Jun 17, 2007

Three Lifetimes or One Moment?

Picking up on a theme in several of the comments, I'd like to jump into the very hot water of the perennial debate about dependent origination. I like to say that when I was in Thailand, I saw only two topics that would be sure to generate heated debate among the monks; the correct interpretation of the dependent origination and the allowability of cheese in the afternoon.

(Not wanting to get lost in the legalistic minutiae of vinaya, we'll leave the latter aside for now.)

The twelve-fold dependent origination is a cornerstone of the Buddhist teaching, essentially a detailed elaboration of first and second noble truth, or in the scriptural phrase, "an explanation of how this whole mass of suffering comes to be."

The teaching itself is a subtle and difficult one, and as so often, the original texts are quite terse and formulaic. These factors have led to various attempts at detailed elaboration. Two of these have gained prominence in the Theravada world.

The traditional model, sometimes called the "three lifetime model," is the one established in the orthodox tradition by Buddhaghosa in the 5th century A.D. (The explanation of dependent origination on my web-site is based on this model.) The term "three lifetimes" is a bit of a misnomer, it should really be "many lifetimes." The model supposes that some of the factors refer to events from previous lifetimes, some to this lifetime, and others to future lifetimes. For example, the crucial link sankhara -> vinnana (formations to consciousness) is interpreted as past karmic formations causing rebirth-linking consciousness.

The other popular model is sometimes called the "momentary" model. Although some version of this interpretation was known to Buddhaghosa, as he mentions it in passing, it has only come into prominence in recent decades through the work of the great Thai teacher Ajahn Buddhadasa. This model prefers to see the dependent origination as occurring in it's full cycle in every single moment of consciousness. Thus, the links of birth and death are interpreted metaphorically, rather than literally. (Here is a site dealing with Buddhadasa's interpretation.)

Without coming to any definite conclusion (although in the interests of full disclosure I'll say that I lean toward the traditional model) I'll make the following observations;

1. I don't think the two models are mutually exclusive, despite what some partisans on both sides would have us believe. The process of cause-and-effect detailed by the dependent origination can, and probably do, occur on several time scales. We are coming into birth every moment as we take new objects of consciousness and run the gamut of feeling, craving and clinging. But we also go through the processes of actual physical death followed by rebirth periodically. The dependent origination serves as an explanation for both inter-related processes.

2. While some of Ajahn Buddhadasa's disciples have gone so far as to actually deny that there is any rebirth in the traditional sense, this does not appear to have been the Ajahn's view. I don't believe there is any place in his writings where he categorically denied the reality of physical rebirth. He did say something like "rebirth has nothing to do with Buddhism" but what he may have meant is that Buddhism should be about attaining nibbana (and thereby ending rebirth) rather than seeking a fortunate rebirth. This may have had a lot to do with the milieu of Thai Buddhism at the time, which in his view was neglecting the higher teachings.

I have also heard that when he was asked point-blank about this, he would say "What do the suttas say?" When the reply came back that the suttas clearly teach the actuality of rebirth (as they indisputably do) he would say, "Well, we musn't go against what the Buddha said." Make of this what you will.

3. From my reading of Ajahn Buddhadasa's writing (not comprehensive) it seems that the main reason he taught the momentary view was it's utility for practice. It is no simple matter to practice with factors spanning several lifetimes, but we can all watch the mind go through it's changes in the here and now. There is a lot to be said for this way of looking at it. In particular, watching the mind go through the sequence contact to feeling to craving to clinging to becoming is a very important aspect of developing insight.

4. Finally, whatever the merit of the two models practically or theoretically, it is quite clear which one is closer to the original texts. Whenever the Buddha gave detailed descriptions of the twelve factors, he always described birth and death in literal, not metaphorical language. Birth is coming into existence in one of the six realms, through one of the four modes of generation etc. and death is the failing of the faculties, the destruction of the body, the passing out of this realm of being etc.

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POSTSCRIPT on Rebirth;

A correspondent alerted me to another web-site dedicated to promulgating Buddhism without Rebirth. Without getting into a detailed critique, it should be enough that this character quotes "the Buddha" using Paul Carus' Buddhist Gospel as a source. I've dealt with the dubious influence of this book before.

53 comments:

anonyrod said...

While not pretending to be an expert on this topic, my own personal opinion is that if we are expected to believe that this is based upon three or more actual lifetimes then it belongs to the dog called ma.

I asked the Pra Kru who often visits here and he said that he does not have a verbal rendition of it, although he has discussed it with my Ajarn and supects that he could probably talk about it, so I will contact him.

anonyrod said...

Here is the reply I received:

“Buddhism gives results, is not delayed, invites inspection, and can be directly experienced by each wise person for himself (sandittiko, akaliko, ehipassiko, paccatang veditabbo).

Paticcasamuppada is about suffering that arises in the present moment, not rebirth. The idea that it covers three lifetimes is of no use to anyone; read, ‘a useless idea’.

The three lifetime idea, along with the ‘relative truth’ of rebirth, is Brahmanism, eternalism. Buddhagosa was originally a Brahman, and along with the eternalist view of Paticcasamuppada he also ‘endorsed’ other Vedic practices as part of Buddhism, e.g. meditative practices that are totally irrelevant to the cessation of suffering, and quite a few other ideas (although he was not the first to endorse such a view and such ideas).

