Questions About Re-birth

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Questions About Re-birth

Postby 0pper » Wed May 12, 2010 5:02 am

One of the Buddhist concepts I have a difficult time wrapping my mind around is the notion of re-birth.

1. How central is re-birth to Buddhism? Could I profess to be a Buddhist but reject the concept of re-birth?

2. If there is a little moth that gets killed, does it get re-born as a moth again? How do Buddhists prove this kind of thing?

3. Since a lower life form, like a moth, is not capable of practicing the Dharma how can it ever move up to a higher life form and eventually attain Nirvana?

I know there is alot of stuff I am missing here.

Many thanks for your time.
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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby retrofuturist » Wed May 12, 2010 5:21 am

Greetings Opper,

0pper wrote:1. How central is re-birth to Buddhism? Could I profess to be a Buddhist but reject the concept of re-birth?

Its centrality is a matter of debate as you'll notice if you check out the last few pages of the Great Rebirth Debate in the Dhammic-Free-For-All section. However, that topic is not the best place to go to learn about rebirth itself! You could profess to be Buddhist if you like - many people do so despite having no clue about what the Buddha taught... the more accurate question would be in relation to how closely your views reflect the Buddha's teachings, and if you rejected rebirth, the answer would be 'not very'. But if you're like me, and don't consider rebirth to be central to the Dhamma, you'll be able to leave the issue of rebirth at one side, and get on with more pertinent questions such as that detailed in the Four Noble Truths.

0pper wrote:2. If there is a little moth that gets killed, does it get re-born as a moth again? How do Buddhists prove this kind of thing?

Not necessary, and they don't.

0pper wrote:3. Since a lower life form, like a moth, is not capable of practicing the Dharma how can it ever move up to a higher life form and eventually attain Nirvana?

Again, there's a range of views here... just be thankful you're not a moth!

0pper wrote:I know there is alot of stuff I am missing here.

No problems. Sometimes you have to ask a question to find out the questions you really should be asking! In this case I would recommend that you spend some time researching the Buddha's teaching of anatta, or 'not-self'. Until you understand this, any theories you have on rebirth are more closely going to reflect Hindu notions of reincarnation than they are to reflect the Dhamma.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby sukhamanveti » Wed May 12, 2010 5:26 am

Hi, Opper.


> How do Buddhists prove this kind of thing?

One might prove it to oneself after much practice. A Buddhist may experience a recollection of past lives arising from meditation or a Buddhist may see the truth of the matter through the profound perception of the nature of things that she or he has at the stage of stream-enterer.

> 3. Since a lower life form, like a moth, is not capable of practicing the Dharma how can it ever move up to a higher life form and eventually attain Nirvana?

Every being has had countless past lives and has accumulated much karma. When the karma that led to rebirth as a moth is exhausted, it is often said that the moth will pass away and its karma will generate a new form.

I hope this helps.
Sīlaṃ balaṃ appaṭimaṃ.
Sīlaṃ āvudhamuttamaṃ.
Sīlamābharaṇaṃ seṭṭhaṃ.
Sīlaṃ kavacamabbhutaṃ.


Virtue is a matchless power.
Virtue is the greatest weapon.
Virtue is the best adornment.
Virtue is a wonderful armor.

Theragatha 614


Sabbapāpassa akaraṇaṃ,
kusalassa upasampadā,
Sacittapariyodapanaṃ,
etaṃ buddhāna sāsanaṃ.


Refraining from all wrong-doing,
Undertaking the good,
Purifying the mind,
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

Dhammapada v. 183/14.5
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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby 0pper » Wed May 12, 2010 6:56 am

karma will generate a new form


I have no idea what that means or how one could possibly figure that to be true.
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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby sukhamanveti » Wed May 12, 2010 7:27 am

>> karma will generate a new form

> I have no idea what that means

The basic idea seems to be that past volitional activity or intentions (karma in Sanskrit or kamma in Pali), especially as they manifest in one's final moments of consciousness through such things as memory, force of habit, and the like, condition the arising of one's consciousness and one's body in the next life. I haven't studied the mechanics of this very deeply, so I can't give you a precise description.

> or how one could possibly figure that to be true

It is said that this is something that only buddhas and arahants can perceive, if I remember correctly. It is thought to be hidden from ordinary consciousness.

