In the time of the Buddha, there were in Savatthi city five hundred upasakas each with 500 followers. They all practised the dhamma. The eldest of them, Mahadhammika, the head of all upasakas had seven sons and seven daughters who also lived up to the teaching of the Buddha. As he grew old, he became sick and weak. He invited the bhikkhus to his house and while attending their recitation of the dhamma, he saw the celestial chariot arriving to take him to the deva world. He said to the devas, “Please wait.”
The bhikkhus stopped reciting as they thought that the dying man had told them to do so. His sons and daughters cried, believing that he was babbling for fear of death. After the bhikkhus departure, he came round, told the people around him to throw a garland of flowers up into the air. They did as they were told and lo! the garland remained hanging in the air. The upasaka said that the garland indicated the position of the chariot from Susita heaven, and after advising his daughters and sons to do good deeds like him for rebirth in the deva world, he died and landed in Susita. This is how the vision of deva world appears to the good man on his death bed. A layman in Moulmein said that just before he died he saw a very good pucca building. This, too, may be a vision of the deva world. Some dying persons who are to be reborn as human beings have visions of their would be parents, residence and so forth. A Sayadaw in Moulmein was killed by robbers. Three years later a child from Mergui came to Moulmein and identified by name the Sayadaws with whom he said he had lived together in his previous life. He said that the robbers stabbed him when they did not get the money, that he ran away to the jetty where he got into a boat, reached Mergui and dwelt in the home of his parents. The flight, journey by boat, etc., were perhaps visions of the Sayadaws afterlife.
Flashbacks of kammic acts and visions of a future life occur even in cases of instant death. According to the commentary, they occur even when a fly on a bar of iron is crushed to pieces with a hammer. Today, there arc nuclear weapons that can reduce a big city to ashes in a moment. From the Buddhist point of view, these weapons have appeared because of the evil kamma of their potential victims. Those who are killed by these bombs also see the flashbacks and visions. This may sound incredible to those who do not know the mechanism of the mind thoroughly but, it presents no difficulty to the yogi who contemplates the nama rupa in action. For it is said in the scriptures that units of consciousness arise and pass away by the billions in the twinkling of an eye. The yogi who has attained udayabbaya insight knows empirically that hundreds of mental units arise and dissolve in a moment. So he has no doubt about the possibility of consciousness centering or flashbacks and visions in those who meet violent and instant death.
Consciousness is always focused on objects. We often recall what we have done and think of the deva world or the human society. If a man who has done good deeds dies with these thoughts, he will be reborn as a deva or a human being. The objects of these thoughts on death bed are called gatinimitta, visions of objects associated with kamma are called kammanimitta.
References to these death bed phenomena are to be found not only in the commentaries, but also in the Pali pitaka. In the Balapandita and other suttas, the Buddha speaks of the death bed memories of good or bad deeds and likens them to the shadows of a mountain dominating the plains in the evening. It is impossible to remove them. Once I saw a dying woman who showed great fear as if she were face to face with an enemy who was out to treat her cruelly. She was speechless and her relatives tried to comfort her but, it was in vain. Perhaps she was having a foretaste of her unhappy future as a result of evil kamma.
So it is necessary to do good kamma that will produce mental images of objects and persons associated with it and visions of a good afterlife at the moment of dying. If the good deed is rational, strongly motivated and one of the eight kinds of good deeds in sensual sphere, the resultant consciousness is one of the four kinds of rational vinnana. Rebirth is then associated with amoha (non ignorance) and as such it takes place with three root conditions (hetu) viz., amoha, adosa (non aggressiveness) and alobha (non craving). A person reborn with these innate tendencies can attain jhana and psychic powers if he practises samatha and can attain the holy path and Nibbana if he devotes himself to vipassana. Good acts that are motivated by the desire for Nibbana lead to such good rebirth and finally to the path, and Nibbana through contemplation or hearing a sermon.
If the motivation is weak or if it is a good, but unenlightened deed, that is, a good deed divorced from the belief in kamma, the result is one of the four kinds of unenlightened (moha vipaka) consciousness. The rebirth is then devoid of amoha (non ignorance), there being only the other root conditions, viz., alobha and adosa. It is termed //dvehetupatisandhika//. A man reborn in this way cannot attain jhanas or the Path as he lacks the innate intelligence for it. If the good deed is unenlightened and half hearted, the result will be good rebirth consciousness without any good predispositions. The person concerned is likely to have defective eyes, ears, etc.
