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  • Michael Steinfeld
    started a topic Animal rebirths

    Animal rebirths

    Dear monastics,

    Another question has recently been occupying my mind.
    As well the the question about ghosts and spirits it is perhaps not directly related to the practice of the noble eightfold path, but somehow my curiosity can’t resist asking it.

    The question is about animal rebirths.

    First of all: so far I haven’t been able at all to access memory toward past lives, but still though I can imagine rebirth to be true.

    I read that according to Buddhism, it is possible for a human being to be reborn as an animal.
    If that is true: What karma does a human being need to accumulate in order to be reborn as an animal in his next life? How does he need to behave?
    Furthermore: What specific karma then causes a human being to be reborn, say, as a lizard? Or as a wolf/whale/spider/turtle/whatever?
    Is this just random?
    Or is this elective? If it is elective, how does this election take place?
    Or is there a “hierarchy” amongst the animal world that grants that the “better” one’s karma is, the better the animal rebirth will be? E.g., that someone with better karma will not be reborn as an insect but rather as a lion, because (as I suppose) a lion existence is more pleasant?

    Can you please explain to me how this all works?

    Sorry, perhaps this question is a rather odd one. I hope it is not misplaced or considered to be dispensable in a forum like this.

    Kind regards,
    Michael Steinfeld

  • Andrea Collisson
    replied
    In the interests of not taking this any further, i will merely say, i'm unconvinced.

    Leave a comment:


  • Bhante Nandiya
    replied
    Originally posted by Andrea Collisson View Post
    How can you possibly know this.

    I read this sort of stuff in a book by a tibetan nun. Its just people making up their own rationale. Its simply completely delusional.
    Well as much is said in the canon, MN 57: The Dog-duty Ascetic

    "... he develops the dog mind fully and unstintingly, he develops dog behavior fully and unstintingly. Having done that, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in the company of dogs."

    A number of other suttas attributed directly to the Buddha also cover the theme that a person can be reborn in accordance with their aspirations, if the other supporting conditions are in place, Ajahn Brahm's simile is that you can take an airplane to another country if you're at the airport, want to go to that destination, and have enough money to cover the fare - referring respectively to being dead, having aspiration/desire, and compatible kamma. In the case of the dog duty ascetic, even if his aspiration is to be born as deva, he only has dog-kamma (dog actions, dog habits) and hasn't done the right sort of things to be reborn in a heaven realm (i.e. develop a kind and generous heart).

    Knowledge which has been passed down is recognized as one legitimate form of knowledge, granted it has it's limitations, but so do other kinds of knowledge (for example, the knowledge which comes from direct experience is limited to what we have directly experienced - and this, it must be said, is a severe limitation since our experience is so tiny relative to the world).

    We have good reason to believe that the Buddha had a stronger understanding of the mind and of the subjective nature of reality than any person living today, hence anything which has even said to have been said by the Buddha should not be dismissed out of hand. To me the teaching given in MN 57 seems utterly reasonable, and that developing an overly strong affiliation with any group of animals, could logically result in rebirth with that animal. A strong cat lover, after death, could easily seek out cats, then be reborn in the womb of a cat. You could even say "What else are they going to do?".

    One thing to ask yourself is this: If you died today, and could go anywhere in the world at the speed of thought, where would you go? I think there's a good chance that this will do a good job of indicating the circumstances of one's rebirth - for better or worse. At one point in my life I asked myself that question, and realized I was so obsessed with a certain person that I would probably be reborn as her child, or as a child of a similar person. Which made me very worried indeed and spurred me to abandon that obsession. And abandoning that obsession was certainly a positive thing. Hence I would be inclined to say that it can be beneficial to consider the consequences of rebirth, particularly assuming the worst case that we'll be reborn in accordance with our aspirations and kamma.

    Leave a comment:


  • Ajahn Brahmali
    replied
    Dear Andrea,

    As I've mentioned to you before, the idea of rebirth has extremely important consequences. If there is rebirth, then there is also a very serious problem to be dealt with. But you're right that the best way of dealing with this problem is making the best of this life.

    With metta.

    Leave a comment:


  • Andrea Collisson
    replied
    You will be reborn as a cat in that nice family, rather than as a dog say, if your mind is more cat-like.
    How can you possibly know this.

    I read this sort of stuff in a book by a tibetan nun. Its just people making up their own rationale. Its simply completely delusional.

    Buddhists should not spend so much time worrying and wondering about their future and past lives and get on with making the best of this life. That is what the buddha taught so why do so many buddhists get bogged down in these fantasies.

    Leave a comment:


  • Ajahn Brahmali
    replied
    Dear Erin.

    It might be helpful, but it is difficult to tell for sure. Rebirth depends on one's state of mind. If chanting can lift the animal's mental state, then perhaps it might help. The problem is that it is difficult to know whether the animal actually enjoys the chanting. I believe the loving kindness we have for our pets is the most important thing. If we treat them gently, with compassion and kindness, that is the most effective way to condition their mental state in a positive way. If doing Buddhist chanting is part of such kindness, then I would say it is definitely effective.

