Author Topic: Karma, rebirth, nihilism, eternalism and anatta  (Read 5180 times)

m0rl0ck

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Re: Karma, rebirth, nihilism, eternalism and anatta
« Reply #15 on: December 13, 2009, 09:52:19 am »
Hi Morlock,

 I would be interested to know exactly what you understand by nihilism since you are following different traditions from the one which I am familiar with.

 Best wishes, Vincent.

I understand it to mean that the self is only the body. The commonly accepted materialistic sense.

EDIT: To me nihilism also includes the newer ideas that the self is only the brain and its function. This view seems to have attracted alot of converts among buddhists these days. That the self is only brian chemicals or the collective result of neural activity, same idea imo and seemingly very attractive to those who think complexity equals wisdom.
« Last Edit: December 13, 2009, 10:17:01 am by m0rl0ck »

David

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Re: Karma, rebirth, nihilism, eternalism and anatta
« Reply #16 on: December 13, 2009, 11:00:41 am »
That was the point of my post. there is no explanation taht would satisify my sensibilities.

So, in other words, the problem lies not in the teachings, but in your attachment to certain views.

m0rl0ck

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Re: Karma, rebirth, nihilism, eternalism and anatta
« Reply #17 on: December 13, 2009, 12:20:05 pm »
That was the point of my post. there is no explanation taht would satisify my sensibilities.

So, in other words, the problem lies not in the teachings, but in your attachment to certain views.


If you read the first post in the thread, you will see that i was just hazarding an opinion as to why threads on the subject of karma and rebirth become so lengthy and i never said there was a problem with the teachings.

David

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Re: Karma, rebirth, nihilism, eternalism and anatta
« Reply #18 on: December 13, 2009, 12:24:13 pm »
That was the point of my post. there is no explanation taht would satisify my sensibilities.

So, in other words, the problem lies not in the teachings, but in your attachment to certain views.


If you read the first post in the thread, you will see that i was just hazarding an opinion as to why threads on the subject of karma and rebirth become so lengthy and i never said there was a problem with the teachings.

Then what does "there is no explanation taht would satisfy my sensibilities mean?

Offline vinasp

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Re: Karma, rebirth, nihilism, eternalism and anatta
« Reply #19 on: December 13, 2009, 12:38:16 pm »
Hi Morlock,

 OK thanks. So the nihilist view is that the self is the body. And self ends when the body dies? What about the view that there is no self and that the death of the body is the end of that individual life - is this also a nihilist view?

 Best wishes, Vincent.

m0rl0ck

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Re: Karma, rebirth, nihilism, eternalism and anatta
« Reply #20 on: December 13, 2009, 02:22:43 pm »
Hi Morlock,

 OK thanks. So the nihilist view is that the self is the body. And self ends when the body dies? What about the view that there is no self and that the death of the body is the end of that individual life - is this also a nihilist view?

 

I dont know. I would think that would also be a kind of nihilism. Do you mean a view along the lines of "we are only conditioned responses"?

overmyhead

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Re: Karma, rebirth, nihilism, eternalism and anatta
« Reply #21 on: December 13, 2009, 11:31:25 pm »
It is no secret that, during the Buddha's time, reincarnation was pretty widely believed.  I have entertained the idea that Buddhism's assertion of reincarnation has more to do with providing a believable philosophy to the people of the day than to any "truth" inherent in the idea.  Changing the way people thinks requires that you do it a little bit at a time.

After all, for one fully awakened to the concept of sunnata/emptiness, all verbal utterances miss the mark (as m0rl0ck suggested).  The line between truth/untruth becomes increasingly arbitrary, and the important thing becomes creating motivations which lead to liberation, more than anything else.

David

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Re: Karma, rebirth, nihilism, eternalism and anatta
« Reply #22 on: December 13, 2009, 11:46:46 pm »
It is no secret that, during the Buddha's time, reincarnation was pretty widely believed.  I have entertained the idea that Buddhism's assertion of reincarnation has more to do with providing a believable philosophy to the people of the day than to any "truth" inherent in the idea.

In light of the fact that the Buddha had absolutely NO problem refuting other widely held tenants of his time, this argument just doesn't hold water.  Anicca, anatta, dukkha, Patticasamupada, sunyata, are all radical departures from what was widely held to be true.  So why would he hold on to reincarnation or rebirth if he didn't think it was true?

