the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

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the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby nowheat » Fri Feb 05, 2010 1:09 pm

In the "great rebirth debate" thread a strand that comes and goes revolves around the necessity (or lack thereof) of rebirth as part of the dhamma. I'd like to pull that question out and work on it in its own thread for a bit, if y'all don't mind.

mikenz66 wrote:
While it does seem clear that that view is let go at liberation, it seems to me that it would be foolish to let go of it too early...

What I am arguing is that it's foolish to work to develop a view one has to let go of to be liberated.

Yes, I understand that's your argument. The alternative argument is that it is essential to have mundane right view in order to make progress towards liberation.


This assumes that there is something offered by holding the rebirth view that is not available in the whole of the Buddha's teaching (without rebirth).

The argument I usually hear is that we have no reason to be moral unless we'll be punished if we are amoral. Am I correct in my understanding that this is THE reason rebirth is “necessary”? Or are there other points not having to do with encouraging morality?

:namaste:

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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri Feb 05, 2010 2:03 pm

Nowheat,

Another (and to my mind deeper) argument is that without rebirth, there's no urgent reason to seek total liberation from samsara. If it's just a matter of getting through one's present life, we could just as well learn to manage samsara better, or achieve a higher-quality samsara.

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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby jcsuperstar » Fri Feb 05, 2010 2:47 pm

the moral argument is the same one deists make, w/o god there is no morality which is basically no one would be nice unless you threaten to punish them. which is total B.S.
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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby kayy » Fri Feb 05, 2010 3:18 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Nowheat,

Another (and to my mind deeper) argument is that without rebirth, there's no urgent reason to seek total liberation from samsara. If it's just a matter of getting through one's present life, we could just as well learn to manage samsara better, or achieve a higher-quality samsara.



What is seeking liberation from samsara if it's not working with samsara and trying to achieve liberation of mind within the midst of it? That way, there's no duality of samsara and nirvana.

Also, I would say that for me, the thought of rebirth, if it does anything at all, makes me lazier. I think "ah well, plenty more lives to work things out, so for now I'll just bum about in samsara." The thought that I just don't know whether rebirth exists or not, and if it does, in what way, and all those other metaphysical questions that I just don't have the answer to, makes me want to figure it out and arrive at the truth.

So for me, a "don't know" position is conducive to wisdom. For you, maybe accepting a rebirth view is conducive. For others it may be the opposite, i.e. that the idea that we only have this one life, that gives them a sense of urgency.

Do we really need to hold a view on rebirth? Can we not just remain honest and agnostic, unless we truly know better? I don't know any better, so the whole idea of debating and putting forward "arguments" about it is just totally irrelevant.

Best wishes

Katy

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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby seanpdx » Fri Feb 05, 2010 4:16 pm

Werd. :goodpost:

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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby Kare » Fri Feb 05, 2010 4:53 pm

nowheat wrote:This assumes that there is something offered by holding the rebirth view that is not available in the whole of the Buddha's teaching (without rebirth).

The argument I usually hear is that we have no reason to be moral unless we'll be punished if we are amoral. Am I correct in my understanding that this is THE reason rebirth is “necessary”? Or are there other points not having to do with encouraging morality?

:namaste:


That is a totally invalid and irrelevant line of arguing. If a fact of nature exists - OK, then it exists. If it does not exist - then any "good" and "moral" reason I might put forward for why it should exist, is invalid and irrelevant.

I might find lots of good and moral reasons for why I ought to win some millions in the lottery. But if I do not win, then I do not win (and if I should win, it would be a miracle, since I have not bought any number ... :lol: )
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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby nowheat » Fri Feb 05, 2010 5:18 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Another (and to my mind deeper) argument is that without rebirth, there's no urgent reason to seek total liberation from samsara. If it's just a matter of getting through one's present life, we could just as well learn to manage samsara better, or achieve a higher-quality samsara.

Thanks for bringing that up, Lazy_eye.

