the great rebirth debate

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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Polar Bear
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Post by Polar Bear » Thu Dec 06, 2012 9:38 pm

beeblebrox wrote:
beeblebrox wrote:
Ñāṇa wrote: I don't see anyone here asserting a permanent unchanging self. Selflessness accounts for both change and continuity.
I think it's always easy to deny... seems obvious that there's a debate in here, and a lot of clinging, to what?
To put it in another way: if no one in here, as you say, is asserting a permanent, unchanging self... then why all of this concern with the debating?
Perhaps clinging to the raft floating across a dangerous river with crocodiles all around. Seems reasonable.
"I don't envision a single thing that, when developed & cultivated, leads to such great benefit as the mind. The mind, when developed & cultivated, leads to great benefit."

"I don't envision a single thing that, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about such suffering & stress as the mind. The mind, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about suffering & stress."

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beeblebrox
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Post by beeblebrox » Thu Dec 06, 2012 9:47 pm

polarbuddha101 wrote: Perhaps clinging to the raft floating across a dangerous river with crocodiles all around. Seems reasonable.
If the person didn't make his raft so small, then maybe it could accomodate a single-lifetime viewpoint without too much worry.

:sage:

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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Post by cooran » Thu Dec 06, 2012 9:48 pm

Please stay on topic and dispense with comments (implied or direct) about other posters.

with metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Post by Lazy_eye » Thu Dec 06, 2012 9:59 pm

BlueLotus wrote: Personally for me, full commitment is justified by the urgency to end the pain and suffering I go through right here, right now.
I don't see it that way. In a one-life scenario, the Buddhist path is a little like having your leg amputated in order to prevent a foot ache; the sacrifice is not justified. If there is only one short life, it is not necessary that we reach a final end to all suffering. It's entirely sufficient that we reduce our suffering and cultivate enough happiness to get us through the single lifespan. All pleasures may be ephemeral, but some of them persist long enough to do the job. Also, embarking on the Buddhist path, if you are serious about it, also entails suffering and difficulty.

The final end to dukkha can wait. We'll be a long time dead.
When you have attained nibbana, you continue to live in peace. 2 different concepts.
This makes it sound like arahantship is some sort of lifestyle. But I think it is better seen as the release or escape from samsara. The goal of the path is not to find a way of "living in peace" -- that is, to arrive at some better state of being than that experienced by regular people; it's not really about achieving some kind of state at all. It's about bringing an end to being and becoming. The arahant has "reached fulfillment, done the task, laid down the burden". All that remains is physical death and the crumbling of the body. The arahant is desire-less, sexless, emotionally dead, indifferent to pleasure or pain, similar to a withered tree (to use a common metaphor). I guess you could call that "living in peace", if you want.

Again, if we only have one brief life, I find this a perplexing goal to pursue. But it makes perfect sense if we see beings as being caught in an ongoing samsaric cycle, much of which is spent in the hells.
Then why don't you believe in rebirth? You have all the reason to believe in it right?
You seem to be assuming that because i perceive rebirth as being important to Buddhism, that means that I necessarily believe in it.

As to why I don't, my reason is just the usual one. Lack of a credible basis for believing it. And don't think I haven't investigated it thoroughly. I've read enough books and articles and participated in enough rebirth threads on Buddhist forums to have a pretty good idea of what is out there. And the arguments are predictably fallacious or pseudoscientific, with maybe one or two exceptions.

I'm always on the lookout for something more convincing, though! :popcorn:
Last edited by Lazy_eye on Thu Dec 06, 2012 10:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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beeblebrox
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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Post by beeblebrox » Thu Dec 06, 2012 10:11 pm

Lazy_eye wrote: If there is only one short life, it is not necessary that we reach a final end to all suffering. It's entirely sufficient that we reduce our suffering and cultivate enough happiness to get us through the single lifespan. All pleasures may be ephemeral, but some of them persist long enough to do the job.
If we look at this honestly... would that be sufficient, even within the single-lifetime viewpoint? If that was the case, then there would be no reason at all for anyone to come to Buddhism, in the first place.