Until I attain enlightenment (whenever that will be), it is something I really can't say much about. It is just speculation for me.
Sīlaṃ balaṃ appaṭimaṃ.
Sīlaṃ āvudhamuttamaṃ.
Sīlamābharaṇaṃ seṭṭhaṃ.
Sīlaṃ kavacamabbhutaṃ.


Virtue is a matchless power.
Virtue is the greatest weapon.
Virtue is the best adornment.
Virtue is a wonderful armor.

Theragatha 614


Sabbapāpassa akaraṇaṃ,
kusalassa upasampadā,
Sacittapariyodapanaṃ,
etaṃ buddhāna sāsanaṃ.


Refraining from all wrong-doing,
Undertaking the good,
Purifying the mind,
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

Dhammapada v. 183/14.5
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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby Paññāsikhara » Wed May 12, 2010 7:29 am

Hi,

0pper wrote:One of the Buddhist concepts I have a difficult time wrapping my mind around is the notion of re-birth.

1. How central is re-birth to Buddhism? Could I profess to be a Buddhist but reject the concept of re-birth?


The basic complete aim of Buddhism is to end "dissatisfaction", and in the basic definitions of "dissatisfaction", the idea of continual rebirth is very basic. So it has been for Buddhists for the past 2500 years. A few modern commentators, trying to "align Buddhism with material science" have raised their doubts. They are by far exceptions to the general Buddhist traditions. Although Buddhism in the west is rather new, few would really like to admit it.

You can profess anything you like, nobody is stopping you. But it is usually skillful to profess things that conform to the way that they are generally understood. That helps other people understand what we are saying.

There is also a difference between "reject" and "not accept". The former, to me at least, is saying "There is no such thing as rebirth!" The latter is saying "I do not know, maybe there is, maybe not." The latter at least opens the possibility of learning, the former does not, and forms just another obstructing view to the path.

2. If there is a little moth that gets killed, does it get re-born as a moth again? How do Buddhists prove this kind of thing?


Not necessarily.

Buddhists are seldom bothered with proving into what form other living beings are reborn. However, taking the premise that wholesome karma leads to happy future states, and unwholesome karma to unhappy ones, they do their best to cultivate the former and eliminate the latter.

There is a lot of evidence of rebirth around. If you are willing to look outside the typical mainstream Western material culture, you'll find some very convincing evidence and studies here. The sheer bulk of which should give us pause to consider, at least.

3. Since a lower life form, like a moth, is not capable of practicing the Dharma how can it ever move up to a higher life form and eventually attain Nirvana?


First of all, unlike some non-Buddhist reincarnation theories, Buddhism does not posit that beings "move up to a higher life form and eventually attain Nirvana", in the sense of a necessary process, where nirvana is the pinnacle on top. Although some types of life are generally more happy than others, there is no requisite that beings "move up" or "eventually attain nirvana". Some may be stuck in horrible places for a very long time. Also, nirvana is not the "highest form", but rather, beyond any and all forms, total transcendence, yet that may occur whilst alive. Paradoxical? Perhaps. Never mind.

That out of the way, the point is this: The karma which projects a living being into the next life form at death is not necessarily a karma which has been made in that life. In other words, the mental stream has karmic potentials from a beginningless round of lives. Hence, they may have some wholesome karmic potentials which could arise at death, and project them into happy states.

But, in general, it is considered incredibly rare to attain a human rebirth. Incredibly rare. The possibility of the average moth (or whatever) having wholesome karma potentials mature at death which leads them to human form is mind bogglingly unlikely. Technical possible, but incredible unlikely.

So, most Buddhists consider that: "Now that I have a human life, I better make very good use of it!"

I know there is alot of stuff I am missing here.

Many thanks for your time.


