The Meaning of Rebirth

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

The Meaning of Rebirth

Postby jeeprs » Mon Sep 23, 2013 11:26 am

There is a lot of debate in Western Buddhism about whether rebirth is real or not. Sometimes it is said that rebirth is an Indian religious belief, and not necessary for practicing dharma. However I am not so sure about that. I think the meaning of 'rebirth' is that 'so long as we identify with those things that are subject to birth and death, then we too are subject to birth and death'. When seen this way, rebirth seems a lot less fantastic, less like participating in an endless series of Hollywood films that many people seem to understand 'rebirth' to mean. It is more that we are then subject to all the sufferings of creatures bound to the wheel of birth, decay and death, and driven by instincts to keep struggling for survival.

We can't simply run away from that, however. It is not as if we can simply step out of that, even at the time of our death, because the latent tendencies will then re-form another existence which is also bound to the wheel of re-birth. It is not voluntary, it is out of our conscious control. I think that is why Buddhism stresses 'mindfulness' which is to understand these deep drives which power the 'wheel of life and death'. But that understanding is not a simple matter, it is not like having a relaxing time or being 'free from stress' in the way that worldly people understand. If it were like that, then simply being materially well-off and not having any emotional problems would be the same as liberation. But the Buddha teaches that, even though we might be lucky enough to be free of stress now, even for a whole lifetime (although very few are), at the end of that we are still subject to change and decay, and so still bound to the wheel of samsara, and so whatever favourable circumstances we have now will one day be lost.

So I think understanding 'freedom from rebirth' is not actually a matter of whether you believe in reincarnation. It has a deeper meaning than that. It is about whether you are of this world, part of the whole cycle of birth-and-death, change-and-decay, rising-and-falling, that everything in nature is subject to. Nowadays we seem to think that 'natural' is good and wholesome, yet it is the case that everything in nature is subject to decay and death, even if it is temporarily beautiful, young and vital. Whatever is young becomes old, whatever is born will one day die. That is an inevitable fact for every born being.

So is there is something that is beyond change and decay, that is not subject to the constant cycle of birth and death, something that is always new, never perishing? I think that is what the Buddha found and points to. Living in the light of that, realizing what that is and making oneself available to it, is the meaning of 'liberation from the cycle of birth and death'. And I think that is the real 'meaning of rebirth' - not the exotic idea of 'I will be reborn for many lifetimes'.
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Re: The Meaning of Rebirth

Postby oushi » Mon Sep 23, 2013 12:24 pm

But the Buddha teaches that, even though we might be lucky enough to be free of stress now

Stress is a multi-layered phenomena. There are many layers beyond our everyday consciousness. For example inborn stress caused by the fear of noise sustains a constant degree of tension which is habituated and invisible. Every constant sensation is habituated, but not removed.
Only Buddha is free from stress.
jeeprs wrote:So is there is something that is beyond change and decay, that is not subject to the constant cycle of birth and death, something that is always new, never perishing? I think that is what the Buddha found and points to. Living in the light of that, realizing what that is and making oneself available to it, is the meaning of 'liberation from the cycle of birth and death'. And I think that is the real 'meaning of rebirth' - not the exotic idea of 'I will be reborn for many lifetimes'.

I thing that there is something that is connected to cycle of birth and death through stress, which I picture as grasp. As long as there is grasp, there is rebirth, and there is no real difference between incarnation into next moment or next life.
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Re: The Meaning of Rebirth

Postby Malcolm » Mon Sep 23, 2013 1:12 pm

jeeprs wrote:
So I think understanding 'freedom from rebirth' is not actually a matter of whether you believe in reincarnation. It has a deeper meaning than that. It is about whether you are of this world, part of the whole cycle of birth-and-death, change-and-decay, rising-and-falling, that everything in nature is subject to. Nowadays we seem to think that 'natural' is good and wholesome, yet it is the case that everything in nature is subject to decay and death, even if it is temporarily beautiful, young and vital. Whatever is young becomes old, whatever is born will one day die. That is an inevitable fact for every born being.

So is there is something that is beyond change and decay, that is not subject to the constant cycle of birth and death, something that is always new, never perishing? I think that is what the Buddha found and points to. Living in the light of that, realizing what that is and making oneself available to it, is the meaning of 'liberation from the cycle of birth and death'. And I think that is the real 'meaning of rebirth' - not the exotic idea of 'I will be reborn for many lifetimes'.


