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Lions Roar : May 2018
REBIRTH HAS ALWAYS BEEN a cen- tral teaching in the Buddhist tradition. The earliest records in the Pali Canon indicate that the Buddha, prior to his awakening, searched for a happiness not subject to the vagaries of repeated birth, aging, illness, and death. One of the reasons he left his early teachers was because he recognized that their teach- ings led, not to the goal he sought, but to rebirth on a refined level. On the night of his awakening, two of the three knowledges leading to his release from suffering focused on the topic of rebirth. The first showed his own many previous lives; the second, depicting the general pattern of beings dying and being reborn throughout the cosmos, showed the connection between rebirth and karma, or action. When he did finally attain release from suffering, he recognized that he had achieved his goal because he had touched a dimension that not only was free from birth, but also had freed him from ever being reborn again. After he had attained release, his new-found freedom from rebirth was the first realization that occurred spontaneously to his mind. — THANISSARO BHIKKHU What is it that gets reborn? The classical metaphor is of an acorn. An acorn becomes an oak tree. When the oak tree is here, the acorn is not, and no part of the acorn can be found in the oak tree. One simply has succeeded the other, just as one moment and one life succeeds the previous moment or life. For me, the most important thing about the teaching of rebirth—the part that seems true and that matters a great deal—is that life continues. That is, there is more to our lives than the little span of time between birth and death. The teaching of rebirth tells us that our life and death are signifi- cant beyond their appearances, more significant than we know. Being born is important. Dying is important. Death is defi- nitely a hugely important transition, at least as huge as birth. Every moment of life is an important transition. For me, this is what the teaching of rebirth comes down to. —ZOKETSU NORMAN FISCHER The process of rebirth is conditioned by mental factors that have been cul- tivated, either consciously or uncon- sciously. These qualities of mind, such as desire, generosity, anger, and loving- kindness, then condition the energy and form of the next birth. We can see this process of condition- ing at work in this life without neces- sarily believing in rebirth. If we are mindful and pay careful attention to our lives in the here and now, we can see the power of past conditioning and how it shapes our experience in the present moment. Understanding the limits and burdens of conditioning can inspire us to practice toward realizing inner freedom and the unconditioned in this very lifetime. — NAR AYAN HELEN LIEBENSEN From the point of view of anatman [non-self], nothing reincar- nates. It is more of a rebirth process rather than reincarnation. The idea of reincarnation is that a solid, living quality is being passed on to the next being. It is the idea of some solid sub- stance being passed on. But in this case, it’s more of a rebirth. You see, something continues, but at the same time, nothing continues. In a sense we’re like a running stream. You could say, such and such a river, such and such a stream. It has a name, but if you examine it carefully, that river you named three hun- dred years ago isn’t there at all; it is completely different, chang- ing, passing all the time. It is transforming from one aspect to another. That complete transformation makes it possible to take rebirth. If one thing continued all the time there would be no possibilities for taking rebirth and evolving into another situ- ation. It is the change which is important in terms of rebirth, rather than one thing continuing. ➢ Just More of the Same Moment to moment, lifetime to lifetime—death and rebirth are happening all the time. Nine leading Buddhist teachers explain the concept of rebirth—and why it’s not the same as reincarnation. PHOTO©MOHAMADITANI/TREVILLIONIMAGES LION’S ROAR | MAY 2018 47