Monday, December 21, 2009

What I Know About Rebirth

I just had an interesting exchange on Twitter, regarding rebirth. There seemed to be three camps. The believers, the agnostics, and the skeptics like myself. It all started with one innocent question to @ZenDirtZenDust and @DrumsofDharma, in response to one of their tweets alluding to the possibility of rebirth:

MindDeep: I do not believe in rebirth, do you?

bitterrootbadge: @MindDeep You seriously don't accept rebirth, or am I missing an inside joke?

bitterrootbadge: @ZenDirtZenDust No, good to be a skeptic, Buddha recommended. But the goal is to move from doubt to certainty, no?

bitterrootbadge: One big question: do we accept the Buddha's enlightenment as authentic and complete? And what he taught from that POV? Rebirth, karma eg.

DrumsofDharma: @MindDeep Of course, karma, rebirth, nondual reality, core Buddhist doctrines.

ZenDirtZenDust: @MindDeep I am a skeptic so I can't say I believe since it is far past my range of experience but possible.

ZenDirtZenDust: @MindDeep I am told that I am a bad buddhist sometimes b/c I refuse to take thing at face value.

ZenDirtZenDust: @bitterrootbadge Yes, A person should move if the evidence moves them. A static skeptic is sad. To be a skeptic is to strive to understand

MindDeep: question for Buddhist 'believers' - would you still practice if you did not believe in rebirth?

OhioBuddhist: @ZenDirtZenDust @MindDeep Remember the Law of Conservation of energy; nothing is destroyed. The microcosm reflects the macrocosm.

OhioBuddhist: @MindDeep Nature tends to repeat itself. It's an extrapolation- but we WILL find out the right answer some day!

crazywizdom: @MindDeep even for those with a belief in rebirth,it's still a late realisation that most practitioners will have no direct experience of

crazywizdom: @MindDeep I am agnostic regarding rebirth - I just don't know - but currently I'm very interested in what rebirth can mean without self :-)

OhioBuddhist: @MindDeep wouldn't call myself a 'believer', but I treat it like the weather report- it's probably going to happen but maybe not.

Ogamu: @MindDeep I don't care about rebirth. Someone once said I'd lived 311 lives. If so, I've been around long enough to get with the program!

Ogamu: @MindDeep Belief always implies a degree of doubt. Believe nothing, only know what you've experienced.

Whether rebirth is true or not, is almost irrelevant, as far as I am concerned. More important I feel, is to remain true to my own experience deep within, and to not fall into the trap of blind belief.  For this is how I understand the teachings of the Buddha, as stated here in his own words:
Do not go by oral tradition, by lineage or teaching, by hearsay, by a collection of texts, by logic, by inferential reasoning, by reasoned cogitation, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence of a speaker, or because you think, 'The ascetic is our teacher.' But when you know for yourselves, 'These things are unwholesome; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; these things, if undertaken and practiced, lead to harm and suffering,' then you should abandon them - from 'In the Buddha's Words', by Bhikkhu Bodhi -
What is your view?


  1. These Tweets are all truncated on the right margin, dear.

    I believe in rebirth and past lives as much as I believe in childhood and for the same reason: I remember them.

    How do I know memories of past lives and rebirths are "real"? Same way I know my childhood was real - I choose to believe it.

    When you believe something, you can do something about it. You can explore the belief; experiment; follow it where it leads; discover new things.

    It doesn't matter in the least if your belief turns out to be mistaken. You'll discover other things along the way, and discovery makes one happy.

    When you disbelieve, you're frustrated. You're stuck. You have nowhere to go and no reason to go anywhere. You're unhappy.

    "I believe" is said with a smile. "I don't believe" is said with a frown.

    You choose to believe or disbelieve: to be happy or unhappy.

    What sort of numpty chooses to be unhappy?

    "There is nothing more pitiful than a young cynic, for she has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing." ~ Maya Angelou

  2. Thank you for sharing your view. You have made my world all the more richer! As you know, a view is just a view . . . Regarding mine, I am not the least bit attached :)

  3. More Twitter answers on topic:

    Dhammagirl: RT @MindDeep: ...for Buddhist 'believers' - would you still practice if you did not believe in rebirth? Yes! Want to stop suffering Now. DG

    Sharingair: @MindDeep I do not belive in "returning as myself" I still practice. I don't care much about rebirth but the very moment I breathe

    josephzizys: @MindDeep if I didn't beleive in rebirth, if I was an "annihilationist", I would not practice Buddhism, I would practice "wrong-view" :)

    josephzizys: @MindDeep that said, I am taking "rebirth" to indicate "dependant origination" and not the view that "I" will be reborn.

    josephzizys: @MindDeep actually, this is probably a blog post rather than a tweetable position, and an epic one at that!

