In a forest fire if the flame jumps from one tree to another did something permanent get transferred ?
It seems then that translating texts that refer to this process with “re-”, as in “rebirth” or “reincarnation”, might be an error. It’s just jati/birth. Something is born that is similar to, and derives energy from, some of the processes that were occurring previously. But there is no strong continuity of individual identity. The flame that ignited on one branch in a forest fire is not the continuant of some particular flame that was burning on some other branch.
Of all the beings that are born after I die, some might be more similar to me than others, and some might even derive their energy or material constituents from processes that were part of my life. But they will derive these factors from other sources as well.
Why call it then rebirth, reincarnation or anything similar? This happens all the time in ordinary life, we leave traces which will influence all thing following… the concept of reincarnation or rebirth seems rather like the process of what happens if I throw something into a compost pile.
It hasn’t escaped my notice that there have been quite a few threads on reincarnation/re-birth in this forum recently. As I noted in one of those threads, in my limited experience practicing Buddhism, Westerners seem to be more preoccupied talking about reincarnation/re-birth than Asian Buddhists, particularly those who have been raised in the Buddhist tradition. I attend a Wat in the United States that is mostly comprised on laypeople from Southeast Asia (the monks are from Thailand). Since I have been attending the Wat, no one has ever said anything to me about reincarnation/re-birth. The Dhamma talks principally are about wholesome practice, and the monks stress the importance of meditation and following the Five Precepts.
I attend a weekly meditation lesson led by the abbot and one of the junior monks that is designed for the few Westerners who attend the Wat. Following meditation there is a Dhamma talk which usually focuses on meditation or the Five Hindrances, or possibly some aspect of the Buddha’s life if meditation coincides with an upcoming holiday. We never talk about reincarnation/re-birth.
I also have been helping the abbot practice his English which typically is in the form of a lesson on some aspect of Buddhist practice. The abbot is an exceedingly polite and generous individual. I don’t think he would ever do it, but if I were to ask him about reincarnation/re-birth I wouldn’t blame him if he thought to himself, “Oh, boy. Here we go. Another American who wants to know about reincarnation so he can come back more enlightened than in this life.” I wouldn’t blame him if he were to say to me, “Why not just try to reduce your suffering in this life?”
In fact, that comprises a lot of what we talk about. To the extent re-birth has come up at all in our lessons it is in the context of reducing attachments and lessening clinging so that I can be more mindful in the present. The abbot frequently says to me, “No past. No future. Just focus on what you are experiencing now.” Once during our English practice we drew a circle and wrote in stages of suffering and relieving suffering. To the extent re-birth was part of the discussion it was about cutting the cycle of suffering. So, O.K., that was a point at which we broached the topic of re-birth. But it was subtle and in the larger context of achieving not-self.
I can’t say for certain, but I imagine if I asked the abbot or any of the other monks at the Wat, or the Southeast Asian laypeople, if reincarnation is or could be scientifically proven they would just smile and then offer me more food to take home after the communal meal following Sunday services
I believe you are right with your considerations regarding the difference of eastern Buddhist practitioner and western practitioners. I’m not sure if we should just ignore such questions on metaphysics? Do we just take the teachings how they are and do they not change? All the lineages have such a multi faceted of different approaches coming from the 2500 years of study and practice . If we are just blind following we are no different then the christian churches. Buddhism has a cleric and I believe there is fear of losing power and control.
I don’t think the monks and laypeople at my Wat want to ignore questions of reincarnation/re-birth. I just think that for them there are bigger priorities. This is a Wat in the United States. The laypeople who have immigrated to the U.S. from Southeast Asia are fairly big on rituals, and their first-generation American children spend a lot of time on their cell phones (or, this is what I surmise by observing them).
I think the monks are concerned that the older laypeople not be hindered by clinging to mere rules and rituals, and that the younger generation not be hindered by restlessness. So the impression I get is that the monks want to stress the basics of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. The same is true for how the monks give lessons to the small number of Westerners such as me who attend the Wat. This emphasis on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path seemingly requires that less emphasis be placed on specifying now reincarnation and re-birth occur in terms a testable set of hypotheses.
