Could it be that you have not been born before?

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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acinteyyo
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Could it be that you have not been born before?

Post by acinteyyo » Fri Mar 13, 2015 7:18 pm

Hi,
a thought just came to my mind reading the great rebirth debate.
Usually there appears to be the notion that the reason for ones birth has been past action. However I recall a Sutta (MN101) where the Buddha has a conversation with the Niganthas about Kamma.

Now the Buddha asks this question:
The Blessed One wrote:'But friends, do you know that you existed in the past, and that you did not not exist?'
What's special about this question, is that the Buddha seems to accept implicitly that one could possibly not have existed in the past.
Wouldn't it mean, that as a result this life could possibly be the first life one has ever lived?

I don't mean to argue for or against rebirth, I'm just interested what others think about this.
Could it be that you have not been born before and that this life is actually the first life you've ever lived? So to say, the first life in the cycle of rebirth?

best wishes, acinteyyo
Thag 1.20. Ajita - I do not fear death; nor do I long for life. I’ll lay down this body, aware and mindful.

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Re: Could it be that you have not been born before?

Post by dhammacoustic » Fri Mar 13, 2015 7:31 pm

A life form cannot arise without a stationed consciousness and kamma - AFAIK. So no, it is not possible. It's like saying some clouds form without water vapor.

If you hold the view that 'self' is the body and that it gets annihilated when you die, that's another story, of course.

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Re: Could it be that you have not been born before?

Post by Sam Vara » Fri Mar 13, 2015 7:36 pm

acinteyyo wrote:
Now the Buddha asks this question:
The Blessed One wrote:'But friends, do you know that you existed in the past, and that you did not not exist?'
What's special about this question, is that the Buddha seems to accept implicitly that one could possibly not have existed in the past.
Wouldn't it mean, that as a result this life could possibly be the first life one has ever lived?
Yes, as I can't remember any past lives, it is perfectly possible. I always took the quote to be a question about the Niganthas' knowledge and certainty, rather than a suggestion that - in their or any other case - the life in question might be the first of a series.

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Re: Could it be that you have not been born before?

Post by acinteyyo » Fri Mar 13, 2015 7:59 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
acinteyyo wrote:
Now the Buddha asks this question:
The Blessed One wrote:'But friends, do you know that you existed in the past, and that you did not not exist?'
What's special about this question, is that the Buddha seems to accept implicitly that one could possibly not have existed in the past.
Wouldn't it mean, that as a result this life could possibly be the first life one has ever lived?
Yes, as I can't remember any past lives, it is perfectly possible. I always took the quote to be a question about the Niganthas' knowledge and certainty, rather than a suggestion that - in their or any other case - the life in question might be the first of a series.
Yes, I also think that the quote is concerned with the knowledge of a past life. The Buddha probably used the question as an introduction for his following arguments against the views of the Niganthas, because if you don't know anything about past lives you can't say that every pleasure or pain is caused by actions in the past.
silver surfer wrote:A life form cannot arise without a stationed consciousness and kamma - AFAIK. So no, it is not possible. It's like saying some clouds form without water vapor.
If you hold the view that 'self' is the body and that it gets annihilated when you die, that's another story, of course.
Okay, but why has consciousness and kamma be from the past? What about consciousness arising in a being through present action not from past action?
Might that not be a possibility?

best wishes, acinteyyo
Thag 1.20. Ajita - I do not fear death; nor do I long for life. I’ll lay down this body, aware and mindful.

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Re: Could it be that you have not been born before?

Post by Mkoll » Fri Mar 13, 2015 8:13 pm

From here, a collection of suttas that should put such speculation to rest.
(1) Grass and Sticks
The Buddha said: “Disciples, this samsara [literally, "faring on, wandering on" through rebirths] is without discoverable beginning. A first point is not able to be discerned of beings roaming and wandering on [through the cycle of repeated births and deaths] hindered by ignorance and bound by craving.



