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Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga - Dhamma Wheel

Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
Haniver
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Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby Haniver » Thu Aug 25, 2011 4:07 am

I've been practising vipassana meditation for 9 years, and have considered myself a Buddhist for that long. But now I have serious doubts about everything. One of the biggest ones is this:
In the Visuddhimagga, ch XII, 4 (recollection of past lives) Buddhagosa goes to describe the destruction and recreation of the universe, up to the Brahma worlds. It is a big fantasy: starting with the Geography, talking about Mount Sineru, which doesn't exist. Going on with new suns appearing, wind taking everything into the air and destroying it (matter can't be destroyed, it only transforms; and if something would transform it into energy, it wouldn't be the wind), the human world vanishing and then reappearing (as if the homo sapiens was not a very unlikely thing to happen, which has been here for only 1 million years), the "evolution" of humans from devas who started eating and, as urine and excrement appeared inside their bodies, "wound orifices break open in them to let this things out", and sexual organs appear in them too so they start to have sex, and the list goes on.
The thing is that this is described in the very section in which Buddhagosa explains the way to remember past lives. If someone who remembers past lives has such a wrong idea of what has been, I can't but think that he either can't really remember them or he just imagined what his former lives were like. So is the recalling of lives just a myth as is this description of History? If so, then rebirth would be a myth too, because the only way to know it exists is by recalling former lives. And if rebirth is not true, the escape from it isn't either. And then, what is the point of attaining full enlightenment?
I'm not trying to put the Dhamma down here. I love it and have had extraordinary results with my practice. But I'd like these doubts to subside, too. If the same people who told me how to watch my mind to have more wisdom, and how equanimity is better than sensory pleasure (both things which I have proved to be true) tell me that the best thing I can do is to escape from Samsara, I want to believe it.
Thank you for reading.

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retrofuturist
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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Aug 25, 2011 4:13 am

"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby ground » Thu Aug 25, 2011 4:29 am


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Ben
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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby Ben » Thu Aug 25, 2011 4:36 am

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

(Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • •

e: [email protected]..

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mikenz66
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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Aug 25, 2011 4:53 am


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Dan74
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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby Dan74 » Thu Aug 25, 2011 4:55 am

I am probably not the right person to answer this (having my practice rooted in Zen) but seeing that this is in the Dhammic-free-for-all, here's my $0.02.

As far as I can make out the Dhamma is a way of liberation from delusion and ignorance, a tool to be used rather than a creed that needs to be accepted wholesale. So if you see results from your practice, this is what matters.

Sometimes we have doubts about whether liberation is even possible, whether we are on the right track, whether we have what it takes. This is partly why it is important to have a sangha, I believe, a teacher one can have recourse to. To take some time to do a retreat even when it entails some sacrifices. Because the benefits that flow from this to everybody around us are truly great!
_/|\_

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kirk5a
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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby kirk5a » Thu Aug 25, 2011 5:29 am

Just for the sake of discussion... suppose you could remember previous lives going all the way back to before there were humans on the earth. What you would remember would be the first-"person" viewpoint experiences of that life. And how things seem, as an experience... ok lets just say you could remember life as an amoeba. If you were to try to describe what your experience was like, as an amoeba.. how things appeared to you... it might sound pretty strange when it was put into terms that humans use. It certainly wouldn't be a "scientific" description... it would just be how things appeared. And so you might have to describe things in terms of eating delicious goo and so forth, none of which would be comprehensible from our perspective, today, with our scientific viewpoint. That's because the memories of prior rebirths would be the subjective perspective.

Utter speculation on my part. Kinda fun to ponder though. How would a bee describe a flower? Radiant nectar goddess?
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230

Haniver
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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby Haniver » Thu Aug 25, 2011 6:17 am

Last edited by Haniver on Thu Aug 25, 2011 6:32 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Aug 25, 2011 6:24 am


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mikenz66
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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Aug 25, 2011 7:36 am


Nori
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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby Nori » Sat Aug 27, 2011 5:54 am


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mikenz66
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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Aug 27, 2011 6:29 am


nameless
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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby nameless » Sat Aug 27, 2011 3:34 pm

I myself don't believe in the "big fantasy", but I think your reasoning has some flaws, and I mean it not to be critical, but as an encouragement to be more objective.

So say that he has "wrong" recollections of his past lives. That doesn't exclude him from having "right" ones too. If you discover a mistake in your own memories, does that invalidate ALL your memories? Also, he is one person, and one person having "wrong" memories doesn't mean nobody else has valid memories. So the conclusion that "rebirth would be a myth too" is not really one that you can draw from "he has 'wrong' memories".