I agree that if we do not hold the view that rebirth is a possibility, there is no urgent reason to seek total liberation. But I can't think of any examples of the Buddha sounding like it was urgent, can you? Can anyone find wording that makes it sound like he was exhorting others to follow his path, failure to do so was at their peril?

On the other hand, what's the urgency to be liberated if you have many lives in which to get there? Sure, you want to lead a fairly moral life so next time you'll be in as good a place or better off, but you have another chance or two. (This is a view which is particularly insidious if you're a non-monastic and a hedonist and find that, on the whole, you are having an enjoyable life without causing others to complain about your actions. A Good King Wencher, perhaps. Or a highly placed Brahmin. You're not particularly noticing all that suffering they talk about, but you sure are having fun. You can get to nibbana mañana.)

But, maybe the issue here is really that I needed to be more specific.

What I want to consider is that the Buddha was an agnostic, and taught an agnostic stance. That the Buddha taught a path in which he did not require that anyone hold a belief in rebirth, that he in fact asked his followers to let go of a belief in rebirth, but he did not deny that rebirth was the system either. This is consistent with all those times he says, -"If there is no other world then, having lived a good life, a life praised by your peers, you've done well"- and then also said, -"If there is another world, then you have lived a moral life and will be reborn in a good location."- A doubly-good throw of the dice, following his path, just as he always said.

In this case his follower admits that he just does not *know* which it is. This may be the only life we get in which case we should not waste it: pay attention! live in this moment! Or there may be a cosmic system based on morality, in which case we should behave ourselves as there maybe consequences.

:namaste:

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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby nowheat » Fri Feb 05, 2010 5:24 pm

Kare wrote:
nowheat wrote:This assumes that there is something offered by holding the rebirth view that is not available in the whole of the Buddha's teaching (without rebirth).

The argument I usually hear is that we have no reason to be moral unless we'll be punished if we are amoral. Am I correct in my understanding that this is THE reason rebirth is “necessary”? Or are there other points not having to do with encouraging morality?


That is a totally invalid and irrelevant line of arguing. If a fact of nature exists - OK, then it exists. If it does not exist - then any "good" and "moral" reason I might put forward for why it should exist, is invalid and irrelevant.

I might find lots of good and moral reasons for why I ought to win some millions in the lottery. But if I do not win, then I do not win (and if I should win, it would be a miracle, since I have not bought any number ... :lol: )

I'm sorry that I'm not following that. Is the "fact of nature" you're referring to here "rebirth"? Are you arguing that "we can't say that 'rebirth exists because it's required for morality' because it either exists or it does not?"

But that's arguing as if there are facts that can be proven when we're arguing about something more tenuous, someone's philosophical system based on their reasoning behind it. I think the two are different, aren't they? Or am I (as I suspect) not understanding your point?

:namaste:

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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby baratgab » Fri Feb 05, 2010 5:30 pm

kayy wrote:... Also, I would say that for me, the thought of rebirth, if it does anything at all, makes me lazier. I think "ah well, plenty more lives to work things out, so for now I'll just bum about in samsara." ...


I feel the same way, meaning that belief in rebirth and the lack of it can give rise to both striving and the lack of it, according to one's inclinations. I also reject the view that one need to believe in rebirth just for the sake of acting morally. After all, the secular western culture (besides its many faults, granted) developed the concept of equality and non-discrimination among human beings, and developed human rights. Now the very same culture develops the concept of universal equality between all sentient beings. For example, I know many people in the animal rights and vegan movements, who are largely atheists with a hard-core scientific worldview, and they are really compassionate beings, who value non-violence and genuinely strive for minimizing the suffering that they cause with their life. Yes, they might have problems with alcohol and sensuality, but the priorities of morality are very clear to them.

From the other end: Seeing religious people who justifies and plays down morally problematic acts with religious ideas is a way too common experience for me to take seriously any alleged consistency of religion and morality. From my view, belief can be a great power, but it is easy to misplace and use harmfully due to our unskillful inclinations.

