At the end of a talk called Anattā and Rebirth by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, he clearly states his opinion which is contrary to the norm:
So we can wrap this up by saying that if you understand anattā correctly and
completely, then you’ll discover for yourself that there is no rebirth and no
reincarnation. And that’s the end of the story. So we’ll end today’s talk here.
Which is interesting, because it would technically mean Buddhadasa Bhikkhu had wrong view, thought, and speech at least according to MN60 where it says:
Moreover, since there actually is another world, their view that there is no other world is wrong view. Since there actually is another world, their thought that there is no other world is wrong thought. Since there actually is another world, their speech that there is no other world is wrong speech.
I feel as if whether one agrees with Buddhadasa Bhikkhu or not, it’s clear that he himself was an interesting case study. I was wondering what people thought of his views.
He was definitely a controversial figure. It’s pretty hard to argue that the Buddha didn’t teach rebirth. However, you might want to look at suttas which make a distinction between a “lower” right view which includes kamma and rebirth, and a “higher” right view which is just the 4 Truths. You can also say, that of the Tevijja, it’s only the destruction of the Āsavas that ultimately matters (and not as much the recalling of previous lives or seeing beings rise and fall according to their kamma). Also the sutta where someone erroneously assumes that it is “this very same consciousness” that transmigrates from one life to the next, when it is not even the same consciousness at the beginning and end of 1 day, like a monkey swinging from one branch to the next.
Actually teaching that rebirth isn’t real, I think that’s problematic in Buddhism, because of the Question of Suicide. There is dukkha, if life is ended and there is no rebirth, then dukkha also ends. So how would you solve that problem in Buddhism without rebirth? As Camus starts “Myth of Sisyphus”:
“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide .”
Suicide is a serious issue outside of philosophy as well. In the US there is a Lifeline Number: 1-800-273-8255.
I took about 5 minutes to read the following: Anatta and Rebirth by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu- Suan Mokkh and my sense is that there might be more of an issue of semantics here, than a quarrel with the Buddha’s teaching. I do think that Buddhadasa Bhikkhu invited controversy, and some condemnation, when he presented these ideas of his, but perhaps he was intentionally trying to be controversial, or to get people to think about dukkha and the extinguishment of dukkha in different ways.
One point he makes, it seems to me, is that something can’t be “re-anythinged” if it doesn’t exist. If we understand anatta, we have to conclude that this process can’t be replicated, or transmitted. It’s not a self or a thing, so you can’t “re” it. Logically, then, there can’t be re-birth, if there is no fixed life form, essence, or atta to be re-born.
Buddhadasa’s teaching in a sense puts a premium on the acknowledgement of suffering/dukkha, and its cessation, and places less emphasis on questions of rebirth. I feel that he errs, or is perhaps willfully misleading, when he states: “So we can wrap this up by saying that if you understand anattā correctly and completely, then you’ll discover for yourself that there is no rebirth and no
reincarnation. And that’s the end of the story.”
I feel that the point of the talk cited was, for him, to place emphasis on the 4NT. It will be interesting to see if he, or Santikaro, ever commented thereafter with respect to this talk.
That’s also my impression. He doesn’t appear to be denying a “continuity of conditions”, so it’s hard to see that it is “wrong view”. He seems to be objecting to the labelling “rebirth/reincarnation”, which implies something lasting:
The viññāṇa does not go and get reborn. The sense consciousness does not
go and get reborn. And if you think of viññāṇa as a spirit, that’s for sure off the
When evaluating Buddhadasa’s legacy, it’s important to place him in his context.
In the Buddhism in which he found himself, there was an overwhelming interest in giving dana to get a good rebirth in heaven. Apart from that, there was the purely scholastic interests of the Bangkok monks, who often were more interested in titles and prestige than in the Dhamma. The forest monks of N-E Thailand were gaining prominence, but they rejected any attempt to reconcile their teachings with the suttas.
So for most of his life, Buddhadasa was pretty much the only significant monk in Thailand who was both studying and practicing in accord with the suttas. He strongly pushed back against the idea that all we could do was give dana, and although he, in my view, went too far sometimes, it’s hard to argue with the overall emphasis of his teachings. He was a creative and prolific scholar and teacher, whose contributions in Thai went far beyond just the few slim booklets you find in English. Despite being, so it seems, almost entirely self-taught, his writings have a openness and creativity that have been rarely equalled.
As to whether he really rejected the idea of rebirth, in my time in Thailand I heard contradictory accounts. Certainly some of his published writings support this view, but that is not necessarily the end of the story.
I understand the differentiation between Hinduism and Buddhism and the want to maintain that, but how is the above argument any more than a playing with words and terminology, and furthermore potentially an incorrect one at that?
Isn’t the terminology, actually one terminology amongst many, punarbhāva in Buddhism? This punar- morpheme might as well be the re- prefix.
