the great rebirth debate

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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby BlueLotus » Tue Dec 04, 2012 5:01 pm

porpoise wrote:Here's how ageing and death and birth are defined in MN9 ( and SN12.2 ) - these descriptions seem unambiguous to me:


Rather than taking parts of the sutta at face value, take the sutta as a whole. These writings came down from mouth to mouth and hand to hand for many years so we can assume that certain parts are chanted over and over again in repeated patterns. So we can expect certain phrases to repeat in suttas. Taking the holistic meaning of MN 9, bhava is the tendency of the mind to measure as "I be". By eliminating this, you eliminate suffering in the here and now.

Besides SN 12.2/MN 9 doesn't define birth strictly within the constraints of a physical phenomena at all. The womb is translator's addition. That is why it is within brackets. There is no mention of a womb in the pali.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby BlueLotus » Tue Dec 04, 2012 5:06 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:Not only is this interpretation not supported by the suttas

Which interpretation is that?

Ñāṇa wrote:consciousness continues post-mortem to another birth in one of the realms of saṃsāra the dhammavinaya becomes untenable as a meaningful way to live one's life and something akin to Epicureanism would be far more reasonable.

Dhamma is applicable to end suffering. If there are arahaths who follow the dhamma, end suffering and live peaceful lives till death, then dhamma is tenable as a meaningful way to live one's life whether consciousness continues post-mortem or not.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby BlueLotus » Tue Dec 04, 2012 5:25 pm

porpoise wrote: I think the issue is the same - whether it's valid to impose a psychological interpretation on something which looks like a cosmological description.


Few things:
1. Suttas are not explicit on a cosmological description anymore than a psychological description. Only some commentaries are.
2. Be open-minded to the possibility that 2500 years ago certain words might not have been used in the same context they are used in the modern-day and age. So there is no need to hear a child crying every time it says birth. ;)
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Nyana » Tue Dec 04, 2012 6:27 pm

BlueLotus wrote:Which interpretation is that?

The interpretation where "birth" doesn't refer to literal birth.

Ñāṇa wrote:Dhamma is applicable to end suffering. If there are arahaths who follow the dhamma, end suffering and live peaceful lives till death, then dhamma is tenable as a meaningful way to live one's life whether consciousness continues post-mortem or not.

If the consequences of craving doesn't include continued birth and death in saṃsāra then it would be far more reasonable to engage in a life of moderate pleasures than to live a life of ascetic renunciation according to the dhammavinaya.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby daverupa » Tue Dec 04, 2012 8:32 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:If the consequences of craving doesn't include continued birth and death in saṃsāra then it would be far more reasonable to engage in a life of moderate pleasures than to live a life of ascetic renunciation according to the dhammavinaya.


If agnostic approaches to post-death states are undertaken, all that is left is this world here and now, and one is left with Buddha's Wager as given to Pāṭaliya in the Sutta in my signature. This is a perfectly reasonable alternative to your insistence that a certain belief is necessary.

In any of these cosmological discussions which are in the Nikayas, what matters is cause and effect & moral efficacy (sometimes also, not adhering to view).

I don't want to argue the presence or absence, the literal or metaphorical readings here - at least one hundred years of doctrinal development are reflected in the Nikayas, and all sorts of things are in there (don't worry, I'm not going to get all "pristine Ur-Canon" on you); I just don't want there to be those exploring the Dhamma who see this sort of reasoning and lump the Dhamma in with the Bible and the Norse Eddas, and move on.

It sells the Dhamma short, in my opinion.

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    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby BlueLotus » Wed Dec 05, 2012 5:19 am

Ñāṇa wrote:If the consequences of craving doesn't include continued birth and death in saṃsāra then it would be far more reasonable to engage in a life of moderate pleasures than to live a life of ascetic renunciation according to the dhammavinaya.


Of course this is just your personal opinion. I am not confronting that. I am confronting your initial statement that "if you don't believe in life-after, dhamma is completely useless".

Lot of people believe that if we die and that's it, why bother? I bother because I want to live peacefully in this life. I am living this, I am here. I see the consequences of attachment right here. My suffering is felt in this life. This life is the only reality present to me. So I want to make a change right here because Dhamma is useful to remedy the suffering you experience right in this very life.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Nyana » Wed Dec 05, 2012 5:56 am

BlueLotus wrote:Of course this is just your personal opinion. I am not confronting that. I am confronting your initial statement that "if you don't believe in life-after, dhamma is completely useless".