This is a soft theory of rebirth. But it is not what was intended by the Buddha by the term punarbhāva, rebecoming. It is pretty clear [except to some confused westerners] that Buddha advocated a hard theory of rebirth.
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Re: The Meaning of Rebirth

Postby Seishin » Mon Sep 23, 2013 1:18 pm

Not only that, but it is woven into the fabric of Buddhadharma.

However, I believe it is possible to practice and benefit without believing in rebirth.

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Re: The Meaning of Rebirth

Postby Malcolm » Mon Sep 23, 2013 1:23 pm

Seishin wrote:Not only that, but it is woven into the fabric of Buddhadharma.



Of course, the entire point of practicing Buddhadharma, like practicing Samkhya, Yoga, Vedanta, Jainism, Bon and so on is to put an end to rebirth in samsara.
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འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

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he is said to be a ṛṣī; the others are the opposite of him."

-- Uttaratantra
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Re: The Meaning of Rebirth

Postby Seishin » Mon Sep 23, 2013 1:32 pm

Precisely. :smile:
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Re: The Meaning of Rebirth

Postby Matt J » Mon Sep 23, 2013 3:55 pm

One thing that strikes me is the use of the word "fantastic." Yes, rebirth sounds fantastic to people who have grown up in modern, Western culture. In my mind, this is due to our cultural assumptions, for instance, that people are separate individuals, that people and the environment are separate, and so on. From this POV, rebirth sounds fantastic. Especially when if there is also an assumption that the mind we experience (in fact, the only thing we experience) doesn't really exist because it can't be weighed or measured.

But consider if we set that assumption aside. Let us imagine people are NOT separate individuals, but everything merges together. Let's imagine, just for a moment, that nothing exists on its own and nothing stands apart by itself. Now, it seems fantastic to believe that humans spring forth at birth, exist independently, and vanish at death into nonexistence.

On a side note, when I present the idea of rebirth to my kids, they don't think it sounds fantastic. My 6 year old said "Oh, maybe everything goes in cycles."

jeeprs wrote:There is a lot of debate in Western Buddhism about whether rebirth is real or not. Sometimes it is said that rebirth is an Indian religious belief, and not necessary for practicing dharma. However I am not so sure about that. I think the meaning of 'rebirth' is that 'so long as we identify with those things that are subject to birth and death, then we too are subject to birth and death'. When seen this way, rebirth seems a lot less fantastic, less like participating in an endless series of Hollywood films that many people seem to understand 'rebirth' to mean. It is more that we are then subject to all the sufferings of creatures bound to the wheel of birth, decay and death, and driven by instincts to keep struggling for survival.
The Great Way is not difficult
If only there is no picking or choosing
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Re: The Meaning of Rebirth

Postby muni » Mon Sep 23, 2013 4:35 pm

Two short examples by Guru Rinpoche, which throw a light:

Regarding the change-unchanging awakened mind:
http://books.google.be/books?id=TDFTD6H ... ng&f=false

Lady Tsogyal asked the master: How does one become free from attaching labels? The Master answered in the way he explained the stream of samsaric rebirths:
http://books.google.be/books?id=TDFTD6H ... ls&f=false

May it be of any benefit.
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Re: The Meaning of Rebirth

Postby undefineable » Mon Sep 23, 2013 4:39 pm

Matt J wrote:But consider if we set that assumption aside. Let us imagine people are NOT separate individuals, but everything merges together. Let's imagine, just for a moment, that nothing exists on its own and nothing stands apart by itself. Now, it seems fantastic to believe that humans spring forth at birth, exist independently, and vanish at death into nonexistence.
:thumbsup:

From the other (locked) active thread on this topic:
smcj wrote:Karma and reincarnation _ _ puts the grand scheme of things beyond what we can see.
The limitation of empiricism is that the sum of what can be physically perceived and thereby analysed makes only limited sense. It does not explain people's reality (i.e. everything they're aware of) as a whole, and many aspects of it (such as the presence of conscious awareness or the question of what a given thing actually is) cannot be explained at all by this approach, the explanations of other phenomena being unable to stretch far enough to cover them convincingly.

