Rebirth and karma

General discussion, particularly exploring the Dharma in the modern world.
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Rick
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Rebirth and karma

Post by Rick » Sat Dec 10, 2016 6:46 pm

Is belief in literal rebirth and karma required for an earnest commitment to a Buddhist path?

Or is seeing rebirth and karma as metaphors sufficient? Rebirth as a metaphor for dying to and being reborn in every moment of this life, karma as a metaphor for the consequentiality of thoughts and actions = "what ye sow so shall ye reap."

Thanks!
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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by Grigoris » Sat Dec 10, 2016 6:53 pm

Gee... Now there's an original topic, I don't think we've ever had this discussion at Dharma Wheel before... :roll:

I wonder if there are any earnest Buddhist practitioners out there to answer this question?
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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by Rick » Sat Dec 10, 2016 7:12 pm

If it's already been asked and answered, please post a link to the thread. :namaste:
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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by Bristollad » Sat Dec 10, 2016 8:47 pm

I'm sure its been asked a few times :rolling: but it's hard to search for the subject rebirth - you just get a message that it's too common a word. However I did come across this poll:

http://dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f= ... al+rebirth

For myself, "literal rebirth" makes sense and is a consequence of the subtle impermanence, the momentariness of phenomena and dependent origination. Are there earnest practitioners who go with the allegorical explanation - for sure.

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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by Rick » Sat Dec 10, 2016 9:30 pm

Thanks, Bristollad. :-)

Do you know any respected Buddhist teachers that teach rebirth/karma as non-literal metaphors?
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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by Admin_PC » Sat Dec 10, 2016 11:19 pm

Bodhicitta kinda falls apart without rebirth, and thus Mahayana kinda falls apart without rebirth.
You might have better luck with Insight Meditation or some western (nontraditional) Zen centers.
Maybe give Hardcore Zen a shot?
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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by Wayfarer » Sun Dec 11, 2016 12:24 am

rachmiel wrote:Is belief in literal rebirth and karma required for an earnest commitment to a Buddhist path?

Or is seeing rebirth and karma as metaphors sufficient? Rebirth as a metaphor for dying to and being reborn in every moment of this life, karma as a metaphor for the consequentiality of thoughts and actions = "what ye sow so shall ye reap."

Thanks!
If you visit the Secular Buddhist association website, you will find there are many discussions and detailed articles on this very question, generally against it. Following Stephen Bachelor, who is one of their founders, secular buddhists generally deprecate belief in rebirth, saying that it is an Asian cultural tradition rather than being essential to Buddha's teaching. Many other Buddhists have taken issue with that, for example there's a response Rebirth: What it is and why it matters, by Bikkhu Thanissaro, on Access to Insight. The issue is also much discussed in critical reviews of Stephen Bachelor's books, especally of his books, Buddhism without Beliefs, and Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist.

I give talks on introduction to Buddhism at the Buddhist Library from time to time. When this question comes up, I never say that people should or must believe in the literal truth of re-birth and that being agnostic about the question is perfectly fine. But I also caution against taking a kind of 'militantly sceptical' view, as that is not agnosticism. However, it's a culturally sensitive topic in the West,on both religious and scientific grounds; for a lot of people it's a threat to their worldview - it really is a taboo subject for them. So I never push it, but I do describe the 'six realms' and the general ideas behind it (often with a slide of the Bhavachakra.)

My own view is that physical birth and death are parts of a much longer and larger process. I had some vivid recollections early in life which basically put it beyond question as far as I was concerned. (This is one of the things that drew me to Buddhism.) But here is one approach, which is a kind of 'middle-way' understanding.

I think the meaning of 'rebirth' is that 'so long as we identify with those things that are subject to birth and death, then we too are subject to birth and death'. When seen this way, rebirth seems a lot less fantastic, less like participating in an endless series of Hollywood films that many people seem to understand 'rebirth' to mean. It is more that we are then subject to all the sufferings of creatures bound to the wheel of birth, decay and death, and driven by instincts to keep struggling for survival. Behave like an animal, and that's what you will become.

We can't simply run away from that, however. It is not as if we can simply step out of that, even at the time of our death, because the latent tendencies which have driven those behaviours will simply re-form another existence which is also bound to the wheel of re-birth. It is not voluntary, it is out of our conscious control. This is one of the aims of 'mindfulness' which is to directly understand these deep drives which power the 'wheel of life and death'. But that understanding is not a simple matter, it is not like being 'free from stress' in the way that worldly people understand. If it were like that, then simply being materially well-off and not having any emotional problems would be the same as liberation. But even though we might be lucky enough to be free of stress now, even for a whole lifetime (although few are), at the end of that we are still subject to change and decay, and so still bound to the wheel of samsara, and so whatever favourable circumstances we have now will one day be lost.