So when you do a good deed you should do it with zeal and with Nibbana as your objective. If you set your heart on Nibbana, the good deed will lead you to it and the zeal with which you do it will ensure rebirth with good predispositions. It is not necessary to pray for such noble rebirth because you are assured of it if you do good deeds intelligently and zealously. But, if you lack zeal in doing good, yours will be a rebirth with only alobha and adosa.
Some people say that dana and sila mean good kamma formations (punnabhisankhara) which, being rooted in ignorance, lead to rebirth and samsaric suffering. This is a mistaken view that stems from ignorance. If the practice of dana and sila is motivated by the desire for Nibbana, it will ensure the noblest rebirth and lead to the supreme goal. It was due to dana and sila that Sariputta and other disciples of the Buddha finally attained Nibbana. The same may be said of paccekabuddhas.
The bodhisatta, too, attained supreme enlightenment in the same way by praying that his good deeds contribute to the attainment of omniscience (sabbannutanana). Here rebirth with three good predispositions, viz., amoha, adosa and alobha involved in the genesis of Buddhahood is of two kinds, viz., consciousness associated with joy (somanassa) and consciousness associated with equanimity (upekkha). Again each of these two vinnanas is of two kinds, viz., asankharika (spontaneous) and sasankharika (non spontaneous). The bodhisattas rebirth consciousness was powerful, zealous asankharika.
According to ancient commentaries, it was somanassa consciousness. For the bodhisatta wanted very much to promote the welfare of all living beings, he had infinite metta (good will or loving kindness) for them. A strong willed metta is usually coupled with somanassa and, hence, the bodhisattas rebirth consciousness was tinged with joy.
But, Mahasiva thera suggested upekkha as its (bodhisattas rebirth) concomitant. In his view, the bodhisattas mind was firm and profound, thereby making equanimity rather than joy the characteristic of his rebirth consciousness. In any event, this rebirth vinnana had its origin in his good deed that was motivated by the desire for supreme enlightenment. Thus, although the enlightened good kamma formations (sankhara) lead to rebirth, it does not prolong samsaric existence; on the contrary it contributes to liberation from the life cycle.
Consciousness of any kind, whether it be rebirth consciousness or otherwise, is a matter of very short duration. It has only three points of time, viz., arising (//upada//), being (//thi//) and passing away (//bhanga//). According to the commentaries, these mental units arise and pass away by the millions in the twinkling of an eye. The moment of each unit is so short that it does not last even the millionth part of a second.
After the cessation of rebirth consciousness there follows the stream of subconsciousness (bhavanga) which flows ceaselessly unless it is interrupted by a different kind of consciousness called vithi, that is the kind of mental activity involved in seeing, hearing, and so forth. The stream of bhavanga lasts as long as there is life, its mainspring being sankhara as in the case of rebirth consciousness. Its duration, too, depends mainly on sankhara or kamma. It may be like a stone thrown into the air. The stone will travel a long way if the hand which throws it is strong, but it will not go very far if the hand is weak. The force of kamma may also be compared to the initial velocity of the bullet, rocket, and so forth. Death means the dissolution of the consciousness that is born of the same kammic force. Hence the initial rebirth consciousness, the stream of subconsciousness and the last dying (cuti) consciousness of an existence comprise the mental life that is wholly rooted in past kamma.
Also due the kamma or sankhara are the five kinds of vithi consciousness, viz., those involved in seeing, hearing, smelling, eating and touching as well as the mental unit that focuses on the sense objects, the consciousness that reflects (santirana citta) and the consciousness that registers (tadarammana citta) the objects of impulse moments (javana). These have their roots in original kamma that leads to rebirth or other kinds of kamma.
The Abhidhamma pitaka attributes all kinds of consciousness, including wholesome, unwholesome and non kammic or kiriya citta to sankhara. This view is reasonable since the kiriya cittas, too, evolve from the bhavanga citta that is rooted in sankhara. But the doctrine of Paticcasamuppada specifically describes the three rounds (vatta) of defilements, kamma, kammic results and their cause and effect relationships. So it ascribes to sankhara only the 32 types of mundane resultant cittas that stem from kamma vatta. Of these 32 cittas we have described 19 cittas that comprise rebirth, subconscious state and death of the other cittas. Of the other cittas some are wholesome according to the sankhara.
In the doctrine of Paticcasamuppada, the first two factors i.e., avijja and sankhara are described as the causes in the past life, vinnana, nama rupa, phassa and vedana as the consequences in the present life; tanha, upadana and bhava as the causes in the present life and jati and jaramarana (old age and death) as the consequences that will occur in the future life.