Is rebirth a delusional belief?

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21

I find it difficult to assign a meaning to the word 'rebirth'.

Here are some hints that rebirth might not be real:

  • Views regarding one's past and future existence are included in the "62 false beliefs"
  • Those views are ascribed to non-Buddhist ascetics
  • Views regarding the future of the Tathagata (after death) are in the 10 or 14 "unanswered questions"
  • The Buddhist doctrine of "anatta" (there is no self?) and "anicca" (self is impermanent?) seem to me to be saying that, if (it is believed that) there is rebirth, that 'rebirth' is fairly meaningless, i.e. it is a rebirth of nothing in particular: why not just call it a "birth" instead of a rebirth?
  • If rebirth happens that seems difficult to prove by personal experience; is it an article of faith, not something one can verify by direct experience? If so isn't that (faith instead of experience) unusual in Buddhist doctrine (isn't doctrine meant to be measurable against one's experience of the world)? Or if it is experience, what kind of experience (of other lives) is it, how are you supposed to know that so-called experience is not just a dream?
  • This web site (which seems to be Thai) says that rebirth is a "parable" for "simple village folks living during the time of the Buddha". It says that "Reincarnation is not a simple physical birth of a person" and "This notion of the transmigration of the soul definitely does not exist in Buddhism." The end of that page suggest that people "lower themselves into hell" or "rise to the Enlightened state of the Buddha" in this life.

I think I remember reading, sometime in the distant past, than when someone asked the Buddha about the afterlife, he replied "I'm not here to talk to you about the afterlife: I'm here to talk to you about this life."

Is it OK to believe, is it OK to say that a belief in rebirth isn't important to Buddhism? Not a big part of the historical Buddha's teaching? That when he mentioned it at all, it was to say that it didn't exist ("anatta" and "anicca"), that he didn't expect to be doing it himself, and that it wasn't worth talking about?

And/or is it a non-core part of Buddhism: something which some Buddhists believe and other Buddhists don't, a local/cultural viewpoint?

The article Two Main Schools of Buddhism says,

The areas of agreement between the two schools are as follows:

  • Both accept Sakyamuni Buddha as the Teacher.
  • The Four Noble Truths are exactly the same in both schools.
  • The Eightfold Path is exactly the same in both schools.
  • The Pattica-Samuppada or teaching on Dependent Origination is the same in both schools.
  • Both reject the idea of a supreme being who created and governed this world.
  • Both accept Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta and Sila, Samadhi, Panna without any difference.

A belief in rebirth (even Karma) isn't especially on this list.

I think I agree that the above are essential: that the historical Buddha talked about them, and that they're a necessary part of Buddhist belief.

I agree that tales of rebirth and of other lives feature in some Buddhist literature, e.g. Mahayana literature seems to have the Buddha being reborn.

I don't know a lot about Buddhism so, please, if you answer with a paraphrase of scripture, please include the name of the scripture you're quoting so that I could look it up.

ChrisW

Posted 2014-09-11T00:45:57.487

Reputation: 23 386

1The ego, if it must accept death, would like to believe in rebirth, wouldn't it? The delusion, if there is one at all, is introduced when the ego presumes to be involved in this future, but it isn't, it won't be no matter how much it needs to believe it will in light of the knowledge of inevitable death. I think this is a humble question that indicates self-awareness.sss4r 2015-06-24T22:42:07.500

I have read your question and the first part of the accepted answer (I will read the rest in a moment), though not the comments. I would just like to say my understanding of it, I do not believe in the rebirth that many others believe in, that being you have a soul which makes you separate and it leaves your body and goes into another body. I believe that the Buddha used this term because the reality of it and the meaning of the term could be seen as two different (sort of) ways of describing the same thing.Paranoid Panda 2016-08-10T19:12:58.467

So it would do for the locals who would already know about "rebirth" and probably would find the other ideas harder to understand. And it would do for those who understand what really happens which could be described by that word. Sorry to be a bit vague, but otherwise this comment would go on and on.Paranoid Panda 2016-08-10T19:13:02.840

Oh dear, I meant to make a short and clear comment and I've realised it's really difficult to explain! I know what I mean, but I just can't put it into words very elegantly it seems. Probably if I were to explain the entire philosophy behind what I am saying and what I believe "rebirth" to actually be meaning instead of what people normally think, then it would be clearer, but that would definitely be too long!Paranoid Panda 2016-08-10T19:14:52.490

