the great rebirth debate

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Lazy_eye
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue Aug 12, 2014 12:17 pm

After having followed this debate (and sometimes participated in it) for years, I'm still not clear on why belief in rebirth is considered necessary for awakening. What exactly is its role in bringing this about?

From what I can see, the arguments for rebirth being necessary often hinge on the following:

1. It is included in some (but not all) definitions of Right View.
2. Since the Buddha taught it, not believing it amounts to lack of saddhā, and thus poses a barrier to stream entry since one has not overcome skeptical doubt regarding the Dhamma.

I'll leave it to others to debate the validity of either 1 or 2 -- what I want to know is whether rebirth-belief has a part in the ultimate, liberating insight that Buddhists strive for.

The "three watches of the night" account of the Buddha's awakening seems to suggest that it doesn't, since rebirth is not mentioned in relation to the third watch of the night. We don't say the Buddha reached nibbana during the first or second watch, where rebirth is mentioned explicitly.

Just wondering. I've run into people who claim that one can make a certain amount of progress without accepting rebirth, but will be blocked from higher attainments. But to me the opposite makes more sense: rebirth/kamma are a foundation for sila and a way of approaching causality, but the belief would eventually pose an obstacle as it is a clinging to view. I can see that outright rejection of rebirth would also constitute a clinging to view and thus pose an obstacle, but this is not the same thing as saying that a rebirth belief is needed to become awakened.
Last edited by Lazy_eye on Tue Aug 12, 2014 1:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Alex123 » Tue Aug 12, 2014 1:44 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:After having followed this debate (and sometimes participated in it) for years, I'm still not clear on why belief in rebirth is considered necessary for awakening. What exactly is its role in bringing this about?


Because without it, one is simply not motivated enough to practice hard (if effort on the path is required). One's conception of dukkha would only extend to this life, and one would still think within the context of this one life only. Ultimately, for some, worldly matters might override Dhamma. I am being realistic here. It might not be apparent to some people for now, but eventually it will.

Of course, it is great if one can fully practice, to the max, the path without belief in rebirth.

"Thus you should train yourselves: 'We will relentlessly exert ourselves, [thinking,] "Gladly would we let the flesh & blood in our bodies dry up, leaving just the skin, tendons, & bones, but if we have not attained what can be reached through human firmness, human persistence, human striving, there will be no relaxing our persistence."' That's how you should train yourselves."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

"And who is the individual who goes against the flow? There is the case where an individual doesn't indulge in sensual passions and doesn't do evil deeds. Even though it may be with pain, even though it may be with sorrow, even though he may be crying, his face in tears, he lives the holy life that is perfect & pure. This is called the individual who goes against the flow.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
Last edited by Alex123 on Tue Aug 12, 2014 1:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue Aug 12, 2014 1:52 pm

Alex123 wrote:Because without it, one is simply not motivated enough to practice hard (if effort on the path is required). One's conception of dukkha would only extend to this life, and one would still think within the context of this one life only.


Yes, I have made a similar argument before. But still, it doesn't relate to nibbana per se -- just to the motivation of the practitioner.

Ultimately, for some, worldly matters might override Dhamma. I am being realistic here.


Isn't that true even for many Buddhists who do believe in rebirth? Don't lay Buddhists almost by definition fall into this category?

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Alex123 » Tue Aug 12, 2014 1:55 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Yes, I have made a similar argument before. But still, it doesn't relate to nibbana per se -- just to the motivation of the practitioner.


It relates to the development of the path. I've added two quotes in my above message about the level of motivation


Lazy_eye wrote:Isn't that true even for many Buddhists who do believe in rebirth? Don't lay Buddhists almost by definition fall into this category?


They don't believe it enough. Just saying "I believe" doesn't always mean that deep down in the gut, and they need to fear hell just like you fear jumping into the cage with hungry tigers.
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue Aug 12, 2014 2:16 pm

Alex123 wrote:
Lazy_eye wrote:Yes, I have made a similar argument before. But still, it doesn't relate to nibbana per se -- just to the motivation of the practitioner.

