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Thread: Is rebirth a myth ?

  1. #1
    Soto Zen teacher Brad warner wrote a short blog post a few years ago with the title: "The Myth of Rebirth"

    Do you have any comments to share about what he had to say ?

  2. #2
    Global Moderator Esho's Avatar
    Under the Bodhi Tree
    I agree with Brad but I will add that rebirth is more than a myth it is a belief. It is about having faith in something. Also its a hope like: 'I hope I will endure for ever' 'I will have a good rebirth next time if I do good' 'I will become such and such next life' These are hopes, beliefs. It is faith. The fact is that this is the only life we have and we should do good just because. The fact is that rebirth and Kamma are not important to buddhist practice. We can practice without the idea of rebirth in mind.
    Last edited by Esho; 20 Dec 19 at 19:50.

  3. #3
    Forums Member Olderon's Avatar
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    Mar 2017
    Concord, New Hampshire, U.S.A.
    Warner appears to be ignorant of Buddha's teachings without any real effort to see where these teachings are true with respect to current biological and physical science, especially as currently understood geological and cosmological sciences, my guess because the time frames required to express and experience rebirth are way beyond human experience of life times he appears to be blowing off the notion of rebirth. Understandable, but saddening.

  4. #4
    Technical Administrator woodscooter's Avatar
    London UK
    Quote Originally Posted by Olderon View Post
    ... Understandable, but saddening.
    No need to be sad, sir. Brad Warner has studied Buddhism thoroughly and gained ordination as a Master in the Soto sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism. I wouldn't know whether he's in touch with the Western physical sciences too, but he certainly lives in the same Western world as most of us.

    I don't see any part of 'The Myth of Rebirth' blowing off the notion of rebirth. Sure, if you just read the title of the talk and if you take 'myth' as a synonym for 'falsehood', you would think the blog would be blowing off the notion of rebirth.

    But as you read what Brad Warner has written (and we have all read it, haven't we), you see that’s not the proper meaning of the word. A myth is a way of explaining something for which there is no good literal explanation. A myth is not necessarily false. A myth is not untrue because it fails to accord with fact. It can be true but not in the way scientific explanations or histories are true.

    So I guess he's saying that it's fine to accept the notion of rebirth if you choose to, and there's no worry if you don't.

    I wholly agree with you that the time frames for literal experience of rebirth are way beyond human capability.

  5. #5
    Some Zen teachers appear to be agnostic about rebirth/reincarnation - Soto Zen teacher Jundo Cohen, for example.

    and this is from Zen priest Steve Hagen:

    Reincarnation implies the persistence of a self. And this goes to the very heart of the Buddhist insight. There isn't any persistence of any kind whatsoever. Everything is fresh, new in each moment. Already you're not the person who called me a few moments ago. Already your mind is different, new thoughts have entered into it. Your feelings and emotions have changed.

    Within a few months virtually all the material of our bodies will be exchanged with other material that's now disbursed in the environment. This is a continuous ongoing flow. Even the electrons, the electrical exchanges between the materials in our bodies and the cabinet, the floor, or anything else that's around you is in continuous flow and flux and change. Nothing is holding still.

    So within this kind of world of total impermanence, where do we find permanence? We don't find it anywhere. But that's what would be required for the standard understanding of reincarnation: that there's something called me, an "I" that will persist.

    Well we can believe this and of course this would be one of those form things: something that we think, something that we believe. But as I understand the Buddhist teachings, the awakened wouldn't buy this. They would go with what is actually experienced directly. What is experienced directly? Total flux and change, impermanence. So impermanent that we actually don't find a thing there to be impermanent, such as a self.

    and from the Zen Centre of Georgia USA:

    ....These schools (Chan and Zen) make no assumptions or hold beliefs as to what happens after one dies. Because of this, rebirth is seen as being born into each moment, dying and being reborn into the next moment. This isn't something to be taken on faith, but to understood through your own practice.

  6. #6
    ....and here are some comments from Theravada teacher Ajahn Sumedho on the first page of chapter 18 of his book "The Sound of Silence"

    There’s a note here asking about rebirth. Someone wants to know what the historical Buddha had to say about rebirth, what Ajahn Chah said about it, and whether Buddhists who have a cultural belief in rebirth regard me as lacking faith.

    ‘Rebirth,’ like ‘reincarnation,’ is a term that’s used generally referring to having gone through a series of different lives, and then there are various views about whether once you get reincarnated into human form where can you go, become a frog again or something like that. I was teaching a retreat in Australia at the Theosophical Society,where people’s views were split. Some held that once you’ve made it to the human level you can’t slide back into a lesser animal one, whereas others insisted that you could. But the truth of the matter is, nobody really knows.

    The historical Buddha refers to previous lives in the scriptures and things like this, but for me these things are speculative. Maybe you can remember previous lives, but I have no such memory. So all I can know is from the here and now. We’re talking about direct knowing, rather than Buddhist theory, or Buddhist doctrine.

  7. #7
    Global Moderator Esho's Avatar
    Under the Bodhi Tree
    Quote Originally Posted by Aloka View Post
    ....and here are some comments from Theravada teacher Ajahn Sumedho on the first page of chapter 18 of his book "The Sound of Silence"

    Great! Good approach to rebirth. Rebirth is speculative because nobody really knows. There are no facts that support it in favour or against.

    Thanks Aloka!

  8. #8
    Here's an excerpt from an article by Ajahn Amaro, abbot of Amaravati Monastery UK:

    In Buddhist tradition, and in a more mythological expression, enlightenment is also called “the ending of the cycle of birth and death”—this makes reference to rebirth as well as to the diminishing and ending of rebirth. I think it’s helpful here to say that one of the things that attracted me and many other people towards the Buddha’s teachings is its non-dogmatic nature.

    I am quite aware that many people do not like the concepts of past lives, future lives, and rebirth. That sort of terminology may send shudders through the system and that’s fair enough. I feel that even though the texts talk in terms like “ending the cycles of birth and death,” it is completely valid to think of that in terms of “psychological birth and death.”

  9. #9
    Forums Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2017
    I like the image of the Wheel of the Dhamma where the whole point of Buddhism is to escape the cycle of rebirth. Rebirth as a punishment for not achieving enlightenment is an interesting idea which arises from any study of the wheel. Take this further and consciousness, or maybe self-consciousness and the idea of a self, is it's own reward and punishment. You get to see things as a human being, but a problem arises when you see yourself as separate from everything, where you are this lone organism trying to survive, reproduce and make sense of the world.

    Rebirth and ending rebirth becomes part of a strategy for understanding that we are not separate from everything else and are one with everything (if you can ignore the jokes about that phrase). We only need the idea of rebirth if we have not gained insight into this mistaken understanding about the nature of our true selves. We are only on the wheel because we think we are, but it's hard work lifting ourselves by our bootstraps and getting off.

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