[The search for such an ultimate beginning is one of the Four Imponderables.* If pondered and pursued it would be useless and lead to derangement. Yet if such a pursuit could succeed, it would nevertheless not lead to dispassion, enlightenment, and liberation from suffering. If it did lead to the end of suffering, the Buddha would have taught it.]

“Suppose, disciples, a man would cut up whatever grass, sticks, branches, and leaves there are in this Jambudipa [the "Rose Apple Land" or Indian subcontinent] and collect them together into a single heap. Having done so, he would put them down, saying for each one: ‘This is my mother, this my mother's mother.’

“The sequence of that man's mothers and grandmothers would not come to an end, yet the grass, sticks, branches, and leaves in this Jambudipa would be used up and exhausted. For what reason? Disciples, it is because this samsara is without discoverable beginning. A first point is not able to be discerned of beings roaming and wandering on hindered by ignorance and bound by craving.

“For such a long time, disciples, you have experienced suffering, anguish, and disaster, and swelled up the cemeteries. It is enough to become disenchanted with all formations, enough to become dispassionate toward them, enough to be liberated from them.” (SN 15:1; II 178)



(2) Balls of Clay
Disciples, this samsara is without discoverable beginning. A first point is not able to be discerned of beings roaming and wandering on hindered by ignorance and bound by craving. Suppose, disciples, a man would reduce this great Earth to balls of clay the size of jujube kernels and put them down, saying [for each one]: ‘This is my father, this my father's father.’ The sequence of that man's fathers and grandfathers would not come to an end, yet this great Earth would be used up and exhausted.


For what reason? Disciples, it is because this samsara is without discoverable beginning. A first point is not able to be discerned of beings roaming and wandering on hindered by ignorance and bound by craving.

For such a long time, disciples, you have experienced suffering, anguish, and disaster, and swelled up the cemeteries. It is enough to become disenchanted with all formations, enough to become dispassionate toward them, enough to be liberated from them."
(SN 15:2; II 179)

(3) The Mountain
A certain monk approached the Buddha, bowed, sat down to one side, and said: "Venerable sir, how long is an aeon?"

"An aeon is long, monk. It is not easy to count it and say it is so many years, or so many hundreds of years, or so many thousands of years, or so many hundreds of thousands of years."

"Then, venerable sir, is it possible to give a simile?"

“It is possible, monk," the Buddha said. "Suppose, monk, there was a great stone mountain a yojana [seven miles] long, a yojana wide, and a yojana high, without cracks or crevices, one solid mass of rock.



At the end of every hundred years a man would stroke it once with a piece of fine silk cloth. That great stone mountain might by his effort be worn away and eliminated, yet one aeon would still not have elapsed! So long is an aeon, monk.

"And of aeons this long, we have wandered through so many aeons, so many hundreds of aeons, so many thousands of aeons, so many hundreds of thousands of aeons. For what reason? It is because, monk, this samsara is without discoverable beginning.... It is enough to be liberated from them." (SN 15:5; II 181-82)

(4) The River Ganges
At Rajagaha, in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrel's Sanctuary, a certain brahmin approached the Buddha and exchanged greetings with him. When they had concluded their greetings and cordial talk, he sat down to one side and asked: "Master Gotama, how many aeons have elapsed and gone by?"


Ganges at Varanasi, where Buddhism began in the Deer Park at Sarnath

"Brahmin, many aeons have elapsed and gone by. It is not easy to count them and say there are so many aeons, or so many hundreds of aeons, or so many thousands of aeons, or so many hundreds of thousands of aeons."

“But is it possible to give a simile, Master Gotama?”

“It is possible, brahmin,” the Buddha said. “Imagine, brahmin, the grains of sand between the point where the river Ganges originates and the point where it enters the great ocean: It is not easy to count these and say there are so many grains of sand, or so many hundreds of grains, or so many thousands of grains, or so many hundreds of thousands of grains.



“Brahmin, the aeons that have elapsed and gone by are even more numerous than that! It is not easy to count them and say that there are so many aeons, or so many hundreds of aeons, or so many thousands of aeons, or so many hundreds of thousands of aeons.