It relates to the development of the path. I've added two quotes in my above message about the level of motivation.


So we can agree, then, that rebirth-belief is not connected with liberating insight, but rather with motivation? And in theory, a sufficiently motivated person could practice fully without that belief?

They don't believe it enough. Just saying "I believe" doesn't always mean that deep down in the gut, and they need to fear hell just like you fear jumping into the cage with hungry tigers.


But they don't need to reach nibbana in order to avoid hell; sotapanna is enough. So again this rebirth question seems to be associated with earlier stages on the path.

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Alex123 » Tue Aug 12, 2014 2:20 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:So we can agree, then, that rebirth-belief is not connected with liberating insight, but rather with motivation? And in theory, a sufficiently motivated person could practice fully without that belief?


I do not know if belief in rebirth is required.
However, I doubt that many people will put in effort if one is agnostic about rebirth.
I do not know how believing "there is no rebirth" will prevent awakening. In suttas this is wrong view. But how that works, I don't know.

Lazy_eye wrote:But they don't need to reach nibbana in order to avoid hell; sotapanna is enough. So again this rebirth question seems to be associated with earlier stages on the path.


It depends on the difficulty of "attaining" sotapatti.
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue Aug 12, 2014 2:25 pm

Alex123 wrote:I do not know how believing "there is no rebirth" will prevent awakening. In suttas this is wrong view. But how that works, I don't know.


Right, yeah, I am not referring to outright rejection of a "next life". That would be an obstructive view -- the suttas are clear on this point.

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Mkoll » Tue Aug 12, 2014 9:27 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:But they don't need to reach nibbana in order to avoid hell; sotapanna is enough. So again this rebirth question seems to be associated with earlier stages on the path.

Using this logic, the entire Dhamma teaching is not necessary because the entire "raft of Dhamma" is abandoned in the end. The practice of the Dhamma is associated with all the earlier stages on the path and in the end, it's abandoned because one has reached the far shore.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Aug 13, 2014 12:39 am

Hi James,
I don't think this follows from what I wrote earlier. I didn't call for throwing out any part of the path; I suggested that rebirth belief is not part of the liberating insights that result in nibbana. It may be beneficial for other reasons, such as generating the motivation to seek nibbana in the first place, but nibbana is not attained through contemplating rebirth; it is attained through other means, which the Buddha has outlined (e.g. Satipatthana).

There are various suttas, notably DN 11, in which the Buddha summarizes different kinds of meditative practices that bring about different results, including past life recollection, mind reading, and the ability to walk through walls. Most of these practices are tangential at best. But one of the meditation practices -- directing attention to the ending of mental formations -- is right on the mark. Thus we can see that although the Dhamma as it has come down to us includes a variety of teachings -- each of which may have its purpose -- not all of these teachings are connected with nibbana.

Likewise, there is the much-discussed MN 117 with its distinction between two kinds of Right View, one leading to acquisitions and the other to release.

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Nikaya35 » Wed Aug 13, 2014 1:29 am

The day science proves without doubt death is the end , this would be a fatal blow to all religions including buddhism. This scenario ( death is the end ) would make the dharma pretty irrevelant in the long run. The goal of the dharma is to end dukkha but if death is the end, all living beings will end dukkha naturally at death. Maybe science will never find out the answer of what happens to us after death. Maybe scientists will found out someday.( death being the end) That would make the Buddha seriously wrong in this important matter. ( what happens to us after death) The Buddha was seriously deluded when he declared the destinations of beings after death and when he recorded his past lives. Or the Buddha was telling the truth.

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Nikaya35 » Wed Aug 13, 2014 1:57 am

Lazy_eye wrote:After having followed this debate (and sometimes participated in it) for years, I'm still not clear on why belief in rebirth is considered necessary for awakening. What exactly is its role in bringing this about?

From what I can see, the arguments for rebirth being necessary often hinge on the following:

1. It is included in some (but not all) definitions of Right View.
2. Since the Buddha taught it, not believing it amounts to lack of saddhā, and thus poses a barrier to stream entry since one has not overcome skeptical doubt regarding the Dhamma.

