Monday, June 15, 2015

There is no "reincarnation" in Buddhism (video)

Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Crystal Quintero, CC Liu, Wisdom QuarterlyVen. Nyanatiloka/Anton Gueth (Buddhist Dictionary: A Manual of Doctrines and Terms)
Let suffering (woe, disappointment, unsatisfactoriness, dukkha) come to an end already!

Samsara keeps us cycling through not Six but 31 Planes of Existence.

Craving (+ ignorance) gives rise to rebirth.
There is rebirth, and lots of it, but no "reincarnation."

Vajrayana Buddhists -- a branch of Mahayana or "Great Vehicle" Buddhism dominant in Tibet, Bhutan, Mongolia, Nepal, and some parts of China (where it is called Esoteric Buddhism) -- are heavily influenced by Hinduism and therefore loosely use the term "reincarnation."

It is a deeply misleading term and avoided by more careful Buddhists, who instead use the word "rebirth." Is it a distinction without a difference? Far from it.

Buddhism A to Z
The unique teaching of buddhas (fully awakened ones), and this is certainly true of the historical Shakyamuni Buddha Gautama, is the ultimately-impersonal (anatta, egolessness as regards living beings) nature of reality, spoken of more widely as "emptiness" (shunyata, essencelessness as regards living beings and all other phenomena) thanks to the very popular extracanonical discourse known as the Heart Sutra (Hrdaya Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom, or Prajna Paramita, literature).
Proof of Heaven (Dr. Eben Alexander)
It is a critical teaching, central to the whole message, not some subsidiary anomaly or quirk of the Dharma. But it is so profound and not to be arrived at by mere reasoning no matter how clever one is that it is universally misunderstood according to one's predilections as either "eternal life" or "annihilation," two extremes of view, both of which are profoundly mistaken. How, if they seem to be diametrically opposed, can they both be so wrong?

So crucial is this unique teaching that one who directly knows and sees this Truth is enlightened and liberated by the experience. This teaching is not something to be argued about but something to be directly experienced. Reasoning and winning a debate does not advance wisdom but only increases knowledge and ego.

But how could there be heavens if there's no reincarnation like Christians teach? Christians teach reincarnation? Yes, but with only two options for rebirth, heaven or hell. Catholics add limbo. Jews and ancient Greeks add Hades, a world of spirits to which everyone goes regardless so live it up now, and many Jews have an affinity for Buddhism because they imagine that the Dharma's concern with NOW means this temporal life and worldly pleasure. The NOW Buddhism means is mystical and always, there being only the now at every moment, not many nows, but just this one now.

The concept can certainly be reasoned out, explained, proved, and made clear with words -- but the heart/mind will resist the conclusion or settle on a misinterpretation according to one's predilection, as stated above. Optimists will misunderstand and think liberation is the promise of "eternal life" (when in fact it is the deathless state), and pessimists will misunderstand and think liberation is the promised of "nothingness" and a peaceful end to the turmoil of life. Again, it cannot be stated too strongly: BOTH are mistaken concepts. And the Buddha went through a great deal of trouble to dissuade disciples from adopting or promoting either view. Both are misrepresentations of the Buddha and the Dharma, and the Noble Sangha (the greater community of enlightened individuals) knows it.

Anne Frank is now living as Barbro, a non-Jewish European with memory of her past.
For ease of understanding -- always being careful to distinguish conventional and ultimate modes of speech -- the Buddha and the noble ones (the arya from stream enterers to arhats) speak of a "self," an "ego," a "soul," a "personality," an "individual." But they never misunderstand what they do and do not mean by such conventional terms. Until one is fully enlightened (arhatship) one, freed of the illusion of self, nevertheless may still suffer from a more subtle and persistent defilement known as "conceit" (māna, the habit of mind to think in terms of a self though one knows there to be no such entity in the ultimate sense).
If most monastics cannot grasp the "not self" concept or see this liberating truth directly, and if noble ones still persist in the habit of regarding things as self-and-other, what chance do "ordinary uninstructed worldlings" (putthujanas) have of even getting an intellectual grasp of this core Buddhist teaching? Next to none.
Do You Believe in Rebirth? (Ven. Dhammananda)
So if no one can easily understand it, what does it matter? For goodness sakes, why should anyone care?

