Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

No holds barred discussion on the Buddhadharma. Argue about rebirth, karma, commentarial interpretations etc. Be nice to each other.

Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby AJungianIdeal » Thu Dec 05, 2013 2:38 am

Does Rebirth require a dualistic conception of the mind? It seems to me that most philosophers and neuroscientists have solidified around the idea that the mind is either equivalent to or derived from the brain.
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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby sukhamanveti » Thu Dec 05, 2013 4:46 am

AJungianIdeal wrote:Does Rebirth require a dualistic conception of the mind? It seems to me that most philosophers and neuroscientists have solidified around the idea that the mind is either equivalent to or derived from the brain.


It depends on which Buddhist conception of the mechanics of rebirth you have in mind. The description that became dominant in Theravada is that the "last thought moment in this life conditions the first thought-moment in the so-called next life." [Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught (New York: Grove Press, 1974), p. 34.] Nothing transmigrates in this understanding of the process. There is no intermediate state between death and rebirth here (although Theravada scriptures appear to teach otherwise according to Bhikkhu Bodhi and Bhikkhu Sujato). There is simply causal "action at a distance."

Ven. Yin-shun held a similar view: "When one dies, one's body and mind die instantly, and all the present overt physical and mental activities stop; but the past physical and mental activities still exist. After the extinction and passing of karma, the function of karma (as a potential for life) does not disappear. When the causes and conditions become mature, the past karmic force will bring forth new physical and mental activities to begin a new life." [Venerable Yin-shun, The Way to Buddhahood: Instructions from a Modern Chinese Master (Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 1998), p. 61.]

The dominant view in Tibetan Buddhism is that consciousness survives as a stream of events, bearing latent tendencies, karmic imprints. It is this "continuum of events" that transmigrates (see e.g., Tibetan Buddhism from the Ground Up). At the death of the body, it enters an intermediate state between death and rebirth, the chönyi bardo. Among the early schools of Buddhism in India, "Puggalavādins, Sarvāstivādins, certain Mahāsaṅgika branches, later Mahīśāsakas, and Darstantikas" accepted this description of the rebirth process. (see http://santifm.org/santipada/2010/rebir ... -buddhism/). Some individuals still argue for this perspective on the basis of the Agamas/Nikayas. I don't think that it is problematic for one who accepts the common conclusions of contemporary scientists, because consciousness itself has yet to be located in the brain. Moreover, as I said in another thread: "we lack any good explanation as to how a physical system can produce subjective experience or awareness or even an experimental means to rule out alternative models of consciousness." Skeptical neuroscientist Sam Harris has admitted that the "idea that brains produce consciousness is little more than an article of faith among [some] scientists at present."

Ed
namo bhagavate śākyamunaye tathāgatāyārhate samyaksaṁbuddhāya | namaḥ sarvabuddhabodhisattvebhyaḥ ||

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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby dude » Thu Dec 05, 2013 5:29 am

Very good explanation, thank you, sukhanamventi.
I've also heard it said that the single-cell organism from which all terrestrial life evolved can also be theorized either way : either it was a natural occurrence or arose from an imperceptible cause; either theory is not provable, but a matter of belief.
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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Thu Dec 05, 2013 6:01 am

AJungianIdeal wrote:Does Rebirth require a dualistic conception of the mind? It seems to me that most philosophers and neuroscientists have solidified around the idea that the mind is either equivalent to or derived from the brain.


The human brain is;
Water 77 to 78 %
fats 10 to 12 %
Protein 8%
Carbohydrate 1%
Soluble organic substances 2%
Inorganic salts 1%

and when these interact with electricity, brain activity results.
But this is just physical phenomena.
That theory asserts that this physical phenomena at some point begins to witness its own activity.
"I am aware that I am thinking".
The problem with the theory that the mind is produced by brain activity, is that
in other words,
the computer is creating the person who is using the computer.

Instead, my understanding is that everything is basically either phenomena, or awareness of phenomena
and that awareness is not a separate "thing", not a ghost in the machine,
but essentially a backdrop, a context in which the interactions of phenomena are experienced as mind.
For example, you can point to areas brain activity where molecules released into the blood stream are experienced as fear.
When you are suddenly frightened, a whole set of events take place. You perspire, your heart rate increases, and you experience a sensation of fear. But fear is not happening in your brain...merely some chemical reactions which do not think on their own. But in the context of awareness, this chemical reaction is experienced as what we know as an emotion.

At all levels of life, there is the quality of response which is the bottom level, no-frills, basic manifestation of awareness.
Cells and microbes respond to external stimuli, to heat, to light, to protein, and so forth.
Sperm swim to an egg.
Phenomena in the context of awareness.
Awareness cannot be denied, yet it has no specific shape or color itself
but when arising with phenomena, what results is what we would recognize as thought, or mind.

