Kamma & Rebirth in the face of anatta
The belief in rebirth can even be a hindrance to one's progress in enlightenment.
This is because, to think of rebirth and samsara is to get entangled in the concept of time
and to do so is to affirm the belief in the continuity of an entity, in the past, present and
future which is experienced as the 'self' that exists' in time. If, on the other hand, we deny
the continuity of an entity in time, we get caught up in the present and say:
'There is no rebirth after my death." Thus the concept "there is a soul" leads to the
eternalist stand-point and the concept "there is no soul", leads to the annihilationist position.
This was what happened to Vacchagotta (S IV 400) when he came to ask the Buddha
whether there was a (self) or not. The Buddha circumvented this situation by answering
the question through silence. But he explained to Ven. Ananda, his disciple, the reason
for silence. The Sabbasava Sutta in the Majjhima Nikaya explains clearly how one's
progress is hindered through thinking in terms of rebirth.
["This is how he attends inappropriately: 'Was I in the past? Was I not in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? Having been what, what was I in the past? Shall I be in the future? Shall I not be in the future? What shall I be in the future? How shall I be in the future? Having been what, what shall I be in the future?' Or else he is inwardly perplexed about the immediate present: 'Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? Where has this being come from? Where is it bound?"
This is called a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. Bound by a fetter of views, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person is not freed from birth, aging, & death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. He is not freed, I tell you, from suffering & stress. Sabbasava Sutta]
Genuine Buddhism, therefore, is not 'Kamma and Rebirth Buddhism'. Genuine Buddhism which is independent of time (akalika), speaks not about rebirth but about suffering (dukkha) and its cessation here and now; “One thing alone do I teach, monks, suffering and the cessation of suffering".
Suffering, according to Buddhism, is 'existence' itself. Where ever there is 'existence', there is also birth and death! Birth and death are two ends of the same stick, 'existence'. Therefore, 'eternal existence' is impossible. We cannot remove 'death' and have 'existence' only.
To be free of 'death' we have to be free of, existence also. But to be free of 'existence' is not to stop existing. To be free of existence we have to realise that existence, is only an experience, not a reality. If existence, is not a reality, then death is also not a reality. By 'experiencing' the 'experience' of existence, we gain freedom of existence, 'birth' and 'death'. This is Nibbana the cessation of suffering.
Therefore, 'pre-existence' and 're-existence', from the Buddhist perspective, is an 'experience', an empirical fact, but it is not a reality. To cling to the concept of 'existence' 'pre-existence' or 'reexistence' is to suffer. To be free of death and suffering, we have to experience the experience of 'existence' and 'death' and see it as only an experience'.
[Thus, monks, a Tathàgata does not conceive of a visible thing as apart from sight; he does not conceive of an unseen; he does not conceive of a 'thing-worth-seeing'; he does not conceive about a seer. [seeing without a seer]
He does not conceive of an audible thing as apart from hearing; he does not conceive of an unheard; he does not conceive of a thing-worth-hearing'; he does not conceive about a hearer. [hearing without a hearer]
He does not conceive of a thing to be sensed as apart from sensation; he does not conceive of an unsensed; he does not conceive of a 'thing-worth-sensing'; he does not conceive about one who senses.
He does not conceive of a cognizable thing as apart from cognition; he does not conceive of an uncognized; he does not conceive of a 'thing-worth-cognizing'; he does not conceive about one who cognizes. [cognizing without a cognizer] Kalakarama Sutta]
[Dwelling at Savatthi. There the Blessed One addressed the monks: "I will teach you the origination of the world & the ending of the world. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak."
The Blessed One said: "And what is the origination of the world? Dependent on the eye & forms there arises eye-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. This is the origination of the world. SN 12.44]
It is quite clear that by playing with this concept of 'Kamma and Rebirth' we might more than burn our fingers, by getting entangled in, views about the 'soul' and losing our way to freedom from suffering. 'Kamma and Rebirth' therefore, is a dangerous concept if mishandled.
In conclusion, let us recall that this concept, though accepted in Buddhism as a fact, observable by developed minds, and also regarded in Buddhism as a wholesome view that encourages good living, it is not an essential dogma of Buddhism nor is it the basis of Buddhist ethics or even of the life of renunciation. In fact, this belief is a hindrance to enlightenment. Therefore, it is wiser not to pay too much attention to it.
NB. The Pali Canon quotes are mine.
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.