To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

An open and inclusive investigation into Buddhism and spiritual cultivation

To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Yes
29
67%
No
12
28%
Not Sure
2
5%
 
Total votes : 43

Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby zavk » Sun Mar 29, 2009 11:10 pm

Peter wrote:
pink_trike wrote:That's a lot of metaphor...

...which might support the idea that the references to a literally-described rebirth may actually be describing possible mind-states *like* being reborn as an animal, or "as if" being reborn. etc...

Except we can see the Buddha wasn't that subtle about his metaphors. When he was making a metaphor he said so, plainly and unambiguously. The fact that the suttas are so full of deliberate metaphors coupled with the fact that not even once is rebirth presented as a metaphor seems to me pretty good evidence that rebirth was not intended to be taken as a metaphor.

Over time, cultural amnesia may have resulted in people only being able to see the container and forgetting what was being contained. It's worth considering.

Again, you are assuming a very large conspiracy over many thousands of people, dozens of countries, and a number of languages. Which is more likely? This large conspiracy? Or one person letting their dislike of a teaching, their societal influenced materialism, cloud their thinking and cause them to make up wild and unsupported excuses as to why they refuse to accept this teaching?


Hi Peter,

I appreciate your concern about wanting to defend the centrality of the rebirth doctrine. It is certainly something that is an important part of the dhamma and contemporary Buddhists shouldn't dismiss it too easily. I am not well-versed in the suttas (I have only really read the ones pertaining to my formal practice over and over again, although I plan to read more eventually), so I can't talk about the different ways in which rebirth is portrayed in the suttas. But I agree with you that the the Buddha often used rhetorical strategies that are explicitly metaphoric.

However, to play the devil's advocate, I would say that as long as we rely on language (and I don't see how we can break free of language easily, although this is certainly a goal), it is impossible to separate metaphor from thought and experience. In other words, to the extent that language produces and shapes our experience, we cannot step outside the workings of metaphor because metaphor is built into language. And it is not possible to demarcate when language stops working metaphorically.

I'm not simply engaging in a clever play of words. To give some crude examples: We all understand that TIME IS VALUABLE. So this understanding shapes how we behave and it manifests in expressions such as:

- You're wasting my time.

- This gadget will save you hours. I don't have the time to give you.

- How do you spend your time these days? That flat tire cost me an hour.

- I've invested a lot of time in her.

- I don't have enough time to spare for that.You're running out of time.

- You need to budget your time.

- Put aside some time for meditation.

- Is that worth your while?

- Do you have much time left?

- He's living on I borrowed time.

- Meditate! Do not think you have time!

- The flow of mindfulness from moment to moment.

In fact, even in your post you cannot but seek recourse in metaphor to make your point. For example, you wrote: 'Or one person letting their dislike of a teaching, their societal influenced materialism, cloud their thinking and cause them to make up wild and unsupported excuses as to why they refuse to accept this teaching?' (Even I am relying on many metaphors in this post).

Again, let me say that I really appreciate you raising a cautionary note against rebirth deniers. The warnings you raise are important ones, and I certainly do not have the expertise to make the same kind of warnings. But what I'm suggesting here is merely that metaphoricity is an inherent part of our thought process and hence, our experience. It seems to me that when the Buddha decided against his initial hesitation to teach, he realised that he had to step back into the mundane world, which is the world of language. The workings of metaphor is evident in the very first words he spoke: When he gave the sermon on the Four Noble Truths, the emptiness of the dhamma entered and took form in the world of language and metaphor. It is after called the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

IMO, it is therefore not possible to dictate or prevent rebirth from being understood metaphorically. The challenge, of course, is how such metaphorical understanding of rebirth stay in accord with fundamental Buddhist ideals. And this is why constant reminders from people such as yourself are helpful.

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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby pink_trike » Mon Mar 30, 2009 12:13 am

pink_trike wrote:That's a lot of metaphor...

...which might support the idea that the references to a literally-described rebirth may actually be describing possible mind-states *like* being reborn as an animal, or "as if" being reborn. etc...


