According to Classical Theravada, what is reborn?

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According to Classical Theravada, what is reborn?

Post by DNS » Sat Jul 15, 2017 2:11 pm

I posted this in the soul theories thread, but no one responded, perhaps because it doesn't really belong there. There are a plethora of views out there about what is reborn, but was wondering what the Classical view is? The suttas are somewhat vague. The suttas are clear about anatta but then what is reborn?

Some interesting topics and posts going on right now about rebirth and the difference between rebirth and reincarnation. Good points made there, especially regarding how there cannot be anything "re" without there being some sense of self. If one is skeptical of rebirth or outright rejects rebirth, then the no-self anatta doctrine is easy to accept. For Buddhists who hold a traditional belief or acceptance of rebirth, it is not so simple. If there is rebirth, "something" must be reborn. So I thought it might be interesting to look at some of possible ideas of what is being reborn and the different concepts of self.

1. Elimininativism would be the view that the self is a complete and useless fiction that so much gets in the way that we had best eliminate all mention of it altogether. (In another context, an eliminativist might say about the concept of the soul that it is utterly vacuous and so misleading that we had best purge our vocabulary of it.)

2. Reductionism would be the view that it makes sense to speak of a self, but only insofar as "self" is a convenient shorthand for a complex of phenomena that it would be cumbersome to mention in full detail.

2.a. There is no self but there is a frequency transfer of kammic energies (some interpretations)
2.b. There is no permanent self, but there is an indeterminate, inexpressible self (pudgalavada)
2.c. There is no permanent self but there is citta which never dies (some Forest traditions and other modern interpretations in Theravada and Mahayana)
2.d. What is reborn? Neuroses (Trungpa)
2.e. There is no permanent self, but there is a mind stream which is individual and continues (some interpretations)
2.f. There is no self but there is a Ālāya-vijñāna (store-house consciousness) accounting for kamma and rebirth (Mahayana-Yogachara)

3. Realism would be the view that the self is fully real in that there are predicates that apply to it but that cannot be applied to anything else. The self is one of the ultimately real constituents of the world, and it would therefore be an intellectual mistake to eliminate it or to see it as merely a convenient fiction. (In another context, some philosophers hold that consciousness is a sui generis reality that cannot correctly be seen as just a metaphorical or careless way of speaking about events in the brain.) No schools of Buddhism (including the Pudgalavada) have adopted this realism view were realists, but that one can find self-realists in most non-Buddhist schools of Indian philosophy. These are the full-fledged atmavadins.

Number one above would be associated with nihilism and number three with eternalism. Orthodox Theravada would perhaps be some where between numbers one and two (perhaps 2.a.?) and Modern Theravada views would be number two or one of the 2 a. to 2 e. Thoughts?

Did I miss any other possibilities?

There are analogies to a flame being passed from one candle to another; it is not the same flame as it is always changing, but then that could be interpreted as an "impermanent self" which is opposed to the classical view. Bhante Punnaji describes it as a frequency transmission, sort of like changing the channel on your remote control, so I'm leaning toward that explanation. (2.a.) Does anyone have a better explanation, from the Classical view? And note for the purposes of this discussion, we are assuming rebirth is real.

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Re: According to Classical Theravada, what is reborn?

Post by binocular » Sat Jul 15, 2017 4:23 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:Did I miss any other possibilities?
The possibility that "What is reborn?" is the wrong question and the wrong way to approach the issue.
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Re: According to Classical Theravada, what is reborn?

Post by DNS » Sat Jul 15, 2017 4:31 pm

binocular wrote:
David N. Snyder wrote:Did I miss any other possibilities?
The possibility that "What is reborn?" is the wrong question and the wrong way to approach the issue.
Okay, what is the right question, right approach note; assuming literal rebirth is true?

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Re: According to Classical Theravada, what is reborn?

Post by binocular » Sat Jul 15, 2017 4:50 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:Okay, what is the right question, right approach note; assuming literal rebirth is true?
Why this assumption?

