the great rebirth debate

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

Postby BlueLotus » Tue Dec 11, 2012 12:28 pm

porpoise wrote:So do you now want to exclude all references to pari-Nibbana in the suttas? :tongue:


If you know any place in the suttas which states that the goal is parinibbana you are free to quote as I have requested you before. The goal I know is cessation of suffering, which is over and over again described as nibbana, experienced here and now.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby pulga » Tue Dec 11, 2012 12:41 pm

beeblebrox wrote:By the way, I'm always befuddled how something could be called literal, if the person never had an experience of such... to even associate the literalism.


The spirit realm is imaginary for most of us -- including myself -- but so is the doorway behind me as I sit typing at my computer. The imaginary gets a footing in reality by becoming a part of something more general -- with regards to the doorway, my being situated in this room, for instance. In other words the belief -- and fear -- of the realm of hungry ghosts is real for some. But that particular belief is ultimately grounded on what is bodily before them.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby BlueLotus » Tue Dec 11, 2012 12:47 pm

porpoise wrote:Sure, there is plenty of psychological content in the suttas, the problem is muddling up psychology with cosmology


No the problem here is insisting and enforcing a particular belief system which developed for many centuries by many different traditional influences as a necessity. The suttas are open for many interpretations and they have evolved for many centuries. Things have got added, terminology changed, contexts have changed, language semantics have changed. There is no need to gulp down everything as they are elaborated in commentaries by scholars. This makes Buddhism sound no better than fundamentalist Islamic dogmatism.

Let those who like to embrace certain beliefs do so. But that should not destroy the innate beauty of Buddhism which requires no blind faith to follow the path to its fruition. For those who do not want to take up beliefs, this matter of life-after and cosmology is irrelevant. What is relevant is the present moment. Buddha dhamma is still applicable to the present moment. Let's not destroy the beauty of this religion by insisting belief on anything we cannot verify.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby BlueLotus » Tue Dec 11, 2012 1:06 pm

porpoise wrote: It seems there are people who want to exclude all cosmology from the suttas


Meanwhile, there are people who don't really care if hungry ghosts actually exist or not. What matters to them is how to escape the "hungry ghost mental state", the constant need for sensual pleasures, in this very life. They neither deny nor accept unseen planes of existence. But they do not deny what they experience in the here and now.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Aloka » Tue Dec 11, 2012 4:02 pm

BlueLotus wrote:
porpoise wrote: It seems there are people who want to exclude all cosmology from the suttas


Meanwhile, there are people who don't really care if hungry ghosts actually exist or not. What matters to them is how to escape the "hungry ghost mental state", the constant need for sensual pleasures, in this very life. They neither deny nor accept unseen planes of existence. But they do not deny what they experience in the here and now.


:goodpost: Yes, there are clearly plenty of sincere practitioners with this approach and it is certainly not rejected by all Buddhist teachers.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Nyana » Tue Dec 11, 2012 4:17 pm

porpoise wrote:Sure, we don't know whether what the suttas say is actually true - but that's a matter of personal belief and disbelief, and should not be confused with looking at what the suttas say.

Indeed. And this also pertains to major statements such as the four noble truths. Materialists can't accept the four noble truths because for them matter is the the origin of suffering, not craving. Thus, materialists with a penchant for some Buddhist practices have to reinterpret all of the statements pertaining to the four noble truths and dependent arising, as well as either reinterpret or dismiss all of the statements pertaining to rebirth and the other realms of existence. That seems like a lot of conceptual effort to exert in order to justify maintaining belief in a questionable worldview.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Nyana » Tue Dec 11, 2012 5:46 pm

BlueLotus wrote:No the problem here is insisting and enforcing a particular belief system which developed for many centuries by many different traditional influences as a necessity.

Who's insisting that you or anyone else believe in the Buddha's dhamma?

BlueLotus wrote:The suttas are open for many interpretations and they have evolved for many centuries.

This is a gross overstatement on both counts.

BlueLotus wrote:Let's not destroy the beauty of this religion by insisting belief on anything we cannot verify.

Let's not claim that the dhamma-lite you're advocating is the Buddhadhamma.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Aloka » Tue Dec 11, 2012 6:14 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:Let's not claim that the dhamma-lite you're advocating is the Buddhadhamma.


