Jun. 11, 2007

The Importance of Rebirth

Barry writes;

could you post on 'rebirth' re your comments agreeing with 'onemind' at 'thebuddhawaswrong.com' I would be interested to read more of your view on this matter since you place a particular emphasis on it and it is a seeming point of agreement between you and the owner of the anti-Buddhist website.
To recap; OneMind had said that without rebirth, the whole structure of Buddhist teaching falls apart. Phrased a little strongly, but essentially he is correct. (The only correct statement on the web-site perhaps)

There have been many attempts to cobble together some kind of Buddhism that leaves rebirth out of the picture. I can't really understand why anyone would try. The result is either stoicism or existentialism with an optional dash of vegetarianism perhaps, but it sure isn't any Buddhism that the old teachers would recognize. I guess the motivation comes from a misguided impulse to make the Dhamma more palatable to modern people by pandering to their delusions.

Actually, and I've said this before, rebirth per se isn't the most important issue. Denial of rebirth means a total misunderstanding of the First Noble Truth. But the real damage in these bastardized materialist/agnostic/existential "Buddhisms" is to the Third Noble Truth. I'll go into this in a little detail, bear with me here.

The First Noble Truth is the statement of the problem. It implies dukkha, annica, anatta in every moment of consciousness. But it implies something much more profound than this; it teaches that there is no way out within the confines of samsaric existence. At each moment there is just mind vainly seeking satisfaction from the ten thousand objects. This is repeated ad infinitum. The only way out is to stop doing that.

Now, it is vitally important for the full grasping of this situation to realize that this process has been going on for an indefinitely long period in the past, and has the potential to go on for an indefinitely long period in the future. The true hollowness of samsaric satisfaction can only be fully understood in the context of manifold lifetimes.

This makes a crucial difference in the depth of meditation. If one is to realize the unconditioned, then there has to be a complete and radical relinquishment of the conditioned. No half measures will do. Every arising object, and every potential object, must be seen as completely empty, vain and undesirable. This is possible if one has really internalized the reality of multiple lifetimes. Whatever fantastic desirable thing may be out there is essentially just more of the same. Been there, done that, billions of times.

If however, one is working from the concept of one life-time only, this level of relinquishment is not possible. The experiences of the senses take on a different flavour, a greater importance or perhaps one should say, piquancy, if this is the only shot at the can. In fact, it would be fair to ask if relinquishment is even a worthwhile goal in this context.

So awakening is simply not possible if one adheres to miccha-ditthi (erroneous views.) Sorry to all the "agnostic Buddhist" but the Unconditioned is one place that particular eel is unable to wriggle to.

This brings us to the Third Noble Truth. Nibbana has to be written out of materialist or agnostic reworkings of the Dhamma. This is for both philosophic and experential reasons. Philosophically, there is no possible place for a transcendental reality in a materialist world. Experentially, Nibbana cannot be realized by adherents of false view, so none of them deal with it their writings. Or they redefine it into something that "fits" onto the flat-land of their impoverished world-view. And if one of them ever did attain the path and fruit, he would immediately and forever cease to be a materialist thereby.


onemind said...

Well said!

Its good to see a monk that openly shows the religous nature of buddhism and his blind faith in it.

That brings you up to the level of a jehovas witness.

I am so sick of agnostic buddhists and materialistic buddhists telling me that buddhism isnt a religion but a philosophy for good living. They clearly have never read the pali canon.

Great article and i completely agree with it (except for the comments about my website :))



glenn fitzgerald1 said...

Punnadhammo recites OneMind's expressed views regarding Buddhism, as such:

"To recap; OneMind had said that without rebirth, the whole structure of Buddhist teaching falls apart. Phrased a little strongly, but essentially he is correct."

OneMind obviously never heard of Zen Buddhism, where the practice of single-mindedness on the present transcends the doctrine set down in written scriptures.

And I think that the transcendence of doctrine---a "transcendence" marked by the meditative practice of being able at any time to throw doctrine away, at least in part, becomes the point of poetry genres such as Haiku.

There is the enlightenment paradox (and not "contradiction") of “, no mind," that it implicitly tosses into the abyss any conceptual framework---including tradition and doctrine--which might attempt to describe it.

But for a strictly doctrinaire Buddhist, I'm sure that the idea of reincarnation would emerge as the doctrinal ", big banana," holding up the "religion" and structure of institutionalized Buddhism.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

Anonymous said...

I am not a materialist, nor a nihilist, not a stoic, nor an existentialist; but I do not follow your line of thinking or your conclusion that “[d]enial of rebirth means a total misunderstanding of the First Noble Truth.”

So that we are communicating clearly, by rebirth I understand you to mean some sort of continuation from one specific life to another specific life; not, as some people use the term to mean from one moment to the next moment.

