Author Topic: Rebirth: just heaven and hell all over again?  (Read 1079 times)

Offline allen-uk

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Rebirth: just heaven and hell all over again?
« on: June 28, 2016, 03:35:46 am »
For some years I have tried to live in a 'Buddhist' way, not for reward in this life (or another), but because I believe that if all humans behaved in this way, the world would be a far better place.

A stumbling block in my path towards Buddhism has always been this: the notion of rebirth, and the destination of that rebirth, is (I am instructed) determined by the sort of life the person has lived.

Thus, a good, kind person might begin a new life as a new person, so to be good and kind once more.

A cruel, evil tyrant would be reborn as a far lower being, due to his/her accumulation of negative karma during their past life.

Now, to me this smacks far too much of 'heaven and hell', as promulgated by most other 'religions'. Be good, go to heaven; be bad, go to hell.

This seems to reduce what SHOULD be a moral decision - viz, I will lead a good life, following the eight-fold path, because it is the RIGHT thing to do for all life on this planet - it reduces this to one of expedience. I will lead a good life because I am fearful of the consequences.

Surely this can't be what the enlightened one, the Buddha, taught us? Otherwise, if it is just like going to heaven, or to hell, it becomes 'just' another religion.

Let me give you this example to finish this not-very-lucid point. A friend, a Buddhist, suffers from all sorts of physical disabilities. He is in a wheelchair, almost blind, in constant pain. And he blames all this on himself, or rather his actions in past lives. I argue, and tell him it's simply bad luck, unlucky genes, unlucky 'choice' of parents, and so on. But no, this blameless, sensitive, intelligent person insists that it is all because a previous self accumulated such very bad karma, and it is now being worked out.

Thank you for reading this, and your opinions, if any, will be most welcomed.

With metta,

Allen.

Offline whale

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Re: Rebirth: just heaven and hell all over again?
« Reply #1 on: June 28, 2016, 09:48:20 am »
I don't think you should focus on rebirth to much.  what or if you returned is unknown but we can see how negative actions can damage our life now, so its just a continuation of this karma after our death. The newly born person is neither the same person nor a different person from who died.  There is no self that remains.

its not like heaven or hell, its not a  cosmic criminal justice system or intelligence behind the scenes, rewarding or punishing for our conscious. It's more like a natural law.   just as we can see stars in the sky billions of years after they have gone nova, or hear a jet plan after it has passed.  that karma most likely remains after our body passes. 


just focus on what you can control, your suffering now.

Offline allen-uk

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Re: Rebirth: just heaven and hell all over again?
« Reply #2 on: June 28, 2016, 01:33:05 pm »
Thanks whale, I'll give that some thought, but my first and unconsidered reaction is to wonder how this philosophy differs from, say, Christianity?

I will come back.

A

Offline whale

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Re: Rebirth: just heaven and hell all over again?
« Reply #3 on: June 28, 2016, 05:36:00 pm »
Well with Christianity 'heaven and hell' is permanent and for heaven you have to believe in it to enter.   Buddhism always has a way out and belief has no effect.   

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Rebirth: just heaven and hell all over again?
« Reply #4 on: June 29, 2016, 06:29:27 am »
For me, Buddhism would be far better off without the idea of rebirth. The idea that we are reborn again is to misunderstand reality. Our actions affect the future and future generations, but that's it. The idea arose because we will still be part of the universe after we die, but in a way which we understand fully only when we have enlightenment experiences. We were part of everything before we were born, are part of it now, and will be part of it after we die. The illusion we buy into is that we are separate now.
Unfortunately we shy away from this view because it is scary without the emotional impact of enlightenment, which brings with it a warm sense of belonging and of finally being home whatever happens in the future. Rebirth was only ever a story to keep people going until they have enlightenment experiences for themselves.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Offline allen-uk

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Re: Rebirth: just heaven and hell all over again?
« Reply #5 on: June 29, 2016, 07:44:46 am »
That helps, stillpointdancer, at least to the extent that you seem to be on the same offshoot of the Path as me (don't we just love being agreed with...), and that path is Secular Buddhism.

But no, I'm not arguing for Secularism, just kicking it around. Rebirth? Unlike you, I don't actually mind the concept of 'something' emanating from our minds as we die, rushing out into the void and latching on to new life as a drowning man grasps at straws. Attachment to life probably leads to this, and indeed this is what the Buddha taught us.

But my friend whose life I touched upon in my first post, the man with severe physical disabilities who believes that it is All His Fault (for previous mis-spent lives), still worries me. Or rather the ramifications do. Does that mean, for example, that all people with disabilities are in that condition because of previous lives? Or that all people living a life of unbelievable wealth and luxury did so well in previous lives that they are now being rewarded?

Or that killers, corrupt politicians, bankers, and the like, will all re-emerge as famine victims, or suffering from awful diseases?

