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Some Secular Buddhists and some members of Buddhism.SE do not accept that "Rebirth has always been a central teaching in the Buddhist tradition" (according to Thanissaro Bhikkhu in this essay). They usually interpret this as something else, e.g. rebirth in the animal realm, as momentary animalistic states of mind etc.

In my view, the DN2 excerpt below, provides an irrefutable statement by the Buddha on the fact of rebirth.

A very similar statement can be found in MN4, MN36, MN19, MN119, SN12.70, SN51.20, AN9.35, AN5.28, AN3.100(xi-xv), DN1, DN12 and KN (Iti 3.50). This statement can be found in all the five nikayas. MN36 is said to be one of the earliest suttas by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Questions:

  1. How could this be interpreted in any other way?
  2. Or do Secular Buddhists doubt the accuracy of the translation of this sutta and all the other referenced suttas?
  3. Or do Secular Buddhists doubt the authenticity of this sutta and all the other referenced suttas?

"With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives (lit: previous homes). He recollects his manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two births, three births, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred, one thousand, one hundred thousand, many aeons of cosmic contraction, many aeons of cosmic expansion, many aeons of cosmic contraction and expansion, [recollecting], 'There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.' Thus he recollects his manifold past lives in their modes and details.

Just as if a man were to go from his home village to another village, and then from that village to yet another village, and then from that village back to his home village. The thought would occur to him, 'I went from my home village to that village over there. There I stood in such a way, sat in such a way, talked in such a way, and remained silent in such a way. From that village I went to that village over there, and there I stood in such a way, sat in such a way, talked in such a way, and remained silent in such a way. From that village I came back home.' In the same way — with his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability — the monk directs and inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives. He recollects his manifold past lives... in their modes and details.

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In response to the comment of Ilya Grushevskiy

Rebirth has everything to do with the Buddhist soteriology because if it weren't for rebirth suffering could have been easily ended at natural death or at any moment "in the here and now" with suicide, and the entire teaching if the Buddha would be pointless and vain.

But it is because of rebirth that beings need a method of salvaging themselves from suffering, propagation of which was the purpose of the Buddha's ministry.

It is exactly because of rebirth that liberation must be attained here and now, otherwise next birth follows.

The stock phrases are not to be dismissed, it's agreed that they actually constitute the core of the Dhamma. Besides these stock phrases there're many suttas which deal with destinations for next existence based on the behavior in the current life.

Secular Buddhism is a cherry picking Buddhism, its proponents only select what conveniently fits in with their preconceptions rooted in Western rationalism, discarding the rest as 'superstitious'. They don't seem concerned with samsara and ultimate predicament of existence, they're happy enough to alleviate some suffering in this life using the Dhamma as a psychotechnic. But this is not exactly the gist of the Buddha's teaching.

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    It doesn't because the normal human being wants to end suffering but not kill themself. The answer is terrible. Any answer that mentions suicide as a method to end suffering is terrible. Some Buddhism forums forbid & delete answers like this. – Dhammadhatu Oct 3 '17 at 9:48
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    yes i know, mention, mere mention, to the exclusion of the actual context thereof, of suicide has become taboo in the radical left wing circles and by extension in the Western Buddhist discourse because of popularity Buddhism enjoys amongst left wingers, but i'm not ideologically indoctrinated, i'm a sane, sober and open minded person, imagine if there were taboos on topics of discussion for the Buddha, we would have never had the Dhamma – Баян Купи-ка Oct 3 '17 at 19:24
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    of course it is ridiculous, that's exactly why i build my argument upon it to drive home the importance of the concept of rebirth... Dhammadhatu aren't you Deelee in another web incarnation? – Баян Купи-ка Oct 3 '17 at 19:32
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    Rebirth is not important. Only puthujjana who crave for rebirth assert it is important. When a mediator tastes Nibbana in the here-&-now, the meditator bows down to the Buddhas & to the Dhamma is complete gratitude. – Dhammadhatu Oct 3 '17 at 19:35
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    it depends on how one looks at it, i don't think the idea of rebirth should discourage a person from striving for Nibbana, because rebirth means continuation of suffering, this understanding must go hand in hand with the insight into the non-self, it obviously is not there to serve the purpose of perpetuation of self-view, the realization is comprised of multiple elements, it's complex – Баян Купи-ка Oct 3 '17 at 19:39
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If we interpret any of Gotama's words straightly, then we miss (we leave out) any context, any background.