Sure. There is a lot of stuff that most of us are missing here. Hope the above is helpful.
My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: Huifeng's Prajnacara Blog.
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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby PeterB » Wed May 12, 2010 7:34 am

I think you will find very very few people on this or any other forum saying " there is no such thing as Rebirth."
You will find many people saying "I have no personal experience of the truth of this matter, therfore I will assign it to the Cloud Of Unknowing
and leave it there while getting on with my meditation practice, because I can see directly its benefits, the other stuff can wait ".
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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby cooran » Wed May 12, 2010 8:27 am

Hello Opper,

Have a read of this article by Bhikkhu Bodhi, plus the other short pages listed, and see if you have any questions:

Rebirth - Bhikkhu Bodhi

The question of human destiny after death is probably one of the most critical questions we can raise. Nowadays it has become fashionable to dismiss this question as unimportant. But if we reflect on the extent to which our views influence our action we will see that it is quite essential to gain some understanding of the complete context in which our lives unfold. Moreover our views on the afterlife will determine what we regard as important in this present life.
Three positions of human destiny after death
There are three possible positions that can be taken on human destiny after death. One position, the outlook of materialism. It simply denies that there is an afterlife. It holds that the human being consists of organic matter. It regards mind as a byproduct of organic matter, and after death, with the break up of the physical body, all consciousness comes to an end and the life process is completely extinguished.
The second alternative is the view held in Western theistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam in their orthodox forms. They believe in an eternal afterlife. According to these religions, we live a single life on earth and after death we live eternally in some state of existence determined by our present beliefs and conduct.
Then there is a third view, a view which prevails in the religions of the East, Hinduism and Buddhism. This is the idea of rebirth. According to this, the present life is only a simple link in a chain of lives that extends back into the past and forward into the future. This chain of lives is called samsara.

~Buddhism and Hinduism compared
~Rebirth without a "Transmigrating soul"
~What continues from one life to another?
~Preservation of identity illustrated
~Conception
~Teaching of dependent arising with specific reference to Rebirth
~Craving the Seamstress
~What is it that causes rebirth in a particular form
~Is rebirth scientifically acceptable?
http://www.beyondthenet.net/dhamma/rebirth.htm

with metta
Chris
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---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---
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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby Alex123 » Wed May 12, 2010 6:00 pm

0pper wrote:One of the Buddhist concepts I have a difficult time wrapping my mind around is the notion of re-birth.

1. How central is re-birth to Buddhism? Could I profess to be a Buddhist but reject the concept of re-birth?


In Early Buddhism it was central! It makes the heart of Buddhism.

The whole point of Buddhism is to end suffering. Most suffering is never experienced in human realm and in one life.

"And what is the stress of not getting what is wanted? In beings subject to birth, the wish arises, 'O, may we not be subject to birth, and may birth not come to us.' But this is not to be achieved by wanting. This is the stress of not getting what is wanted. In beings subject to aging... illness... death... sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair, the wish arises, 'O, may we not be subject to aging... illness... death... sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair, and may aging... illness... death... sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair not come to us.' But this is not to be achieved by wanting. This is the stress of not getting what is wanted.

"And what, friends, is the noble truth of the origination of stress? The craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensuality, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html



"This is the greater: the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — not the water in the four great oceans.
"Long have you (repeatedly) experienced the death of a mother. The tears you have shed over the death of a mother while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — are greater than the water in the four great oceans.

"Long have you (repeatedly) experienced the death of a father... the death of a brother... the death of a sister... the death of a son... the death of a daughter... loss with regard to relatives... loss with regard to wealth... loss with regard to disease. The tears you have shed over loss with regard to disease while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — are greater than the water in the four great oceans.

"Why is that? From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries — enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

There is similar sutta with "blood" rather than tears.

"As we understand the Dhamma taught to us by the Blessed One, this is the greater: the blood we have shed from having our heads cut off while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time, not the water in the four great oceans."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


In the same manner bhikkhus, the unpleasantess and displeasure experienced on account of giving six thousand whips three times a day . cannot be reckoned as a comparison, not even as a quarter, nor even as a sign for the unpleasantness and displeasure experienced in hell.
http://metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/ ... ita-e.html



So as Buddha has said, the suffering in this life is nothing compared to shedding more blood than "four great oceans" etc.

Thus by denying that suffering, one denies the 1st NT and minimises the importance of other 3.




2. If there is a little moth that gets killed, does it get re-born as a moth again? How do Buddhists prove this kind of thing?
3. Since a lower life form, like a moth, is not capable of practicing the Dharma how can it ever move up to a higher life form and eventually attain Nirvana?