@ParanoidPanda If you'd like to answer a question it's better to post as an answer than a comment.ChrisW 2016-08-10T19:34:32.680

@ChrisW: You're right, I just didn't think my comment was worthy enough to be an answer. I will see what I can do though.Paranoid Panda 2016-08-10T19:39:52.377

@ChrisW: Oh dear, it does not appear that I am able to answer this question as there is no button to post an answer. I see this question is protected, but as I have more than 10 reputation points it should be fine. Unless I'm just missing the really obvious answer button?Paranoid Panda 2016-08-10T19:42:58.423

1@ParanoidPanda No you're right: the question was "protected", and so, "To answer it, you must have earned at least 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count)".ChrisW 2016-08-10T19:45:44.883

@ChrisW: Oh, oh dear, you won't be getting a proper answer from me then!Paranoid Panda 2016-08-10T19:46:51.020

Check out Chogyam Trungpa, particularly, The Myth of Freedom.user1167442 2016-11-14T13:50:07.430

3I have not been very inclined to upvote your question due to the conravertiona content but +1 for the research effort behind it.Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena 2014-09-11T06:49:23.963

5The cause of this question is presumably my 'wrong view'. That "rebirth" may be part of the doctrine, is part of some preconceptions about Buddhism (i.e. that 'rebirth' is an element of Buddhist faith); and (incredulity or prejudice against a belief in "reincarnation") a reason why some people might reject the Buddhist teachings entirely without close examination. So this seemed to me to be an important question even though it's controversial. I hoped I could ask it without causing offence; thank you for your answer.ChrisW 2014-09-11T10:59:36.497

1@ChrisW Most traditions take the view that the essential permanent self is either extinguished, elevated, or damned at death. The Buddhist viewpoint rejects the idea of the self as an illusion (and a cause of great suffering) so to talk about its fate is meaningless. We are prone to organise experiences by individuals, but that is not reality. This is how cause leads to effect, -- good to good, bad to bad, and so on, -- and also all experience and reality, skipping through an entire unity, not owned by a person and not unduly interrupted by death...Dan Sheppard 2014-09-17T00:04:15.013

1@ChrisW ... I have found that once you really come to know that as experientailly true, and the way the world truly is, it seems to me that something akin rebirth as it is described in scriptures becomes the default, prima facie case for reality. It is the view which most satisfies Occam's Razor. But remember that we are helpless in death. I write these comments as I was in a similar position to you once and practice dissolved the problem, as you suspect it would. I'm no expert, though, so it's not a "proper" answer. Keep going!Dan Sheppard 2014-09-17T00:07:23.257

@DanSheppard I think you answered well. When you say, "as it is described in scriptures", would you add a reference, to identify which scriptures' description you're referring to?ChrisW 2014-09-17T00:22:33.030

1@ChrisW Thank you! I'm not a scholar at heart, so I read things and listen to things, and try to put them into practice, but I soon forget who was speaking or what I was reading. Which is why I was hoping a more studious person would answer this question (and why I came to this question in the first place, for instruction, :-) !). I will try to look back, though, and find where I found this.Dan Sheppard 2014-09-17T00:50:05.483

Just a note -- the site you refer to -- http://www.budsas.org/ebud/whatbudbeliev/59.htm -- as "Two Main Schools of Buddhism" contains numerous blatant factual errors about Buddhist history and doctrine, and is therefore not reliable.

David Lewis 2014-10-04T17:43:30.547

Answers

28

"Views regarding one's past and future existence are included in the "62 false beliefs""

A little context: I assume the 62's mentioned above are the same as found in DN 1 (Brahmajāla Sutta) translated as "The sixty-two kinds of wrong views" by Walshe (MN 102 also develops on these wrong views).

Now, "wrong view" is understood as either "not according to the damma" or simply "not in accordance with reality". In this sutta, we read the Buddha say:

There are, monks, some ascetics and Brahmins who are speculators about the past, having fixed views about the past, and who put forward various speculative theories about the past, in eighteen different ways [...]