I'll leave it to others to debate the validity of either 1 or 2 -- what I want to know is whether rebirth-belief has a part in the ultimate, liberating insight that Buddhists strive for.

The "three watches of the night" account of the Buddha's awakening seems to suggest that it doesn't, since rebirth is not mentioned in relation to the third watch of the night. We don't say the Buddha reached nibbana during the first or second watch, where rebirth is mentioned explicitly.

Just wondering. I've run into people who claim that one can make a certain amount of progress without accepting rebirth, but will be blocked from higher attainments. But to me the opposite makes more sense: rebirth/kamma are a foundation for sila and a way of approaching causality, but the belief would eventually pose an obstacle as it is a clinging to view. I can see that outright rejection of rebirth would also constitute a clinging to view and thus pose an obstacle, but this is not the same thing as saying that a rebirth belief is needed to become awakened.

According to the sutras the Buddha attained 3 knowledges. In the first watch of the night , he remembered many past lives . In the second watch of the night , he understood how beings are reborn after death according to their actions. This is the second knowledge the Buddha attained. In the last watch of the night the Buddha understood the way leading to the cessation of taints. So yeah rebirth is pretty revelant to understand the buddha's enlightenment.

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Mkoll » Wed Aug 13, 2014 2:10 am

Lazy_eye wrote:Hi James,
I don't think this follows from what I wrote earlier. I didn't call for throwing out any part of the path; I suggested that rebirth belief is not part of the liberating insights that result in nibbana.

Then what do you make of the stock phrase that is often repeated in the suttas about the arahant's knowledge of enlightenment?

Ven. Thanissaro:
MN 86 wrote:He knew: "Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for the sake of this world." And thus Ven. Angulimala became another one of the arahants.

Ven. Bodhi:
MN 86 wrote:He directly knew: "Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being." And the venerable Angulimāla became on of the arahants.


EDIT: added emphasis to sutta quotes
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Aug 13, 2014 3:12 am

Nikaya35 wrote:According to the sutras the Buddha attained 3 knowledges. In the first watch of the night , he remembered many past lives . In the second watch of the night , he understood how beings are reborn after death according to their actions. This is the second knowledge the Buddha attained. In the last watch of the night the Buddha understood the way leading to the cessation of taints. So yeah rebirth is pretty revelant to understand the buddha's enlightenment.


Yes, the first two knowledges specifically refer to rebirth and kamma, whereas the third does not. And only the third knowledge actually constitutes the breakthrough that results in nibbana.

There isn't much that is specifically "Buddhist" about the first two knowledges, in any case. Jainism is much older than Buddhism and it also teaches about kamma and transmigration of beings. The third knowledge is what really sets the Buddha apart.

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Nikaya35 » Wed Aug 13, 2014 3:31 am

Lazy_eye wrote:
Nikaya35 wrote:According to the sutras the Buddha attained 3 knowledges. In the first watch of the night , he remembered many past lives . In the second watch of the night , he understood how beings are reborn after death according to their actions. This is the second knowledge the Buddha attained. In the last watch of the night the Buddha understood the way leading to the cessation of taints. So yeah rebirth is pretty revelant to understand the buddha's enlightenment.


Yes, the first two knowledges specifically refer to rebirth and kamma, whereas the third does not. And only the third knowledge actually constitutes the breakthrough that results in nibbana.

There isn't much that is specifically "Buddhist" about the first two knowledges, in any case. Jainism is much older than Buddhism and it also teaches about kamma and transmigration of beings. The third knowledge is what really sets the Buddha apart.

The third knowledge sets the Buddha's teachings apart but the first 2 knowledges are part of the buddha's enlightenment according to the sutras. I think ignoring the first 2 knowledges of buddha's enlightenment is incorrect. The Buddha claim to have 3 knowledges after all.

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Aug 13, 2014 3:39 am

Mkoll wrote:
Lazy_eye wrote:Hi James,
I don't think this follows from what I wrote earlier. I didn't call for throwing out any part of the path; I suggested that rebirth belief is not part of the liberating insights that result in nibbana.

