I’m a member of a couple of different internet forums on which subjects pertaining to the practice of Buddhism are discussed, often debated, and occasionally argued about. It is interesting to watch the most heated of these conversations and realize how little input I really care to have on them, but tonight I’m going to write a little about one such discussion.
One of these forums has a particular thread that is essentially a huge debate on the matter of rebirth. Some people refer to this as reincarnation (like Hinduism), but there are subtle differences to it that make it a very different thing when you really dig into it [a subject for another post, perhaps]. The thread in question has over four-thousand posts, which seems like a lot to me considering how much the idea of rebirth seems like a “core” subject in Buddhism, and lets face it, you don’t see 4000+ posts on a single thread unless there is a disagreement.
I haven’t read each post in the thread, and wouldn’t even if I felt I had the time to invest in doing so. Studying Buddhism, I’ve learned that there are a number of different viewpoints ranging from the downright secular to the outlandishly mystic and I’ve chosen to stay out of arguments that can serve no purpose but to strengthen my own attachments to views. I see those who hold all these different views as spiritual brothers and sisters and see no reason or value in arguing.
I do have views, don’t get me wrong. I have read a number of Suttas (possibly more than 300, although I imagine such a count barely scratches the surface of the total material available), not counting the various Mahayana texts I’ve also picked up along the way. Most of these are purported to have been originally uttered by the Buddha himself. If one takes it on some measure of faith that the translators aren’t idiots, the original texts aren’t terribly corrupted, and the originator can be known, a reader can extrapolate certain views from the texts.
Is rebirth a literal truth? I can’t say that for certain. I am no Arahant, nor have I seen into past lives by means of the power of meditation. The Suttas suggest to me that the Buddha recalled his past lives and could discern the next existence (if applicable) of those who passed on from this world. I take it on faith that these are not fabricated events just as much as a Christian must have faith that Jesus was the son of God and not a just a random charismatic with a god-complex. I do, however, take things from a fairly literal angle in most cases.
This means I tend to not read between the lines too much nor do I re-interpret something very well when the words spoken (or printed, in this case) are not particularly ambiguous in and of themselves. I’ve never really been good with comprehending sarcasm either, but I digress…
So while I choose to not make a huge arguement about it, I do take the Suttas at their word and make the presumption that, unless the streams of craving, delusion, hatred, etc. are completely interrupted, severed and ended permanently, one may indeed in some capacity face numerous lifetimes imbued with varying degrees of happiness and suffering, completely unsatisfactory and transient.
As much as I wish I knew for certain what happened at the dissolution of the body, for now I simply have to go with what resonates with me the most and acknowledge that I do not have direct personal knowledge either way. The teachings I have absorbed and applied to my life (with even limited success) have yielded a much calmer, more satisfying life for me here and now. I don’t need to have a firm determination that rebirth is meant literally, figuratively, both literally and figuratively, or neither literally nor figuratively, and neither do the writers of those thousands of posts on the forum.
May you be well, may you be free from dispute and disharmony, may you be at peace, my friends. I will write again soon.