How Gotama realised continued existence

Hi , Gotama realised that with birth as condition , aging and death comes to be but how did Gotama as an unawakened bodhisatta came to realise existence (assuming it is past live) ?

At Savatthī. “Bhikkhus, before my enlightenment, while I was still a bodhisatta, not yet fully enlightened, it occurred to me: ‘Alas, this world has fallen into trouble, in that it is born, ages, and dies, it passes away and is reborn, yet it does not understand the escape from this suffering headed by aging-and-death. When now will an escape be discerned from this suffering headed by aging-and-death?’

“Then, bhikkhus, it occurred to me: ‘When what exists does aging-and-death come to be? By what is aging-and-death conditioned? ’ Then, bhikkhus, through careful attention, there took place in me a breakthrough by wisdom: ‘When there is birth, aging-and-death comes to be; aging-and-death has birth as its condition.’
Then it occurred to me: ‘When what exists is there rebirth? … continued existence …

I assume this is a summary of his experience.

In another sutta, he described more in details:

After eating solid food and gathering my strength, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, I entered and remained in the first absorption … second absorption … third absorption … fourth absorption. When my mind had immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—I extended it toward recollection of past lives. I recollected many past lives. That is: one, two, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand rebirths; many eons of the world contracting, many eons of the world expanding, many eons of the world contracting and expanding. And so I recollected my many kinds of past lives, with features and details. This was the first knowledge, which I achieved in the first watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed and knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed and light arose, as happens for a meditator who is diligent, keen, and resolute.

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Paticcasamuppāda is consistently described as realizable and knowable to the same extent as the Buddha without psychic powers and for the sotāpanna, so this cannot be it. See SN 12.20, SN 12.33, SN 12.34, SN 12.68, SN 12.70, etc. for some discussion of this.


Yes , that is true . But the question is , how ? It seems Gotama started backward should i say , contemplating from death in backward order towards birth follows by existence (bhava) , so how was the actual realisation occurred for Him when still unawakened ? It can be inferred that there is death because prior to it has birth . But if existence is link of previous life , how one suppose to observe it without psychic .

Majhima Nikaya 19 gives a view of the Buddha-to-be’s thought process prior to awakening. It shows he knew what type of thought did and didn’t lead to unbinding, so had good insight. Unbinding means escape from the cycle of birth and death, and nibbana is also referred to as the deathless. Escape from the cycle was a primary motivation. He began pondering this when seeing old age> sickness>, and >death, which showed a progression indicating samsara has momentum. This just a simple conclusion drawn when observing the cycles of nature-- it is moving, changing. Similarly another insight and certainty occurs with awakening:

Through dispassion, he is fully released. With full release, there is the knowledge, ‘Fully released.’ He discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’"—Samyutta Nikaya 35.28

Anguttara Nikaya 2.30 gives the two-factored basis for achieving clear knowing, which is developed gradually and not confined to nibbana:

“Monks, whoever develops & pursues mindfulness immersed in the body encompasses whatever skillful qualities are on the side of clear knowing. Just as whoever pervades the great ocean with his awareness encompasses whatever rivulets flow down into the ocean, in the same way, whoever develops & pursues mindfulness immersed in the body encompasses whatever skillful qualities are on the side of clear knowing.”—Majhima Nikaya 119

Maybe it just means parents? That is, birth requires previous beings to empregnate and give birth? Beings require food, food requires hunger, hunger requires affects, affects require sensations, sensations require sense organs, organs require a body a body requires a mind, a mind requires composition, composition requires unknowns… no need to remember past lives, just that new ones require old ones.

Full Meditation on the 7th Jhana will give you what your answer requires.

In that sutta he stated that it was through careful attention that he made a breakthrough by wisdom - that is, the same way he comprehended each of the other links of dependent origination on the night of his enlightenment.

He remained a bodhisatta until the moment during the 3rd watch of the night when his wisdom became complete.