Peter wrote:Except we can see the Buddha wasn't that subtle about his metaphors. When he was making a metaphor he said so, plainly and unambiguously. The fact that the suttas are so full of deliberate metaphors coupled with the fact that not even once is rebirth presented as a metaphor seems to me pretty good evidence that rebirth was not intended to be taken as a metaphor.


Actually, it would be the people who eventually wrote down the Buddha's teachings who were or weren't that subtle about his metaphors. It sure would be convenient if 3 months - 500 years (range of scholarly estimates - actual date/span unknown) following the death of the Buddha (actual date unknown) when the teachings were supposedly preserved by 500 Arahants (the historic accuracy questioned by nearly all Buddhist scholars) that such a precise recollection of the Buddha's use of metaphor would exist - and without disagreement to boot.

Equally convenient would be that these (likely few) people would know without doubt after centuries (the 3 month estimate unsupported by scholars) that these concepts (rebirth/reborn) didn't just mean "transform" or "re-create" or "give rise to" in common usage during the life of the Buddha. There is at least one popular religion today that uses the term "reborn" to refer to a literal rebirth within the current lifetime. If reading the teachings is as simple as you suggest, then why the need for Buddhist councils and millions of words of commentary? Why are some concepts still hotly debated among well-trained, scholarly Buddhist teachers? Why frequently do the findings of Buddhist scholars disagree with statements in the teachings? And you think you know? I don't pretend to.

Peter wrote:Again, you are assuming a very large conspiracy over many thousands of people, dozens of countries, and a number of languages. Which is more likely? This large conspiracy?


A conspiracy wouldn't be needed if a change in how the teaching were to be understood happened relatively early, for example by agreement of the likely small group of people who participated in the first council (political machinations not overlooked).

Also, in the indeterminate gap of years between the Buddha's death and the beginning of the written tradition, the oral tradition could very likely have degraded from a practical, practice-oriented path that leads to a healthy personal/social code...a way of life - into a supra-natural religiosity. It wouldn't be the only time this has happened in the past.

Or one person letting their dislike of a teaching, their societal influenced materialism, cloud their thinking and cause them to make up wild and unsupported excuses as to why they refuse to accept this teaching?


The possibility also exists that discomfort with uncertainty and a psychological willingness to accept concretized irrational explanations could cause one person to make wild and unsupported (except by orthodox thinkers) excuses why others must believe a literal reading of the teachings in order to be a Buddhist.

You'll perhaps take all this as further proof that I don't believe in literal rebirth, so I'll say again that _I don't know_. I'm open minded - this is a very strange place, after all - maybe much stranger than we have the ability to perceive. All I ask for is a little rational proof, which doesn't seem to exist. For example, based on scientific evidence regarding current mild fluctuations in earth's gravity, I don't have a problem believing a Native American oral tradition that tells us about a time when Earth's gravity fluctuated wildly and living beings were lifted up to the Great Spirit or had to crawl on the ground. But when it comes to a religious belief in "the next life", literal hells and heavens, other literal realms, etc...based solely on words attributed to the Buddha long after his death...I'm going to have to take a "wait and see" on these. In my understanding, these things aren't consistent with the clear, focused, grounded voice I hear speaking from underneath the layers of froth. An unquestioning "The Buddha said it, I believe it" view is a bit too under-informed and naive for me.

I'll stick to mind-training practices and teachings/commentary related to practice - which there is very little substantial disagreement about and no need for elaborate stories about the past and future that require us to suspend rationality.

---

Person 1: I has a stick.
Person 2: prove it
Person 1: Here it is...see? :smile:
Person 2: ok.

---

Religious person: I has a stick
Other Person: prove it
Religious Person: Arrgghhh!!! No, you prove that I don't have a stick. :evil:
Other Person: Whoa, dude!

