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Lions Roar : May 2018
➢ You see, the ultimate idea of rebirth is not purely the idea of physical birth and death. Physical birth and death are very crude examples of it. Actually, rebirth takes place every moment, every instant. Every instant is death; every instant is birth. It’s a changing process: there’s nothing you can grasp onto; everything is changing. But there is some continuity, of course—the change is the continuity. — CHÖGYAM TRUNGPA RINPOCHE Reincarnation means there is a soul that goes out of your body and enters another body. That is a very popular, very wrong notion of continuation in Buddhism. If you think that there is a soul, a self, that inhabits a body, and that goes out when the body disintegrates and takes another form, that is not Buddhism. When you look into a person, you see five skandhas, or ele- ments: form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. There is no soul, no self, outside of these five, so when the five elements go to dissolution, the karma, the actions, that you have performed in your lifetime is your continuation. What you have done and thought is still there as energy. You don’t need a soul, or a self, in order to continue. It’s like a cloud. Even when the cloud is not there, it contin- ues always as snow or rain. The cloud does not need to have a soul in order to continue. There’s no beginning and no end. You don’t need to wait until the total dissolution of this body to continue—you continue in every moment. — THICH NHAT HANH I don’t believe in rebirth and yet, I don’t negate it. There is no basis to believe or negate it. What I can say for sure is, “I don’t know.” The important thing for me is to practice in this lifetime as the Buddha instructed in the Dhammapada, “To refrain from anything bad and practice everything good. Purify your mind. This is the teaching of the seven Buddhas.” If there is rebirth, it is all right, I will try to practice in the same manner. If there is no-rebirth, I don’t need to do anything after my death. So I don’t need to think about it in that case. Even if I don’t believe rebirth as a person, I don’t negate the principle of cause and result. What I am doing now will have result even after my death. —SHOHAKU OKUMURA Having looked at the traditional Buddhist account of rebirth and having reflected on some of the difficulties it presents, where does one stand? It is often felt that there are two options: one can either believe in rebirth or not believe in it. But there is a third alternative: that of agnosticism—to acknowledge in all honesty that one does not know. One does not have either to assert it or to deny it; one neither has to adopt the literal versions presented by tradition nor fall into the other extreme of believing that death is a final annihilation. This, I feel, could provide a good Buddhist middle way for approaching the issue today. — S TEPHEN BATCHELOR Simply stated, the Buddhist view is that—at the conventional level—we have all experienced thousands if not millions of rebirths in every possible realm we can imagine. Not just as humans but as animals, in the spirit realms, in higher realms and lower realms. We should remember that if we met ourselves in our last lifetime, we wouldn’t know ourselves at all. It’s not me that gets reborn. If we could see ourselves in the next lifetime, who would that be? I will be a completely different being. But that being is also thinking “me.” So we don’t have to cling too tightly to our per- sonal identity, there is just a stream of consciousness going for- ward which as long as we do believe in an “I,” it will be endless. — JETSUNMA TENZIN PALMO The Buddhist view of rebirth refutes the notion of an immor- tal soul, because it denies that there is anything unchanging in either the physical or mental aspects of phenomena. The Buddha categorized the prevalent theories of body and soul of his time into two distinct miscomprehensions. The first category comprised those that denied that the body and soul were separate—at death we become extinct, with no after or future life. The other group were those that thought body and soul were totally separate. The body is perishable, but the soul is immortal and continues to survive from one birth to another. The first group he called “nihilists” and the second group “eternalists.” Interestingly, it is a situation not dissimilar to the one we face today, with the humanist materialists, on the one hand, denying the existence of mind or consciousness and rejecting any notion of survival after individual death, and the religious traditions, on the other hand, positing a soul that sur- vives death and continues to exist in one form or another. The Buddhist position on rebirth, on the contrary, is based on the so-called middle view, which avoids these two extremes, namely, the denial of the continuation of consciousness or mind altogether, and the positing of an immutable psychic principle (atman or soul, or some other descriptor of a greater self ). According to the Buddha, both body and mind are subject to continual change, and so even at death what is transferred from one life to the next is not an unchanging psychic principle, but different psychic elements all hanging together, samskaras— memories, various impressions, and so on, none of which is unchanging in itself. — TRALEG KYABGON RINPOCHE ♦ Sources: Accesstoinsight.org; What Is Zen?; Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, Fall, 2003; The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa, Vol. VI; Lion’s Roar, January, 2012; Thezensite.com; Secular Buddhism; Teaching on 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva; Karma:What It Is, What It Isn’t, Why It Matters.