I didn't say that dhamma would be completely useless. There are a number of aspects of the dhamma that are greatly beneficial and useful regardless of one's views. But there's more to the path as it's prescribed in the vinaya and suttas than just being an ethical person and practicing some form of meditation.

BlueLotus wrote:Lot of people believe that if we die and that's it, why bother? I bother because I want to live peacefully in this life. I am living this, I am here. I see the consequences of attachment right here. My suffering is felt in this life. This life is the only reality present to me. So I want to make a change right here because Dhamma is useful to remedy the suffering you experience right in this very life.

That's good. But what I'm referring to is the purpose of the path of renunciation.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Nyana » Wed Dec 05, 2012 5:58 am

daverupa wrote:If agnostic approaches to post-death states are undertaken, all that is left is this world here and now, and one is left with Buddha's Wager as given to Pāṭaliya in the Sutta in my signature. This is a perfectly reasonable alternative to your insistence that a certain belief is necessary.

I'm not talking about the necessity of a certain belief. I'm talking about the meaningfulness and purpose of living the path of ascetic renunciation. If the view of continued birth and death in saṃsāra is denied then the monastic path as prescribed in the vinaya and suttas becomes an unreasonable and entirely unnecessary way to live one's life. A far more reasonable choice would be to live a life engaged in moderate pleasures.

daverupa wrote:I don't want to argue the presence or absence, the literal or metaphorical readings here - at least one hundred years of doctrinal development are reflected in the Nikayas, and all sorts of things are in there (don't worry, I'm not going to get all "pristine Ur-Canon" on you); I just don't want there to be those exploring the Dhamma who see this sort of reasoning and lump the Dhamma in with the Bible and the Norse Eddas, and move on.

It sells the Dhamma short, in my opinion.

Not taking the texts seriously on their own terms sells the dhammavinaya short. Even in the context of textual analysis alone, sans lineage, Buddhist scholar Lambert Schmithausen sums it up well:

    I presuppose that the texts I make use of are to be taken seriously, in the sense that one has to accept that they mean what they say, and that what they mean is reasonable within its own terms.

And at this purely analytical level, without lineage there is no need to believe in the assertions made in the texts nor live by the vinaya precepts.

But if one is going to actually live by the vinaya precepts and various related prescriptions given in the suttas it is far more reasonable and purposeful to accept the possibility that the assertions made in the texts are true.

Said another way, if a person is intent on maintaining some version of scientific materialism then there are other systems of theory and practice that are more compatible with that sort of agenda than the dhammavinaya.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Spiny Norman » Wed Dec 05, 2012 10:38 am

BlueLotus wrote: Suttas are not explicit on a cosmological description anymore than a psychological description. Only some commentaries are.


I disagree. When I read the suttas I see cosmology, psychology and simile clearly delineated.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Spiny Norman » Wed Dec 05, 2012 10:42 am

BlueLotus wrote:Besides SN 12.2/MN 9 doesn't define birth strictly within the constraints of a physical phenomena at all. The womb is translator's addition. That is why it is within brackets. There is no mention of a womb in the pali.


By all means remove the womb reference, it's still clearly a description of physical birth. And of course ageing and death arise in dependence on birth, and they are very clearly defined as physical rather than psychological processes - so in context it simply doesn't make sense for birth to be interpreted pyschologically.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Spiny Norman » Wed Dec 05, 2012 10:49 am

BlueLotus wrote: Taking the holistic meaning of MN 9, bhava is the tendency of the mind to measure as "I be". By eliminating this, you eliminate suffering in the here and now.


But in MN9 "bhava" is clearly defined as existence in the 3 realms, not some kind of psychological becoming. I think you're trying to make connections which the sutta doesn't support.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Nyana » Wed Dec 05, 2012 12:33 pm

porpoise wrote:
BlueLotus wrote:Besides SN 12.2/MN 9 doesn't define birth strictly within the constraints of a physical phenomena at all. The womb is translator's addition. That is why it is within brackets. There is no mention of a womb in the pali.


By all means remove the womb reference, it's still clearly a description of physical birth. And of course ageing and death arise in dependence on birth, and they are very clearly defined as physical rather than psychological processes - so in context it simply doesn't make sense for birth to be interpreted pyschologically.