And he proceeds explaining the many ways in which a person may mislead him/herself into concluding something false about the past. The first, for example, is this:

Here, monks, a certain ascetic or Brahmin has by means of effort, extortion, application, earnestness and right attention attained to such a state of mental concentration that he thereby recalls past existences -- one birth, two births, ... ten births, a hundred births, a thousand births [...] Thus he remembers various past lives, their conditions and details. And he says "the self and the world are eternal, barren like a mountain-peal, set firmly as a post. There beings rush round, circulate, pass away and re-arise, but this remains eternally. Why so? I have by means of effort, extortion, attained to such a state of mental concentration that I have thereby recalled various past existences...That is how I know the self and the world are eternal"

Above he is denouncing the fragile leap of conclusion: a person remembered many past lives [and contractions and expansions of the universe] and without identifying an origin, he/she concludes there is none, "so it is eternal". Now, the buddha, when confronted with this particular question, simply declares there is no discernible beginning (SN 15:3) -- something very different from "it is eternal" and "it is not eternal".

Another example of misleading conclusion:

Here, a certain ascetic or Brahmin is a logician, a reasoner. Hammering it out by reason, following his own line of thought, he argues: "The self and the world are eternal"

In these ways, he alerts about the delicate trap of drawing wrong conclusions based on what one believes to be careful examinations (either by some experience or by some abstract reasoning) but that weren't careful enough. Moreover, he illustrates flaws using as example contemporary theories (eternalism, annihilationism, and the spectrum in between) pushed by other sects.

With these things in mind, he did not claim rebirth or views/knowledge of past existence to be false. Quite the opposite, he declares himself to have the ability to recall his past existences (and often describes episodes from them). Finally, exploring this ability is also part of an often-repeated formula for arahantship (and arahants are also described developing this ability). In MN 39, after exposing the Fourth Jhana:

"With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives. He recollects his manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two births, three births, [...], many aeons of cosmic contraction, many aeons of cosmic expansion, many aeons of cosmic contraction and expansion, [recollecting], 'There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance

Furthermore, he used to announce the rebirth of disciples who have died -- though not of the ones who reached the supreme goal (SN 44.9).

"Views regarding the future of the Tathagata (after death) are in the 10 or 14 "unanswered questions""

Yes. But it is important to emphasize it is "unanswered"; not a negative or positive. Even if we put aside the fact that this is a question about a Buddha, it is hard to use this to develop a trust on either view.

"The Buddhist doctrine of "anatta" (there is no self?) and "anicca" (self is impermanent?) seem to me to be saying that, if (it is believed that) there is rebirth, that 'rebirth' is fairly meaningless, i.e. it is a rebirth of nothing in particular: why not just call it a "birth" instead of a rebirth?"

As far as I can tell, in the [pali] canon it is not said "there is no self". Rather, mostly we read instructions to observe several [conditioned] things in order to directly see "this [the thing] is not self". Additionally, we read declarations such as "All phenomena are non-self" ("sabbe dhammā anattā" -- AN 3.134).

An important point to consider is that it appears something very particular is meant by "self" which does not fit well with our common understanding of this word. In SN 22:59:

Bhikkhus, form is nonself. For if, bhikkhus, form were self, this form would not lead to affliction, and it would be possible to have it of form: 'Let my form be thus; let my form not be thus.'

And:

Is what is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change fit to be regarded thus: 'This is mine, this I am, this is myself? -- No, venerable sir.

Often times, when a challenger debates with the buddha claiming a self/eternalist view, he is debunked with questions such as "if that is so, can you change your form?". Therefore, I guess we need to, first, understand what is meant by "self" from propositions extracted from such discourses.

As for "birth" instead of "rebirth", though it's not clear to our reasoning "what re-borns" (all things above considered), the minimum takeaway of the use of this word in the discourses is that it denotes continuity.

"If rebirth happens that seems difficult to prove by personal experience"

Difficult indeed. But the texts support the possibility of personally testify it.

"is it an article of faith, not something one can verify by direct experience? If so isn't that (faith instead of experience) unusual in Buddhist doctrine (isn't doctrine meant to be measurable against one's experience of the world)?"

I guess it depends on what you mean by faith. I find it difficult to recall important claims made by the buddha that weren't suppose to be verified by one's effort in this lifetime -- so, as far as my knowledge goes, yes it would be unusual. From the canon alone, I wouldn't say this is a matter of faith in the devotional or "Belief" way, where one just take it as it is and assign a special value to it, often developing an emotional dependency towards it -- the clinging buddha frequently alerted about.

But faith as in a trust we give to something or someone while we are applying ourselves to personally verify it, I think it fits pretty well with everything else.

"Or if it is experience, what kind of experience (of other lives) is it, how are you supposed to know that so-called experience is not just a dream?"

I honestly don't know how I would proceed to scrutinize an experience of recalling my past lives.

