Lecture: Does Secular Buddhism exist? Ajahn Brahmali

Thank you for sharing the book, some interesting cases!

To add to this, seeing that recalling past lives (as a child) is quite an extraordinary phenomenon it probably won’t tell anything about general principles relating to kamma. Unlikely conditions are at play here, where the general principles don’t apply. In Dr. Ian Stevenson’s book he also goes into ethics and if this is somehow involved, but he also doesn’t find any evidence of this.

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Interesting! I mean, Buddhist kamma is supposed to revolve around ethics. To your knowledge, do teachers acknowledge the problems there?

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Kamma as an impersonal law of nature which governs where to be reborn into always is working.

It’s just that the rebirth evidences is a snapshot. Of 2 lifetimes, one rebirth, or maybe a little bit more. Whereas when the Buddha described kamma, he had divine eye to see many people undergoing many rebirths and their actions. So over many data points, then he can see the pattern.

As it is, the law of kamma is very hard to be tested unless by many people with divine eye to see many other people over many lifetimes, track their actions and rebirth etc. Not easy to quantify at all.

The general principles of Kamma (good get good, bad gets bad)) is always there, just that which good (bad) actions maps to which good (bad) results is unknown and cannot be easily seen. @jonas

Yes, that‘s the scriptural basis, yet I wouldn‘t want to be caught using it as an easy out when arguing with scientific data that don‘t align neatly with my religious beliefs. If the cases are indeed mostly human to human rebirth reports showing no direct connection to ethical behavior, that may not be irreconcilable with complex kamma, but it would certainly give me pause.
Well anyway, guess I‘ll finish some projects and buy Analayo‘s book on rebirth research after.

Of course, we can talk about general patterns but these cases probably fall under the scope of…

The results of deeds (kammavipāka) should not be thought about, and anyone who tries to think about them will go mad or get frustrated. [AN4.77]


There is the Karma & Rebirth course by Bhante Sujato, which is a good start! Even with interviews with Dr. Jim Tucker, Bhikkhu Bodhi and Professor Gombrich about these subjects. Karma & Rebirth Course (2015) – Wisdom & Wonders


Definitely. Also, interestingly, additional analyses of these cases have shown that various phobias, food preferences and unusual play habits etc., which the children display, nearly always correspond to activities, habits and experiences (i.e., representing different types of attachments) of the previously
deceased person. See the following references:

Stevenson, I. (1990). Phobias in children who claim to remember previous lives. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 4, 243–254.

Cook, E. W., Pasricha, S., Samararatne, G., Maung, U., & Stevenson, I. (1983). Review and analysis of “unsolved” cases of the reincarnation type: II. Comparison of features of solved and unsolved cases. The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 77(1), 45–62.

Stevenson, I., & Keil, J. (2005). Children of Myanmar who behave like Japanese soldiers:A possible third element in personality. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 19, 171–183.

The Buddha described the topic of kamma as being very complex. Also, he classified kamma into various categories (in terms of kamma that can come into fruitarian in the same life, the next life, etc.), and also explained in terms of the criteria needed for a kamma to happen. Therefore testing kamma in rebirth cases would be very difficult. However as I stated in my other comment, our attachments towards specific phenomena certainly appears to manifest in the next life.

What do you mean by “Samyukta/Samyutta Buddhism”?

Damn, and here I thought vegan kamma was special :sweat_smile:


I think any recollections of non-human forms by children are ignored by researchers simply because such accounts cannot be verified (unlike cases where the children provide a name of a city, names of people, etc.). However, in one of Dr. Jim Tucker’s books, it is stated that some children report having existed in different realms (non-human) and he says that it is difficult ignore these statements in the context of other statements that the same child has made (on previous human births) that have been verified. Also, in Dr. Jim Tucker’s book “Return to life” he has a section on animal rebirth (see pages 38 - 42). One of the stories that were quite interesting is a story of a boy (in Thailand) who recalled the life of being a python in his previous life! It seems, this child also had a skin-condition (that the child was born with) called “ichthyosis,” a condition that caused his body, particularly the lower half, to be covered in scales!

I think it is the last thought that counts - rather than observing the five precepts, although observing the precepts could influence the last thought moment before death. Regarding recollections, people who died as a result of an accident in the previous life appear to be able to recall more than others regarding their past lives, although the latter category is not absent.

I refer to Early Buddhism or Buddhism based on Samyutta/Samyukta discourses.
Cf.: Ven. Yinshun: Samyutta/Samyukta Buddhism

That is, Early Buddhism (unified Sangha) had two historical ages:
Samyutta/Samyukta Buddhism and Nikaya/Agama Buddhism (based on the principal four Nikayas/Agamas).

