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Buddhism Without Reincarnation/Rebirth - A Thought Experiment

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  • Buddhism Without Reincarnation/Rebirth - A Thought Experiment

    As an avid reader of sci-fi and alternative history novels, I think it can be interesting to consider the question "What if.....?" Three such novels that come to mind are "Children of the Reich" (What if the Nazis hadn't been defeated?), "Pastwatch" (Orson Scott Card's novel - What if the indigenous peoples of the Americas had successfully resisted the European invasion?), and "11/22/63" (Stephen King - What if JFK hadn't been assassinated?) come to mind.

    In the same spirit, I suggest considering the question "What would Buddhism be like without the doctrine of Reincarnation/Rebirth?" If, in the wildly fanciful alternate reality that we might try to imagine, Buddhists discarded the R&R idea and Buddhism somehow adapted to the new circumstances, what would be the consequences and implications?

    Certainly, a half-measure is possible, in which there might be an "agnostic" approach to R&R, which neither accepts nor rejects it, but I think that one condition of the thought experiment should be that even with such an approach, a "Buddhist Agnostic" in the alternate universe would have to consider the possibility that both consciousness and Karma end with death, and that, in effect, Gandhi and Hitler get the same thing.

    I completely understand should some members of the Community view this exercise as a waste of time, and I sincerely hope that I haven't offended anyone simply by asking the question.


  • #2
    I doubt Buddhism can work without that. Buddhism assumes an universal balance. Without R&R ... how could it be balanced?


    • #3
      It is hard to imagine for me what what Buddhism be without the idea of rebirth. But, if science proves that there is no rebirth, Buddhism will have to accept it and change.
      As Ajahn Btrahm teaches" "Don't bend the truth to what you believe in, but bend what you believe in to truth".


      • #4
        Without rebirth we have wrong view and from there the whole path to libertation is closed. What you have without rebirth is nihilism pure and simple. If this is the only life and there are no consequences to action there is no reason to practice and suicide is a viable option to ending all suffering.

        The whole reason I accepted Buddhism to begin with was the terrifying prospect of endlessly being reborn and the endless suffering that goes along with rebirth. The reason we Buddhist "believe" in rebirth is because it was the experience of the Buddha as well as many others who saw that rebirth happens. We have already changed our thinking to reality based on experience. Besides how is science going to prove nothingness? You can't prove nothingness because it doesn't exist.

        The doctrine of nihilism which has poisoned the minds of many people around the globe is extremely pernicious. I always quote the Mahayana teacher Nagarjuna on this matter. He said "Those who believe in Eternalism are as stupid as cattle. Those who believe in Nihilism are even more stupid."


        • #5
          I don't think Alex is trying to deny rebirth here, he's just trying to imagine, picture Buddhism without it ... it's all hypothetical ... a mental exercise. Not a debate on why rebirth is right.



          • #6
            I apoligize if I sounded heavy handed but as you can ascertain I feel very strongly about nihilism. Without rebirth Buddhism would not be Buddhism. It would be nihilism.


            • #7
              Still there is a lot more to Buddhism than rebirth alone, yet again it is strongly related and supportive of many other rationales of Buddhism.


              • #8
                First of all can we please get rid of the reincarnation aspect of this discussion? Reincarnation is not a teaching of the Buddha. It is more a result of the blend of older Tibetan traditions with Buddhism and really doesn't follow the Theravada. Not only that, but reincarnation the concept itself is exceedingly rich fuel for the fires of confusion and non-understanding over this whole debate of whether rebirth happens or not. Now.....

                Buddhism without rebirth? Look at Japanese Pure Land Buddhism. Question answered. Can we go home now?

                Look at Vajrayana Buddhism. You'll keep being reincarnated as this person or that, and hopefully, one day, you may become the Dalai Lama. Awesome. You'll keep going on faith, crawling on your belly for miles and miles believing ritual to be salvation. Ignorance is ignorance.