Due to the prevailing views among the Thai Sangha in the 20th century, Tan Chao Khun Pra Buddhadasa produced a sensitive and detailed explanation of Paticcasamuppada, both from a scholarly perspective and enlightened vision. Dhamma Spread would also have included a section on Dependent Origination, however, Tan Ajarn’s version of ‘Paticcasamuppada: Practical Dependent Origination’ is so complete and unique that nothing remains to be said. Instead, we ‘wai’ the enlightened wisdom of Tan Pra Ajarn."

apichato bikkhu

Anonymous said...

Does this even matter in the actual practice?

Anonymous said...

"1. I don't think the two models are mutually exclusive, despite what some partisans on both sides would have us believe. The process of cause-and-effect detailed by the dependent origination can, and probably do, occur on several time scales. We are coming into birth every moment as we take new objects of consciousness and run the gamut of feeling, craving and clinging. But we also go through the processes of actual physical death followed by rebirth periodically. The dependent origination serves as an explanation for both inter-related processes."

This is what Ajaan Thanissaro implies:

"The content of the teachings: Perhaps one of the most radical aspects of the Buddha's teachings is the assertion that the factors at work in the cosmos at large are the same as those at work in the way each individual mind processes experience. These processes, rather than the sensory data that they process, are primary in one's experience of the cosmos. If one can disband the act of processing, one is freed from the cosmic causal net."

And here:

"Once these insights are gained on the level of radically immediate experience, one realizes that they have implications for the larger time frame of the whole process of transmigration, and one's entire experience of the cosmos as well [§211-15]. The process of stress arising and passing away in the present is precisely the same process as that of living beings arising and passing away on the cosmic scale. One sees that one has participated in this process from an inconceivable beginning in time; one knows — now that the process has been disbanded — that one has found the end of the cycle of rebirth. This is because, in entering radically into the present moment by stripping away all clinging, one ultimately steps out of the dimensions of time and the present; having done so, one can see the totality of what it means to be in those dimensions.

This point is illustrated in two passages [§§74, 64] that express the content of right view immediately before and after the experience of the Deathless:

'From an inconceivable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. The total fading & cessation of ignorance, of this mass of darkness, is this peaceful, exquisite state: the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.'
'This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress... This is the way leading to the cessation of stress... These are effluents... This is the origination of effluents... This is the cessation of effluents... This is the way leading to the cessation of effluents.' His heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, is released from the effluent of sensuality, released from the effluent of becoming, released from the effluent of ignorance. With release, there is the knowledge, 'Released.' He discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'

The first passage depicts the act of discernment that verifies the principles of conviction. The second passage depicts the act of discernment that confirms the fact that the five faculties, when fully developed, do lead to the Deathless [§89]. Notice that both passages follow a similar pattern, even though they deal with vastly different time scales. Transmigration and darkness, in the first passage, correspond to stress in the second. Ignorance and craving are the origination of stress, and the sentence, "The total fading & cessation of ignorance... Unbinding," describes the cessation of stress. The act of discernment that sees all these things is the way leading to the cessation of stress. This repetition of the same pattern on two different frames of space and time in non-linear systems is called scale invariance: the same process on two different scales [I/B]. It is one of the most distinctive features of the Buddha's teachings, for it shows how an insight into a present moment in the mind can have repercussions on one's entire involvement in the cosmos. The principle behind the scale invariance of right view is this/that conditionality: the fact that one's continued participation in the cosmos is kept going by one's present contribution to the causal stream initiated over the long course of the past. By reaching the state of non-fashioning, one stops contributing to the present, and thus can bring the totality of one's participation to an end, leaving the utter freedom of Unbinding. In this sense, the principle of this/that conditionality explains the possibility of attaining the Deathless, while the actuality of the Deathless — once it is attained through skillful mastery of kamma — is what proves the principle of this/that conditionality as an adequate description of the causal process that fabricates conditioned experience and provides an opening to the Unfabricated."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/wings/index.html

anonyrod said...

While no one is denying the existence of rebirth, I see the point regarding the correct definition of Dependent Origination. If you take it to be about rebirth, then rebirth becomes the first noble truth.

The problem arises when you start mixing the relative truth of birth (i.e.from a womb) with the ultimate truth of it being like a flash of lightning in the present moment.

You have to recognize that The Buddha's teaching is about this lifetime and in the present moment, so involving relative birth is superflous, a matter of metaphysics rather than what we experience in the present moment.

Therefore, as for the actual practice only the ultimate truth of suffering arising in the present moment is of any use to us.

glenn fitzgerald said...

"Therefore, as for the actual practice only the ultimate truth of suffering arising in the present moment is of any use to us."

Exactly true. I don't have that much use for the esoteric "Buddhist" theory either.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

Anonymous said...

I think this is the problem with most Buddhists. They want to argue about the texts instead of trying to find out through the practice. Look at Ajaan Mun; he made it a point to stress that reading the texts will never resolve your doubts. In order to truly understand the Buddha's teachings, you have to gain your insights through the practice. Here is some good advice from Ajaan Dune:

"In the area of the Vinaya, you should study the texts until you correctly understand each and every rule to the point where you can put them into practice without error. As for the Dhamma, if you read a lot you'll speculate a lot, so you don't have to read that at all. Be intent solely on the practice, and that will be enough."

