Antinatalism and Renunciation

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Jeff H
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Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by Jeff H » Sat Dec 12, 2015 6:12 pm

I’m a slow thinker. I’m not much good in live discussions, and even in forums like DW I can’t usually process my thoughts quickly enough to keep up. But I need a forum environment for the input and because I need to write in order to organize my chaotic thoughts and know what I’m thinking. So I don’t apologize for the obscene length of this post; it’s just me clearing my head publicly. :geek:

Jesse’s courageous thread on antinatalism (http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=36&t=21426) has been nagging at me ever since he first posted it. I agree with one thing he insisted on throughout the thread: the value of the topic is to discuss it, think about it, and process the implications. My teacher is Ven. Robina Courtin and she says she talks about Buddha’s worldview; why and how to apply it. If we are drawn to it that is our karmic propensity, but then our job is to prove it or disprove it for ourselves, like scientists. Buddhism makes sense to me, but I don’t yet know exactly why. Luckily it provides me with tools to unpack what I encounter in my life, and as long as that process provides more reasonable answers than I find elsewhere, I continue. Here I’m going to try to unpack antinatalism using the tool of the Twelve Links.

The premise of antinatalism is that childbirth is immoral as evidenced by the fact that a significant portion of beings who are born experience so much manifest suffering that they kill themselves. Then we extrapolate to the far greater number who seriously contemplate and/or attempt suicide unsuccessfully. And from there we expand the numbers to all the beings who experience chronic manifest suffering, hate their lives, and yet cling desperately to life anyway. Buddhism takes this same line of reasoning much further by including all the beings who are ostensibly happy with their lives; the deluded creatures who endure changing suffering without even realizing it. They order their lives to accommodate all the anxiety, discontent, dissatisfaction, and fear in whatever degree of relative comfort they can muster. But the dreadful abyss is always lurking in the shadows, informing all their actions.

Sickness, aging, and death are in the nature of pervasive suffering. No ordinary beings are exempt. So both Buddhism and antinatalism ask, “What is the immediate cause of this terrible situation?” And both come up with the same answer: birth. To stop suffering we must stop birth. Where these philosophies diverge is how to stop birth. Antinatalism elevates it to a principle of morality and wants to raise consciousness about the seriousness of the choice to make babies (when it is a choice). It becomes a cause. Like Marxism which identifies capitalism as the one great cause of suffering and tries to realize the demise of capitalism as the one great cause of universal comradery. Buddhism sees that process as the unrealistic reification of a single, intrinsic concept.

Reification is the process of becoming. Becoming is the irresistible urge to re-instantiate samsaric life. Pervasive suffering means that at the end of our lives we can’t help feeling we didn’t quite get what we wanted or should have gotten. It is the unquenchable sense that if only things were slightly different I could have been completely satisfied. We desperately need to have another go. That is the drive that brings about another life. Even suicides are driven by the principle of becoming. Rather than the extreme of eternalism, which believes this intrinsic me will find peace next time, suicide operates from nihilism which believes the intrinsic me can find peace, or at least release, in nothingness. Madhyamaka is the middle way.

So Buddhism tries to go deeper and asks, “Why does the end of life inspire such an intense need for more life (or an imagined peace without life)?” The answer is grasping born of craving. We want, we need, we don’t want, we can’t stand, we wish, desire, and hate. Some are more subtle and sophisticated about how they satisfy their grasping and craving, but we all do it. And why is that? Because each of us develops immediate feelings about each and every contact we have with the world around us. Whatever we experience in the world invokes a judgmental reaction in our minds. These judgmental feelings are very coarse ideas of liking, disliking, and not caring, but they determine the nature of our craving and grasping responses. What we crave and grasp at is what we practice and, according to the law of causality, what we practice is what we become proficient in, whether positive or negative.

Our contact with the world results from our sense sources which necessarily arise in a being with name and/or form. It is our conscious awareness which recognizes a confluence of material and conscious events that we are compelled to identify with a label in order to understand it and solidify it as an object. The process of freezing objective chunks of fluid experience into instances of me and mine is what cultivates the tentacles of sensory experience, constantly searching for ever more input through contact, thus creating feeling, which leads to craving and grasping, resulting in becoming, and thereby causing birth –- our original nemesis in this investigation.

