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In the article entitled A Secular Evaluation of Rebirth, Doug Smith, of the Secular Buddhist Association, wrote:

It is for reasons such as these that any contemporary, scientifically informed Buddhist practice should reject belief in rebirth and its associated kammic causation. The Path is rich enough without them.

It appears that many Secular Buddhists do not accept rebirth, while almost all other Buddhists do.

In the essay entitled Dhamma Without Rebirth?, well-known Tripitaka translator and scholar Ven. Bodhi conveyed the mainstream view of the Buddhist world:

If we suspend our own predilections for the moment and instead go directly to our sources, we come upon the indisputable fact that the Buddha himself taught rebirth and taught it as a basic tenet of his teaching. Viewed in their totality, the Buddha's discourses show us that far from being a mere concession to the outlook prevalent in his time or an Asiatic cultural contrivance, the doctrine of rebirth has tremendous implications for the entire course of Dhamma practice, affecting both the aim with which the practice is taken up and the motivation with which it is followed through to completion.

If someone considers himself a Buddhist, we can assume that he accepts the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. I guess this should apply to Secular Buddhists as well.

If there is no such thing as rebirth (or continuation of the stream of consciousness or mind after death, in a new life), then there is no need to end suffering by ending craving (third noble truth), through following the Noble Eightfold Path (fourth noble truth). Instead, it's much easier to commit suicide, or simply wait for natural death. After all, if there is no rebirth, then at death, all suffering would end anyway, right?

So, based on this, how do Secular Buddhists justify their acceptance of the Four Noble Truths and the Buddha's teachings in general, if they reject rebirth? How would the Four Noble Truths and Nibbana have any meaning or usefulness for them? Why would they choose to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, if death is a much simpler way to end suffering?

marked as duplicate by ChrisW Sep 14 '17 at 0:25

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    @ChrisW I disagree that this is a duplicate. This question asks how to justify the Four Noble Truth... up to the 8F Path, not just about suicide. The linked "Secular Buddhism and Suicide" post addresses part of the topic, if not completely lacking the depth and riches of the referred articles in this post. The OP clearly stated ...simply wait for natural death also a valid way, not just suicide. I suggest to give that top linked as "related topic". – Mishu 米殊 Sep 14 '17 at 4:18
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    @ChrisW I also disagree that it's a duplicate because if the part on suicide is removed, the rest of the question is still valid and asks a previously unasked question – ruben2020 Sep 14 '17 at 7:48
  • This question seems to me to be, "If you don't believe in rebirth, why bother with the 4NT, because instead of the 4NT you can end suffering by suicide?" ... and I think that is a duplicate. What is left in the question if the part on suicide is removed? If you remove "suicide" as an option, then the question is "Why does a secular Buddhist follow the 4NT?" – ChrisW Sep 14 '17 at 8:55
  • @ChrisW Yes. The question is about why does a secular Buddhist follow the 4NT, if at death, all sufferings would end (due to no rebirth)? – ruben2020 Sep 14 '17 at 14:25
  • I still don't understand what you're asking ... unless you're asking about suicide, what does death or rebirth have to do with anything? People follow the 4NT when/while they're alive. Also if they don't follow the 4NT then perhaps they wouldn't be considered secular Buddhists (so "Buddhists follow the 4NT because that's the definition of a Buddhist"). Also the question you're suggesting might be a "polling question" i.e. "If you're a secular Buddhist (or even just agnostic about rebirth) why do you follow the 4NT?" – ChrisW Sep 14 '17 at 14:38
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  1. Anti-rebirthist = ucchedadiṭṭhi = one extreme.
  2. Rebirth-lover = sassatadiṭṭhi = another extreme.
  3. Profit-follower = eightfold path = middle way.

1st and 2nd see brahmajālasutta.

3rd see dhammacakkappavaḍḍhanasutta. (I am in plan to re-translate this sutta, but I can't not done it now. So if something wrong, I am sorry. I can't not check it deeply now, because my english still not good enough.)