In any case, while some atheists characterise 'spiritual/religious explanations' as: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/goddidit , a large proportion of the explanations that scientists are liable to give (particularly at the sub-atomic level, but also at the larger scale) could equally be characterised as 'chancedidit'. - For example, the 'scientific' answer to the question 'why was I born experiencing the mind of Person X and not the mind of Person Y' -if it is understood at all- is invariably 'Chance'. This is in spite of the fact that the question hinges on apparently-self-contained realities rather than on something more interwoven and simple such as the relative positions of grains of sand on a beach (which in any case will have been determined by the action of physical forces). If there's a 'God of the Gaps' among the more reflective theists, then there might be a 'Chance of the Gaps' among more reflective scientists, but as science is bought out by corporations while reaching the limits of human understanding, none of those gaps are likely to be filled as quickly in the future as they were in the relatively-recent past.
"Removing the barrier between this and that is the only solution" {Chogyam Trungpa - "The Lion's Roar"}
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Re: The Meaning of Rebirth

Postby Malcolm » Mon Sep 23, 2013 4:57 pm

undefineable wrote:then there might be a 'Chance of the Gaps' among more reflective scientists


Buddhadharma excludes chance as a form of causation.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
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འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

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he is said to be a ṛṣī; the others are the opposite of him."

-- Uttaratantra
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Re: The Meaning of Rebirth

Postby undefineable » Mon Sep 23, 2013 5:22 pm

Malcolm wrote:
undefineable wrote:then there might be a 'Chance of the Gaps' among more reflective scientists


Buddhadharma excludes chance as a form of causation.
Not sure if the term 'more reflective' was useful here ;)

Since science never made this exclusion -or Buddhadharma's related exclusion of the possibility of uncaused effects- it remains easy for non-Buddhists to deny that everything has an explanation of some kind, and easy for scientists to assume and claim that phenomena they'd find hard to investigate scientifically are determined by chance.
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Re: The Meaning of Rebirth

Postby jeeprs » Mon Sep 23, 2013 10:54 pm

The reason that science attributes so much to 'chance' is because of its rejection of traditional religious and philosophical ideas of formal and final causes. Darwinian theory wants to explain everything on the basis of 'material causation'. And whilst it is sound enough as a biological theory, it is not anything like the complete philosophy of existence that it is now taken to be. It is dismaying how deeply that kind of evolutionary thinking has sunk into current thinking - everything we are is basically an expression of the struggle for survival.
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Re: The Meaning of Rebirth

Postby LionelTeo » Fri Sep 27, 2013 9:33 am

Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening,

You have post a great topic that I am really interested in.

What I have learn from the fourth noble truth, rebirth and karma (covered closely the second noble truth) taught Buddha by has noting to do with reincarnation after life. But various schools could have taught about this differently.

Rebirth is the is rebirth of the karma across life. Karma is in this sense is not a cosmic system of punishment and rewards, but the result of the thoughts, feelings and daily action that we take that influence others and triggering the resulting actions of the others. Rebirth of karma across life means that resulting same actions of others reborn in other generations.

Example, a parents push the blame to others on everything and others when a faults occur, thus his kids to grew up and learn to push the blame on others and everything, when his kid grew up, the grandson learns the same thing, and results in the rebirth of the karma of blame, pushing the blame to others on everything. The pushing of blame to others resulted in the rebirth of the same thing through different generations.

Now if the parents is to stop the karma of pushing the blame to others, the kids will not learn the same thing, and in returns the grandson will not learn the same thing. Thus stopping the rebirth of karma.

Rebirth can also happen within self, let's say today you got angry at someone. In 5 years time the same thing occur and you get angry at someone with the same things. That's the rebirth of karma within self.

Think of us in ocean with different people emitting different karma, in this ocean, different or the same people may emit the same karma in the future.

To reach enlightenment means that to put a stop to rebirth and karma, meaning to be as a rock within the ocean not not affected by any karma and rebirth, and not to emit them.

I may be wrong with my explanation, afterall, there would be others like you who is more knowledgeable than me in this. This are just my thoughts regarding rebirth.

Lastly, have a great day ahead. :smile:

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Re: The Meaning of Rebirth

Postby jeeprs » Fri Sep 27, 2013 9:57 am

Excellently stated Lionel, I am very much in agreement with your points here. And welcome to Dharma Wheel forum, :hi:
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