- - -
In short: There is kamma, and because there is kamma, there is rebirth.
Usually, people seem to think like this: "There is rebirth; therefore, there is kamma." As far as I understood, Ven. Thanissaro would say it's the other way around, and that it is because of kamma that there is rebirth. That is how there can be an end to birth once there is an end to kamma.

(I mention this just as a further possibility to the ones you've listed in the OP.)
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Re: According to Classical Theravada, what is reborn?

Post by aflatun » Sat Jul 15, 2017 4:52 pm

binocular wrote:
David N. Snyder wrote:Did I miss any other possibilities?
The possibility that "What is reborn?" is the wrong question and the wrong way to approach the issue.
In principle I agree with binocular (although David I'm not trying to invalidate the conversation, its a good one!).

I also believe in literal rebirth, so not arguing with that.

I think asking "what" is the same thing as asking "who," which the Buddha seems to reject ( forgive me as I can't seem to find the sutta I'm thinking of). That's the crux of the issue for me.




That aside, just a few ruminations:

It might be helpful to ask the same question about the relationship between say, Harry ten years ago, and Harry today. Harry today still feels like the "same Harry." This isn't really open to any doubt for him. I think Harry's feeling is valid. (What's not valid is deducing an independent substance from this feeling). And it "still feels like him" whether or not he remembers details of his (current life) past.

"What" (ugh!) remains the same, provides the continuity, the individuality, etc. Could be that its the same "thing" that would provide an answer to the question? When Harry is reborn as a deva in his next life I would assume it would "still feel like Harry," even if there were no conscious access to memory from previous life, etc.

It might be helpful, or just frustrating, to ask what makes the apple I hold in my hand right now the same apple as I sequentially take bites of it and reduce it to a core. :tongue:

(Philip K. Dick is really good at exploring these ideas in fiction, by the way!)
2.e. There is no permanent self, but there is a mind stream which is individual and continues (some interpretations)
I think this is a fairly benign and accurate enough way of stating the situation. No need to deny the individual IMO. I don't think its controversial to say that there is an individual continuum that "goes on forever" (until of course it puts an end to itself from within).
2.f. There is no self but there is a Ālāya-vijñāna (store-house consciousness) accounting for kamma and rebirth (Mahayana-Yogachara)
Based on the forum we're in this is somewhat tangential, so apologies in advance. But I just wanted to point out that in my understanding the storehouse is not a substance, but is rather entirely momentary like all consciousness. And the purpose of Yogacara is of course to bring this store house to an end, which happens in life. And so we're left with a Buddha who has put an end to consciousness and yet walks around among us and still remaining an individual. Or does he? :stirthepot:
"People often get too quick to say 'there's no self. There's no self...no self...no self.' There is self, there is focal point, its not yours. That's what not self is."

Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
Senses and the Thought-1, 42:53

"Those who create constructs about the Buddha,
Who is beyond construction and without exhaustion,
Are thereby damaged by their constructs;
They fail to see the Thus-Gone.

That which is the nature of the Thus-Gone
Is also the nature of this world.
There is no nature of the Thus-Gone.
There is no nature of the world."

Nagarjuna
MMK XXII.15-16

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Re: According to Classical Theravada, what is reborn?

Post by binocular » Sat Jul 15, 2017 5:00 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:Okay, what is the right question, right approach note;
aflatun wrote:(although David I'm not trying to invalidate the conversation, its a good one!).
When I said I thought it was the wrong question, the wrong approach, I was thinking of the four ways of answering questions, I wasn't trying to invalidate the OP's inquiry:
"There are these four ways of answering questions. Which four?
There are questions that should be answered categorically [straightforwardly yes, no, this, that].
There are questions that should be answered with an analytical (qualified) answer [defining or redefining the terms].
There are questions that should be answered with a counter-question.
There are questions that should be put aside.
These are the four ways of answering questions."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
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Re: According to Classical Theravada, what is reborn?

