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Thread: Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

  1. #1

    Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

    Hi.

    I got a question, which i couldn't quite answer, so i'll pass it along...

    When did people get the impression that Buddhists believe in reincarnation?
    What "triggered" this belief?

    Anyone got their head around that one?

    Mtfbwy
    Fugen

  2. #2
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Aug 2008
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    2,901

    Re: Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

    Yes Fugen, IMHO i think that the reasons are twofold:

    First, Buddhism doesn't really rely on a belief system, a dogma or a body of truths...It is a path that invites experience and exploration. You may notice these days the vast diversity of Buddhism in the West, from almost Christian-like to virtualy non religious...Our family has people who just sit without any ritual, robe, or anything of the sort and on the the other end we have monasteries with very strict discipline and eveything and anything in between. Because Buddhist practice does not require metaphysics and speculations, it could welcome sometimes beliefs coming from Hinduism ( in India), beliefs from Shamanism ( in Nepal, Tibet ), Taoist flavors and flowers in China, tantric rituals and local animist visions in Japan etc. That's how reincarnation came into the scene.

    Reincarnation was also sometimes part of this adoption process that gave Buddhism the possibility to expand quickly ( just like early Christians building cathedrals on very old celtic and shamanic locations): instead of challenging local and old beliefs, priests were clever enough to dress them up with the robes of the new comer.

    If we read the original teachings of the historical Buddha, it seems that he did reject the notion of atman, a permanent self that would remain after death. He looked at all these speculations as useless, not necessary to breakfree from the loving veils of illusion.


    Reincarnation? I don't know, maybe, maybe not. The bottom line is that I don't mind. It doesn't matter.


    gassho


    Taigu

  3. #3

    Re: Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

    Hi.

    Quite in the lines of my answer, but another question, does anyone have any references to anywhere where they discuss this?

    Mtfbwy
    Fugen

  4. #4

    Re: Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

    Hi Fugen
    With even a semi close look at our planet it doesn't take long to realize that not one iota is lost nor gained. The elements of which all things exist in their current presentation will eventually transform back to their basic form just like water does to the sea. These very same elements will be reused and be presented in the myriad ways forever. The early Buddhists gave order to these presentations through cause and effect and return into the 5 realms. Perhaps just another opinion that doesn't matter. When body and mind are dropped what's left?
    Gassho Zak

  5. #5
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

    Reincarnation, like all metaphysical concepts, can be fun to speculate about intellectually, but my experience so far has shown me that it is impossible to know these 'turtles all the way down' sort of things. Of course the big one is, 'What happens when we die?' We tell ourselves stories about these things, but they're just stories. I think that what stories we tell ourselves don't matter as much as whether or not we can see that they are just stories...

  6. #6

    Re: Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    Reincarnation, like all metaphysical concepts, can be fun to speculate about intellectually, but my experience so far has shown me that it is impossible to know these 'turtles all the way down' sort of things. Of course the big one is, 'What happens when we die?' We tell ourselves stories about these things, but they're just stories. I think that what stories we tell ourselves don't matter as much as whether or not we can see that they are just stories...
    Amen! I agree.

    Gassho,
    Eika

  7. #7

    Re: Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

    This is exactly what I think ...
    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    Reincarnation, like all metaphysical concepts, can be fun to speculate about intellectually, but my experience so far has shown me that it is impossible to know these 'turtles all the way down' sort of things. Of course the big one is, 'What happens when we die?' We tell ourselves stories about these things, but they're just stories. I think that what stories we tell ourselves don't matter as much as whether or not we can see that they are just stories...
    Sometimes one wonders if many things of this life are appropriate for pursuit - speculation of the "afterlife"; heaven, hell, etc. are just that - speculation.

    -Jim

  8. #8

    Re: Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

    Hi All,

    I may diverge a bit from my brother Taigu's historical interpretation. I believe that most historians/Buddhist scholars rightly conclude that Shakyamuni Buddha (based upon the entirety of Buddhist culture of the earliest centuries, although preserved only as an oral tradition with no actual words of the man were written down until several hundred years after his death) quite likely taught a very literal and mechanical system of rebirth through a Karmic stream. Such views were so well accepted for "how the universe works" in the India of the time, that there is little reason to doubt that he did, or to say that he "merely" did so to make his ideas more palatable to Hindus. In fact, it seemed central to the system of Buddhism he was proposing at the time, and he was a man of his times.

    Now, the system of the Buddha is often termed "rebirth" (as opposed to "reincarnation") because of the Buddha's rejection of 'Atman' (a permanent self), but many have also pointed out that there is an element of semantics here, and really the difference between "reincarnation" and the Buddha's "rebirth" is very narrow. Buddhist philosophers have struggled for generations, often bending over backwards, thus to explain how there can be a "you" which is reborn when there is no "you".