It all gets very silly, and very unscientific, not the Buddhism that first attracted me at all! In fact it turns into a belief system, just what I thought most of 'us' were trying to avoid.

I think my problem is with Karma being interpreted as a sort of reward system, that is the main problem here. But having observed evil people getting away with it for most of my long-ish life, I am loathe to say 'Ah well, they'll get what's coming to them eventually,' because that doesn't happen.

Thank you for taking the time to read these ramblings and to help me sort out my slightly muddled thoughts.
-------
Just found this post by Zafrogzen on a very similar theme, and was so impressed I thought I'd bend the rules and quote him here:

"If there is “reincarnation” I doubt it is so simplistic. A lot of the talk of reincarnation sounds like wishful thinking to me, which might be why you also have doubts about it. The notion of birth in various levels of existence, such as human, animal, hungry ghost, etc, as the result of past actions, seems even more fanciful, as you point out.

Although we each experience our own separate life, there isn’t a distinct entity, separate from everything else, which experiences it and which can travel from one life to another in a linear fashion. In addition, past and future don’t really exist -- there’s just this present moment, through which the changing phenomena of life is passing, continuously, perhaps, eternally.

So, while there might be a “re-occurrence” of the phenomena of birth and death, whether there’s a separate continuity of consciousness that experiences it from one life to the next, is idle speculation, IMHO.

Ordinary, intellectual, discursive, conceptual thinking, which is inevitably dualistic, is incapable of grasping and containing the true nature of this life. That doesn’t mean It can’t be directly “experienced” through meditation. In fact any answer to your question is essentially meaningless unless the answer is personally experienced. Holding onto other people’s answers only blocks one from real experience."


Thanks zafrogzen.

Allen.

« Last Edit: June 29, 2016, 08:10:36 am by allen-uk »

Offline ECS

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Re: Rebirth: just heaven and hell all over again?
« Reply #6 on: July 24, 2016, 06:09:47 am »
If human continue to accept knowledge as the basis of judgement ... yes there will forever be good verses bad , right verses wrong , true verses false , heaven verses hell ..........................

Buddhism is not knowledge ........

Offline WesternDragon

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Re: Rebirth: just heaven and hell all over again?
« Reply #7 on: August 07, 2016, 10:08:34 am »
As far as my knowledge of buddhism I have only read the Dhammapada however it seems pretty clear to me that Buddha wasn't referring to death and rebirth in the literal sense. 

To me it seems clear and is congruent with the rest of his teachings that he is referring to the constant cycle that takes place in everyones life as they try to make sense of the world.

As we grow so too does our understanding of this world.  At some point we all gain a perspective of the world that gives us the feeling that we've made some sort of sense of things.  As we suffer we lose the stability that feeling of understanding has provided (death) and are forced back into the cycle of figuring out who we are.  Sooner or later we have an epiphany that brings us back to a level of understanding and we regain our stability (rebirth)

My understanding of death and rebirth ties in nicely with the concept of nirvana (the end of the death and rebirth cycle).  Having attained an understanding of the supreme truth one would no longer have need for their partial understanding to break.  The supreme truth, as I see it, would therefor be the final epiphany that makes all others obsolete.  Thus breaking the death and rebirth cycle.


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Offline Spiny Norman

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Re: Rebirth: just heaven and hell all over again?
« Reply #8 on: August 07, 2016, 12:27:36 pm »
As far as my knowledge of buddhism I have only read the Dhammapada however it seems pretty clear to me that Buddha wasn't referring to death and rebirth in the literal sense. 

Are there any particular verses in the Dhammapada that make you think that?

Offline WesternDragon

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Re: Rebirth: just heaven and hell all over again?
« Reply #9 on: August 07, 2016, 12:44:41 pm »
There was no particular verse.  I had read that buddha began his journey troubled by the suffering in the world and once attaining enlightenment sought to teach others how to overcome their suffering. 

Throughout the verses of the dhamma it is reoccurring that the things which keep us from nirvana are our cravings.  The way we cling to the things we think we need.  It also seems reoccurring that the path to nirvana isnt so much learning anything as it is unlearning the false notions we have built in our minds.  So as we begin to realize that, for example, we dont have need for money or power and begin to let these false notions go a more clear picture is painted.

It just seems to me as if his teachings were geared towards bringing people out of the cycle that I had previously described where as I hadn't seen mention of reincarnation in the literal sense. 

I am very new to buddhism though which is why I am here to have a new light shone on my subjective view.


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Offline WesternDragon

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Re: Rebirth: just heaven and hell all over again?
« Reply #10 on: August 07, 2016, 12:46:56 pm »
I have read a bit about samsara since reading the dhamma and even in there I see nothing pointing firmly to the death and rebirth cycle as being literal death or rebirth.