If I remember correctly, this extraodinary expression "dharma lite "was first used by the Tibetan Buddhist Alexander Berzin in his 'Berzin Archives'

for example:

"Dharma Lite vs Real Thing Dharma"

http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/approaching_buddhism/introduction/dharma_lite.html

..and from "Dharma Lite vs Hard Core Dharma":

There’s something else that I thought would be helpful to speak about here in our first meeting, sort of introductory things, is a distinction that I make between Dharma-Lite and Hard-Core Dharma. Dharma-Lite is like Coca-Cola Lite – it’s not “The Real Thing,” but it tastes nice and it’s not fattening, so there’s not so much harm from it. And then there’s Hard-Core Dharma, The Real Thing. And it’s very important, I think, to recognize the difference between these two and to have a realistic evaluation of where we’re at and what actually we’re doing with the Dharma and not to confuse Dharma-Lite for The Real Thing.

So let me talk about this a little bit, define what I mean here by Dharma-Lite and Hard-Core Dharma. One issue is rebirth. Now, rebirth is absolutely central to Dharma and there’s no denying that. If we look in terms of the three levels of motivation that we find in the lam-rim, the graded stages of the path, what’s the first level? Working to improve our future lives. How can you possibly do that if you don’t believe in future lives? Then it’s a farce. Then gaining liberation. What do we mean by liberation? Liberation from uncontrollably recurring rebirth. If you don’t believe that rebirth exists, why in the world would you want to get liberated from it?

And then enlightenment is the state in which we can help others to achieve liberation from rebirth. So again rebirth is essential. And recognizing everybody as having been your mother. Well, that’s rebirths. If you think in terms of the highest class of tantra, anuttarayoga, the whole process there is one of transforming the process of death, bardo, and rebirth. Well, if you don’t believe in rebirth, what are you doing with a sadhana, with a tantra practice, trying to transform that? Then it becomes almost a game that we’re playing, a fantasy that we don’t really believe in – it’s not so much that we don’t believe in it, we don’t even take seriously what it’s talking about.

And so Hard-Core Dharma is based on understanding and conviction in rebirth.

http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/approaching_buddhism/introduction/approaching_dharma_balanced_audio/transcript_2.html


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

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue Dec 11, 2012 6:53 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:Materialists can't accept the four noble truths because for them matter is the the origin of suffering, not craving.


Not necessarily. Not all physicalists -- or even the majority -- are reductive in this way. Some are property dualists -- that is, acknowledging that we can make a meaningful distinction between mental properties (such as craving) and material ones (e.g. brain chemistry).

Materialism/physicalism is a broader spectrum of thought than you're implying here. Your statement above represents the views of "reductive materalists".

It seems to me (as I was arguing earlier) that a more serious sticking point is the end of suffering, since death makes such an objective redundant. But craving as the origin of suffering -- even small children know that to be true!
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Nyana » Tue Dec 11, 2012 7:12 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Not all physicalists are reductive in this way. Some are property dualists -- that is, acknowledging that we can make a meaningful distinction between mental properties (such as craving) and material ones (e.g. brain chemistry).

Materialism/physicalism is a broader spectrum of thought than you're implying here. Your statement above represents the views of "reductive materalists".

With property dualism mental properties are still caused by physical processes.

Lazy_eye wrote:But craving as the origin of suffering -- even small children know that to be true!

No, they don't.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Nyana » Tue Dec 11, 2012 7:23 pm

Aloka wrote:If I remember correctly, this extraodinary expression "dharma lite "was first used by the Tibetan Buddhist Alexander Berzin in his 'Berzin Archives'

One issue is rebirth. Now, rebirth is absolutely central to Dharma and there’s no denying that. If we look in terms of the three levels of motivation that we find in the lam-rim, the graded stages of the path, what’s the first level? Working to improve our future lives. How can you possibly do that if you don’t believe in future lives? Then it’s a farce. Then gaining liberation. What do we mean by liberation? Liberation from uncontrollably recurring rebirth. If you don’t believe that rebirth exists, why in the world would you want to get liberated from it?

Yes, and this isn't exclusive to Alex Berzin. For example, Ven. Dhammanando:

    [T]here is no possibility of leaping from a state in which wrong view ("there is nothing given, nothing offered...etc.") is ever liable to arise to ariyan right view. Rather, wrong view must be dislodged and the only cause that can effect this is the arising of mundane right view ("there is what is given, there is what is offered...etc."). In effect this means that high attainment in Dhamma is out of the question for those who remain skeptical, agnostic or non-committal regarding the affirmations that constitute mundane right view.