---

In the end, I think that "believing" and "not believing" in literal rebirth are both serious distraction on the Dharma path. :anjali:
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

Disclaimer: I'm a non-religious practitioner of Theravada, Mahayana/Vajrayana, and Tibetan Bon Dzogchen mind-training.
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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby kc2dpt » Mon Mar 30, 2009 8:47 pm

Given your incredible skepticism of the Sangha's ability to preserve the teachings of the Buddha it is unclear why you are willing to dismiss some teachings and not others. Based on everything you said there is no reason for you to believe anything the Buddha taught survived to today. You give vague arguments why any ancient teaching is suspect and yet you only apply those arguments to particular teachings you don't like.

...wild and unsupported (except by orthodox thinkers) excuses why others must believe a literal reading of the teachings in order to be a Buddhist.

Please clarify what is wild or unsupported about defining a Buddhist as one who follows Buddhist teachings, or defining one who refuses to follow Buddhist teachings as not a Buddhist.

You'll perhaps take all this as further proof that I don't believe in literal rebirth, so I'll say again that _I don't know_. I'm open minded

Is it open minded to say "I won't practice this path until you give me concrete proof it works"? Is it open minded to make unsubstantiated claims of a vast conspiracy to alter the teachings in a way that just happens to coincide with your personal hangups?

Or is open mindedness a willingness to say "Maybe I find this teaching unintuitive, or foreign, or even uncomfortable but I am willing to give it a try and see where it leads"?

Does open mindedness mean being open to everyone else being wrong but you?
Or does open mindedness mean being open to oneself being wrong?

All I ask for is a little rational proof, which doesn't seem to exist.

There is no proof that "right view concerning kamma and rebirth is a necessary part of the path to ending suffering" except for you putting it into practice and seeing for yourself what happens. Similarly, there is no proof that an ending to suffering is possible except for you seeing for yourself. The Buddhist path is all about "come and see". If one is not willing to come and see does it make sense to call such a one a Buddhist?

I'll stick to mind-training practices and teachings/commentary related to practice - which there is very little substantial disagreement about

If "substantial disagreement" is your criteria... there is much disagreement between teachers and traditions regarding the details of meditation practice and yet there is no disagreement regarding rebirth.

and no need for elaborate stories about the past and future that require us to suspend rationality.

Perhaps (in another thread) you could share what about the teaching on kamma and rebirth require elaborate stories or require us to suspend rationality?

Speaking of which... If someone says "Buddhist teachings are irrational" does it make any sense to call such a person a Buddhist?
Last edited by kc2dpt on Mon Mar 30, 2009 9:23 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby kc2dpt » Mon Mar 30, 2009 8:50 pm

pink_trike wrote:---

Person 1: I has a stick.
Person 2: prove it
Person 1: Here it is...see? :smile:
Person 2: ok.

---

Religious person: I has a stick
Other Person: prove it
Religious Person: Arrgghhh!!! No, you prove that I don't have a stick. :evil:
Other Person: Whoa, dude!

---

Buddha: Right View is necessary for ending suffering.
pink_trike: Prove it.
Buddha: The proof is in you coming and seeing for yourself.
pink_trike: That's asking to much of me.
Buddha: Well, that's your choice. :shrug:
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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby pink_trike » Mon Mar 30, 2009 8:56 pm

I'll continue to practice reconditioning the patterns of the mind, restraining desires in everyday life. and benefiting society as I can. You can be the keeper of the faith. :toast:
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby kc2dpt » Mon Mar 30, 2009 9:19 pm

pink_trike wrote:In the end, I think that "believing" and "not believing" in literal rebirth are both serious distraction on the Dharma path.

If someone says Right View is a serious distraction on the Dharma Path, does it make sense to call such a one a Buddhist?

I'll continue to practice reconditioning the patterns of the mind, restraining desires in everyday life. and benefiting society as I can.

How many folds of the Noble Eightfold Path do you think you've got there? How many do you think are necessary for one to be considered a Buddhist?
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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby kc2dpt » Mon Mar 30, 2009 9:26 pm

Whether the teachings on rebirth are rational is irrelevant to the question in this thread.
Whether the sangha has correctly preserved the teachings is irrelevant to the question in this thread.
Whether one finds the teachings on rebirth relevant to one's practice is irrelevant to the question in this thread.