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Offline WesternDragon

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Re: Rebirth: just heaven and hell all over again?
« Reply #11 on: August 07, 2016, 01:10:37 pm »
Even the five (or six) realms of rebirth characterize qualities and states of suffering that are found within man on this earth. 


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Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Rebirth: just heaven and hell all over again?
« Reply #12 on: August 09, 2016, 02:44:44 am »
As far as my knowledge of buddhism I have only read the Dhammapada however it seems pretty clear to me that Buddha wasn't referring to death and rebirth in the literal sense. 

Are there any particular verses in the Dhammapada that make you think that?

What about this one?
 "He who knows the river of his past lives and is free from life that ends in death, who knows the joys of heaven and the sorrows of hell, for he is a seer whose vision is pure, who in perfection is one with the Supreme Perfection--him I call a Brahmin." 423

For me this means that he is loosening attachment to the prevailing idea of rebirth, that we get other chances to do it right in the future. I think that instead, the Buddha wanted us to do it now, before it was too late. If we now understand that there is no rebirth, how much more will we want enlightenment?

The choice changes from being one of unfavorable/ favorable rebirth, to heaven-hell-nihilist future after death/ enlightened understanding of future after death.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Offline Spiny Norman

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Re: Rebirth: just heaven and hell all over again?
« Reply #13 on: August 09, 2016, 03:08:24 am »

What about this one?
 "He who knows the river of his past lives and is free from life that ends in death, who knows the joys of heaven and the sorrows of hell, for he is a seer whose vision is pure, who in perfection is one with the Supreme Perfection--him I call a Brahmin." 423

For me this means that he is loosening attachment to the prevailing idea of rebirth, that we get other chances to do it right in the future. I think that instead, the Buddha wanted us to do it now, before it was too late. If we now understand that there is no rebirth, how much more will we want enlightenment?


Sorry, but I'm really struggling to see how you justify a secular interpretation here, based on what the verse actually says.

I have a pretty secular approach myself these days, but from years of sutta study and discussion I can assure you that rebirth is very much present in the Pali Canon.  Trying to airbrush it out is fruitless, it is more sensible to just accept it is there, and put it to one side.

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Rebirth: just heaven and hell all over again?
« Reply #14 on: August 10, 2016, 03:50:23 am »

What about this one?
 "He who knows the river of his past lives and is free from life that ends in death, who knows the joys of heaven and the sorrows of hell, for he is a seer whose vision is pure, who in perfection is one with the Supreme Perfection--him I call a Brahmin." 423

For me this means that he is loosening attachment to the prevailing idea of rebirth, that we get other chances to do it right in the future. I think that instead, the Buddha wanted us to do it now, before it was too late. If we now understand that there is no rebirth, how much more will we want enlightenment?


Sorry, but I'm really struggling to see how you justify a secular interpretation here, based on what the verse actually says.

I have a pretty secular approach myself these days, but from years of sutta study and discussion I can assure you that rebirth is very much present in the Pali Canon.  Trying to airbrush it out is fruitless, it is more sensible to just accept it is there, and put it to one side.

You are of course right that rebirth is pretty all-pervasive in the Pali Canon, just as it was in the society it was written for. But isn't the end point of the path to be free from 'life that ends in death'? To get off the wheel? That sounds like the end of rebirth for me. And if the aim of Buddhism was to bring an end to rebirth, why should we in the west take up the idea in the first place? Our problem has been similarly dualistic, with the idea of a separate soul existing for all eternity, but with only 'one shot' at getting it right to prepare for our afterlife. Maybe we should keep the 'one shot' and lose the eternal soul?

Our problem is that we impose our idea of an eternal soul on the idea of rebirth, that 'we' are reborn. Our 'soul' resides in a new body. But that's not the Buddhist idea of rebirth, with the new soul arising from conditions created by the old one. Or am I mistaken in that? I thought our idea of a soul was like a continuous piece of string, this life being just a knot in it, but the string being the soul that lasts forever. The Buddhist idea is more like a stack of coins, each re-birthed 'soul' separate, but each dependent on the other.

Anyway, I guess that what I was trying to say was that if there was no idea of rebirth, how much harder would people try to attain enlightenment in this shot at life? If there was no other chance in some future rebirth? Might that have crossed the Buddha's mind when this phrase was spoken? Personally I think the Buddha's path would be just as valid without any concept of rebirth, unlike, say, religions which rely on some kind of heaven or hell.

I have no problem with a completely secular Buddhism, ditching all ideas of Gods and afterlives and so on. But the last thing I would do is to take it away from those who need some religious element to their practice, something that will move them on to the stage where they are finally ready to let it go.

I also think you are right in your advice about putting the idea of rebirth to one side, and so I should; but it's a failing of mine that I can't. I have to hang on like some crazed British Bulldog, and keep shaking until some sense falls out, at least for me  ;D
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

 


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