"is it OK to believe, is it OK to say that a belief in rebirth isn't important to Buddhism? Not a big part of the historical Buddha's teaching? That when he mentioned it at all, it was to say that it didn't exist ("anatta" and "anicca"), that he didn't expect to be doing it himself, and that it wasn't worth talking about?"

One thing we can see explicitly in the texts is that he discouraged speculations, and this subject draws speculations easily, giving its such a puzzle for reasoning and concerns the mystery of our future. Having said that, I think its safe to say it wouldn't make much sense for him to require listeners to believe and internalize "the fact of rebirth", to consider it something central to the training (if it was that important, he could have made an extra noble truth out of it :).

There are a lot of aspects of the Dhamma that receive special attention and frequent emphasis. Urging people to believe rebirth as some sort of requirement or at face value is not something I've seen (MN 60 illustrates how the buddha approached this specific matter).

Now to the specific question: from the canon alone, rebirth is important (though, arguably not an urgent concern in the most practical sense). And, to say the least, the Buddha apparently considered worth talking about, so widespread this subject appears in the suttas, fulfilling roles therein, either as an aspect of the Dhamma, providing a broader exposition of our condition, or simply used to inspire and help us take the road to do something about it, etc. In the case of Dhamma, and this is significant, "no rebirth" does feature in wrong view.

But again, one thing is saying rebirth is important in buddhism. Other is saying (the belief of) rebirth is important to the practice. Other is saying rebirth is important to some buddhists ...


Edited to include a few more references (thank you @Unrul3r) and provide more direct answers to the questions

Thiago

Posted 2014-09-11T00:45:57.487

Reputation: 8 224

5Great answer, thank you and welcome.yuttadhammo 2014-09-11T04:43:03.150

2Great effort. Keep up the good work. +1Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena 2014-09-11T05:37:00.297

2

Indeed, good answer. In case you want to complement it further, here are some additional references concerning this issue that are worth reading: MN 60, MN 120, SN 12.19, SN 44.9.

Unrul3r 2014-09-11T08:56:13.510

1thank you! I did some minor clean up (two questions I didn't directly elaborated on) and took the opportunity to add a few more references.Thiago 2014-09-12T04:02:19.500

@ThiagoSilva Looking to see more participation on the site. Very good content indeed!Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena 2014-09-16T04:50:46.300

14

Rebirth is a metaphor. There is no literal rebirth (of the same person). This hope for literal rebirth is really a hidden attachment to "I", the desire to continue. Let go. It's Ok, you will die -- and never exist again. In fact, "you" do not exist even now, as a separate being. It is just wrong understanding that is called "I". The world is continuous global process of matter/energy/information transformation, with no rigid boundaries in space nor in time. The boundaries are imputed by the analytic mind, they are concepts, abstractions, simplifications. It is attachment to concepts that we liberate from in Buddhism. Attachment to concepts is what leads to fear and suffering, because the concepts always fall behind the ever changing world. When your idea of how something is "supposed to be" mismatches your idea of "how it is" -- hereby is suffering. But the world is always there, behind ideas, infinitely more nuanced and multifaceted than any conceptual model.

Rebirth is a metaphor for the continuity of information and influences. Nothing ever goes away completely. Nothing ever stays the same. Something transforms, something splits apart, something joins with something else, something pushes something. These chains of causes and effects go on like this, infinitely forking and joining. This is what rebirth is. My existence did not start when I was born, it goes way into past. My consciousness did not start when I was born. I inherited it gradually (not in one piece!) from mother and father, from books, from people, -- and they inherited it from each other and from the past. The sea of consciousness goes on like this, having its roots in the basic relationships, of fundamental patterns of the universe.

This is the part of the "rebirth" metaphor that is useful: that things are fluid and have continuity. Crude materialists assume that things completely disappear, like person disappears when it dies. But it does not disappear, it just looses its solidness, its togetherness. The knot unties, but the threads are still here. The truth is, this solidness was mostly a fiction anyway. Did you think you actually were a source of your decisions? Where do you think your desires came from, your preferences came from?

When most people think of "self" they think of some abstract core that is the subject of all experience and the agent of all actions. Buddha taught (and modern cognitive science tends to agree) that upon careful examination there is no such single core. Instead experiences result from interactions of multiple perceptory functions. Similarly, our actions are performed by a conglomerate of functions, without a single agent responsible for all choices.

When the notion of individual rebirth exists as an unexamined belief, it depends on this unexamined notion of "self" as its necessary foundation. Once practitioner is free from illusion of self (in practice, not just conceptually), the notion of individual birth/death/rebirth no longer applies. From this perspective, rebirth is a byproduct of attachment to a (substantial) self.