Personally I don't care much about accepting or rejecting the idea of rebirth in my day-to-day practice. For me, the law of kamma and the path of happiness are meaningful and visible enough even in the here and now to base my entire life on them. But I have confidence in the integrity of the Buddha's dispensation (this is a matter of logic), and even though I do not hold the view that the lack of belief in rebirth is morally significant, I recognize the significance of seeing the endless weariness of birth and death, in relation to the refined stages of letting go. Also, I think that using the though of rebirth as a way to arouse energy, effort and urgency is a skilful thing to do, and I value dhamma talks on rebirth because of this. :)

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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby seanpdx » Fri Feb 05, 2010 5:40 pm

nowheat wrote:
Kare wrote:
nowheat wrote:This assumes that there is something offered by holding the rebirth view that is not available in the whole of the Buddha's teaching (without rebirth).

The argument I usually hear is that we have no reason to be moral unless we'll be punished if we are amoral. Am I correct in my understanding that this is THE reason rebirth is “necessary”? Or are there other points not having to do with encouraging morality?


That is a totally invalid and irrelevant line of arguing. If a fact of nature exists - OK, then it exists. If it does not exist - then any "good" and "moral" reason I might put forward for why it should exist, is invalid and irrelevant.

I might find lots of good and moral reasons for why I ought to win some millions in the lottery. But if I do not win, then I do not win (and if I should win, it would be a miracle, since I have not bought any number ... :lol: )

I'm sorry that I'm not following that. Is the "fact of nature" you're referring to here "rebirth"? Are you arguing that "we can't say that 'rebirth exists because it's required for morality' because it either exists or it does not?"

But that's arguing as if there are facts that can be proven when we're arguing about something more tenuous, someone's philosophical system based on their reasoning behind it. I think the two are different, aren't they? Or am I (as I suspect) not understanding your point?

:namaste:


If I may try to explain, I believe he's saying that rebirth exists or not regardless of any moral reasons we may put forth, and that the moral line of reasoning is entirely pointless because regardless of _our beliefs_ on morality and morality's link with rebirth, rebirth still just either exists or doesn't exist (as an ontological truth).

Put a different way: Belief in god doesn't make him exist if he doesn't really exist. Belief in a lack of god doesn't make him not exist if he really does exist. Our beliefs are completely and entirely irrelevant.

Kare's correct in that it is a totally irrelevant and invalid line of argument, but the fact remains that, just like with christians, this is a very common argument made by buddhists. The argument tends to be made by people entirely unfamiliar with the philosophy of ethics.

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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby nowheat » Fri Feb 05, 2010 5:43 pm

Katy: :goodpost:
kayy wrote:Do we really need to hold a view on rebirth? Can we not just remain honest and agnostic, unless we truly know better? I don't know any better, so the whole idea of debating and putting forward "arguments" about it is just totally irrelevant.

I agree with all of what you said, and feel your insight into the non-duality of samsara and nibbana is amazing and bears more thinking about (so thanks for it) but the only point I wanted to bounce off of is quoted above.

The debate here, for me, is not about whether there is rebirth or is not rebirth, the central point I am working on is whether the Buddha *taught* rebirth as necessary to his path. My understanding, from within my practice and my reading of suttas, is that holding the view that 'literal rebirth is a fact -- the Buddha said so and I have faith in him' will hold someone who is attempting to walk the Buddha's path back from liberation. My view is that that view is not what he taught and in fact does his teaching a grave disservice in that it portrays his teaching as requiring that we first take a step that causes us to cling (anew if we aren't believers in rebirth in the first place, harder if we are) to a self-view that is antithetical to what he wanted us to see.

:soap:

My concern is that if this is true, rebirth accepters spread a meme that seriously slows ability to gain liberation.

:namaste:

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/meme
meme. -noun. a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes.

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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby nowheat » Fri Feb 05, 2010 5:48 pm

seanpdx wrote:If I may try to explain, I believe he's saying that rebirth exists or not regardless of any moral reasons we may put forth, and that the moral line of reasoning is entirely pointless because regardless of _our beliefs_ on morality and morality's link with rebirth, rebirth still just either exists or doesn't exist (as an ontological truth).

