Here's why rebirth is the central concept of Buddhism

truth_of_rebirth.pdf (289.7 KB)
This is a book on this topic anyone who has doubts on this topic can refer to this

I think we have a rule against posting entire articles. @moderators ?

This is a discussion forum, so it is more appropriate to link to the article and then tell us what you want to discuss. I’m sure there are plenty of legit things in the article to discuss. Even quoting a paragraph or two is fine. But whole articles, not so much.

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Can you point me out the rule with link?

What you posted isn’t a reading guide. It’s an article that is already live on the internet. People are very capable of clicking on a link to read an article.

In any case, posting a whole article doesn’t facilitate discussion. I thought there was a rule about posting whole articles that exist somewhere else. But perhaps there isn’t. I’ll leave it to the mods.

Also, you should post the copyright information in your OP. That is in the guidelines.

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Reading Guides was created as a section for Bhante Sujato to draft his own, original essays on here and get feedback on them before posting them to SuttaCentral’s “reading guides”:

https://suttacentral.net/general-guide-sujato?lang=en

This forum is not a place to copy and paste whole books from other sites.

Please refer to our guide on how to choose a category to post here

Kindly take the time to read our guidelines, guide to the guidelines here.

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Rebirth is not the central concept in Buddhism but belief in the action of kamma is fundamental. This in the sense of wholesome and unwholesome thoughts and actions having corresponding results. With this belief and subsequent confirmation through investigation of actions and results, and the employment of right effort, progress on the path is made possible.

"And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with sensuality arose in me. I discerned that ‘Thinking imbued with sensuality has arisen in me; and that leads to my own affliction or to the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. It obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding.’

“As I noticed that it leads to my own affliction, it subsided. As I noticed that it leads to the affliction of others… to the affliction of both… it obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding, it subsided. Whenever thinking imbued with sensuality had arisen, I simply abandoned it, dispelled it, wiped it out of existence.”—MN 19

If we think the four noble truth is an important teaching in Buddhism then we can see why rebirth is an important concept of Buddhism.

From the four noble truth (SN56.11):

“Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering;…"

The final goal of Buddhism is to end dukkha (suffering); therefore, we must end “birth, aging, illness and death”. However, “aging, illness and death” are the results of birth, so if we want to end them, we must end birth.

To end birth, we should not take another birth, or we can say we should not rebirth. If we cannot do so, we cannot end suffering.

We often see this declaration in the suttas:

Unshakable is my liberation of mind; this is my last birth; now there is no more renewed existence.

One can argue that rebirth is important, but it is not a central concept in Buddhism. But if birth is not ended, we will never reach the final goal of Buddhism.

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When the thought “I am” or “I am this or I am that” arises in the mind of an unawakened being, they have arrive at a renewed existence. In their minds, they have experienced rebecoming.

When one quenches the self, blows out all notions of selfhood, puts an end to the canker that is “I am this”, puts an end to identity view, grasps not at anything as self, they (psychologically speaking) do not arrive at any renewed states of existence. Like the tathagata, they become ineffable.

Perhaps instead of interpreting the passage as literal, one may wish to interpret it psychologically. The last birth may instead be the final cessation of the self-concept in the mind of liberated ones. With self-concept, “me-making” or the sankhara of “I/me/mine” no longer arising in arahants, they experience no more renewed existence in the mind.

The notion, feeling, experience or belief “I exist as this” or “I exist as that” aka renewed existence has been completely blown out and is not re-experienced in this life.

In the unawakened minds, fabricated selves become this and selves become that, but there is no more becoming for those who have blown selves and no longer generate the fabrication subject to rebecoming.

“I, me, mine” is no longer arising in arahants; however, this does not mean that they will not use “I, me, mine” in their speeches since there is no other way for them to communicate with us. They use those words without grasping onto them.

In SN1.25, we can see:

“If a bhikkhu is an arahant,
Consummate, with taints destroyed,
One who bears his final body,
He might still say, ‘I speak,’
And he might say, ‘They speak to me.’
Skilful, knowing the world’s parlance,
He uses such terms as mere expressions.”