However, can you be a bit more clear about what you mean by the term,
"dualistic conception of the mind" ?
.
.
.
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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby smcj » Thu Dec 05, 2013 6:07 am

I don't know about computers, but I know about the coil in my car. It's a metal rod with wire wound around it. When electricity goes through the wire it creates a magnetic field. But when the electric current is cut, the magnetic field doesn't just disappear. It collapses and shoots out an electric current out of the rod.* So yes, the magnetic field is dependent on the current and the coil, but something still happens once it that set of circumstances cease.

That's my own analogy. No legitimate Dharma teacher has signed off on it.

*That's what goes to the spark plugs.
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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Thu Dec 05, 2013 6:23 am

If you throw a rock through a glass window and then run away,
the window continues to be broken,
even though you are no longer there,
because you have created the conditions for that window to be broken.

If, through the actions of your body, speech and mind, you create the causes of something to occur,
it will occur (unless some other actions prevent it).

The reason why you appear to be almost exactly the person you were 30 seconds ago,
is because the causes that resulted in that appearance 30 seconds ago are
producing nearly identical results over and over again.

"rebirth' does not mean that you are the same person now as you were before.
That is not possible, for a variety of reasons.

In modern terms, you might say that you are constantly cloning yourself
and this cloning is not physical cloning,
but a cloning, or replicating of the conditions for the arising of awareness with phenomena

.
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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby jeeprs » Thu Dec 05, 2013 7:41 am

H H The Dalai Lama wrote:There are many different logical arguments given in the words of the Buddha and subsequent commentaries to prove the existence of past and future lives. In brief, they come down to four points: the logic that things are preceded by things of a similar type, the logic that things are preceded by a substantial cause, the logic that the mind has gained familiarity with things in the past, and the logic of having gained experience of things in the past.





Ultimately all these arguments are based on the idea that the nature of the mind, its clarity and awareness, must have clarity and awareness as its substantial cause. It cannot have any other entity such as an inanimate object as its substantial cause. This is self-evident. Through logical analysis we infer that a new stream of clarity and awareness cannot come about without causes or from unrelated causes. While we observe that mind cannot be produced in a laboratory, we also infer that nothing can eliminate the continuity of subtle clarity and awareness.





As far as I know, no modern psychologist, physicist, or neuroscientist has been able to observe or predict the production of mind either from matter or without cause.





There are people who can remember their immediate past life or even many past lives, as well as being able to recognise places and relatives from those lives. This is not just something that happened in the past. Even today there are many people in the East and West, who can recall incidents and experiences from their past lives. Denying this is not an honest and impartial way of doing research, because it runs counter to this evidence. The Tibetan system of recognising reincarnations is an authentic mode of investigation based on people’s recollection of their past lives.






From Reincarnation.
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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby AJungianIdeal » Thu Dec 05, 2013 8:15 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:
AJungianIdeal wrote:Does Rebirth require a dualistic conception of the mind? It seems to me that most philosophers and neuroscientists have solidified around the idea that the mind is either equivalent to or derived from the brain.


The human brain is;
Water 77 to 78 %
fats 10 to 12 %
Protein 8%
Carbohydrate 1%
Soluble organic substances 2%
Inorganic salts 1%

and when these interact with electricity, brain activity results.
But this is just physical phenomena.
That theory asserts that this physical phenomena at some point begins to witness its own activity.
"I am aware that I am thinking".
The problem with the theory that the mind is produced by brain activity, is that
in other words,
the computer is creating the person who is using the computer.

Instead, my understanding is that everything is basically either phenomena, or awareness of phenomena
and that awareness is not a separate "thing", not a ghost in the machine,
but essentially a backdrop, a context in which the interactions of phenomena are experienced as mind.
For example, you can point to areas brain activity where molecules released into the blood stream are experienced as fear.
When you are suddenly frightened, a whole set of events take place. You perspire, your heart rate increases, and you experience a sensation of fear. But fear is not happening in your brain...merely some chemical reactions which do not think on their own. But in the context of awareness, this chemical reaction is experienced as what we know as an emotion.

At all levels of life, there is the quality of response which is the bottom level, no-frills, basic manifestation of awareness.
Cells and microbes respond to external stimuli, to heat, to light, to protein, and so forth.
Sperm swim to an egg.
Phenomena in the context of awareness.
Awareness cannot be denied, yet it has no specific shape or color itself
but when arising with phenomena, what results is what we would recognize as thought, or mind.

However, can you be a bit more clear about what you mean by the term,
"dualistic conception of the mind" ?