Anonymous said...

Here is a good quote on Ajaan Mun's attitude toward the texts:

"As Ajaan Mun once told a pair of visiting monks who were proud of their command of the medieval text, The Path of Purification, the niddesa (analytical expositions) on virtue, concentration, and discernment contained in that work were simply nidana (fables or stories). If they wanted to know the truth of virtue, concentration, and discernment, they would have to bring these qualities into being in their own hearts and minds."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/mun/released.html

glenn fitzgerald said...

Punnadhammo's piece on, "Three Lifetimes or One Moment?,” has provoked some interesting self-reflection.

After I followed the provided link to the page which explains Dependent Origination, I realized that part of the problem I experience with Thai Buddhism (and the Hermitage) is that I find the theoretical and formulaic approach to the quest for transcendence of this world well....I can find no other word but repulsive.

And I do not say that out of any intent to offend or use wrong speech. I'm just curious about my own reaction partly because, I guess, someone else I recently talked to had shared the very same experience and perception.

About a week ago, I ran into a guy who had also attended the meditation sessions at the Hermitage, and it shocked me discover that we had shared some of the same reactions.

Oh, it’s not really the formula itself of dependent origination ,which attempts to wrap up ultimate questions about life, that provoked a mild reaction of repugnance.

I guess, what causes the repugnance is that it is somebody else's formula. I find the idea of a religious authority seeking to throw a blanket, "cookie cutter," type of formula over the quest for transcendence and enlightenment sort of repugnant.

But I'm also not making any judgments concerning my reaction’s rightness or wrongness. I'm not making any objective judgement that such a cookie cutter approach is good or bad.

However, I don't think one can hope for any long-term success in trying to import the raw "product" of institutional Thai Buddhism into North America---or Tibetan Buddhism for that matter. Most Canadians will likely reject the cookie cutter “theology,” imposed by some religious heirachy---- the formula of dependent origination notwithstanding. North Americans will strive, in their own far more rigorously individualistic way, to build their own diverse paths to transcendent experience.

I think the institutionalism of Thai Buddhism faces some serious cultural barriers here---and not because Canadians or Americans are any less inclined to pay the price to transcend the cycle of birth and rebirth. Rather, this culture demands far more individualism of approach. Relative to the rigid temple hierarchies of Oriental societies, individualistic North Americans want to explore their own individual paths and formulas to discover ultimate truth. And in the recent decades, even the Christian church has begun to feel the sting of their congregations’ tendency toward individualism.

Anyway, I hope my public bout of confessional self-reflection doesn’t offend anyone---and if it does, know that I’m truly sorry.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

glenn fitzgerald said...

Recently, I've found myself really pondering our discussions regarding reincarnation.

I submit some of my passing thoughts in the full knowledge that those thoughts might present some misguided ideas. So here goes.

When a number of people come forward to bear witness to their observations, we mostly have no problem in accepting the validity of the phenomena observed. We have no problem in defining reality according to how human perception collaboratively verifies any number of events.

If ten people say they saw it exclusively rain in some part of Thunder Bay, that collaboration of events becomes a recorded fact. It must have rained in Fort William, we think. Or it must have rained in Port Arthur.

What if twenty people in Thunder Bay were to come forward and say they clearly remember the perceptions of some previous life? What if in any given human population the size of the Thunder Bay area, twenty ordinary, credible and sane people could always step forward and make the claim about having remembered previous lives?

Wouldn't one also have to define reality according to an experience commonly recorded?

As far as credible perception of reality is concerned, what's the difference between the assertion made by several people that they remember it rained only in Fort William, and the assertion made by several people that they remember previous lives?

At the moment, I'm not clear about the distinction between the two sets of assertions. What makes the claim about rain any less valid then the claim about reincarnation?

Well maybe I'm asking a dumb question---and if I am, it wouldn't be the first time.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

Anonymous said...

I too have pondered reincarnation and the reports of others with "memories of past lives".

I wonder, since memories survive in some form independent of the person who initially experienced the events as all occurrences leave traces (karma), if persons who claim experiencing memories of past lives, for whatever reason currently unknown to us, are able to experience actual memories, but other peoples memories, not of lives they lived. We cannot know and even the person who experiences such memories cannot know.

Do no harm,
clyde

anonyrod said...

Well it’s nice to hear the teachings of Tan Ajarn Mun and Tan Ajarn Dune concerning the truth of practicing Buddhism. Thank you; bull’s eye!

There is one other important point regarding Dependent Origination which tends to be overlooked, and from this you can also perhaps understand Ajarn Buddhadasa’s view that the ‘generally accepted view’, particularly concerning rebirth, is in fact eternalism.

Dependent origination only arises when there is ignorance at the time of contact, if there is no ignorance then Dependent Origination does not come into being and does not exist.

Furthermore, this shows that the correct interpretation of Dependent Origination involves not only the first two noble truths, but all four of them.

The Ajarn also points out that many an Arahant does not know the 12 part formula, nor are they able to explain how Dependent Origination works; what they do have of course is the supramundane mindfulness to be able to let go of everything.