For pure understanding we need to:

  1. understand the level and paradigm of asker, auditory culture, background model (brahmanic, upanishadic, samanic, dravidic... et cetera).

  2. have understanding about ancient simple Language - they has no words and sciences, has no language for modeling modern texts with modern meanings. What is the meaning of "my", "his life" not in that context but in Dhamma language?

If he says "Me", does he talk about Soul? :) Rupa dhammas? No. Vedana? Sanna? They are gone with death.

Vinnana is clear, and has no memory without sanna and vedana.

He told about new-generated nama-rupa (puggala, manussa), whose non-mindful vinnana was craving to some kamma by moha → contact phenomena → sankhara; and stupid person are mixing past Vipaka with his own "oh, it is my kamma, my fate, my destiny" ... and catch and prolong vipaka as "kamma in his life" by behavior. So, by this way, any catching kamma from past come to real life of present person by the mind about "My". And person are produce new kamma to the world, into the future.

So, by dhamma, abhidhamma: any kamma - anatta, an-atta. Only non-emancipated people are catching vipaka of kamma. So, Arahants cut the craving by wisdom, cut the belts of stupidness and didn't catch any kamma-vipaka anymore. This is the way to Arahantship.

You bunch affection in the head, you cut affection in the head. All in the mind, not in "external reality in time". Mano-settha, mano-maya. Stupid are bunching "me+some kamma", student are practicing non-bound empathy to any kamma-makers in the world (without any "me" or "not me"), wiseman see internal sankharas (kamma and this kamma-makers in past), arahant cut it. Every step in the head.

But in your citation, buddha teach about one kind of practice. In phrase it looks similar to Anapanasati sutta, Satipatthana sutta and many others, where he gave us methodology teachings: "he directs and inclines..." "He recollects..." - very similar to Metta and Brahmavihara style.

  • In summary I think you're saying it's "skillful means", i.e. expressing a concept in a way which the audience will understand. – ChrisW Oct 2 '17 at 23:18
  • Oh yeah, your saying "understand the Buddha's audience" because that effects what the Buddha is going to say about rebirth? I see you were recently reborn to a Buddhist forum, Welcome :) – Lowbrow Oct 2 '17 at 23:29
  • buddha never use the "rebirth" word. becoming, generating, new generation, next generation, but not vedic "rebirth". ;) – M April Oct 3 '17 at 3:30
  • But until a normal person reaches that level of understanding and wisdom, all you say is meaningless to him. That is why there is a gradual training. – user4878 Oct 3 '17 at 19:12
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The so called "Secular Buddhists" have their own religion consisting of their own fixed beliefs. One of those fixed beliefs is the belief that there is no life after death. Their typical game is to hijack the Buddhist Suttas to give their own interpretations to somehow map the wording to their fixed secular beliefs. If any Sutta proves too difficult to achieve that purpose, they call them later additions or not the word of the Buddha. So in reality they actually take refuge in their materialist/nihilistic views, not in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.

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Buddhism has the Triple Refuge, for which the Dhamma as refuge was declared by the Lord Buddha as follows:

Svākkhāto bhagavatā dhammo sandiṭṭhiko akāliko ehipassiko opaneyyiko paccattaṃ veditabbo viññūhītiviññū: wise.

The Dhamma is well expounded by the Blessed One, directly visible, immediate, inviting one to come and see, applicable, to be personally experienced by the wise.

Since the Dhamma is said to be visible here-&-now, a Buddhist of proper faith takes this as this standard & inspects the teachings according to this standard. To choose blind faith over this standard is to destroy enlightenment & the purpose of Buddhism. For example, about Dependent Origination, MN 38 states:

Do you speak only of what you have known, seen, and understood for yourselves? — “Yes, venerable sir.” - “Good, bhikkhus. So you have been guided by me with this Dhamma, which is visible here and now, immediately effective, inviting inspection, onward leading, to be experienced by the wise for themselves. For it was with reference to this that it has been said: ‘Bhikkhus, this Dhamma is visible here and now, immediately effective, inviting inspection, onward leading, to be experienced by the wise for themselves.’ MN 38


With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives (lit: previous homes).

