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Buddhism Without Reincarnation/Rebirth - A Thought Experiment

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  • #16
    @Alex
    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..
    Why would the believe in a afterlife make life easier?
    I don't understand that. Would you give me some examples?
    (I know a lot of people, who very much think, it makes it harder!)

    Comment


    • #17
      Hi Alex,

      Originally posted by Alex Rogolsky View Post
      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:

      ...

      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.
      I would like to contend this point, but I don't have time to give a detailed response right now. I'll get back to you over the next few days.

      Metta,

      Guy

      Comment


      • #18
        Originally posted by Alex Rogolsky View Post
        "What would Buddhism be like without the doctrine of Reincarnation/Rebirth?"
        Alex/All,

        I think I might be out of sync with many on this thread, so apologies in advance.

        Personally, I don't think that it would make any difference. Here's my reasoning through thought experiment alone:

        First of all, as Jerrod has said countless times, technically reincarnation is not a (Theravada) Buddhist doctrine anyway, so that has disposed of that one.

        With regard to the doctrine of rebirth, you do not have to believe in rebirth to become a Buddhist. At the start of the path all you have to do is to act as if the doctrine of rebirth was true - i.e. behave as if your intentional actions have consequences. This is not a difficult concept for most people - even those anachronistic scientists who say that they believe 100% in the deterministic nature of the universe - when they step outside of their laboratories - they still look both ways before crossing the road (as pointed out by Stephen Hawkings) - so even they can easily and pragmatically suspend their belief that intentional actions have no consequences in order to cross the road safely.

        How much 'acting as if the doctrine of rebirth were true', changes a persons intentions (and hence their actions) is different for each individual. Some people are naturally closely aligned to the Buddhist precepts anyway, others are further from them. The important task here (at the beginning of the path) is to attempt to keep, and deepen the precepts. Then, investigate the effect that keeping and deepening the precepts has on you. If we take up these Buddhist precepts for some other reason (apart from the Buddhist doctrine of rebirth) - say out of love of, respect for, or faith in Buddha, or because we a pig-headed and trying to prove a point - it does not really matter - when we look, we begin to see the benefits of a more 'precept driven' framework - here and now - in this life. This fuels us on to a deeper understanding of Buddhist practices such as meditation. With meditation as a basis and the surrounding (other) Buddhist doctrines such as dependant origination as our compass, our understanding of, and the truth of rebirth, eventually will become self-evident, and so we don't need the doctrine of, or belief in the doctrine of rebirth anyway.

        Stuart
        xxx

        Comment


        • #19
          Jerrod -

          You may be right that without the doctrine of Rebirth, Buddhism could become faith-based, but I'm wondering whether it might go in the other direction without it (retaining its rational, scientific qualities), and inviting speculation about what might be the credible replacement.

          Ruth -

          Being convinced that an optimistic, progressive theory of the Afterlife is true would, in my opinion, make things easier because it would justify ethical behavior even when it does not benefit one in this life, would discourage unethical, selfish acts for the same reason, and also mean that this life, with all of its unfairness, limitations, and disappointments, is not all that we have.

          Stuart-

          I re-read the section on rebirth in Batchelor's "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist" (starts on p.36, I think), which I can't quote here due to the Forum's copyright restriction rule; anyway, he concludes that he is agnostic concerning R&R.

          I think that the distinction that you make between "acting as if a doctrine is true" and actually believing it is significant in that acting as if something as true, which I'm going to call "acting based upon a limited and provisional investment of faith", at least temporarily justifies a motivational system of thought and behavior modification. Even someone like Batchelor, who spent many years training as a monk before returning to the laity, could try this "experiment", suspending the application of his agnostic instincts temporarily without attempting an unnatural repression of them.

          However, while I agree that the basis for faith, trust, or hope in Rebirth or a similarly optimistic and progressive Afterlife doctrine may be minimal at the beginning of the path, I still think that such a convincing basis is necessary and that the need for it increases over time. There is the prospect of winding up like Batchelor, for whom such a doctrine did not become self evident. He has probably benefited from his experiment by improving his meditation skills and so on, but he is left with Agnosticism, which is probably what he began with, as well as all of the doubts that go along with it, and as an Agnostic, probably asks himself: "Can't I do any better than this?"

          Comment


          • #20
            Hi Alex,

            as far as I know Stephen Batchelor has never been a Theravada Buddhist, let alone a (Theravada) Buddhist monk, which is very different from being a monk in any of the four main schools in Tibetan Buddhism. So I do not think that using him as an example applies to what we are talking about here. I'm sure that there are long term (Theravada) Buddhist monks who are agnostic about the doctrine of rebirth, but I'm yet to meet one to question them on it. The closest that I can think of is Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, who you might be interested in, although he's dead now and I'm not sure where he's been reborn to question him

            Stuart
            xxx

            Comment


            • #21
              @ Stuart
              Personally, I don't think that it would make any difference. Here's my reasoning through thought experiment alone:
              I agree. I don't think, when it comes to the actual everyday life of somebody it is not very important and life-changing.

