rebirth question from a beginner

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rebirth question from a beginner

Postby kaiel » Sat Aug 06, 2011 12:24 am

This may be a long winded post so I apologize. First off I am a Roman Catholic by birth and loosely practice it, that being said I believe no one religion is absolute. For this reason I do my best to study various belief systems. I have spent the last three months reading up on Buddhism in all its forms, and I must say I feel it to be truly an amazing and enlightening religion, one I wish to perhaps be a part of. However this concept of rebirth and anatta confuse me.

I have spent the last month on this topic specifically, the last 3 nights reading posts in this forum on the topic, I would like to get a good explanation on this realizing this is a the a Theravada forum.

Question If there is no soul, what if anything is reborn...since I don't expect to reach enlightenment in my 80 or so years of life, if I do not continue on, why even bother starting the path, after all only one guy has done it in 2600 years
.. now I would like to eliminate some possible responses off the bat, ones I have already seen posted in numerous sites. Keep in mind I am currently not a Buddhist and therefore am not looking to debate anyone on scripture.

1. I've seen it said rebirth is not literal, that we go through rebirth every moment based on our karma from the last. My take here is the wise Siddhartha would of used simpler language, like you actions yesterday effect who you are and your well being today. Terms like deva and asura and hungry ghosts used for nothing more than describing a mental state seems like metaphorical overkill.

2. I've seen it said not even to bother thinking about it, to do so locks me further in samsara, well to that I reply I fully expect to be in samsara for a while, I'm okay with a slow crawl to enlightenment so yes I want to think about it.

3. I've also seen it said there is no soul, but a subtle self, or luminous mind, or mind stream. Now to me this sounds like a soul,many religions have different takes on what a soul is, but the gist of it is a part of you that continues on after. The Tibetans go on to describe the actual events while Inbetween lives, how is this anatta, yet I would expect these monks who should be well versed in Buddhas teachings


So to reiterate if me...kaiel does not continue after death, and lets face it I am not going to be the next Buddha in 40 more years of life, why follow the path, surely there are other philosophies that one can follow to just make ones life a more productive one, or is there some sort of essence , mind stream, Jedi force, that continues.

I truly thank you all for your time and look forward to some good productive replies.

P.S. I posted this very question in the Theravada sister forum, and all answers were basically in my opinion materialist
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sat Aug 06, 2011 1:44 am

This is such a great question, and your list is very inclusive. I think this is one of the most common questions people have about the idea of rebirth, essentially, if there is not some permanent thing that exists, what gets reborn?

One of the things that HH Dalai Lama alludes to in a book on the Heart Sutra, is the it is precisely because there is no permanent self that rebirth is possible. In other words, a permanent self cannot adjust to the various situations of one life and then another, so there has to be something more flexible, more fluid happening.

But that alone still leaves open the possibility of an ongoing self, some maleable "thing" (an idea that Buddhism does not support). A sort of "soul silly putty" which comes out of its plastic eggs and picks up newspaper print..

So, consider this analogy:

Did you ever play "telephone?" it's a game where people sit in a circle, and one person whispers a sentence into the ear of the person next to them, who in turn whispers it to the next person, and so on, until the sentence has gone around the whole circle, where it usually ends up as a totally different (and usually very odd) sentence. The sentence isn't one thing, (as with the game "pass the grapefruit) but is actually made up of a number of changing components, sound syllables, recognizable word meanings and so forth. But it is constantly changing.

What Buddhist theory suggests is something like that. "Consciousness" or cognitive awareness, where the mind is witnessing its own activity, is also composed of many things (skandhas) which are constantly changing according to circumstances. Your sensory system, seeing, hearing, and so forth, is constantly changing. Thoughts are constantly changing. There is no one "thing' that is changing, but there are lots of component "events" occurring simultaneously, that create the illusion of a permanent self.

The causes of this are passed around around, reflecting who you were a moment ago, creating who you are now and then to who you will be in the next moment, on and on and on. But the mind is constantly chaning, the body is constantly changing. There is nothing but the continuous transformation of the present moment.

You are probably right in that there has only been one Sakyamuni Buddha. Well, there was a prince, so the story goes, who sat under a tree and realized the method for the end of the suffering of the mind. How much icing can be topped onto that cake in 2600 years is anyone's guess (if you follow a major religion, thank an artist.).

