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PostPosted: Wed Jun 30, 2010 4:42 pm 
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Do you really think rebirth is realistic?

Even as a Buddhist you might nominally say, "I believe in rebirth" but how realistic do you think such a view is?

The reason I bring this up is because I would argue that if you're raised in a industrialized society, you will probably be prone to thinking of materialist philosophy as default and most realistic because it is what is condoned by our leaders and society as the most realistic and efficacious ideology. It receives state sanction. You'll be naturally inclined to consider matter as a real and dismiss mental events as merely secondary results of chemical activity in the brain. Materialist Neurology, which generally posits that the mind is produced by the brain, is considered realistic and reasonable. Yogic sciences are just things you believe in and thus it does not receive official sanction or funding from the powers that be.

In such an environment where the views of materialist science are hailed as supreme -- and coincidentally the leading proponents of this school of thought are positioned as authorities on what is real and true -- rebirth, and a lot of the Buddhist model really, for most people will just be belief rather than being a realistic view grounded in reasoned observation and consideration.

Furthermore, I would argue that you can discern to what extent a person feels rebirth is realistic by their behaviour in life. One might state having a belief in rebirth, but they still plan around a single lifetime. In cultures where rebirth of some sort is the dominant view held by people, you see a lot of activities devoted to generation of merit for future lives and people plan for and invest in their future incarnation. The idea that at death you become nothing and all consequences you might have suffered also become nullified cannot enter into such a vision of reality. You then have a vested interest and stake that is very real, so planning accordingly, which is often done with religious practise and activities, becomes natural just like you would plan for your retirement in this life because of the consequences of not doing so are potentially frightening.

But going back to the original question, in light of all this, do you really think rebirth is real or is it a somewhat fuzzy and uncertain concept that seems less like a realistic view and more like a religious fantasy?

I think this is a really important thing to consider because it heavily influences how you plan your life and what you would feel is important. Basically most of us are probably materialist or nihilist by default even if we purportedly have religious views contrary to it. There is a kind of dualism there: one one hand you have religious views about reality, and on the other you have the views of materialist science which you'll be prone to think of as more realistic than the former.

If you have time, I think Robert Thurman really nails down this point well in part one of the following set of lectures and recommend listening to at least the first part:

http://www.shiftinaction.com/discover/a ... e_workshop

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 30, 2010 6:57 pm 
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Quote:
Do you really think rebirth is realistic?


Yes.

Thanks for your thoughts and the audio links, Huseng. I enjoyed the book so I am looking forward to listening to those.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 30, 2010 7:44 pm 
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Thanks Huseng, for a question that puts into words very well what I have been chewing on for a while. I believe, but do I really believe? If so, why?

I accept rebirth much more than I accept certain other explanations of what happens after we die. But is that enough? I know that a lot of Buddhists tell me to not bother, and that we cannot know really, but there the materialist in me, the Western mind, insists on moving as close as possble to actual knowing, to a "belief" that I am comfortable with. I have always been very comfortable with rebirth, it makes a lot of sense of a lot of things for me. It also just feels right. But I also know that our wants and fuzzy feelings do not make these ideas true exactly or necessarily.

I regard two possible answers as being within the realms of possibility - rebirth as we have it, or pure old fashioned materialism - after the lights are switched off that is that. I am in the process of studying this, as I instinctively know that my Buddhism and the practice thereof will suffer the day I walk away from finding rebirth as probable. I cannot really agree with people like Batchelor - if rebirth goes Buddhism loses a lot of its magic, its drive, its reason to inspire.

Just my own musings, nothing else.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 30, 2010 9:56 pm 
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for me there is not even a question.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 30, 2010 10:29 pm 
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The question comes down to: Is there scientific evidence of rebirth? The answer of course is no. Neither is there scientific evidence that there is not rebirth. Science, in fact, has nothing whatsoever to say on the subject, due to lack of evidence one way or the other.

A more important question that comes out of this issue is: Is science the only basis for belief? Some in the extreme rationalist camp might say yes. I would disagree.