So I think understanding 'freedom from rebirth' is not actually a matter of whether you believe in reincarnation or not. It has a deeper meaning than that. It is about whether you are of this world, part of the whole cycle of birth-and-death, change-and-decay, rising-and-falling, that everything in nature is subject to. Nowadays we seem to think that 'natural' is good and wholesome, yet everything in nature is subject to decay and death, even if it is temporarily beautiful, young and vital. Nothing lasts.

But there is something that is beyond change and decay, that is not subject to the constant cycle of birth and death. It is something always new, never perishing. That is what the Buddha found and points to. Living in the light of that, realizing what that is and making oneself available to it, is the aim of the practice. And that is not something that is taught very much in 'Western Buddhism'. In the absence of the understanding of the meaning of rebirth, 'Nirvāṇa' means simply being happy in this life, not having anything to worry about, being relaxed. (After all the word has now been appropriated by pop culture for anything maximally pleasurable.) It doesn't really have a deeper meaning. And so the secular idea of Buddhism supports that condition very well - but it is missing what is essential.

That is my understanding of the question.
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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by Mkoll » Sun Dec 11, 2016 1:20 am

rachmiel wrote:If it's already been asked and answered, please post a link to the thread. :namaste:
Not on this site, but on the sister: 6000+ posts of rebirth debate. If you read through all that you deserve a medal. Or a straitjacket, I'm not sure which. :P
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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by Rick » Sun Dec 11, 2016 4:08 am

Admin_PC wrote:Bodhicitta kinda falls apart without rebirth,
In the specific sense of bodhicitta being tied to Bodhisattva-hood, yes.

But not in the general sense of bodhicitta being an awakened heart, a quality that transcends any belief system.
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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by Rick » Sun Dec 11, 2016 4:10 am

Mkoll wrote:
rachmiel wrote:If it's already been asked and answered, please post a link to the thread. :namaste:
Not on this site, but on the sister: 6000+ posts of rebirth debate. If you read through all that you deserve a medal. Or a straitjacket, I'm not sure which. :P
Oy vey ist mir!

I think the most compassionate thing I could do for myself is to just say NO! to slogging through this thread! :tongue:

But thanks for the link. :namaste:
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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Sun Dec 11, 2016 4:13 am

rachmiel wrote:
Admin_PC wrote:Bodhicitta kinda falls apart without rebirth,
In the specific sense of bodhicitta being tied to Bodhisattva-hood, yes.

But not in the general sense of bodhicitta being an awakened heart, a quality that transcends any belief system.

If you don't believe that Karmic fruits extend past this minuscule life, Buddhism is at best, just a system of therapy with cool-sounding practices and visuals to be happy in the here and now. It has none of the impact if when you die and cease to exist, the whole project is pointless if that's case..really if one thinks that, being some sort of ethical hedonist makes the most sense.

http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=66&t=5678

This is the main thread, guaranteed whatever you are thinking has been brought up there, probably with enough regularity that you can pick up the thread almost anywhere and encounter the same ideas.
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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by Admin_PC » Sun Dec 11, 2016 5:00 am

rachmiel wrote:
Admin_PC wrote:Bodhicitta kinda falls apart without rebirth,
In the specific sense of bodhicitta being tied to Bodhisattva-hood, yes.

But not in the general sense of bodhicitta being an awakened heart, a quality that transcends any belief system.
Not to nitpick, but words have meaning outside of the sum of their composite parts. Looking at the parts that make up the word, an "automobile" simply refers something that moves under it's own power. My kid's wind-up toy moves under its own power, but nobody would make the mistake of calling it an "automobile". "Bodhicitta" is not used outside of the Mahayana sense of the "aspiration for awakening for the sake of all sentient beings", usually a multi-eon ordeal. It is not a term used outside of the realm of Buddhist terminology, so it is not accurate to describe it "in the specific sense" vs "in the general sense" - it is simply the meaning of the term in context. The same goes for "bodhi" or "awakening", which in the Buddhist context entails memory of past lives and in the Mahayana context implies working beyond the end of this life to work for the liberation of all sentient beings. Take out rebirth and Mahayana doesn't really work, as "bodhicitta" is central to the entire doctrine.

