Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

No holds barred discussion on the Buddhadharma. Argue about rebirth, karma, commentarial interpretations etc. Be nice to each other.

Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby coldmountain » Sat Oct 22, 2011 4:32 am

Hi everyone,

I've entitled this thread what it is, fully aware that the vast majority of responses will constitute a resounding 'Yes'. As most everyone here knows (or should know), the issue of rebirth is something that Westerners and those influenced by Western culture have special difficulty accepting. The reason for this is threefold: first, the idea has no foothold in our culture. It hasn't held a place in our thinking, at least for a couple thousand years. The second reason is because of the rise of scientific materialism. Philosophically, it is a priori ruled out by many. I regard these first two reasons as rather inessential. I'm not committed to materialism or to Western metaphysics in general.

But the last reason is a bit more problematic for me. It is actually another trinity of factors:

1) I have no direct experience with it.
2) I have not known anyone personally who does.
3) I have not encountered any phenomena in life that requires rebirth or karma as an explanation (i.e. rebirth and karma seem to be superfluous in giving an account of things). I cannot deny the possibility of rebirth, but it doesn't seem needed. From my perspective, the behavior of phenomena go on just the same whether I think in terms of karma or rebirth or not. This is a negative evidence against rebirth and karma, because one would expect such phenomena, if they were real, to demand our attention. Therefore, rebirth and karma would have to present themselves as evidenced in a strong, unambiguous way in order to justify my acceptance.

Even so, I recognize that there are some intuitive reasons for accepting a karmic perspective on things, based on philosophy of mind. But from my vantage point, at the same time some of it seems utterly fantastic.

Perhaps I've been a bit long winded in setting up my question, but I like people to get an understanding of where I'm coming from. I'm going to ask, then, Is rebirth (and karma, of course) real? If you answer 'yes', then the second question would naturally be: 'How do you know?'

I THINK the answers should fall somewhere into the three points I articulated. In other words,

1) You have direct experience with it (if you do, I'd like to know how you're able to verify that you're not misinterpreting your experience?)
2) You know others who do.
3) You have encountered phenomena which demand rebirth and karma as an explanation (i.e. rebirth, or whatever phenomena needs explaining in terms of such, is a positive reality that demands accounting for, and not just a tacked-on, metaphysical appendix to the empirical world).

These of course, are very demanding questions. But the claims of Buddhism on karma and rebirth seem at least as demanding, so I think it only fair to ask.

Thanks in advance.

Peace!
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby ground » Sat Oct 22, 2011 4:49 am

coldmountain wrote:1) You have direct experience with it

I have direct experience that actions and thoughts (intentions) do have effects.

coldmountain wrote:(if you do, I'd like to know how you're able to verify that you're not misinterpreting your experience?)

"Interpretation" is experience. So who is going to verify what?

coldmountain wrote:2) You know others who do.

The Buddha, psychologists (though they do have explaining models not taught by the Buddha)


Kind regards
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby deepbluehum » Sat Oct 22, 2011 6:24 am

Actions have consequences, that's just common sense. Western religions believe in rebirth in hell or heaven. Islam believes you are reborn from hell to heaven when the punishment is complete. The best explanation comes from Western metaphysics, every moment the body changes. It is discontinuous. In Buddhist terms, every moment is a rebirth of the previous moment. Western medicine has M.D. accounts of patients reporting events when they were clinically dead.

Bottom line. There is no Buddhism without both karma and rebirth. Without karma and rebirth, Buddhism would be completely useless and meaningless. In sum, Buddhism is the teaching about karma and rebirth.
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby coldmountain » Sat Oct 22, 2011 6:56 am

While it is common sense that actions have consequences, this is a general principle and says little about any concrete situation. Physics also describes cause and effect but says nothing about mind surviving death and taking rebirth. I think we need to be clear in our terms. Cause and effect does not mean rebirth, for it is just as easy to affirm cause and effect without rebirth. Rebirth requires cause and effect, but not the other way around.

What it really comes down to is whether the phenomenon in question, rebirth, is real. Metaphysical reasoning cannot serve as a substitute for empirical verification. The question is whether rebirth and karma are ideas justified by the weight of empirical reality.

