mind can even save or destroy the world. One such thought can
either populate or depopulate a whole country. It is mind that creates one's heaven.
It is mind that creates one's hell.
Ouspensky writes:--"Concerning the
latent energy contained in the phenomena of consciousness, i.e. in thoughts, feelings,
desires, we discover that its potentiality is even more immeasurable, more boundless.
From personal experience, from observation, from history, we know that ideas,
feelings, desires, manifesting themselves, can liberate enormous quantities of
energy, and create infinite series of phenomena. An idea can act for centuries
and milleniums and only grow and deepen, evoking ever new series of phenomena,
liberating ever fresh energy. We know that thoughts continue to live and act when
even the very name of the man who created them has been converted into a myth,
like the names of the founders of ancient religions, the creators of the immortal
poetical works of antiquity, heroes, leaders, and prophets. Their words are repeated
by innumerable lips, their ideas are studied and commented upon.
each thought of a poet contains enormous potential force, like the power confined
in a piece of coal or in a living cell, but infinitely more subtle, imponderable
and potent. "
Observe, for instance, the potential force that lies
in the following significant words of the Buddha:
dhamma - mano - settha - manomaya.
Mind fore-runs deeds; mind is chief, and
mind-made are they.
Mind or consciousness, according to Buddhism, arises at
the very moment of conception, together with matter. Consciousness is therefore
present in the foetus. This initial consciousness, technically known as rebirth-consciousness
or relinking-consciousness (Patisandhi viññana), is conditioned
by past kamma of the person concerned. The subtle mental, intellectual, and moral
differences that exist amongst mankind are due to this Kamma conditioned consciousness,
the second factor of man.
To complete the trio that constitutes man there is
a third factor, the phenomenon of life that vitalizes both mind and matter. Due
to the presence of life reproduction becomes possible. Life manifests itself both
in physical and mental phenomena. In Pali the two forms of life are termed Nama
jivitindriya and Rupa jivitindriya -- psychic and physical life.
and life are therefore the three distinct factors that constitute man. With their
combination a powerful force known as man with inconceivable possibilities comes
into being. He becomes his own creator and destroyer. In him are found a rubbish-heap
of evil and a storehouse of virtue. In him are found the worm, the brute, the
man, the superman, the deva, the Brahma. Both criminal tendencies and saintly
characteristics are dormant in him. He may either be a blessing or a curse to
himself and others. In fact man is a world by himself.
2) Whence? is our second
How did man originate'?
Either there must be a beginning for man
or there cannot be a beginning. Those who belong to the first school postulate
a first cause, whether as a cosmic force or as an Almighty Being. Those who belong
to the second school deny a first cause for, in common experience, the cause ever
becomes the effect and the effect becomes the cause. In a circle of cause and
effect a first cause is inconceivable. According to the former life has had a
beginning; while according to the latter it is beginningless. In the opinion of
some the conception of a first cause is as ridiculous as a round triangle.
to the scientific standpoint, man is the direct product of the sperm and ovum
cells provided by his parents. Scientists while asserting "Omne vivum ex
vivo"--all life from life, maintain, that mind and life evolved from the
Now, from the scientific standpoint, man is absolutely parent-born.
As such life precedes life. With regard to the origin of the first protoplasm
of life, or "colloid" (whichever we please to call it), scientists plead
According to Buddhism man is born from the matrix of action (kammayoni).
Parents merely provide man with a material layer. As such being precedes being.
At the moment of conception, it is Kamma that conditions the initial consciousness
that vitalizes the foetus. It is this invisible Kammic energy generated from the
past birth that produces mental phenomena and the phenomenon of life in an already
extant physical phenomenon, to complete the trio that constitutes man.
with the conception of beings the Buddha states:--
"Where three are found
in combination, there a germ of life is planted. If mother and father come together,
but it is not the mother's period, and the 'being-to-be born' (gandhabba) is not
present, then no germ of life is planted. If mother and father come together,
and it is the mother's period, but the 'being-to-be-born' is not present, then
again no germ of life is planted. If mother and father come together, and it is
the mother's period, and the 'being-to-bc-born' is also present, then, by the
combination of these three, a germ of life is there planted."
(= gantabba) refers to a suitable being ready to be born in that particular womb.
This term is used only in this particular connection, and must not be mistaken
for a permanent soul.
For a being to be born here a being must die somewhere.
The birth of a being corresponds to the death of a being in a past life; just
as, in conventional terms, the rising of the sun in one place means the setting
of the sun in another place.
The Buddha states:--"a first beginning of
beings who, obstructed by ignorance and fettered by craving, wander and fare on,
is not to be perceived."
This life-stream flows ad infinitum as long as
it is fed with the muddy waters of ignorance and craving. When these two are completely
cut off, then only does the life-stream cease to flow; rebirth ends as in the
case of Buddhas and Arahants. An ultimate beginning of this life-stream cannot
be determined, as a stage cannot be perceived when this life force was not fraught
with ignorance and craving.
The Buddha has here referred merely to the beginning
of the life-stream of living beings. It is left to scientists to speculate on
the origin and the evolution of the universe.
