But also, it seems to me that eschewing with rebirth adds more urgency to practice. Those who believe in a virtually endless round of births are likely to be satisfied with the goal of just trying to live well enough to have another life better and more spiritually blessed than the present one, so they can try again.
I wholeheartedly disagree on this. Most people would be much more concerned with experiencing maximum amounts of sense pleasure than trying to achieve something that would otherwise be automatic at death. Peace of mind is great, but given how much work goes into achieving it the choices of sex, drugs, money, etc are more appealing since they can be quantified.
Buddhism without rebirth is like Christianity or Islam without heaven. A core aspect of the doctrine is lost and it begins to make little sense in practicing it. You might as well just be a Humanist whom practices basic morality and meditates for relaxation/stress-relief. Nothing wrong with that. Probably sounds great for many people, but that seems fairly bleak to me.
If there is no concern regarding rebirth then there is also no concern about vipāka from kamma. Mass-shooters whom immediately die after their crimes experience no vipāka from their horrific kamma, unless of course you believe in the eternal heaven/hell paradigm. And that certainly requires an article of faith. Kamma/vipāka crumbles without rebirth.
“pubbe c’aham bhikkhave etarahi ca dukkhan c’eva pannapemi, dukkhassa ca nirodham”
“Before, monks, and now, I teach suffering and the cessation of suffering.”
This isn’t a statement of the whole doctrine, but a fundamental reduction upon which all other aspects of it are built upon. Of the tens of thousands of teaching points they can all be brought back to this core. All the beautiful aspects that enrich the practice and make it worthwhile move entirely in this single direction.
You said you weren’t confused about this, but it seems to me you actually are. You think nibbana is nothing but the complete termination of experience, and so you think it is no different from what the materialist thinks happens at death. But the materialist doesn’t think that when they die the will enjoy the bliss of liberation. They don’t think they will either enjoy anything or suffer anything, because they believe their personal stream of experience will come entirely to an end. But when the Buddha attained nibbana, if the testimony of the texts is to be believed, his experience did not come entirely to an end. What came entirely to an end was his greed, hatred and confusion. His asavas and the roots of his suffering were destroyed. And then he experienced perfect, pure and untroubled bliss.
That is what the rebirth-agnostic practitioner who seeeks liberation in this very life, without worrying about whether or not there are other lives, is seeking. They are not seeking a “death-in-life”: the mere snuffing out of all experience that will come at death.
As for kamma, I think what we can say about it is that we build our futures out of the quality of our mental lives. Practice and mindful attention to experience makes it clear that the aggressive intentions and other mind states that tend to cause harm to others also tend to be toxic to our own peace of mind, and the compassionate intentions and other mind states that tend to bring blessings to others are also conducive to our own happiness and peace of mind. But I see no reason to believe that the universe contains a mechanism that sends bad people to post-death bad places and good people to post-death good places.
They both are part and parcel. My main goal is happiness, like all beings. My meditation practice and dhamma study make my life immensely enjoyable. It provides both a purpose and fulfillment that is blameless.
If there was no end goal, at some point, I would just be satisfied with the pleasant mind state I’d cultivated and just chill on it while maintaining. The effort would’ve been worth it, but until you’ve reach completion of development there is always something that needs polishing and I personally enjoy the challenge. To be brutally honest with yourself regarding defilements opens up the doors to something much greater than simple “self-improvement.” It leads you to places of personal discovery and understanding that you were never told existed or even imagined.
Comprehension of the Three Characteristics and Dependent Origination causes parinibbana to be rather enticing I would imagine.
If you don’t take on rebirth, kamma, vipāka or don’t see the danger in sense pleasure such a proposition would seem like nonsense.
Just to be clearer, it seems to me that what you have posited as the ultimate goal is a kind of fully completed “polishing” in which the happiness you are already enjoying is perfected to its supreme possible level. If that is the goal, then it seems like something that happens during a life, but is certainly in any case something that has a remainder. Do you think the Buddha was still supremely happy after he died?
But you say you are pretty happy now. So why do you want to cut off rebirth? Wouldn’t you like your happiness to continue indefinitely, so that you can keep enjoying it, and also help others?
So here’s my conjecture: despite their double-thinking commitment to a gloomy Theravada orthodoxy into which the more puritanical doyens of their religion keep trying to indoctrinate them, most practicing Theravada Buddhists are … surprise! … somewhat happy with life, and look forward to extending the good things in it.
Another conjecture: despite their verbal adherence to the official doctrine that the end and goal of the Buddha’s path is the complete cessation of all of the constituents of one’s mental life, and the final termination of an incalculably long path of experience, almost no Buddhists are really trying to achieve this kind of “parinibbana”, but are actually trying to attain nibbana - conceived of as something that happens, and is enjoyed, while one is alive.