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Here is a sutta about this: SN5.6

“For one who is born there is death;
Once born, one encounters sufferings—
Bondage, murder, affliction—
Hence one shouldn’t approve of birth.

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You are interpretting birth literally, which indeed seems to be the majority interpretation among Buddhists in the world. I am suggesting that it should not necessarily be taken literally.

Namely, that birth instead should be understood psychologically. Whenever the self concept, the “I”, the sense of “me” arises in the mind of any being, is that not birth? And when that arisen self goes or fades away is that is not death?

The reasons the awakened ones seek to quench the self, to blow it out completely is so that birth and rebirth of the self does not take place again, here in this very life. In most people, the self is constantly being reborn and is re-arising.

We are hardly the same selves from moment to moment, because the self concept that is generated in the mind is impermanent and subject to breaking down.

I am this, now I am that. This is me, this is mine. I am no longer this. Now I have become that. I’m now this, later I will be that. Cyclical samsara. Birth and death in the mind, the birth of the self and the death of the self over and over again in this fathom long body.

That sense of self is accompanied by immense pains and sufferings. After one fabricates a self, that self undergoes becoming. My self, the “I” arises in the mind, now I might want to become rich. I want to become strong. I become happy. I become sick. I don’t want to be this, I want to be that.

It’s rather unpleasant. But when this process of me-making ceases, peace is attained. There is no more arising of this inner “I” or “me” to become anything or crave to become anything.

Perhaps the literal understanding of rebirth is not in conflict with the psychological understanding. Perhaps one can indeed hold both interpretations. But for the cessation of dukkha in this life, the self must be quenched. That inner “I” and the tendency to form selves has to be blown out completely so that those selves don’t experience painful rebecoming.

Yes, I see birth as physical birth. However, you can have your own understanding. Long ago, I also saw birth as psychological concept, but since I re-examined DO and read many suttas, I changed my mind.

I do not want to enter this discussion, since it will be lengthy and troublesome, so you can have your own take.

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Indeed, reading and consulting the suttas can be useful. I had the opposite experience as I encountered different DO lists within the suttas, each with conflicting and varying numbers and placements of nidanas. It was unclear to me which DO list was the original one, and which wasn’t. Did Gotama teach 6 nidanas, 11, 8, 10, 12? Perhaps some were embellished lists or mergers of lists. That did not help me personally.

If this updated understanding of yours aids in the cessation of dukkha and the cessation of me-making, then I am glad.

Even if you do see birth as physical, we must not lose track of the self and the I that is arising and fading in our minds. It’s a cause of much dukkha.

If we take birth as psychological concept, then we may also need to take old age, sickness and death in the four noble truth as psychological concepts.

However, I see the suttas talked a lot about the physical death than psychological death.

SN1.3
Life is swept along, short is the life span;
No shelters exist for one who has reached old age.
Seeing clearly this danger in death,

SN1.4
“Time flies by, the nights swiftly pass;
The stages of life successively desert us.
Seeing clearly this danger in death,

SN3.4
When you’re seized by the terminator
as you give up your human life,
what can you call your own?
What do you take when you go?
What goes with you,
like a shadow that never leaves?

SN4.9
“Short is the life span of human beings,
The good man should disdain it.
One should live like one with head aflame:
There is no avoiding Death’s arrival.”

And many more…Physical death is actually a concern. Physical birth is the condition of physical death. However, as I said, this is my own take.

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Indeed, are not old age, sickness, and death psychological concepts?

Well firstly, they are all constructs of the mind. Take for instance a man of 70 years. The man looks upon himself and says “I am not old”. This body is not old. I feel young, therefore I am young says the man. When the man feels weak, he still says I am not old. What is old age, the man says, I have no concept of it.

Another man, say of 40 years, looks upon himself and says I am old. This body is old. I feel old, therefore I am old.

