Nikaya35 wrote:According to the sutras ( I' m using the bhikkhu bodhi translations ) the buddha attained 3 knowledges the night of his enlightenment. In the first watch of the night the Buddha remember many past lives. I'm the second watch of the night the Buddha understood how beings are reborn according to their actions by direct knowledge. In the last watch of the night the Buddha understood the way of the destruction of taints. According to secular buddhists karma and rebirth aren't part of the Buddha teachings. Other secular buddhists say karma and rebirth aren't important to the dharma. I'm missing something from the picture ?
Well, let's be precise. If secular Buddhists are saying karma and rebirth "aren't part of the Buddha's teachings" they are clearly mistaken and have not read the Suttas. (I'll give one example below) .
What is up for debate is whether karma and rebirth are actual verifiable facts, or whether one has to believe in them to practice Buddhism is something endlessly debated (and we have a whole endless debating thread devoted to it). Those are really two different issues.
My reading is that the Buddha's recollections of past lives and such are there in the Suttas because they are seen as being somehow vital to his seeing the cycle of samsara, and being fully awakened as a full-fledged samma-sambuddha, that is, someone who awakens completely on their own without being taught the four noble truths, etc. Remember he didn't have anyone to show him this stuff. He had to figure it out himself. And what's a good way to figure it out? Looking at a bajillion lifetimes worth of birth and death would not be a bad start. You'd probably get the picture after a while.
In the canon, many people awakened without having such recollections. But the Buddha did prescribe recollection as a practice to achieve liberation. In the Maha-Assapura Sutta
the Buddha gives the entire outline of the contemplative path, beginning with understanding cause and effect, purity of conduct, restraint, moderation, etc... Having purified all these, one settles down into the first jhana, the second jhana, the third jhana, the fourth jhana, and...
"With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives. He recollects his manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two births, three births, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred, one thousand, one hundred thousand, many aeons of cosmic contraction, many aeons of cosmic expansion, many aeons of cosmic contraction and expansion, [recollecting], 'There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.' Thus he recollects his manifold past lives in their modes and details. Just as if a man were to go from his home village to another village, and then from that village to yet another village, and then from that village back to his home village. The thought would occur to him, 'I went from my home village to that village over there. There I stood in such a way, sat in such a way, talked in such a way, and remained silent in such a way. From that village I went to that village over there, and there I stood in such a way, sat in such a way, talked in such a way, and remained silent in such a way. From that village I came back home.' In the same way — with his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability — the monk directs and inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives. He recollects his manifold past lives... in their modes and details.
Also " the passing away and re-appearance of beings..." and "the knowledge of the ending of the mental fermentations." which ultimately leads to the realization of nibbana.
Past life recollection in this case isn't some sort of parlour trick or "I wonder if I was cleopatra" type curiosity. Clearly it's meant to motivate the mind to incline itself towards the deathless, as in "OK, been there, done that, got the t-shirt, I'm outta here."