“For what reason? It is because, brahmin, this samsara is without discoverable beginning. A first point is not able to be discerned of beings roaming and wandering on hindered by ignorance and bound by craving.

“For such a long time, brahmin, you have experienced suffering, anguish, and disaster, and swelled up the cemeteries. It is enough to become disenchanted with all formations, enough to become dispassionate toward them, enough to be liberated from them.” (SN 15:8; II 183-84)

(5) Dog on a Leash
“Monks, this samsara is without discoverable beginning. A first point is not able to be discerned of beings roaming and wandering on hindered by ignorance and bound by craving.

“There comes a time, disciples, when the great ocean dries up and evaporates and no longer exists. But still, I say, there is no making an end of suffering for those beings roaming and wandering on hindered by ignorance and bound by craving.

“There comes a time, disciples, when Mt. Sineru, the king of mountains, burns up and perishes and no longer exists. But still, I say, there is no making an end of suffering for those beings roaming and wandering on hindered by ignorance and bound by craving.

“There comes a time, disciples, when the great Earth burns up and perishes and no longer exists. But still, I say, there is no making an end of suffering for those beings roaming and wandering on hindered by ignorance and bound by craving.



“Suppose, disciples, a dog were tied up on a leash bound to a strong post. It would just keep on running and revolving around that post. So too, the uninstructed ordinary worldling regards

form as self...
feeling as self...
perception as self...
volitional formations as self...
consciousness as self....

“One just keeps running and revolving around form, around feeling, around perception, around volitional formations, around consciousness [the Five Aggregates of Existence].

“As it keeps on running and revolving around them, it is not freed from form, not freed from feeling, not freed from perception, not freed from volitional formations, not freed from consciousness.

“It is not freed from birth, aging, and death; not freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair; not freed from suffering, I say.” (SN 22:99; II 149-50)

*The Four Imponderables
Numerical Discourses of the Buddha (A.IV.7)
These Four Imponderables are not to be pondered (or speculated about). Anyone who persisted in pondering them would come unhinged and experience vexation:

The sphere of a buddha's influence (the buddha-range of a buddha, i.e., the range of powers a buddha develops as a result of becoming a supremely enlightened teacher)...
The jhana-range of one absorbed in jhana (the range of powers it is possible to develop based on the eight meditative absorptions]...
The results (or working out) of karma...
The [first cause, moment, purpose, etc., of the] universe...
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa

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Re: Could it be that you have not been born before?

Post by DNS » Fri Mar 13, 2015 8:48 pm

acinteyyo wrote: Could it be that you have not been born before and that this life is actually the first life you've ever lived? So to say, the first life in the cycle of rebirth?
From a Buddhist perspective, no. Anyone reading this is most likely to be human and therefore, would not start a life cycle (if such a thing is even possible or discernible) as a human. The Buddha and the texts refer to the rarity of human birth (blind sea turtle similie) and therefore, even if such a thing is possible or discernible; I imagine the 'first' life would be as something like a microscopic plankton or even something smaller, less developed.

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Re: Could it be that you have not been born before?

Post by dhammacoustic » Sat Mar 14, 2015 2:22 am

acinteyyo wrote:Okay, but why has consciousness and kamma be from the past? What about consciousness arising in a being through present action not from past action?
Might that not be a possibility?

best wishes, acinteyyo
I don't think it's a possibility, Venerable.

Let's say it is, then one needs to answer such questions;

1) Logically speaking, how is it possible to originate as a human being in the first place (as it's a complex system) ?
2) Since there were no volitional actions done in the past, what exactly might have caused a being to be born in specific conditions, with specific tendencies & mental qualities altogether?
3) Since the Buddha stated; "this body is old kamma" (SN 2 64.65) - is there a way to explain such human birth? The idea directly implies a 'beginning', the Buddha says that "there is no first beginning" (SN 15 1.2), rather a way out of duality. If there is a beginning of a being, then what causes it?