Put a different way: Belief in god doesn't make him exist if he doesn't really exist. Belief in a lack of god doesn't make him not exist if he really does exist. Our beliefs are completely and entirely irrelevant.

Kare's correct in that it is a totally irrelevant and invalid line of argument, but the fact remains that, just like with christians, this is a very common argument made by buddhists. The argument tends to be made by people entirely unfamiliar with the philosophy of ethics.

But is it irrelevant to trying to reason out whether or not the Buddha taught rebirth as part of his path? Not "is it relevant to the Buddha's knowledge or lack thereof of rebirth" but perhaps something more like "If the Buddha were to build a system that resulted in the least possible amount of suffering for all people over time, how would he use the concept of rebirth?"

:namaste:

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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby nowheat » Fri Feb 05, 2010 5:51 pm

seanpdx wrote:rebirth exists or not regardless of any moral reasons we may put forth, and that the moral line of reasoning is entirely pointless because regardless of _our beliefs_ on morality and morality's link with rebirth, rebirth still just either exists or doesn't exist (as an ontological truth).

In other words I am trying to say that we're not discussing whether or not rebirth exists, but whether or not its (theoretical) moral force is necessary to the Buddha's teaching.

:namaste:

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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby seanpdx » Fri Feb 05, 2010 5:56 pm

nowheat wrote:
seanpdx wrote:rebirth exists or not regardless of any moral reasons we may put forth, and that the moral line of reasoning is entirely pointless because regardless of _our beliefs_ on morality and morality's link with rebirth, rebirth still just either exists or doesn't exist (as an ontological truth).

In other words I am trying to say that we're not discussing whether or not rebirth exists, but whether or not its (theoretical) moral force is necessary to the Buddha's teaching.

:namaste:


Exactly. But whence does that moral force come? From the actual belief that rebirth is ontologically true.

If one posits that belief in rebirth is required for its moral force, but rebirth is not an ontological truth, then the truth of rebirth itself is irrelevant to morality. And if the truth of rebirth itself is irrelevant... it's a very small step to conclude that the very belief in rebirth is also irrelevant. If pure belief, without any underlying foundation, is enough to provide moral force, then belief in morality itself can also be enough to provide moral force. Thus belief in rebirth is entirely unnecessary.

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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby nowheat » Fri Feb 05, 2010 6:24 pm

seanpdx wrote:Exactly. But whence does that moral force come? From the actual belief that rebirth is ontologically true.

If one posits that belief in rebirth is required for its moral force, but rebirth is not an ontological truth, then the truth of rebirth itself is irrelevant to morality. And if the truth of rebirth itself is irrelevant... it's a very small step to conclude that the very belief in rebirth is also irrelevant. If pure belief, without any underlying foundation, is enough to provide moral force, then belief in morality itself can also be enough to provide moral force. Thus belief in rebirth is entirely unnecessary.

In this case, that moral force comes from the Buddha. At least I think that's what the rebirth accepters here are saying. I shall bow out for a bit.

If those who say that not only did the Buddha teach rebirth but that it is necessary to his teaching that he did so could answer seanpdx and Kare, I might possibly come to understand the issues here a little better.

Thanks and
:namaste:

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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Fri Feb 05, 2010 7:28 pm

In the Gradual Sayings, Book of Threes, Andha Sutta, the Buddha says that there are three kinds of people: 1) the blind, 2) the one-eyed, 3) the two-eyed.
  1. The blind cannot see their benefit in this life.
  2. The one-eyed can see their benefit in this life, but not the next.
  3. The two-eyed can see their benefit, both for this life and the next
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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Feb 05, 2010 8:15 pm

Hi NoWheat,
nowheat wrote:My concern is that if this is true, rebirth accepters spread a meme that seriously slows ability to gain liberation.

Please explain why you think that rebirth in the sense explained by the Buddha supports a sense of self. It seems to me that that would be a misreading of the Suttas (and, of course, the Abhidhamma).

