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Thread: Different approaches to rebirth beliefs

  1. #1

    Different approaches to rebirth beliefs

    Dear friends,

    This is a new rebirth topic in order to look at rebirth beliefs within the different Buddhist traditions and to explain why we believe or don't believe in them.

    In Tibetan Buddhism there's a belief in six different realms of existence and a "Bardo" stage after death, which can last up to 49 days. Its said that the consciousness floats about having all kinds of experiences during that time, until its reborn.

    http://www.lotsawahouse.org/tibetan-...t-instructions

    In Theravada Buddhism the approach is rather different because the idea of a "Bardo" is missing and its said that there are thirty one different realms:

    According to the Buddha, death is the temporary end of a temporary phenomenon. Death is not the complete annihilation of an existence because while organic life has ceased, the kammic force that had previously actuated is has not ended.

    Physical form is but the outward manifestation of the invisible force of kamma -- volitional actions. Form ceases in compliance with nature. With this death, the presumed identity of the once living being also ends. But the volitional impulses wrought by thought, word and deed will manifest in a way that we have come to call rebirth.

    This continuity flows unbroken, with no intermediate stage between one life and the next -- contrary to Tibetan Buddhist traditions that expounds a bardo stage.

    Rebirth immediately takes place within the 31 planes of existence. The unrelenting immediacy of rebirth may be compared to the lighting of a new candle with another candle. Fire from the first candle immediately causes the new wick to burn. There is no waiting upon positive contact. And the new flame cannot be said to have been a part of the first lighted candle.

    http://www.buddhistdoor.com/OldWeb/b...es/rebirth.htm

    What's your opinion?

    If you have faith in rebirth please can you explain what you believe happens after death in a better way than the candle analogy ?



  2. #2
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    I don't believe in rebirth per se, I just think there's a lot of problems with the YOLO outlook.

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    Global Moderator Esho's Avatar
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    Sorry binocular, what is exactly 'YOLO outlook'?

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    Aloka,

    I for one wish I could take up your gracious invitation (which seems to have disappeared from the other thread now ), but this is a classic case of knowing my own limits. Honestly I feel I'm simply not adept enough to express anything particularly meaningful on the topic at this particular juncture in time. Which is a shame because I do feel it's an important issue. Hopefully I can come back to it in due course.

  6. #6
    Its interesting that when asked what they think happens after the body dies, most people who believe in rebirth can't actually explain the actual process in a way that makes any sense and either fall back on the stock candle analogy, or beliefs which existed in Iron Age India together with the idea of a flat world etc, or dreams or "visions" they say they've had, or drug hallucinations, or they talk about "mind streams" ... and so on and then drag out the late Ian Stevenson as their last resort.

    I used to believe in rebirth when I was first involved with Tibetan Buddhism years ago and encountered all the "Bardo" teachings about the supposed after death state, and the training for when one is dead and one's consciousness is supposedly floating about and being able to recognise peaceful and wrathful deities and one thing or another.

    However, eventually it all seemed very superstitious and rather creepy .

    I then moved on to Theravada and discovered that Theravadins don't have those later teachings of course, but most of them firmly believe in rebirth.

    So in general, I remain agnostic about all of this,because I don't know for sure what happens and nothing I've heard, read, or seen in connection with the supposed process of death followed by rebirth/reincarnation, convinces me otherwise.

    I still remain open to what others have to say that seems rational and convincing though......


    May all sentient beings have happiness and freedom from suffering.



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    Yes, fwiw I can relate to all you've said there. And currently any attempt I could make to talk on the subject invariably would fall back on some of those ways of talking about things, "visions", and "mind-streams" in particular. That's why I don't feel it would be worth an awful lot.

    Having said that, I was particularly struck by this line from the quote in your OP;

    Physical form is but the outward manifestation of the invisible force of kamma -- volitional actions. Form ceases in compliance with nature. With this death, the presumed identity of the once living being also ends. But the volitional impulses wrought by thought, word and deed will manifest in a way that we have come to call rebirth.
    and I feel this is the key. I think it's worth noting that at this end the of the spectrum, (which I see as correlating to the potential 'between lives' issue), we're perhaps dealing with a realm of vagueness, by its very nature.

    I tend to view the stock candle analogy, and mind-streams for that matter, as being quite useful in their capacity to point away from a situation of - atta (soul). Therefore distinguishing between Eastern conceptions of rebirth and the common Western conception of reincarnation. They highlight the sense of continuity about the process, a certain immediacy, or absence of once-removedness as I sometimes phrase it. So in opposition to what is generally implied by reincarnation. But I also see the candle analogy in particular as being quite limited in that respect too.