The question is: for one who refuses to accept these teachings, does it make any sense to call them a Buddhist?

I clarify because I've allowed myself to get off topic in the last few posts.
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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Mar 30, 2009 9:46 pm

There is a thread on the Zen International forum of much the same title. While I was writing the below (my only posting in that thread), the thread got locked. It might be of some value here. I generally try to stay out of these rebirth squabbles.

****:
Bhikkhu Bodhi is merely just another person. . . . The suttas are more reliable than an intellectual from New York who decided to become a translator and was named Bhikkhu Bodhi.


Just merely another person who is an intellectual who is a practicing Buddhist monk, who has mastered Pali and who has carefully studied all of, and translated most of, the Sutta Pitaka, which would mean he knows the Pali Canon better than anyone writing on this forum or any other forum I can think of. He can certainly be considered a reliable interpreter of the suttas and presenter of the tradition.

This does not mean that Ven Bodhi is the final word or the only word or that he is beyond question in what he says. What is does mean that if we are going to look to someone as an accurate, authoritative presenter of what the suttas teach, we might want to look at their qualifications.

Ven Bodhi is a bit more than merely just another person or some intellectual from New York (as if being an intellectual from New York is some sort of disqualifier for anything). He is a practicing Buddhist monk who is a highly educated translator of the suttas who knows the tradition extremely well, which makes him a legitimate authority, and he is recognized as such.

Appealing to Ven Bodhi’s writings is not inappropriate. That does not mean he cannot be wrong or that one cannot legitimately disagree with him, but it does mean that trying to dismiss appealing to his writings because he is “merely just another person” and “intellectual from New York who decided to become a translator” carries absolutely no weight as a counter argument to what Ven Bodhi has to say.

The suttas are more reliable than an intellectual from New York who decided to become a translator and was named Bhikkhu Bodhi.


And upon what basis are we to take another’s interpretation as carrying more weight than Ven Bodhi’s?

Merely stating that references to rebirth in the Pali suttas are only some sort of skillful ruse to win over some people but are not a description of how the Buddha actually saw reality is not a reasonable argument - it is not really an argument at all - unless the individual claiming such can actually show this is the case with carefully reasoned and exampled argumentation, something that has yet to be done in these exchanges.

One of the other claims is that rebirth talk of any sort is at best figurative. In these three discourses from the Pali

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

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

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

which describe the Buddha’s awakening, rebirth plays an important role, which are not easily explained away as some sort of figurative speech.

And let us not forget that Buddha said:

"This being is bound to samsara, karma is his means for going beyond." - SN I, 38.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby pink_trike » Mon Mar 30, 2009 10:55 pm

Peter wrote:
pink_trike wrote:In the end, I think that "believing" and "not believing" in literal rebirth are both serious distraction on the Dharma path.

If someone says Right View is a serious distraction on the Dharma Path, does it make sense to call such a one a Buddhist?

I'll continue to practice reconditioning the patterns of the mind, restraining desires in everyday life. and benefiting society as I can.

How many folds of the Noble Eightfold Path do you think you've got there? How many do you think are necessary for one to be considered a Buddhist?

I haven't heard anyone say that here, but if they did I still wouldn't give any thought to what they should be called. That's none of my business. I'm not the path-correctness police. :shrug:

I've got enough for me, and what I have is between me and my teachers...if it isn't enough for others then that's on their plate to deal with. :namaste:
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby kc2dpt » Tue Mar 31, 2009 12:48 am

pink_trike wrote:I haven't heard anyone say that here

That is precicely what you said.

pink_trike wrote:I still wouldn't give any thought to what they should be called. That's none of my business.

You are aware of the topic of this thread, right?
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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby pink_trike » Tue Mar 31, 2009 3:01 am

Peter wrote:
pink_trike wrote:I haven't heard anyone say that here

That is precicely what you said.