If I may bring up another point, mentioned by Ajarn Thanissaro, he mentions the ‘skillful mastery of karma’. To me this brings about a huge ?

While I recognize that the ‘generally accepted view’ often involves karma, I wasn’t aware that there was such a practice as ‘the skillful mastery of karma’. While it is true that the karma we create is the consciousness that we experience, we get out of this rut through mindfulness; we can do nothing with the karma that we have already created, other than by bathing in the Ganges or believing in Jesus. To be fair, I think that perhaps Ajarn Thanissaro should have completed this sentence by adding ‘through mindfulness’, which I suspect is what he meant to say. A correct understanding of Dependent Origination shows you that karma has no influence whatsoever, as the key factor is mindfulness, or not having ignorance at the time of contact.

I think that this shows you how things can easily get out of whack (even Ajarn Buddhadasa admits in another book that he too initially swallowed the generally accepted version).

Finally, on the last topic on the state and possibilities of Thai Buddhism in the West. I think that it is good that people state their opinions. Regarding teachers, I don’t know of anyone on a high level who would even consider living in a Western culture, mainly due to this idea of individuality. Thus, I think that you should be thankful for the few members of The Sangha who do live in the West, and who, despite their failings (i.e. none of them are Arahants), attempt to do the best in a difficult situation.

Regarding individuality, if you look at it closely then it is in fact a strong attachment to the concept of self, something which my own Ajarn has pointed out as being a serious impediment that has evolved over a long time. He was initially told by his own Ajarn that if he were to consider himself to be like a chair, then when that chair becomes empty a Buddha can come and sit in it. This might sound like a somewhat crude description of becoming empty, but it is in fact more profound than that, very profound.

As for a hierarchy, it basically only exists for those scholar bhikkhus who are interested in rank. For the real teachers, all they care about is their students following some basic discipline and practicing. They don’t care whether or not their students bow to them, or other external practices like candles and incense (not to mention puja, another superstitious Brahman practice), they only care about progress in the practice.

The problem with individuality is that it becomes so entrenched in some people that they become impossible to teach. People have to let go of this just like anything else. If people consider individuality important to their own form of Buddhism it will simply become a joke, and they will become the laughing stock of the universe; sad but true.

The Sangha is made up of different shades. While the majority are perhaps those that you do not wish to emulate, their existence, and particularly their relationship with society as ‘great’ scholars and ‘great’ Ajarns (even if they are not), actually makes it possible for the real Ajarns to exist. Therefore, the idea is not to go completely crazy and think that something of value can come from ‘individuality’ but emulate the real Ajarns who don’t give a damn about hierarchy and collecting money to building the biggest and most luxurious Wat on the planet. The real Ajarns only care about getting people to practice.

glenn fitzgerald said...

anonyrod expresses a point which I believe is very debatable:

"Regarding individuality, if you look at it closely then it is in fact a strong attachment to the concept of self, something which my own Ajarn has pointed out as being a serious impediment that has evolved over a long time."

No, individuality is an expression of the self without any concepts involved.

No two people on this Earth reach for a coffee cup in exactly the same way BECAUSE no two people are exactly alike.

No two people have the same ideas of dependent origination, even if they were to try---and they do try.

True individuality transcends any notion or concept, it just simply IS.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

glenn fitzgerald said...

Again to reflect on Anyrod's statement:

""Regarding individuality, if you look at it closely then it is in fact a strong attachment to the concept of self, something which my own Ajarn has pointed out as being a serious impediment that has evolved over a long time."


No, individuality isn't about attachment to the Self.

Individuality is the Self.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

glenn fitzgerald said...

Anyrod writes:

"If I may bring up another point, mentioned by Ajarn Thanissaro, he mentions the ‘skillful mastery of karma’".

The reference to "skillful mastery" of karma has the same meaning to me as would a human being's reference to his or her skillful mastery of gravity.

It is very important to realize that both views represent delusional thinking. One never becomes the master of gravity but rather only the the skilled and usually enfeebled user of it. Ditto for the law of Karma.

One can skillfully adjust one's life to the laws of karma so as to avoid winding up as a mote on the ass of a dingo. But there is no mastery exibited here. Nor is there a master.

Enlightenment (if such a thing referred to me as such exists) requires that we let go of all our delusions regarding our "mastery."

Glenn Fitzgerald,
Thunder Bay

Anonymous said...

"If I may bring up another point, mentioned by Ajarn Thanissaro, he mentions the ‘skillful mastery of karma’".

He meant the skillful mastery of present action. Karma means "action."

Anonymous said...

"...we can do nothing with the karma that we have already created, other than by bathing in the Ganges or believing in Jesus."

A few more points...you have to distinguish between karma and the results of karma. Also, you're thinking about the process linearly and deterministically like the Jains. The Buddhist theory is the exact opposite.

Anonymous said...

"Enlightenment (if such a thing referred to me as such exists) requires that we let go of all our delusions regarding our "mastery.""

The whole point is that you have to understand the full implications of action(i.e. how the mind-body complex interacts in the present moment). Otherwise, you can forget about "Enlightenment," at least in the Buddhist sense.

anonyrod said...

Whatever way people perceive individuality, or self-expression, we all have the same problem so the practice is the same for all. The idea of individuality only becomes a problem if you think that you can come up with a better practice or that you need a special practice just for you.

