How to believe in rebirth

General forum on the teachings of all schools of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Topics specific to one school are best posted in the appropriate sub-forum.
Bristollad
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by Bristollad » Fri Nov 10, 2017 9:22 am

Wayfarer wrote:
Fri Nov 10, 2017 8:10 am
I understand the metaphor of the ‘passing of the torch’ but there’s still a torch passed.
But that wasn't the metaphor invoked. The torch isn't passed. One torch lights another torch which lights another torch and so on. One moment of mind is the cause of another moment of mind which is the cause of another moment of mind. To me, the idea of rebirth only seems a problem if, for some reason, you equate mind with a physical brain, as an emergent property of brain-matter.

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Rick
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by Rick » Fri Nov 10, 2017 4:04 pm

Afaiui the flame is what's passed on, that's the continuity. But the flame is ever-changing, so the flame of torch X when it is first lit is not the same as the flame that gets passed to torch X+1. And, to spice things up, the flame has no beginning and no ending. (It would be good for someone who really KNOWs this stuff to clear up any misunderstandings here. Is there a rebirth doctor in the house?!)
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Fortyeightvows
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by Fortyeightvows » Fri Nov 10, 2017 5:46 pm

Rick wrote:
Fri Nov 10, 2017 4:04 pm
Afaiui the flame is what's passed on, that's the continuity. But the flame is ever-changing, so the flame of torch X when it is first lit is not the same as the flame that gets passed to torch X+1. And, to spice things up, the flame has no beginning and no ending.
Just yesterday I heard some put it as "a continuity of energy"

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Rick
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by Rick » Fri Nov 10, 2017 5:57 pm

Nice. And how can you argue with that? There is nothing in our Western/rational blood that urges us to disbelieve that energy is continuous, is there? It just makes intuitive sense to us. (Though there is that pesky question: How does that energy manage to stick around for 49 samsaric days and then somehow mysteriously miraculously get passed to another sentient entity?)
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Wayfarer
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by Wayfarer » Fri Nov 10, 2017 9:54 pm

Bristollad wrote:To me, the idea of rebirth only seems a problem if, for some reason, you equate mind with a physical brain, as an emergent property of brain-matter.
My interpretation is that the ‘self’ that is rejected, is ‘a self’ that is regarded as being like an unchangeable essence which migrates from life to life.

An example: in Vedanta teachings, you will sometimes see references to the ‘unchanging witness of experience’, that ‘inner being’ which is said to be ‘the same’ regardless of what is being experienced; the student is encouraged to identify with that, rather than the flux of experience. I think that is what is challenged by the anātman teaching. The question is put: where is this unchanging self you speak of? Show it to me! Then the reality of everything knowable being the five heaps is demonstrated. Where in this is something ‘unchangeable’?

But I still think there’s a tension in Buddhism between there being no self, and the question of agency. What maintains the karmic continuity needs to be accounted for - which is why the idea of the unconscious, the Alana-Vijñāna, was brought into play (which is analysed in detail in William Waldron’s book, The Buddhist Unconscious.) By introducing this idea, karmic continuity can be understood without there being such an unchangeable essence or core of experience. But the very idea of there being an Alaya-Vijñāna was rejected by some Buddhists, on account of it being too much like the ātman which Buddhists had already rejected. And I think there is a tension around this point in Buddhism.

The principle I recall is: ‘neither the same nor different’. The mind-stream is constantly changing - ‘you can never step in the same river twice’. There is nothing permanent or enduring in experience to cling to, and life is the often-painful lesson of learning to let go. But on a deep level, we still maintain the idea of ‘I and mine’ which is what provides the impetus of karma until it too is finally let go altogether. Which is far easier to speak about, than to do!
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki-roshi

Jeff H
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by Jeff H » Fri Nov 10, 2017 11:54 pm

I think the issue is the medium. It doesn't seem too difficult to think of consciousness as distinct from matter, or that some forms of matter provide a medium for consciousness. In the flame analogy, the fire represents ephemeral consciousness while the candle represents the embodiment animated by that ephemeral quality.