After Early Buddhism, there was the period of Sectarian Buddhism (Early Buddhist Schools) in India.

Do you have a citation for this though?

In the main texts on kamma in the MN, it mentions how people doing unethical actions could be reborn in a lower realm, or as a human. Also, the texts say that it is extremely rare (like a sea turtle going through a single hole) to be born as a human from the animal/lower realms afaik. So human birth is rare in samsāric terms, but if we are already humans, I think it’s actually extremely likely that most humans are reborn as humans.

Most humans do normal human things. Not super unethical, not super ethical. The really good people with lots of merit go to higher realms a lot of the times depending on prior kammic conditions. The really bad people go to lower realms. But if someone is attached to human things, lives a normal human life, and their mind is constantly inclining to human existence, all of the Buddha’s teachings on rebirth would seem to point to this person being reborn a human IMO.

I think later on, things got a lot more wild. Throw flowers at the Buddha and you go to heaven for aeons and aeons and become a paccekabuddha. But in Early Buddhism and the historical Buddha’s teachings, I see the human realm as just another type of sensual / animal-like existence that is higher than most wild animals and lower than sensual gods. We do lots of unrestrained things that are perfectly expected of humans, so it wouldn’t make sense to go to hell for them unless they are particularly bad kamma and inclinations of mind.



As stated by the Buddha, kamma is a very complex phenomena (as I have stated in one of my other comments here). Also, as I stated, attachments that children display seem to connect very well to their previous personalities.

I don’t think this is a problem at all. Also, it is the last thought before death that contributes towards the next realm of existence.

People don’t do only good or bad - most do a mix of things. It is said that the last thought moment we have (during death) is what counts towards the next birth. What scientific data do you mean (that “doesn’t align neatly with beliefs”)? In the American case of a child named ‘Ryan’ - he recalled seeing numbers in the hospital wall (something like that - I remember reading in the book) during his death - perhaps that neutral thought led him to a human birth. His case is documented here: Boy Says He Remembers Past Life as Hollywood Agent

:grin: Thinking that one is special due to being vegetarian etc., is actually bad kamma! (conceit!!) But vegetarianism itself is not bad. Anyway, it is the last thought that counts and being a ‘good’ person contributes towards having a ‘good’ last thought!

You keep repeating this, but it’s actually a myth. The Buddha explicitly says otherwise. Check out SN 55.21 and SN 55.22. Bhante Sujato and Ajahn Brahmali have also offered several kamma myth-busting courses discussing this. I understand it’s a common opinion though.

Mettā :slight_smile:

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It’s my understanding that the general pattern is indicative of the law of kamma. Good gets good, bad gets bad. It’s more of specific circumstances that is hard to think about. Which deeds would ripen when and where and which results is linked with which deeds. That’s the application of the general principle.

Physics wise, it’s like thermodynamics, statistical mechanics. The large law of the averages is very reliable, increase temperature of gas, pressure increases when the volume stays the same. But go zoom in deep into one molecule of gas and try to predict where that molecule would go, it’s very hard to calculate.

One has to know the theory before being able to judge if the data fits or do not fit into the theory.

It’s akin to seeing “oh, there’s winter, there’s cold snap. There’s still snow. Thus global warming is fake!” (the quotation part is false). This is not understanding how global warming actually works. There’s no prediction which says there cannot be winter anymore or snow anymore.

The law of kamma is like global warming, climate change. The specific circumstances on a very narrow window of observation is akin to local weather measurements. One has to collect a lot of data across a lot of time frame to be able to see the general pattern as I described above with divine eye.

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But is continuation of attachment to particular habits, objects and physical characteristics after death something that the Buddha taught (outside of the mythological teachings, Jataka etc).

I thought I did, but wasn‘t able to find anything.

Edit: Bhante @NgXinZhao kindly provided SN56.104:

“… the sentient beings who die as humans and are reborn as humans are few, while those who die as humans and are reborn in the ghost realm are many …”

I assumed that the fact that our biological hardware made us prone to a lot of dumb behavior was part of the „life isn‘t fair, neither is kamma“ thing. Why wouldn‘t it make sense to create going-to-hell kamma with human behavior considered normal by other humans?

It was just a joke. Saw your fruitarian line and couldn‘t resist.

Very apt simile! But -

Do we know the theory? While many of the central mechanisms of climate change are well explained and can be observed, I was under the impression that the Buddha declined to talk about the complexities of kamma beyond some bare-bone facts, saying that people would waste time and go mad trying to understand it.
You‘re talking about the divine eye, but since demonstrations of psychic powers with non-monastics present are generally taboo, laypeople can‘t know who knows the theory, leaving them groping around in the dark.