Whether there is no Buddhism without rebirth, this may more or less be true, but this says nothing as to whether rebirth is actually a real phenomenon, or whether it is a nonempirical metaphysical belief.

Peace.
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby coldmountain » Sat Oct 22, 2011 7:02 am

Hi TMingyur,

"Interpretation" is experience. So who is going to verify what?


So if I interpret my experience to mean that I attained a union with a permanent unchanging, universal Soul, Buddhism has nothing to say about that? We aren't free to interpret our experiences any way we choose. I might dream that I went to the moon, but am I justified to assert that I was actually there?

The Buddha, psychologists (though they do have explaining models not taught by the Buddha)


The Buddha lived and died a long time ago. And I'm not too sure how many psychologists are teaching the Buddhist concepts of karma and rebirth.

Peace.
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby deepbluehum » Sat Oct 22, 2011 7:28 am

coldmountain wrote:While it is common sense that actions have consequences, this is a general principle and says little about any concrete situation. Physics also describes cause and effect but says nothing about mind surviving death and taking rebirth. I think we need to be clear in our terms. Cause and effect does not mean rebirth, for it is just as easy to affirm cause and effect without rebirth. Rebirth requires cause and effect, but not the other way around.

What it really comes down to is whether the phenomenon in question, rebirth, is real. Metaphysical reasoning cannot serve as a substitute for empirical verification. The question is whether rebirth and karma are ideas justified by the weight of empirical reality.

Whether there is no Buddhism without rebirth, this may more or less be true, but this says nothing as to whether rebirth is actually a real phenomenon, or whether it is a nonempirical metaphysical belief.

Peace.


The mind survives clinical death. There is ample anecdotal evidence coming from surgeons, that a patient was clinically dead, but when revived was able to recount events that required functioning eyes, ears, consciousness etc. Science is not able to explain this. The empirical evidence coming from sensors, etc. says the patient is dead.

Then there are countless stories about children who remember their past lives, are able to locate their prior homes, remember the prior family member's names, etc. Then there are child prodigies who have skills in something like music that is so virtuoso level, the skill level can only be explained by past life memory. The Tibetan tulkus, some of them, have very accurate memories of their monasteries, the locations, and the abbots; HH Taklung Matul Rinpoche stands out as one of these.

Buddhism does not say rebirth is true according to empirical science. Buddhism explains rebirth according to the eight consciousnesses.

I like to hypothesize according to an infinite parallel universe theory. In infinite universes, as soon as you die, and exact replica of you is born in some parallel uni.
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby ground » Sat Oct 22, 2011 8:07 am

coldmountain wrote:Hi TMingyur,

"Interpretation" is experience. So who is going to verify what?


So if I interpret my experience to mean that I attained a union with a permanent unchanging, universal Soul, Buddhism has nothing to say about that? We aren't free to interpret our experiences any way we choose. I might dream that I went to the moon, but am I justified to assert that I was actually there?

You did not understand what I said. Try again, calm ... let go of thoughts first. Then contact the meaningsless optical symbols called "words" I have written and let meaning unfold.


coldmountain wrote:
The Buddha, psychologists (though they do have explaining models not taught by the Buddha)


The Buddha lived and died a long time ago. And I'm not too sure how many psychologists are teaching the Buddhist concepts of karma and rebirth.

Peace.

That's why I said they have different explaining models or you may also call it "different verbal expressions".

kind regards
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby Quiet Heart » Sat Oct 22, 2011 8:50 am

:smile:
I've entitled this thread what it is, fully aware that the vast majority of responses will constitute a resounding 'Yes'.

O.K. here's one undecided to add to the mix then.
I'm a sceptic too, but let deal wirh that later....first:

I THINK the answers should fall somewhere into the three points I articulated. In other words,

1) You have direct experience with it (if you do, I'd like to know how you're able to verify that you're not misinterpreting your experience?)
2) You know others who do.
3) You have encountered phenomena which demand rebirth and karma as an explanation (i.e. rebirth, or whatever phenomena needs explaining in terms of such, is a positive reality that demands accounting for, and not just a tacked-on, metaphysical appendix to the empirical world).