              @ Alex
              Being convinced that an optimistic, progressive theory of the Afterlife is true would, in my opinion, make things easier because it would justify ethical behavior even when it does not benefit one in this life, would discourage unethical, selfish acts for the same reason, and also mean that this life, with all of its unfairness, limitations, and disappointments, is not all that we have.
              I don't think there is actually a lot of ethical behavior, that does not benefit one in this life. I actually have a hard time to think of ANYTHING... but maybe my fantasy is not creative enough and you could give me an example? Even sacrificing your life for somebody... saves you from the really bad and unrepairable feeling that a lot of war vets have: the guilt of having survived.
              At the same time, I really do believe, that one feels the negative sides of "unethical, selfish acts" right away... even before they actually do them. Implying one is a average human being and not a psychopath.
              And about the
              this life, with all of its unfairness, limitations, and disappointments, is not all that we have.
              Well.. .my husband who does not believe in afterlife or any religioun would say: yes, an afterlife makes sure, you will have the next
              life, with all of its unfairness, limitations, and disappointments
              He is actually quite happy not to believe in a afterlife because that means: no responibility... no working things out ... no suffering anymore.... finito.
              With lots of metta and still not quite understanding
              _()_
              Ruth

              Comment


              • #22
                I would like to send some Metta to Alex and sincerely hope for your sake Alex that there is Rebirth or Reincarnation, so that once you have spent this life trying to understand things on an advanced intellectual level, you may be able to put all this into practice in your next life and prosper with peace and contentment.

                Personally at this point I am not convinced either way in regard to Rebirth, but I am going to spend this life following the Eightfold Path, just so all bases are covered. Win-Win

                Peace. Love and Happiness to all right here and right now.

                Eamonn

                Comment


                • #23
                  Hi Alex,

                  Originally posted by Alex Rogolsky View Post
                  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:

                  ...

                  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.
                  Regarding "penalizing": The only penalties that are enforced in Buddhism are within the monastic community. Buddhism is not a police force; it never has aimed at policing society and I don't see how removing rebirth from Buddhist doctrine would change this.

                  More fundamental than the concepts of reward and penalty, Buddhism is not Collectivism or Progressivism. Its goal never has been to reform society, it only aims to teach those individuals who are willing to do the inner-work themselves and who have actively sought after a Buddhist approach. Again, I don't see how removing rebirth from the Buddhist doctrine would make Buddhists change their basic focus from reforming oneself (or helping those who are willing to listen to do the same) to attempting to reform society.

                  Metta,

                  Guy

                  Comment


                  • #24
                    Originally posted by Ruth Morrison View Post
                    I don't think there is actually a lot of ethical behavior, that does not benefit one in this life. I actually have a hard time to think of ANYTHING... but maybe my fantasy is not creative enough and you could give me an example?
                    Hi Ruth/Alex,

                    I've been racking my brain to find an example too. But I can't. Everything that I have been asked to try by my teachers, has always turned out to be for my long-term (but in this life) benefit. At times some of their suggestions seemed completely 'bonkers' - in fact I still don't know how much of it works - but it does work. Maybe I have just been blessed with good teachers. So, I too would like to see an example.

                    Stuart
                    xxx

                    Comment


                    • #25
                      Originally posted by Ruth Morrison View Post
                      At the same time, I really do believe, that one feels the negative sides of "unethical, selfish acts" right away... even before they actually do them. Implying one is a average human being and not a psychopath.
                      Psychopaths break all the rules, don't they?

                      Comment


                      • #26
                        I suppose a completely different way of looking at the thought experiment is to see rebirth in a broader (or maybe narrower) sense. Where we narrow our focus onto a small section of the stream of consciousness.

                        For example in Ajahn Nyanadhammo's excellent talk - The Roots of Everything (from around 26:16) he talks about (re)birth in this way:

                        All things orignitate from contact. So, where does everything arise?. They arise, as I explained, when the eye comes into contact with an object - that thing originates right there. We can only know this present moment. That is why everyone here in this room has arisen, been born, here and now. We can use that term. We say: We have been born in that instant moment. In my experience of the world here and now - you are all arising - in my world experience - here and now. And I welcome you into my world experience. And for myself, I am arising in your world experience, here and now. Then, when we separate - you go home - I have ceased to exist in your visual experience. I may be in your mental expereince as a memory, but at that moment, visually I have ceased to exist. Something else has arisen in your visual consciousness - in your visual perception - something new - a new experience. And so we start to see this process of arising and passing away of our constant conscious experience, it is never stable.
                        So if we use this view of rebirth - i.e. when something is reborn into one of our 6 consciousnesses and ask "What would Buddhism be like without the doctrine of Rebirth?", I'm not at all sure what the answer would be. Nothing? No thing?

                        And what would (our experience of) the world be without the truth of rebirth? We look away from a candle and then a second later we look back and instead of the candle being reborn into our world experience, it's a new and surprising thing to see? What is this thing? Where has it come from? It has never existed before. I believe there are some medical conditions similar to this.