It's fine to be agnostic about certain teachings, but if you want to redefine the teachings to suit your preferences, at a certain point the teachings lose their meaning. You'd probably be better off working with teachings that suit you out of the box rather than redefining core tenets and still calling it the same thing.
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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by boda » Sun Dec 11, 2016 5:19 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:... if one thinks that [no literal rebirth], being some sort of ethical hedonist makes the most sense.
I wonder how much effort it takes to mark a definitive faith in literal rebirth. Does lay practice qualify? I would think not, with the stakes being so high.

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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Sun Dec 11, 2016 6:49 am

boda wrote:
Johnny Dangerous wrote:... if one thinks that [no literal rebirth], being some sort of ethical hedonist makes the most sense.
I wonder how much effort it takes to mark a definitive faith in literal rebirth. Does lay practice qualify? I would think not, with the stakes being so high.

It has nothing to do with proving things to other people, nor with checking certain boxes to be an official "Buddhist", it has to do with determining one's view and the practice that flows from that, a limited view equals a limited practice. If it did, if we were talking about what "qualified" as believing in rebirth, it would be about other people, about fitting into someone's particular system of credentials, a total waste of time.The question really isn't about that though, that is a read herring. Anyone will let you practice with them at the base level without needing to verify whether or not you subscribe to rebirth, ultimately though, it's up to you to decide whether or not practicing Buddhism makes any real sense without it. My argument is that it does not make a lot of sense to practice Buddhism if you are materialist that subscribes to the idea that this material existence in one lifetime is all you will experience.

Also Admin PC's point, in terms of Bodhicitta, the "awakened hea4rt", and the idea of aspiration creating the causes for enlightenment over several lifetimes are not separate ideas, they are different angles looking at the same thing.
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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by Rick » Sun Dec 11, 2016 7:30 am

Admin_PC wrote:
rachmiel wrote:
Admin_PC wrote:Bodhicitta kinda falls apart without rebirth,
In the specific sense of bodhicitta being tied to Bodhisattva-hood, yes.

But not in the general sense of bodhicitta being an awakened heart, a quality that transcends any belief system.
Not to nitpick, but words have meaning outside of the sum of their composite parts. Looking at the parts that make up the word, an "automobile" simply refers something that moves under it's own power. My kid's wind-up toy moves under its own power, but nobody would make the mistake of calling it an "automobile". "Bodhicitta" is not used outside of the Mahayana sense of the "aspiration for awakening for the sake of all sentient beings", usually a multi-eon ordeal. It is not a term used outside of the realm of Buddhist terminology, so it is not accurate to describe it "in the specific sense" vs "in the general sense" - it is simply the meaning of the term in context. The same goes for "bodhi" or "awakening", which in the Buddhist context entails memory of past lives and in the Mahayana context implies working beyond the end of this life to work for the liberation of all sentient beings. Take out rebirth and Mahayana doesn't really work, as "bodhicitta" is central to the entire doctrine.

It's fine to be agnostic about certain teachings, but if you want to redefine the teachings to suit your preferences, at a certain point the teachings lose their meaning. You'd probably be better off working with teachings that suit you out of the box rather than redefining core tenets and still calling it the same thing.
I actually did some research on how bodhicitta is used by Buddhist teachers and found, as I said, more specific (tied to formal bodhisattva ness) and general, as evidenced by this article in Lion's Roar by Pema Chodron: http://www.lionsroar.com/bodhichitta-th ... ened-heart. Have I misinterpreted her?
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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by Rick » Sun Dec 11, 2016 7:52 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=66&t=5678

This is the main thread, guaranteed whatever you are thinking has been brought up there, probably with enough regularity that you can pick up the thread almost anywhere and encounter the same ideas.
Thanks. :namaste:
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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Sun Dec 11, 2016 9:31 am

rachmiel wrote:
Admin_PC wrote:
rachmiel wrote: In the specific sense of bodhicitta being tied to Bodhisattva-hood, yes.