I have to truthfully answer No to all those questions.
But let me just add Sherlock Holmes (yes, a fictional character) who said,
"Lack of evidence of existance does not constitute evidence of non-existance"

But like I said before, I'm a skeptic Buddhist....so let's say I agree it's unproven.

Two points I want to make though.
Buddhisim does not specify physical rebirth or even any soul or Ego is reborn...only an essence or nature....what exactly that is isn't defined.
And Karma is not a tit-for-tat thing...but more a general thing...like an infection in a hospital ward...that makes all patients sick, not just the one who originally brought it there.
Probably not satisfying to your scientically trained mine...mine also...that's why I'm a sceptic

For the same reason, I can't reject them outright.
No proof they don't exist just because I don't see them.
After all my lack of belief might be a miscoception based on my mistaken perception of reality.
:smile:
Shame on you Shakyamuni for setting the precedent of leaving home.
Did you think it was not there--
in your wife's lovely face
in your baby's laughter?
Did you think you had to go elsewhere (simply) to find it?
from - Judyth Collin
The Layman's Lament
From What Book, 1998, p. 52
Edited by Gary Gach
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby Huifeng » Sat Oct 22, 2011 9:07 am

Yes.

I can't see the point of answering the second question, when you seem to imply that other persons reasons for accepting this teaching are insufficient.
So, all I can possibly do, is ask you to do your own examination of the matter. And, like any examination, make sure you use the right methods, and try all of them.

~~ Huifeng
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby edearl » Sat Oct 22, 2011 12:12 pm

I believe reincarnation/rebirth is the awakening of our self to another self, in this one life. Additionally, I believe our dead bodies decompose and revitalize the ecosystem, and that our bodies are continually reborn in that way, as other lives. I think my beliefs are the same as Zen Buddhism.
HHDL: "My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims."
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby AlexanderS » Sat Oct 22, 2011 12:40 pm

It seems this guy and his team has made some pretty authentic studies on NDE's, which would suggest the assumption that consciousness is produced by the brain is false.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOeLJCdHojU

Perhaps this would open your mind to life after death of our body.
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby edearl » Sat Oct 22, 2011 1:41 pm

AlexanderS wrote:It seems this guy and his team has made some pretty authentic studies on NDE's, which would suggest the assumption that consciousness is produced by the brain is false.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOeLJCdHojU

Perhaps this would open your mind to life after death of our body.


Sorry, that doctor is not viewing reality as it is. Cardiac arrest and breathing stopped does not imply cell death. In fact, he said that brain death would occur about 5 minutes after cardiac arrest. Thus, brain cells are still working.

They suggested that if consciousness is a function of the brain, that there would be no free will. However, that is merely conjecture.

I accept that he is sincere in his belief, but such things cannot be proven. My beliefs are also sincere, but cannot be proven. Beliefs cannot be proven, and everyone is entitled to their own. People have fought wars over beliefs, but I say live and let live. Fighting and arguing over beliefs is bad karma, and pointless since beliefs cannot be proven scientifically or by thinking realistically. Moreover, even when there is scientific proof such as Galileo Galilei's observation of the planets orbiting the sun, it is difficult or impossible to change mind of people who believe otherwise. In 1614, a priest in Florence denounced Galileo and his followers from a pulpit, causing Galileo to compose an open letter on the irrelevance of the bible in scientific arguments and that scientific positions should never be made articles of Roman Catholic faith.

Metta
HHDL: "My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims."
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Sat Oct 22, 2011 2:36 pm

My answer to the topic question would be: depends on who you ask and what answer you want to hear.
:namaste:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby Dechen Norbu » Sat Oct 22, 2011 3:10 pm

Science can't answer that question just yet. In fact, science can't say much about consciousness, its origin and fate, without helping itself with metaphysical speculation, even if sometimes that sort of assumptions pass to the general public as scientific facts. There are some interesting studies about it, but then you find different interpretations of the results. While some say that there is strong evidence in favor of a theory supporting reincarnation (usually people outside Buddhism don't make the difference between rebirth and reincarnation), others will maintain that such is not the case. The reasons for such scenario are vast and trying to understand both positions implies spending some dozens of hours researching and reading about philosophy, epistemology of science, history of science, sociology etc. Then it is possible to have some grasp about what's really going on. In the end, what you will have are opinions covering a large spectrum regarding this matter. You may prefer some over others, but in the end you will end with your own opinion or not being able to form one.