3) Whither? is our third question.
According to ancient materialism which, in Pali and Samskrit, is
known as Lokayata, man is annihilated after death, leaving behind him any force
generated by him. "Man is composed of four elements. When man dies the earthy
element returns and relapses into the earth; the watery element returns into the
water; the fiery element returns into the fire; the airy element returns into
the air, the senses pass into space.
Wise and fools alike, when the body dissolves.
are cut off, perish, do not exist any longer. There is no other world. Death is
the end of all. This present world alone is real.
The so-called eternal heaven
and hell are the inventions of imposters. 
Materialists believe only in
what is cognizable by the senses. As such matter alone is real. The ultimate principles
are the four elements -- earth, water, fire and air. The self conscious life mysteriously
springs forth from them, just as the genie makes its appearance when Aladdin rubs
his lamp. The brain secretes thought just as liver secretes bile.
In the view
of materialists the belief in the other world, as Sri Radhakrishna states, "is
a sign of mendaciousness, feminism, weakness, cowardice and dishonesty."
to Christianity there is no past for man. The present is only a preparation for
two eternities of heaven and hell. Whether they are viewed as places or states
man has for his future endless felicity in heaven or endless suffering in hell.
Man is therefore not annihilated after death, but his essence goes to eternity.
as Schopenhaeur says, "regards himself as having become out of nothing must
also think that he will again become nothing; or that an eternity has passed before
he was, and then a second eternity had begun, through which he will never cease
to be, is a monstrous thought."
The adherents of Hinduism who believe
in a past and present do not state that man is annihilated after death. Nor do
they say that man is eternalized after death. They believe in an endless series
of past and future births. In their opinion the life-stream of man flows ad infinitum
as long as it is propelled by the force of Kamma, one's actions. In due course
the essence of man may be reabsorbed into Ultimate Reality (Paramatma) from which
his soul emanated.
Buddhism believes in the present. With the present as the
basis it argues the past and future. Just as an electric light is the outward
manifestation of invisible electric energy even so man is merely the outward manifestation
of an invisible energy known as Kamma. The bulb may break, and the light may be
extinguished, but the current remains and the light may be reproduced in another
bulb. In the same way the Kammic force remains undisturbed by the disintegration
of the physical body, and the passing away of the present consciousness leads
to the arising of a fresh one in another birth. Here the electric current is like
the Kammic force, and the bulb may be compared to the egg-cell provided by the
Past Kamma conditions the present birth; and present Kamma, in combination
with past Kamma, conditions the future. The present is the offspring of the past,
and becomes in turn the parent of the future.
Death is therefore not the complete
annihilation of man, for though that particular life span ended, the force which
hitherto actuated it is not destroyed.
After death the life-flux of man continues
ad infinitum as long as it is fed with the waters of ignorance and craving. In
conventional terms man need not necessarily be born as a man because humans are
not the only living beings. Moreover, earth, an almost insignificant speck in
the universe, is not the only place in which he will seek rebirth. He may be born
in other habitable planes as well. 
If man wishes to put and end to this
repeated series of births, he can do so as the Buddha and Arahants have done by
realizing Nibbana, the complete cessation of all forms of craving.
man go? He can go wherever he wills or likes if he is fit for it. If, with no
particular wish, he leaves his path to be prepared by the course of events, he
will go to the place or state he fully deserves in accordance with his Kamma.
Why? is our last question.
Why is man? Is there a purpose in life? This is
rather a controversial question.
What is the materialistic standpoint? Scientists
"Has life purpose? What, or where, or when?
Out of space
came Universe, came Sun,
Came Earth, came Life, came Man, and more must come.
But as to Purpose: whose or whence? Why, None."
As materialists confine
themselves purely to sense-data and the present material welfare ignoring all
spiritual values, they hold a view diametrically opposite to that of moralists.
In their opinion there is no purposer -- hence there cannot be a purpose. Non-theists,
to which category belong Buddhists as well, do not believe in a creative purposer.
colours wonderfully the peacocks, or who makes the cuckoos coo so well?"
This is one of the chief arguments of the materialists to attribute everything
to the natural order of things.
"Eat, drink, and be merry, for death comes
to all, closing our lives," appears to be the ethical ideal of their system.
In their opinion, as Sri Radhakrishna writes:-- Virtue is a delusion and enjoyment
is the only reality. Death is the end of life. Religion is a foolish aberration,
a mental disease. There was a distrust of everything good, high, pure, and compassionate.
The theory stands for sensualism and selfishness and the gross affirmation of
the loud will. There is no need to control passion and instinct, since they are
nature's legacy to men. "
Sarvadarsana Sangraha says:--
life is yours, live joyously,
None can escape Death's searching eye;
once this frame of ours they burn,
How shall it e'er again return? "
life remains let a man live happily, let him feed on ghee even though he runs
Now let us turn towards science to get a solution to the question
It should be noted that "science is a study of things,
a study of what is and that religion is a study of ideals, a study of what should
Sir J. Arthur Thompson maintains that science is incomplete because
it cannot answer the question why.