(Edited for clarity & to use the same terminology as the quoted translation)


Hi thanks , the question is , if bhava is existence of previous life , how a person without psychic yet merely with careful attention able to reveal , know and realise that present birth occurence is because due to previous life existence . Not by inferences . How did the unawakened Gotama revealed that ? Then there is argument saying one do not need psychic in order to penetrate into previous life to reveal its existence . Remember the sutta mentioned Gotama works backwards from death then to birth then to bhava …etc etc .

I think it is happening on the night he got enlightened.

On the same sutta you referenced, there is a quote

Then it occurred to me: I have discovered the path to awakening. That is: When name and form cease, consciousness ceases. When consciousness ceases, name and form cease. When name and form cease, the six sense fields cease. When the six sense fields cease, contact ceases. … That is how this entire mass of suffering ceases. ‘Cessation, cessation.’ Such was the vision, knowledge, wisdom, realization, and light that arose in me regarding teachings not learned before from another.

That sentence in bold is usually associated with his enlightenment.

In the traditional account, the night of enlightenment is usually described as the Bodhisatta acquired 3 knowledges: 1.) Recollection of past lives
2) Clairvoyance on how other beings died and reborn according to their deeds.
3) knowing the path to end defilements.

The vinaya mahakhandaka has this account:

Soon after his awakening, the Buddha was staying at Uruvelā on the bank of the river Nerañjara at the foot of a Bodhi tree. There the Buddha sat cross-legged for seven days without moving, experiencing the bliss of freedom. Then, in the first part of the night, the Buddha reflected on dependent origination in forward and reverse order:

In my understanding, The Buddha understood dependent origination on the night of enlightenment.
But then he only reflected on it after. The night after.

So, I am not sure about other cases/people. But I think the account of the Buddha showed that he understood dependent origination when he saw things with supramundane powers.

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I don’t fully understand your question but

suffering as the first noble truth is defined as

Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.

All these things happen in a single life, these things aren’t always present, but they’re liable to arise. Keyword being “liable”

However the cause is present all the time for a Puthujjana:

2nd noble truth

the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming.

One of those 3 forms of cravings are going to be present, so a craving is always present. Thus, as long as a craving is present, suffering is liable to arise.

This is timeless, akaliko, it has nothing to do with the past or future. It has to do with the necessary conditions (what makes things liable) for other things to arise.

Thus, rebirth is irrelevant. It has nothing to do with this topic, even if rebirth is true or not, the Buddha was concerned with causes and conditions which doesn’t require going into the past to see.

In fact he said going to the past is pointless because the universe is probably infinite so he would never find the housebuilder by going back in time, he’d probably die in meditation from starvation trying to go back infinite aeons, so instead he changed his focus to presently occuring conditons and that’s where he found the housebuilder.

‘Transmigration has no known beginning. No first point is found of sentient beings roaming and transmigrating, hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving.

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The Arahant has an insight into the conditionality of consciousness, kamma (intention) and name & form that the unawakened do not have. On that insight they understand how kamma (intention) is a condition for sustaining consciousness in the same way that we unawakened folk, with our limited wisdom, understand the conditionality between being born and dying. That which is born will die. For the Arahant, that which still has tainted intentional activity will have consciousness.

It’s also helpful to remember that there are 6 senses in Buddhism, not 5 and so it’s possible to have a consciousness which arises solely based on mental processes, such as this one

“But when someone who is attached has laid down this body and has not been reborn in one of the realms, what does Master Gotama say is their fuel then?”

“When someone who is attached has laid down this body, Vaccha, and has not been reborn in one of the realms, I say they’re fueled by craving. For craving is their fuel then.”

So an Arahant has no consciousness?

when a mendicant is a perfected one, with defilements ended, who has completed the spiritual journey, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, achieved their own true goal, utterly ended the fetters of rebirth, and is rightly freed through enlightenment. Their five sense faculties still remain. So long as their senses have not gone they continue to experience the agreeable and disagreeable, to feel pleasure and pain. The ending of greed, hate, and delusion in them is called the element of extinguishment with something left over.

Iti 44

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