In brief: Some past kamma (from former lives, perhaps many 100s, 1000s or more lifetimes back) can come up at the end of life and serve a function that would make moth be reborn in higher realm in the case of good kamma, or in same/worser place in the case of bad kamma.



With metta,

Alex
”Even the water melting from the snow-capped peaks finds its way to the ocean."
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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby retrofuturist » Wed May 12, 2010 10:47 pm

Greetings Alex,

Thank you for providing some suttas that speak of rebirth... however that one regarding becoming is somewhat off the mark because becoming is not synonymous with rebirth.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby Pannapetar » Thu May 13, 2010 4:34 am

Welcome, Opper. There is actually very little debate about rebirth in established Buddhist communities. The debate takes place with people who are new to Buddhism and/or who have a different cultural background. The question certainly pops up here often.

0pper wrote:1. How central is re-birth to Buddhism? Could I profess to be a Buddhist but reject the concept of re-birth?


No. Rebirth is quite central to the Buddhist worldview. Some people have convinced themselves that it isn't, but they simply ignore the issue. Philosophically speaking, Buddhism without rebirth is like marxism without communism. However, you can still practice Buddhism without swallowing the entire doctrinal underpinning. Generally, you can make significant progress in dhamma practice without ever bothering with this or that doctrine.

0pper wrote:2. If there is a little moth that gets killed, does it get re-born as a moth again? How do Buddhists prove this kind of thing?


Yes, according to Buddhism all sentient beings are subject to rebirth. Buddhist do generally not engage in collecting evidence for moth reincarnation, since they think there are more important things to do. The topic of human reincarnation, however, has been studied in some depth, not just by Buddhists but by scientists. The best starting point for empirical studies is probably the work of Ian Stevenson.

0pper wrote:3. Since a lower life form, like a moth, is not capable of practicing the Dharma how can it ever move up to a higher life form and eventually attain Nirvana?


By way of exhausting kamma/karma. Since the previous posters have already explained this quite lucidly, I don't have much to add.

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby Zom » Thu May 13, 2010 6:43 pm

Children remember themselves to be buddhist monks in past life - 3 cases in Sri Lanka.

http://www3.hi.is/~erlendur/english/cort/monks.pdf
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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby Kokoro » Fri May 14, 2010 10:46 pm

One of my favourite concepts regarding the Dhamma is "Ehipassiko," (Come and See). I regard myself a Buddhist simply because I believe there is suffering, that suffering exists because of craving, that removing craving will remove suffering, and that the Eightfold Path is the way to remove craving. I believed the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path to be Truth long before I accepted that a creator god does not exist, or that there is no permanent self, and looking back I believe I was just as much a Buddhist then as I am now.
Do not force yourself to believe in something you don't believe in. It might sound quite redundant to say such a thing but unfortunately many of us do just that. We accept things because so-and-so said it, or this reliable author wrote it in a now well-known book, but in doing so does not benefit us. The Lord Buddha recommended we investigate things. Ask questions, and see for yourself what there is to see. Sure you can accept something someone says if it truly makes sense to you, but if not, don't force it or "convince yourself" of something you don't believe deep down.
As for the concept of Rebirth, look into it and decide for yourself whether you can accept it as true or not. I would recommend speaking to anyone who says they have memories of their past lives. For that matter, investiage the other side of the argument which says there is no Rebirth. You may find something there which helps.
Anyway, once you've decided whether you believe it or not, accept your decision and accept those who decide opposite. You may find you change your mind on the matter later, or you may not, and either way is fine. I have met Buddhists who don't believe in Rebirth, Buddhists who are strict theists, Buddhists who claim the Buddha himself was a god, even Buddhists who not only believe in a self, but that every living being in existence is ONE BIG SELF! And I get along quite well with them despite myself having different beliefs, and there is a mutual respect between us that allows us to work together and continue to learn.
I hope anything said above helps, from myself or those who posted before me, and I wish you the best in your journey. May you indeed find what you're looking for.

May you be well and happy

:anjali:
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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby mydoghasfleas » Mon May 17, 2010 12:03 pm

I have trouble wrapping my mind around the concept of rebirth also. I have found it helpful, though, to think of rebirth as a day-to-day thing (rather than a lifetime-to-lifetime thing), with hundreds of little rebirths happening all the time.