I have also always liked the conservation of energy analogy, but there too, the issue is how we recognize, define, and utilize energy. When the powers of electricity or radioactivity were being discovered, it would seem that the energy was already there, and distinct from any other phenomena that were known, but it required manipulation to harness it.

In the case of rebirth, the "energy" is consciousness; simple, basic awareness. It exists and it is not like any material phenomena that can be known -- and yet it's the knower-of-phenomena. There is the illusion of duration, which is applied to both the knower and the known, but there is no permanent thing that knows or is known.

The illusion of duration arises (and is erroneously clung to) because one momentary existence gives rise to a different, but similar, momentary existence. In the case of materiality, we see the body change and grow old -- but we call it one person. In the case of consciousness, we see an evolution of thoughts and attitudes very closely associated with and conditioned by the body. But I don't believe the consciousness dies as a result of the body dying.

The general nature of the consciousness patterns established during the mind/body association continues in a similar direction. However, it needs a new medium because the old one, our body of this life, is used up. Now, my consciousness in this body has a general idea about how biological matter becomes suitable to support consciousness -- but I don't really know. And outside of this particular life, I have absolutely no idea about what would constitute a suitable medium to support the consciousness that has been processed through my body -- but it seems perfectly reasonable to me that consciousness is conserved in individual, unbroken, linear chains of distinct, non-identical moments that seek their own most appropriate media.

And one reason that seems reasonable to me is that, as far as I'm concerned, it is the most useful of the only three options of what happens after death that I'm aware of: 1. Materiality (consciousness is a function of matter and dies with the medium); 2. Spirituality (a conscious soul is created at a moment in time and faces eternal recompense after death for whatever actions it committed in life); or 3. Rebirth, as described here. None of these can be proved or disproved, but when combined with the richness of Dharma, I pick rebirth.
We who are like children shrink from pain but love its causes. - Shantideva

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GoingHome
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by GoingHome » Sat Nov 11, 2017 6:29 am

I used to be a Christian but one thing always bugs me is the concept of one soul and only path to hell and heaven. I started to ask, what happen to all the souls before Jesus or millions of souls who never heard the word of God or the 90% of proclaimed Christian who doesn't follow the 10 commandments. Are they all going to hell? I'm not disclaiming Christianity, in fact, I believe Jesus is a Bodhisattva in disguise to lead people to the good path of human and heaven if they hold true to the commandments. Not everyone believe in Buddha so they need other methods to lead people to do good. So as Buddhists we should respect all religions and encourage them to do good deeds.
Sorry I digress. I also start to ask why are there so much disparity and inequality in the world. Why people are born rich, poor, born with affliction, born beautiful, ugly, short, tall etc. Why evil doers are wealthy, live long and good people struggle and die young? Numerous questions like these lead me into believing in the concept of Karma and Rebirth. Why are we born with these conditions? It's because of our Karma. I don't need to go into scientific theory of energy transfer or metaphysics to believe in karma. If we pay attention, the concept of Karma is everywhere. If I slap you, you will slap me back. Instant karma.

Bristollad
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by Bristollad » Sat Nov 11, 2017 11:25 am

Wayfarer wrote:
Fri Nov 10, 2017 9:54 pm
But the very idea of there being an Alaya-Vijñāna was rejected by some Buddhists, on account of it being too much like the ātman which Buddhists had already rejected.
Since my teachers are Gelukpa, this includes me :twothumbsup:

When my first teacher was introduced to the idea of an unconscious, he found it hilarious and couldn't understand why westerners would take the concept seriously. I'm not sure he ever really thought that westerners believed in it - just that we found it a convenient excuse to cover over what we didn't understand about the mind, and to account for the 3 poisons arising without having to accept the concept of karma.

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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by PadmaVonSamba » Tue Nov 14, 2017 3:38 am

It's like an echo.
You yell into a canyon, and the echo resembles the yell.

Consider, a truck carrying a load of wood boards on a road that runs along next to a river.
The truck hits a hole and falls into the river, and all the wood falls out and scatters downstream
where it washes up here and there along the shore.
This is like death, where the actions of body,speech, and mind (represented by the many pieces of wood)
are the causes for conditions that will ripen later
and as we know, causes are causes of results (karma).
This is what happens with most people.