That said, the First Noble Truth is that we, human beings, experience suffering (dukkha). There is no need to search beyond our immediate experience to realize this truth.

Also to be clear, you write “denial” which may be understood as a mental act of negation and not mere disbelief. While I don’t (currently) believe in a continuation from one life to another life, I don’t deny the possibility; it just doesn’t seem particularly significant to me, one way or another. All we have is our immediate experience.

I have wondered about the potential benefits and detriments of a belief in such rebirth. For some, it may encourage better behavior by promising rewards and threatening punishment of a more or less favorable rebirth. More subtly, a belief in multiple lives and this life as one of many may lead one to view this life with greater dispassion; thereby one may more easily relinquish the conditioned. On the other hand, the belief that one will be reborn (and live again) may permit one to become lax in one’s practice.

Do no harm < http://donoharm.us/ >,

anonyrod said...

Now you’re talking. According to my sources, if you want to witness real power, real magic, then you should see the ruthlessness with which Ajarns let go of conditioned reality. They give everything to the void, nirvana, which means that the mind heads directly to nirvana.

This may appear to be simply an insignificant abstract description, which it is, but on the other hand it is also the most powerful feat in the universe, and more powerful than the universe itself if you think about it.

My Ajarn says that by doing such a basically nondescript thing as following the breath and watching the mind, people become aware of the reality of rebirth, but is not really a life to life event but a moment to moment occurrence. He says that gradually this leads to a state of disenchantment, a lack of fascination with what arises in the mind, which in turn leads to a cracking of the egg that we live in and making contact with the outside, nirvana. This is the knowledge of the first stage.

He says that this is the easy part, as on the later stages the obstacles are different and more subtle and hidden at times, but he says that all people with path or stage knowledges have access to nirvana, they can give to nirvana and take from nirvana, which means that rather than reading books or asking their Ajarns they can know about anything they want to by coming into contact with the outside.

He says that the difference between beginners (i.e. first path knowledge) and those on later stages is the distance from this contact. What creates this distance is that beginners have to go beyond their remaining baggage to get there, whereas the more experienced have much less to deal with and much better technique (i.e. sati and samadhi).

Ben 8) said...

hmmm, am I reading a lot of Dogma in this one?

doug rogers said...

Could anyone point to a reasonably certifiable statement from The Buddha (I know it was written down later) himself about what is reborn?

onemind said...

"OneMind obviously never heard of Zen Buddhism"

Of course i have. There are many threads about it every day on my forum.

I am sick of zen buddhist sending me an email with a sly comment that they fully agree with my website then sign of with a zen koan because they need a riddle to suppress their thinking minds and somehow think that makes them wise.

GFitz said...

Anonyrod writes;

“My Ajarn says that by doing such a basically nondescript thing as following the breath and watching the mind, people become aware of the reality of rebirth, but is not really a life to life event but a moment to moment occurrence.”

The realization of reincarnation is never first approached, even remotely, as any kind of coherent idea or concept---such as the, “reality of rebirth.”

True single-mindedness on the moment leads to the experience of nature as a cyclic wave-length.

The further one sinks into the unruffled role of a quiet listener, the further one becomes aware of the beating waves, the resurgent pattern of clouds, and the underlying wave-length in the sound of human voices. One experiences one’s existence and the existence of reality as so wave-lengths and even ultimately as one single frequency.

But first comes the experience of oneself as a wave-length of beingness; then, one might experience the self-reflective thought of that wave-length, perhaps in terms of an idea regarding one’s own rebirth----an idea which only very dimly reveals or defines the thing itself.

Glenn Fitzgerald,
Thunder Bay, Ontario

Anonymous said...

As I said in a previous post, religious argues are pointless and meaningless. Nobody is convinced to choose other beliefs due to logic. The current post as well as some of the comments clearly suport my thesis.

Another isue, "anonyrod" did not mention the name of his ajhan. I would like him to mention it because what he writes seems interesting.

Thanks in advanced.

anonyrod said...

Yes, rebirth we can know, but reincarnation we cannot. The foundation for understanding rebirth is the 2nd vipassana knowledge, paccayapariggahanana, knowledge penetrating conditionality. From this we move onto dependent origination, of which there are several versions. Ajarn Buddhadasa notes that this has been taught incorrectly for the past 2,200 years, from the time of the 3rd council. The problem lies in the understanding of bhava and jati, becoming and birth, which in dependent origination do not mean birth from a mother’s womb. Instead they mean a non-material kind of birth from attachment (conditioned by tanha), which brews up the feeling of being an I, a self. Read Ajarn Buddhadasa’s Paticcasamuppada, Practical Dependent Origination, for all the details. He says that dependent origination is the Four Noble Truths in detail.