Yes. This is also clearly stated in DN 15 as well:

    "'From birth as a requisite condition come aging and death.' Thus it has been said. And this is the way to understand how from birth as a requisite condition come aging and death. If there were no birth at all, in any way, of anything anywhere — i.e., of devas in the state of devas, of celestials in the state of celestials, of spirits in the state of spirits, of demons in the state of demons, of human beings in the human state, of quadrupeds in the state of quadrupeds, of birds in the state of birds, of snakes in the state of snakes, or of any being in its own state — in the utter absence of birth, from the cessation of birth, would aging and death be discerned?"

    "No, lord."

    "Thus this is a cause, this is a reason, this is an origination, this is a requisite condition for aging and death, i.e., birth."
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby BlueLotus » Wed Dec 05, 2012 1:00 pm

porpoise wrote:
BlueLotus wrote:Besides SN 12.2/MN 9 doesn't define birth strictly within the constraints of a physical phenomena at all. The womb is translator's addition. That is why it is within brackets. There is no mention of a womb in the pali.


By all means remove the womb reference, it's still clearly a description of physical birth. And of course ageing and death arise in dependence on birth, and they are very clearly defined as physical rather than psychological processes - so in context it simply doesn't make sense for birth to be interpreted pyschologically.


It seems to me like you are trying to convince yourself by repeatedly saying "clearly" because there is nothing so drastically clear about it when you investigate with an impartial attitude. Don't get me wrong. I am not refusing 'physical birth' and saying that is completely and utterly impossible. I just don't think the psychological model can be refused based on suttas because suttas actually support it.

In the same suttas which seem very very clear to you, I find these statements. In SN12.2 it says:

From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering.


Thus, cessation of birth leads to cessation of suffering. That is consistently so in all suttas about DO.

Then, in MN 9 it says:

he gives up all latent tendencies to greed, drives out all latent tendencies to aversion and, completely destroying the latent tendency to measure as `I be', dispels ignorance, arouses science, and here and now makes an end of unpleasantness.


In MN 9, suffering is eradicated here and now while the noble disciple is alive and breathing. In this context birth cannot be a physical birth. He ends suffering by destroying all tendencies of the mind to measure as "I be". This by all means is psychological. If you take this "birth" to only be a "womb birth", the suttas just don't add up.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby BlueLotus » Wed Dec 05, 2012 1:02 pm

DN 15 is the ONLY place in suttas I know where this womb reference is given in the pali. Perhaps it is a glitch. I wouldn't dispute that possibility.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby BlueLotus » Wed Dec 05, 2012 1:08 pm

porpoise wrote:But in MN9 "bhava" is clearly defined as existence in the 3 realms, not some kind of psychological becoming. I think you're trying to make connections which the sutta doesn't support.

Again bhava is not at all "clearly" about existence in 3 realm. It maybe so. Also it maybe about a psychological phenomena. This is all the suttas say about bhava:

MN 9:
Friends, there are three [types of] being: being with sensuality, being with matter, and being with the immaterial. With the arising of holding there is the arising of being, with the cessation of holding there is the cessation of being.


This can very well be interpreted as "Being is the mind's behaviour in sensual thoughts, thinking about material and maintaining the mind in immaterial states." "Arising and holding" is constantly entertaining such mental states.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby BlueLotus » Wed Dec 05, 2012 1:14 pm

Ñāṇa wrote: I didn't say that dhamma would be completely useless.


I thought you said:
without the view that consciousness continues post-mortem to another birth in one of the realms of saṃsāra the dhammavinaya becomes untenable as a meaningful way to live one's life


;)
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby BlueLotus » Wed Dec 05, 2012 1:21 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:There are a number of aspects of the dhamma that are greatly beneficial and useful regardless of one's views. But there's more to the path as it's prescribed in the vinaya and suttas than just being an ethical person and practicing some form of meditation.


So what has this got to do with after-life? Is renunciation necessary for detachment? Frankly when I see the pain sense pleasure and attachment bring, I don't mind doing what I can to free from that attachment whether there is life after death or not.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Dec 05, 2012 1:28 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:I'm not talking about the necessity of a certain belief. I'm talking about the meaningfulness and purpose of living the path of ascetic renunciation. If the view of continued birth and death in saṃsāra is denied then the monastic path as prescribed in the vinaya and suttas becomes an unreasonable and entirely unnecessary way to live one's life. A far more reasonable choice would be to live a life engaged in moderate pleasures.