But what he realized, his "enlightenment" is something that most people can also get. It's like the first primate who figured out how to control fire. He or she figured it out, and the method has been passed down to this day. So, saying that you can't do it is sort of like saying you can't do what Jesus did (practicing forgiveness) because your mom wasn't a virgin (I was also raised in a Catholic family, but they stopped when I was around 4 years old. I think they gave it up for Lent!) .

So, what I mean is, The whole Buddha story, like the Jesus story, is pretty elaborate, but that's just the way that the game of telephone is played, especially after so many centuries. Lots of factual information, lots of interesting decoration. In fact LOT of people have realized for themselves what the Buddha realized. Some became great teachers themselves. So, you might also in this lifetime.

And if not, the causes for what you regard as "you" are still in motion, and what brings them together in this life, what appears to be a "me" will also bring those events together again, even after this body is gone, just as they did when this body went through 80 years of continuous transformation.

Does this help answer your questions?
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby Luke » Sat Aug 06, 2011 6:40 pm

Hello Kaiel,

Welcome to the forum. I think your question is excellent.
kaiel wrote:Question If there is no soul, what if anything is reborn?

My simple answer: Your continuously changing mind.

However, I admit that even though I've been a Buddhist for several years that I don't yet know enough to explain these things in detail. I also would like some excellent answers, so I'll add my own questions to probe deeper.

PadmaVonSamba wrote:One of the things that HH Dalai Lama alludes to in a book on the Heart Sutra, is the it is precisely because there is no permanent self that rebirth is possible. In other words, a permanent self cannot adjust to the various situations of one life and then another, so there has to be something more flexible, more fluid happening.

Yes, okay, the mind and body (when it exists) are constantly changing. I think everybody is aware of that. I don't think anyone disputes this.

When other religions have a concept of "soul," I don't think that they mean that it is a static, unchanging thing. I'm sure they believe that the soul can think, and this would imply that it can change (although they may not have explicitly thought about this). A soul which is an absolutely static entity, which therefore, can't think or change in the slightest way seems more the object of a philosophical thought experiment than the teaching of any world religion. This type of "soul" or "self" just seems to be a straw man, so we go deeper...

PadmaVonSamba wrote:But that alone still leaves open the possibility of an ongoing self, some maleable "thing" (an idea that Buddhism does not support). A sort of "soul silly putty"

Yes, here is where my understanding is stuck.

What is the difference between a "soul" that is constantly changing and the Buddhist concept of "mindstream" other than the words used?

PadmaVonSamba wrote:What Buddhist theory suggests is something like that. "Consciousness" or cognitive awareness, where the mind is witnessing its own activity, is also composed of many things (skandhas) which are constantly changing according to circumstances. Your sensory system, seeing, hearing, and so forth, is constantly changing. Thoughts are constantly changing. There is no one "thing' that is changing, but there are lots of component "events" occurring simultaneously, that create the illusion of a permanent self.

Again, how much do ordinary people actually believe in a "permanent self"? Ordinary people know that they are constantly aging, they know their bodies are constantly changing, and they know they going to die someday. More reflective people are also aware of how their minds are constantly changing. So again, simply asserting "your body and mind are constantly changing" is not really anything radical and is already believed by most people anyway.

PadmaVonSamba wrote:The causes of this are passed around around, reflecting who you were a moment ago, creating who you are now and then to who you will be in the next moment, on and on and on. But the mind is constantly chaning, the body is constantly changing. There is nothing but the continuous transformation of the present moment.

But the fact is that you are approximately the same from moment to moment most of the time. My personality five minutes from now will probably be very similar to what it already is now. That's why it's not horrible in ordinary contexts to say that it's "the same me" but more precisely, it's "approximately (although not exactly) the same me."

So it seems reasonable to say that at the beginning of my next life (if I'm fortunate enough to be human again), my mind will be approximately the same as it will be just before the end of this life. Right?
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby Luke » Sat Aug 06, 2011 6:51 pm

kaiel wrote:since I don't expect to reach enlightenment in my 80 or so years of life, if I do not continue on, why even bother starting the path, after all only one guy has done it in 2600 years

No, that's not correct. Many of Shakyamuni Buddha's disciples became enlightened (or at least became Arhats) and many people have achieved it since then (although Buddhists certainly sometimes argue about exactly which past Buddhist masters they think were enlightened).