"There are these two extremes that are not to be indulged in by one who has gone forth. Which two? That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects: base, vulgar, common, ignoble, unprofitable; and that which is devoted to self-affliction: painful, ignoble, unprofitable. Avoiding both of these extremes, the middle way realized by the Tathagata — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.

"And what is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding? Precisely this Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right contemplate, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.

What is profit?

6 profit: self profit, the others' profit, public's profit (common interest), this life's profit, next life's profit, and nibbāna-profit. (pali for search: attattha, parattha, attaparattha, ditthadhammika, samparāyika, and paramattha.)

Self profit, the others' profit, and public's profit (common interest) are done together by sati.

"Because of what I have said here, monks, you should train yourselves such that the gifts of those whose requisites we use — the robes, alms-bowl, chair, bed, and medicine as a support when sick — will have great fruits, great merits [for the people who give them], and our going forth will not be in vain, will be fruitful, will have a result. Thus should you train yourselves, thoroughly seeing that for your own benefit, monks, it is right to strive with heedfulness; thoroughly seeing that for the benefit of others, monks, it is right to strive with heedfulness; and thoroughly seeing that for the benefit of both, monks, it is right to strive with heedfulness."

This life's profit and next life's profit are done together by sati (appamāda). So, person who do just this life's profit or next life profit is pamāda person. see:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn03/sn03.017.than.html

Nibbāna profit can be accessed by practitioner after he perfect finished to meditate magga. And that magga can start to meditate after sīla is done.

SN 45.149 Just as, bhikkhus, whatever actions are to be performed with strength are all performed on dependence on the earth, supported by the earth; in the same way, bhikkhus, it is on dependence on virtue, supported by virtue, that a bhikkhu develops the noble eightfold path (magga), that he cultivates the noble eightfold path.

Above sīla give this life's profit and next life. See (1st-4th are this life's profit, 5th is next life's profit):

Mahāparinibbānasutta 24. "Five blessings, householders, accrue to the righteous man through his practice of virtue: great increase of wealth through his diligence; a favorable reputation; a confident deportment, without timidity, in every society, be it that of nobles, brahmans, householders, or ascetics; a serene death; and, at the breaking up of the body after death, rebirth in a happy state, in a heavenly world."

So, anti-rebirthist & rebirth-lover are pamādo (person who has not meditating mindfulness).

That is one of many reasons that why I, who have never seen any ghost or any spirit, am not deny next life.

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"So, based on this, how do Secular Buddhists justify their acceptance of the Four Noble Truths and the Buddha's teachings in general, if they reject rebirth? How would the Four Noble Truths and Nibbana have any meaning or usefulness for them? Why would they choose to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, if death is a much simpler way to end suffering?"

You should give this question to the author of the article.

From the article it seems like the author has the belief that rebirth does not exist because there is no evidence for it. If he has such a belief, then his belief is no different than the belief that rebirth exists. In fact, both beliefs are mostly based on "lack of evidence":

The author, due to lack of evidence, believes "there is no rebirth". The religious, due to lack of evidence, believes "there is rebirth". Both are believers. Thus, both have their own religions.

