PUNABBHAVA OR PUNARUPPATTI ? Is there a question here ?

Bhikkhu Professor Dhammavihari

We are surprised to find Buddhists, both monks and laymen, spending quite a lot of their time and energy trying to settle the meaning of the two words punabbhava and punaruppatti presented above. We undertake a clarification of these two very vital Buddhist concepts here at a time when there is in the country today what we would call a dangerously misguided movement by one or two enthusiastic persons to tear off Buddhism in the country, both in its theory and practice, from the Pali language and render it into Sinhala as the language of the land.

We would be much happier than we are now if our Sinhala Buddhists knew and know what the Pali words mean when they make adorations of the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha and make offerings unto them. Or when the monks make chantings of paritta, invoking blessings upon them. If both parties, both monks and laymen, make an honest endeavour, it should not take them years to master the meaning of what they say. Knowing of the many translation errors we discover every day in Sinhala versions of Buddhist texts, it would be calamitous and disastrous, if we completely do away with the Pali originals.

Towards achieving this intimacy and familiarity in Sinhala regarding the Pali originals relating to the Dhamma for the purpose of increasing and enhancing the quality of saddhà in our Buddhists, we should definitely strive, but in a greater spirit of friendship and cooperation and not of hostility and distrust. Pali texts should get rendered into many languages, with greater clarity and precision, and move into the midst of as many ethnic groups as possible. Therein lies the benefit of the impact of Buddhism.

The two basic concepts we are handling here are bhava and uppatti. These two are prefixed with the word puna which in Pali means again or repeatedly. Bhava in Pali in our Buddhist context means " a being's continuance in samsàra through death and birth, over and over again." According to our Buddhist texts, this is what one legitimately inherits as a result of his or her clinging [ or upàdàna ] to the phenomenon of existence. Pali puts it as upàdàna-paccayà bhavo. Do not just translate the word bhava as 'becoming'. Take it in the context of the Pañiccasamuppàda where it occurs as upàdàna-paccayà bhavo and bhava-paccayà jàti.

While bhava means a being's continuance in samsàra through death and birth, over and over again, until he terminates it in Nirvàna, jàti means each manifestation of that being in a new life form : yà tesaü tesaü sattànam tamhi tamhi sattanikàye jàti sajàti okkanti nibbatti abhinibbatti khandhànaü pàtubhàvo àyatanànaü pañilàbho. Ayaü vuccati àvuso jàti. [ Saccavibhaïga Sutta. M.III.249 ]. We also notice that this concept of jàti is invariably linked up with the concept of uppatti [from the verbal concept of uppajjati which means 'is born' ]. Death is described as being invariably followed by birth : miyati ca cavati ca uppajjati ca.

Thus it becomes abundantly clear that in all cases of Buddhist thinking in terms of continuance in the painful process of existence called samsàra, the term bhava denotes the total inheritance of being in samsàra. It is the larger unit and is vast and expansive. Being caught within it, no matter in what sort of relatively blissful state, is described as being an utterly stupid position. This is said to be what people do when they do not know the true doctrine of the Buddha.

Here is Theri Sumedhà waxing eloquent as one who knows the Dhamma and knows what she is talking about. She is very severe and stern in her chastisement when she is critical of people's aspiration to born in the heavenly worlds. Enjoy it in her own words.

Saccàni amma buddhavaradesitàni te bahutarà ajànantà
ye abhinandanti bhavagataü pihanti devesu upapattiü
Devesu ' pi upapatti asassatà bhavagate aniccamhi
na ca santasanti bàlà punappunaü jàyitabbassa.
Therãgàthà vv.454-5

Many, O mother, not understanding the teachings of the Noble Buddha, rejoice contnuing in Samsàra. They aspire for birth in the heavenly worlds. Birth even in the heavenly worlds is impermanent, for it is still within the ever-changing samsàra. The foolish dread not at being born again again. [ Translated by the author ].

In the above verses we also note that the word upapatti is being used freely to denote birth in any state of existence within the samsàric frame as in devesu upapatti. It is also important to note here that samsàra is referred to here as impermanent bhavagata [ bhavagate aniccamhi ]. This is why the Buddhists have to awaken to the reality of the situation that 'being in samsàra and being subject to the recurrent process of being born again and again is painful : dukkhà jàti punappunaü.

This is also the reason why an arahant gleefully says that the present is his last birth [ ayaü antima jàti ] and that he has no more bhava left for him [ natthi ' dàni punabbhavo ].

Now please appreciate that both punabbhava and punaruppatti have to be part of your stock in trade, if you have to transact business as a Buddhist. Both dimensions implied by these two terms are equally indispensable. You must soon acquire the conceptual magnitude of your Buddhist thinking. You cannot afford to over-simply your religion, neither because of absolute poverty in your knowledge of the Dhamma nor because you think, without much basis, that you are an expert in the field.