But because karma at large still continues to function (after Awakening), the infinitely forking/joining threads of causation that once were the subject of attachment continue to participate in activity and serve as causes for subsequent effects. In this sense, rebirth as principle goes on continuously whether we posit an individual or not.

Andrei Volkov

Posted 2014-09-11T00:45:57.487

Reputation: 29 109

1I'm surprised I can't find the word "ego" anywhere on this page.sss4r 2015-06-12T01:32:43.943

1

To reference scripture, perhaps a description of Skandhas, which I once saw translated into English as (five separate) "heaps", help to explain what is meant by the self's not being a "single core".

ChrisW 2014-09-11T16:12:49.427

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That's right! Also, the Twelve-Nidanas are about attachment to self and letting go of attachment to self. The notion of my death depends on the notion of my birth. The notion of my birth depends on identification with a living being. Identification with a living being depends on ignorance (via some intermediate steps).

Andrei Volkov 2014-09-11T16:32:00.650

12

I'm a secular Buddhist who takes Mahayana as my starting point. What you are discussing is the cosmology-- the idea that there are six realms, maybe one or more pure lands, and places you can go after you die.

In Glenn Wallis's book "Basic Teachings of the Buddha," I think he persuasively argued that the historical Buddha was an extinctionalist and had no use for the hindu cosmology, but everywhere he went, that is what people wanted to talk about and hear about. So he recast his basic teachings in the jargon and images of the religious beliefs around him.

As a secular believer, I have to look at the various ideas that don't square with science, or as you observe, don't square with a lot of statement you find about Buddhism, an decide what to do with it. Is it a metaphor? Is it a useful one?

The central realization in Buddhism is that we naively think we have a permanent self (or soul) that will always be with us. One re-formulation of reincarnation to illustrate this is that, essentially every second I change and the me of a second ago is dead and gone, but there is a new one, right now. The only connection is the cause and effect of this chain of phenomena that naively looks like a permanent person or soul or self. So every second I die and am reborn into a new person, somewhat connected to the old.

This illustrates some central Buddhist themes but breaks down when we get to the point where we die. At that point, we are just dead. We live on in our actions in the people and world that survive us, but that really is stretching the metaphor.

Another point to remember about Buddhism is that there are many version of it and within each version you generally can find a sophisticated version, focused on things like philosophical questions (do we have a permanent self, what are the consequences of the answer), mediation, maybe ethics, and there is another for lay consumption, that involves devotion, magic for this worldly benefit and a keen interest in where we go after we die.

Personally, this all works for me. I don't have to worry about where I go after I die because the thing I wanted to survive my death (my eternal self, soul or what have you) was an illusion all along.

That said, there are many forms of Buddhism, which find it mandatory to retain a Hindu-style reincarnation, or literal heavens and hells and sometimes they have very interesting mental gymnastics to square how we can come back to life after we die or make it to a pure land, despite annata being such central theme in historical Buddhism.

MatthewMartin

Posted 2014-09-11T00:45:57.487

Reputation: 5 283

5

I know too little to have an opinion on this matter, but here is an article where Thanissaro Bhikkhu argues that rebirth is "an important working hypothesis in following the path all the way to the end of suffering", that is, that the belief in rebirth is an important part of practising Buddhism.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/truth_of_rebirth.html

michau

Posted 2014-09-11T00:45:57.487

Reputation: 1 546

2

"Anatta" does not mean "no-self". It means "not-self". Therefore, the Buddha did not deny the arising of the "self" concept in the mind. In fact, the Buddha taught extensively about how the idea of "self" leads to suffering (refer to Nakulapita Sutta).

The work "birth" ("jati") can mean the birth of the "self" idea or self-identity. In this context, you may refer to the Parileyyaka Sutta, which explains very simply.

Clinging to experiences as "self" is inherent to the operation of karma (action) & its results (vipaka). The enlightenment of the eight fold path ends karma (refer to Nibbedhika Sutta) since there is no more "self" attachment to create karma & obsess about its results.

The teachings of good & bad karma are called mundane or worldly teachings and are not related to enlightenment (refer to MN 117). Therefore, unenlightened people still have the belief in "self" and when they do karma, they rejoice in a personal way about the results of their good karma and suffer in a personal way about the results of their bad karma.

Therefore, whatever the unenlightened person does, be it good or bad, "self-view" keeps arising in relation to their karma.