    However, certainly, as Buddhism turned into Mahayana Buddhism, and Zen Buddhism, the emphasis came to be more and more "realization" in/as/through this life and world, rather than "Nirvana" in some future life to come. The focus, compared to early Buddhism, came to be life in this life (ending the "cycle of birth and death" yet simultaneously living!), rather than ultimate escape from having to be born & suffer and the poor fate of human birth (ending literally the cycle of birth and death, period). Buddhism has evolved and, in some ways, changed (in fact, even improved in many ways!) from the founders original model ... although the basic truths have not changed a drop.

    In my view, teachings of an "afterlife", or very mechanical views of "rebirth" or "reincarnation" (whether the same or not), are not essential to Buddhist practice. That does not mean that there is no "afterlife" etc. (I'll drop you a postcard from the next life if there is one :wink: ), only that such a process is not essential to the central message of Zen Buddhist Practice.

    If you would like even more of my thoughts on Karma and Rebirth, we have had a couple of more detailed threads on the subject ... I believe that, certainly, we are "reborn" again and again ... and that, anyway, "life" and "death" are not at all what we think they are ...

    viewtopic.php?p=17953#p17953

    viewtopic.php?p=20191#p20191

    viewtopic.php?p=15655#p15655

    Gassho, Jundo

  9. #9

    Re: Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

    Quote Originally Posted by Fugen
    Hi.

    Quite in the lines of my answer, but another question, does anyone have any references to anywhere where they discuss this?

    Mtfbwy
    Fugen
    Are you interested in references to specific sutras, or just to general discussions about the notion of rebirth in buddhism?

  10. #10

    Re: Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

    Quote Originally Posted by anista
    Quote Originally Posted by Fugen
    Hi.

    Quite in the lines of my answer, but another question, does anyone have any references to anywhere where they discuss this?

    Mtfbwy
    Fugen
    Are you interested in references to specific sutras, or just to general discussions about the notion of rebirth in buddhism?
    Hi.

    I'm more just interested in the topic at hand, ie when did people start saying that reincarnation-rebirth was the same thing in these matters?
    I got the question the other day and couldn't really give an good answer (my take on that one...) and thought i throw it out here...

    As for sutras and such, the tricky part is that it's tricky...

    And usually we take "reincarnation" as there being some thing that re-in-carnates, ie. again-into-flesh.
    Whereas "rebirth" as some sort of continuity, but without some thing that re-in-carnates.

    I hope I've understood this correctly, please correct me if I've missed the point.

    Either way, they are similar, in that they posit that after physical death, there is some sort of continuation one way or another. This is shared by not only a large number of Indian religions, such as Buddhism, Jainism, various Vedic and Vedantic teachings, but also other belief systems worldwide, too.

    In India, I don't think that there was any difference in the term used to describe this process, unlike English reincarnation and rebirth, and so if we just look at the word alone, it is a modern distinction.

    However, that distinction certainly has it's merits, and it is common for specialists at least (but definitely not everyone), to take the notion of "reincarnation" as referring to the process when it involves some sort of atman / jiva entity, and "rebirth" when it does not (as in the case of Buddhism).

    However, because the original Indian texts and teachings wouldn't necessarily have different words for this process between Buddhism "rebirth" teachings and say Brahmanic "reincarnation" teachings, they decision to use either of these English words is largely up to the translator or interpretator of the teaching. Both traditions with use terms like "jati" (birth), "becoming" (bhava), and so on.

    Because the decision to use either English "rebirth" or "reincarnation" is more up to the interpretator, teacher, etc. in general, it is still very much the case that some people make no distinction at all between them in terms of the word alone. Of course, they will probably have a distinction when they actually explain it, though, describing it as without a soul entity, or with a soul entity, respectively.

    Also, depending on the audience: Talking to a more conservative western audience, it is enough to convey the very important message that this process happens again and again, rather than Christian style one life -> next life forever, or materialistic one life only. In this case, making a big distinction between rebirth without a soul, and reincarnation with a soul, may obscure they key point that one wishes to make, ie. the ongoing process of life and death, again and again. Here, for this context, the term "reincarnation" is perhaps better known in English. So they'll just use that.

    Now, for those traditions that come in the context of other Indian religions, people are more sensitive to the distinction. For a Theravada Buddhist, say, they will know that they don't want people to confuse what they are saying with the brahmanic explanation. They may thus be more strict in using different English terms to differentiate them. However, for traditions from East Asia, by comparison, particularly with some explanations of even Buddhist rebirth involving Alaya consciousness, for example, one may not make such a big distinction between so called rebirth without a soul entity, or reincarnation with a soul entity.

    I think that the latter is the case for the post above citing Prof Epstein on the Surangama. He is just pointing out the whole notion of continued life after death, so simply uses "reincarnation" as a common English term. If asked further, I'm sure he would differentiate it from brahmanic ideas of reincarnation, though, and maybe use the notion of "rebirth".