Then what do you make of the stock phrase that is often repeated in the suttas about the arahant's knowledge of enlightenment?

Ven. Thanissaro:
MN 86 wrote:He knew: "Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for the sake of this world." And thus Ven. Angulimala became another one of the arahants.

Ven. Bodhi:
MN 86 wrote:He directly knew: "Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being." And the venerable Angulimāla became on of the arahants.


EDIT: added emphasis to sutta quotes


Birth (jati) in this context doesn't simply refer to physical birth, but rather to the proliferation of mental suffering caused by ignorance and craving. If the stock phrase were to be taken literally, it would mean the Dhamma is concerned primarily with the proliferation of physical bodies, but that's not the case.

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby culaavuso » Wed Aug 13, 2014 3:40 am

Lazy_eye wrote:Yes, the first two knowledges specifically refer to rebirth and kamma, whereas the third does not. And only the third knowledge actually constitutes the breakthrough that results in nibbana.

There isn't much that is specifically "Buddhist" about the first two knowledges, in any case. Jainism is much older than Buddhism and it also teaches about kamma and transmigration of beings. The third knowledge is what really sets the Buddha apart.


The first two knowledges do not appear to be necessary for release according to the suttas.

SN 12.70: Susīma Sutta wrote:"Is it true, as they say, that you have declared final gnosis in the Blessed One's presence: 'We discern that "Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for the sake of this world"'?"

"Yes, friend."
...
"Then, having known thus, having seen thus, do you recollect your manifold past lives (lit: previous homes), i.e., one birth, two births, three births, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred, one thousand, one hundred thousand births, many aeons of cosmic contraction, many aeons of cosmic expansion, many aeons of cosmic contraction & expansion, [recollecting], 'There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here'?"

"No, friend."

"Then, having known thus, having seen thus, do you see — by means of the divine eye, purified & surpassing the human — beings passing away and re-appearing, and do you discern how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their kamma: 'These beings — who were endowed with bad conduct of body, speech, & mind, who reviled the noble ones, held wrong views and undertook actions under the influence of wrong views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. But these beings — who were endowed with good conduct of body, speech, & mind, who did not revile the noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the good destinations, in the heavenly world'?"

"No, friend."
...
"So just now, friends, didn't you make that declaration without having attained any of these Dhammas?"

"We're released through discernment, friend Susima."


AN 9.44: Paññāvimutta Sutta wrote:"'Released through discernment, released through discernment,' it is said. To what extent is one described by the Blessed One as released through discernment?"
...
"Furthermore, with the complete transcending of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, he enters & remains in the cessation of perception & feeling. And as he sees with discernment, the mental fermentations go to their total end. And he knows it through discernment. It is to this extent that one is described by the Blessed One as released through discernment without a sequel."

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Nikaya35 » Wed Aug 13, 2014 3:50 am

culaavuso wrote:
Lazy_eye wrote:Yes, the first two knowledges specifically refer to rebirth and kamma, whereas the third does not. And only the third knowledge actually constitutes the breakthrough that results in nibbana.

There isn't much that is specifically "Buddhist" about the first two knowledges, in any case. Jainism is much older than Buddhism and it also teaches about kamma and transmigration of beings. The third knowledge is what really sets the Buddha apart.


The first two knowledges do not appear to be necessary for release according to the suttas.

SN 12.70: Susīma Sutta wrote:"Is it true, as they say, that you have declared final gnosis in the Blessed One's presence: 'We discern that "Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for the sake of this world"'?"

"Yes, friend."
...
"Then, having known thus, having seen thus, do you recollect your manifold past lives (lit: previous homes), i.e., one birth, two births, three births, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred, one thousand, one hundred thousand births, many aeons of cosmic contraction, many aeons of cosmic expansion, many aeons of cosmic contraction & expansion, [recollecting], 'There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here'?"

"No, friend."

"Then, having known thus, having seen thus, do you see — by means of the divine eye, purified & surpassing the human — beings passing away and re-appearing, and do you discern how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their kamma: 'These beings — who were endowed with bad conduct of body, speech, & mind, who reviled the noble ones, held wrong views and undertook actions under the influence of wrong views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. But these beings — who were endowed with good conduct of body, speech, & mind, who did not revile the noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the good destinations, in the heavenly world'?"

