Author Topic: The "Metaphor" of Rebirth  (Read 1802 times)

Offline Dharma Flower

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The "Metaphor" of Rebirth
« on: March 04, 2017, 04:41:03 am »
The Buddha taught that there is no unchanging, permanent self, that we are never the same person from one moment to the next. Many Buddhists take this to imply that the doctrine of rebirth is metaphorical, rather than literal truth:

Whether he really believed in it or not, the Buddha found the prevailing worldview of his time (the doctrine of karma and rebirth) sufficient as a basis for his ethical system. It also provided an adequate set of metaphors for his doctrine of transcendence. His main concern, however, was not whether there is or is not life after death, but whether it is possible to live in such a way that one could transcend the dilemma of suffering.

Many contemporary forms of Buddhism in the West—especially Zen and vipassana—seem to pay little attention to the doctrine of rebirth, emphasizing instead the importance of living more fully and authentically in the present. Teachers in these traditions often use the idea of rebirth metaphorically to describe the moment-to-moment process of “dying” and being “reborn.”

While Buddhism traditionally teaches that there are six realms of rebirth, many interpret the six realms as referring to psychological states in the present life, rather than modes of rebirth into the next:

In recent years, there has been a tendency to interpret the six realms in psychological terms. Some teachers have suggested that the experience of the six realms is available to us in this very life. Undoubtedly, this is true so far as it goes. Those men and women who find themselves in prisons, tortured, killed, and so forth are undoubtedly experiencing a situation similar to that of the hell beings.

Similarly, those who are miserly and avaricious experience a state of mind similar to that of the hungry ghosts. And those who are animal-like experience a state of mind similar to that of the animals. Those who are quarrelsome, powerful and jealous experience a state of mind similar to that of the Asuras. Those who are proud, tranquil, serene and exalted experience a state of mind similar to that of the gods.

The point here is not to deny the possibility of rebirth as a literal truth. It’s to get us focused on the present, on the here and now, instead of whatever might or might not happen after death.

The ultimate purpose of Buddhist doctrines is not to be attached to them. The Buddha himself warned against being attached even to a correct doctrine, especially if that doctrine is not yet verified by one’s own personal experience.

Ultimately, Buddhist doctrines are a finger pointing to the moon of enlightenment, rather than the moon itself:


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