                Buddhism without rebirth would almost certainly evolve into a faith based religion. Look at Christianity which originally espoused rebirth. Then the teaching was tossed because the Romans likely saw it as a hindrance to controlling the populace via religion. So you have a bunch of people given guidelines to live a nice life (10 Commandments) but no real reason to follow or keep them because in the end, regardless of behavior, one will be given a choice to repent and have everlasting life in Paradise or burn in a lake of fire. Back to Pure Land as mentioned above. Buddha becomes deified and only love for, and faith in Him, can save you. Sound at all familiar?
                Last edited by Jerrod Lopes; 12th-November-2012, 01:07 AM. Reason: spelling


                • #9
                  What what is and what will what will be!

                  My path is to understand suffering in this life, end my suffering in this life and the rest will take care of itself.

                  Quite simple really.

                  With Metta


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Ara Danielyan View Post
                    It is hard to imagine for me what what Buddhism be without the idea of rebirth. But, if science proves that there is no rebirth, Buddhism will have to accept it and change.
                    It won't happen. You can't prove that rebirth doesn't occur. How would you measure it? Regardless of whether rebirth is fact or fiction, it is unfalsifiable.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Bryan Reigle View Post
                      Without rebirth we have wrong view and from there the whole path to libertation is closed. What you have without rebirth is nihilism pure and simple. If this is the only life and there are no consequences to action there is no reason to practice and suicide is a viable option to ending all suffering.
                      As strange as it sounds to "unbelievers", this conclusion is 100% logical (assuming a Buddhist world view has been accepted). The Buddhist world view is indeed strange and foreign to most people (as are any religious views). On the other hand, "suffering" is not nearly as big of a problem if there's only one life, so, assuming you have a healthy body and mind, suicide would seem more like wasting your one opportunity to enjoy the good things in life and would be irrational.


                      • #12
                        I knew someone who was a Pure Land Buddhist (can remember which school), but I still had to wikipedia it, not having studied it extensively. Anyway, to quote from the article:

                        "Contemporary Pure Land traditions see Amitābha expounding the Dharma in his buddha-field (Skt. buddhakṣetra), or "pure land" (Ch. 净土, jìngtǔ), a region offering respite from karmic transmigration. Amitābha's pure land of Sukhāvatī is described in the Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra as a land of beauty that surpasses all other realms. It is said to be inhabited by many gods, men, flowers, fruits, and adorned with wish-granting trees where rare birds come to rest. [19] In Pure Land traditions, entering the Pure Land is popularly perceived as equivalent to the attainment of enlightenment. Upon entry into the Pure Land, the practitioner is then instructed by Amitābha Buddha and numerous bodhisattvas until full and complete enlightenment is reached. This person then has the choice of returning at any time as a bodhisattva to any of the six realms of existence in order to help all sentient beings in saṃsāra, or to stay the whole duration, reach Buddhahood, and subsequently deliver beings to the shore of liberation."

                        This general description does seem to incorporate R&R. Unfortunately, the article doesn't describe doctrinal differences between the various Japanese sects, so perhaps Jerrod might point us in the right direction concerning which Japanese flavor of Pure Land doesn't incorporate rebirth or something closely resembling it.

                        RE: Brian's point concerning Nihilism, there was an earlier discussion of Buddhism and Nihilism in the Forum. As I'm basically an Agnostic who flirts with it or who even has had an lurid intermittent affair with it, I supposed it influenced my thinking when I started this thread (as well as the earlier Buddhism and Nihilism one). It may be an eternal, irrepressible concept, and I'm not sure that all versions of it are necessarily "bad", or stupid, but that's a whole other discussion.

                        I've been trying to come up with at least one speculative model of what Buddhism sans Rebirth might look like, and admittedly, the vision is still unclear, but I may have identified a few building blocks:

                        1) Determinism over Free Will: everything that we think and every choice that we make is pre-determined based upon experience (including genetics and the laws that apply to material existence), and therefore moral choice does not exist, although the idea that it does is necessary to preserve social order. Hence, Gandhi did not choose to be or act as Gandhi, and ditto Hitler.