There is nothing inherently implausible about rebirth. The Buddhist teachings on the subject are self-consistent, do not contradict any known facts, and provide a useful basis for understanding morality and cause-and-effect. What's not to believe?

I am a scientist and fully appreciate the benefits of the scientific way of thinking. But is is not the only useful way of thinking.

Om mani padme hum
Keith


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 1:35 am 
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Huseng wrote:
Materialist Neurology, which generally posits that the mind is produced by the brain, is considered realistic and reasonable.

That's one way of looking at it I suppose, however it obviously takes more than a brain to produce a mind. Beside what it takes bodily to sustain a mind it also takes sense data. But sense data is also material in nature. So the question is, what is the non-material component that is required to sustain a mind? or maybe to put it another way, what could sustain the mind in the absence of sense data?

It seems to be the case that if a human brain were kept alive but somehow all sense data was cutoff the 'mind' would rapidly disintegrate. How could this be if there were some sort of non-material aspect to the mind?


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 6:59 am 
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Are we sure that neuroscience is the very antithesis of dharma, as some assume?

Generally speaking, what neuroscience shows is a strong correlation between mind and brain -- that is, between mental functions and neural activity located in specific brain regions.

The Buddha, likewise, taught there is a close interdependency between conscious functions and the six sense spheres:

Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta, MN 38 wrote:
Consciousness is reckoned by the condition dependent upon which it arises. If consciousness arises on account of eye and forms, it is reckoned as eye consciousness. If on account of ear and sounds it arises, it is reckoned as ear consciousness. If on account of nose and smells it arises, it is reckoned as nose consciousness. If on account of tongue and tastes it arises, it is reckoned as tongue consciousness. If on account of body and touch it arises, it is reckoned as body consciousness. If on account of mind and mind-objects it arises, it is reckoned as mind consciousness. Bhikkhus, just as a fire is reckoned based on whatever that fire burns - fire ablaze on sticks is a stick fire, fire ablaze on twigs is a twig fire, fire ablaze on grass is a grass fire, fire ablaze on cowdung is a cowdung fire, fire ablaze on grain thrash is a grain thrash fire, fire ablaze on rubbish is a rubbish fire - so too is consciousness reckoned by the condition dependent upon which it arises.


In the same scripture, he went out of his way to reject the idea that there is some ineffable soul-substance which transmigrates from body to body. Rebirth happens because of a causal chain linking past consciousness to present consciousness, not because of some Cartesian two-headed monster. If our karma gets us a human birth, we will also (hopefully) get a human brain -- and it will behave in the ways which brain science has observed.

Also, are we sure that "neuroscience" and "materialism" are necessarily the same thing?

Materialism is a philosophical stance; neuroscience is a body of scientific research. It's true that materialists like to invoke science as a support for their position, but that doesn't mean their interpretation is always correct.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 12:32 pm 
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As I've said before on this subject, until people don't realise that there is a mind besides the flesh and blood body it is impossible to comprehend rebirth. While people may go to meditate in different groups it seems to take little effect on actually changing their worldview which would more important than achieving a blissful absorption for a few minutes. Personally I've no doubts about the existence of rebirth.
Here's a little quote:

From the Tsung Ching Record of Hui Hai:

A monk asked, ‘since all the myriad phenomena (dharmas) are nonexistent, the nature of mind should also be nonexistent. just as a bubble having burst can never re-form, so can a person once dead never be reborn, for nothing remains of that person. Where will the nature of that person’s mind be then?’

M ’Bubbles are composed of water. When a bubble bursts, does the water composing it cease to be? Our bodies proceed from our real nature. When we die, why should you say that our nature is no more?’

A: ‘If you maintain there is such a nature, bring it forth and show it to me!’

M: ’Do you believe there will be a morrow?’

A: ‘Yes, certainly.’

M: ‘Bring it forth and show it to me!’