But not in the general sense of bodhicitta being an awakened heart, a quality that transcends any belief system.
Not to nitpick, but words have meaning outside of the sum of their composite parts. Looking at the parts that make up the word, an "automobile" simply refers something that moves under it's own power. My kid's wind-up toy moves under its own power, but nobody would make the mistake of calling it an "automobile". "Bodhicitta" is not used outside of the Mahayana sense of the "aspiration for awakening for the sake of all sentient beings", usually a multi-eon ordeal. It is not a term used outside of the realm of Buddhist terminology, so it is not accurate to describe it "in the specific sense" vs "in the general sense" - it is simply the meaning of the term in context. The same goes for "bodhi" or "awakening", which in the Buddhist context entails memory of past lives and in the Mahayana context implies working beyond the end of this life to work for the liberation of all sentient beings. Take out rebirth and Mahayana doesn't really work, as "bodhicitta" is central to the entire doctrine.

It's fine to be agnostic about certain teachings, but if you want to redefine the teachings to suit your preferences, at a certain point the teachings lose their meaning. You'd probably be better off working with teachings that suit you out of the box rather than redefining core tenets and still calling it the same thing.
I actually did some research on how bodhicitta is used by Buddhist teachers and found, as I said, more specific (tied to formal bodhisattva ness) and general, as evidenced by this article in Lion's Roar by Pema Chodron: http://www.lionsroar.com/bodhichitta-th ... ened-heart. Have I misinterpreted her?
I don't think you've misinterpreted her, but you're dealing with a very "entry level" idea of what Bodhicitta is by assuming it's meaning is fully covered here. It's a concept with a lot of different layers, that is looked at from different angles depending on the teacher/teaching involved, and what level they are aiming at presenting, I imagine. Go read Shantideva, and you will get that the whole "spending multiple lifetimes making aspirations thing is an intrinsic part of this, not something simply added on to a wordly super-compassion.

Even the basic traditional Refuge/Bodhicitta prayer can't be divorced from an idea of rebirth.

Regardless, for the purpose of this discussion, if you believe that post mortem rebirth is not real, then even the Bodhicitta here means a lot less, because it really just means altruism in this life...which could be developed completely independently of Buddhism.

One thing to say about this question, you can practice with all kinds of people who will not pressure you to believe in rebirth, so that is not problem. If that's what you mean by "necessary", then no, it's no necessary to have decided on this in order to practice. If by "necessary" you mean something like necessary to have a coherent view of Buddhadharma, then it's a different question.
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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by boda » Sun Dec 11, 2016 9:44 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:My argument is that it does not make a lot of sense to practice Buddhism if you are materialist that subscribes to the idea that this material existence in one lifetime is all you will experience.
You haven't provided the reasons why it doesn't make sense to you. Is it because one life is not meaningful enough? In any case, 'your' next life will not be your life, it will be the life of some other sentient being, perhaps not even human, right? They could be completely different from you.

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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by Bristollad » Sun Dec 11, 2016 10:10 am

rachmiel wrote: I actually did some research on how bodhicitta is used by Buddhist teachers and found, as I said, more specific (tied to formal bodhisattva ness) and general, as evidenced by this article in Lion's Roar by Pema Chodron: http://www.lionsroar.com/bodhichitta-th ... ened-heart. Have I misinterpreted her?
No...but I would question the way she uses bodhicitta, love and compassion too:
Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of bodhichitta is called the soft spot, a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love.
Bodhicitta is simply the mind (citta) directed towards achieving full enlightenment (bodhi) - why? For one's own purposes and for the benefit of all beings.
Love is the wish for others to be happy and have the causes of happiness - but in that article it's used in such a loose way,
everyone loves something, if only tortillas
that it seems to include attachment, the near enemy, which is often mistaken for love.
Bodhichitta is also equated, in part, with compassion—our ability to feel the pain that we share with others.
What she describes as compassion is empathy. Empathy is good but it's not compassion. Compassion is not just feeling the pain of others - it's the wish for all beings be free of suffering and its causes, without shading over into pity. What's more, the compassion needed for awakening bodhicitta takes one step more, it's accompanied by the decision to take on the responsibility to separate all beings from suffering.
Even ordinary people like us with hang-ups and confusion have this mind of enlightenment called bodhichitta.
Really? Everyone in the world has taken the decision based on compassion to be personally responsible for removing sufferings of all beings? Really?

In this article, the use of terms seems so watered down that they lose their meaning, what they mean when used in Sutras, the Shastras. I guess I'm not a fan :rolling:

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Re: Rebirth and karma

Post by Grigoris » Sun Dec 11, 2016 10:22 am

rachmiel wrote:If it's already been asked and answered, please post a link to the thread. :namaste:
http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=66&t=5678 :smile:
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
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