You also say that the only way to know rebirth would be by recalling former lives. How do you know that statement is true? For example, we know the nature of the body, and we know that it will decompose and revert to molecules/atoms etc. If one knows the nature of the mind, it is possible that we know the possible outcomes of what could become of it after death. I'm not saying that this is the case, just saying that we can't really say with certainty that past life memories are the only way to prove rebirth.

The point of attaining full enlightenment is release from suffering, which would still be a worthwhile goal even if there is no rebirth.

As an aside, it does seem that you are going out of your way to create doubt within yourself, for example, the comment about "destroying". I think we can safely assume that by destroying he means it the way we do normally, as in "his house was destroyed in the fire", and not as a daring statement to contradict the conservation of mass.

Digity
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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby Digity » Sun Aug 28, 2011 2:04 am

I remember reading somewhere that the Buddha warned about recollecting past lives and that the person could be mislead by their experiences. So, even if one develops the psychic faculties to do this, it's not a sure thing that what they see is correct.

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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby alan » Sun Aug 28, 2011 2:39 am

Or you could just ignore the Visuddimaga, and focus on sutta study.
I don't understand why anyone but academics would want to spend time with Buddhaghosa.

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mikenz66
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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Aug 28, 2011 2:45 am


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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Aug 28, 2011 2:57 am


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cooran
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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby cooran » Sun Aug 28, 2011 4:19 am

---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Alex123
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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby Alex123 » Sun Aug 28, 2011 4:58 pm

I recently have had some doubts myself. Even the suttas contain very strange things that seem to be no more rational than other religions.



There is Paharada sutta (AN8:2:9) that talks about fish as large as 100-500 yojanas. One yojana is 6-15 kilometers or 4 to 9 miles...Some of these fish is almost as large or even larger than the moon (1,737.4 kilometers) and almost as big as radius of the Earth (6,378.1 km). 500 yojanas on average is 5,000 kilometers. The Indian rivers (Ganges, Yamuna, Aciravathie, Sarabhu and Mahi) come to this ocean...
http://metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/ ... ggo-e.html

Also the cause of rain and other weather phenomena being rain-cloud devas and other kind of devas. SN32.56 Rain-cloud Devas. In other suttas in that samyutta it talks about why it becomes windy, stormy, etc, and it is explained as working of these devas. And in SN32.2 in pali talks about how to be reborn as such kind of devas.

Also there is talk about demon Rahu who can swallow the moon (candima) and the sun (suriya)... SN2.9/10 . The creature would have to be huge, create a very strong gravity that affects the motion of other planets and I wonder why it wasn't discovered in modern astronomy.


Also in Lakkhana Samyutta (SN19.1-21), translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi, it describes different kinds of existences in Hungry Ghost realm that where clairvoyantly seen, and (according to the suttas) were approved by the Buddha Himself.

Venerable MahaMogallana smiled when He saw this:
"“Here, friend, as I was coming down from Mount Vulture Peak, I saw a skeleton moving through the air. Vultures, crows, and hawks, pursuing it here and there, were pecking at it between the ribs, stabbing it, and tearing it apart while it uttered cries of pain.&339 It occurred to me: ‘It is wonderful, indeed! It is amazing, indeed! That there could be such a being, that there could be such a spirit, that could be such a form of individual existence"
SN 19.1


"I saw a piece of meat moving through the air. Vultures, crows, and hawks, pursuing it here and there, were stabbing at it and tearing it apart as it uttered cries of pain.”… “That being, bhikkhus, was a cattle butcher in this same Råjagaha…." - SN19.2

"… “I saw a man whose testicles were like pots moving through the air. When he walked, he had to lift his testicles onto his shoulders, and when he sat down he sat on top of his testicles. Vultures, crows, and hawks, pursuing him here and there, were stabbing at him and tearing him apart while he uttered cries of pain….” “That being was a corrupt judge in this same Råjagaha…." SN 19.10

And plenty more really strange suttas. So unfortunately while the suttas in Four Nikayas do have a lot of really good rational material, some of it is too fantastic even for my taste. One can't claim that the suttas are totally reasonable (compared to mythology of other religions in which we don't believe) and devoid of mystical things.

What to do? Were these things really said by the Buddha? Or were they added on by other people? How can we know which is which?
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: Doubts on rebirth and the Visuddhimagga

Postby daverupa » Mon Aug 29, 2011 1:26 pm



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