A: ‘There will surely be a morrow, but not just now.’ M: ‘Yes, but its not being just now does not mean that there will be no morrow. You personally do not perceive your own nature, but this does not mean that your nature does not exist. just now, there is before you that which wears a robe, takes food and walks, stands, sits, or reclines, but you do not recognize it (for what it is). You may well be called a stupid and deluded person. If you discriminate between today and tomorrow that is like using your own nature to search for your own nature; you will not perceive it even after myriads of aeons. Yours is a case of not seeing the sun, not of there being no sun.’

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"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
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"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 12:34 pm 
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Lazy_eye wrote:
Are we sure that neuroscience is the very antithesis of dharma, as some assume?

Generally speaking, what neuroscience shows is a strong correlation between mind and brain -- that is, between mental functions and neural activity located in specific brain regions.

The Buddha, likewise, taught there is a close interdependency between conscious functions and the six sense spheres:


All that teaches is that it is not the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, or body that has consciousness. Otherwise dead people's ears could hear us speaking. Or even living people who sleep with their eyes open would still see things.

The fact that they don't means those organs are simply tools to help mind-consciousness know objects. Not that consciousness is dependent upon them, as if it is the eyes that see or the ears that hear, etc.. They are conveniently called eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, etc., depending on where they appear to arise. But it is all mind-consciousness, which is not dependent upon eyes, ears, etc.. Otherwise the blind would be partially unconsciousness. But actually the Buddha teaches in the Shurangama Sutra in fact, that blind still see black. So they cannot be considered unable to see. Their seeing nature is still functioning. It neither comes nor goes.

:namaste:

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 3:16 pm 
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Good points everyone.

However, my original point was that the default view of most industrialized societies is materialism which dismisses the possibility of rebirth.

This is the view that is officially supported and sanctioned by the state and education systems. Even in religious schools there is still materialist philosophy taught alongside whatever religious views are held by the institution.

Basically, by default most people are prone to think of materialist philosophy as most realistic.

Again the question to ask is, "Even if you say you believe in rebirth, do you think it is realistic or just a belief?"

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 3:56 pm 
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Huseng wrote:
do you think it is realistic or just a belief?"

Hi, Huseng. That's an interesting way of phrasing that. It would never have occurred to me to make those two categories mutually exclusive.

I would say it is a realistic belief.

Om mani padme hum
Keith


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 3:58 pm 
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Dexing wrote:
...those organs are simply tools to help mind-consciousness know objects.


Call it what you will. My point is simply that the manifestation of mind via physical brain (which is what neuroscientists study) was known to the Buddha as well. As for the ultimate nature of mind -- this is not something that neuroscience can address.

This statement by the Buddha may also be of interest:

Quote:
Were a man to say: I shall show the coming, the going, the passing away, the arising, the growth, the increase or the development of consciousness apart from matter, sensation, perception and mental formations, he would be speaking of something that does not exist.


In other words, consciousness does not come into play apart from the aggregates, and it is all dependently originated. So the dhamma can't be conveniently pegged as "dualism" or "monism" because it is using an altogether different paradigm, and again there is no conflict with science here.

All this is important to the rebirth question because it is the materialistic conception of mind which forms the main objection people have to rebirth -- as Astus mentioned.

LE

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 4:03 pm 
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Lazy_eye wrote:
In other words, consciousness does not come into play apart from the aggregates, and it is all dependently originated. So the dhamma can't be conveniently pegged as "dualism" or "monism" because it is using an altogether different paradigm, and again there is no conflict with science here.

All this is important to the rebirth question because it is the materialistic conception of mind which forms the main objection people have to rebirth -- as Astus mentioned.

LE


In the cosmology there are beings who exist as consciousness only. They are still made up of aggregates, though rupa is not one of them.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 4:15 pm 
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That's true, Huseng, but here we are talking about the human and animal realms. Formless (i.e. non-physical) states are almost by definition outside the scope of science.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 4:25 pm 
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Lazy_eye wrote:
That's true, Huseng, but here we are talking about the human and animal realms. Formless (i.e. non-physical) states are almost by definition outside the scope of science.