                        Stuart
                        xxx

                        Comment


                        • #27
                          Ruth -

                          That bad things happen to good people, that general progress often requires individual sacrifice with no hope of reward in this life, and that people who do rotten things often benefit from them, at least materially, seems pretty obvious to me. For many of those who wish to climb to the top of an economic or political hierarchy, a conscience or ethical standard is viewed as a handicap, hindering one's ability to compete. The ability to pretend that one has a conscience, however, is an advantage. And yes, there probably are quite a few psychopaths and sociopaths on the boards of major corporations, and among our politicians, as well.

                          My point about believing in an Afterlife was that it provides an organizational principle in this life for progress, despite all of life's unfairness and dissatisfaction. Though Buddhism's doctrine of rebirth does claim that you'll have to be reborn in this suffering world, it does provide for the possibility of such progress toward being free of the attachments which bind one to it.

                          Have to break off and go swimming now (ltd. pool hours), but will comment more comprehensively later-

                          Alex

                          Comment


                          • #28
                            Alex-

                            That bad things happen to good people, that general progress often requires individual sacrifice with no hope of reward in this life, and that people who do rotten things often benefit from them, at least materially, seems pretty obvious to me.
                            I think that little "at least materially" seems to be an important little detail in your sentence.
                            I don't think material gain means a lot in regards to how good a person feels in themselves.
                            A lot of materially well off people are anything but happy. And that is not a myth. I grew up in that circles. I am sure you know the (scientific ) researches about inhowfar a lottery win actually makes one a happier person at long terms. There is in fact not really a relation between how much material goods or money you have, and happiness.
                            So if one does rotten things for the gain of material stuff, the only thing that really remains when the short joy has vanished is what he knows about himself... there is something "rotten". And: that is not a good feeling. I am not talking about morals or conscience... I am just talking about feelings inside of a person.. that, what you feel, you "are". If you talk to people who do or/did "rotten" stuff for material gain: no matter how successful they are/were, you won't find much of deep happiness and contentment.
                            And often,
                            bad things happen to good people
                            ... and two years later these good people say: that thing was the best thing, that ever happened to me, even though it seemed a bad thing at that time and for some time after.
                            I also experienced myself and witnessed others who where happy, to have given a sacrifice for one or the other sort of "general progress". Giving a sacrifice does not mean feeling unhappy or in any way not just fine.
                            There is this little but significant difference between pain and suffering of which you surely are aware.
                            I am born in a relatively rich family and worked with the poorest in Germany. I also got to know criminals up close. And I got that funny feeling, if there is any relation at all between material state and happiness, it is: the more materially "rich" you are, the harder it can become to be happy. And as cliché as it sounds, I say it again: it is not a myth.
                            For many of those who wish to climb to the top of an economic or political hierarchy, a conscience or ethical standard is viewed as a handicap, hindering one's ability to compete.
                            Maybe. That doesn't tell me anything about how good they feel within themselves and their life. Same thing... being high up on the career ladder doesn't mean anything in terms of inner contentment or deep happiness. Look at yourself . That's always a good thing.
                            So Alex, I still don't agree there with you.


                            Though Buddhism's doctrine of rebirth does claim that you'll have to be reborn in this suffering world, it does provide for the possibility of such progress toward being free of the attachments which bind one to it.
                            But doesn't a death that is the "end of all" much more provide for being absolutely free from any attachment or "binding" whatsoever for eternity? An easy, much quicker, final solution?

                            _()_
                            Ruth

                            Comment


                            • #29
                              Hi all,

                              Stuart,
                              I like the explanation you provided by Ajahn Nyanadhammo's. I have also read Ajahn Sumedho describe Rebirth in a simalar way and this is a method I find very relevant and practical. Things within our minds and experiences are being born and dying every moment of the day. The experience we have later in the day can be very much carved out and dependent on the experience we are having now. Kamma so to speak. This much I can know.

                              Ruth,
                              Your points echo my sentiments too. This discussion has now moved to " how is wealth and happiness measured?". Some measure this in how much material wealth one may have, but I think it would be fair to say, that those of us within this forum have seen how shallow this wealth really is. Spritual wealth is our goal and for me, this is to be developed in this life. Do good things, develop a pure mind and peace and happiness will follow. There is no surer thing.

                              So combing the two for me,.............. Rebirth can be looked at as happening now and where rebirth shall take place is absolutely dependent on Kamma as it happens now. Rebirth for me is happening in my mind and that is where the realm of my rebirth is experienced. The fruits (measurement) of Kamma shall be a peacefull mind. How many material gains I make is superfluous.

                              With Megga Metta
                              Eamonn

                              Comment


                              • #30
                                Eamonn,
                                that wealth doesn't equal happiness is really very obvious if you look into the world of wealthy people.

                                Just to not loose the point of my posts out of the focus:
                                I think, if one lives a life according to the 8-fold path, and keeps the precepts, it is not that crucial, whether he believes in rebirth or not.
                                Just living as good as we can according to that path will show great benefits very quickly. Meaning: that persons life will be a happier one right away.
                                A good rebirth is just an added bonus.
                                _()_
                                Ruth

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