Consciousness is the essence of life, the unceasing stream of awarenesses that “we” (whatever that is) call “life” (whatever that is). But in this cycle of negative life experience, the consciousness is shaped by our volitional factors, karma: what we intend we become. Our intentions are based on the habits we’ve cultivated in our previous conscious moments. At the moment of birth, the most recent conscious moments consist of whatever power of becoming was generated by our craving and grasping in the previous life. Which brings us back to the principle of becoming as a deluded reification. And here, Buddhism tells us, the most fundamental underlying cause of reification is ignorance. Ignorance arises from an innate misperception that sees phenomena as independent objects. In itself that is not a problem because we need to apply a false sense of duration and solidity just to function in the material world. That’s what wisdom knows. But ignorance takes that false perception and magnifies it into a belief and Grand Truth which utterly distorts reality into a hideous monstrosity of pervasive suffering.

Therefore, in my assessment, the reified moral imperative to voluntarily stop producing children is completely unrealistic without getting all the way back here to the underlying ignorance that generates attachment and aggression leading to sex and the unconscious will to prolong samsara.

For Buddhism it is too simplistic to say there is only one cause, like having children, which when eliminated will solve the problem of suffering. There is a root cause, ignorance, which leads to attachment and aversion as the general causes of it all, but even they cannot be eliminated directly. There is a process, a path, by which we first must believe that through the judicious application of the laws of causality each of us can elevate our own personal experience. Then such an elevated being must recognize and utterly reject the essential nature of cyclic existence itself by renouncing any possibility that samsaric life can be improved. And then such a renunciate can expand his/her vision beyond simply escaping samsara to rescuing all beings from an intolerable condition. Over the course of learning the techniques and applying the practices, within a single lifetime and across the countless eons, there will be small but significant victories that make it a worthwhile and even joyful endeavor at every stage.

I do not believe that an antinatalism movement could have the slightest impact on birth rates. In fact, I think the concept itself perpetuates the process Buddhism identifies as the cause of samsara. I believe the answer to suffering lies in identifying the true causes and using causality to become something else. In the end, I want to go deeper into Buddhism as a working hypothesis because for me, right now, it presents the most reasonably likely hope to eliminate endless rebirths.

And Jesse, thank you so much for bringing it up!! Whichever side anyone’s on, I think it is very valuable food for thought. :thumbsup:
We who are like children shrink from pain but love its causes. - Shantideva

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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by Jesse » Sat Dec 12, 2015 10:31 pm

:good:

Your post is well thought out and easy to read. I agree with most of it. That said here's a few things I disagree with:
I do not believe that an antinatalism movement could have the slightest impact on birth rates.
Realistically, It may not. Though trying to get people to voluntarily curb the birth of new children is the ethical thing to do, and it will prevent the necessity of inacting laws in the future. When overpopulation reaches a critical point, where it's severly effecting everyone, world government's will be forced to create laws limiting child birth. Wouldn't it be better to just make the decision ourselves rather than being forced into a position by authorities?

More than this, when our world has been destroyed due to resource shortages or outright depletion, the earth will no longer be a suitible place for dharma practice.
Our contact with the world results from our sense sources which necessarily arise in a being with name and/or form. It is our conscious awareness which recognizes a confluence of material and conscious events that we are compelled to identify with a label in order to understand it and solidify it as an object. The process of freezing objective chunks of fluid experience into instances of me and mine is what cultivates the tentacles of sensory experience, constantly searching for ever more input through contact, thus creating feeling, which leads to craving and grasping, resulting in becoming, and thereby causing birth –- our original nemesis in this investigation.
None of this is possible without a living body, so it's not a good reason to dismiss not having children. For a sentient being to exist, it must first have a body. Sure you can say, if not a human body is available it will just go elsewhere, but I find this a religious notion, not one easily substantiated, I do not believe rebirth has anything to do with some sort of entity which propegates itself from life to life. A new life is simply born, and due to karmic influences a new 'person' will form out of already existing phenomena, the same phenomena that forms all sentient beings.