Offline Pema Rigdzin

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Re: Karma, rebirth, nihilism, eternalism and anatta
« Reply #23 on: December 14, 2009, 01:33:11 am »
The reason posts about rebirth and karma in online Buddhist forums are so long is because there's so little study of the Abidharma/Abidhamma pitaka, which contains exhaustive, encyclopedic explanations of exactly what makes up a being, how and why these permutations of the aggregates are empty yet still function as they are commonly observed to, how rebirth and karma can and do occur despite the lack of a truly existing self, etc. Abidharma explains the physical makeup of the universe and its inhabitants, down to particles of matter and the fundamental elements they're formed from, as well as instants of both consciousness and time; it covers all things physical and psychological.

Instead, these threads are typically dominated by speculation and debate based on misconceptions or misunderstandings. Sometimes these are formed into all kinds of unsubstantiated theories that make it obvious that people haven't done their homework first. In any case, discussions just go in circles without many participants ever considering that the Buddha had a lot to say about these topics. On the one hand, the speculation I've seen is obviously people honestly trying to figure things out with their own minds, thinking for themselves. Thinking for oneself is wonderful, is responsible, is essential, and was advised by the Buddha. However, this doesn't mean we have to recreate the wheel and independently rediscover the truths the Buddha discovered. We can take a HUGE shortcut and start out examining what the Buddha discovered and then put it to the test. If any individual point doesn't hold up, then we have our work cut out for us. But if it does, then we can skip to working on realizing these things directly and moving closer to liberation and enlightenment and forgo all the figuring everything out from scratch.


P.S. I suspect the way I write out my thoughts may come across as arrogant or whatever, I'm not sure. I'm sorry if it does, and I appreciate feedback on how to more skillfully communicate if that's called for. In any case, before you reply with a rebuttal against my points, please honestly consider what I've said.

overmyhead

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Re: Karma, rebirth, nihilism, eternalism and anatta
« Reply #24 on: December 14, 2009, 02:44:35 am »
In light of the fact that the Buddha had absolutely NO problem refuting other widely held tenants of his time, this argument just doesn't hold water.  Anicca, anatta, dukkha, Patticasamupada, sunyata, are all radical departures from what was widely held to be true.  So why would he hold on to reincarnation or rebirth if he didn't think it was true?

The philosophies you site are subtle.  Explaining anatta to a random person will more than likely just confuse them.  More importantly, they are absolutely necessary to understand.

Reincarnation is not subtle.  It's like trying to convert a Christian, and starting with "first of all, there is no heaven".  It's a huge change of belief, and it will lead to the new philosophy being rejected.  We're not talking about converting disciplined, detached thinkers.  We're talking about converting laypeople, for whom issues of the afterlife are of greater importance than subtle philosophies.  But again, more importantly, it just doesn't matter whether you believe in reincarnation.  It is totally irrelevant in attaining liberation.  The Buddha had no incentive to coerce people out of irrelevant beliefs.  It would only create unnecessary resistance in the spreading of his teachings.  Hell, is it so hard to believe that the Buddha might have even been mistaken about something which he had no reason to think excessively about post-enlightenment?  *gasp* heresy, I know  ;D

Now I'm not saying "I'm right and you're wrong", I'm just saying that the idea is a valid possibility, the veracity of which can neither be proven nor disproven.


Pema Rigdzin, your post is appreciated.  I have been looking for Buddhist cosmology/physics for a while, I just wasn't sure where it was hidden.   ;D

Offline Pema Rigdzin

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Re: Karma, rebirth, nihilism, eternalism and anatta
« Reply #25 on: December 14, 2009, 03:28:30 am »
Reincarnation is not subtle.  It's like trying to convert a Christian, and starting with "first of all, there is no heaven".  It's a huge change of belief, and it will lead to the new philosophy being rejected.  We're not talking about converting disciplined, detached thinkers.  We're talking about converting laypeople, for whom issues of the afterlife are of greater importance than subtle philosophies.  But again, more importantly, it just doesn't matter whether you believe in reincarnation.  It is totally irrelevant in attaining liberation.  The Buddha had no incentive to coerce people out of irrelevant beliefs.  It would only create unnecessary resistance in the spreading of his teachings.  Hell, is it so hard to believe that the Buddha might have even been mistaken about something which he had no reason to think excessively about post-enlightenment?  *gasp* heresy, I know  ;D

Now I'm not saying "I'm right and you're wrong", I'm just saying that the idea is a valid possibility, the veracity of which can neither be proven nor disproven.
Actually Overmyhead, the Buddhist presentation of reincarnation is quite subtle, which explains why so many misconceptions about it abound and why so many are convinced it has to rely on some form of soul or self to function or else be some provisional teaching.