The reason it is so important, the reason people should care is that it is precisely because of not understanding it -- and in analogous terms not seeing what is there in place of a "self, ego, or soul," namely, Dependent Origination -- that living beings suffer, are bound to the Wheel of Life and Death (samsara), and never understand reality directly (enlightenment).

By knowing and seeing this ultimate Truth (one of the Three Characteristics of Existence), they are freed, all suffering ends irrevocably, and they are no more subject to endless rebirth, a.k.a. "reincarnation."

Is there life after death? A better question would be, Is there life after life? Yes.

So what's wrong with the word "reincarnation"? It is a Christian-Hindu concept, in technical Buddhist terms a "wrong view" (miccha-ditthi) held by most religious traditions. Science traditions tend to hold the opposite wrong view, that of annihilationism or the idea that death spells the end of everything. One neither goes on eternally after death, nor is one annihilated at death. Then what happens? If one understood Dependent Origination one would know and see not only what happens then but what is happening right here right now. It is not that there is no self and one will figure this out at death. It is that there is no self (in an ultimate sense) right now and even at death one will not figure that out and therefore be subject to rebirth.

Dr. Alexander, Dr. Moody (
"Who?" is the nagging question of the thoughtful person, but it is only a wrong understanding that makes that question so salient and inscrutable, so obvious and yet misguided: one is asking in conventional terms for an answer that is ultimate. The question can be answered in conventional terms, but it will not seem to make sense; the mind/heart will resist. "There has to be a self," we insist, "because look I'm thinking, I'm talking, I'm moving my hand. Bam, 'Cogito ergo sum'!" (the famous Cartesian assumption, "I think therefore I am," in Latin).

Guides for the Grief Stricken
Many religions, or mysticism in general, has it more right than science on this one but science, or empiricism in general, is catching up. Everything does not end at death, and even though ultimately there was no abiding self, there seems to be: The impersonal and ever changing process taken as "self" goes on. Death may mark the end of this personality or this habit of referring to oneself, but one is not limited to this personality or this lifetime. There are many (countless) lives, conventionally speaking. One has already been reborn more times than can be reckoned, and there's no end in sight. What is the chance of developing insight in this very life and putting an end to all suffering? Small.

And most, not even taking up the quest for enlightenment, reduce small to essentially no chance whatsoever. Enlightenment is possible in this very life for most ordinary people of ordinary intelligence, but we are so caught up in our delusions, ambitions, cravings, views, and aversions that LETTING GO is more of a pipe dream than a tangible possibility. And as the world worsens, the chance of even ever hearing such a message as anatta or the contents of this post recede into the horizon like a wise man from the east in a saffron robe walking away in the distance.

Ven. Nyanatiloka ( edited by Wisdom Quarterly
A Western monk, an English-speaking German man named Anton Gueth, once while living in Sri Lanka/India, got interred in a detention camp in Dehradun (Himalayan foothills of India) during WW II. This gave him time to compile a list of Buddhist terms for his own use as he was studying the Dharma. He never intended to write an authoritative dictionary, but that's what it became.
Re-becoming: punabbhava (literally, "again-becoming" or "renewed existence," is a sutra term for "rebirth," which in later literature is more often called patisandhi. There is no static "being" or "beingness" but only dynamic becoming. The attainment of enlightenment (arahatta), implying the end of all future rebirths, is often expressed in the words:

"This is the last birth. Now there is no more again becoming!" (natthi 'dāni punabbhavo) (MN 26; DN 15; Psalms of the Brethren, or Theragatha, 87, 339; Sutta Nipata 502). The term is often linked with abhi-nibbatti ("arising").

"But how, O brother, does it come to renewed existence and arising in the future (āyatim punabbhavābhinibbatti)? It is because beings, obstructed by ignorance and fettered by craving, find ever fresh delight now here, now there, it is for this reason that there is renewed existence and arising in the future" (MN 43).

See also S.XII. 38. Abhinibbatti also stands sometimes alone in signifying "rebirth," e.g., in A. VI, 61; X, 65. Compare, in the second Nobe Truth, the adjective ponobhavika, "leading to renewed existence." See A. III, 76; Sn. 163, 273, 514, 733; S. VII, 12; X, 3.
  • Guide to Buddhism A to Z (Ven. Dhammika)
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