I'd like to raise this explanation up the flagpole for your responses.
According to traditional Buddhist explanations there is rebirth, however it is not rebirth of a permanent self (Atman). In fact, according to most interpretations, there is no permanent self that survives even from moment to moment. Rather, there is only karma and the fruit of karma which continues as a singular stream (or storehouse consciousness in some versions) and this stream influences future experiences both for this life and for the future being that inherits this karma. This is the traditional reply to the question of how there can be rebirth in Buddhism without a self.
OK, so far so good.
Now I'd appreciate if you could look at this alternative, if only as a thought experiment. There is a serious point to it.
In some way, the traditional account has to have the karma of each being isolated in an important sense from the rest of the universe and in particular from other sentient beings, otherwise beings would reap the fruit of one another's karma and the system would not function as described. Exactly how this is achieved; what medium karma is 'stored', 'communicated' or 'transported' in; and whether this isolation is perfect or just approaching perfect, is not made explicit in the suttas, although there is a degree of greater detail inserted in the various Abidhamma and Mahayana commentaries as they attempt to interpret the suttas.
Now, rather than imagining a singular, continuous stream, imagine that the trauma of death divides it into two. If you are tempted to dismiss this out of hand as a fantasy then simply acknowledge that if such a stream of karma exists and that it contains the potentialities generated by thousands of actions, then there is no logical contradiction with it's division and it is hard to exclude the possibility that such a stream could in principle be divided. Now, what if, rather than simply splitting in two, it divided into two copies of the original karma, just like genetic material being reproduced.
Now, imagine that each of these streams goes on to be inherited by a new being. How would that be experienced by those beings? The life experience of each one would be just the same as for regular karmic inheritance. It's just that there would be two beings with the same karma (and in the initial case each being would have only half the karma). Is this logically coherent? I don't see any reason why not. And even if that person can recall previous lives (ie. memories are inherited in some way too) then he or she will still have memories of a succession of 'ancestor lives' just the same as with the classical account.
'But which one would be me?' I hear you ask. However, there being no self to inherit the karma or which survives along with it, this is a meaningless question. However, it does reveal our tendencies to think in terms of a surviving self, when we think of karma.
In addition to these 'asexual' forms of karmetic reproduction, we can imagine other variations:
'Karma sutra': streams of karma split into two and each one combines with the half-stream from another 'person'. Thus each lifespan has fruit from two previous lives. 'Doesn't that mean I'll inherit another person's bad actions?' I hear you ask. Wrong question! Again this is based on the notion of a continuous surviving self. The question is meaningless. There is only the karma and the fruit of karma. No one owns it. There is no self that carries forward to claim it. The sense of self we may experience now is just the fruition of past karma, not a real transcendent self.
'karmic fission': on death, karma splits into dozens or thousands of streams, which go onto become/ be inherited by future beings. 'But which one will be the real me?' you ask. 'Wrong question' I reply.
(Apologies for this to Buddha and Derek Parfit)
Last edited by Shonin
on Fri Oct 08, 2010 3:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.