the great rebirth debate

An open and inclusive investigation into Buddhism and spiritual cultivation

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

Postby BlueLotus » Wed Dec 12, 2012 1:25 pm

Ñāṇa wrote: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.


Maybe as clear as a crystal to the good monk but not necessarily to everyone. The "body" doesn't have to necessarily be physical body and death doesn't necessarily have to be death as death is usually understood in this day. As I said, suttas can be interpreted in numerous ways.

No matter, the moment is observable to everyone, verifiable to everyone, applicable to everyone. Dhamma is visible in this present life too. So whatever way one chooses to interpret these after-life stuff in suttas, the present life is still applicable to everyone. Whether or not one chooses to believe in different planes of existence or not, the present life's mental states are applicable to everyone. It is fine to focus on that and leave the rest to speculative theorizing.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby BlueLotus » Wed Dec 12, 2012 1:47 pm

Ñāṇa wrote: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.


Yet there are also suttas which talk of nibbana experienced by the Buddha during his enlightened years is the ultimate cessation of dukkha.
... he keep cultivating disenchantment/distaste with regard to form... feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness. As he keeps cultivating disenchantment/distaste with regard to form... feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness, he comprehends form... feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness. As he comprehends form... feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness, he is totally released from form... feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness. He is totally released from sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs. He is totally released, I tell you, from suffering & stress


I read it as this: "through disenchantment to the five aggregates one is totally released from suffering in the very life after one attains nibbana". My knowledge is that the verifiable story ends here. The rest is an epilogue which lies in the realm of speculation and frankly quite irrelevant at least to some.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby beeblebrox » Wed Dec 12, 2012 1:59 pm

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


Do you know why? Because they have the Buddha nature. (This isn't tongue-in-cheek.)

The four noble truths are always veritable, by anyone, in every moment... for every age, in any situation that involves dukkha. While this Dhamma isn't always seen by just anyone, it's always present and available... especially more so if we share the teachings.

Ñāṇa 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 quoted here.


I think that's quite patronizing. (Besides... what does that patronizing involve? I think that this might be a good practice question.)

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

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Dec 12, 2012 3:09 pm

Ñāṇa wrote: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.


Yes, rebirth, heavens and hells are all found in the suttas. Traditionalists will always be able to win that particular argument, as far as it goes. But the question remains: is any of it plausible?

After seeing enough discussions over the years, I think it's safe to say that these things can only be accepted on faith, as religious beliefs. Other arguments put forward are almost inevitably pseudoscientific or flawed in their reasoning.

If that works for you, then OK. Though I do wonder: if one is prepared to accept Buddhist supernaturalism, then how can we be sure that the supernatural teachings of other religions aren't true? Perhaps, from your point of view, I will go to hell for harboring wrong (annihilationist) views. But how can you be sure that you won't go to hell because Allah dislikes non-theist Buddhists? Once we enter the world of faith, things become very dicey.

Looking at Ven. Bodhi's comments about the reasons for accepting rebirth, it's interesting that what he describes is most decidedly not a process of critical enquiry, but one of religious self-indoctrination:

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.


In brief: "A person suffers existential/psychological turmoil, and turns to Buddhism. After committing himself to the path, he discovers that it (apparently) requires him to accept supernatural beliefs. By this point he is already deeply invested, perhaps having already made personal sacrifices, and having received emotional/psychological benefit from the practice, so he chooses to accept the supernatural beliefs and close off further scrutiny. That in turn leads him to supernatural understanding based on his supernatural beliefs."

Now it may be that such a process brings its own rewards. It's not my purpose to dismiss it. But it is clearly at odds with critical thinking; indeed, the two are squarely opposed.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby daverupa » Wed Dec 12, 2012 3:55 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:But the question remains: is any of it plausible?


It's a good post overall - the point about competing supernaturalisms is worthwhile to make; I'd simply ask a different question than above, to wit: is any of it practical? I think both answers are "not now". It was once very plausible, and thereby quite practical. But it's an old, old scabbard for the Dhamma sword these days...
Last edited by daverupa on Wed Dec 12, 2012 4:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.
    "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 Aloka » Wed Dec 12, 2012 4:00 pm

Lazy Eye wrote:Once we enter the world of faith, things become very dicey.



I agree - and in general, I often think its sad that some Buddhists, certainly when one is reading on the internet, appear to be just as fundamentalist and filled with condescending condemnation towards others, as their extremist 'hellfire' cousins from other religions.

Maybe its because we focus too much on intellectual chit-chat on a screen, instead of just practising in the non-internet world instead.

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

Postby Nyana » Wed Dec 12, 2012 4:35 pm

BlueLotus wrote:Maybe as clear as a crystal to the good monk but not necessarily to everyone. The "body" doesn't have to necessarily be physical body and death doesn't necessarily have to be death as death is usually understood in this day. As I said, suttas can be interpreted in numerous ways.

Not meaningfully or in context. You've already been shown sutta passages which demonstrate that your metaphorical interpretation isn't sufficient. More passages could quite easily be cited, such as the entirety of DN 23 Pāyāsi Sutta. Ven. Bodhi:

    Others interpret [rebirth] as a metaphor for the change of mental states, with the realms of rebirth seen as symbols for psychological archetypes.... A quick glance at the Pali suttas would show that none of these claims has much substance. 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.