Even dismissing all the philosophy, the first point stands. We must first make sure the earth stays a suitible place for dharmic practice, or a human birth will cease being precious. More than this, we should ensure beings born on this planet have a suitible place to live their lives, to be free, happy, etc. A destroyed, overpopulated planet doesn't fit this need.
The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.
-Henry David Thoreau

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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by Qing Tian » Sat Dec 12, 2015 10:51 pm

As far as I can recall there are no historical cases where limiting births, either through personal choice or state decree, has had a positive effect overall. If you can name one then please do so. The biological imperative to procreate is hard wired into most creatures (including us).
“Not till your thoughts cease all their branching here and there, not till you abandon all thoughts of seeking for something, not till your mind is motionless as wood or stone, will you be on the right road to the Gate.”

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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by Jesse » Sat Dec 12, 2015 11:23 pm

Qing Tian wrote:As far as I can recall there are no historical cases where limiting births, either through personal choice or state decree, has had a positive effect overall. If you can name one then please do so. The biological imperative to procreate is hard wired into most creatures (including us).
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-child_policy

It's of course controversial, some figures read the policy prevented around 500 million births, other groups claim the population reduction would of happened anyway. I doubt it though.

So what if it's hardwired? Are you saying being celibate is impossible, because....

In this day and age, there are so many homeless children, I don't see why people don't just adopt.

http://www.worldpopulationbalance.org/3 ... ustainable
http://ccainstitute.org/index.php?optio ... &Itemid=43
The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.
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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by Kim O'Hara » Sun Dec 13, 2015 12:32 am

Qing Tian wrote:The biological imperative to procreate is hard wired into most creatures (including us).
I think you can safely say "all" creatures, not just "most".
You could say that same-sex behaviour (which happens occasionally in many species from insects up to mammals) is an exception, but that's only at the individual level, not the species level.
At the species, and even community, level, all creatures have a hard-wired procreative urge along with a self-defensive urge. The reason is pretty simple, when you think about it, and Darwin nailed it: if their ancestors didn't procreate and defend themselves, their lineage no longer exists.
:thinking:

:focus:

:namaste:
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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by Qing Tian » Sun Dec 13, 2015 5:54 am

Jesse wrote:
Qing Tian wrote:As far as I can recall there are no historical cases where limiting births, either through personal choice or state decree, has had a positive effect overall. If you can name one then please do so. The biological imperative to procreate is hard wired into most creatures (including us).
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-child_policy

It's of course controversial, some figures read the policy prevented around 500 million births, other groups claim the population reduction would of happened anyway. I doubt it though.

So what if it's hardwired? Are you saying being celibate is impossible, because....
You need to think about this issue a little more broadly than mere numbers. China is experiencing the effects of its earlier policy now, with imbalances in male/female numbers, and growing elderly population (happening in Western countries too) with narrowing young populations.

The policy does not stand alone, it must be analysed in the cultural and economic context too. That's what I meant about lack of positive effects. If it was just about numbers then you may have a point, but it is not and you point is made much weaker because of it.

I also did not say that celibacy was impossible, but do imply that it is unlikely to ever be a majority decision.
“Not till your thoughts cease all their branching here and there, not till you abandon all thoughts of seeking for something, not till your mind is motionless as wood or stone, will you be on the right road to the Gate.”

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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by tingdzin » Sun Dec 13, 2015 6:30 am

It seems to me that to consider the effects of any action, we can not realistically reduce discussion to statements of whether these a actions had "overall" good or bad effects. Moreover, in calculating these effects, we can only guess at what would have happened had an alternate choice been made.

