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Thread: On Reincarnation

  1. #1

    On Reincarnation

    I came across this essay in the Buddhanet Basic Buddhism Guide and wondered if anyone had any comments.


    On Reincarnation

    by Takashi Tsuji - a Jodu Shinshu (Japanese Pureland) priest.


    Do you Buddhists believe in rebirth as an animal in the next life? Are you going to be a dog or a cow in the future? Does the soul transmigrate into the body of another person or some animal? What is the difference between transmigration and reincarnation? Is it the same as rebirth? Is karma the same as fate? These and a hundred similar questions are often put to me
    .
    A gross misunderstanding of about Buddhism exists today, especially in the notion of reincarnation. The common misunderstanding is that a person has led countless previous lives, usually as an animal, but somehow in this life he is born as a human being and in the next life he will be reborn as an animal, depending on the kind of life he has lived.

    This misunderstanding arises because people usually do not know-how to read the sutras or sacred writings. It is said that the Buddha left 84,000 teachings; the symbolic figure represents the diverse backgrounds characteristics, tastes, etc. of the people. The Buddha taught according to the mental and spiritual capacity of each individual. For the simple village folks living during the time of the Buddha, the doctrine of reincarnation was a powerful moral lesson. Fear of birth into the animal world must have frightened many people from acting like animals in this life. If we take this teaching literally today we are confused because we cannot understand it rationally.

    Herein lies our problem. A parable, when taken literally, does not make sense to the modern mind. Therefore we must learn to differentiate the parables and myths from actuality. However, if we learn to go beyond or transcend the parables and myths, we will be able to understand the truth.


    Continued at the link : http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/reincarnation.htm


  2. #2
    Technical Administrator woodscooter's Avatar
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    That seems to me to be a very well-reasoned treatment of the subject. The subject being rebirth/reincarnation, along with karma and the other-realms.

    After the directness and the simplicity of the Four Noble Truths has become complicated by centuries of teaching, additional material and dogma, it's difficult for some schools of Buddhism to disentangle themselves from all that stuff that's no longer self-evident, that can not be tested for truth.

    The article neatly separates out the basics from the superfluous stuff, and to my way of looking at it, clarifies these concepts. I think it's worthy of adding to the BWB Study Links.

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    Forums Member justusryans's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by woodscooter View Post
    That seems to me to be a very well-reasoned treatment of the subject. The subject being rebirth/reincarnation, along with karma and the other-realms.

    After the directness and the simplicity of the Four Noble Truths has become complicated by centuries of teaching, additional material and dogma, it's difficult for some schools of Buddhism to disentangle themselves from all that stuff that's no longer self-evident, that can not be tested for truth.

    The article neatly separates out the basics from the superfluous stuff, and to my way of looking at it, clarifies these concepts. I think it's worthy of adding to the BWB Study Links.
    I agree with wood scooter

  4. #4
    Some comments (which I've mentioned before somewhere) in connection with the previous Supreme Patriarch of Thailand H.H. Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara:



    As we are so familiar, in religious sphere, the concept of heaven and hell is a very prominent belief. In many cases, it becomes the goal of religious practice itself. On this very subject, His Holiness critically analyses that the very concept and belief of heaven and hell in Buddhism is a cultural influence of indigenous culture and belief.

    He states: (I quote) "the subject of cosmology appeared in Buddhism is clearly can be seen that it is not ‘Buddhist teaching’ at all but an ancient geography. The concept and belief about it was included in Buddhist Canon merely because of strong influence of popular belief of the time. Later Commentaries further explain about heaven and hell in a greater detail distant itself from the original teaching of the Buddha. If Buddhism teaches such belief on heaven and hell it would not be Buddhism at all but an ancient geography.

    Buddha wouldn’t be the Buddha who delivered the Noble Truth and ‘timeless’ message for mankind." (end of the quote) He then shows in his teaching that the concept of heaven and hell in Buddhism are in fact symbolic, representing the quality of mind and spirituality instead.

    One can be in heaven and hell in this very earth and life. No need to wait until one dies.


    https://web.archive.org/web/20111203...t_Birthday.pdf


  5. #5
    Forums Member Element's Avatar
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    Buddhism has so many sects/schools within it.

