Impermanence, Suffering and Goodness

It seems to me that impermanence is a profoundly important aspect of human existence, that retains its importance whether we are looking at a single life, the life of a family, a community, a nation, the whole human race or the entire world of sentient beings. None of it is going to last forever.

If we look at any two beings, one living now, and one living 100 years from now, any aspects of those two lives and the connections between them that are good or evil, meaningful or meaningless, remain so whether or not those two beings are in some sense two different stages of the “same” person, or two stages in the lives of two “different” people. Ultimately, it makes no difference, and comes down to arbitrary and illusory metaphysical parsing.

If one lives and practices well, the goodness arising from that practice will bring blessings to those around that practice, including those who benefit from it in the future.

Suffering is important and liberation is important. Death is important and birth is important. But “re”-birth? Meh. An illusion born of our I-making and my-making, and craving for states of existence.

Ajahn Brahmali said:

“The point, rather, is that adding rebirth to the equation dramatically alters the balance of our focus. If this life is all there is, then it is reasonable to emphasise achievements that belong to this life. In other words, enjoyment of the immediate pleasures of this life carry a lot of weight, especially since most of us do not know the extent to which mental development is possible. If we doubt our own ability to change our mental world for the better - and most people would have some degree of doubt about this - then focusing on the more tangible pleasures of this world makes eminent sense.”

And yet this is not what we see in the spiritual lives of Buddhist practitioners in places where belief in rebirth is not common. The transcience, insignificance, unsatisfactoriness and defilement of worldly “pleasures” can make just as much of an impression on the practitioner who does not believe in rebirth as on the one who does. In response they can turn toward nibbana with a particular intensity, since it cannot be delayed. They can also turn toward an emphasis on the compassionate spreading of real goodness, peace and liberation in the hearts of those around them, since their own very limited lives have little significance in comparison with the vastness of human experience.

I’ve noticed that some of the most dismissive comments about the “modernist” forms of Buddhism that don’t emphasize rebirth comes from western converts to Buddhism. Many of them seem to project onto these other Buddhists the “shallowness” of their own earlier, worldly, hedonistic form of existence. It is disconcerting to experience one’s spiritual life constantly being disappeared in this way under the contemptuous non-seeing of the orthodox.

The Buddha said it is viable that some might not believe in rebirth but still practice the Path. So how do you see what the problem is?

With metta

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Well, personally I still feel a sense of community with anyone who has an earnest interest in trying to understand the teachings of the Buddha, regardless of how they approach rebirth.

And in any community, it’s good to have some disagreement as long as we respect each other at the same time. Just being interested in the teachings of the EBTs is amazing in its own right :slight_smile:


That’s very nice for the Buddha, but it’s become clear to me that many Buddhists have nothing but contempt for what they imagine to be the spiritual lives and experiences of those who refrain from believing in the literal reality of the cosmic imaginary of the early texts, and are determined to erase and deny the possibility of deep spiritual experience among such people.

This has come through very clearly ever since Ajahn Sujato decided to drop the hammer of orthodoxy on the secular Buddhists who irritate him so much, and it can’t be obscured behind a facade of anjali emojis and perfunctory verbal expressions of metta.

First of all, with my moderators hat on can I please give a gentle reminder of the “the Watercooler is for friendly, supportive exchange not cantankerous wrangling” line.

With that said, even though I have a different take on the rebirth point from you, I am at the same time not that impressed with unnecessary clobberings of anyone’s earnest efforts to address the question of suffering and enjoy witnessing more sensitive approaches to things. I can very easily understand how it is possible to take highly assertive, even strident, declarations of ‘what’s what’ as dismissive, even belittling challenges to some folk’s best, honest endeavours. All the same, much as I can easily understand how it is possible, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing so, especially as I rather doubt that was the intention.

I don’t exactly know what constitutes “perfunctory verbal expressions of metta” by your assessment, and further I’m not 100% sure what metta is. Regardless, out of an actual, bona fide care for you and your ease of mind might I recommend to you the words of one fine chap:


Drawing on traditions of right speech-- traditions that seem to me consistent with the EBT’s – I would caution you about making attributions about the motivations / hearts of others.

At the same time I think it wise to ask “what happened”. There was, IMO, a serious disagreement among readers / contributors about what was appropriate and/or consistent with the ethics of the EBT and website guidelines. That disagreement over the ethics of disagreement is not going to disappear. How communities respond so such meta issues is a revealing test of any organizations maturity and skillfulness.

What would be more productive might include:

  • Threads on right speech/wrong speech
  • Specific examples of speech – scrubbed of identifying information and language. Exemplars of right and wrong speech.
  • Reflections on the impact on Buddhists of the ongoing secular disagreement in western cultures about right speech. This is a rift in the western liberal vision of society.

I note that it’s usually easier to begin with critiquing the work of others. Build up skill identifying the issues with others knowing all the time that only the more skillful can identify their own ‘blind spots’.

When I observed a recent disagreement about what writing was and wasn’t appropriate I withdrew for a time to reflect and ‘regroup’. If we have different ideas about the Buddhist ethics regarding appropriate speech & writing – a topic that appears to be close to the core of the EBT’s teachings – then one shouldn’t be surprised by differences about other areas of doctrinal differences.

I hope the moderators recognize this is a meta-dialog.
If not appropriate in the Watercooler category then in the Meta category.

This is a tough issue. I hope this is an example of a constructive response.


I for one agree with all of what you have said above.

Nothing but contempt- if I were to make that statement, I would also say I could read minds!!

No one is downgrading your practice. Even if we assume they did, why do you assume they have so much power, over you? They don’t. The Buddha is the final ‘arbitrator’- just see the texts. They have all the authority and not individuals, in this teaching.

I’m assuming here you are not referring to me, and will remain equanamous- that means I don’t have to deal with other people’s baggage and free to maintain my samadhi, and respond appropriately to you. After all what matters is my practice, and not the outcome of some argument external to me.

with metta,


No sorry. Not referring to you.