Firstly, let me just say, please keep things nice on this thread, I would like a plethora of answers and I DO NOT want to see the proponent of one answer attack a proponent of an alternate answer. So, just answer ME (don't bother replying others) with your own experience. IF this is not followed, this thread is just going to be useless, like the countless other threads on this subject out there.
I've been following a Buddhist practice for quite a while now... but the last place that I stopped, which I am picking up again from is the reason for this question.
I've always wanted to know if rebirth was literal or not. Asking this question from Buddhist monks, I get the non-answer, "see for yourself" or "keep meditating".
Asking this from other buddhists (not monks, at least not a monk I've come across yet) I would get either the yes it's true, the suttas say so and so or no it's not true and then the "spaghetti monster" bit (the later of these answers, mostly coming from Western Buddhist practitioners).
So back to the quesiton: I just read about the 31 planes of existence on access to insight, and it has brought me back to where I left off last.
Reading that, I tried to interpret it in both the literal many births perspective and also the metaphorical one life perspective. In doing so I found that it could more or less make sense in both perspectives (at the end of the day, as the monks I've spoken to rightly gives a non-answer to this issue, it is a non-issue, as long as we all follow the eightfold path, it makes perfect sense to do so, whichever perspective you take).
But that said, I can't help but think this: If its not meant to be taken literally, what's the point of meditative practice? I mean, I know to live a good life and follow the eightfold path, and look forward to death after one life as the end of samsara. If this is the case, what is the point of a continued meditation practice to reach Jhanas, why should we do that?
(From this point on, the confusion arises, so apologies if I am not making sense)
For those who have practiced deep meditations, how do you see this? Literally or metaphorically? Have you visited the different planes of existence in your meditation? If so, is it merely a place you can go to during one's single lifetime? Does that mean we can equate nibanna to a happy death after a single life? I ask this, because on the access to insight page I linked to above, it clearly states that the rupa-loka or arupa-loka (are all attainable by the jhanas).
Now if we take the metaphorical perspective on this, we can see that through deep meditation, maybe it is only a state of mind. But why does the access to insight article then state things like:
But then we can think based on a metaphorical perspective, that during the Buddha's time in India, they had what are called Brahma's in hinduism, and maybe those planes of existence mean that, i.e. it is another state of mind we reach in one life time.(14) Great Brahmas (Maha brahma) One of this realm's most famous inhabitants is the Great Brahma, a deity whose delusion leads him to regard himself as the all-powerful, all-seeing creator of the universe (DN 11).
But again, the metaphorical route (i.e. one lifetime), doesn't make sense as to why we should bother meditating and reaching jahnas if they are just states of mind, and we all one way or the other end in the same place... i.e. death (whether its a peaceful or happy death, decided by our practice of the eightfold path).
I would love to know your own understanding of this, whichever perspective you take, metaphorical or literal. And again, let me just end by saying that you should only give your answer and refrain from arguing with others who reply, also I won't be replying to your replies either, because then only the same could happen.
So with metta, I welcome your answers.