.

I suppose in the sense that if the mind is purely in the brain, I find it hard how to extrapolate a mind-stream or a store-house consciousness that continues after death.
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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby dharmagoat » Thu Dec 05, 2013 8:30 am

If mindstreams are continuous, without beginning or end from rebirth to rebirth, then how do they originate in the first place?
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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby jeeprs » Thu Dec 05, 2013 8:44 am

AJungianIdeal wrote:Does Rebirth require a dualistic conception of the mind? It seems to me that most philosophers and neuroscientists have solidified around the idea that the mind is either equivalent to or derived from the brain.


That's because the underlying paradigm is evolutionary materialism and molecular biology.

I think that, in effect, Tibetan Buddhism is dualistic in some respects, insofar as it claims that mind is of a different order to material substance. However I think ultimately both 'mind' nor 'material' are empty, that is, devoid of ultimate reality or own-being, and are not separate substances in the sense Western philosophy nowadays understands that term.

But those kinds of questions are vexed questions, difficult to answer and subject to controversy even amongst the learned. I think it is OK to contemplate them but best to avoid dogmatic views one way or the other.

A relevant current scholarly work on this question is The Buddhist Unconscious William S Waldron. Heavy reading but right on the mark as far as this topic is concerned.
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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby sukhamanveti » Thu Dec 05, 2013 10:26 am

jeeprs wrote:I think that, in effect, Tibetan Buddhism is dualistic in some respects, insofar as it claims that mind is of a different order to material substance. However I think ultimately both 'mind' nor 'material' are empty, that is, devoid of ultimate reality or own-being, and are not separate substances in the sense Western philosophy nowadays understands that term.


Agreed. Words and concepts differentiate and thus involve dualities, "I" and "mine," "self" and "other," "perceiver" and "perceived," etc. Conventional truths are dualistic. Ultimately, all of these entities are empty of inherent existence, not separate, nondual.

However, AJungianIdeal isn't thinking in terms of the duality discussed in Mahayana philosophy. He's getting at a different kind of dualism, not conceptual differentiation, but what Western philosophy calls "mind-body dualism," merely the idea that the mind and body are different and that neither can be reduced to the other. To an extent, the Tibetan conception of consciousness and the body resembles this, but I don't think that it poses any special problems. If everything else is nondual, if the whole realm of conventional phenomena is ultimately nondual, then so are consciousness and the body.

Ed
namo bhagavate śākyamunaye tathāgatāyārhate samyaksaṁbuddhāya | namaḥ sarvabuddhabodhisattvebhyaḥ ||

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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Thu Dec 05, 2013 1:58 pm

AJungianIdeal wrote:
I suppose in the sense that if the mind is purely in the brain, I find it hard how to extrapolate a mind-stream or a store-house consciousness that continues after death.


And yet, every cell of a child that you once were many years ago is dead.
All the thoughts that child had were momentary.
That child is dead
but you have the experience of a continuous stream of awareness.
How?
The constantly replicating and replacing cells of the brain arise in the field of awareness.
.
.
.
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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby dude » Thu Dec 05, 2013 8:57 pm

dharmagoat wrote:If mindstreams are continuous, without beginning or end from rebirth to rebirth, then how do they originate in the first place?


How can something without beginning originate?
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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby dharmagoat » Thu Dec 05, 2013 9:39 pm

dude wrote:
dharmagoat wrote:If mindstreams are continuous, without beginning or end from rebirth to rebirth, then how do they originate in the first place?

How can something without beginning originate?

Well, exactly.

Physical cosmology has it that everything started with the "big bang".
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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Thu Dec 05, 2013 9:52 pm

dharmagoat wrote:If mindstreams are continuous, without beginning or end from rebirth to rebirth, then how do they originate in the first place?


That's actually a misunderstanding.
mindstreams are not continuous things
any more than a river stream is a "single piece of water".
It's not like a long tube of consciousness connecting a corpse to a fetus.

'minsdstream' refers to a continuous chain of separate events
like a line of toppling dominoes
or the single frames on a strip of movie film.

"without beginning or end'
means that no single thing such as "thought" actually arises.
You can't say that a thought "starts here and ends there".

Rebirth is like an echo. You yell from one side of a canyon,
and on the other side of the canyon, that yell is replicated.

I think what you are asking is,
"what was the very first thought to ever arise?"
and to answer that
you have to examine the nature of what "a thought" actually is,
and along with that,
what does 'arise' mean?
.
.
.
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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby smcj » Fri Dec 06, 2013 6:05 am

One definition of tantra is "continuity".
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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Fri Dec 06, 2013 6:13 am

smcj wrote:One definition of tantra is "continuity".