Post by binocular » Sat Jul 15, 2017 5:05 pm

aflatun wrote:It might be helpful to ask the same question about the relationship between say, Harry ten years ago, and Harry today. Harry today still feels like the "same Harry." This isn't really open to any doubt for him. I think Harry's feeling is valid. (What's not valid is deducing an independent substance from this feeling). And it "still feels like him" whether or not he remembers details of his (current life) past.

"What" (ugh!) remains the same, provides the continuity, the individuality, etc. Could be that its the same "thing" that would provide an answer to the question? When Harry is reborn as a deva in his next life I would assume it would "still feel like Harry," even if there were no conscious access to memory from previous life, etc.
From an older thread:
binocular wrote:
David N. Snyder wrote:I like how he points out the importance of the stories and the fictive language in human history; how humans have come up with all kinds of fiction stories to describe what is going on. For example, how there really is no such thing as "Peugeot" (car company) and employees, directors, CEOs can change, yet the company continues, but does not really "exist." He doesn't say it, but similarly the way there is no-self; but rather fictive language to describe a conventional-self.
Notably, it was Roland Barthes with his example of the ship Argo who conceived of identity that way (here mentioned on pg. 46). In the old story of Jason and the Argonauts, the individual parts of the ship Argo were replaced one by one as they wore out, while the Argonauts were sailing with it. Given this, the question is, what exactly is the identity of the ship Argo, since at the end of the voyage, no original part was present.

The ship Argo exists; it's just that its material structure is not definitive for its identity.
https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f ... 54#p425854
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Re: According to Classical Theravada, what is reborn?

Post by aflatun » Sat Jul 15, 2017 5:07 pm

binocular wrote:
David N. Snyder wrote:Okay, what is the right question, right approach note;
aflatun wrote:(although David I'm not trying to invalidate the conversation, its a good one!).
When I said I thought it was the wrong question, the wrong approach, I was thinking of the four ways of answering questions, I wasn't trying to invalidate the OP's inquiry:
"There are these four ways of answering questions. Which four?
There are questions that should be answered categorically [straightforwardly yes, no, this, that].
There are questions that should be answered with an analytical (qualified) answer [defining or redefining the terms].
There are questions that should be answered with a counter-question.
There are questions that should be put aside.
These are the four ways of answering questions."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
I didn't think you were trying to invalidate! I was making clear that I wasn't. New Yorkers always sound like they're invalidating :tongue:
"People often get too quick to say 'there's no self. There's no self...no self...no self.' There is self, there is focal point, its not yours. That's what not self is."

Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
Senses and the Thought-1, 42:53

"Those who create constructs about the Buddha,
Who is beyond construction and without exhaustion,
Are thereby damaged by their constructs;
They fail to see the Thus-Gone.

That which is the nature of the Thus-Gone
Is also the nature of this world.
There is no nature of the Thus-Gone.
There is no nature of the world."

Nagarjuna
MMK XXII.15-16

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Re: According to Classical Theravada, what is reborn?

Post by aflatun » Sat Jul 15, 2017 5:27 pm

binocular wrote:
aflatun wrote:It might be helpful to ask the same question about the relationship between say, Harry ten years ago, and Harry today. Harry today still feels like the "same Harry." This isn't really open to any doubt for him. I think Harry's feeling is valid. (What's not valid is deducing an independent substance from this feeling). And it "still feels like him" whether or not he remembers details of his (current life) past.

"What" (ugh!) remains the same, provides the continuity, the individuality, etc. Could be that its the same "thing" that would provide an answer to the question? When Harry is reborn as a deva in his next life I would assume it would "still feel like Harry," even if there were no conscious access to memory from previous life, etc.
From an older thread:
binocular wrote:
David N. Snyder wrote:I like how he points out the importance of the stories and the fictive language in human history; how humans have come up with all kinds of fiction stories to describe what is going on. For example, how there really is no such thing as "Peugeot" (car company) and employees, directors, CEOs can change, yet the company continues, but does not really "exist." He doesn't say it, but similarly the way there is no-self; but rather fictive language to describe a conventional-self.
Notably, it was Roland Barthes with his example of the ship Argo who conceived of identity that way (here mentioned on pg. 46). In the old story of Jason and the Argonauts, the individual parts of the ship Argo were replaced one by one as they wore out, while the Argonauts were sailing with it. Given this, the question is, what exactly is the identity of the ship Argo, since at the end of the voyage, no original part was present.