BlueLotus wrote:It is fine to focus on that and leave the rest to speculative theorizing.

Not according to 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.

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

Postby Nyana » Wed Dec 12, 2012 4:37 pm

beeblebrox wrote:I think that's quite patronizing.

I don't think it is. Rather, suggesting that a small child can comprehend the first two noble truths is an example of a superficial understanding of the dhamma.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Nyana » Wed Dec 12, 2012 4:44 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Yes, rebirth, heavens and hells are all found in the suttas. Traditionalists will always be able to win that particular argument, as far as it goes. But the question remains: is any of it plausible?

If you don't think it's plausible then what's your interest in the Buddhadhamma?

Lazy_eye wrote:Other arguments put forward are almost inevitably pseudoscientific or flawed in their reasoning.

There's good reason to think that physicalism is flawed.

Lazy_eye wrote:Though I do wonder: if one is prepared to accept Buddhist supernaturalism, then how can we be sure that the supernatural teachings of other religions aren't true?

Two words: kamma & paṭiccasamuppāda. Without understanding the implications of these dhammas one cannot understand the Buddha's teaching.

Lazy_eye wrote:Looking at Ven. Bodhi's comments about the reasons for accepting rebirth, it's interesting that what he describes is most decidedly not a process of critical enquiry, but one of religious self-indoctrination:

The quotations from Dhammanando & Ṭhānissaro provide epistemological and soteriological context. E.g.: "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."

This is one of the reasons why Buddhist epistemology places emphasis on both inferential and direct perception.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby BlueLotus » Wed Dec 12, 2012 5:17 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:You've already been shown sutta passages which demonstrate that your metaphorical interpretation isn't sufficient.


It is sufficient for the realization of nibbana and ending mental suffering in this life. At least that is all within our experiential capacity. The rest is just different sutta interpretations and vastly speculation.

If a person interprets suffering as inclusive of physical pain, sickness and old age, to that person ending suffering is ending all forms of existence. According to this line of thinking, there is no way to actually experience cessation of suffering whatsoever because a person's very existence is suffering. Therefore to such people the only logical goal is non-existence. If you theorize this way I can understand why you like to swim through a set of century old text books looking for proof to console existential crisis.

Ñāṇa wrote:Not according to Ven. Ṭhānissaro:


Ven T is yet another commentator who expresses his opinion and interpretation of the suttas. If you look, there will be another Ven so and so who perhaps has a different view and opinion of the suttas. It is best not to take either interpretation as the gospel.

All of these scholar monks aside, the reality of the present moment is not disputable since it is observable and directly verifiable. Dhamma is equally applicable here and now, in this moment in this life.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Nyana » Wed Dec 12, 2012 6:47 pm

BlueLotus wrote:
Ñāṇa wrote:You've already been shown sutta passages which demonstrate that your metaphorical interpretation isn't sufficient.

It is sufficient for the realization of nibbana and ending mental suffering in this life.

This is a highly dubious claim that isn't supported by the Buddhist suttas nor any Buddhist tradition. Moreover, if you dismiss the Buddhist view of saṃsāra and rebirth then why would you want to attain liberation from saṃsāra? And why would you want to appropriate the term "nibbāna" for your goal? Ven. Ṭhānissaro:

    If one's experiences of awakening don't agree with the Canon's descriptions of the levels of awakening, why would one want to claim the Canon's labels for those experiences?

BlueLotus wrote:At least that is all within our experiential capacity.

Not according to the suttas. Buddhism offers a much greater potential for human knowledge than this.

BlueLotus wrote:The rest is just different sutta interpretations and vastly speculation.

No, it's not. The traditional interpretations of saṃsāra and rebirth are quite consistent.

BlueLotus wrote:If a person interprets suffering as inclusive of physical pain, sickness and old age, to that person ending suffering is ending all forms of existence. According to this line of thinking, there is no way to actually experience cessation of suffering whatsoever because a person's very existence is suffering. Therefore to such people the only logical goal is non-existence.

This again shows your lack of understanding of the Buddhadhamma.
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby polarbuddha101 » Wed Dec 12, 2012 7:19 pm

BlueLotus wrote: What matters is what is within the capacity of experiential verification. Everything else is speculation.



Well, according to the suttas rebirth, kamma, and all the realms of existence are part of the dhamma because of direct experiential verification, part of right view is that there are brahmins who have known this world and the next through direct experience. Just master the 4 jhanas and then you'll be able to do it too (according to the suttas).