    Kammic efficacy and rebirth are part of mundane right view. To reject or doubt rebirth is to suppose that there are some causes that don't yield effects – specifically, that there can be ignorance and craving that will not issue in further becoming. Those of such a view have not understood the conditionality of dhammas even at the intellectual/pariyatti level. To not understand this is to not understand the four noble truths, the three characteristics, or anything else that is of decisive importance in the development of paññā.

Ven. Ṭhānissaro:

    [T]he terms of appropriate attention — the four noble truths — are not concerned simply with events arising and passing away in the present moment. They also focus on the causal connections among those events, connections that occur both in the immediate present and over time. If you limit your focus solely to connections in the present while ignoring those over time, you can't fully comprehend the ways in which craving causes suffering: not only by latching on to the four kinds of nutriment, but also giving rise to the four kinds of nutriment as well.

    This narrow focus places an obstacle in your ability to develop right view — and in particular, your ability to see dependent co-arising as a self-sustaining process. If, in line with the standard materialist view, you regard consciousness as a mere by-product of material processes, then there's no way you can appreciate the full power of consciousness and craving to generate the food that can sustain the processes of suffering indefinitely. And if you don't fully appreciate this power, there's no way that you can effectively bring it to an end.

Ven. Bodhi:

    Admittedly, for most of us the primary motivation for entering upon the path of Dhamma has been a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction with the routine course of our unenlightened lives rather than a keen perception of the dangers in the round of rebirths. However, if we are going to follow the Dhamma through to its end and tap its full potential for conferring peace and higher wisdom, it is necessary for the motivation of our practice to mature beyond that which originally induced us to enter the path. Our underlying motivation must grow towards those essential truths disclosed to us by the Buddha and, encompassing those truths, must use them to nourish its own capacity to lead us towards the realization of the goal.

    Our motivation acquires the requisite maturity by the cultivation of right view, the first factor of the Noble Eightfold Path, which as explained by the Buddha includes an understanding of the principles of kamma and rebirth as fundamental to the structure of our existence.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue Dec 11, 2012 8:09 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:With property dualism mental properties are still caused by physical processes.



Again, this is too reductive. Physical processes are the necessary precondition for consciousness to emerge, but conscious experience itself is a complex system with its own rules and properties. Equating the two is an example of scale confusion.

Terms like "craving" or "desire" are meaningful in relation to consciousness, though they would be meaningless if we zoomed down to the subatomic level.

Lazy_eye wrote:
But craving as the origin of suffering -- even small children know that to be true!

No, they don't.


Well, I'm a parent, and they do. Not saying they have full awareness or the ability to control their cravings. But they understand -- sometimes.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Nyana » Tue Dec 11, 2012 8:30 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Physical processes are the necessary precondition for consciousness to emerge....

Which confirms with what I've already said. Of course, if you have a version of property dualism that accords with the Buddhist understanding of paṭiccasamuppāda occurring over multiple lifetimes, then by all means bring it forward. Otherwise it's a digression to want to discuss the finer points of non-Buddhist materialist philosophies.

Lazy_eye wrote:
But craving as the origin of suffering -- even small children know that to be true!

No, they don't.


Well, I'm a parent, and they do. Not saying they have full awareness or the ability to control their cravings. But they understand -- sometimes.

I highly doubt that your children or any other children understand the full existential implications of dukkha & taṇhā as these terms are used in the context of the four noble truths. Moreover, it's the trivialization of dukkha & taṇhā that precludes the arising of right view as already indicated by the Buddhist teachers quoted here.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue Dec 11, 2012 9:22 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:
Lazy_eye wrote:Physical processes are the necessary precondition for consciousness to emerge....

Which confirms with what I've already said.


Not at all. You were arguing that materialists have to reject the four noble truths because "for them, matter is the origin of suffering, not craving".

And I'm saying this is overly reductive. It draws a simplistic link between two different sets of properties, operating at different scales. "Suffering" and "craving" only have meaning within the context of conscious experience, so looking for their origin in matter is a case of mixing apples and oranges -- or, to be more precise, scale confusion as I said earlier.. It's like trying to explain Anna Karenina by referring to type fonts. There has to be a physical book (or Nook) available in order for us to read "Anna Karenina", but the nature of her predicament can't be well-explained with reference to this material pre-condition.

