Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Comment On Rebirth

Yesterday a reader made a comment saying that concepts like rebirth, reincarnation and resurrection are the same because they all grow out of the desire for continuity after death. ‘Simply put, we just hate to leave the world…and want to live forever’. It’s an interesting observation but, as far as the Buddhist concept of rebirth is concerned, a rather unconsidered one. I think that all non-Buddhist after-life theories did grow out of the fear of death and the desire for continuity. But the Buddha’s idea of rebirth could not have. Think about it! All the other religions say that if you believe in the right god or do the right thing, you’ll live forever. The Buddha said that if you don’t attain enlightenment, if you don’t reach the goal, you’ll live forever. All other religions hold out eternal life as a reward; Buddhism sees eternal life as a problem to be solved. So whatever the origins of the Buddha’s teaching of rebirth, it could not have been the desire for eternal life.
The reader also asked… ‘why is Buddhism so concerned with rebirth? Is it attachment to life?’ My above comments mostly answer this question and I will just add this. Buddhism is concerned with rebirth because it is seen as a problem to be solved. To be reborn is to redie again and again and that is dukkha. Is not everyone concerned with overcoming their problems?


Vasile Andreica said...

Excuse me, Bhante, but I have a question.

It dawned on me that love - not just mercy, not just compassion, not just care, love proper - makes no ultimate sense if it is not forever and if the personal identity is always changing or absent at all. This is putting me in serious difficulty with Buddhism at the moment. If the goal is extinction of personal identity, what's left of love then? How do I care for my beloved if she's not gonna be herself into eternity and if my goal is to never be reborn again? Ain't all this a kind of spiritual... sleepiness, not to say suicide even?

I'm asking this with a troubled heart and with all the consideration involved. I really love my woman, I really love life. Something about Buddhism just seems deadly wrong now. Enlighten me if you can.

aah-haa said...

Dear Bhante Dhammika

Thank you for posting my comment. In general, the three Rs have something in common but not exactly the same. Exceptionally, some may not fear death – daredevils for example and enlightened ones. Death is a certainty each one of us has to deal with. Some cheat death (prolong), some deny death (don’t talk about), some want to die (suicide, euthanasia), some don’t want to, most want to be forever young.
Past and present human behaviours have shown desires to avoid death and since it is unavoidable, what would be the alternative? Religions offer afterlife and eternal life.
My understanding of the Buddhist concept of rebirth is rudimentary. Rebirth as pointed out is not the desire to live forever. It is a 'sentence' for not achieving enlightenment. In other words, some religions offer reward of eternal life in return for believing their Gods. Buddhism has no God and therefore no reward. The goal of Buddhism is the end of dukha, to reach the state of no rebirth (nirvana). To me, this sounds like the ‘ultimate’ death.
Of course, to die again and again is suffering (only if one has fear of death or attachment to life). In this instance, isn’t rebirth and dying again and again a punishment equivalent to Hell concept? Only difference – impermanence and ability to break the rebirth cycle.
Frankly, after death, what is it that is reconstituted is debatable and therefore remain a concept. And so is the propagation of whatever that is reconstituted.

alimin said...

Dear Bhante Dhammika,

The first time I read this blog entry, it came to my mind about it sounded like something related to vibhava tanha. But reading twice and more, I realised that it was my mind reacting to what is written. Perhaps Bhante would like to explain it further and go into different kinds of tanha. If I don't get it wrong, what Vasile Andreica worried was exactly it being vibhava-like and the mind reacting to it because it is so much conditioned to bhava-tanha.

Ben said...

This reminds me of a quote which is ascribe to the Buddha: "Live is not a problem which has to be solved, but an reality which has to be experienced" (I don't know whether it is authentic or not)

bobzane said...


As usual you have hit the nail on the head. Thanks.


aah-haa said...

Worldly life and living is full of problems and all kinds of experience (good, bad, ugly, pleasant) which are all reality! If not, the First Noble Truth should be consigned. Not all problems can be solved or need solving. If so, they should have been fixed by now because nearly all the social problems we see today are no different 5,000 years ago or long before Buddha and Christ. If Buddha-dhamma or Christ’s teachings are not for solving problems, what are they for?

aah-haa said...

Taking Angkor's comment over to this post: "Actually, we like to live. A homeless guy was looking at a poster of the Dalai Lama once, and I asked him: "Do you want to be reborn?" He answered: "No, no, I don't want that shit again." For others it would be just worth it."
Assuming that reincarnation, rebirth and resurrection are real (ignore the differences or rationale), what is the ration (plural is ratio) of those who want to come back to life to those who don't?
And is there a choice? Or are the 3Rs a pre-determined course regardless? WHO set this?