    BarkingUnicorn Yes, but faster. RT @MindDeep: questions for Buddhist 'believers' - would you still practice if you did not believe in rebirth?

  4. C'mon now, Marguerite. It ain't right to just select the Buddha's words that fit your particular point a view. Two thirds a the Buddha's described enlightenment experience concerned his seein the exact mechanism a rebirth and the other third was the path to escape it. He then spent 42 years teachin about the faults a samsara (the round of birth, death and rebirth) and the means to transcend it. This is in no way opaque in the Buddhist canon.

    Maybe you been readin too much Batchelor. Buddhism ain't about believin or not believin. It's about assessing what's reality and actin accordingly, you know?

    Now, I'll agree that for most of us, memories of our past lives are currently obscured. But the existence of, say, Zimbabwe is obscured from my direct perception (I ain't personally been there) but enough reliable people have reported on its existence, so I figure it's probably there. Same is true for me and 2600 years a meditators who gained insight and upheld exactly what the Buddha taught: we go through rounds a rebirth in various forms accordin to our karma until we apply the right path to break that cycle through realizin egolessness and the emptiness a phenomena.

    Make sense?

  5. More Twitter answers:

    crazywizdom: @josephzizys I wonder how a concept of rebirth is useful if there is no I reborn? Our karma effects everyone's future - not just our own

  6. My response to bitterrootbadger:

    Oh! I am just sharing where I am right now on the path, from humble novice perspective. Not to say it is necessarily right. What is truth anyway? I can only speak from what I know at this present moment, which is all relative since coming from 'I' perspective anyway.

    I am thrilled to hear others' views, including your own. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Deep bow,


  7. In a sense we experience rebirth each time we inhale, each time we awke from sleep, each time we emerge from samadhi, each time we repent. These are all rebirths.

  8. what makes sense to me is the idea that we are all waves and we are all made of water. when our wave no longer exists as a wave, it's still water and manifests later in other waves and ripples and other watery things (to stick with the metaphor) but not as the exact same wave again.

    however, if I am going to manifest as essentially the same wave, Marguerite, will you remind me next time to be born rich instead of pretty?


  9. More from Twitter thread:

    GenKreton: @MindDeep re on rebirth: I don't believe in it but I keep an open mind and will explore through meditation.

    RobMac_: @MindDeep I agree with you. I don't think metaphysical questions about what happens after death are important. It seems Buddha agreed.

    DrumsofDharma: @MindDeep I was thinking about your post then it hit me that the aim for Enlightenment is greater than concepts.

    BarkingUnicorn: @MindDeep Well, if our views are still different after your read my comments then one of us is doing it wrong. :-)

  10. I think rebirth is pretty central to Buddhist teachings. The Badger already spoke of how commonplace it is in Buddha's original teachings. I certainly don't have clarity around the whole issue, but I see an awful lot of "convert" Buddhists tossing rebirth out as unnecessary baggage. There's something too easy about doing that. Just as accepting it blindly is also too easy. Where's the middle path?

  11. Thanks Nathan, for offering your view, and for the gift of your wisdom.

  12. Rebirth. Steal, become a thief. Love, become loving.

  13. In his post Mechanics of Kamma and Rebirth Ashin Sopaka gives an explanation of rebirth and it's relationship to Kamma. Rebirth and reincarnation are not the same thing. The Aggregates, especially as explained in the Abhidhamma belie any coherent "personal" sort of transmigration process. Here is the link for Ashin Sopaka's post.

  14. Nella, this is very helpful. There seems to be indeed a lot of confusion between reincarnation and rebirth. I will be sure to check the link!

  15. Marguerite,

    What a lively and thoughtful conversation. The only thing that I can say is, it is possible to know, see and experience the answer of so-called "rebirth" and "reincarnation" through the practice of zazen. The process of unifying the mind, bringing it to a single point and sustaining samadhi will dissolve and remove any questions. That being said, I encourage you NOT to believe me and come to see for yourself. It's then that you will be able to confidently say, "No bright, no death, just shogyomyjo (ceaseless transformation).

    May Your Life Go Well,


  16. The 'mind' of your blog title -- where was it before you were conceived? Where will it go upon the breakup of your physical form?

  17. Seiho, thank you so much, what you say makes so much sense to me.

    Deep bow,


  18. Badger, my answer to you, is I don't know at this point. Realizing 'I' is subject, and hence very limited in its view.

  19. as i read in "mindulness, bliss and beyond" of ajahn brahm ( his teaching stress on samadhi at first) and he said about after you have achieve jhanas, you will be able to remember your past lives or somekindof very far away chidhood memory that normal mind can't do ( a kind of psychic energy like telepathy ), and that experience will change your life, because after that, there s no need for doubt, you understand about suffering