    Imo or logical speculation, such diverse sectarianism (including the creating of the Mahayana) would not have occurred if the monks & clergy after the Buddha, themselves, were not fiddling with the scriptures. In other words, if the doctrine remained strict to the Buddha's word, Buddhism would have remained strict. I imagine, particularly under King Ashoka who wanted to covert India to Buddhism, all sorts of 'suttas' were fabricated & included within the scriptures.

    I read the Janussonin Sutta very recently & cannot believe (even when accounting for metaphorical language) that the Buddha himself would teach certain kinds of actions would lead to reincarnation as an elephant, cow or chicken.

    This is simply too ridiculous in its specific determinism.

    Brahman, I do describe a preparation for the impossible places. There is the case where a certain person takes life, takes what is not given, engages in sensual misconduct, engages in false speech, engages in divisive speech, engages in abusive speech, engages in idle chatter, is covetous, bears ill will, and has wrong views. But he gives food, drink, cloth, vehicles, garlands, scents, creams, bed, lodging, & lamps to brahmans & contemplatives. With the break-up of the body, after death, he reappears in the company of elephants. There he receives food, drink, flowers, & various ornaments. It's because he took life, took what is not given, engaged in sensual misconduct, engaged in false speech, engaged in divisive speech, engaged in abusive speech, engaged in idle chatter, was covetous, bore ill will, and had wrong views that he reappears in the company of elephants. But it's because he gave food, drink, cloth, vehicles, garlands, scents, creams, bed, lodging, & lamps to brahmans & contemplatives that he receives food, drink, flowers, & various ornaments.

    "Then there is the case where a certain person takes life... has wrong views. But he gives food... lamps to brahmans & contemplatives. With the break-up of the body, after death, he reappears in the company of horses... in the company of cattle... in the company of poultry. There he receives food, drink, flowers, & various ornaments. It's because he took life... and had wrong views that he reappears in the company of poultry. But it's because he gave food, drink... & lamps to brahmans & contemplatives that he receives food, drink, flowers, & various ornaments.

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipit....177.than.html

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Element
    ..... reincarnation as an elephant, cow or chicken.



  7. #7
    Forums Member Olderon's Avatar
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    Takashi Tsuji: "Herein lies our problem. A parable, when taken literally, does not make sense to the modern mind. Therefore we must learn to differentiate the parables and myths from actuality. However, if we learn to go beyond or transcend the parables and myths, we will be able to understand the truth."
    Well, if we are going to label all the stories of Buddha as a Bodhisatta as mythology, then there seems to be little reason to study The Dhammapada, or The Jataka Tales, except to learn the moral lessons and/or just plain good advice therein. The same could be said for Aesop's Fables. There is no doubt that these fables and myths have value to parents acting responsibly teaching their children morality, and probably are of value to the rest of us, who seem to learn best when given examples by which to live. Parables worked well for Jesus in getting his moral teachings across as evidenced in The Christian Bible, and The Greek Myths seemed to be well accepted for that reason as well.

    As for truth: Recently I heard the following, as to "morality" and "truth": "There is no right or wrong. There is only truth."

    In Buddhism we use the terms beneficial and harmful rather than right or wrong. We are advised that karmically, beneficial intentional actions result in beneficial results for all involved; harmful intentional actions result in harm not only to those we intend to harm, but eventually in harm to ourselves as well when all conditions are conducive to giving fruit to those karmic seeds."

    The truth is always the truth, whether beneficial or harmful.
    Last edited by Olderon; 01 May 17 at 09:50. Reason: Additional thought.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Olderon
    Well, if we are going to label all the stories of Buddha as a Bodhisatta as mythology, then there seems to be little reason to study The Dhammapada, or The Jataka Tales, except to learn the moral lessons and/or just plain good advice therein. The same could be said for Aesop's Fables.There is no doubt that these fables and myths have value to parents acting responsibly teaching their children morality, and probably are of value to the rest of us, who seem to learn best when given examples by which to live.
    The following excerpt is from Bhikku Sujato's blog entry : "On the interpretation of Buddhist myth":

    Quote Originally Posted by Sujato

    Like all axial age religions, Buddhism inherited a range of beliefs, ideas, stories, and customs from the culture and history around it, and tried, with general success, to adapt these to its own principles. But in some cases this adaption was only skin deep, and the power of the old taboos lives on. In interpreting stories older than itself – such as many of the Jatakas – modern Buddhists almost always simply continue the process of rationalizing and ethicizing the tales. And for Buddhists in traditional cultures, who are interested to tell good stories so as to inculcate proper values in their children, that’s exactly what they should be doing.