If I were to tell you that I knew for a fact that rebirth was a fact, talking about memories of past lives, you couldn't be sure if I was talking about cold hard facts or my beliefs mixed with interpretations. So, again you would be stuck in the testimony of a 3rd party. It won't do much for you in terms of certainty.

Regarding your observations about nature, there are many cases of people who seem to have unexplained memories and feelings concerning what some assume to be past lives. Thousands of cases were already reported. Some are explainable, some hardly. You never seen an electron, a molecule or a supernova. Yet you trust experts word on this. You can try to figure out who are those you can consider experts about this subject of rebirth. Scientists? Not for me. Some Buddhist teachers? It's for you to decide.

In the end, it boils down to your own experience, since it seems that this phenomena is quite hidden and not easy to verify. Deepen your practice to a point in which you know for yourself if rebirth is a fact. When you discover, you may say to others that you know for a fact that rebirth theory can be confirmed, but then others will have nothing but your word to rely upon. If they wish to know for themselves, they need to follow the procedure and train their mind as you did.

By the way, I am thinking about an apple right now. There's no science on Earth that can prove this to be true. This doesn't mean I can't think about an apple right now, though. I know I am. Is it possible for you to think about an apple right now? Try it for yourself and tell me. However, to be sure that you indeed can think about an apple at this very moment, I would have to read your mind. Not even a polygraph could guarantee that you were speaking the truth, as we have nothing able to measure or detect mental phenomena directly (it's useful to avoid mistaking them for their neural correlates).

So, there you have it. IMO, the only way out in the current state of affairs is for you to try it for yourself. It will be a hell of a quest as it seems training your mind to such a point takes years of dedicated practice, thousands or tens of thousands hours of meditation and perhaps some more hundreds of hours studying. In the end you will know, but it's a knowledge obtained in a way that can't be proven to a 3rd person. Gladly, knowing for a fact that rebirth is true or not seems to bring many other positive side effects to our mind. ;) So it may worth your while.
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby AlexanderS » Sat Oct 22, 2011 3:23 pm

Completing a Phowa course more or less cleared up all my doubts about postmortem-transmigration.

And I more or less suffer from pathological doubt, but my doubts about rebirth are all gone now.

I feel very relieved about it too :)
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby edearl » Sat Oct 22, 2011 3:41 pm

Very good post, Dechen Norbu!
HHDL: "My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims."
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby deepbluehum » Sat Oct 22, 2011 4:11 pm

This is the kind of situation where I have to do the following:

I bow to the glorious gurus, mahasiddhas, devas and dakinis,
Who bestow every benefit and bliss without exception,
Sit on your lion throne in my heart and
Bless me to account the profound teaching on karma, and rebirth.

Of course there is action, who can deny?
But,
This action is caused by the result of previous actions.
Because actions and results are nondual,
How can results obtain?
How can we perform actions? Impossible.
Without any further delay,
You have been initiated into the fact of illusion.

What, then is this illusion? How does it operate?
Virtuous deeds, the cause, pleasant feelings, the result,
Up to the god-like lords of Earth, the Gods of the 33, and the Shamata kings.
There is no pleasure like the delight in nonperception.
Nonvirtuous deeds, the cause, unpleasant feelings, the result,
Descending down from the animals, warlords, cannibals, ghosts and hell-beings.
What non-virtue is greater than ignorance? Know that the animals suffer the most.

How can one moment's action carry a pleasant or unpleasant feeling into the next?
Of course, from memory. What else?
How come virtue and nonvirtue are connected with pleasure and pain respective?
Of course, because these two, cause and result, are nondual.
How can one's memory create the conditions for complex effects to arise?
Of course, because the nature of appearance is mind,
And perceptions are exactly like reflections.
Because the nature of mind is unobstructed emptiness,
Reflections reiterate endlessly.

And how can memory be transferred from one body to another?
It is not the mind that wanders, but the body.
This configuration of elements is not a privileged status,
Though, the mind and body are not two,
The mind decides how the body will proceed.
Due to attachments and memory, the body will be born.
Of course you can perceive this directly in deep meditation.