The ship Argo exists; it's just that its material structure is not definitive for its identity.
https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f ... 54#p425854
I'm familiar with that way of framing these things as expressed in the first quote above (from David), and I don't find it particularly convincing to be honest. But in the classical forum this type of analysis is normative, so I'll shut up :)
The ship Argo exists; it's just that its material structure is not definitive for its identity.
Then what is definitive?
"People often get too quick to say 'there's no self. There's no self...no self...no self.' There is self, there is focal point, its not yours. That's what not self is."

Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
Senses and the Thought-1, 42:53

"Those who create constructs about the Buddha,
Who is beyond construction and without exhaustion,
Are thereby damaged by their constructs;
They fail to see the Thus-Gone.

That which is the nature of the Thus-Gone
Is also the nature of this world.
There is no nature of the Thus-Gone.
There is no nature of the world."

Nagarjuna
MMK XXII.15-16

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Re: According to Classical Theravada, what is reborn?

Post by binocular » Sat Jul 15, 2017 5:44 pm

aflatun wrote:Then what is definitive?
Kamma.

As the standard formulation goes:
'I am the owner of my actions (kamma), heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.'
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Re: According to Classical Theravada, what is reborn?

Post by DNS » Sat Jul 15, 2017 9:39 pm

I like the ship Argo analogy and also the chariot analogy in the suttas, however, in those cases or other analogies like that, say a computer which has all its parts exchanged eventually, its hard drive and memory transferred, there is human involvement; that is there are humans making those changes to the parts. In the suttas it is clear that the aggregates are not-self, that they do not continue, yet from an orthodox/classical view there is literal rebirth. The suttas are clear about that too. I know that many modern Buddhists are secular Buddhists and skeptical of rebirth, but for this discussion I'm referring to literal rebirth as is believed by orthodox/classical Theravada.

Sentient being "C" ------> Sentient being "D"

My discussion centers around how does sentient being C go to sentient being D after she passes away, does not attain nibbana while in lifetime C?

I completely agree with anatta. If you cut a being open and look inside there is no soul to be found; dissect a body and its brain, still no soul, no self. Yet there is something that gets reborn and allows for rebirth (according to the suttas and classical Theravada).

I have heard all the familiar arguments / views about the fire transferring from one fuel to another, but that still sounds like a self, just an impermanent self. The fire is changing its composition and properties and takes new fuel, but there is still "a fire" which could be called an impermanent self.

The best view I have heard so far is from Bhante Punnaji who states that it is like a frequency transfer of kammic energies. Sentient being C passes away and meanwhile Sentient being D is being conceived and then at that time, the kammic tendencies or energies go to sentient being D (sort of like a tv remote control signal).

So far, at least to me, that seems to be the closest thing to describing the process while still staying true to anatta, unless anyone knows of a better explanation?

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Re: According to Classical Theravada, what is reborn?

Post by Sam Vara » Sat Jul 15, 2017 9:41 pm

aflatun wrote: I think asking "what" is the same thing as asking "who," which the Buddha seems to reject ( forgive me as I can't seem to find the sutta I'm thinking of). That's the crux of the issue for me.
Might it be this one?
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .nypo.html
"Who, O Lord, feels?"

"The question is not correct," said the Exalted One. "I do not say that 'he feels.' Had I said so, then the question 'Who feels?' would be appropriate. But since I did not speak thus, the correct way to ask the question will be 'What is the condition of feeling?' And to that the correct reply is: 'sense-impression is the condition of feeling; and feeling is the condition of craving.'"

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Re: According to Classical Theravada, what is reborn?