                        2) Suffering defines and characterizes sentient existence; and in the most simplistic terms, what we call happiness and pleasure result from a lessening of suffering, or perceived progress toward relief from it. Our capacity to experience suffering is many, many times greater than our capacity to experience positive emotions -sentience is a raw deal, and maybe the end of sentience means the end of suffering. Freud had something to say about this, proposing that the Death Wish ("Thanatos") resulted from the desire of sentient matter to return to its original inanimate state.

                        3) In effect, every sentient being gets relief from suffering after it dies, including relief from the suffering that is derived from the fear of death, no matter how good, evil, ignorant, or enlightened its actions as a living being may have seemed.

                        4) Per #1, Society requires belief in free will/moral choice in order to preserve order, advance progress towards what it believes is a happier society (i.e. progress toward minimizing suffering) and justify rewarding those who assist in promoting these ends and penalizing those who oppose them. This represents a harmonization and organized accommodation of the fears of the individuals within the social collective, because the alternative to the ideal of Progressivism is Nihilism, which would basically hold that neither progress nor order matters, because we all wind up the same anyway, no matter what we do. And history could be seen as manifesting a dialectical relationship between these two forces.

                        4) Ethical implications: ?



                        • #13
                          WOW Alex, well worded
                          I personally consider it a waste of time... "What ifs"
                          It seems to me, this topic of rebirth and reincarnation really has got a solid "hold on you". It is almost as if you would like to believe into any of the two re's, but you can't.
                          You'll never find proof of r+r and you never find proof of not r+r.
                          Why is it so important for you? What would you really change in your personal life now, if you would believe in rebirth OR reincarnation?
                          Is there any decision, that you put off, with the excuse of wanting to resolve that riddle first?
                          As this is a very personal question, I don't expect you to answer it in the forum...
                          I just wonder if it could help you, to ask it to yourself and find an honest answer. What is behind that question in your mind?
                          Why is it so important for your life?

                          There is, by the way, a Sutta, that deals a lot with this question: MN 60 Apannaka Sutta.
                          Here Ajahn Brahms Sutta-Talk about it, if you are interested, to hear an educated mans opinion... (who you might find biased)
                          And there is another Sutta about speculative views (Sutta MN 63 Cûlamâlunkaya Sutta) that might be interesting.


                          • #14

                            Thank you for the link (which I'll go to later, as I'm feeling lazy, as usual) and the insightful inquiry regarding my obsession with R&R. I'm not sure whether I should address the matter of my motivation(s) under this topic category, because I don't want to "reincarnate" the whole R&R controversy here, but rather allow participants the freedom to speculate, without feeling forced to modify or defend their views on it.

                            Anyhow, to briefly answer your question in the most general terms, I would love to be convinced of any Afterlife theory (Buddhist or otherwise) which provides for an optimistic, progressive organizational principle in my life. It would make everything so much easier, simpler, and free of doubt, anxiety, etc.. Also, I am impressed by Buddhism as a meditation tradition, despite the fact that I suck at implementing it myself, and I sense that there may be insights available to those who don't suck at it. But for various reasons that I won't elaborate on here, I have many doubts about R&R, and as you've probably surmised from my previous postings, I'm not the shy and unassuming type when it comes to confronting them.

                            I've been out of place all of my life, and have become sufficiently familiar with wandering in this wasteland to have a pretty good idea of how to distinguish an oasis from a mirage.



                            • #15

                              At the risk of changing the topic I just want to make one point:

                              Rebirth is not a Buddhism 1A topic. Perhaps you have a lot of questions about it because you've skipped many steps necessary before this one. I don't blame you one bit for not getting rebirth. It took me a few years, and admittedly, a whole lot of faith that it is possible and wanting to know how it works.

                              As for now, I don't recall which school of Pure Land it is that teaches faith and devotion vs. effort and personal experience. I do know there is at least one, and it is a big one. Perhaps I'll recall or find my old World Religions text book soon.

                              I am certain I gave a good answer besides in my previous post. Without the rebirth doctrine, Buddhism would cease to be about enlightenment and personal discovery and become something based upon faith, what we're told whether we can prove it or not, and waiting for a savior to set us 'free'.



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