In the case of population control, we might contrast the situations of Thailand and the Philippines. Family planning is nowadays very widely practiced in Thailand; contraception is easily available and widely used, so that in contrast to a couple of generations ago, families with more than two or three children are rare. Probably as a result, the country has not suffered food deficits; on the contrary it is a leading exporter of rice. On the other hand, the Philippines, where birth control was up until recently socially unacceptable due to the prevailing Roman Catholicism, families are larger, and vast numbers of people are scraping to get by -- an estimated 10% of the entire Filipino population works abroad, generally at unenviable menial labor, to send money home for familial support, and many, many Filipinos are underemployed in terms of their education and abilities.

In the case of China, I don't see that it can be argued that limitation of family size has had benefits that probably outweighed its costs. One could say that traditional Chinese family structure was disrupted, but the Chinese Communist ideology was not that encouraging of traditional families anyway, even apart from this whole question. China is now the most polluted nation on earth, and had it been forced to accommodate all the people who would have been in the absence of family limitation, the water would have been even fouler and scarcer, and the air even dirtier. Further, China is a huge exploiter of the natural resources of other countries -- in spite of its huge land area. it must go abroad for all kinds of natural resources, often affecting its neighbors in a detrimental way. Clearly, the situation would have been worse than it is with a much greater population.

Much more could be said, but I'm afraid of running out the clock on posting time, so I'll stop here for the time being.

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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by Jesse » Sun Dec 13, 2015 6:49 am

Qing Tian wrote: You need to think about this issue a little more broadly than mere numbers. China is experiencing the effects of its earlier policy now, with imbalances in male/female numbers, and growing elderly population (happening in Western countries too) with narrowing young populations.

The policy does not stand alone, it must be analysed in the cultural and economic context too. That's what I meant about lack of positive effects. If it was just about numbers then you may have a point, but it is not and you point is made much weaker because of it.

I also did not say that celibacy was impossible, but do imply that it is unlikely to ever be a majority decision.
I am not arguing policy, but tingdzin made some good points.

Just because one policy had certain consequences, doesn't mean others wont succeed where it failed. In order to make sure overpopulation doesn't destroy us, we'd obviously have to make sacrifices, and there would be ill effects, none of which can be worse than running out of resources.

Celibacy wouldn't even be required, just much better birth control, more responsibility.
You need to think about this issue a little more broadly than mere numbers.
Ultimately it comes down to nothing but numbers. [x] resources can sustain [x] people for [x] time.
The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.
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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by tingdzin » Sun Dec 13, 2015 7:27 am

Sorry my reply to Qing Tian was a bit off the main topic.

As Jeff H. said, even if it were possible (which it is not) it is much too simplistic to think that eliminating having children will eliminate the cause of suffering. Hypothetically total solutions to any problem in any area in reality never, ever work out.
Qing Tian wrote:The biological imperative to procreate is hard wired into most creatures (including us).
Those who rely on metaphors (here, people are computers) to explain human behavior can easily fall into traps. This particular metaphor is not only misleading, it is contrary to Buddhism.

Nowadays it is fashionable to excuse all sorts of bad behavior by claiming that is somehow built-in to our essential natures. A couple of generations ago (and there are still some holdouts) the idea was that violence, aggression, and greed are all just results of the evolutionary struggle leading to "survival of the fittest", which was taken to justify every kind of bad act. Before that, people did bad things because "the Devil made me do it"; it was part and parcel of our characters after falling from God's grace. The metaphors we choose to explain reality, if we take them too seriously and forget they are just metaphors, can and usually do insidiously come to shape the reality we live by, on both individual and social levels.

If we say "hard-wired", to begin with, we can ask: who did the wiring? Obviously, Buddhists do not believe in some supernatural being or force that lays out our destinies for us, whether this be a creator god or some other abstraction, like Marx's "History". This could lead to further deviations from the main subject so I'll stop here.

:focus:

While I would not agree with Jesse that ultimately it comes down to nothing but numbers, there is no absolutely no getting around the fact that cultural and economic values, whatever they may be, have no chance of being preserved if the underlying ecosystem of the earth is destroyed.

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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by Ayu » Sun Dec 13, 2015 9:24 am

tingdzin wrote: it is much too simplistic to think that eliminating having children will eliminate the cause of suffering.
This.