That was my experience as well. I practiced for several years - and still do from time to time - at a vihara supported by both a large lay Thai community and westerners. The monks are mostly western, from the Ajahn Chah tradition. Rebirth was never an important topic of the dhamma talks. I can’t say I know what the monks and various kinds of lay participants believed on the subject, because we just didn’t talk about it much.
I don’t know to what extent the recent interest here in rebirth is due to westerners. Since many people use aliases, or single word Buddhist names, I don’t know that much about where people are from - except for a few people. And when I first started participating here, the issue didn’t come up nearly as frequently, as far as I can recall.
I think it is inherent in the nature of the site, with its focus on early Buddhist texts, that it is going to attract a large number of people who are particularly interested in doctrine, and in identifying what they take to be the most authentic and original Buddhism.
The topic below may help.
Where’s the proof that reincarnation or rebirth isn’t true?
I have unending gratitude and respect for all the different lineages of Buddhism in Asia for the dedicated work and effort to preserve and continue the practice of the teachings of Gautama Siddhartha the awakened one. Thanks to the great schools of the east I have been fortunate to get blessed with the Practice and wisdom of the Buddha’s teachings.
It is well known that the teachings went far and spread throughout Asia. It is amazing how the teaching merged with different cultures and societies. It is astonishing how flexible and inventive buddhism was all throughout its existence. It is wonderful to see how the different schools and lineages exist in mostly peaceful and respectful beside each other. All the schools and lineages changed and evolved all throughout the 2500 years since the Buddha.
Buddhism arrived here in the western societies more or less 150years ago and spread very fast in the last 40 years. Could it be possible that the teaching will find its own unique way to merge into this modern technological age?
Maybe we can find also a place for people practicing a secular dharma and live and share together the blessings of the great teachings.
It seems that the increased interest in the questions about rebirth is only part of a greater question regarding metaphysics in Buddhism. The question might be rather … Is there a place for a secular Buddhism?
Is it possible to ask questions and discuss the subject of metaphysics with respect and understanding for the traditional views and opinions?
Buddhism has always evolved and will continue to evolve, without it we might wouldn’t have the teaching anymore.
Where’s the proof that I’m not a lady? Proving a negative is pretty hard.
I didn’t say there is such proof - although I do think the preponderance of the evidence renders it improbable. But I think that if people are leaning on it to provide meaning and purpose in life and practice, it is a crutch - whether it is real or a fantasy.
Thank you gnlaera
We all rely on something for our comfort, for a sense of refuge and support. Only those who have completely uprooted craving dwell in peace, without support, dependent on nothing. For some who go to the Dhamma for refuge, taking the dhamma as a support, rebirth is a part of that. Others conceive the dhamma differently, and rely on it as they conceive it. All of us by our imperfect nature are rendered lame in some respect or another, unless we completely transcend that nature, a crutch is at times a useful tool.
Basically the above is my long winded way of saying that calling something a crutch is not an informative statement. It would be better to say something of substance as to why and how something such as belief in rebirth might be a hindrance to living the good life and/or dwelling in a state of unshakable peace.
Greetings Kai, and Welcome
This forum offers an archive and search function over past topics. There is a large body of information there. To check if subjects have been previously discussed, click on the Q icon in the menu bar and type in the search terms.
For example secular buddhism has been discussed before and you can find the links here
Just a bit of further information, while the forum has oscillated a little with regards to the amount of discussion allowed on general topics, the primary purpose is the Early Buddhist texts. We try to find a reasonable balance within this direction. But ultimately there is only 1 forum of this kind, and many general Buddhist forums, where general conversations can be pursued.
It could be perceived as a ‘cause’, for progress in the dhamma as it comes recommended by the Buddha and 2500 years of belief in rebirth has not been to the detriment of people and in fact been useful, but of course it cannot be forced upon people. I might add in general (looking around the train coach I’m travelling on) there isn’t a great deal of evidence for the Higg’s Boson or atoms or even molecules. It’s not about our lay untrained eye trying to make sense of this but giving due regard to the experts.
Not re-jati, just jati.
This could be far from a trivial point.
Jati in previous lives, jati at the start of this life, and jati into future lives. Dropping the re- seems to de-emphasise what gets born and to shift attention towards the process
Yes, and “rebirth” sounds too similar to the reincarnation of a “soul” or essence.
In the context of the suttas, births would probably convey it better.
I like is perspective… thank you