Peter wrote:pink_trike wrote:That's a lot of metaphor...
...which might support the idea that the references to a literally-described rebirth may actually be describing possible mind-states *like* being reborn as an animal, or "as if" being reborn. etc...
Except we can see the Buddha wasn't that subtle about his metaphors. When he was making a metaphor he said so, plainly and unambiguously. The fact that the suttas are so full of deliberate metaphors coupled with the fact that not even once is rebirth presented as a metaphor seems to me pretty good evidence that rebirth was not intended to be taken as a metaphor.Over time, cultural amnesia may have resulted in people only being able to see the container and forgetting what was being contained. It's worth considering.
Again, you are assuming a very large conspiracy over many thousands of people, dozens of countries, and a number of languages. Which is more likely? This large conspiracy? Or one person letting their dislike of a teaching, their societal influenced materialism, cloud their thinking and cause them to make up wild and unsupported excuses as to why they refuse to accept this teaching?
I appreciate your concern about wanting to defend the centrality of the rebirth doctrine. It is certainly something that is an important part of the dhamma and contemporary Buddhists shouldn't dismiss it too easily. I am not well-versed in the suttas (I have only really read the ones pertaining to my formal practice over and over again, although I plan to read more eventually), so I can't talk about the different ways in which rebirth is portrayed in the suttas. But I agree with you that the the Buddha often used rhetorical strategies that are explicitly metaphoric.
However, to play the devil's advocate, I would say that as long as we rely on language (and I don't see how we can break free of language easily, although this is certainly a goal), it is impossible to separate metaphor from thought and experience. In other words, to the extent that language produces and shapes our experience, we cannot step outside the workings of metaphor because metaphor is built into language. And it is not possible to demarcate when language stops working metaphorically.
I'm not simply engaging in a clever play of words. To give some crude examples: We all understand that TIME IS VALUABLE. So this understanding shapes how we behave and it manifests in expressions such as:
- You're wasting my time.
- This gadget will save you hours. I don't have the time to give you.
- How do you spend your time these days? That flat tire cost me an hour.
- I've invested a lot of time in her.
- I don't have enough time to spare for that.You're running out of time.
- You need to budget your time.
- Put aside some time for meditation.
- Is that worth your while?
- Do you have much time left?
- He's living on I borrowed time.
- Meditate! Do not think you have time!
- The flow of mindfulness from moment to moment.
In fact, even in your post you cannot but seek recourse in metaphor to make your point. For example, you wrote: 'Or one person letting their dislike of a teaching, their societal influenced materialism, cloud their thinking and cause them to make up wild and unsupported excuses as to why they refuse to accept this teaching?' (Even I am relying on many metaphors in this post).
Again, let me say that I really appreciate you raising a cautionary note against rebirth deniers. The warnings you raise are important ones, and I certainly do not have the expertise to make the same kind of warnings. But what I'm suggesting here is merely that metaphoricity is an inherent part of our thought process and hence, our experience. It seems to me that when the Buddha decided against his initial hesitation to teach, he realised that he had to step back into the mundane world, which is the world of language. The workings of metaphor is evident in the very first words he spoke: When he gave the sermon on the Four Noble Truths, the emptiness of the dhamma entered and took form in the world of language and metaphor. It is after called the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.
IMO, it is therefore not possible to dictate or prevent rebirth from being understood metaphorically. The challenge, of course, is how such metaphorical understanding of rebirth stay in accord with fundamental Buddhist ideals. And this is why constant reminders from people such as yourself are helpful.