But, suppose all that wood on that truck had first been nailed together and fashioned into a boat?
Same truck, same wood, same river. but this time, when it falls off the truck into the water
it stays together, floats down stream, and washes up intact (maybe on the other shore?)
This is a metaphor for those who have trained their minds,
people such as incarnate lamas.
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Aemilius
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by Aemilius » Tue Nov 14, 2017 10:14 am

Your metaphor is not very good or satisfactory, to say the least. What does the truck in it stand for? Who is sitting at the wheel?
The traditional metaphor for the 5 skandhas (one found in the 12 links) is better, i.e. a boat with four people in it, one of whom holds a rudder. This metaphor makes a distinction between material and mental skandhas, boat is the skandha of form (and matter), four passangers stand for the four mental skandhas (2.vedana/sensation, 3.samñja/perception, 4.samskara/volition and 5.vijñana/consciousness).
Your metaphor doesn't really illustrate the nature of rebirth, pieces of drift wood do not act as future causes for anything (other than rotting), normally.
Whereas candle flame acts as a future cause (for another candle flame), and a seed acts as a future cause (for another tree). The traditional metaphors for rebirth.
svaha
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by Misty » Wed Nov 15, 2017 4:44 pm

I enjoyed your analogy.
I think it beautifully illustrates our situation. Mostly, we are not yet able to control the ayatanas and we cling to dhatus. Our thoughts, words and actions are like flying pieces of debris in a storm.
I think, in practice we learn to start building this ship and the beautiful thought is, each piece we add to this ship is one less piece that will fly about in the next storm. Every little effort brings benefit.

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srivijaya
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by srivijaya » Wed Nov 15, 2017 5:11 pm

Wayfarer wrote:
Fri Nov 10, 2017 9:54 pm
But I still think there’s a tension in Buddhism between there being no self, and the question of agency.
Absolutely. Dualistic terminology like 're-birth' or 'self/no-self' conceals the profound doctrine of dependent origination. No mental representation is able to free itself from the necessity of 'agency', which is axiomatic within a linear interpretation.

madhusudan
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by madhusudan » Fri Nov 17, 2017 12:20 am

I thought this link might be of interest: http://www.jimbtucker.com/

I'm passing this on before having looked much into it. In fact, I just discovered this today. Apparently he is a child psychologist at the Univerisity of Virginia Medical School investigating past life memories. Don't know much more about it than that.

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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by PadmaVonSamba » Mon Nov 20, 2017 3:29 am

There were two carved jack-o-lanterns in a state of advanced decay, having a conversation about rebirth a few days after Halloween.
"I've had this spooky expression ever since I can remember. Do you think I will be reborn as someone who is mean or angry?"
"I don't know", said the other pumpkin, "But I've always had a scared expression. I wonder if I will be reborn in a constant state of fear!"
While the two were talking and worrying, high up in the sky, the Sun and the Clouds were also having a conversation about making vegetables grow.
"It was fun manifesting as pumpkins again. What do you want to do next?" asked the Sun.
"I dunno. Let's wait until next Spring."

This silly story I heard a few years ago, expresses the idea that due to our particular perspective, we only see rebirth in limited terms.
We only think about a "me" (that has no true existence to begin with), and we forget our interconnectedness with everything.
We are just very brief manifestations, barely more than a flash, of the same matter and energy that's been in the universe forever.
Even in our experience, we think in terms of an inner world of thoughts and feelings, and an outer world of everything else,
as though we are separate from everything.
Then it's like, "what happens to "ME" when "MY" body dies, etc.
But really, It's all... we are all part of everything.
That's why the idea that many people have about karma, that it's "the universe" rewarding us or punishing us is a misunderstanding of karma.
The universe isn't something separate, outside of us.
We are made out of everything we have ever eaten, all the air we have ever breathed, that all used to be other stuff
before the present stream of thoughts.
The mind doesn't come and go anywhere...it's the body that leaves.
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Wayfarer
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by Wayfarer » Mon Nov 20, 2017 6:30 am

My Indian Studies lecturer remarked, in the West people say that when you die you ‘give up the ghost’. In the East they say you ‘give up the body’. :smile:
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki-roshi

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Vasana
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by Vasana » Fri Mar 16, 2018 9:54 am

Here is an open question for all of you:

If a non-buddhist or atheist asks you why you believe in karma and rebirth, how would you reply to them?