What I said is "I don't know" in reference to literal rebirth. I also said that imo, manufacturing a story about whether literal rebirth is fact or not is a distraction for ordinary human beings who don't have the wisdom vision needed to see past and future lives. I don't know how you arrived at "Right View is a distraction" from that. Has Right View been boiled down to a belief in literal rebirth?

I don't think we're offering much to the thread at this point... :anjali:
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby Dan74 » Tue Mar 31, 2009 4:00 am

Tex wrote:I suppose one could call oneself a "student of physics" while not believing in gravity, but I don't know how much progress s/he would make.

If you take gravity out of the study of physics a lot of the rest of physics falls apart.

It is the same with kamma and rebirth with regards to Buddhism, as far as I can see. Pull out a few bricks you don't like and the whole wall falls apart.

Regarding taking refuge in the Dhamma -- I don't know how one could truly take refuge in something that one believed incomplete or erroneous in certain places. I'm not trying to be judgmental, and as Cooran noted it's surely okay to be agnostic on some things and put them aside for the moment -- but I can't imagine really, truly taking refuge in any set of teachings if one rejects some of those teachings. What would be the point? It might be a bit like calling myself a Christian because I like a lot of the brotherly love teachings but I don't quite believe in the whole virgin birth and resurrection crap.


Kamma, as the law of cause and effect, does not really need faith or "accepting". It is self-evident. With practice we see its workings deeper and take a lot more care and responsibility.

Personally I don't see why rebirth is a corner stone of Buddhism. Certainly in the Zen tradition while it is mentioned sometimes in the stories, it is not fundamental at all. I know my teacher believes in rebirth having had certain experiences to that effect, but she never insisted on it being fundamental.

It seems to me that there is plenty right here right now to motivate oneself to practice. Sure if believing in hells helps you practice harder - great!

As for being "Buddhist", "Buddhist" to me means turning to the teachings of the Buddha and his enlightened followers for guidance in attaining liberation and fulfilling my other vows (overcoming defilements, living guided by compassion for all beings, mastering the teachings). This is a practice and an experiential path, personal and intimate, as I understand it, not a dogmatic, chest-thumping, I-am-right-you-are-wrong, card-carrying member of the True Buddhist Party sort of thing.

So for me (and as I understand in the Zen/Seon (Korean Zen) Buddhist tradition) it is not essential. It comes with experience.

In fact if one takes on too many beliefs and opinions, this may hamper true inquiry which is unbiased and open and create obstacles on the path. Stephen Batchelor makes this point very well.

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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby Ngawang Drolma. » Tue Mar 31, 2009 4:11 am

...there is much disagreement between teachers and traditions regarding the details of meditation practice and yet there is no disagreement regarding rebirth.


True :anjali:
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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby Tex » Tue Mar 31, 2009 4:23 am

Hi, Dan. You said:

Dan74 wrote:Personally I don't see why rebirth is a corner stone of Buddhism.


And:

Dan74 wrote:As for being "Buddhist", "Buddhist" to me means turning to the teachings of the Buddha and his enlightened followers for guidance in attaining liberation and fulfilling my other vows


I don't mean to be contentious, but I don't understand how someone can "turn to the teachings of the Buddha" and at the same time not understand "why rebirth is a cornerstone of Buddhism".

The Buddha, in his teachings, seemed pretty serious about the literal rebirth part, right?
"The serene and peaceful mind is the true epitome of human achievement."-- Ajahn Chah, Living Dhamma

"To reach beyond fear and danger we must sharpen and widen our vision. We have to pierce through the deceptions that lull us into a comfortable complacency, to take a straight look down into the depths of our existence, without turning away uneasily or running after distractions." -- Bhikkhu Bodhi
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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby Ngawang Drolma. » Tue Mar 31, 2009 4:31 am

Kamma, as the law of cause and effect, does not really need faith or "accepting". It is self-evident. With practice we see its workings deeper and take a lot more care and responsibility.


I like this point from Dan. Many things in Buddhism are self-evident and having "faith" in them is just a matter of giving it a chance.
This has been true in my humble, small experience.