This is what the Buddha is really understood to have achieved under the Bodhi tree when, after leaving home because he was unhappy and confined, he finally achieved perfect happiness and unfettered liberation. Although it is hard to describe what it is exactly he achieved, reports are that it is super cool and awesome and wonderful. People seek what the Buddha sought, because it seems to have made him happy, and they want to be happy too.
And seeking that happiness makes sense no matter how many lives you think you have. Also the Buddha taught that the path to nibbana depends in part on learning not to dwell on what one was in the past, and what one might or might not be in the future.
SN 22.22 describes an event - putting down one’s own burden - that occurs in life, not at the end of life. It is about nibbana, not about so-called “parinnibbana.”
SN 12.43 - if we insist on translating “jati” as "rebirth, rather than the more straightforward “birth” - does imply that if we bring an end to a cycle of rebirths, we bring an end to the suffering that is part of that cycle. But of course it also brings an end to any happiness that is part of that cycle as well. None of these thoughts do anything to challenge the idea that it makes just as much sense for a believer in only one life to seek nibbana as it does for the believer in a cycle of many lives to seek nibbana. Nibbana is an experience, during this very live, of supreme, blissful happiness and liberation, and everyone will naturally want that experience, no matter what their views about what happens at death.
I didn’t immediately respond you your post because I wanted to give ample consideration to your analysis of SN 12.43 regarding jāti as “birth” in the compound word jātinirodho.
Not exactly sure how “birth” is more straight forward in the context of the sutta.
It isn’t a matter of insisting that it be translated in such a way. You are correct that jāti can be taken to mean “birth” or “rebirth.” I am not disputing that. Even with a sorta-literal translation of the two words that amalgamate into jātinirodho taken as “birth cessation” that would still make little sense in a reality without continuous rebirth. Physical birth ends on one’s birthday and never arises again in their current existence.
So. My question to that analysis is if jātinirodho isn’t properly translated as “rebirth is ceased” then how could it make sense in a single birth universe to achieve full awakening with one of the results being something that is automatic and shared by all beings of all temperaments? If that were the case why bother mentioning it at all?
An arahant would have no attachment, craving or desire for any continued mental state, even happiness, and there would be no love-loss on this issue.
Yes. That seems natural, however, it is an experience which isn’t open to someone whom rejects paṭiccasamuppāda. To reject rebirth is to have wrong view. If the process of becoming ends at death the final goal of the practice is moot.
Buddha Gotama throughout the whole Sutta Pitaka repeats that “death is suffering” and yet he in fact died. Does that mean that his death was suffering? No, it doesn’t. Why? Becuase death is suffering ONLY because it is folllowed by birth and the whole mass of suffering repeats. Illness, old age, and death. Otherwise, in a existence without rebirth, death would not be suffering but an ultimate ending. To reject rebirth is to reject the dhamma as taught by Buddha Gotama.
Well, we’ll just have to disagree on that one. I think the emphasis on right view is an obsession of a later, and more developed form of systematic doctrinal Buddhism. In the last two books of the Sutta Nipata, which most scholars seem to agree is very early, there is a contrary emphasis on cultivating an absence of views altogether - which makes more sense to be. Nibbana is achieved by detachmemt and emptying the mind, not filling it with views and conceptions.
I’m inclined to think people from outside the Buddhist tradition altogether could attain nibbana, with no conception of Buddhist cosmology or rebirth conceptions, although without the training in the path they would have to be very intuitively spiritually adept.
For what it’s worth, I believe the Buddha, like the great spiritual teachers in other traditions, was a “mystic” - to use an awkward term from western traditions - who used metaphorical terms and other expressions stretched beyond their everyday meaning, to describe a personal transformation and experience of reality for which there are not good everyday terms. “Birth-and-death”, I think, is a compound describing the continuing, ongoing processes of generation and corruption, coming to be and passing away, that characterize the whole samsaric world in which we are ”shrouded” - especially insofar as these processes include the ongoing birth and death of the illusory sense of Self with which we impregnate the world of experience through clinging and the I-making and my-making process.
Right view is the foundation of the practice and cannot be emphasized enough. There is a clear reason why the dhammacakkappavattana, which has 23 parallels, outlines the four noble truths, the noble eightfold path and then elaborates specifically on right view only. This is the corner stone in the foundation of the entire teaching.
I wouldn’t take practice advice from scholars nor rely on their linguistic analyses which can’t move past hypothetical intrigue.
The only individuals whom attain nibanna outside of the dispensation of a Buddha are paccekabuddhas and they have the same doctrinal understanding. It would be necessary to have the same doctrinal understanding to come to the same conclusion.
I am curious exactly how one would arrive at the same result without having an identical mode of realization.