Rebirth is integral to the Buddha's teaching on the 12-fold chain of dependent origination, which would make no sense without it. Also, it's purely logical that no cause can fail to produce a result, yet it can easily be observed that not all causes we create encounter the conditions to ripen in this life, and beings are clearly not all born on an equal footing or experience a life of equal opportunity or amounts of good and bad fortune or suffering. There must be an explanation - a cause - for the way the lives of beings play out. As I've said before, if effects could occur without a corresponding cause, there would be no way to explain the very observable fact that specific effects are experienced by specific individuals, in specific ways, while not to others or in different ways. Therefore, the doctrines of karma and rebirth - as explained by Sutra and Abidharma - give very solid explanations of beings' experiences and the way "reality" functions in an ordered way.

If rebirth actually occurs, which much more logic than I've given above supports, then how could one's future not be relevant to Buddhist practice? We certainly consider current suffering relevant. We will therefore consider it relevant when it happens in the future. Ditto when it comes to the causes for buddhahood. What determines the future? What we have done in the past and what we do in this life. 
 
Pema Rigdzin, your post is appreciated.  I have been looking for Buddhist cosmology/physics for a while, I just wasn't sure where it was hidden.   ;D
Glad I could help!

Offline retrofuturist

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Re: Karma, rebirth, nihilism, eternalism and anatta
« Reply #26 on: December 14, 2009, 03:29:23 pm »
Greetings,

Rebirth is integral to the Buddha's teaching on the 12-fold chain of dependent origination, which would make no sense without it.

Actually, the Buddha's teachings on dependent origination do just fine on their own without having rebirth smuggled into them, thank you very much. Dependent origination is a model of suffering, not transmigration. Just because something does not make sense to you at this point in time does not mean it does not make sense.

As for the question of kamma....

I think the common perceptions of kamma and what it is tend to be a little over inflated and lead people into thinking it's some kind of unproveable mystic force in which you believe or do not.

Kamma is a volition action, and volitional activity is a formation (sankhara) conditioned by ignorance. Thus, kamma is representative of samsaric existence or 'being'. Actions which are generally considered to constitute good kamma (wisdom, generosity, lovingkindess) are such because these actions inherently involve a degree of renunciation of self-interest and a reduction of craving and clinging. This is how they yield good vipaka (kammic result). Not because they somehow coerce and manipulate external events, but because of their very nature. On the other hand, greed, aversion and delusion work in the opposite direction and mire one further in samsaric suffering.

Until one is an arahant, there will always be varying degrees of ignorance, so we will continue to 'build houses' (i.e. sankhara) and identify with the five aggregates (in part or in whole) and will continue to exist in the samsaric round of becoming to that extent. So called "good kamma", through seeing the benefits that derive from lack of clinging, provides a good foundation not only for general mundane happiness, but also for the transcendental wisdom which ultimately transcends kamma (and thus, samsara) by the understanding and experience of cessation.

Nothing particularly mystical and incomprehensible there, is there?

Metta,
Retro. :)

Offline Pema Rigdzin

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Re: Karma, rebirth, nihilism, eternalism and anatta
« Reply #27 on: December 14, 2009, 06:17:22 pm »
Greetings,

Rebirth is integral to the Buddha's teaching on the 12-fold chain of dependent origination, which would make no sense without it.

Actually, the Buddha's teachings on dependent origination do just fine on their own without having rebirth smuggled into them, thank you very much. Dependent origination is a model of suffering, not transmigration. Just because something does not make sense to you at this point in time does not mean it does not make sense.

As for the question of kamma....

I think the common perceptions of kamma and what it is tend to be a little over inflated and lead people into thinking it's some kind of unproveable mystic force in which you believe or do not.

Kamma is a volition action, and volitional activity is a formation (sankhara) conditioned by ignorance. Thus, kamma is representative of samsaric existence or 'being'. Actions which are generally considered to constitute good kamma (wisdom, generosity, lovingkindess) are such because these actions inherently involve a degree of renunciation of self-interest and a reduction of craving and clinging. This is how they yield good vipaka (kammic result). Not because they somehow coerce and manipulate external events, but because of their very nature. On the other hand, greed, aversion and delusion work in the opposite direction and mire one further in samsaric suffering.

Until one is an arahant, there will always be varying degrees of ignorance, so we will continue to 'build houses' (i.e. sankhara) and identify with the five aggregates (in part or in whole) and will continue to exist in the samsaric round of becoming to that extent. So called "good kamma", through seeing the benefits that derive from lack of clinging, provides a good foundation not only for general mundane happiness, but also for the transcendental wisdom which ultimately transcends kamma (and thus, samsara) by the understanding and experience of cessation.

Nothing particularly mystical and incomprehensible there, is there?