The nature of mind is primordially liberated.
How else can the same mind experience pleasure and pain?
Knowing the utter sameness of feeling,
By knowing the untainted knower
Is knowing the fundamental root of samsara and nirvana.
Because I mean "utterly rootless" when I say "root,"
Know that I mean there is no birth, death, suffering, buddhahood or ignorance.

So then, back to beginning...
This cause, action.
That result, feeling
At what moment do they part?
If you see it, then you are reborn,
If you don't, then you are not.

Praise to the glorious Nagarjuna, who dispels all doubts.
May all beings without exception cross the great flood of delusion and doubt,
And arrive at the nature of peace on the shore of nondeception.
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby dakini_boi » Sat Oct 22, 2011 5:27 pm

I don't have direct memory/experience of rebirth - BUT I do have experience and memory of dreams. So I am convinced that consciousness is independent from embodiment. Therefore I can't assume that consciousness ceases when the body dies. Given that, it's not much of a stretch to consider rebirth a strong possibility.
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby KeithBC » Sat Oct 22, 2011 5:56 pm

coldmountain wrote:first, the idea has no foothold in our culture. It hasn't held a place in our thinking, at least for a couple thousand years.

Not true. The dominant religion in western culture is centered around the idea of rebirth. True, the details are different ... it only happens one time ... but the concept is there.
The second reason is because of the rise of scientific materialism.

Science has nothing to say on the subject. That is often taken to mean that science has taken a position against it. This is not so. There is no conflict between the idea of rebirth and science. It is simply a subject on which science has not seen reason to investigate.
1) You have direct experience with it (if you do, I'd like to know how you're able to verify that you're not misinterpreting your experience?)

Yes, I have direct personal experience. One can find reason to quibble with my use of the word "direct", but to me it is direct and very personal. My experiences take the form of a feeling of intense familiarity with a certain behaviour or line of thinking. I'm not talking about deja vu - I'm familiar with that, and this is not the same thing. It is more a case of realizing that the behaviour or thought pattern has always been a part of who I am, even though it is not something that I have experienced before in this lifetime.

The clearest example was my discovery of Buddhism when I was in my 20s. Though I knew nothing of Buddhism, my reading produced the most intense experience of familiarity - "YES!! That's right. I have always known that, just never heard it expressed like that."

That is not an isolated example. There are several threads running through my life that exhibit a similar pattern. No, I'm not going to claim to have been a servant in the court of some famous king or any such nonsense. I have no specific recollections of any previous lives, and I highly doubt if I have ever been anyone famous. I have no actual past life memories at all. No doubt I have been a bug more often than a human. I do think I have been a Buddhist monk at some time in the past.

How do I know I'm not misinterpreting it? I don't. Like anything else in life, I take my best guess.

Om mani padme hum
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Re: are karma and rebirth for real?

Postby ronnewmexico » Sat Oct 22, 2011 9:51 pm

This will make no sense, no sense whatsoever..

but this is how it is in my world.

Nothing dies...we die to it. Death is the death of our perception of it.
Everything born will die. The seed of death is its birth. Everything concieved as dead will rebirth again. We may as well stamp out the thing called water underneth our foot. In the death is the life in the life is the death.
Nothing dead will ever live, again, to us it is dead.
Nothing living will ever die, again, to us it is alive.

A thing dies it is the aspect of our perception of that thing that dies to us not that that thing dies.
We know not that thing nor any other, we know only our perceptions of that thing.

In my world this is how it is.....nothing ever dies nor ever lives.
We only perceive these things in this or that fashion.
As such we can know only.....ourselves.

I find i have never lived nor died.
So every death for me is my death
Every life is my life.

Karma and rebirth thusly are all there is.
always above below beyond befor and about us. We care or do not care to see it.

Your world perhaps is different.
I don't know of or about your world and will make no presumptive comments about it.

This I know is how it is in my world. It does not fit within the perameters of the script you may have written about these things..;but nevertheless...there it is.
"This order considers that progress can be achieved more rapidly during a single month of self-transformation through terrifying conditions in rough terrain and in "the abode of harmful forces" than through meditating for a period of three years in towns and monasteries"....Takpo Tashi Namgyal.
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