This re-arising of "self-view" is one interpretation of "rebirth".

Try this essay: http://www.buddhismwithoutboundaries.com/Anatta_and_Rebirth.pdf

Dhammadhatu

Posted 2014-09-11T00:45:57.487

Reputation: 20 581

2

Can their be rebirth or death if what one believes will be born or die turns out to be a deception? Being under the influence of karma and this deception of identity is a result of believing in a self that one believes is an aggregate, that is born into form, that grows and changes, that dies and decomposes. Attachment is not to matter, but to a belief that we are matter or we are in matter and must get out of it, or we are somehow under the influence of matter and must get free of that. If you have a dream that you are a child lost in the wilderness and you are starving to death, what happens to that child when you wake up? Does it go away or does it disappear because it never had any existence in the first place? That is what karma is. Of course there can be seeds from previous interactions. I am not saying that one can just say a magic word and karma has no effect. But when we do not feed it on a daily basis, it withers like a weed that is without water. Zen practice of Dogen diminished the role of death as of little importance.

soulsings

Posted 2014-09-11T00:45:57.487

Reputation: 2 772

1

Rebirth is real and eventually will be proven, as is the afterlife (with heavenly and hellish worlds).

As The Buddha explained:

"Sariputta, there are these five destinations. What are the five? Hell, the animal realm, the realm of ghosts, human beings and devas." - MN 12

"Secular Buddhism" and other modern day forms of Buddhism are heretical and fit into wrong views:

"And what is wrong view? 'There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no brahmans or contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.' This is wrong view" - MN 117 (recurs many times over and over again in the Pali canons)

Secular Buddhism and other modern day forms of Buddhism were predicted by The Buddha:

"In the same way, in the course of the future there will be monks who won't listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness — are being recited. They won't lend ear, won't set their hearts on knowing them, won't regard these teachings as worth grasping or mastering.

But they will listen when discourses that are literary works — the works of poets, elegant in sound, elegant in rhetoric, the work of outsiders, words of disciples — are recited. They will lend ear and set their hearts on knowing them. They will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.

In this way the disappearance of the discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness — will come about." - Ani Sutta (SN 20.7)

We see that outsiders and disciples have come to replace Buddhism with new fundamentally different forms of Buddhism, so different how can they be Buddhism?

These new type of Buddhists teach people to cling to views, become attached to ideas, and use incredulity rather than trying to observe the truth.

Looks like Buddhism is almost already exterminated!

If you achieve higher states your wrong views will naturally automatically disappear and you will see that it's really true that re-birth or re-existence really is true.

The Buddha explained how many births there are:

What do you think, monks: Which is greater, the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — or the water in the four great oceans?"

"As we understand the Dhamma taught to us by the Blessed One, this is the greater: the tears we have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — not the water in the four great oceans."

"Excellent, monks. Excellent. It is excellent that you thus understand the Dhamma taught by me.

"This is the greater: the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — not the water in the four great oceans.....

"Why is that? From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries — enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released." - Assu Sutta

MischievousSage

Posted 2014-09-11T00:45:57.487

Reputation: 656

So why the down votes? Is it because many realize that what's happening to Buddhism strikingly matches into the prediction in the Ani Sutta? Or is it because many disagree with the assertion that rebirth is really literally real? Soon in the future Buddhism will be completely exterminated, by new, replaced teachings.MischievousSage 2016-10-14T14:53:49.480

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Persistence of experience, in a continuous event during the time we are alive gives the mistaken impression that, if we pay insufficient attention, we may reach the conclusion that we who experience do not change, and are something other than the changing physical animal we are. Insight into the error of supposing an essence which sustains experience and endures beyond it is the benefit of learning the truth of the principle of Anatman or Anatta.

The desire for such a continuity and endurance may lead us to affirm it and find reasons to promise and explain it, and this is what led to doctrines of essentialism and also to the teachings of rebirth in Buddhism. Taken as a metaphor, we are reborn each and every day upon waking in the sense that, using the raw materials of memory and the rudiments of our character, we reconstruct once more reflecting on the actions (karma) attributed to our cause the glamour of being a particular person with unchanging features, when in fact what is happening is the resumption of our attachment to this narrative and the particular character it preserves.

The same metaphor allows for an interpretation of the quality of past, present, or future experiences as 'heaven(ly)' or 'hell(ish)', yet need not have anything to do with experience which occurs after we die.