Of course, if you have a version of property dualism that accords with the Buddhist understanding of paṭiccasamuppāda occurring over multiple lifetimes, then by all means bring it forward.


This would actually be an interesting topic, for some other thread. David Chalmers, a naturalist dualist, argues that consciousness is governed by as-yet-undiscovered "psycho-physical laws" which operate consistently, like other laws in the universe.

Lazy_eye wrote:I highly doubt that your children or any other children understand the full existential implications of dukkha & taṇhā as these terms are used in the context of the four noble truths. Moreover, it's the trivialization of dukkha & taṇhā that precludes the arising of right view as already indicated by the Buddhist teachers...


You're missing my point. My point is that the link between suffering and craving is apparent regardless of whether consciousness has a physical or non-physical explanation. Even a small child has experiences which can be called "suffering", and which are due to craving. This is part of human experience. I am not suggesting that children "understand the full existential implications" of anything.

You seem to be arguing that Buddhist teachings make no sense to a physicalist because matter explains everything, and thus all we need to do is manipulate matter. But that is an extreme view, and a minority one (last I checked).
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Nyana » Tue Dec 11, 2012 10:03 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:And I'm saying this is overly reductive. It draws a simplistic link between two different sets of properties, operating at different scales.

This distinction of property dualism where everything is ultimately reducible to one physical substance:

Image

Isn't compatible with paṭiccasamuppāda.

Lazy_eye wrote:My point is that the link between suffering and craving is apparent regardless of whether consciousness has a physical or non-physical explanation. Even a small child has experiences which can be called "suffering", and which are due to craving. This is part of human experience. I am not suggesting that children "understand the full existential implications" of anything.

In the context of the four noble truths dukkha refers to all of the following:

    birth
    aging
    illness
    death
    sorrow
    lamentation
    pain
    unhappiness
    despair
    association with what is unpleasant
    separation from what is pleasant
    not getting what is wanted
    the five clinging-aggregates

And, in the context of the four noble truths the cessation of dukkha refers to both the cessation of mental dukkha in this life as well as the cessation of the dukkha of birth, old age, sickness, and death in future lives.

I think you can readily understand the significant difference between these existential concerns and those of a small child.

Lazy_eye wrote:You seem to be arguing that Buddhist teachings make no sense to a physicalist because matter explains everything, and thus all we need to do is manipulate matter. But that is an extreme view, and a minority one (last I checked).

I've yet to come across a proponent of physicalism who accepts the Buddhist view of rebirth. Again, the consequences of this failure have already been stated above.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue Dec 11, 2012 10:22 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:This distinction of property dualism where everything is ultimately reducible to one physical substance...


And this is the assertion which I am questioning. It sounds like an accurate description of reductive materialism, but not of physicalism as a whole let alone property dualism.

To say that certain physical conditions must be present in order for X to be present doesn't mean that X is "ultimately reducible" to those conditions. That is not how emergent properties work.

Do you yourself find it meaningful to think of your conscious experiences as nothing more than the sum total of material processes? I'm guessing the answer is no.


Lazy_eye wrote:I think you can readily understand the significant difference between these existential concerns and those of a small child.


The concerns of a small child are included in the set you have provided.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Nyana » Tue Dec 11, 2012 11:10 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:And this is the assertion which I am questioning. It sounds like an accurate description of reductive materialism, but not of physicalism as a whole let alone property dualism.

To say that certain physical conditions must be present in order for X to be present doesn't mean that X is "ultimately reducible" to those conditions. That is not how emergent properties work.

Property dualism isn't the same as substance dualism. For physicalists if there is no living brain then there are no emergent mental properties. For physicalists when the brain dies there is no possibility of a post-mortem consciousness arising. This view is incompatible with paṭiccasamuppāda.

Lazy_eye wrote:The concerns of a small child are included in the set you have provided.

Your example trivializes the four noble truths. SN 15.3:

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

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Dec 12, 2012 1:34 am

Ñāṇa wrote:Property dualism isn't the same as substance dualism. For physicalists if there is no living brain then there are no emergent mental properties. For physicalists when the brain dies there is no possibility of a post-mortem consciousness arising. This view is incompatible with paṭiccasamuppāda.