"With his mind thus concentrated, purified, & bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, he directs & inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives (lit: previous homes). He recollects his manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two births, three births, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred, one thousand, one hundred thousand, many aeons of cosmic contraction, many aeons of cosmic expansion, many aeons of cosmic contraction & expansion, [recollecting], 'There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.' Thus he recollects his manifold past lives in their modes & details. Just as if a man were to go from his home village to another village, and then from that village to yet another village, and then from that village back to his home village. The thought would occur to him, 'I went from my home village to that village over there. There I stood in such a way, sat in such a way, talked in such a way, and remained silent in such a way. From that village I went to that village over there, and there I stood in such a way, sat in such a way, talked in such a way, and remained silent in such a way. From that village I came back home.' In the same way — with his mind thus concentrated, purified, & bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability — the monk directs & inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives. He recollects his manifold past lives... in their modes & details. When a disciple of a teacher attains this sort of grand distinction, Lohicca, that is a teacher not worthy of criticism in the world, and if anyone were to criticize this sort of teacher, the criticism would be false, unfactual, unrighteous, & blameworthy.

The Passing Away & Re-appearance of Beings
"With his mind thus concentrated, purified, & bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, he directs & inclines it to knowledge of the passing away & re-appearance of beings. He sees — by means of the divine eye, purified & surpassing the human — beings passing away & re-appearing, and he discerns how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their kamma: 'These beings — who were endowed with bad conduct of body, speech, & mind, who reviled the noble ones, held wrong views and undertook actions under the influence of wrong views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. But these beings — who were endowed with good conduct of body, speech, & mind, who did not revile the noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the good destinations, in the heavenly world.' Thus — by means of the divine eye, purified & surpassing the human — he sees beings passing away & re-appearing, and he discerns how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their kamma. Just as if there were a tall building in the central square [of a town], and a man with good eyesight standing on top of it were to see people entering a house, leaving it, walking along the street, and sitting in the central square. The thought would occur to him, 'These people are entering a house, leaving it, walking along the streets, and sitting in the central square.' In the same way — with his mind thus concentrated, purified, & bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability — the monk directs & inclines it to knowledge of the passing away & re-appearance of beings. He sees — by means of the divine eye, purified & surpassing the human — beings passing away & re-appearing, and he discerns how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their kamma... When a disciple of a teacher attains this sort of grand distinction, Lohicca, that is a teacher not worthy of criticism in the world, and if anyone were to criticize this sort of teacher, the criticism would be false, unfactual, unrighteous, & blameworthy.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
"I don't envision a single thing that, when developed & cultivated, leads to such great benefit as the mind. The mind, when developed & cultivated, leads to great benefit."

"I don't envision a single thing that, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about such suffering & stress as the mind. The mind, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about suffering & stress."
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Dmytro » Wed Dec 12, 2012 7:35 pm

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

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Dec 12, 2012 10:14 pm

Hi BlueLotus,
BlueLotus wrote:Ven T is yet another commentator who expresses his opinion and interpretation of the suttas. If you look, there will be another Ven so and so who perhaps has a different view and opinion of the suttas. It is best not to take either interpretation as the gospel.

All of these scholar monks aside, ....

Scholar monks? :thinking:

Have you had any real-life contact with monastic teachers? I've not come across any who advocate denying literal rebirth. Of course, they will often say "just keep an open mind", or "it's not necessary to believe in anything..."
BlueLotus wrote:the reality of the present moment is not disputable since it is observable and directly verifiable. Dhamma is equally applicable here and now, in this moment in this life.

And, of course, that's also what all my teachers (and the suttas) also say. It's not an either-or thing...

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

Postby Papashaw » Thu Dec 13, 2012 2:55 am

I most definitely am still questioning the unimaginable length described(10^999...... years), and see the length as a better discussion and the nature of such realms, rather than whether there is a realm or not!
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby Aloka » Thu Dec 13, 2012 6:26 am

I would find it very helpful if someone could give a clear explanation of where the various realms actually are if they're not mental states, please ? Where are the hell and deva realms for example - under the earth and up in the clouds ?

Kind regards

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

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Dec 13, 2012 6:38 am

Aloka wrote:I would find it very helpful if someone could give a clear explanation of where the various realms actually are if they're not mental states, please ? Where are the hell and deva realms for example - under the earth and up in the clouds ?

Kind regards

Aloka
That is a modern Western questions. The fact of the matter is that these things are in the suttas and there is no direct indication that the only correct way to interpret them is as being symbolic.
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.

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

Postby Dan74 » Thu Dec 13, 2012 6:56 am

Aloka wrote:I would find it very helpful if someone could give a clear explanation of where the various realms actually are if they're not mental states, please ? Where are the hell and deva realms for example - under the earth and up in the clouds ?

Kind regards

Aloka


I can't give you directions, Aloka, but there are many indications that there are more places one can go than the 3 spacial dimensions.
_/|\_
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby polarbuddha101 » Thu Dec 13, 2012 7:22 am

Aloka wrote:I would find it very helpful if someone could give a clear explanation of where the various realms actually are if they're not mental states, please ? Where are the hell and deva realms for example - under the earth and up in the clouds ?

Kind regards

Aloka


I believe they're located somewhere in the andromeda galaxy. (not really)

:tongue:
"I don't envision a single thing that, when developed & cultivated, leads to such great benefit as the mind. The mind, when developed & cultivated, leads to great benefit."

"I don't envision a single thing that, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about such suffering & stress as the mind. The mind, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about suffering & stress."
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Postby imagemarie » Thu Dec 13, 2012 7:26 am

"Don't look too far.." Courtesy of Dharma Wheel :bow:

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