    This process is widespread and has been going on for a long time. The Grimms’ fairy tales were progressively watered down and prettied up for a middle class audience. The same tendency happened in the ‘high’ culture of Buddhism


    https://sujato.wordpress.com/2010/03...buddhist-myth/

    .

  9. #9
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    From the same link as above:

    But I’m a grown up, and I don’t need the PG version. I know that killing babies is wrong. I know that a mother’s love for her child is a very great thing. And when I look at these stories, and listen to the voices that tell me that that these stories are meant to convey such messages – and nothing else – I am far from satisfied.

    If we give up our efforts to ethicize and rationalize – just for a moment! – and look at the images and ideas these stories present, what we are seeing is the presentation of violence and death within a religious parable of compassion and wisdom. This has an impact on the mind, regardless of the context it is in. The end result is the dramatic juxtaposition of elements – murder and compassion, grief and fury, and so on. These all occupy the same narrative ‘space’. If we were to draw them as an image, they would appear side by side, or in sequence.

    Whereas an ethical interpretation wants to favor one side and oppose the other – Devadatta is evil! Buddha is good! – on a mythic or existential level these depict equally valid realities. Ethically, death is worse than life; but existentially, they are equally real.

    Deep myth depicts this situation, the coextensive existence of death and life, murder and love. It lies prior to and indifferent to our moral judgements. In Hinduism, the goddess of Death is the most compassionate of all deities, since she makes it possible for new life. This is why all so-called ‘primitive’ religions include elements that, to the axial, ethicized mind, seem bizarre, irrational, and cruel.
    /.../
    I think modernist Buddhism has forgotten this old wisdom. I think we have become so caught up the idea of Buddhism as a rational, compassionate religion, that we deny and try to pretend that irrational, uncompassionate things could ever be a part of ‘real Buddhism’. And in doing so, we render ourselves incapable of any interesting or useful way of understanding or dealing with the demonstrably irrational forces that we find, for example in the objections to bhikkhuni ordination.
    /.../
    In such approaches, we leach meaning from our texts, and end up with a Buddhism that is idealized and unrealistic. It becomes like the imagined birth of the Buddha: without pain, without blood, without humanity.
    I find that the more one tries to chalk up potentially unpalatable images, stories etc. as being merely myths, the more one tries to ethicize a religion by one's current humanist standards, the more the implicit faith in the efficacy of said religion wanes. That is, by writing off some religious phenomena as "myths," or "parables," one can make a religion seem more palatable to current humanist standards, but I think doing so also takes away the power that the religion may hold over one's mind, diminishes that power, and renders one's faith in the efficacy of the religion (salvation from samsara) weaker, or downplays the goal (the goal now being merely "making one's life a little better" instead of "salvation from samsara") or its relevance ("What matters is the path, not the goal").
    Last edited by binocular; 01 May 17 at 16:32.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Olderon View Post
    Well, if we are going to label all the stories of Buddha as a Bodhisatta as mythology, then there seems to be little reason to study The Dhammapada, or The Jataka Tales, except to learn the moral lessons and/or just plain good advice therein.
    What moral lessons can be learned from the Jataka Tales? Could you give some examples?

    The same could be said for Aesop's Fables. There is no doubt that these fables and myths have value to parents acting responsibly teaching their children morality, and probably are of value to the rest of us, who seem to learn best when given examples by which to live. Parables worked well for Jesus in getting his moral teachings across as evidenced in The Christian Bible, and The Greek Myths seemed to be well accepted for that reason as well.
    I think that without the proper interpretation, parables are often confusing, and at best, useless.


    The truth is always the truth, whether beneficial or harmful.
    Only in a morally corrupt universe.

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