In consideration of dreams versus waking experience, the former are of a different character and conform to different principles. Dreams are less enduring and rational, are dependent solely on imagination for their content, whereas the waking world is far more consistent and has a physical basis of function and endurance. Knowledge of the latter is easy to acquire and just involves careful reflection and testing. Departure from this functional basis is one of the clearest indicators of being in a dreamstate.

The expansive significance of refusing to comment on what is not currently operative (gods or demons being present or absent, death presenting a continuity or discontinuity of experience, for examples) allows us also to refuse to comment upon what The Buddha did or did not say or do in any particular event.

Outside the confines of a sangha wherein doctrines are outlined as practical platforms from which one may benefit in supposing their veracity, believing or ceasing to believe things is inconsequential, save that it informs one's own motivation and response. This will have bearing on what steps will be taken to participate in or catalyze one's own realization, and so decisions of this type can become crucial in following the Path, abandoning it, or becoming lost in delusion.

Within the foregoing it might be transparent that certain conventions are supposed effective or authentic, such as the existence of the Path or Marga, the efficacy at least in part of the sangha or congregation of aspirants in walking this Path, and most importantly, the possibility of realization and insight which might arise from walking it.

The only warnings i have repeatedly received relating to beliefs or doctrines have in fact pertained to essentiality, and were characterized as Essentialism and Nihilism, these being coupled as twin errors of extremity. Whether one's ideas adhere to main schools, if one's beliefs could be identified as core to Buddhism so-called, or even if the Four Noble Truths or Eight-Fold Path were defined differently, this seemed far less problematic than to suppose there exists a central substance from which all of reality arises which itself does not change, or to suppose that the constantly changing quality of the cosmos indicates that nothing exists at all.

Troll

Posted 2014-09-11T00:45:57.487

Reputation: 135

Nihilism is the view a 'self' ends at 'death' (rather than the view there is no new life after the termination of life). Refer to Iti 49, DN 1 & SN 22.85. RegardsDhammadhatu 2017-01-28T13:22:46.253

I'd thought it cosmology rather than to personal interruption or continuity. For example:

"Nāgārjuna suggests that to regard something as existent amounts to eternalism and to regard as non-existent amounts to nihilism. So a wise person should avoid both the ontological commitments, positive and negative, of the forms 'something exists' and 'something does not exist' respectively." -- http://www.academia.edu/1436237/Essentialism_Eternalism_and_Buddhism

Is this primarily a Mahayana vs. Theravada discernment, then?

Troll 2017-01-28T22:48:35.270

Nagarjuna's views are different to Buddha. For Buddha, eternalism & nihilism are 'self-views'. 'Self' means 'ego'. For example, a tree, rock, car, house, cloud, etc, is not a self or ego.Dhammadhatu 2017-01-29T00:09:42.447

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This is dependent of the meaning of rebirth.

Taking one meaning rebirth happens from moment to moment as one set of Kalapas pass away and a new set of Kalapas arise. In this context we can reason about it through Vipassana as it all happens within this lifetime. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebirth_(Buddhism)#Rebirth_as_cycle_of_consciousness)

If it takes the meaning of Patisandhi still it is subjected to the same flow.

The bhavanga-citta is the same type of citta as the first citta in life, the patisandhi-citta (rebirth-consciousness). When the patisandhi-citta falls away it conditions the next citta to arise which is the second citta in that life. This citta is the first bhavanga-citta in life.

(source: Chapter 12 of Abhidhamma in daily life by Nina Van Gorkom)

By understanding mind matter process in this life you can understand it's working over many lives also. So the Dhamma the Buddha preached was verifiable in this life: Sandiṭṭhiko. Hence for your practice the fact that there is rebirth or not is not very relevant. From the time of birth you would have experienced stress some for or the other as per in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.

Also developing Abhijñā you can verify rebirth by your self. Even this is not perfect hence can lead to wrong views. Many non Buddhist also had these abilities but this lead to wrong views (or a dilutional view in some cases).

One does not have absolute control over ones rebirth hence Annatha.

Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena

Posted 2014-09-11T00:45:57.487

Reputation: 28 635

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In every society some children gain spontaneous recollection of their past birth. Many authors have investigated such stories and found them correct. Read 'Twenty suggestive cases of reincarnation' written by psychiatrist Ian Stevenson on the phenomena of what he calls spontaneous recall of information about previous lives by young children and some adults through hypnotism.

