I see 'the great rebirth debate' thread more often than not on the home page listed with the others that have the most recent post. It is a long thread which could potentially give casual readers of forums like these the impression that the subject is of paramount interest or importance to people.
I'll state up front that I haven't read much of the thread because the subject generally fails to hold my interest and attention. It is an interesting subject in itself but what everyone actually knows about it is so little that it doesn't take much time at all to exhaust my interest.
I can approach the subject in another way. If I ask myself the question, "Would the verifiable existence or non-existence of re-birth (in any sense or by any definition of a multi-lifetime series of related processes) have an impact on my interest in the Buddha's teachings on the whole and if so what would that be?"
In overall terms, no. It would really make no difference to my interest in the Buddha's teachings and the ways in which I apply these to my life if rebirth were somehow demonstrably and repeatedly proved to be either true or false.
Similarly, the present state of affairs, wherein there is no demonstrable evidence one way or the other, a state of affairs where ignorance is the predominant feature, has no significant impact on either my interest in or understanding of the Buddha's teachings.
On the other hand the subject of ignorance, such as the ignorance which is the most obvious quality present in the body of available insight into this area, is itself something quite supportive of my interest in the Buddha's teachings. I very much like the Buddha's strong emphasis of the role of ignorance in all of our lives both as individuals and as members of the community of living beings in the world. His continued pointing out of ignorance, his calling our attention to the role it plays in our lives and thoughts seems to me to be one of the things that is very obviously wise about him.
As opposed to providing us with all kinds of comfortable explanations to placate us the Buddha frequently focuses our attention on things that screw with our comfort zones. Emphasizing subjects like suffering, desire and ignorance go directly to the parts of living and thinking that make it hard to get comfortable at all. Then we're supposed to sit quietly and work to achieve some kind of peace and freedom? Yes I think so, I think actually confronting some of the most difficult things in life and continuing to work at coming to terms with them do lead to an increasing breadth and depth of peace and freedom for me.
Dealing with the reality of being ignorant about a colossal amount of things, not just ignorance about less obvious things like rebirth but many, many things, has been and is a beneficial thing to do. Dealing with the desires that come from wanting to know the incalculable number of things that I don't know and the suffering that comes from not knowing those things has also been and is a beneficial thing to do. The Buddha's teachings have been great for working at these things in these kinds of ways. Not by providing some kind of pat answer to arguments over the veracity of some seemingly odd bit of one doctrine or another but by providing real ways of approaching the things that I actually do care about, things like ignorance, desires and suffering.
More than any other sources in my life the Buddha's teachings have helped and continue to assist me with both embracing and letting go of 'me' in a great many senses of the term, in the senses of it that I actually encounter it in my life, feelings and thoughts. I find the teachings about ignorance, desire and suffering, all together, very helpful in this way. I would continue to have this interest in and relationship with the Buddha's teachings regardless of what might be known or said about things like rebirth or other subjects, subjects which lend themselves to nurturing various kinds of sectarian argumentation by the taking up of contrary views. Typically, the more that a buddhist or dhamma subject lends itself to opposing views and arguments, the less significance it actually has in regards to my ongoing interest in the Buddha's teachings and how I make use of them in my life.
I could take another approach to what I have been saying, because none of it has been about rebirth, and start another thread. A subject that would actually be very central to my interest in the teachings and the way that I practice them, a subject like 'ignorance' for instance would probably never generate the kind of interest, investment and involvement that a controversial subject like this one continually draws. Probably a thousand pages could be posted on the subject of ignorance without exhausting the interesting things that could be said about the subject…
Ok, I talked myself into it. I'll start a thread on it. I'm curious to see how much interest the general subject of ignorance generates as opposed to the subject of rebirth. For me a subject like ignorance is central to how I understand and apply the teachings and practice. I am far more interested in the subject, have given it far more attention and am much more interested in what other people may think about it or understand about it.
the great ignorance debate