About the topic... I think that the hell and the hungry ghost realms should be taken literally. Hell realm is a place where there is a lot of suffering, with the lack of options to alleviate it... and the hungry ghost realm is a place where there is a lot of difficulty in getting the needs met, even when there are plenty of resources.

I don't think anyone on here would have to worry about being in these two realms, unless they were practicing very badly... whether they have a single-lifetime viewpoint, or not.

:anjali:

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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Post by Nyana » Thu Dec 06, 2012 11:52 pm

beeblebrox wrote:To put it in another way: if no one in here, as you say, is asserting a permanent, unchanging self... then why all of this concern with the debating?
Looks to me like you're the one concerned....

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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Post by darvki » Fri Dec 07, 2012 2:27 am

Lazy_eye wrote:In a one-life scenario, the Buddhist path is a little like having your leg amputated in order to prevent a foot ache; the sacrifice is not justified.
I don't really have a dog in this fight when it comes to one- or more-than-one-life outlooks. I think people should take on the viewpoint that works for them. However, I think you're misrepresenting your own outlook demographic on several points here. Neither camp is a homogeneous group.
Lazy_eye wrote:If there is only one short life, it is not necessary that we reach a final end to all suffering. It's entirely sufficient that we reduce our suffering and cultivate enough happiness to get us through the single lifespan.
Except that so many one-lifers are obviously not content to carry out their lives in such a simplistic manner. For example, there are so many individuals who end up on this board or in various practice groups, who view rebirth, et al, as definitively metaphorical, but they're still looking to find a more refined or beyond-the-mundane quality for their existence and sometimes even commit themselves very intensely to practice.
Lazy_eye wrote:All pleasures may be ephemeral, but some of them persist long enough to do the job. Also, embarking on the Buddhist path, if you are serious about it, also entails suffering and difficulty.
Assuming mundane pleasure and pain are the only measurements by which the one-lifer sees the world. Many have a sense of higher cause.
Lazy_eye wrote:The final end to dukkha can wait. We'll be a long time dead.
For those who see the end of this life as a complete void, there's a chance that they don't see it as a desirable escape, since it really isn't anything at all. Many wish they could live forever.
Lazy_eye wrote:This makes it sound like arahantship is some sort of lifestyle. But I think it is better seen as the release or escape from samsara. The goal of the path is not to find a way of "living in peace" -- that is, to arrive at some better state of being than that experienced by regular people; it's not really about achieving some kind of state at all. It's about bringing an end to being and becoming. The arahant has "reached fulfillment, done the task, laid down the burden". All that remains is physical death and the crumbling of the body. The arahant is desire-less, sexless, emotionally dead, indifferent to pleasure or pain, similar to a withered tree (to use a common metaphor). I guess you could call that "living in peace", if you want.
This isn't supported by the suttas. Buddha (an arahant of his own kind), smiled, spontaneously uttered joyous verses (Udana), stretched his aching back, and spoke of escaping headaches by entering deep meditation.
Lazy_eye wrote:Again, if we only have one brief life, I find this a perplexing goal to pursue.
That's fine, but let's not have your personal opinions speak for the entire group. What you've expressed does not represent most of the one-lifers I know.

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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Post by BlueLotus » Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:12 am

Lazy_eye wrote: I don't see it that way. In a one-life scenario, the Buddhist path is a little like having your leg amputated in order to prevent a foot ache; the sacrifice is not justified. If there is only one short life, it is not necessary that we reach a final end to all suffering. It's entirely sufficient that we reduce our suffering and cultivate enough happiness to get us through the single lifespan. All pleasures may be ephemeral, but some of them persist long enough to do the job. Also, embarking on the Buddhist path, if you are serious about it, also entails suffering and difficulty.
Obviously this is just your personal opinion. That is fine. Just don't think anyone else who doesn't have the same opinion as you is taking the full commitment in vain. Whether there is a beyond time or not, some people would try to get out of the current suffering anyway.