:anjali:
Last edited by dhammacoustic on Sat Mar 14, 2015 3:45 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Could it be that you have not been born before?

Post by chownah » Sat Mar 14, 2015 2:44 am

What about spontaneous birth as mentioned in the suttas?
chownah

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Re: Could it be that you have not been born before?

Post by acinteyyo » Sat Mar 14, 2015 9:17 am

Mkoll wrote:From here, a collection of suttas that should put such speculation to rest.
Hi Mkoll, thanks for the suttaquotes. I agree that a beginning is not discernible and I'm aware that there are many suttas which tell us that there have been many births in the past.
I'm not speculating whether or not this life IS the first, I rather speculate about the possibility of human birth as a beginning of the cycle.
Otherwise I find it a little bit odd, that the Buddha used the quoted question of MN101 the way he did to introduce his arguments against the view of the Niganthas. If it is taken for granted that there have been many births in the past, but you don't have any knowledge of past lives, it is not very convincing if the Buddha then tells you, that not only past kamma determines present feelings, which was the view of the Jains, but present kamma as well, with no way for you to see it for yourself, isn't it?

best wishes, acinteyyo
Thag 1.20. Ajita - I do not fear death; nor do I long for life. I’ll lay down this body, aware and mindful.

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Re: Could it be that you have not been born before?

Post by acinteyyo » Sat Mar 14, 2015 10:59 am

silver surfer wrote:
acinteyyo wrote:Okay, but why has consciousness and kamma be from the past? What about consciousness arising in a being through present action not from past action?
Might that not be a possibility?
best wishes, acinteyyo
I don't think it's a possibility, Venerable.
Thanks for your politeness, but I'm not worthy of veneration. I'm an Upāsaka, friend.
silver surfer wrote:Let's say it is, then one needs to answer such questions;
1) Logically speaking, how is it possible to originate as a human being in the first place (as it's a complex system) ?
I think the origination of a human being happens through natural causes. Consciousness and name&form support each other. However at the moment I don't see why the process necessarily have to start in the past.
silver surfer wrote:2) Since there were no volitional actions done in the past, what exactly might have caused a being to be born in specific conditions, with specific tendencies & mental qualities altogether?
What about present conditions? Don't you think present conditions might be sufficient to start such a process?
silver surfer wrote:3) Since the Buddha stated; "this body is old kamma" (SN 2 64.65) - is there a way to explain such human birth? The idea directly implies a 'beginning', the Buddha says that "there is no first beginning" (SN 15 1.2), rather a way out of duality. If there is a beginning of a being, then what causes it?
I understand that "this body is old kamma", which it obviously is and I don't deny that seeing the origination of the human body. What lead to the body here and now began in the past. What I don't understand is why present conditions might not be sufficient to explain a present human birth. It seems the cause for a life in the present is always assumed in a past life, a life prior to the present life, but I wonder if present conditions may be sufficient as a cause for present life. I don't deny that kamma from the past as well as present kamma are conditions for what ripens in this life, I just wonder whether the cause must be always assumed to be in an unknowable past.

best wishes, acinteyyo
Thag 1.20. Ajita - I do not fear death; nor do I long for life. I’ll lay down this body, aware and mindful.

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Re: Could it be that you have not been born before?

Post by Dinsdale » Sat Mar 14, 2015 11:07 am

acinteyyo wrote:Could it be that you have not been born before and that this life is actually the first life you've ever lived? So to say, the first life in the cycle of rebirth?
It could be the first human life, but of course traditionally there are many realms and planes of existence.
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Re: Could it be that you have not been born before?