I ask this because I'm at a junction where certain friends are noticing mebattempt to align with dharmic perspectives or behaviours instead of our 'business-as-usual', senseless worldy chatter. I must seem less friendly to them. I've tried to explain to them why it is that I'm making efforts to weaken my engrained habits of worldy chatter and 'off-colour' humour but they have expressed they think I'm claiming a moral high-ground or that I'm somehow 'limiting' myself by ascribing to my dharma views. This doesnt correspond with my experience but I find myself unsure of what to say to them so that there is mutual respect and understanding, even if it seems they're not really open to consider the views and implications of karma and transmigration any time soon.
'When alone, watch your mind. When with others, watch your speech'- Old Kadampa saying.

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Tiago Simões
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by Tiago Simões » Fri Mar 16, 2018 10:46 am

Vasana wrote:
Fri Mar 16, 2018 9:54 am
If a non-buddhist or atheist asks you why you believe in karma and rebirth, how would you reply to them?
This is a question I have many times asked myself. In my experience discussing this things with others most times is useless, especially if they don't share the same bases for view.

I'm not sure if I can make myself clear, but most people come to these discussions with preconceptions. Wrong views about Karma, wrong views about rebirth and sometimes wrong views about science.

And it's best to discuss this issues first than to try and convince people of karma and rebirth.

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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by smcj » Fri Mar 16, 2018 12:29 pm

Jeff H wrote:
I’m only aware of two alternatives: eternal soul and nothing.
How about a third option, which I will call continuous Freedom?

I like to think that the nature of the mind is fundamentally unlimited in its potential for how it appears. Or, to put in simple English, it is Freedom. If there were a “soul” involved there would be something about it that wouldn’t change. There would be a limitation to how much it could morph. That is what is being denied when we talk about “no-soul”.

Reincarnation says there is continuity. “No-soul” says there are no limitations. The two ideas go together very well.

When unaware it manifests as rebirth with karmic limitations of one sort or another. Those limitations, of necessity, cause suffering since that Freedom is experienced as limitations. That provoked a search for release, which is why we are here.

When aware that same potential becomes the spontaneous “unimpeded” aspect of Buddha Activity. The fundamental Freedom that is mind is experienced and expressed without being tied into a knot of karmic causes and conditions.
*****
Anyway that my current understanding of the teachings on Buddha Nature. It avoids many of the yucky issues that are emotional leftovers from Christian teachings so there is less resistance to the idea. But I haven’t been able to confirm my understanding with a khenpo yet, so take that with a grain of salt.

Now isn’t that more fun than Nagarjuna’s tetralemma?
I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against Lama abuse.

Jeff H
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by Jeff H » Fri Mar 16, 2018 2:57 pm

For the record, in context that 2-year old quote of mine that Simon brought up meant those are the only two alternatives I know of outside of dependent origination. It was addressed to the OP about people who are interested in Buddhism but have difficulty with rebirth.

To Vasana's question, I'd first point out that the people around a recovering alcoholic often complain he/she is not as much fun as when they drank.

Regarding questions about your behavior from people who are not interested in Buddhism, the simple fact is you're applying cause and effect in a positive way. The problems you experience today arose because of personal actions in the past, and you want to change the pattern. That's the karma side.

The rebirth side is what lends urgency to taking karma seriously. That is what the original post Simon quoted was about. Neither you nor your friends can prove what happens after we die. But rebirth is (in my opinion) a more useful view. What do they believe and how does it affect or not affect their daily activities?
We who are like children shrink from pain but love its causes. - Shantideva

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Matt J
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Re: How to believe in rebirth

Post by Matt J » Fri Mar 16, 2018 3:33 pm

double post--- mods please remove
Last edited by Matt J on Fri Mar 16, 2018 3:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
The Great Way is not difficult
If only there is no picking or choosing
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