I'll give you two similes a friend came up.

Simile 1:
It's like a child going to school. He might say, well why should I study since I'm going to die anyway so I might as well just learn the alphabet, a little bit of math so that I can get through life sweeping the streets. That will put bread on my table. But another child may think whether I die or not, I want to learn some craft to the best of my ability and do something meaningful with it while I am here.

Simile 2:
Say you are in a pot of hot water. You have a way to make things cooler in the pot or you have the choice to continue to feel the painful hot water but manage with it. Now, one may think "why should I try to get out of this pot. When I die, they will throw me away anyway". Another may think "I MUST try to get out of this pot. When I die, they give me another life and transfer me to another pot". Another one may think "I am suffering. I want to get out of this pot NOW since there is a way to get out of it."

Trying to eliminate your current suffering either in a monastic setting or domestic setting has nothing to do with after-life, at least to some people.

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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Post by BlueLotus » Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:28 am

Lazy_eye wrote: This makes it sound like arahantship is some sort of lifestyle. But I think it is better seen as the release or escape from samsara. The goal of the path is not to find a way of "living in peace" -- that is, to arrive at some better state of being than that experienced by regular people; it's not really about achieving some kind of state at all. It's about bringing an end to being and becoming. The arahant has "reached fulfillment, done the task, laid down the burden".
Again this is your own personal opinion. The suttas talk about nibbana as "cessation of suffering, experienced here and now". The Buddha continued to live in perfect peace of mind.

Personally, I see a continuous round of suffering in the here and now so I have my problem right here than to speculate about what happens after death. But if you prefer to see it that way, I wouldn't criticize that view either. All in all, nibbana is "ending suffering". It is not about ending existence. The Buddha has never said "your goal is to end the aggregates". He merely said "your goal is to end attachment to the aggregates". I can quote the suttas if you want.
Lazy_eye wrote: The arahant is desire-less, sexless, emotionally dead, indifferent to pleasure or pain, similar to a withered tree (to use a common metaphor). I guess you could call that "living in peace", if you want.
Incorrect! An arahath is emotionally stable, unshattered by worldly pleasures or sufferings, experiences constant mental wakefulness and clarity, is not vexed by sadness, anger, confusion, sexual desires or jest, is full of compassion, continues to enjoy and experience the beauty of nature. The Buddha has never described his peace the way you do.

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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Post by BlueLotus » Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:53 am

Lazy_eye wrote:You seem to be assuming that because i perceive rebirth as being important to Buddhism, that means that I necessarily believe in it.
So you say
1) You have spent a long time reading about it, discussing it but there is lack of credible sources to actually believe in it.
Lazy_eye wrote: I've read enough books and articles and participated in enough rebirth threads...
Lack of a credible basis for believing it.
2) You say, most pro-rebirth arguments are predictably fallacious or pseudoscientific.

3) Yet it makes perfect sense to believe in it
Lazy_eye wrote: But it makes perfect sense if we see beings as being caught in an ongoing samsaric cycle
:clap:

Lol. I'll just say "I don't know" and continue to focus on the here and now. In short, put the confusions of "where was I, where will be" down and focus on the moment. It sounds worse than "dogmatic Islamic fundamentalism" to continue to say "I don't believe and I have no reasonable basis to believe" while trying to emphasize that belief is absolutely necessary on the other.

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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Post by Lazy_eye » Fri Dec 07, 2012 9:46 pm

darvki wrote: I think people should take on the viewpoint that works for them. However, I think you're misrepresenting your own outlook demographic on several points here. Neither camp is a homogeneous group.. let's not have your personal opinions speak for the entire group. What you've expressed does not represent most of the one-lifers I know.
Hi Darvki,

Not claiming to speak for any "group" or "outlook demographic"; as you say, these are heterogenous. I was presenting what seems to me a logical problem that arises if we try to combine a one-life view with the goal of the path/practice as set forth in the Pali Canon.