Well, I haven't said anything about paṭiccasamuppāda, though I'm sure there are others who would debate that point. The question I brought up was not about paṭiccasamuppāda, but about your contention that physicalists cannot accept craving as the cause of suffering, because for them all our experiences are reducible to matter.

That's a straw man because it reflects only one, rather extreme physicalist viewpoint. And, actually, it's not even necessarily true of reductive materialism. Because even if we map every experience to a particular material process, we could still say that the (physical) process called "craving" causes the (physical) process called "suffering", which can be relieved through various meditation practices that work because of their effect on neural activity. Linking craving and suffering isn't contingent on whether experience is ultimately dependent on matter, as you seem to suggest.


Lazy_eye wrote:The concerns of a small child are included in the set you have provided.

Your example trivializes the four noble truths.


Why? Because children are incapable of experiencing dukkha?

I don't know how much time you have spent around kids, but my experience has been that they are concerned about -- and often very anxious about -- big existential questions from an early age. Most kids become aware by age 4 that living creatures die and that they too (as well as their parents) will also be gone some day. This knowledge is not without impact. I have spent more time discussing great matters of life and death with ever-questioning children than with adults (probably since many adults are too embarrassed to talk about their fears).

    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.


This passage does not have to be interpreted as the record of one specific individual's passage through multiple lives. It could be read more broadly as pertaining to the common experience of beings, and inviting us to consider ourselves as part of that process (as opposed to autonomous, isolated selves). Indeed, one could say this broader interpretive scope is what provides depth and resonance. Seeing the passage as a mere screed about post-mortem rebirth narrows it and, in my view, trivializes it.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Nyana » Wed Dec 12, 2012 2:05 am

Lazy_eye wrote:The question I brought up was not about paṭiccasamuppāda, but about your contention that physicalists cannot accept craving as the cause of suffering, because for them all our experiences are reducible to matter.

Craving as the origin of dukkha is what paṭiccasamuppāda describes.

Lazy_eye wrote:That's a straw man because it reflects only one, rather extreme physicalist viewpoint. And, actually, it's not even necessarily true of reductive materialism. Because even if we map every experience to a particular material process, we could still say that the (physical) process called "craving" causes the (physical) process called "suffering", which can be relieved through various meditation practices that work because of their effect on neural activity.

All physicalist views are actually reductivist. Quite incompatible with paṭiccasamuppāda.

Lazy_eye wrote:Linking craving and suffering isn't contingent on whether experience is ultimately dependent on matter, as you seem to suggest.

This statement just further demonstrates your misunderstanding of dukkha.

Lazy_eye wrote:This passage does not have to be interpreted as the record of one specific individual's passage through multiple lives. It could be read more broadly as pertaining to the common experience of beings, and inviting us to consider ourselves as part of that process (as opposed to autonomous, isolated selves). Indeed, one could say this broader interpretive scope is what provides depth and resonance. Seeing the passage as merely about post-mortem rebirth narrows it and, in my view, trivializes it.

The one perspective doesn't preclude the other. This is what engenders compassion as well as dispassion.

Lazy_eye wrote:Seeing the passage as merely about post-mortem rebirth narrows it and, in my view, trivializes it.

Trying to erase rebirth from the suttas would be a rather nonsensical thing to try to do. Ven. Bodhi:

    The teaching of rebirth crops up almost everywhere in the Canon, and is so closely bound to a host of other doctrines that to remove it would virtually reduce the Dhamma to tatters. Moreover, when the suttas speak about rebirth into the five realms — the hells, the animal world, the spirit realm, the human world, and the heavens — they never hint that these terms are meant symbolically. To the contrary, they even say that rebirth occurs "with the breakup of the body, after death," which clearly implies they intend the idea of rebirth to be taken quite literally.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby BlueLotus » Wed Dec 12, 2012 12:58 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:Who's insisting that you or anyone else believe in the Buddha's dhamma?


Oh here's one. There's another one. Seriously follow the thread before jumping in with disconnected questions.

Ñāṇa wrote:This is a gross overstatement on both counts.


I don't think so. It is only obvious reality that suttas are interpreted in different ways. What matters is what is within the capacity of experiential verification. Everything else is speculation. At least for me...

Ñāṇa wrote:Let's not claim that the dhamma-lite you're advocating is the Buddhadhamma.

Do you at least know what I am advocating?
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