Metta
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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby Kare » Fri Feb 05, 2010 8:43 pm

seanpdx wrote:
If I may try to explain, I believe he's saying that rebirth exists or not regardless of any moral reasons we may put forth, and that the moral line of reasoning is entirely pointless because regardless of _our beliefs_ on morality and morality's link with rebirth, rebirth still just either exists or doesn't exist (as an ontological truth).

Put a different way: Belief in god doesn't make him exist if he doesn't really exist. Belief in a lack of god doesn't make him not exist if he really does exist. Our beliefs are completely and entirely irrelevant.

Kare's correct in that it is a totally irrelevant and invalid line of argument, but the fact remains that, just like with christians, this is a very common argument made by buddhists. The argument tends to be made by people entirely unfamiliar with the philosophy of ethics.
[/quote][/quote]

Thank you for making the point clearer.
Mettāya,
Kåre

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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri Feb 05, 2010 8:47 pm

kayy wrote:So for me, a "don't know" position is conducive to wisdom. For you, maybe accepting a rebirth view is conducive. For others it may be the opposite, i.e. that the idea that we only have this one life, that gives them a sense of urgency.

Do we really need to hold a view on rebirth? Can we not just remain honest and agnostic, unless we truly know better? I don't know any better, so the whole idea of debating and putting forward "arguments" about it is just totally irrelevant.

Best wishes

Katy


Without wanting to getting bogged down in the Great Rebirth Debate, what I can say from personal experience is that when I began studying Buddhism, rebirth was not something I factored in, and there were aspects of Buddhist teachings that didn't add up. For example, it wasn't quite clear why one should follow precepts or even try to live a good life. If it's all about recognizing that phenomena are impermanent, arising and passing away, etc, well then the same can be said for wars or crime or any number of ills. Why sweat it? Just chill and savor the emptiness, man...

In other words, there's a risk of slipping into a kind of relativistic nihilism...and this has happened, arguably, within the Zen tradition more than a few times.

However, when we add kamma and rebirth back into the equation, we get the basis for Buddhist ethics. Now somebody is going to come along and say "well, but this is just selfish...you don't want to make bad kamma because you personally don't want to suffer, and how does that go along with no-self and all of that?" To which my answer is, yes, most of us are not that far along the path. We need "conventional" dhamma until we get to a certain level of realization.

On another note, I think the rebirth teaching helps with developing compassion towards other beings, particularly animals. Instead of thinking of them with an attitude of separation and superiority, we start to think "well, I was like this in a past life, and this being might be me in another life. This could be me."

Let me also say that I'm fairly agnostic about the whole issue, having gone from intense skepticism to a more accepting view. If we were having a discussion with scientists and skeptics and non-Buddhists, I couldn't honestly say that the evidence out there is particularly supportive of rebirth. And I have no problem, personally, with what you are saying or what Stephen Batchelor is saying, etc...this may turn out to be the right road for Buddhism in the West. We'll see. But as practitioner, I've found it helpful to take rebirth as a provisional assumption and try to work with it to see where it leads.

All best,

LE

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Re: the Dhamma without rebirth: amoral and what else?

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Feb 05, 2010 9:04 pm

Hi nowheat,
nowheat wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:Yes, I understand that's your argument. The alternative argument is that it is essential to have mundane right view in order to make progress towards liberation.


This assumes that there is something offered by holding the rebirth view that is not available in the whole of the Buddha's teaching (without rebirth).

The argument I usually hear is that we have no reason to be moral unless we'll be punished if we are amoral. Am I correct in my understanding that this is THE reason rebirth is “necessary”? Or are there other points not having to do with encouraging morality?

I presume we agree that sila is an absolutely essential part of the Path, but this rather trivailized version of sila wasn't my point at all.

The point is the the Buddha invites us to try out his teaching. Follow the instructions and see for ourselves. I don't (yet) know which of the instructions are absolutely essential, so I keep an open mind about them.

If I were to point to a "reason" why having some sort of "post-mortem continuation attitude" would be helpful, it would be to do with countering annihilationistic tendencies of the mind, not some kindergarten idea about "crime and punishment". And, of course, it needs to be taken with a dose of anatta, to counter eternalistic tendencies...

Metta
Mike


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