    With metta.

    Leave a comment:


  • Erin Wells
    replied
    dear ajahn
    i read about a tibetan monk who put speakers out and did chants for some goats so they would be helped to a higher rebirth

    i loved this story, i memorised the chant and say it to my pets in hope that it helps. in your tradition would it be considered helpful?

    Leave a comment:


  • Michael Steinfeld
    replied
    Thank you very much, Ajahn Brahmali, your answers seem to make sense to me.

    Thank you as well, Theresa! You had a good point, I was wondering about animals' karma-making as well.

    Kind regards,
    Michael

    Leave a comment:


  • Ajahn Brahmali
    replied
    Dear Theresa,

    Rebirth requires a mind. In Buddhism plants are usually regarded as unconscious and thus they do not take rebirth.

    With metta.

    Leave a comment:


  • Theresa Smith
    replied
    I'm sure its a silly question but I just thought of one more thing that I wanted to ask. Where, if at all do plants sit as far as rebirth is concerned? I know I certainly consider the trees and plants to be living things but are they considered to be living beings from a buddhist perspective?

    With metta
    Theresa

    Leave a comment:


  • Theresa Smith
    replied
    Thank you so much for your reply. I can't say I am comforted by the thought of many lifetimes of such a rebirth for my friendly spider. I am now even more sorry and sad for his plight, I hope he has soon 'worn off' what ever bad kamma he has accumulated.

    With metta
    Theresa

    Leave a comment:


  • Ajahn Brahmali
    replied
    Dear Theresa,

    It is said that once you get reborn as an animal you tend to stay in that realm for a long time, being reborn there again and again. As you say, there is usually little or no scope for making good kamma, and this can trap you in that realm for very long time. This is one very good reason for avoiding such rebirth. Eventually, however, the bad kamma you did wears off. That is, you are wearing off more bad kamma than you are creating, and thus eventually the reason why you were reborn in that realm is exhausted. The cause for staying there has come to an end. At that point some other kamma takes effect. With luck you will then be reborn as a human!

    The Buddhist teaching on the nature of samsāra is quite chilling!

    With metta.

    Leave a comment:


  • Theresa Smith
    replied
    Animal rebirth

    Thank you for bringing up these questions on animal rebirth Michael and thank you Ajahn Brahmali for your reply. I too have a question about animal rebirth if you don't mind me tacking it on here?

    I understand the basic idea of accumulated bad kamma resulting in an animal rebirth but what I'm struggling with is how can an animal build good kamma in their life in order to have a better rebirth in the future? For example, I have a very lovely spider in the corner of my bathroom, he bothers noone and we all enjoy watching him spin his web and go about his business and he has sort of become a surrogate friend of the family but I know that basically he is just a spider doing what a spider does and were I to be in the wrong place at the wrong time I'm sure he wouldn't hesitate to bite me, similarly he spends his days as a spider catching and killing other insects and bugs in order to survive, it is as they say in his nature. So how is it possible for this spider, with his limited life based on basic need and instinct ever expected to have a better rebirth in his next life?


    Kind Regards
    Theresa

    Leave a comment:


  • Ajahn Brahmali
    replied
    Dear Michael,

    According to the suttas there are two ways of getting reborn in the animal realm: (1) one develops the mind of a particular animal (see MN57); or (2) one makes the appropriate amount of bad kamma (see MN135 & 136). The suttas do not say much about the sort of kamma required, except that it is bad. Other sources, however, say delusion is the main force that causes rebirth among animals. This makes sense to my mind. Animals tend to be caught in a world of fear and lack of understanding of their situation. They are lacking in clarity, which is just another way of saying they are deluded. They are trapped in this world by their very limited brain. Their minds are essentially filtered and constrained by their physical characteristics. It follows that the kamma you have to make to be reborn as an animal would normally have a strong aspect of delusion - confusion, sloth, fear, living in a fantasy world, holding strange views, etc.

    The degree of suffering in the animal realm varies enormously across the various species. Compare a worm with a pet living with a nice family. For many animals life is short and brutish, for others it is much more pleasant. So the degree of bad or good kamma you have made will be an important factor in deciding the exact type of rebirth. The other factor is your personality or the habitual state of your mind. You will be reborn as a cat in that nice family, rather than as a dog say, if your mind is more cat-like.

    It is elective in the sense that you can direct the development of your own mind. Part of this is developing a strong and sincere wish to be reborn among a certain group of animals. But I certainly wouldn't recommend developing such a wish!

    And, yes, there is a hierarchy, as explained above.

    Your question is perfectly fine. As with so many things in Buddhism, going back to basic principles usually clarifies the situation.

    With metta.

    Leave a comment:

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