Not only that I don't have a belief in rebirth, but I KNOW that rebirth is true. I was and I am a big skeptic and an agnostic (if I have no proof of something, I neither reject it nor accept it ... I leave it open, but need STRONG proof and evidence before I accept something as true). Nonetheless, regarding spirituality, I was more an atheist then an agnostic. I thought that spiritual and religious beliefs are all made up. I've never read any suttas, nor religious texts, nor books about spirituality, nothing. Never been in the church, nor practiced any religion or spiritual belief nor knew much about them. I was a total skeptic, almost atheist, and gave ZERO attention to spirituality, past lives, God, and similar. During the period when I meditated, I refrained from reading any suttas, religious texts, books about spirituality and similar. I didn't want it to somehow influence my findings and most importantly, if I knew or read about the teachings of the Buddha and similar before attaining my own realizations, how would I know that what I've realized was not just my own imagination under the influence of some teaching, belief, idea, that I've read in some sutta or book about spirituality or religion?? That's why I refrained from reading anything at all. It was only when I got answers to all my questions, that I started to read about God and compared my realizations to what was written in the old texts. I read the Bible and it all made perfect sense to me, but I couldn't 100 % accurately connect it with my own realizations because the texts contained symbolic words and/or stories (example is God which I understood as nonself; heaven which I understood as Nibanna; Satan which I understood as self; hell which I understood as lower realms; "Believe in God and he'll forgive you all your sins" which I understood as "realize nonself and you'll be free from suffering"; the story of Adam and Eve which I understood as volitional activities and thus the birth of self; and similar). It was only when I found Buddhist suttas that everything was written exactly as it is ... no symbolic words nor symbolic stories ... just pure truth. You just can't come closer to the truth in writing.

My message to you is don't accept nor reject anything.

Find a way to TOTALLY calm your mind and observe. Then ask yourself questions. Who am I? How my mind works? Why do I hear sounds through my ears? Is it sound or is it just sound waves vibrating my ear membrane giving raise to sensation in my mind/body, giving raise to thoughts that sound like sound? Why does a thought arise? What's its cause? What is pain? Why does it arise? What is memory? What is remembering? What is time? Just ask questions. Do tests. Do experiments. Be curious. All the answers are in meditation.

  • Just a little ontological comment (no vote): you write that you KNOW (I don't dispute that you do). But you don't write why you KNOW. That makes the answer kind of incomplete. Of course, it will still be a subjective account, but nonetheless interesting after your "buildup". :) – AnoE Sep 13 '17 at 20:49
  • I think that this doesn't answer the question at all, which was, "given that secular Buddhists don't believe in rebirth, why do they accept the 4NT and why do they not end suffering by suicide?" – ChrisW Sep 13 '17 at 21:47
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    @AnoE With a clear and calm mind one must realize anatta. Once anatta is realized, he should study atta. Once atta is realized, he should study volitional activities of the mind as these build atta. Once volitional activities are entirely known, he should search for their cause. The cause is ignorance: volitional activities due to the "want" to liberate from suffering, not knowing that this same activities actually build atta... not knowing that atta is impermanent ... thus creates this whole mass of suffering.The cause is volitional activities arising due to ignorance. Not knowing all this. – beginner Sep 13 '17 at 22:24
  • I upvote this answer! If I'm the OP, will choose this the correct answer. The most sound and logical agrument is paragraph 3 & 4, that answered perfectly the question of the dispute on rebirth: ...rebirth does not exist because there is no evidence for it. If he has such a belief, then his belief is no different than the belief that rebirth exists. In fact, both beliefs are mostly based on "lack of evidence"... The author...**Both are believers. Thus, both have their own religions.** Full of wisdom the (bolded) words. Definitely you are authentic meditator! Wisdom from med. Buddha teaches. – Mishu 米殊 Sep 14 '17 at 2:20
  • This post is very inspiring to read, I appreciate and learnt, thanks. But your comment has mistake, the talk on Anatta > Atta > volition > ignorance. I think your understanding tainted due to the word volition, it's an alien I think because the Sutta translators were coming from background of Biblical doctrine "free will" that's why. So is Ignorance not really a correct term to 無明... another hinderance to Buddha's authentic teaching... – Mishu 米殊 Sep 14 '17 at 2:27
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One can water down the karma and rebirth doctrines without giving them up entirely. One example, which I fierce believe, is that there is rebirth, and there is karma, but that our rebirth does not experience our karma. This completely allows a non trivial liberation, from both karma and rebirth.

With the complete denial of both, yes, I agree, the end to rebirth and the end to karma is just not any sort of goal. Though the secular Buddhist may well think of nirvana in alternative terms. They may consider it e.g. the perfection of personality or character, one in which suicide is forbidden.

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