Nalliah said...

Buddhism is a method of cultivating the mind. Since Buddhism affirms that the universe is governed by impersonal laws and not by any creator-god; it has no use for prayer, for the Buddha was a teacher and not a god; and it regards devotion not as a religious obligation but as a means of expressing gratitude to its founder and as a means of self-development. Hence Buddhism is is not a religion at all
Nature abhors a vacuum, and religious entrepreneurs, taking advantage of the situation, seize the opportunity to spew prophetic nonsense. At least some area of life should be left to the individual where the person is totally free, without anybody else deciding for him, where he can open his wings like an eagle and fly across the sun – no chains, no bondages, no hindrances.
Honesty is honesty – it cannot be Muslim, it cannot be Christian. Truth is simply truth – it is neither Christian nor Hindu. Love is simply love – it cannot be Eastern and it cannot be Western. Compassion is compassion – it does not belong to any race, to any country, to any climate; it is not dependent on any geography, or any history.
Meditation is simply so scientific that just as we accept physics without bothering about whether it is Hindu or Muslim, we accept chemistry without ever thinking whether it is Protestant or Catholic. When we go to the doctor, we never bother whether the medicine is Christian or Muslim.
The inner reality is simply a pure silence: thousands of flowers blossom there but they don’t belong to any organization. They are the reward of our own search, of our own inward-going.
All the organized religions care basically depriving humanity of religion because they are misdirecting us. They are always directing us outwards — their God is far away in the sky. And when we pray, folding our hands towards the sky, we don’t realize that there is nobody to hear us.
In fact, the one who is praying, the one who is alive in us, the one who is breathing in us, is the God. We have just to discover it.
It is hidden in the layers of your false personality. Find out, in your innocence, and life becomes a sheer joy, a song without words, a dance, a celebration. And at the very end of your celebration, there is nothing but tears of gratitude. Those tears of gratitude belong to the individual heart, overflowing with gratefulness towards existence.
Heaven is a “fairy story” for people afraid of the dark. Thoughts of heaven may stave off fears of death and the idea of an afterlife offers some hope in a world where life has been pretty harsh. Religious belief in the afterlife can be a powerful motivator to follow the rules of the religion. If you think of your body as a machine, it’s kind of hard to believe in life after death.Regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers. A deity no longer has any place in theories on the creation of the universe in the light of a series of developments in physics.

Nalliah said...

We are born and reborn at every moment. Like many other Buddhist teachings, is easily verifiable by reference to our own experience and by science. The cells in the human body die and are replaced thousand times during the course of one’s life. This is part of the process of birth, death and rebirth. If we look at our mind, we find that mental states of worry, happiness etc., change every moment. They die and are replaced by new states. If we look at our body or the mind, our experience is characterized by continuous birth, death and rebirth. Our lives appear to be unbroken blocks of continuous events, but, when we maintain the straightforward frankness of our own mind as it comes to life each instant, even without effort, even without training, we are beautifully born each instant. We die with each instant, and go on to be born again, instant by instant.
Buddhism is a way of life based on the training of the mind. Its one ultimate aim is to show the way to complete liberation from suffering by the attainment of the Unconditioned, a state beyond the range of the normal untrained mind. Its immediate aim is to strike at the roots of suffering in everyday life. All human activity is directed, either immediately or remotely, towards the attainment of happiness in some form or other; or, to express the same thing in negative terms, all human activity is directed towards liberation from some kind of unsatisfactoriness or dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction, then, can be regarded as the starting point in human activity, with happiness as its ultimate goal.
The material world around us, is not based on ‘loose’ particles with empty space between them. There is no empty space, all is filled with energy. We live in one gigantic energy field. This energy field is even bigger then our universe, and probably encompasses all universes. So this means if we move our arms, we ‘push’ aside energy, and this will have effect throughout the whole field, it will not have huge effect, but it is like we in a pool, and we cause ripples and currents when we splash our arms, not just around us, but in the whole pool. The reality around us is based on different levels of worlds, that all are fixed in this field. Our organs are made out of cells, the cells are made out of cytoplasm, the cytoplasm is made out of molecules, the molecules are made out of neutrons, protons, and electrons, neutrons, protons, and electrons are based on quarks and energy waves, these quarks and energy waves are again based on smaller waves and we will end up in a giant pool of energy.