The matter of old age is truly all relative, an opinion lacking objectivity, dependent on the mind. The birth of “old age” occurs in the mind of the man who generates the concept, the notion, the idea “old age”. For one man, this concept may arise at age 40, while for others, at age 40 this concept may not arise at all. Some look upon phenomena and merely regard it as phenomena, while others look upon phenomena and crave to characterize it, analyze it, name it, identify it, separate, crave it, reject it. These processes are a source of dukkha.

Sickness is another. Illnesses are socially and mentally constructed. In ancient babylonian times, you could be diagnosed with a disease known as “Hand of Ghost”. There were other diseases and sicknesses that were diagnosed that no longer exist because people no longer believe in them. In the future, humans may invent new diseases, deeming this state of the body/mind or that state of the body/mind a disease. Sickness is a construct birthed from the idea that there is something wrong with the body, a deviation from some hypothetical permanent ideal state.

In reality, sickness is a mentally constructed sankhara. There are human beings who do not and cannot feel pain. Doctors identify their inability to feel pain as a sickness, a disorder. But among those people, some of them say it is not a sickness. They do not adhere to that concept. There are human beings who do not see or do not hear. Doctors say their inability to see or hear is an illness. But those people, some of them say it is not illness. It merely is how it is, without any act of labeling. There are human beings who feel depressed. Doctors identify their depression, their suffering as a sickness, a disorder. But there are those who say depression and suffering is the natural state of affairs, dukkha is a natural part of existence, inherent in all phenomena. Some say those without will or craving are ill, while others say those without or craving are sublime.

One bone in my body has been deemed too big, when compared to other bones. The doctors say it is a disorder because the bone rubs against another bone, sometimes causing physical pain and impaction. If I wish I could say this is an illness. I could say it is abnormal. I could say something is wrong with “me” and that it needs surgical treatment. But then I would be engaging in me-making. I could say something is wrong with this body, but that too is but an opinion, a constructed one. I don’t have to say something is “right” or “healthy” with my body either. I need not let either concept arise.

When a cell splits in two, some see death, others see birth. Death too is a psychological concept. Where some see death, others see no death. The concept or notion of death simply does not arise in their minds. We humans are rather unlucky… capable of abstraction, we abstract death. We see phenomena, dhammas, we give it a name. We abstract and create the concept of body. And when that phenomena comes apart and decays, we create the concept of physical death. Even in medicine today, doctors disagree what the “true” definition of death is. For some death is the cessation of some of the brain’s activities. For others, death is the cessation of all, not merely some of the brain’s activities. For others, all the activities of the brain may cease, but death does not occur until the activities of the other cells ceases.

Who knew death would be so controversial? But like other concepts, be it beauty, morality, justice, the arising of the construct of death can be observed in the mind.

One other example. Once there was a man who suffered a severe accident where the brain was damaged. When that person awoke from coma, the behavior, speech, and personality exhibited radically differed. His wife said that the man, the person, the self or soul she knew was dead. Whoever this new person was, this wasn’t her husband. Others disagreed, some said that this person, even if different, is still the same person and that he hadn’t truly died yet.

One other example. Viruses are believed to be alive by some scientists and doctors but not alive by other scientists & doctors. If the virus is not alive, then it is not a living thing that can experience death. But if it is alive, then it is a living thing that can experience death. Whether the virus decomposing is death or not death depends on the opinion of the one in whom the concept of death may arise or may not.

We are certainly free to look upon the change in observed material form, its impermanence, and call it death. We can create that concept. It’s certainly a useful one as it helps us crave or reject certain states of being.

Sometimes when meditating, the thought arises. My body will die.
The my goes away, since the my is a construct. This body will die.
The concept of death goes away, as death is a construct. This body will change.
The concept of body goes away. This will change.
The concept of will goes away. This change.
The concept of this goes away. Change.
The concept of change, goes away.

What’s left but peace of mind?

You are a true follower and equipped with great insight . You don’t misrepresent the Buddha and truly understand the Dhamma

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I have understood and I won’t do it again. Thanks for pointing it out sir

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