Read Edgar Cacy's stories about rebirth.He had discovered many stories of rebirth through self hypnosis. Rebirth is a natural phenomenon discovered by many Brahmins in India long before Load Buddha's enlightenment. Your next birth depends on the Karmic force for which the person concern is responsible for. How those man and the woman became your parents? How do some people become experts in some fields. How those people become your children? These relationships occur life after life according to the power of love and cravings. However, whether you like it or not you will be reborn some day after this life. However, no one cannot explain this philosophy in a short message like this.

Wilson Thilakaratna

Posted 2014-09-11T00:45:57.487

Reputation: 11

The type of rebirth stated here The Buddha debunked as extremely rare, he says "In the same way, monks, few are the beings who, on passing away from the human realm, are reborn among human beings" (Pansu Sutta).

It's really rare for anyone after death as a human to be reborn as a human in their next existence again, it's more common that they go to the other destinations (hell, the animal realm, the realm of ghosts, heavenly world).

When The Buddha speaks of people as humans in their previous existences he's not talking about their immediate past existence just some existence in the past – MischievousSage 2016-10-14T15:46:41.400

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I've read this 'skeptical' article about Ian Stevenson's work, which says "There is nothing that could be discovered by this method that could ever falsify the reincarnation hypothesis." IOW Stevenson spent a lifetime looking for stories which he couldn't prove to be false, and found some.

ChrisW 2014-09-15T20:29:57.687

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Rebirth is the one of the main reasons to practice Buddhism otherwise you are just following nihilism, just kill yourself and its done. It will not match the concept of dependent origination or the middle way. Its no included in the agreements of the Theravada and Mahayana because it is not part of practice and also assumed knowledge, if you go to a Buddhist country and ask a Buddhist about rebirth they will undoubtedly believe it but they might not know the four noble truth. In the same way both schools recognize there are Gods,Asuras, Animals, Hells why not add it too?

O_O

Posted 2014-09-11T00:45:57.487

Reputation: 157

I was wondering whether it was a contemporary belief but not a necessary piece of Buddhist doctrine ... whether it's possible to understand Buddhism without understanding what "rebirth" supposedly means. I find it difficult to understand that doctrine for the reasons stated in the OP (it seems to contradict other bits of doctrine), so I was wondering if I could, wondering if it would be better to, stop trying to understand it.

ChrisW 2016-10-17T12:36:36.117

Not all people believed in Rebirth back in the day including several prominent Sramana Religions who were Materialistic/Atheist that the Buddha heavily criticizes.O_O 2016-10-18T06:21:28.470

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IMO the Buddha criticizes the view that "There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions" (e.g. here).

ChrisW 2016-10-18T09:06:33.493

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Just like an apple falls from a tree to the ground because of gravity, in the same way beings are born because of ignorance.

And what ignorance?

Not knowing the cause of suffering.

By not knowing the cause, beings search an end to suffering.

While searching for an end, beings do activities. Activities like:

"This is me."

"This is mine."

"I am this and that and that."

"When I die, I'll go to heaven."

"When I die, I'll be reborn."

"I wish I had a better life."

"I want that!"

"That is what would make me happy."

"Oh I'm miserable! Let me be better."

etc.

These same activities in the moment of our death are the cause of rebirth.

Activities is karma. Karma in the present, which defines our future. Karma from the past, which defines our present. Karma which gives us form over and over again. Which propels our births.

In most beings activities arise because of not knowing an end to suffering.

And how to see all this for yourself?

Close your eyes and let go.

Let go even of the perception of the object of meditation.

Let go even of the perception that you let go of the object of meditation.

Let go of everything.

...

In this very same "state" truth can be realized by asking yourself the question "who am I?"

By doing this, and asking yourself the question "who am I" a path will be entered.

"Who am I?", observe and let go.

Observe. Let go.

Learning will occur. New knowledge will be gained.

Many questions will be asked.

Many answered.

One will lead to the next naturally.

Just like an experienced detective drills to the motive of a murder, in the same way you will drill to the cause of suffering.

This path will lead you to the end of suffering. Along it, the truth about reincarnation will be realized too.

beginner

Posted 2014-09-11T00:45:57.487

Reputation: 2 176

If I'm reading this answer correctly, I think that the only thing you say about 'rebirth' in this answer is that "These same activities in the moment of our death are the cause of rebirth"? That was the subject of another question, Last thought before death?.

ChrisW 2016-10-14T21:33:44.280

Yes. But even more important, the answer to your question must be experienced. Observe carefully and it will be seen.beginner 2016-10-15T06:44:29.113