A new theory/interpretation of kamma and rebirth

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A new theory/interpretation of kamma and rebirth

Postby Shonin » Fri Oct 08, 2010 9:12 am

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.

Thoughts?

(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.
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Re: A new theory/interpretation of karma and rebirth

Postby dhammapal » Fri Oct 08, 2010 10:45 am

I love the Buddha's catch-all logic re speculative views:

"Is the agent who performs an act of kamma the same as the person experiencing
the result?"
"...someone else?"
"...both the same person and someone else?"
"...neither the same person nor someone else?"

With metta / dhammapal.
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Re: A new theory/interpretation of karma and rebirth

Postby 5heaps » Fri Oct 08, 2010 11:49 am

Shonin wrote:OK, so far so good.

not really, since karmic effects are only one part of the equation. other parts include the material cause for the mind in the stream, which is the previous moment of mind. that plus karma etc allows for the stream. any idea about the stream splitting would have to include either the complete destruction of the mind (energy) or the mind dividing, which seems strange, since the mind doesnt seem to have any characteristic of being divisible
A Japanese man has been arrested on suspicion of writing a computer virus that destroys and replaces files on a victim PC with manga images of squid, octopuses and sea urchins. Masato Nakatsuji, 27, of Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture, was quoted as telling police: "I wanted to see how much my computer programming skills had improved since the last time I was arrested."
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Re: A new theory/interpretation of karma and rebirth

Postby Shonin » Fri Oct 08, 2010 12:12 pm

5heaps,

thanks for replying.

5heaps wrote:not really, since karmic effects are only one part of the equation. other parts include the material cause for the mind in the stream, which is the previous moment of mind.


What do you mean by 'the material cause for the mind in the stream'? Do you mean, the cause of the mind being in the stream? Why is this cause material? Or do you mean that the cause of one mental state is the previous mental state?

5heaps wrote:karma etc allows for the stream. any idea about the stream splitting would have to include either the complete destruction of the mind (energy)


What do you mean by mind here? (given that we're speaking about the moment of death, or just after.). Do you think that there is a 'mind' that survives death in addition to the kamma? Anyway I'm not talking about destruction, I'm talking about division. That's not the same thing at all.

5heaps wrote:or the mind dividing, which seems strange, since the mind doesnt seem to have any characteristic of being divisible


Well 'seeming strange' doesn't really mean anything. The whole of Buddhism is 'against the stream' of ordinary thinking remember. Something being counter-intuitive or contrary to common-sense doesn't mean much, especially on topics like this. You say the mind doesn't seem to have any characteristic of being divisible. Well you wouldn't know unless you divided the mind. People's minds are regularly divided. Have you never heard of people being internally conflicted? Or 'in two minds' about something? Have you never noticed that you can have experiences without being aware that you are having them - only realising it on recollection? A person who has had the two hemisphere's of their brain severed at the corpus callosum literally has two minds it seems.
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Re: A new theory/interpretation of kamma and rebirth

Postby Dan74 » Fri Oct 08, 2010 12:20 pm

An imaginative speculation, but what is the motivation for this?
_/|\_
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Re: A new theory/interpretation of kamma and rebirth

Postby Shonin » Fri Oct 08, 2010 12:24 pm

Dan74 wrote:An imaginative speculation, but what is the motivation for this?


It's a thought-experiment to highlight problems in the way that people think of themselves as continuing into the future via rebirth.
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Re: A new theory/interpretation of karma and rebirth

Postby 5heaps » Fri Oct 08, 2010 1:15 pm

Shonin wrote:Or do you mean that the cause of one mental state is the previous mental state?
material cause is a straightforward idea. amongst the causes and conditions of any produced thing is the (main) material from which the produced object arises in dependence on.

for example clay -> clay pot. another example is the glass cup sitting on my desk in this moment, having depended on the cup of the previous moment acting at the very least as a material cause. likewise my mind in this moment depended on the previous moment of mind acting at least as a material cause (ie. it acted as a material cause plus much more).

