The questions to follow were prompted by another thread; I thought it might be beneficial to explore them separately. Here goes...
The Dalai Lama has defined a Buddhist as "one who, motivated by fear of suffering in the lower realms, takes refuge in the Triple Jewels" (my paraphrase...I don't have the specific passage in front of me just now). Elsewhere, he writes "to take refuge, two conditions must be present -- fear of rebirth in the three lower realms, and faith in the power of the objects of refuge to protect you from this threat".
H.H. the Karmapa writes: "with no conviction in future lives, naturally there is no genuine concern about falling into the lower realms. Indeed there are many who lack conviction in the very existence of these lower realms ... Our practice of the Dharma itself is likely to be motivated by the eight worldly concerns, and if that is the case, it becomes doubtful whether our practice actually qualifies as a Dharma practice."
Atisha, in the 11th century, set out five levels of refuge. The first, "Worldly Scope", does not even qualify as Buddhist. The first Buddhist level (initial scope) is defined as "taking refuge to gain higher rebirth as a human or god, and to avoid the lower realms such as animal, hungry spirit, or hell being."
My questions for Dhammawheel members:
-- Do you agree with this definition of a Buddhist? Are these statements from Vajrayana practitioners consistent with the Theravadin view of taking refuge?
-- Has fear been an important motivator in your practice/decision to take refuge? Is it fear of hell/preta/animal rebirth etc specifically, or do you see it in a different way? Do you entertain a hope of being reborn as a god?
-- Do you have a powerful belief in the existence of hells -- powerful enough to motivate you to make life decisions based on that fear? On the flip side, do you have a powerful belief in the existence of heavens? What is your belief based on? Did you have it before you came to Buddhism?
-- If you became convinced that the threat of rebirth in the lower realms is not real, how would your practice be affected (if at all)?
-- If you have ever considered (or might consider) ordaining or otherwise renouncing worldly life, how contingent is this decision on the possibility of (literal) rebirth in the lower realms -- or the possibility of heaven? If you did not believe these are real possibilities, would there be any point to a monastic life? Would you still "give it all up" if there was no (literal) benefit to be gained in the afterlife, or would you look instead for worldly fulfillment?
Thanks for any responses! I will try to answer them myself later.