Quite a few Buddhists believed that Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was enlightened. Check out this video about his life:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hjxHMLP6JM
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby ground » Sat Aug 06, 2011 6:59 pm

kaiel wrote:1. I've seen it said rebirth is not literal, that we go through rebirth every moment based on our karma from the last. My take here is the wise Siddhartha would of used simpler language, like you actions yesterday effect who you are and your well being today. Terms like deva and asura and hungry ghosts used for nothing more than describing a mental state seems like metaphorical overkill.


This deserves investigation: What is "literal"?
If "not literal" means metaphorical, what then is literal? It is the meaning of the term. But "metaphorical meaning" and "non-metaphorical (i.e. literal) meaning" are both meanings ... Where does one find the "literal" meaning of a term?

Sugar tastes "sweet". The taste of sugar is not the term "sweet". Now ... does it taste "literally sweet" or "metaphorically sweet"?


Kind regards
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby kaiel » Sat Aug 06, 2011 8:19 pm

Luke, seems you and I are in a similar situation, let me elaborate further. I agree that what everyone keeps telling me about the 5 aggregates and ever changing mind in flux, this is indeed true, I don't think intelligent people need Buddha to explain this. Our body's cells are dying and refreshing themselves etc.. Our thoughts change. The very Atoms and Sub-Atomic particles and the fabric of space-time itself are in constant flux

Here is my only issue, if it is only my Karma that carries on, like a bank account left in some else's name, Then why make the effort to be spiritually enlightened, why not simply write some books or paint great works of art, or for some lesser person, go start wars or engage in evil acts. Since their bad Karma will in essence screw over the next being formed from that Karma but not themselves.

I believe if there is a soul it would be evolving, learning, growing spiritually, not static in any way

I believe Buddhism may be the closest religion to the truth, which is why I wish to understand and move past this sticking point
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby Luke » Sun Aug 07, 2011 1:19 am

Well, I'll take a crack at this with my limited knowledge...

kaiel wrote:Here is my only issue, if it is only my Karma that carries on, like a bank account left in some else's name, Then why make the effort to be spiritually enlightened, why not simply write some books or paint great works of art, or for some lesser person, go start wars or engage in evil acts. Since their bad Karma will in essence screw over the next being formed from that Karma but not themselves.


It's not just your karma that continues on after death; your mind also continues to exist. I believe that your karma is stored in your mind somehow. I don't think your karma can exist without your mind. So more of your mind continues on after death than you are currently assuming, I think.

You seem to think that somehow our minds are annihilated after death and that then we get a new mind, which isn't the Buddhist idea. We might forget our memories of past lives, but our mind doesn't disappear. It just continues to change. Just because I can't remember what I ate 17 days ago doesn't mean that I didn't eat anything 17 days ago. Similarly, not remembering past lives doesn't disprove rebirth which is the continuation of the same mindstream.

But I'm not sure what the Buddhist explanation of why most people can't recall their past lives is.
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sun Aug 07, 2011 1:45 pm

kaiel wrote:
Here is my only issue, if it is only my Karma that carries on, like a bank account left in some else's name, Then why make the effort to be spiritually enlightened, why not simply write some books or paint great works of art, or for some lesser person, go start wars or engage in evil acts. Since their bad Karma will in essence screw over the next being formed from that Karma but not themselves.


Perhaps the question is not so easily answered because in a sense, it is the wrong question.
I don't think that "spiritually enlightened" is the point of Buddhist practice.
The point is to remove the patterns of the actions which continue to create a painful state of mind.
Now, it might be argued that since there is no permanent "me" experiencing that painful state of mind,
then what "I" do now doesn't really matter because after "I" die in this lifetime, "I" won't be experiencing the continuation of that pain in any supposed future lifetime.

The error in this approach (from the Buddhist argument) is that it still begins with the idea if "I" being a thing, a sort of fixed or permanent starting point. The buddhist argument of course suggests that this is not the case.

But the point to that suggestion is that the sense of reality of a self which I experience right now, experiencing the painful state of mind, that very sense of reality will replicate itself regardless of whether I remember this lifetime or not.

It's as though you dropped a glass on the kitchen floor and it broke, but you forgot about it and went to bed, and the next day, somebody else, not knowing, went into the kitchen and stepped on the broken glass. Only, in the context of this discussion, the 'other person' is, in the future, largely a continuation of your actions from this life.