Many members of The Sangha also don’t like Wat life or the structure of The Sangha, and Ajarn Buddhadasa even wrote a book called “Buddhism for those who hate Wats”.

However, the real problem is not in the Wat or The Sangha, but in people not practicing. If you want to practice at home then you might want to get hold of Ajarn Thawee’s book “Practicing insight on your own.” Ajarn Thawee was a Burmese master who lived in Thailand. You can download this book for free at:

http://www.palikanon.com/english/english_web.htm

glenn fitzgerald said...

anonymous writes:

"The whole point is that you have to understand the full implications of action(i.e. how the mind-body complex interacts in the present moment). Otherwise, you can forget about 'Enlightenment,' at least in the Buddhist sense."

It is not ultimately possible to use any term, such as "enligtenment," to capture the meaning of the experience itself.

Ditto the abstract theoretical postulates of any religious doctrine. Enlightenment, insofar as one can talk about the subject, is not a Buddhist, Christian, or even a Zen thing. It just is--in its own mysterious and inexplicable fashion.

That being said, the only thing you have to understand to capture the meaning of enlightenment is that understanding in the conventional sense isn't required.

All you have to do is whatever you're doing now---only do it absolutely. When I go to sit on a rock along the shore of Lake Superior---I just sit. And that is all. There is only the moment and nothing else.

All the complexity of human understanding follows the simple act of listening.

All you have to do is listen.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

glenn fitzgerald said...

anonymous wrote:

"He meant the skillful mastery of present action. Karma means 'action.'

There is still no such thing as skillful mastery.

There is no such thing as skilled masters.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

glenn fitzgerald said...

anonymous writes:

"Whatever way people perceive individuality, or self-expression, we all have the same problem so the practice is the same for all. The idea of individuality only becomes a problem if you think that you can come up with a better practice or that you need a special practice just for you."

The "idea" of individuality can never become a problem because the force of individuality doesn't require any definition.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

glenn fitzgerald said...

Getting back to the idea of reincarnation.

Although, I have yet to hear any compelling scientific "proofs" for reincarnation, it still remains true that many people seem to recall previous lives. And the numbers of those people would likely prove surprising, if ever recorded.

And that experience is quite interesting, because in such recollections one experiences one's being or beingness as the essence of a certain unique "inclination" of mind.

That inclination of mind survives death to carry on. And when we are born, the core inclination of mind that marks who you are gets buried in so many layers of culture and family history---which is likely why you don't remember where it has been in the past.

But the inclination is what it is.

My inclination of mind, these days, has largely to do with my connection to nature. I have this memory, a very ancient one, of sitting on the steps of a temple in Tibet and watching a very red sun come up over some mountains.

I can remember the lay of the steps. I can even remember how many steps there were. But that memory likely persists because it concerns a pivotal moment in my existence.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

glenn fitzgerald said...

I wrote:

"...in my existence."

The above phrase represents a poor choice of words.

There is no "my." There is only a certain and very peculiar inclination of mind.

That inclination of mind is as a very subtle thread that spans many centuries.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

anonyrod said...

I think that you have illustrated the problematic aspect of individuality, in that you have your own distinct ideas about what is what (as opposed to what we are discussing about Buddhism and what we think of what is what in Buddhism).

I can accept that people like to sit on rocks on the edge of the lake, me too, but such things are personal preferences, not in any way connected to Buddhism because there is no sine, samadhi, pannya involved and there is no recognition of the first noble truth (i.e. if you sit there long enough it becomes as boring and painful as anywhere else).

This in a way is not dissimilar to what we have been discussing about Dependent Origination, e.g. a lack of focus.

Most people tend to associate it with rebirth and look at what can happen over several lifetimes.

Ajarn Buddhadasa is saying that this view is incorrect because The Buddha was teaching about how to avoid birth, and consequently rebirth. Thus, if we get it right, then there will be no birth and no stories about rebirth.

The incorrect version is somewhat like saying that if we fall asleep in the train we will miss our stop and end up somewhere else. So everyone starts discussing all the places we can end up rather than the importance of not falling asleep.

I think Dependent Origination is somewhat tricky, most people don't get it, they get hung up on birth and then end up in another place.

Western culture in general also doesn't get it that while Buddhism may come wrapped in Eastern culture, the teachings are about reality, not culture. Thus, the external picture doesn't have to be the same but the teachings do.

glenn fitzgerald said...

anyrod writes:

"...there is no sine, samadhi, pannya involved and there is no recognition of the first noble truth (i.e. if you sit there long enough it becomes as boring and painful as anywhere else)."

and then, anyrod writes:

"...the teachings are about reality, not culture."

So, I take it that you think the imparted concepts of "sine, samadhi, pannya," and the, "recognition of the first noble truth," are really all about reality?

I'm happy that you think you have a grip on what "reality" is or that you think you have a grip on what Buddhism is.

Truly, I wouldn't even know where to begin to even approach such knowledge.

Good luck! I envy you.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

P.S: I really don't mind the pain of sitting even for long periods of time.

glenn fitzgerald said...

anonyrod:

"This in a way is not dissimilar to what we have been discussing about Dependent Origination, e.g. a lack of focus."


The concept of, "Dependent Origination," is very interesting.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

Anonymous said...