As I understand it, the goal is cessation of the aggregates and and a final exit from samsara. This goal is inconsistent with the premise that we live once and then die forever. There is an obvious problem of redundancy; we are going to achieve the goal sooner or later, whether we practice or not.

Indeed, if samsaric suffering is so awful, what is the argument for staying alive at all? Let alone embarking on a spiritual path that involves a great deal of renunciation and sacrifice, and concludes with what we are going to get anyway: oblivion. If we choose to stick around, it must be because there is after all some positive value to samsaric experience. But that contradicts the Buddha's message.

So in order for Buddhism to make sense, it must rely on some other premise. And the obvious candidate, given that it is mentioned so many times in the suttas, is rebirth.
This isn't supported by the suttas. Buddha (an arahant of his own kind), smiled, spontaneously uttered joyous verses (Udana), stretched his aching back, and spoke of escaping headaches by entering deep meditation.
Sure. The relief that comes when one knows they have reached the end of existence. No more burden, no more affliction. It is like someone who gladly welcomes his own death. But I believe it would be a mistake to see this as some state of "Happy" that we are aspiring to reach. That would be more in line with jhana attainments. Nibbana is more about eradication and cessation.
BlueLotus wrote:
So you say
1) You have spent a long time reading about it, discussing it but there is lack of credible sources to actually believe in it.
2) You say, most pro-rebirth arguments are predictably fallacious or pseudoscientific.
3) Yet it makes perfect sense to believe in it
There's no contradiction in my argument. I didn't say that "I don't believe in rebirth but actually do believe in it", as you seem to imply.

I said nibbana as a goal makes sense for people who believe in rebirth. I do not believe in rebirth. Therefore the goal of nibbana does not make sense to me either.

In order to practice Buddhism while rejecting rebirth, I would argue, one has to redefine nibbana, arahantship, and maybe the whole purpose of the practice. And if we look attentively at Western secularized Buddhism, and compare it to the dhamma taught in Burma or Sri Lanka for example, we can see that some subtle but important shifts have taken place. For example, many Western meditation teachers will tend not to emphasize the notion of suppressing afflictions; instead, we are encouraged accept them non-judgmentally, watch them come in go, dance with our experiences, etc etc. It's a soft-toned, easy-going approach.

But traditional Theravada, from what I can judge, is much more severe. Monks are taught to cultivate thorough disgust for sensory phenomena. Disgust with the body, disgust with women and sex, suspicion of nature, revulsion at the act of eating ("the loathsomeness of food") and so on. They work very hard to stamp out even the slightest residue of affection for worldly life. A withered tree, as I said before. To be frank, it all strikes me as rather fanatical and inhumane, but then again, I'm a secular Western liberal. Such austerity makes more sense if you assume (as I don't) an ongoing cycle of rebirths, mostly in excruciating hells.

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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Post by vinasp » Sat Dec 08, 2012 3:00 am

Hi everyone,

"When the Aggregates arise, decay and die, O Bhikkhu, every moment you are born, decay
and die." The Buddha.

Regards, Vincent.

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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Post by BlueLotus » Sat Dec 08, 2012 3:09 am

Lazy_eye wrote: There's no contradiction in my argument. I didn't say that "I don't believe in rebirth but actually do believe in it", as you seem to imply.