Dealing with cosmic Purpose, Bertrand Russell
states three kinds of views -- theistic, pantheistic, and emergent. "The
first", he writes, "holds that God created the world and decreed the
laws of nature because he foresaw that in time some good would be evolved. In
this view purpose exists consciously in the mind of the Creator, who remains external
to His creation.
"In the 'pantheistic' form, God is not external to the
universe, but is merely the universe considered as a whole. There cannot therefore
be an act of creation, but there is a kind of creative force in the universe,
which causes it to develop according to a plan which this creative force may be
said to have had in mind throughout the process.
"In the 'emergent' form
the purpose is more blind. At an earlier stage, nothing in the universe foresees
a later stage, but a kind of blind impulsion leads to those changes which bring
more developed forms into existence, so that, in some rather obscure sense, the
end is implicit in the beginning. "
We offer no comments. These are
merely the views of different religionists and great thinkers.
is a cosmic purpose or not a question arises as to the usefulness of the tapeworm,
snakes, mosquitoes and so forth, and for the existence of rabies. How does one
account for the problem of evil? Are earthquakes, floods, pestilences, and wars
Expressing his own view about Cosmic Purpose, Russell boldly declares:--"Why
in any case, this glorification of man? How about lions and tigers? They destroy
fewer animals or human lives than we do, and they are much more beautiful than
we are. How about ants? They manage the Corporate State much better than any Fascist.
Would not a world of nightingales and larks and deer be better than our human
world of cruelty and injustice and war?
The believers in cosmic purpose make
much of our supposed intelligence, but their writings make one doubt it. If I
were granted omnipotence, and millions of years to experiment in, I should not
think Man much to boast of as the final result of all my efforts. "
is the purpose of life according to different religions?
According to Hinduism
the purpose of life is "to be one with Brahma" or "to be re-absorbed
in the Divine Essence from which his soul emanated."
According to Judaism,
Christianity and Islam, it is "to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever."
an average person of any religion be prepared to give up his earthly life, to
which he tenaciously clings, for immortality in their ultimate havens of peace?
how does Buddhism answer the question "why?"
Buddhism denies the
existence of a Creator. As such from a Buddhist standpoint there cannot be a fore-ordained
purpose. Nor does Buddhism advocate fatalism, determinism, or pre-destination
which controls man's future independent of his free actions. In such a case freewill
becomes an absolute farce and life becomes purely mechanistic.
To a large extent
man's actions are more or less mechanistic, being influenced by his own doings,
upbringing, environment and so forth. But to a certain extent man can exercise
his freewill. A person, for instance, falling from a cliff will be attracted to
the ground just as an inanimate stone would. In this case he cannot use his freewill
although he has a mind unlike the stone. If he were to climb a cliff, he could
certainly use his freewill and act as he likes. A stone, on the contrary, is not
free to do so of its own accord. Man has the power to choose between right and
wrong, good and bad. Man can either be hostile or friendly to himself and others.
It all depends on his mind and its development.
Although there is no specific
purpose in man's existence, yet man is free to have some purpose in life.
therefore, is the purpose of life?
Ouspensky writes:--"Some say that the
meaning of life is in service, in the surrender of self, in self-sacrifice, in
the sacrifice of everything, even life itself. Others declare that the meaning
of life is in the delight of it, relieved against 'the expectation of the final
horror of death.' Some say that the meaning of life is in perfection, and the
creation of a better future beyond the grave, or in future life for ourselves.
Others say that the meaning of life is in the approach to non-existence; still
others, that the meaning of life is in the perfection of the race, in the organization
of life on earth; while there are those who deny the possibility of even attempting
to know its meaning."
Criticising all these views the learned writer says:--"The
fault of all these explanations consists in the fact that they all attempt to
discover the meaning of life outside of itself, either in the nature of humanity,
or in some problematical existence beyond the grave, or again in the evolution
of the Ego throughout many successive incarnations -- always in something outside
of the present life of man. But if instead of thus speculating about it, men would
simply look within themselves, then they would see that in reality the meaning
of life is not after all so obscure. It consists in knowledge. "
the opinion of a Buddhist, the purpose of life is Supreme Enlightenment (Sambodhi),
i.e. understanding of oneself as one really is. This may be achieved through sublime
conduct, mental culture, and penetrative insight; or in other words, through service
In service are included boundless loving-kindness, compassion,
and absolute selflessness which prompt man to be of service to others. Perfection
embraces absolute purity and absolute wisdom.
Ouspensky -- Tertium Organum p. 8.
 During the time occupied by a flash
of lightning billions and billions of thought-moments may arise.
 Sir Charles
Sherrington - Life's Unfolding, p. 32.
 Ouspensky -- Tertium Organum p.
 Sri Radhakrishna -- Indian Philosophy. Vol. 1. p. 278.
are about 1,000,000 planetary systems in the Milky Way in which life may exist."
See Fred Hoyle, The Nature of the Universe pp. 87-89.
 Indian Philosophy
Vol. I, p. 201.
 Indian Philosophy Vol. I, p. 2.
 Bertrand Russell,
Religion and Science. p. 191.
 Bertrand Russel, Religion and Science, p.221.
Tertium Organum, p. 192.