"All you have to do is whatever you're doing now---only do it absolutely. When I go to sit on a rock along the shore of Lake Superior---I just sit. And that is all. There is only the moment and nothing else. "

I think Ajaan Chah referred to this practice as developing the "equanimity of a cow."

anonyrod said...

“Truly, I wouldn't even know where to begin to even approach such knowledge.”


You are not alone in what you think, most people on the planet are like this, and even if they have progressed from this stage, at one time they were in the same boat. No one has any special claims on ignorance.

There are times of course when we ordinary people experience some temporary relief from this befuddlement, i.e. when what we perceive as external nature shows us the emptiness of existence; a moment or two perhaps when a lack of ‘being an individual’ makes us feel sublime and filled with a sense of equanimity towards the whole universe.

Tan Ajarn Chah’s description, ‘the equanimity of a cow’ is spot on, and also reflects how we generally follow the herd like ignorant cows and sheep. The individuality that we cling to has as much value as the cow pats that dot the scenery, as we are all very much the same despite this individuality.

If you are old enough to remember when the West started getting ‘spiritual’, then it began with changes in lifestyle and attitudes and lots of slogans like ‘be here now’ and ‘love is the answer’. It was a beginning, but other than producing some long-haired cows, and cows that looked udderly different, then it didn’t amount to much. [One of my favourite poems by Ajarn Buddhadasa begins “Wooa ei, Wooa dee” (Dear cows, good cows).]

From Buddhism we learn that the place to begin is the mind; becoming an observer and watching how everything arises, stays for a while and then falls away. We no longer have to use slogans, and to a certain extent can talk about it in structured detail. Thus, people in the West should be thankful for Buddhism, and for those who spend their lives spreading the teachings, even though they are not always correct. Fortunately, there are enough sources to find out what is correct.

To ‘approach such knowledge’ you don’t have to rely upon words at all, just develop a correct practice and take it from there.

doug rogers said...

Yes, to mind arising in each moment as a rebirth. Yes, to the energies put in motion, transmitted, and received as a not-die-ing. Yes, to habit-energy or karma as what "lives" on and finds expression.

All of that is an artifact, as it were, of this nama-rupa.

This nama-rupa comes together from the constituent elements.

Yes, I have had one of those startling 'remembrances' of a past life. I remain skeptical - yet not entirely convinced by other, more mundane explanations.

I understand how things can feel real that may not be.

I understanding arising and mindfulness as tools for extinction.

I guess it was a (previously ? ) strong attachment to individuality and self-ness :-) which anchors this nama-rupa to this Desire realm.

?

glenn fitzgerald said...

doug rogers writes:

"Yes, I have had one of those startling 'remembrances' of a past life"

I think those experiences may be a lot more common than many people think.

I also have become inclined to think that one wastes one's time in search of scientific argument to validate them.

At a certain point you have to trust that your memories have some kind of core authenticity.

Glenn Fitzgerald

glenn fitzgerald said...

"I guess it was a (previously ? ) strong attachment to individuality and self-ness :-) which anchors this nama-rupa to this Desire realm."

For me, individuality doesn't signify selfishness, but rather self-realization.

The universe produces a myraid of life-forms including humans. And each lifeform exists as an expression of one single whole---much the same way a tree produces apples of which each is absolutely unique.

Each unique apple has sprung from and belongs to the nature of the seed which produced the tree.

So, the universe "apples" a tree much the same way it "peoples" a world.

Perhaps if apples where conscious beings, they would likely find a higher realization of Self in the way each unique apple can be traced back to the seed which produced the tree.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

glenn fitzgerald said...

Anyway, the thing about religious doctrine such as, "Independent Origination," is that at a certain point it destroys the simple clarity of one's own unique insight about the nature of reality and life.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

glenn fitzgerald said...

Anyway, here's a parting thought.

I'm none too inclined to pay too much attention to past lives.

I suppose I could travel to Tibet and still find the exact place where I once sat on those steps and watched the morning sun come up over the mountains.

But what would be the point in going to so much trouble? The memory is enough. I understand its significance.

So that is that.

The apparent reality of ",other lives," is a very unremarkable fact of life, at least for me.


Glenn Fitzgerald

anonyrod said...

One other interesting aspect of remembering past lives, related to me by an Ajarn who has direct experience of just about all 'woo woo' type activities, is that he says that what you read in the books is not necesarily anything like the real experience.

He says that during his training as a junior monk he experienced an event from the past for about 15 seconds, not as something remembered but as a direct experience complete with all the original sense input (i.e. visual, etc.)and consciousness. He says that going to an earlier level of consciousness was a severe shock to his general well being and that he felt completely exhausted for the following couple of days. Fascinating indeed, but he would not recommend it to anyone.

glenn fitzgerald said...

Anonyrod writes:

"He says that going to an earlier level of consciousness was a severe shock to his general well being and that he felt completely exhausted for the following couple of days."

I suppose such a vivid recollection of the past might possess the power to shock.

But I don't think I'd be shocked.

To begin with, for me human civilization holds to a certain continuity of brutal ignorance and narrowness of vision on the part of most its inhabitants. The self-promotion of "me" to the exclusion of humanity's general welfare usually leads to the politics of mediocrity and elitism in any era.