I don't deny that. However, just because it cannot be examined with science doesn't mean it has to remain a belief.

In the Buddhist model you can verify the facts for yourself by devoting countless hours to meditation, renouncing worldly pleasures and living a disciplined lifestyle. However, this can't be reproduced in a laboratory. It is also limited to the single individual who possesses the experience and direct knowledges of such things.

In other words you can't point to arupa-loka in the sky and chart it out, but you can experience it for yourself. At that point it is not a belief, but direct knowledge gained from genuine experience. Again, however, it is limited to the individual who experienced it. It is religion and not science. I'm fine with that myself.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 4:43 pm 
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Yep, same here. Nice post.
:anjali:

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 5:10 pm 
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Science has no way of accounting for consciousness. The idea that it is the result of a functioning brain appears to fit today's evidence, but since there is no model for what consciousness is, there is no way to explain what causes it.

I'm of the opinion that there wouldn't be a functioning physical universe apart from some consciousness of it; both Relativity and Quantum Physics seem to suggest that the observer can't be separated from space-time actions. Time and motion appear to depend upon "being experienced" as much as "experiences" depend upon them. In other words, you need a brain to explain consciousness, and you need consciousness to explain the development of a brain.

One could argue that Consciousness, in an effort to "explain" its own existence, has created ever more elaborate physical complications. Science is like an onion; we keep peeling away layers, only to find even stranger layers inside. Eventually, we reach the point where logic and intellect can go no further, and we fall back on imagination to explain it all.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 5:59 pm 
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While I have no religious background (family&environment) I've been interested in religions since I was 10 and belief in things beyond came naturally. Science and the physicalist view never really touched me although I was certainly influenced through education and culture. Belief in rebirth came to me before I've met Buddhism, so accepting that was no problem.

Another interesting quote from Dazhu Huihai:

有韞光大德問。禪師自知生處否。師曰。未曾死。何用論生。知生即是無生法。無離生法說有無生。祖師云。當生即不生。(X63n1224_p0025b13-15)

Yunguang Dade asked, "Does the Chan master know where he will be born, or not?" The teacher said, "I'm not dead yet. Why discuss birth? Know that birth is in fact the dharma of no birth. Without departing from the birth dharma we state there is no birth. An ancestor teacher said, "Undergoing birth is no birth.""

Ultimately, it's all just words.

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"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 8:20 pm 
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As time goes, my belief on rebirth grows. Sometimes, on many ocasions, my scientific and skeptical mind will say that rebirth is not real, but on the other half of time i believe.

I must disagree with Keith: there are no proofs about rebirth but there are some evidences that there is rebirth. Evidences we find on many works of some pioneer investigators, like Livingstone, Pin Van Lommel, Haraldson and Osis, etc. They have done some great work, and some of these works were on hospitals with dying people. It seems that there is in fact something, that our mind may exist in someway whithout a body (at least at some extent).


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2010 1:43 am 
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shel wrote:
Huseng wrote:
In other words you can't point to arupa-loka in the sky and chart it out, but you can experience it for yourself. At that point it is not a belief, but direct knowledge gained from genuine experience.

What is experienced? what is the knowledge?

Is it like having visited a particular place that few make the required effort to experience for themselves? If so, what's it like? I bet it's a lot like the material world, indeed, how could it not be.

Quote:
Again, however, it is limited to the individual who experienced it. It is religion and not science.

What possible relevance could the immaterial world have to the material world or science?

To address my own inquiry :tongue: , I watched a movie the other day called The Last Airbender. It is a fantasy story but it made me think of this discussion. In the movie there was a monk (the avatar) who could go into such a deep meditative state that he could access the spirit world. In the spirit world he would get advice, from a dragon in this story, for dealing with worldly affairs in the material world.

So I suppose it's basically the same in Buddhism. The immaterial world is relevant to the material world because the immaterial world offers wisdom for dealing with worldly affairs in the material world?


Last edited by shel on Sun Jul 04, 2010 6:46 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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