I have habits that are the results of my conditioning. My conditioning develops because of actions (kamma) that I do over and over and over. When I find myself doing something out of habit, it's somewhat of a "rebirth" of that particular action, isn't it?

Perhaps this is a glaring misunderstanding of rebirth on my part, but I find it makes a bit of sense to me.
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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby Aloka » Mon May 17, 2010 12:17 pm

bdah wrote:I have trouble wrapping my mind around the concept of rebirth also. I have found it helpful, though, to think of rebirth as a day-to-day thing (rather than a lifetime-to-lifetime thing), with hundreds of little rebirths happening all the time.

I have habits that are the results of my conditioning. My conditioning develops because of actions (kamma) that I do over and over and over. When I find myself doing something out of habit, it's somewhat of a "rebirth" of that particular action, isn't it?

Perhaps this is a glaring misunderstanding of rebirth on my part, but I find it makes a bit of sense to me.



What you've said makes sense to me too, bdah, though I'm probably aware of considerably less than "hundreds" of rebirths over the course of a day ! Usually when I recognise that I need to let go of clinging or mental speculation and creation of one kind or another, then that becomes a mini recognition and rebirth.


.

.
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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby sukhamanveti » Mon May 17, 2010 12:24 pm

bdah wrote:I have trouble wrapping my mind around the concept of rebirth also. I have found it helpful, though, to think of rebirth as a day-to-day thing (rather than a lifetime-to-lifetime thing), with hundreds of little rebirths happening all the time.

I have habits that are the results of my conditioning. My conditioning develops because of actions (kamma) that I do over and over and over. When I find myself doing something out of habit, it's somewhat of a "rebirth" of that particular action, isn't it?

Perhaps this is a glaring misunderstanding of rebirth on my part, but I find it makes a bit of sense to me.


Hi, bdah.

This isn't a glaring misunderstanding. It is part of the Theravada understanding of rebirth. Moment-to-moment rebirth is an aspect of the rebirth that also happens from lifetime to lifetime in traditional Theravada. In What the Buddha Taught, Walpola Rahula quotes the Paramatthajotika Commentary as follows, "When the Aggregates arise, decay, and die, O bhikkhu, every moment you are born, decay, and die." Phra Prayudh Payutto makes a similar point in his book Buddhadhamma. They just don't view this momentary rebirth as separate from rebirth after death.
Sīlaṃ balaṃ appaṭimaṃ.
Sīlaṃ āvudhamuttamaṃ.
Sīlamābharaṇaṃ seṭṭhaṃ.
Sīlaṃ kavacamabbhutaṃ.


Virtue is a matchless power.
Virtue is the greatest weapon.
Virtue is the best adornment.
Virtue is a wonderful armor.

Theragatha 614


Sabbapāpassa akaraṇaṃ,
kusalassa upasampadā,
Sacittapariyodapanaṃ,
etaṃ buddhāna sāsanaṃ.


Refraining from all wrong-doing,
Undertaking the good,
Purifying the mind,
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

Dhammapada v. 183/14.5
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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby Pannapetar » Mon May 17, 2010 12:29 pm

bdah wrote:I have trouble wrapping my mind around the concept of rebirth also. I have found it helpful, though, to think of rebirth as a day-to-day thing (rather than a lifetime-to-lifetime thing)...


According to my understanding, both interpretations are correct. It can be applied to the rebirth of the empirical self as well as the rebirth of phenomena in general of which the former is an example.

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby retrofuturist » Mon May 17, 2010 12:43 pm

Greetings,

Pannapetar wrote:It can be applied to the rebirth of the empirical self


:weep:

Except that understanding dependent origination involves breaking the fetter of sakkāyaditthi (self-view) rather than endorsing it...

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Questions About Re-birth

Postby Pannapetar » Mon May 17, 2010 12:54 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Except that understanding dependent origination involves breaking the fetter of sakkāyaditthi (self-view) rather than endorsing it...


Sorry, I am not sure if I understand the remark. Can you explain?

I always thought that the empirical self (=the experience of self) is pretty uncontroversial among Buddhists. Otherwise, what are we talking about?

Cheers, Thomas
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