    So, superficially, many buddhists may be talking about "reincarnation". Making a big deal out of this, and saying that no, buddhists believe in rebirth, not in reincarnation, may simply be overlooking the context. There is no fixed rule about it, as before it makes it into English, there is no such distinction of using two different terms.
    Link to zfi discussion here
    http://www.zenforuminternational.org/vi ... f=6&t=4053

    And i think that one narrows it down quite good, it's when they started to interpret things it got messy...

    On a side note i would like to say this

    All questions are important.
    Why would they otherwise be asked?
    Treat them accordingly.
    Mtfbwy
    Fugen

  11. #11
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

    Rebirth is a key aspect of Buddhism. That said, you are alive now. Always now. If there is rebirth, it will happen now.

    Therefore, attend to this right here and will rebirth and karma not care of themselves?

    Chet

  12. #12

    Re: Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Rebirth is a key aspect of Buddhism. That said, you are alive now. Always now. If there is rebirth, it will happen now.

    Therefore, attend to this right here and will rebirth and karma not care of themselves?

    Chet
    Such is basically my view ... for now, at least.

  13. #13
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Rebirth is a key aspect of Buddhism. That said, you are alive now. Always now. If there is rebirth, it will happen now.

    Therefore, attend to this right here and will rebirth and karma not care of themselves?

    Chet
    Such is basically my view ... for now, at least.
    Well - I mean - we can't really erase rebirth from the Buddhist Cannon and still call it Buddhism - but whether you feel it is true or not - wouldn't the same basic practices apply? The same precepts? The same ethics? Right View? Right Livelihood?

    Chet

  14. #14

    Re: Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Rebirth is a key aspect of Buddhism. That said, you are alive now. Always now. If there is rebirth, it will happen now.

    Therefore, attend to this right here and will rebirth and karma not care of themselves?

    Chet
    Such is basically my view ... for now, at least.
    Well - I mean - we can't really erase rebirth from the Buddhist Cannon and still call it Buddhism - but whether you feel it is true or not - wouldn't the same basic practices apply? The same precepts? The same ethics? Right View? Right Livelihood?

    Chet
    Yes, that is what I believe and try to practice.

    I am skeptical of many excessively detailed, mechanical models of "rebirth". But I believe that, how we act now, has effects certainly in this life ... for us, the people around us, this world, generations to come. And, if there is some future rebirth dependent on our volitional actions, well, all the more reason to act right here and now too.

    I do not know if there are literal "heavens" and "hells" which await us after we die, but I have seen people created bits of heaven and hell in this life, for themselves and those near them, by their actions.

    Gassho, J

    PS - I am engaged in something of a debate on this over at ZFI. I reject as likely the product of someone's imagination, and as not central to our practice, overly literal and detailed "mechanisms" of rebirth found in much Buddhist literature. It may be so, but I think not. In any case, it has little impact on my practice here and now ... and what comes will come.

  15. #15

    Re: Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse

    Well - I mean - we can't really erase rebirth from the Buddhist Cannon and still call it Buddhism - but whether you feel it is true or not - wouldn't the same basic practices apply? The same precepts? The same ethics? Right View? Right Livelihood?

    Chet
    Yes, that is what I believe and try to practice.
    Hi.

    Quite so.
    What I'd liketo add is "When this happens do this, when that happens do that" and let the rest take care of itself.

    Mtfbwy
    Fugen

  16. #16

    Re: Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

    Quote Originally Posted by Fugen
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse

    Well - I mean - we can't really erase rebirth from the Buddhist Cannon and still call it Buddhism - but whether you feel it is true or not - wouldn't the same basic practices apply? The same precepts? The same ethics? Right View? Right Livelihood?

    Chet
    Yes, that is what I believe and try to practice.
    Hi.

    Quite so.
    What I'd liketo add is "When this happens do this, when that happens do that" and let the rest take care of itself.

    Mtfbwy
    Fugen
    Well, all the Precepts come down, for me, to seeking as we can not to harm self and others, and act in ways healthful and helpful to self and others (self and others, not two). Do that now in this life, and I think the good Karma will flow (and, if there is a God, perhaps she will not be displeased with that either). What the effects are of that Karma after we die, well, I will entrust the universe with that mystery.

  17. #17

    Re: Reinkarnation and Buddhism...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo

    PS - I am engaged in something of a debate on this over at ZFI. I reject as likely the product of someone's imagination, and as not central to our practice, overly literal and detailed "mechanisms" of rebirth found in much Buddhist literature. It may be so, but I think not. In any case, it has little impact on my practice here and now ... and what comes will come.
    Like most other religious belief systems, Buddhism is not immune from superstition and trying to answer questions that are beyond the present scope of our knowledge. I don't fault ancient writers for dreaming up scenarios about what happens to us after death; however, I think all such talk is speculation and wishful thinking . . . the metaphorical significance of those teachings is very valuable, IF people avoid the fundamentalist trap of taking every word ever written by a past "master" as the literal truth. "Be lights unto yourselves . . ." and all that.

    Peace and gassho,
    Eika

    PS--Sorry I haven't been posting much lately, but my work has been crazy, crazy busy. I hope I can participate a bit more in the near future.

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