A question I have been struggling with is reconciling the teachings of anatta in regards to rebirth.
Anatta - The five aggregates are not self, meaning ownerless, impermanent, and conditionally arisen. Form, the body, is not self. This is obvious, even from a scientific materialist perspective. Likewise, that which is dependent upon the body – namely, feeling, perception, and mental formations are not self. Consciousness I understand to be a kind of fundamental element of existence, similar to earth, water, air, and fire. All these combined create the “person”, almost like a self-aware robot.
Rebirth - With the breaking apart of the body, and the disintegration of the five aggregates, a new conditioned arising occurs based upon the kamma accumulated in that life, and in previous lives, just as one candle can be used to light another. From here I’ve heard two explanations, and I am unsure which to believe:
(a) Rebirth is not the continuation of an unchanging essence, i.e a soul, but rather the process of one life conditioning the initial parameters of the next.
(b) There is some awareness, or “mind”, linking these lives, however it is ownerless and undefinable.
If we take the (a) understanding of rebirth, what self-motivated incentive does one have to seek a better rebirth? If, at death, one merely conditions the arising of another set of five aggregates, and there is no continuity of consciousness, no memory of the previous life, would this not be equivalent to the annihilation of that “entity” as far as it is concerned? The only way I can make sense of this is if there is some possible perceived sense of continuity, just as there is in this current life, despite the entity dying and being reborn in every moment, to a certain extent.
If Nibbana is merely the exhaustion of this process, why is it spoken of in experiential terms? For example I have heard Nibbana called “the highest bliss”, “peaceful”, “radiant”, etc. What is it that experiences Nibbana for it to be characterized as such? Is Paranibbana merely the consciousness element in its unconditioned state? Is it the ownerless “mind” that has ceased its localized grasping and identification? Or is it true annihilation in the scientific materialist sense?
Thank you for reading this. I hope my questions make sense. May you be happy.