Do you think that there is a 'mind' that survives death in addition to the kamma?
no but in the final moment of life that mind acts as a material cause with the activated karma at that time. thus a new life is produced in the next moment though there is no unchanging essence which endured from one to the next (or any other).

A person who has had the two hemisphere's of their brain severed at the corpus callosum literally has two minds it seems
what you mean by mind buddhists would refer to as abstractions on the mind. thoughts/mental images for example are not actual mind.
The Nature of the Mind, especially the section The "Essential Nature of Mind"
A Japanese man has been arrested on suspicion of writing a computer virus that destroys and replaces files on a victim PC with manga images of squid, octopuses and sea urchins. Masato Nakatsuji, 27, of Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture, was quoted as telling police: "I wanted to see how much my computer programming skills had improved since the last time I was arrested."
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Re: A new theory/interpretation of karma and rebirth

Postby Shonin » Fri Oct 08, 2010 1:29 pm

5heaps wrote:material cause is a straightforward idea. amongst the causes and conditions of any produced thing is the (main) material from which the produced object arises in dependence on.


OK I see. Well I don't see any contradiction in one event being the material cause of two or more events rather than just one. In fact I see it all around me.

5heaps wrote:no but in the final moment of life that mind acts as a material cause with the activated karma at that time. thus a new life is produced in the next moment though there is no unchanging essence which endured from one to the next (or any other).


OK, but even so, there is no logical contradiction with that mind-moment being the material cause of two or more subsequent mind-moments.

5heaps wrote:
A person who has had the two hemisphere's of their brain severed at the corpus callosum literally has two minds it seems
what you mean by mind buddhists would refer to as abstractions on the mind. thoughts/mental images for example are not actual mind.
The Nature of the Mind, especially the section The "Essential Nature of Mind"


I think this idea you describe of the unity of mind is a popular intuition, which is shown to be flawed on detailed investigation. The article you linked to (to prove the indivisible nature of mind) defines awareness as the essential nature of mind. In a split brain patient, one 'half of their mind' can be aware of something that the other half is unaware of. The mere fact that both have the capacity of awareness doesn't show that they are the same mind. If it did, then this would mean that, by the same token, different people are sharing one mind.
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Re: A new theory/interpretation of kamma and rebirth

Postby Sobeh » Fri Oct 08, 2010 3:30 pm

Heads are gonna 'splode...
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Re: A new theory/interpretation of kamma and rebirth

Postby Individual » Fri Oct 08, 2010 4:07 pm

Bad theories about kamma and rebirth don't resemble the simplicity of the Tipitaka nor do they make any attempt to be scientific, nor do they have any practical use apart from the sensual pleasure of playing with ideas.

Shonin wrote: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.

OK, I do. This fantasy is logically consistent.
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Re: A new theory/interpretation of kamma and rebirth

Postby Shonin » Fri Oct 08, 2010 4:13 pm

Individual wrote:OK, I do. This fantasy is logically consistent.


OK, so what does that tell you about 'your' future rebirth?
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Re: A new theory/interpretation of karma and rebirth

Postby 5heaps » Sun Oct 10, 2010 5:54 pm

Shonin wrote:In a split brain patient, one 'half of their mind' can be aware of something that the other half is unaware of.
whats an example of that? we have to be careful to differentiate between what is mind itself and what are other mental objects.

its possible for example that abstractions could arise due to many conditions (brain damage, body damage, mental factors, even external tricks) which produce unusual things such as for example being unable to distinguish a half-drawn flower on paper from your complete mental image of a flower, thus making you conceive half-drawn flowers as fully drawn flowers. there is no end to such hindrances, but they always operate within the general system of valid cognition.

there is no logical contradiction with that mind-moment being the material cause of two or more subsequent mind-moments.
except that we dont have simultaneous awarenesses. even our awareness of 2 objects at once is still one awareness.
A Japanese man has been arrested on suspicion of writing a computer virus that destroys and replaces files on a victim PC with manga images of squid, octopuses and sea urchins. Masato Nakatsuji, 27, of Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture, was quoted as telling police: "I wanted to see how much my computer programming skills had improved since the last time I was arrested."
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