As we move into the twenty-first century, the forces of neo-conservatism have begun to emerge as our century's biggest and most profound "ism" in a line of "isms," the last ones of which were "Nazism" and "Stalinism."

Yet, Canadians for all their self-congratulatory praise about Canada's dedication to "democracy" have generally no real concern about a free society. They will continue to care mainly about their immediate survival or they will care about the preservation of a well-to-do life in the suburbs.

The main paradigm of human civilization is, "preserve the status-quo," no matter how oppressive.

And even as one of the most destructive political forces of all time gives shape to this century, humans rot, by enthusiastic choice, in the listlessness and apathy of lives preoccupied with greed and trivial pursuits. Go figure.

Nope, nothing in my memory of human civilization would have the power to shock me---not the killing fields of Cambodia, not anything.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

glenn fitzgerald said...

"As we move into the twenty-first century, the forces of neo-conservatism have begun to emerge as our century's biggest and most profound "ism" in a line of "isms," the last ones of which were "Nazism" and "Stalinism."

Here is a little description of the neo-conservative ideology which is shaping up to produce the horrors of this new century----horrors I think will visit humanity as an unprecedented force for destruction:

http://www.blogscanada.ca/egroup/CommentView.aspx?guid=1b4dbd0a-ef15-4e66-852f-dd7267658ab1

Here is the ideology to end all sweet notions of democracy, and hardly no one talks about its true nature.

How apathetic can humans get, I wonder?

I can scour the pages of most major newspaper's in Canada, and I hear barely a peep meaningfully and insightfully said about the ideology raw power that has swept into the minds of our leaders.

Go figure.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

doug rogers said...

After I posted, I had a little flash of insight. It isn't attachment to individuality which caused the 'rebirth' It was attachment.

Ta Da.

It is attachment which was reborn, It is attachment which is reborn.

anonyrod said...

How did we get from Dependent Origination to neo-conservatism? A lack of mindfulness perhaps.

One of the difficult things for anyone when talking about Buddhism is to stay on topic and not bring in other issues; something easier said than done.

Anyway, to get back on topic, I think that the point that Ajarn Buddhadasa is making in his book is that The Buddha's teaching of Dependent Origination is very profound; a result of phenomenal insight in detailing the instantaneous arising of suffering due to ignorance.

What happened when scholars who did not practice got hold of it is more or less what you can see today; turning the profound into mediocrity.

You can see this today when Buddhism is turned into a another form of capitalism, and even some members of the Sangha are more interested in selling books, mass marketing techniques, spiritual entertainment, and collecting money than devoting their lives to the practice.

Thus, in the modern world some people use the mediocre idea of 'fame' to be impressive, whereas the most inspiring and exraordinary feat is to become a fully aware and pure minded being.

In the West, there is obviously a general lack of Saddha (confidence in The Buddha, The Dhamma, and The Sangha) because people have few opportunities to meet such aware beings.

There are also misunderstandings concerning the basic requirements
for Buddhist practice, Sine, Samadhi, Pannya.

Sine, discipline, is often promoted as a form of piety and morality, a mediocre and somewhat mundane view of what the discipline is all about; even taken to the extreme by some Sangha members by following it to the exclusion of everything else.

As my sources in The Sangha point out, discipline is the only thing that prevents would be yogis and meditators from going bananas due to their experiences. In other words, you have to live a somewhat restrained lifestyle to be able to deal with them. While it is quite easy for someone to say that such experiences would not bother them, in reality they would probably spend the rest of their lives stuck in some other existence, because confronting your own ignorant mind is serious business.

The same level of mediocrity can also be found in many people's development of samadhi, and as for mindfulness, what mindfulness?

glenn fitzgerald said...

Anonyrod writes very provocatively:

"How did we get from Dependent Origination to neo-conservatism? A lack of mindfulness perhaps."

I'm anti-war and so if you think you can stop me from wondering off topic from time to time to denounce human conflict, good luck.

It ain't going to happen. I've got the wondering "bug."

Draw a straight line from "A" to "B" and I'll stray off of it every time. There's no arrows painted underneath my feet, I'll tell ya.

Put me on a Parade square with an army division, and I'll step out of line nearly for sure---which is likely why my commanding officer many years ago sentenced me to days of watching repeated episodes of Gomer Pile, USMC.

LOL.

So to your request that I stand in formation, I say...

Golly gee sarge!

Glenn Fitzgerald.

anonyrod said...

Not issuing any orders, just making a point.

glenn fitzgerald said...

anonyrod writes:

"Not issuing any orders, just making a point."

Here's a forumula that might have come right from the pages of civil engineer:

variable Dependent Origination = DO

variable Buddhist Practice = BP

varialble Sangha = S

varible Void = V

DO + BP + S - V = x

What is the value of "x" (hint: if your answer is "mindfulness," you'd be wrong)

Glenn Fitzgerald.

glenn fitzgerald said...

In an ideal world, all discussion groups and all forums would periodically leave their discussion topics to denounce and clarify what might yet be the most destructive ideology surpassing all others in history.

Let the forces of compassion, harmony, and unity prevail to make the goal of transcendence from desire all that more possible.

Let's pause every so often to remind the public that forces of destruction---forces of destruction unprecedented in a all of human history now loom just ahead in time.