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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby Dan74 » Tue Mar 31, 2009 5:55 am

How does the belief in rebirth aid your practice, Tex? And do you think that this aid is essential in practicing the path as outlined by the Buddha?

The example you use, Tex, of gravity, is like kamma - it doesn't need to be taken on faith. My 8-month-old daughter believes in gravity (mind, you she is enlightened).

To continue to your physics analogy, yes, Einstein was also pretty serious about Relativity, but it doesn't need to be believed, but investigated, when one is ready. If I am doing high school physics, I am not going to be ready for this investigation. So if you come and tell me that an astronaut comes back to Earth younger than her identical twin, I will think you are kidding or get very confused. When the time comes, one investigates, and may indeed find that Einstein was right.

Until then one can happily study physics. Indeed one can even be a physicist (researching Quantum Mechanics or Particle Physics) and never need to verify this fact. But maybe rebirth is more central that this. I don't know.

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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby Rui Sousa » Tue Mar 31, 2009 11:37 am

I like to look at the beginning of a live and try to see what there is to be seen. You only have to take a deep look at the children on maternity and see how different those beings are. Some newborns smile a lot, some cry a lot, some are struggling, some are accepting, some are afraid, some are confident.

And if you can observe their growth, then you can see how they develop differently, but also how many tendencies are always there. That mind-body happening is conditioned, and some latencies last for the whole existence of that being. Not just bodily characteristics, which are inherited from the parents, but also mind characteristics. Accepting that the mind precedes all phenomena, that conditioning of the mind doesn't came from the body, it has to come from the mind.

But if the mind is already born conditioned at birth, from where is that conditioning coming from? God? A mystical aleatory mind formation out of thin air?

The only satisfactory answer I got from my quest on religious books, is that of rebirth, kamma and anatta.

In my understanding the conditioned nature of the mind implies that there is a mind-continuum, on which the laws of conditioning take effect. The only meaningful explanation I know for the existence of different planes of existence (on which I believe for many reasons), and for the logic behind the birth of a being on this or that plane, is kamma and rebirth.

Those of you who don't accept kamma and rebirth, or think that their acceptance is not mandatory to be a Buddhist, have a better explanation for the different mind states, and latencies, of newborns?
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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby zavk » Tue Mar 31, 2009 12:03 pm

tiltbillings wrote:One of the other claims is that rebirth talk of any sort is at best figurative. In these three discourses from the Pali which describe the Buddha’s awakening, rebirth plays an important role, which are not easily explained away as some sort of figurative speech.


I think you wrote a great post, Tilt. It would have been nice to share those ideas at ZFI. Reading your post got me thinking further about what I see as an unexamined assumption underlying such debates about rebirth--the assumption about 'figurativeness' (<-- This is an awkward word but I'll use since it has been raised.)

On the one hand, it seems to me that the argument that rebirth must be understood literally turns on an assumption about 'figurativeness'. This is the assumption that figurativeness somehow compromises the 'truth' of rebirth (and by implications the 'truth' of the Buddha's teaching). It is assumed that the doctrine of rebirth is somehow rendered less 'efficacious', less 'real', when people attempt to understand it figuratively.

On the other hand, it seems to me that the argument that rebirth is merely a rhetorical strategy also turns on the same assumption about 'figurativeness'. This is the assumption that figurativeness somehow allows us to sidestep (and even debunk) rebirth. It is assumed that the doctrine of rebirth is somehow rendered less 'challenging', less 'real', when it is construed as merely a clever play with words.

But as I have suggested in my previous post, what if figurativeness is in fact a fundamental part of our perceptual process? What if figurativeness is what makes it possible for us to make sense of anything at all? I have suggested that we cannot step outside the workings of language--not until we attain some level of awakening anyway (and IMO I don't think Awakening obliterates language but rather allows us to have a new, non-grasping relationship with language). If figurativeness is how language works, then thought and understanding also works through figurativeness.