The cause of suffering is eliminated by the decrease of greed, hate and ignorance.
If there wasn't any human baby born anymore on this planet, this wouldn't reduce the suffering for an inch.

Compassion and insight are the solution. Birth controll would be nothing than painting a mildewed wall white. It becomes black again very soon.
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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by tingdzin » Sun Dec 13, 2015 10:40 am

Ayu wrote:Birth controll would be nothing than painting a mildewed wall white. It becomes black again very soon.
I
When you say "birth control" here, it sounds like you mean human extinction, in which case you are right. Since the topic all this stemmed from was the deliberate self-extinction of the human race, I assume that's what you meant.

However, "birth control" is more generally used as synonymous with family planning, which is a whole different matter. Humans in an overcrowded society have much less opportunity to seek out and find the true origin of suffering, as they are totally preoccupied with just staying alive: day-to-day suffering and struggle will not leave them leisure to practice Dharma and find its root cause. An overcrowded world will also face the choice of either constant conflict and chaos, or rigid conformity of thought and the annihilation of the individual in the name of social order. Neither of these is compatible with Buddhism. Practically speaking, Buddhism is in the long run is probably as dependent on population control as the environment is.

Oh, Qing Tian just posted, but I'll have to reply separately, as there's no quote function on new submissions.

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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by Ayu » Sun Dec 13, 2015 10:49 am

tingdzin wrote:
Ayu wrote:Birth controll would be nothing than painting a mildewed wall white. It becomes black again very soon.
I
When you say "birth control" here, it sounds like you mean human extinction, in which case you are right. Since the topic all this stemmed from was the deliberate self-extinction of the human race, I assume that's what you meant.
You're right, I'm sorry. I meant birth controllin this context, not in general. We are not discussing about birth controll in general here, are we?
This whole topic is quite off. It is nihilistic, uncompassionate and ruled by refusal. Simply non-buddhistic, IMO. If there is any place for it on a Buddhist board at all, it can only be the "Lounge".
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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by tingdzin » Sun Dec 13, 2015 11:02 am

Well, the lounge has and has had some pretty bizarre stuff. :D There are, nevertheless, some meaningful points to be made, IMO, or I wouldn't bother responding. And the thread has not degenerated into spiteful name-calling, at least.

What do you mean, "ruled by refusal"?

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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by Ayu » Sun Dec 13, 2015 11:24 am

tingdzin wrote: What do you mean, "ruled by refusal"?
I suppose, the intention to call for Antinatalism on a Mahayana Buddhist board is the idea nobody should give birth to any child, since Mahayana Buddhism tries to eleminate all the suffering of all beings. This is the wrong measure, viewed in the light of Buddhist philosophy. This wrong idea is born from condemnation of life at all. It doesn't contain the thought of mind developement.
A human birth is the best incarnation to develop the mind and to find liberation.

But now I see, Antinatalism is also about birth control: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antinatalism This philosophy emphases the reduction of population also. I didn't know that, and I don't argue against that.
But in this light it is not "unethical" to give birth to a child at all.
There is a reason why it is called "precious human birth". And to give birth and take care of children can be an act of total althruism. It can be a noble deed in my view.
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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by Jesse » Mon Dec 14, 2015 2:10 am

Ayu wrote:
tingdzin wrote: What do you mean, "ruled by refusal"?
I suppose, the intention to call for Antinatalism on a Mahayana Buddhist board is the idea nobody should give birth to any child, since Mahayana Buddhism tries to eleminate all the suffering of all beings. This is the wrong measure, viewed in the light of Buddhist philosophy. This wrong idea is born from condemnation of life at all. It doesn't contain the thought of mind developement.
A human birth is the best incarnation to develop the mind and to find liberation.

But now I see, Antinatalism is also about birth control: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antinatalism This philosophy emphases the reduction of population also. I didn't know that, and I don't argue against that.
But in this light it is not "unethical" to give birth to a child at all.
There is a reason why it is called "precious human birth". And to give birth and take care of children can be an act of total althruism. It can be a noble deed in my view.
Technically, even Buddhism doesn't solve suffering, if you believe Buddhist cosmology. After some amount of time(millions of kalpas, or whatever) the universe will simply die out and be reborn. The whole cycle just repeats it'self forever. So technically the only way for suffering to end, is for the universe to cease existing forever. Call it nihilism if you'd like, I call it problem solved.