Post by Mkoll » Sat Mar 14, 2015 8:57 pm

acinteyyo wrote:
Mkoll wrote:From here, a collection of suttas that should put such speculation to rest.
Hi Mkoll, thanks for the suttaquotes. I agree that a beginning is not discernible and I'm aware that there are many suttas which tell us that there have been many births in the past.
I'm not speculating whether or not this life IS the first, I rather speculate about the possibility of human birth as a beginning of the cycle.
Otherwise I find it a little bit odd, that the Buddha used the quoted question of MN101 the way he did to introduce his arguments against the view of the Niganthas. If it is taken for granted that there have been many births in the past, but you don't have any knowledge of past lives, it is not very convincing if the Buddha then tells you, that not only past kamma determines present feelings, which was the view of the Jains, but present kamma as well, with no way for you to see it for yourself, isn't it?

best wishes, acinteyyo
We can see how past kamma determines present feelings directly in our very lives. If I get angry about something and feelings associated with anger arise, those feelings are determined by my getting angry. Why did I get angry about something in the first place? I've developed a habit of getting angry in certain situations.

I wouldn't say that past kamma fully determines present kamma. It only imposes constraints and limits on it. If I was a born as an eagle, I would come to be able to fly by myself. But I was born as a human being, so I can't.
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Re: Could it be that you have not been born before?

Post by SarathW » Sat Mar 14, 2015 10:07 pm

chownah wrote:What about spontaneous birth as mentioned in the suttas?
chownah

Here Buddha talking about the method of birth.
My next birth may be conditioned by egg born, water born, womb born or spontaneous.
Spontaneous born are certain type of Devas.
:shrug:
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Re: Could it be that you have not been born before?

Post by acinteyyo » Sun Mar 15, 2015 1:20 pm

Mkoll wrote:We can see how past kamma determines present feelings directly in our very lives. If I get angry about something and feelings associated with anger arise, those feelings are determined by my getting angry. Why did I get angry about something in the first place? I've developed a habit of getting angry in certain situations.
I don't agree with your explanation, because I think you underestimate the role of present kamma. I agree in so far that you get angry, because you've developed a habit of getting angry in certain situations. But in the first place there is contact which leads to the arising of a certain feeling and dependent on that contact and feeling accompanied by ignorance you get angry, because you don't attend to the situation mindfully and without wisdom. So being angry is not only determined by your past habits but also by your present action to act in the same way you always did when those situations arose, being heedless and thus unable to react in a wholesome way. The situation is not determined by past kamma solely but also by your present kamma.
As I've said before, I don't deny the influence of past kamma, but the role of present kamma in a given situation is also very important.

best wishes, acinteyyo
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Re: Could it be that you have not been born before?

Post by Zom » Sun Mar 15, 2015 5:46 pm

What's special about this question, is that the Buddha seems to accept implicitly that one could possibly not have existed in the past.
Wouldn't it mean, that as a result this life could possibly be the first life one has ever lived?
As I see it, you draw wrong conclusion from this question here. Buddha asks this question not because he accepts the idea of "possible non-existence in the past", but he asks it (as well as ALL other questions there) just to make it plain that Niganthas did not have any direct knowledge about such "extraordinary" things. And then, when these questions had been asked, and they replied "no" - there appears a ground on which Buddha further criticizes them: they do their painful practice simply because of blind faith and wishful thinking and not because their ideas are correct and confirmed by direct experience.

But why ask exactly this question? Again, just to show that they have no stable ground for their practice. Imagine they knew directly: "Yes, we see our past lives" (we know we existed in the past). In this case this would be their stable ground for practice - there is sense in "leading holy life" (doing their painful exercises). But if they have no knowledge at all about past lives (and they really had none - at least sutta says so), then their practice has no firm ground and so is dubious (maybe there is one life only - one birth-death? If so, no need to be a monk, no need to do painful exerices, end is the same for everyone). And this is exactly what Buddha wants to show.

The problem here is that one can ask a buddhist the same question and he would answer the same way as Niganthas did here )) As buddhists have no knowledge about their past lives and believe Buddha on this matter, in the same way Niganthas had no such knowledge and believed their teacher Nataputta (whom they considered to be omniscient). So these questions is a double-edged sword for buddhism - at least as polemic arguments -)

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