As someone who does not believe in rebirth, I concur. This was the conclusion I reached myself after trying to reconcile the Dhamma with rational skepticism.

Certainly it can be beneficial to practice non-attachment and renunciation to some degree if we have only one life; it will keep us from addictive and harmful behaviors and allow us to live well in the present. But the Dhamma, as I understand it, goes much farther than that. It is a path leading to complete eradication and cessation -- a null state, if you will, totally detached from the world of emotions and senses.

In a one life scenario, this seems like a curious aim to pursue -- since we will get there sooner or later anyway, at the moment of death! Meanwhile, we would be better off enjoying a life of moderate pleasures, finding a meaningful vocation, pursuing scientific and intellectual inquiry, contributing to the betterment of society, and/or cultivating loving relationships.

The goal of any life practice, it seems to me, has to be grounded in some logic. Cessation as a goal follows logically from a belief in rebirth and the lower realms. It does not follow from the belief that each of us has one life that terminates at death. What follows from the latter is something like the following:

Meditation is understood to be a means of “being here and now,” “of coming to our senses,” of acquiring a fresh sense of wonder. We practice the Dharma to better understand our own minds, to find greater happiness and peace in the moment, to tap our creativity, to be more efficient in work, more loving in our relationships, more compassionate in our dealings with others. We practice not to leave this world behind but to participate in the world more joyfully, with greater spontaneity. We stand back from life in order to plunge into life, to dance with the ever-shifting flow of events. (Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Challenge of The Future: How will the Sangha Fare in North American Buddhism)


The above actually represents my own perspective. But I would agree with Ñāṇa and others that this is not the Dhamma as taught in the Pali Canon.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby BlueLotus » Wed Dec 05, 2012 1:45 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Certainly it can be beneficial to practice non-attachment and renunciation to some degree if we have only one life; it will keep us from addictive and harmful behaviors and allow us to live well in the present. But the Dhamma, as I understand it, goes much farther than that. It is a path leading to complete eradication and cessation -- a null state, if you will, totally detached from the world of emotions and senses.



Quest to cessation of suffering ends in nibbana.
Quest to cessation of life ends in vibhava tanha.

Nowhere in dhamma have I seen that the Buddhist goal is to leave the sense world. Buddhist goal is simply to detach from the sense world; not to completely eradicate the sense world.

Lazy_eye wrote: But I would agree with Ñāṇa and others that this is not the Dhamma as taught in the Pali Canon.


Oh that is a drastic generalization. You cannot give such single-handed generalizations to a complete body of knowledge. The Pali Canon can very well be understood holistically as a way of living the present life without suffering rather than a quest to end existence.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Nyana » Wed Dec 05, 2012 2:01 pm

BlueLotus wrote:In MN 9, suffering is eradicated here and now while the noble disciple is alive and breathing. It cannot be that in this context, birth is a physical birth. He ends suffering by destroying all tendencies of the mind to measure as "I be". This by all means is psychological. If you take this "birth" to only be a "womb birth", the suttas just don't add up.

That is a fallacious conclusion. An arahant has indeed eradicated suffering and is thereby not subject to another womb birth.

BlueLotus wrote:
Ñāṇa wrote: I didn't say that dhamma would be completely useless.


I thought you said:
without the view that consciousness continues post-mortem to another birth in one of the realms of saṃsāra the dhammavinaya becomes untenable as a meaningful way to live one's life


Note the distinction: dhamma versus dhammavinaya. The latter includes the full monastic training of higher ethical conduct.

BlueLotus wrote:
Ñāṇa wrote:There are a number of aspects of the dhamma that are greatly beneficial and useful regardless of one's views. But there's more to the path as it's prescribed in the vinaya and suttas than just being an ethical person and practicing some form of meditation.

So what has this got to do with after-life?

Like I said previously, if you're not concerned with continued birth and death in saṃsāra then there are more reasonable paths to follow than the path of renunciation. This may be why Kumārakassapa spends the entire discourse of DN 23 Pāyāsi Sutta trying to convince the prince Pāyāsi to abandon his view that there is no next world, which is considered a wicked view (pāpaka diṭṭhigata). And of course, the denial of the next world also renders the Buddha's teachings on kamma untenable as well, because not all results of actions have corresponding consequences in this life.

BlueLotus wrote:Is renunciation necessary for detachment?

It's necessary for liberation.
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