In mahayana buddhism, it is strongly emphasized that one practices for the benefit of others. Eventually, one of those 'others' turns out to be the person practicing!
Last edited by PadmaVonSamba on Sun Aug 07, 2011 1:53 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sun Aug 07, 2011 1:50 pm

Luke wrote:Again, how much do ordinary people actually believe in a "permanent self"?


It isn't a matter of believing. It is automatic. It's what functions on this forum, when a person posts something and later continues posting within the same thread. It has to do with sensory input and brain function. When you sit on a train or bus, the sensation of "me" in motion is that sensation of permanency.
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby Luke » Sun Aug 07, 2011 2:31 pm

PadmaVonSamba wrote:
Luke wrote:Again, how much do ordinary people actually believe in a "permanent self"?


It isn't a matter of believing. It is automatic. It's what functions on this forum, when a person posts something and later continues posting within the same thread. It has to do with sensory input and brain function. When you sit on a train or bus, the sensation of "me" in motion is that sensation of permanency.

But my point was just that ordinary people's sense of "me" is less-static than most Buddhists seem to assert.

The sense of the continuity of "me" isn't necessarily ignorance because this is the whole point of the concept of mindstream, right? I mean my mindstream won't suddenly stop and continue on in yours. Something is preserving the continuity and order.
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sun Aug 07, 2011 5:34 pm

Luke wrote: I mean my mindstream won't suddenly stop and continue on in yours.


If i understand what you are asking, then perhaps it just did!

Luke wrote: Something is preserving the continuity and order.


Well, I think that what the Buddha taught was that mental patterns tend to replicate themselves (grasping causes more grasping, and so on), but again, I think the confusion lies in presuming that a fixed, or independently arising entity is being established, like a pile of bricks being hauled from a place where a building has been torn down, and then put together again to make a new building someplace else, and so the question that comes up is how those bricks are all getting moved there, and the answer, as I understand it, is that nothing is really getting torn down and rebuilt, that this is just what the mind is imagining, and that this is what is experienced as our 'reality'.

So, on the one hand this sounds like kind of a cop-out, like a dodge. But I think, rather that at some point the understanding of it has to cross over from what is appearing to take place on a relative level and what is really going on ultimately. If you dump a pile of bricks, they are all going to fall pretty much in the same direction, because that's what bricks do. Likewise, various mental habitual patters flow in the direction that they are going unless one makes a conscious effort to intervene. I don't think they need any other means of conveyance. They are the conveyance.

However, the doubt of rebirth seems to hinge on the suggestion that there is a subtle level of activity (or perhaps inactivity) of the mind which does not rely on the existence of the physical body, on brain function. I don't have any understanding about that, but there are probably people in this forum who do.
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby Adamantine » Sun Aug 07, 2011 7:40 pm

I think it may be helpful for the OP to look into the term alaya-vijnana (store-house consciousness) and how that is understood in the various schools and lineages regarding the transference of karma and memory from life to life, how this relates to "impure appearances" vs. pure appearances, etc. This link may be a helpful start http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/advanced/tantra/level4_advanced_points/alaya_impure_02.html

Remember, the subtleties of some of these questions may differ between different lineages - in the same way different sects of Christianity may hold various views about metaphysical or theological matters.
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby Sherab Dorje » Mon Aug 08, 2011 5:19 am

1.“ He who is reborn, Nàgasena, is he the
same person or another?”
“Neither the same nor another.”
“Give me an illustration.”
“In the case of a pot of milk that turns first
to curds, then to butter, then to ghee; it would not be right
to say that the ghee, butter and curds were the same as the
milk but they have come from that, so neither would it be
right to say that they are something else.”


“What is it, Nàgasena, that is reborn?”
“Mind and matter.”
“Is it this very mind and matter that is reborn?”
“No, it is not, but by this mind and matter deeds are
done and because of those deeds another mind and matter
is reborn; but that mind and matter is not thereby released
from the results of its previous deeds.”
“Give me an illustration.”
“It is like a fire that a man might kindle and, having
warmed himself, he might leave it burning and go away.
Then, if that fire were to set light to another man’s field and
the owner were to seize him and accuse him before the
king, and he were to say, ‘Your majesty, I did not set this
man’s field on fire. The fire that I left burning was different
to that which burnt his field. I am not guilty’. Would he
deserve punishment?”
“Indeed, yes, because whatever he might say the
latter fire resulted from the former one.”
“Just so, O king, by this mind and matter deeds are
done and because of those deeds another mind and matter
is reborn; but that mind and matter is not thereby released
from the results of its previous deeds.”