Birth and bhāva aren’t cognates, but I’m sure you can easily find an example with a jāti derived compound if one went looking if we needed to be that exhaustive.
It seems correct to say the Buddha did not teach samsara ‘rebirth’. The Buddha taught about dukkha, and the cessation of dukkha (= anatta). The term samsara is not found in the fundamental teachings of early Buddhism (such as the four truths, conditioned arising, and anicca-dukkha-anatta).
However, the notion of dukkha may accept the idea of samsara based on karma, but anatta.
Though in DO, jati (birth) arises in dependence upon bhava (becoming), which in turns leads to old age and death.
If you look at the nidana “definitions” in SN12.2, jati (birth) is clearly described in physical/biological terms, as are old age and death.
So given that (physical) birth and death arise in dependence upon becoming, it would be reasonable to interpret bhava as a cycle of birth and death.
And of course in the suttas there are many teachings on kamma, with beings reappearing in different realms according to their actions.
I believe Buddhadasa argued that birth, old age and death are “mental” rather than “physical”, though I find his argument difficult to follow, given what the suttas actually say. I think it’s reasonable to observe that birth, old age and death are both mental and physical, and that mental anguish (dukkha) arises due to self-view, the view of “my old age”, and “my death” .
But Buddhadasa appeared to completely reject the physical dimension in DO, which I don’t get.
When someone says something disagreeable and you think he got either the meaning or the expression wrong, you should then figure out exactly what is meant before taking any further action.
Therefore when someone says; ‘There is no rebirth.’
The meaning of this statement can vary and i would ask which of the two meanings fit better?
If a self can not be pinned as a truth or reality even in this life, then how could one say that the self is reborn, obviously there is nothing being re-born to the extent that there is no same part or a whole being ‘recycled’.
There is no world beyond and there are no results of good or bad actions to be experienced after the breakup of the body.
Unfortunately Buddhadasa isn’t here to illuminate this issue and i am not familiar with his work enough to draw any conclusions as to the meaning of the statement but i think the expression is problematic.
I think that if one was to say;
‘There is no rebirth. There is no world beyond and there are no results of good or bad actions to be experienced after the breakup of the body.’
Then one should tell to them that the Buddha did not teach this and they should not misrepresent the Dhamma, for it is stated; ’ there actually is another world, their view that there is no other world is wrong view’, "The result of kamma is of three sorts, I tell you: that which arises right here & now, that which arises later [in this lifetime], and that which arises following that. ’
or perhaps one can find better passages for refutation.
I can also mention that Buddhadasa Bhikkhu was instrumental in reviving what is now a wonderful forest wat in Chiang Mai, and my daily refuge when I am living in Chiang Mai. Wat Umong www.watumong.org :
The monastery at Wat Umong is one of the oldest in Chiang Mai, dating back to 1300 A.D. The fable goes that a king built the brick-lined tunnels for an eccentric monk named Thera Jan. Once upon a time there were paintings decorated on the wall which dated back to about 1380. You can enter the tunnels to see the small shrines inside (a flashlight is useful). The adjoining stupa was constructed about 1520 over an earlier stupa (1400-1550). The monastery was eventually abandoned, though Japanese troops were said to have a stronghold here during World War 2. Since 1948, the Thai prince Jao Chun Sirorot has been active in rebuilding and reestablishing the monastery. In 1949 he invited Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (founder of Suan Mokkh in southern Thailand) to come and live in the monastery. Obligations kept Buddhadasa Bhikkhu from coming and instead he sent Ajahn Pannananda and other monks to help set up and run Wat Umong.
I think it could be that Buddhadasa Bhikkhu didn’t think through the implications of his views or if not, how his words would be perceived. Having said that, most dhamma statements are possibly misperceived.
My sense is (considering Bhante’s post above) was that Buddhadasa was very mindful of how his words were going to be received, and he perhaps intentionally delivered these talks as a way to shake up the established corrupted practices of the times. If that was his intent, it seems he was largely successful. My sense is that he was keenly aware of the Dhamma, and there is a sense of elevated wisdom in how he taught, and what he interpreted as Dhamma. Sometimes, great monks/nuns just won’t hand it to you on a plate.
Buddhadasa’s assistant and translator Santikaro lives only about a 1.5 hour drive from my new little unabomber forest residence in Wisconsin. I’ll have to pop up to https://www.liberationpark.org/ this year, and maybe report back on what Santikaro might have to say about his great teacher, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu.
Addition: Here is Santikaro talking about Ajahn Buddhadasa. Start at about 19:00, if you’d like, to get at the essence of the talk and an echo of what Bhante Sujato posted about Buddhadasa Bhikkhu’s approach to practice and study: “he wanted to try and live the way the monks lived in the Early Days” :