To give an example, if you were to ask a number of people to note down the first impressions that come to them when you mention the words 'dog', 'car', or 'tree', I'm sure you will get a variety of responses. I've done this exercise with students many times and the responses to a word like 'tree' include: wood, green, leaves, bark, oxygen, fuel, nature, mother earth, recycling, life, peace, etc. Or with a word like 'dog' the responses were: woof, tail, fur, Spot the family dog, German Shepard (or some other breed), happiness, man's best friend, fear (because of a bad experience), warm fuzzy feelings, loyalty, poop, stinky, walk in the park, etc.

What becomes evident in this simple example is that language functions figuratively. Meaning or 'truth' isn't established through direct correspondence but through figurativeness. Without this ever-present figurativeness, language wouldn't be possible, and hence, thought and understanding wouldn't be possible. If meaning and truth were established through direct correspondence, then everyone would have the same impressions when they hear or read the words 'tree' or 'dog'. But what we see is that for some people the words 'tree' or 'dog' didn't even remind them of an actual plant or a canine but of various concepts or emotions. Even though such concepts and emotions do not directly correspond to the words 'tree' or 'dog', they are 'truths' about 'trees' and 'dogs', and these 'truths' would shape and influence the way those people behave (i.e. a person who understands 'trees' only as so much raw material would behave in a different way from another who understands 'tree' as life or mother earth). Which is to say that to accept the figurativeness of language is not to slide in relativism for the question of ethics is ever-present.

In light of this, maybe we can re-evaluate the terms of the debate around rebirth. If figurativeness is a fundamental characteristic of our perceptual process, if 'truth' is always to some degree or another established through figurativeness--indeed, made possible by figurativeness--should we still assume that the 'truth' of rebirth is always compromised when people attempt to understand it figuratively? By the same token, when people dismiss rebirth as just a kind of figurative speech, should they assume that is any less 'truthful' and 'real'? Either position fails to be mindful of how figurativeness conditions consciousness. And shouldn't we be mindful of how our minds work in figurative ways? For after all, figurativeness is that which deludes us and also that which might awaken us.

Please excuse the long post. It's kinda long-winded but I wanted to be as clear as I can. I'm not directing this at anyone in particular, whether you are for a literal understanding or rebirth or not. I'm writing this because Tilt's post presented a good opportunity for me to stick my nose in and raise questions about the assumptions upon which such debates have left unexamined. Perhaps a more productive way forward is to sometimes take a step backwards to re-examine hidden assumptions underlying the debate before attempting to move forward again.

I could very well be wrong but I think this is precisely what exploring the path entails.

:anjali:

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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby Tex » Tue Mar 31, 2009 2:03 pm

Dan74 wrote:How does the belief in rebirth aid your practice, Tex? And do you think that this aid is essential in practicing the path as outlined by the Buddha?


I believe literal rebirth is part of Right View.

But it can be put aside while other aspects of the path are studied and practiced. So, no, I don't think it is essential to "practicing the path as outlined by the Buddha", but I do think it's essential to completing the path. Just my opinion, of course, maybe people have reached Nibbana without ever even contemplating what the Buddha meant by all that rebirth stuff, I don't know.

Dan74 wrote:The example you use, Tex, of gravity, is like kamma - it doesn't need to be taken on faith.


Exactly, kamma doesn't need to be taken on faith. We can see it and experience it right here and now. But it also seems quite evident that kamma doesn't settle all accounts by the close of business in this life, so to speak.

Take as an example Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus and then killed himself. When did the kamma of killing all of those people ripen?

We can believe in kamma and we can see it work in this life, but I don't think we can possibly say that all causes yield their appropriate results in this life. To me, kamma necessitates rebirth, unless we're content to say that intentional actions sometimes yield their appropriate fruits and other times do not.
Last edited by Tex on Tue Mar 31, 2009 2:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: To be Buddhist you must accept kamma and rebirth?

Postby Prasadachitta » Tue Mar 31, 2009 2:13 pm

It seems to me it would be a better question to ask "Could you accurately be called a Buddhist if you reject rebirth without knowing and seeing for yourself whether it has validity?". I think it is the lack of rejection of Karma and rebirth which is of critical importance to effective practice not whether one accepts it or not.

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