“You were explaining just now about mind and
matter. Therein, what is mind and what is matter?”
“Whatever is gross is materiality, whatever is subtle
and mind or mental-states is mentality.”
“Why are they not born separately?”
“These conditions are related like the yolk of an egg
and its shell, they always arise together and thus they have
been related through time immemorial.”

http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/milinda.pdf
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby muni » Fri Aug 12, 2011 7:35 pm

kaiel wrote:This may be a long winded post so I apologize. First off I am a Roman Catholic by birth and loosely practice it, that being said I believe no one religion is absolute. For this reason I do my best to study various belief systems. I have spent the last three months reading up on Buddhism in all its forms, and I must say I feel it to be truly an amazing and enlightening religion, one I wish to perhaps be a part of. However this concept of rebirth and anatta confuse me.


Question If there is no soul, what if anything is reborn...


There is no "one" who is reborn. What is reborn are habits.
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby Karma Dondrup Tashi » Fri Aug 12, 2011 8:13 pm

Ya conventionally I am reborn. Ultimately nothing is reborn.
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby Luke » Fri Aug 12, 2011 11:00 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:
“You were explaining just now about mind and
matter. Therein, what is mind and what is matter?”
“Whatever is gross is materiality, whatever is subtle
and mind or mental-states is mentality.”
“Why are they not born separately?”
“These conditions are related like the yolk of an egg
and its shell, they always arise together and thus they have
been related through time immemorial.”

http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/milinda.pdf

Hmm, that's interesting. I think I once remember Namdrol saying that even after the physical body dies, the mind has some kind of "spirit body" after it exits the body. But maybe I'm remembering incorrectly. But if this is correct, is the mind ever without some type of "body"?
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby Nosta » Tue Aug 16, 2011 5:44 pm

I will not answer to your questions, since many guys here are better than me doing that :), i will just say something related to your 1. question: some buddhists see ghosts, devas, etc as mental states, but many of them (like me) see them as real entities (so real as humans, cats, bugs, etc, but with other kind of bodys and living on other dimensions, so to say).
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Thu Aug 18, 2011 9:07 pm

Luke wrote: I think I once remember Namdrol saying that even after the physical body dies, the mind has some kind of "spirit body" after it exits the body. But maybe I'm remembering incorrectly. But if this is correct, is the mind ever without some type of "body"?


Well, you are assuming here that mind is relying on the physical body even right now.
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby Sherab Dorje » Sun Oct 30, 2011 2:12 pm

Luke wrote:Hmm, that's interesting. I think I once remember Namdrol saying that even after the physical body dies, the mind has some kind of "spirit body" after it exits the body. But maybe I'm remembering incorrectly. But if this is correct, is the mind ever without some type of "body"?
I remember him saying that the mind is composed of the wind element, as this accounts for its apparent movement, now if being composed of wind amounts to having a body...
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: rebirth question from a beginner

Postby Paul » Sun Oct 30, 2011 11:32 pm

Luke wrote:
gregkavarnos wrote:
“You were explaining just now about mind and
matter. Therein, what is mind and what is matter?”
“Whatever is gross is materiality, whatever is subtle
and mind or mental-states is mentality.”
“Why are they not born separately?”
“These conditions are related like the yolk of an egg
and its shell, they always arise together and thus they have
been related through time immemorial.”

http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/milinda.pdf

Hmm, that's interesting. I think I once remember Namdrol saying that even after the physical body dies, the mind has some kind of "spirit body" after it exits the body. But maybe I'm remembering incorrectly. But if this is correct, is the mind ever without some type of "body"?


Yes, it's called a gandharva (which is also a class of sprit). Nagasena was a theravadin monk, and they don't believe in a state between lives - it's straight into the next existence, although there is evidence in the pali canon of Buddha talking about such a thing.

Edit: it's interesting to note that the bardo being is essentially the same body as the body you have in a dream.
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"Do not block your six senses; delight in them with joy and ease.
All that you take pleasure in will strengthen the awakened state.
With such a confidence, empowered by the regal state of natural mind,
The training now is simply this: lets your six senses be at ease and free." - Princess Parani
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