"No, friend."
...
"So just now, friends, didn't you make that declaration without having attained any of these Dhammas?"

"We're released through discernment, friend Susima."


AN 9.44: Paññāvimutta Sutta wrote:"'Released through discernment, released through discernment,' it is said. To what extent is one described by the Blessed One as released through discernment?"
...
"Furthermore, with the complete transcending of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, he enters & remains in the cessation of perception & feeling. And as he sees with discernment, the mental fermentations go to their total end. And he knows it through discernment. It is to this extent that one is described by the Blessed One as released through discernment without a sequel."

The first two knowledges aren't required for the release from dukkha. I agree. According to the sutras some buddha's arhat disciples can't remember pasts lives and can't see beings getting reborn according to their karma. But this don't change the fact that the Buddha included karma and rebirth as part of his knowledges. The Buddha claimed to have those knowledges.

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby culaavuso » Wed Aug 13, 2014 3:57 am

Nikaya35 wrote:The first two knowledges aren't required for the release from dukkha. I agree. According to the sutras some buddha's arhat disciples can't remember pasts lives and can't see beings getting reborn according to their karma. But this don't change the fact that the Buddha included karma and rebirth as part of his knowledges. The Buddha claimed to have those knowledges.


It appears that in the suttas the Buddha not only claimed to have these knowledges, but taught discourses such as MN 135 regarding rebirth and kamma. Given the standards mentioned in SN 56.31, it seems that these teachings are implied to be connected to the goal and leading to unbinding.

SN 56.31: Siṃsapā Sutta wrote:In the same way, monks, those things that I have known with direct knowledge but have not taught are far more numerous [than what I have taught]. And why haven't I taught them? Because they are not connected with the goal, do not relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. That is why I have not taught them.

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Mkoll » Wed Aug 13, 2014 4:16 am

Lazy_eye wrote:
Mkoll wrote:
Lazy_eye wrote:Hi James,
I don't think this follows from what I wrote earlier. I didn't call for throwing out any part of the path; I suggested that rebirth belief is not part of the liberating insights that result in nibbana.

Then what do you make of the stock phrase that is often repeated in the suttas about the arahant's knowledge of enlightenment?

Ven. Thanissaro:
MN 86 wrote:He knew: "Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for the sake of this world." And thus Ven. Angulimala became another one of the arahants.

Ven. Bodhi:
MN 86 wrote:He directly knew: "Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being." And the venerable Angulimāla became on of the arahants.


EDIT: added emphasis to sutta quotes


Birth (jati) in this context doesn't simply refer to physical birth, but rather to the proliferation of mental suffering caused by ignorance and craving.

That's one interpretation. Another is that it does refer to physical birth. Yet another is that it refers to both. Finally, it could refer to something else entirely.

So do you take all mentions of birth in the suttas to be referring to rebirth of "mental suffering caused by ignorance and craving" rather than physical birth?

Lazy_eye wrote:If the stock phrase were to be taken literally, it would mean the Dhamma is concerned primarily with the proliferation of physical bodies, but that's not the case.

The primary concern of the Dhamma is suffering and its cessation. Rebirth and its consequences are part of suffering. So putting an end to rebirth is part of the primary concern.

~~~

:goodpost: culaavuso, above.
Peace,
James

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Spiny Norman » Wed Aug 13, 2014 8:13 am

Lazy_eye wrote:
Mkoll wrote:Ven. Thanissaro:
MN 86 wrote:He knew: "Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for the sake of this world." And thus Ven. Angulimala became another one of the arahants.

EDIT: added emphasis to sutta quotes


Birth (jati) in this context doesn't simply refer to physical birth, but rather to the proliferation of mental suffering caused by ignorance and craving. If the stock phrase were to be taken literally, it would mean the Dhamma is concerned primarily with the proliferation of physical bodies, but that's not the case.


Actually the use of "birth" is ambiguous here.
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