Metta,
Retro. :)

Retro,
Perhaps there's a different presentation of the 12-fold links of D.O. between the Pali and Mahayana canons and I wasn't aware of it. In Mahayana, the standard presentation of the 12-fold links is mapped over three lifetimes. Therefore, nothing's been smuggled in. How are the 12 links of D.O. presented in the Pali canon? I ask in the interest of respect for the full range of the perfect Buddha's teachings and to be better informed. When it comes to differences in doctrinal POV between Mahayana and Theravada, I prefer to look at them not as a right or wrong/authentic or adulterated issue like some adherents in both camps, but rather as a different way to look at and approach things, with both being perfectly valid in their proper context.

As for your presentation of karma, I'm not clear on what you mean by "coercion or manipulation of external events." In the Tibetan traditions, which rely on the Sautrantika POV of Vasubhandu's Abidharmakoshabhasyam for their Abidharma source, beings' karmas are definitely said to have a role in the formation of world systems and their six realms, for example, and in the unfolding of experiences, on the internal and external levels, and both in individual and collective circumstances. Does the Theravada Abidhamma not say anything about how world systems and their six realms form and are events and experiences not ever said to be the fruit of karmas?

- Brian

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Re: Karma, rebirth, nihilism, eternalism and anatta
« Reply #28 on: December 14, 2009, 08:50:11 pm »
Greetings Brian,

The Theravada commentarial tradition, headed by Buddhaghosa, centuries after the Buddha's death, set about pegging the doctrine of dependent origination across three lives, because he missed many of the subtleties pertaining to certain terms like jati, bhava, and such. This has to that extent now become the "standard" definition, but over time, people started questioning the commentaries rather than blindly adhering to them and when not viewed through the lens of the commentaries, the suttas themselves tell a different story.

An example of a non-time-delineated model of dependent origination is found at http://www.buddhanet.net/cmdsg/coarise5.htm . From texts I've read, belief in each interpretation is split about 50/50 but is increasingly leaning away from the commentarial version (which incidently has coloured many people's translation of the suttas, including that of Bhikkhu Bodhi). Some of the most well known adherents to the non-time-delineated model that come to mind off the top of my include vens. Payutto (author of the above article), Nanananda (genius - teacher of the Nibbana Sermons), Buddhadasa and Ajahn Sumedho. It would have been a disservice to these great Theravada masters to at least not challenge your "Rebirth is integral to the Buddha's teaching on the 12-fold chain of dependent origination, which would make no sense without it." statement made in a General Buddhism forum.

Quote
Does the Theravada Abidhamma not say anything about how world systems and their six realms form and are events and experiences not ever said to be the fruit of karmas?


The "world" (loka), as defined in the suttas, relates to the six senses as opposed to some planet or such. These senses, their objects, mindstates and related subjects are the content of the Theravada Abhidhamma... not the causality of galaxies. The extent to which "kamma" impacts the "loka" by way of "vipaka" (mental result) was detailed in my post above. It does not divert comets, create tsunamis, or anything else better explained by the laws of physics.

Metta,
Retro. :)

Offline Pema Rigdzin

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Re: Karma, rebirth, nihilism, eternalism and anatta
« Reply #29 on: December 14, 2009, 10:25:37 pm »
It would have been a disservice to these great Theravada masters to at least not challenge your "Rebirth is integral to the Buddha's teaching on the 12-fold chain of dependent origination, which would make no sense without it." statement made in a General Buddhism forum.
I can appreciate this, for sure. Also, upon further reflection, what I said about D.O. not making sense without rebirth is not strictly true even in Mahayana since there is also a way to apply all 12 links to this life alone. It's not an either/or situation in the Mahayana, though the 3 lives scheme is probably the most often referenced due to the aims and traditional contemplations of the Mahayana.

The "world" (loka), as defined in the suttas, relates to the six senses as opposed to some planet or such. These senses, their objects, mindstates and related subjects are the content of the Theravada Abhidhamma... not the causality of galaxies. The extent to which "kamma" impacts the "loka" by way of "vipaka" (mental result) was detailed in my post above. It does not divert comets, create tsunamis, or anything else better explained by the laws of physics.
Ah I see. Yes, it seems like questions of how world systems form would be less relevant to the path as presented in the Pali canon. It's very easy to appreciate that very pragmatic, no frills approach. As for the extent to which that Sautrantika Abidharma differs from the Theravadin one, I've got too much brushing up to do to comment further for now. I do have a question for you, though, just out of curiosity. What causes are responsible for the laws of physics?

*edit: I forgot to add that I wasn't thinking of karmas diverting comets and creating tsunamis, more like past karmas of beings causing a world to form with certain properties and environments and systems. Any metaphysical ideas about being able to affect these consciously or unconsciously is probably better left to discussions of Tantrism, among initiated tantric practitioners, rather than in a general Buddhism forum.
« Last Edit: December 14, 2009, 11:12:48 pm by Pema Rigdzin »

 


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