VeganLiz wrote:Reincarnation is something I struggle with. I was talking to my meditation teacher he says that all branches of Buddhism believe in reincarnation in one form or another. While I've really become quite taken with Buddhist teachings and have a fondness for meditation...I cannot understand the concept of reincarnation. This man is a Tibetan Buddhist and I am wondering what is the Theravada position on reincarnation.
Personally, I have never met a monk in real life, including Tibetan lamas, who insist it is compulsory to believe in rebirth/reincarnation. If we take the time to investigate the Buddhist scriptures, we may gain the impression the teachings about rebirth/reincarnation do not predominate. We may find, in certain scriptures, where the Buddha asserts his "unique" or "special" teachings, he does not mention rebirth/reincarnation at all.
If fact, it can be argued the approach in the scriptures to rebirth/reincarnation is somewhat democratic. For example, there is at least one scripture where the Buddha describes the belief in rebirth as "a safe bet", as having "a second throw of the dice". In other words, if there is rebirth, and, if one abides by the moral precepts, then one can be assured of a good life here & now and a good life after death.
....this venerable person is still praised in the here-&-now by the wise as a person of good habits & right view: one who holds to a doctrine of existence
. If there really is a next world, then this venerable person has made a good throw twice, in that he is praised by the wise here-&-now; and in that — with the break-up of the body, after death — he will reappear in the good destination, the heavenly world. Thus this safe-bet teaching, when well grasped & adopted by him, covers both sides and leaves behind the possibility of the unskillful
Note: In the Buddha's unique or supramundane teachings, it is regarded as "wrong view" to hold to a doctrine of existence. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
The democratic approach to rebirth is also well shown in the following passage:
Now, Kalamas, one who is a disciple of the noble ones — his mind thus free from hostility, free from ill will, undefiled, & pure — acquires four assurances in the here-&-now:
'If there is a world after death, if there is the fruit of actions rightly & wrongly done, then this is the basis by which, with the break-up of the body, after death, I will reappear in a good destination, the heavenly world.' This is the first assurance he acquires.
'But if there is no world after death, if there is no fruit of actions rightly & wrongly done, then here in the present life I look after myself with ease — free from hostility, free from ill will, free from trouble.' This is the second assurance he acquires.http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
We can notice in both of these passages, the phrase is used: "If there is...". In other words, the question is left quite open.
Some Theravada Buddhists theorise the rebirth/reincarnation teachings were pre-existing cultural teachings in the Buddha's society and the Buddha taught these because they promote morality or non-harming. Such a view is espoused by the current Supreme Patriarch of Thai Buddhism, as follows:
... His Holiness’ two books on heaven and hell are truly analytical view on the subject from a Buddhist point of view. As we are so familiar, in religious sphere, the concept of heaven and hell is a very prominent belief. In many cases, it becomes the goal of religious practice itself. On this very subject, His Holiness critically analyses that the very concept and belief of heaven and hell in Buddhism is a cultural influence of indigenous culture and belief. He states: (I quote) ‘the subject of cosmology appeared in Buddhism is clearly can be seen that it is not ‘Buddhist teaching’ at all but an ancient geography. The concept and belief about it was included in Buddhist Canon merely because of strong influence of popular belief of the time. Later Commentaries further explain about heaven and hell in a greater detail distant itself from the original teaching of the Buddha. If Buddhism teaches such belief on heaven and hell it would not be Buddhism at all but an ancient geography. Buddha wouldn’t be the Buddha who delivered the Noble Truth and ‘timeless’ message for mankind.’ (p. 1) (end of the quote) He then shows in his teaching that the concept of heaven and hell in Buddhism are in fact symbolic, representing the quality of mind and spirituality instead. One can be in heaven and hell in this very earth and life. No need to wait until one dies...http://www.sangharaja.org/en_main.asp
Some Theravada Buddhists theorise rebirth is something that happens to the mind, here and now:
But if you watch the way things operate independently of yourself, you begin to understand that rebirth is nothing more than desire seeking some object to absorb into, which will allow it to arise again. This is the habit of the heedless mind. When you get hungry, because of the way you've been conditioned, you go out and get something to eat. Now that's an actual rebirth: seeking something, being absorbed into that very thing itself. Rebirth is going on throughout the day and night, because when you get tired of being reborn you annihilate yourself in sleep. There's nothing more to it than that. It's what you can see. It's not a theory, but a way of examining and observing kammic actions.http://www.what-buddha-taught.net/Books ... .htm#KAMMA
Other Theravada Buddhists are somewhat opposed to the rebirth teachings, as follows:
Take the question of whether or not there is rebirth. What is reborn? How is it reborn? What is its kammic inheritance? These questions are not aimed at the extinction of Dukkha. That being so they are not Buddhist teaching and they are not connected with it. They do not lie in the sphere of Buddhism.http://www.what-buddha-taught.net/Books ... o_Tree.htm
These Buddhists quoted above may have quite individualist opinions, but it is argueable their views may be supported by some teachings of the Buddha, where he said believing in rebirth accords with morality but not to the realisation of not-self:
And what is the right view that has effluents, sides with merit & results in acquisitions? 'There is what is given, what is offered, what is sacrificed. There are fruits & results of good & bad actions. There is this world & the next world. There is mother & father. There are spontaneously reborn beings;...
Note: In the Buddha's teachings, the goal of enlightenment is the end the "effluents" and "acquisition".http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
This passage is consistent with the first passage quoted, where the Buddha said to believe in rebirth is to hold to a doctrine of existence. The passage also lends support to conjecture that the Buddha used the "throw of the dice similes" because to believe in rebirth may possibly be gambling away one's opportunity for enlightenment. Enlightenment relies on insight into impermanence & not-self.
I recently watched a video of the Dalai Lama, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUaSZ0QFR1Q
, where he said what appear to be contradictions in the Buddha's teachings are not actually contradictions. The Dalai Lama simply said what appear to be contradictions are merely different teachings for different people with different dispositions and karmic experiences.
The Dalai Lama's view here seems to be supported by the Theravada scriptures, in the following passage about the teachings of non-attachment
To end, this matter can certainly cause confusion.