I said nibbana as a goal makes sense for people who believe in rebirth. I do not believe in rebirth. Therefore the goal of nibbana does not make sense to me either.
I didn't say there is contradiction. I was pointing out the sheer baselessness of your argument. You yourself don't believe in it, you have researched and found no credible source to justify such belief but you continue to insist that such belief is absolutely necessary to nibbana. Which means, to anyone who has not taken up a baseless belief (vastly unsupported by credible sources) on sheer blind faith, the ultimate goal makes no sense. Yes, no better than saying believe in God or leave the church.
Lazy_eye wrote:In order to practice Buddhism while rejecting rebirth, I would argue, one has to redefine nibbana, arahantship, and maybe the whole purpose of the practice.
There is no need to redefine anything. Nibbana is consistently defined in suttas as "cessation of suffering", arahath is defined as "the compassionate human being who having surpassed suffering, lives in peace of mind till death. There is evidence in the suttas that the Buddha has enjoyed and commented on the beauty of nature. Nibbana is not attaining a zombie state where you become like a plank of wood and wait till death so that you will never be born again.

Where does it say nibbana is cessation of the aggregates? Please quote the suttas.

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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Post by BlueLotus » Sat Dec 08, 2012 3:09 am

Lazy_eye wrote: But traditional Theravada, from what I can judge, is much more severe. Monks are taught to cultivate thorough disgust for sensory phenomena. Disgust with the body, disgust with women and sex, suspicion of nature, revulsion at the act of eating ("the loathsomeness of food") and so on. They work very hard to stamp out even the slightest residue of affection for worldly life. A withered tree, as I said before. To be frank, it all strikes me as rather fanatical and inhumane, but then again, I'm a secular Western liberal. Such austerity makes more sense if you assume (as I don't) an ongoing cycle of rebirths, mostly in excruciating hells.
For the record, "cultivate thorough disgust" is taught ONLY to those who have extensive levels of desires (extreme sexual desires, jest, fanaticism) in countries like Sri Lanka or Thailand. I am Chinese but currently in Sri Lanka and I regularly visit a Sri Lankan maha thero in talks, talk to my sri lankan Buddhist friends a lot, some even give me inputs to these online discussions and I know this as a fact. I am not sure from where you get your sources. Also, there are records that the Buddha once advised such meditation practices to some monks who committed suicide and he later accepted that such practices are not recommended for all. Methods of mental training are obviously different to different people. It is best to stick to what is effective to you on an experience teacher's recommendation.

But regarding withdrawal from sensual pleasures, I think the Buddhist practice definitely involves that. Personally I practice moderation because I see sensual pleasure as a "poisonous snake" which inevitably bites me at some point in life. Some of these bites are almost deadly. Knowing and seeing the pain and suffering of sensual attachment, I choose to first practice physical withdrawal which helps me cultivate mental withdrawal (detachment). Nope, no after-life beliefs there.

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Re: Is hell and hungry ghost realm to be taken literally?

Post by Lazy_eye » Sat Dec 08, 2012 5:30 am

BlueLotus wrote:. Which means, to anyone who has not taken up a baseless belief (vastly unsupported by credible sources) on sheer blind faith, the ultimate goal makes no sense.
Right. That's the argument I put forward. Without rebirth, the ultimate goal makes no sense. It appears to be premised on the notion of multiple lives. So if we (correctly, in my opinion) throw out that notion, then we also have to redefine the goal.

Anyway, I have presented my position and don't have much more to add. Thank you for responding to it. I'm not aiming to pick a fight or insist that my point of view is correct, but to improve my understanding. I find debates of this sort to be helpful in clarifying things and identifying possible areas of confusion.

The issue we have been discussing here has been a big obstacle for me, one which led me to stop self-identifying as Buddhist. At this point, I feel more comfortable as a "Buddhist-influenced secular humanist" or something like that.
There is no need to redefine anything. Nibbana is consistently defined in suttas as "cessation of suffering", arahath is defined as "the compassionate human being who having surpassed suffering, lives in peace of mind till death. There is evidence in the suttas that the Buddha has enjoyed and commented on the beauty of nature. Nibbana is not attaining a zombie state where you become like a plank of wood and wait till death so that you will never be born again.

Where does it say nibbana is cessation of the aggregates? Please quote the suttas.
Perhaps this would be a good subject for another thread. Or take a peek at this one.

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