Yes, continuity of cause and effect.
Continuous replication of conditions with very slight variations.
Otherwise, you are talking about some kind of permanent self
and Buddhism rejects that.

There is no continuous self even within one lifetime.
Why should one suddenly arise
simply because the body
(or to be precise, the last set of composite conditions arising as a body)
--simply because that body has turned into a corpse?
.
.
.
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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby smcj » Fri Dec 06, 2013 7:26 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:
smcj wrote:One definition of tantra is "continuity".

Yes, continuity of cause and effect.
Continuous replication of conditions with very slight variations.

Right.
Otherwise, you are talking about some kind of permanent self
and Buddhism rejects that.

Well, the Pali Suttas certainly seem to say that. With the later schools in China and Tibet that isn't so clear. A rose by any other name...

There is no continuous self even within one lifetime.

Most people miss this point, that their sense of self is not the basis for their being, even in the here and now. Yet there is obviously still a continuity, so there are memories and such. Yet the Buddha attained egolessness while still alive. He didn't just evaporate, he didn't get amnesia, and he didn't become a zombie. He just experienced the true nature of his own mind. So even in this life, 'continuity that isn't ego' is the actual state of affairs and, not being enlightened, we just don't see it.

A lot of people get their undies all in a knot saying, "the teachings on no-self means reincarnation is not valid". My perspective is quite the opposite, that the teachings on no-self are necessary to make the theory of reincarnation workable. I say that the theory of reincarnation doesn't make sense unless that which is continuous is infinitely mutable. If there were an aspect of identity that didn't undergo metamorphosis, that would be the self that is denied. That which is continuous has no such limitation. Here "emptiness" equals infinite capacity to freely take any form. And when, through Dharma practice, you remove the need to take form, what you are then left with is an infinite capacity for freedom.

Just my $.02. Not authorized, validated or confirmed by any actual Dharma authority.
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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Fri Dec 06, 2013 5:20 pm

smcj wrote:Most people miss this point, that their sense of self is not the basis for their being, even in the here and now. Yet there is obviously still a continuity, so there are memories and such. Yet the Buddha attained egolessness while still alive. He didn't just evaporate, he didn't get amnesia, and he didn't become a zombie. He just experienced the true nature of his own mind. So even in this life, 'continuity that isn't ego' is the actual state of affairs and, not being enlightened, we just don't see it.

A lot of people get their undies all in a knot saying, "the teachings on no-self means reincarnation is not valid". My perspective is quite the opposite, that the teachings on no-self are necessary to make the theory of reincarnation workable. I say that the theory of reincarnation doesn't make sense unless that which is continuous is infinitely mutable. If there were an aspect of identity that didn't undergo metamorphosis, that would be the self that is denied. That which is continuous has no such limitation. Here "emptiness" equals infinite capacity to freely take any form. And when, through Dharma practice, you remove the need to take form, what you are then left with is an infinite capacity for freedom.

Just my $.02. Not authorized, validated or confirmed by any actual Dharma authority.


Actually, in his book, Essence Of The Heart Sutra,
HH Dalai Lama discusses this specifically,
suggesting that it is precisely because there is no actual 'self' that rebirth can and does occur.

yes, there is continuity, or at least a sense of continuity,
but the question is, continuity of what?
I gave the analogy of still images on a strip of movie film.
there is no movement, but due to something called persistence of vision
single frames shown in rapid succession create the illusion of movement.
Continuity? Not of a single thing, but a continuous succession of separate things.

This is very much the way our consciousness works.
Even if you "recall" a memory, it isn't really stored anywhere.
You are actually recreating it,
constructing a brand new mental image of a past event.
Like building the same tower of stones over and over again,
as Milarepa did.
That's why sometimes the memory of something is wrong,
or parts of it are left out, as is always the case.
.
.
.
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Re: Are Karma and Rebirth Real?

Postby smcj » Fri Dec 06, 2013 5:45 pm

PadmaVonSamba wrote:
smcj wrote: My perspective is quite the opposite, that the teachings on no-self are necessary to make the theory of reincarnation workable….

….Just my $.02. Not authorized, validated or confirmed by any actual Dharma authority.

Actually, in his book, Essence Of The Heart Sutra,
HH Dalai Lama discusses this specifically,
suggesting that it is precisely because there is no actual 'self' that rebirth can and does occur.
.

Wow. Well thanks for that. I love it when I come to a conclusion on my own that is later verified by an actual authority. It makes me think I'm barking up the right tree at least.

So now I will be able to make the same statement without giving the caveat that it is my own opinion. But I really should read HH's book first, so I'm not going to be too much of a pest about it until then.
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