The rise of neo-conservatism may one day shatter the illusion of human progress to reveal that humans have only grown in their capacity to wreak total destruction on the human spirit and it's ultimate striving to be free of attachments.

Anyway, I've used up three posts on the off-topic subject of neo-conservatism, so now I'll let it rest.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

P.S: If your wondering why I think neo-conservatism is so much of a threat that it warrants deviating from forum topics, read Shadia Drury's, "The Politics of Leo Strauss," or her latest book on the same subject.

....or if you don't have the time for all that heavy academic reading, visit Canada Blogs or anti-war.com

glenn fitzgerald said...

Doug writes:

"It is attachment which was reborn, It is attachment which is reborn."

Simple and to the point. I like your comment.

The inclination of a mind toward attachment...and that is what's reborn.

anonyrod said...

One interesting realization, perhaps, is that what every one thinks, what everyone is concerned about in our world (wars, neo-conservatism, people going postal, crime in general, birth, old age, sickness and death), all come back to one thing: Dependent Origination.

Without vipassana, seeing clearly, then we all lack direction.

They call him James Ure said...

This is a bit off the subject but I've been reading a lot on Buddhism in Thailand. Mostly regarding a push by Thai monks to make Buddhism the official religion of the country. Do you think that is skillful and good for Democracy? I do not but I'd be interested in hearing your views.

I have also heard of some corruption issues there. That being said I realize that even Buddhism is subject to perversion.

I'd be interested in your views on the two subjects. Perhaps in a coming post? If you do not have the time then I understand.

I bow to you.

glenn fitzgerald said...

james ure writes:

"This is a bit off the subject but I've been reading a lot on Buddhism in Thailand. Mostly regarding a push by Thai monks to make Buddhism the official religion of the country."

James, politicising religion is the first step on the way to eliminating it.

It is firsst and foremost the vigorous spirit for the search of ultimate truth which sustains a religion.

And political institutions, at least at this stage of human civilization, seems mostly about the pursuit toward deception and the compromise of, "truth."

Glenn Fitzgerald.

They call him James Ure said...

Glenn:

I couldn't agree more. :)

_/I\_

Anonymous said...

"This is a bit off the subject but I've been reading a lot on Buddhism in Thailand. Mostly regarding a push by Thai monks to make Buddhism the official religion of the country. Do you think that is skillful and good for Democracy? I do not but I'd be interested in hearing your views."

I guess that is why Ajaan Mun went off on his own. He didn't seem to trust "mainstream" Buddhism. The unfortunate fact is that the actual practice is in serious decline. It seems like all you have nowadays are Sunday School Buddhists who just follow doctrines out of cultural tradition. The Ajaan Mun types are extremely rare.

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

glenn fitzgerald said...

"The unfortunate fact is that the actual practice [Buddhism] is in serious decline. It seems like all you have nowadays are Sunday School Buddhists who just follow doctrines out of cultural tradition."

Doesn't your conclusion depend on some definition of practice?

When I sit on a rock by the lake, I just sit. I don't think about doctrine. I don't place the act of sitting in the context of doctrine. Although, it is true that I have a vague memory of having done this very thing, just sitting, for eons of time.

So, is it a ",Buddhist practice," which I engage in? Maybe. Maybe not.

How many people practice the art of single-minded concentration and never pause to attach a doctrine to their practice?

Well, perhaps I'm not much inclined toward Theravadin thought, though.

It makes no difference to me, whatsoever, whether my practice helps me escape the great wheel of death and birth. It makes no difference because once the linear progression of time ceases to exist for me in a realization of the moment, there is no goal (ie: escape from samsara) to reach.

The "moment" one occupies is the same moment which saw the Earth born out of cosmic dust and saw my so-called escape from Samsara. Both outcomes are rolled up into one.

As well, I see no moral standards
to attain which might in some way define, "karma." The unthinking consequences of practice has replaced any necessity to contemplate morality.

As each life-time is added to another, I know less and less. Someday I'll be completely ignorant. LOL.

Glenn Fitzgerald.

P.S: Writing this very quickly. Sorry for the bad spelling and grammar

Anonymous said...

Glenn Fitzgerald=Richard Rorty

glenn fitzgerald said...

"Glenn Fitzgerald=Richard Rorty"

Now you've gone and done it. I'll have to google to find out who Richard Rorty is.

But I suspect that whoever he is, he might be very offended at the comparison between himself and yours truly.

Yours truly is a born misfit with a memory of more than a few lynch mobs in this life and whatever previous ones. LOL.

I know I once severely stretched the patience of the local Sangha---all of whom would heartily agree to my lack of enlightenment (to my relief).

To begin with,wrong speech is my middle name.

LOL.

Glenn Wrong Speech Fitzgerald

Glenn Fitzgerald

glenn fitzgerald said...

Actually, the local buddhist hermitage (Arrow River, Thunder Bay) is an excellent place to meditate.

But my mischievious antics in opposition to Tibetan Buddhism likely wore out my welcome just a tad. LOL.

The truth is, though, the history of Tibet and the Dali Lama hold a very special place in my heart.
And I usually indulge, from time to time, in an attempt to convey to the public a fuller knowledge of that history without the contribution of Hollywood.

But, it's all in fun.

LOL.

Glenn Fitzgerald