Post by Sam Vara » Sat Jul 15, 2017 10:12 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:
The best view I have heard so far is from Bhante Punnaji who states that is like a frequency transfer of kammic energies. Sentient being C passes away and meanwhile Sentient being D is being conceived and then at that time, the kammic tendencies or energies go to sentient being D.

So far, at least to me, that seems to be the closest thing to describing the process while still staying true to anatta, unless anyone knows of a better explanation?
I like the rather more modest interpretation of Richard Gombrich in What the Buddha Thought. He maintains the idea of personal continuity, as this is the only way of making sense of us being owners of and heirs to, etc., our individual kamma, as per binocular's post above. (In fact, he points out that Buddhism has a far stronger sense of personal continuity than the Abrahamic religions, in that it talks of an infinite series of lives, as opposed to the creation of new souls and the ending of the process outside of time...) On the other hand, he claims that anatta merely refers to the non-existence of an unchanging soul or substance. Anatta and anicca are virtually the same concept.
"All the fuss and misunderstanding can be avoided if one inserts the word 'unchanging', so that the two-word English phrases become 'no unchanging self' and 'no unchanging soul'....for the Buddha's audience, by definition the word atman/atta referred to something unchanging...Thus, there are several ways of expressing this doctrine clearly and accurately in English. One can say, for example, 'There is nothing in living beings that never changes', or 'There is no unchanging essence in living beings'..."
(WTBT, p9)
So I am reborn, heir to my kamma, etc., but the various parts of what I take myself to be - the constituents of the khandas - have only a Wittgenstinian "family resemblance" over time.

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Re: According to Classical Theravada, what is reborn?

Post by aflatun » Sat Jul 15, 2017 10:31 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
aflatun wrote: I think asking "what" is the same thing as asking "who," which the Buddha seems to reject ( forgive me as I can't seem to find the sutta I'm thinking of). That's the crux of the issue for me.
Might it be this one?
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .nypo.html
"Who, O Lord, feels?"

"The question is not correct," said the Exalted One. "I do not say that 'he feels.' Had I said so, then the question 'Who feels?' would be appropriate. But since I did not speak thus, the correct way to ask the question will be 'What is the condition of feeling?' And to that the correct reply is: 'sense-impression is the condition of feeling; and feeling is the condition of craving.'"
That is the one, thank you for that! :thumbsup:
"People often get too quick to say 'there's no self. There's no self...no self...no self.' There is self, there is focal point, its not yours. That's what not self is."

Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
Senses and the Thought-1, 42:53

"Those who create constructs about the Buddha,
Who is beyond construction and without exhaustion,
Are thereby damaged by their constructs;
They fail to see the Thus-Gone.

That which is the nature of the Thus-Gone
Is also the nature of this world.
There is no nature of the Thus-Gone.
There is no nature of the world."

Nagarjuna
MMK XXII.15-16

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Re: According to Classical Theravada, what is reborn?

Post by aflatun » Sat Jul 15, 2017 10:33 pm

binocular wrote:
aflatun wrote:Then what is definitive?
Kamma.

As the standard formulation goes:
'I am the owner of my actions (kamma), heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.'
I have no quarrel with that!

We might be talking about two different things, but I'm not sure? When you said "not definitive for its identity" with respect to the ship, I thought you mean there was something that was definitive for its identity apart from its material components, i.e. an essence. Could you clarify ? Or are you saying that kamma, or intention, is what makes an individual continuum what it is?
"People often get too quick to say 'there's no self. There's no self...no self...no self.' There is self, there is focal point, its not yours. That's what not self is."

Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
Senses and the Thought-1, 42:53

"Those who create constructs about the Buddha,
Who is beyond construction and without exhaustion,
Are thereby damaged by their constructs;
They fail to see the Thus-Gone.

That which is the nature of the Thus-Gone
Is also the nature of this world.
There is no nature of the Thus-Gone.
There is no nature of the world."

Nagarjuna
MMK XXII.15-16

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