    It's worth saying I don't see this continuity as actually negating bardo per se, and I sometimes find it useful to consider the twelve nidanas in a kind of concentric fashion to try to get a handle on all this.

    I agree with you about the superstitious taint to the Tibetan views, but it's easy to see it as being coloured by a different culture at a different time, and perhaps there's merit in trying picking out a perennial philosophy of sorts. I've always found the figure attached to Bardo of up to 49 days to be a bit odd. Previously I've felt that it seems to take a conventional measure of time, and apply it prior to its own context. But if we consider the line from the OP quote again, and the fact that the grossly manifest is conditioned by the subtly, perhaps it's not so outrageous ...

    Anyway, I feel like there's a lot more I could say, but that it would all start to get very waffly, very quickly!

    Under the circumstances I'd say agnostic sounds like a good position to take going forward.

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    Forums Member daverupa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by uguay View Post
    perhaps there's merit in trying picking out a perennial philosophy of sorts
    I'm virtually certain that this sort of effort only causes trouble. In short, it requires poring over other socio-religio-cultural practices as though one was at a buffet, picking & choosing whatever strikes one's fancy while ignoring the rest. Furthermore, perennial approaches begin with the assumption that commonalities point to larger metaphysical truths, instead of considering that such commonality might also simply reflect a common biology.

    ...it would all start to get very waffly, very quickly!
    This will always happen with metaphysical assertions; eventually, the claimant must retreat behind illegitimate defenses such as "it's obvious!", "just because!", "prove me wrong!", and the like. Basically, this is because claims about infinite facts (i.e. a beginningless rebirth cycle) are impossible to make when our empirical access to experience is only finite.

    Most Buddhists seem to me to end up dealing with rebirth by choosing religious faith, or some version of instrumentalism. I'm very unimpressed with both.

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    Quote Originally Posted by daverupa View Post
    I'm virtually certain that this sort of effort only causes trouble. In short, it requires poring over other socio-religio-cultural practices as though one was at a buffet, picking & choosing whatever strikes one's fancy while ignoring the rest. Furthermore, perennial approaches begin with the assumption that commonalities point to larger metaphysical truths, instead of considering that such commonality might also simply reflect a common biology.
    Ok, I thought that might prove to be a contentious phrase, but more because of the limits often associated with 'philosophising'. Personally I'm quite partial to a nice buffet, I always get first pick at the club meetings, mostly seeing as I'm the only member! In all seriousness though, all I really meant was, most works are going to be coloured by the traditions, and customs of the time (the memes if you like) and it can be useful to be able to cut through a lot of that. Historically, folks tended to work with a lot of allegory, and as the paradigms have evolved over time, it can be difficult to relate to much of what has been said in contemporary terms, especially if we approach them with a disposition toward literalism. Again, in a situation where the gross is conditioned by the subtle, it's fairly easy to envisage that common biology may well reflect larger metaphysical truths.



    This will always happen with metaphysical assertions; eventually, the claimant must retreat behind illegitimate defenses such as "it's obvious!", "just because!", "prove me wrong!", and the like. Basically, this is because claims about infinite facts (i.e. a beginningless rebirth cycle) are impossible to make when our empirical access to experience is only finite.

    Most Buddhists seem to me to end up dealing with rebirth by choosing religious faith, or some version of instrumentalism. I'm very unimpressed with both.
    Yes it's easy to imagine that these things are difficult to express in finite terms, and most likely even to penetrate too - with the conceptual thinking mind. I've little doubt the truth about rebirth can only be directly apprehended, and that any retrospective expression of this will be doomed to fall short of the mark, and would only ever function as pointers at best. That doesn't mean that some of the stock analogies can't be fine- tuned or improved upon though. That is ever the endeavour.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by uguay
    And currently any attempt I could make to talk on the subject invariably would fall back on some of those ways of talking about things, "visions", and "mind-streams" in particular. That's why I don't feel it would be worth an awful lot.
    One's emotions, imagination and mental hallucinations can be very powerful when one is convinced one can see or feel something unusual or special .

    People with religious beliefs of all descriptions claim to have "visions", talk to angels, deities, or even fairies, or get transported to heaven to get special messages from a supreme deity (or the future Buddha)and so on....

    .....and I 've mentioned this before somewhere, but even my late Tibetan teacher said that "people can make things up" as far as thinking they're experiencing past life regression is concerned.


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