No living beings, no universe, no need for enlightenment, Buddhahood or anything else. There simply isn't a problem anymore.

Anyway, I'm not really interested in discussing the topic anymore, because people in general just aren't willing to have an intelligent conversation about it. Glad a few people are willing to think about it though.
The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.
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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by Qing Tian » Mon Dec 14, 2015 3:37 am

Anyway, I'm not really interested in discussing the topic anymore, because people in general just aren't willing to have an intelligent conversation about it. Glad a few people are willing to think about it though.
1. Thank you for letting me know that I am unintelligent. I was beginning to wonder, now that doubt has been cleared away. :guns:

2. And for what it is worth, obviously not a great deal, I had given the subject some serious thought, and then I dismissed it as being not supportable by my own understanding. However, because I am stupid (see point 1), I had quite overlooked that I was not allowed to disagree with the OPs premise. Silly me.

Back to the cushion <sigh> searching in vain for a little enlightenment (can you have just a little?)
“Not till your thoughts cease all their branching here and there, not till you abandon all thoughts of seeking for something, not till your mind is motionless as wood or stone, will you be on the right road to the Gate.”

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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by Jesse » Mon Dec 14, 2015 4:28 am

Qing Tian wrote:
Anyway, I'm not really interested in discussing the topic anymore, because people in general just aren't willing to have an intelligent conversation about it. Glad a few people are willing to think about it though.
1. Thank you for letting me know that I am unintelligent. I was beginning to wonder, now that doubt has been cleared away. :guns:

2. And for what it is worth, obviously not a great deal, I had given the subject some serious thought, and then I dismissed it as being not supportable by my own understanding. However, because I am stupid (see point 1), I had quite overlooked that I was not allowed to disagree with the OPs premise. Silly me.

Back to the cushion <sigh> searching in vain for a little enlightenment (can you have just a little?)
Case in point. I think you've ready way too much into that sentence.
The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.
-Henry David Thoreau

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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by Kim O'Hara » Mon Dec 14, 2015 4:47 am

Qing Tian wrote:Back to the cushion <sigh> searching in vain for a little enlightenment (can you have just a little?)
Here's a little: http://dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=109&t=15421
:reading:

Making the same point more seriously: please refrain from meta-discussion.
Yes, both of you.

:thanks:
Kim

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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by Kim O'Hara » Mon Dec 14, 2015 6:52 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:
Qing Tian wrote:Back to the cushion <sigh> searching in vain for a little enlightenment (can you have just a little?)
Here's a little: http://dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=109&t=15421
:reading:

Making the same point more seriously: please refrain from meta-discussion.
Yes, both of you.

:thanks:
Kim
ToS wrote:No meta-discussion (i.e. discussion about discussion)
link from ToS wrote:The term meta-discussion means a discussion whose subject is a discussion. Meta-discussion explores such issues as the style of a discussion, its participants, the setting in which the discussion occurs, and the relationship of the discussion to other discussions on the same or different topics.
:thinking:
Kim

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Re: Antinatalism and Renunciation

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Mon Dec 14, 2015 8:03 am

The idea in Dharma is that birth an death cease when you are done with the whole project, not because you "decide" to stop existing, think being born is lame, or to disallow yourself to be involved in bringing another transmigratory being into this existence. So really, from a Buddhist perspective the entire question of "anti natalism" is wrongheaded, an makes very little sense. A universe full of "nothing" is an impossibility, an Nirvana is not simply a negation of stuff, or some kind of True Death anyway.

"Life" as such from a Dharmic perspective is Teleological, there is no way to 'stop samsara', to escape the ocean of exisence, by not having children, or simply altering the lifestyles of yourself or others.. Dharma practice is all that achieves liberation from conditioned existence.
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