I note that this book is not on the usual Wat Suan Moke website, and I suspect that they do not have this 1978 (Thai) or (1992) English edition. If this is the case I could put it on the Dhamma Spread website I edit and compile, but it runs to 114 pages, so it would take a while as I would not be prepared to ruin the book by scanning. This also answers anonymous’s question; try www.dhammaspread.org

Anyway, this book is a classic, a very important book; does anyone else have a copy?

anonyrod said...

Solving the problem

I note that this book is available through a donation at the usual site which contains Ajarn Buddhadasa’s work, and is also available from Wat Suan Moke, so I would recommend that people order a copy instead.

It is a scholarly work, but a fascinating masterpiece, explaining relative and ultimate truth, eternalism and annihilationism, and the importance of correct understanding of Paticcasamuppada. It also details the errors in understanding and where they came from:

“In studying Dependent Origination, it is necessary to take the original Pali Scriptures as a foundation. Don’t surrender to the commentaries with your eyes and ears closed. Don’t submit yourself one hundred percent to later works, such as the Vissuddhimagga. Indeed, it is believed that the author of the Vissuddhimagga is the same person who collected all the commentaries together, so that total blind acceptance of the commentaries will allow only one voice to be heard, giving rise to an intellectual monopoly. We must guard our rights and use them in a way consistent with the advice given by The Buddha in the Kalama Sutta, and according to the principle of mahapadesa as given in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta.”

It also lists the different forms of Dependent Origination and gives explanations. IMATNSHO (in my, at times, not so humble opinion) I would say that it is probably the most important book in modern Buddhism, a must read, and certainly the most profound of all Buddhist subjects.

To give a sample on the current topic of rebirth:

1.Every time there is sense contact without wisdom concerning liberation, there will be coming (bhava) and birth (jati). To put it another way: when there is only ignorance present at the point of sense contact, the Law of Dependent Origination is put into motion.

9. Paticcasamuppada is a momentary and sudden (kanika-vassa) matter, not an eternal matter. Therefore, the word jati, to be born, must refer to the birth in the moment of one revolution of Dependent Origination in the daily life of ordinary people, which is to say when mindfulness is absent and when there is sense contact as explained in point (1) above. It’s easy to know: when greed, anger, or delusion arise, then the self is born in one ‘life’ already. If anyone still likes to talk in terms of ‘this life’ and ‘the next life’ that’s alright, if ‘life’ is understood in this momentary sense. Such language is in accord with reality and the principle of being in the present. Moreover, it is more useful than talking in terms of the language of relative truth (i.e. each birth means issuing forth from the mother’s womb) which is not the language of Paticcasamuppada which reflects the momentary. To use the word ‘birth’ as used in the language of relative truth will be an obstacle to understanding. We should preserve that sense of ‘next life’ which is within our reach and which can be dealt with as we want. Such a ‘next life’ is better than one which we can’t locate or see.

From Paticcasamuppada: Practical Dependent Origination by Buddhadasa bhikkhu, 1978. English translation by Steve Schmidt, published by Vuddhidhamma Fund, 1992.

Barry said...

Anonyrod said "Anyway, this book is a classic, a very important book; does anyone else have a copy?"

I have a copy of the 1992 "Paticcasamuppada - Practical Dependent Origination" published by W.A.V.E translated by Steve Schmidt.
However, I have been told by one monk that the translation into English doesn't do the book justice. Does anyone know of another translation of this book?

anonyrod said...

I don’t think that there is another translation in English, yet, although, it should perhaps be attempted again (by a Thai monk who understands English well).

I can well imagine that the translation does not do justice to the original. Ajarn Buddhadasa’s language was beyond most Thai’s understanding, and Ajarn Pannyananda became well known for simply being able to use colloquial language in explaining what Ajarn Buddhadasa had said (he became more famous than the Ajarn himself).

There are also many Thai ways of talking about things that don’t really make a great deal of sense in English, primarily due to cultural nuances. My Ajarn says that he ‘grew up’ listening to the Ajarn’s teachings, which always began with the phrase “Bhikksu Tanglai (Bhikkus), as evening readings from his books for members of The Sangha were a regular occurrence at the Wat. Looking back, he says that for novices, junior monks, and nuns, the occasions were like stories being read to children, and everyone looked forward to the next occasion. He also said that listening to the Ajarn speak on radio every weekend was a special event, and the Ajarn’s style was like an elephant plodding along, slow and strong. In contrast, he says that spending time with the Ajarn was mostly practice only, and from entering Wat Suan Moke he would go and wai the Ajarn, and without speaking go into sitting meditation, and perhaps receive some instructions, like go and give a talk to the novices, an hour later.

The Ajarn’s books have their own room at the National Library in Bangkok, so you can imagine that only a handful have been translated. We must be thankful for Steve Schmidt’s Vuddidhamma translation, it’s the only one we have.