The above translation is admitted by the translator to be false, because they include "lit: previous homes" in the translation.

The clear & straightforward meaning of this teaching is found in SN 22.79 Khajjaniya Sutta & Haliddakani Sutta. It does not mean reincarnation. The question is answered & finished.


Imo, translators, such as Bhikkhu Bodhi & Thanissaro, who translates "pubbe nivasa" as "past lives" slander the Tathagata because they each have, on certain occasions, translated "pubbe nivasa" correctly in certain places as "abodes" & "homes"; therefore they have demonstrated knowing the exact meaning of "pubbe nivasa".


He recollects... one birth, two births, three births, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred, one thousand, one hundred thousand,

The word "jati" ("birth") is clearly defined in the suttas (eg. SN 12.2) to be the production of "beings" ("satta"). The word "satta" ("a being") is defined in SN 23.3 and SN 5.10 to be "clinging" and "a view".

"Birth" does not mean past & future lives. When the Buddha recollected his previous births, as explained in SN 22.79, the Buddha recollected when the mind, in the past, ignorantly clung to one or more of the aggregates as "self".



Just as if a man were to go from his home village to another village, and then from that village to yet another village, and then from that village back to his home village. The thought would occur to him, 'I went from my home village to that village over there. There I stood in such a way, sat in such a way, talked in such a way, and remained silent in such a way. From that village I went to that village over there, and there I stood in such a way, sat in such a way, talked in such a way, and remained silent in such a way. From that village I came back home.' In the same way — with his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability — the monk directs and inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past abodes. He recollects his manifold past abodes ... in their modes and details.

The analogy above shows the teaching is not about reincarnation because the man in the analogy "returns home". Thus, the analogy shows there is a "home village", such as the primal ignorant mind, from which the mind creates ideas about self via the process of becoming & unbecoming.

  • And "cosmic aeons"? – ChrisW Oct 3 '17 at 0:33
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    These are translations Chris. Refuting birth & lives is enough to show the true meaning & to show the materialistic interpretations are false. Each dhamma has a here & now meaning, such as "nutriment/food (SN 12.63)" a and "name & clan" (SN 22.22). The word "kappa" does not always mean "eon" but simply "period of time". – Dhammadhatu Oct 3 '17 at 0:39
  • Chris. If you ask yourself the question: "What does the phrase many aeons of cosmic expansion mean?", you might realise how stupid the translation is. – Dhammadhatu Oct 3 '17 at 0:58
  • "many aeons of cosmic expansion... "anekepi saṃvaṭṭakappe"... saṃvaṭṭa = rolling or cycling forward; kappe = cycle/period of time; anekepi = many. To understanding the meaning of "cycling" (vatta), refer to SN 22.99 accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.099.than.html – Dhammadhatu Oct 3 '17 at 1:03
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    the Buddha is known to have said he doesn't have a closed fist neither some esoteric teaching, so why would he speak in riddles? and to be sure he didn't, in the suttas he often would unpack similes right after having used them, and where there's no direct explanation there his words must be understood literally unless there's reasonable evidence to the contrary... rebirth it seems was a running concept in his environment, and he could redefine it as he had done with other brahmanic concepts, but for rebirth there's no evidence of that – Баян Купи-ка Oct 3 '17 at 20:10
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AN 4.121 Attanu­vada ­sutta explains how one may refrain from an impulse to perform a harmful action by considering the associated danger:

Bhikkhus, there are these four [motivating] fears (/threats). What four?

Fear of blame from the self, fear of blame from others, fear of punishment, and fear of bad rebirth (duggatibhayam, lit. threat of misery).

  1. Bhikkhus, what is [motivating] fear of blame from the self?

Here, bhikkhus, someone reflects thus - If I were to misconduct by body, words or mind, won't I blame myself for those actions? He, frightened of blame from the self, dispels [the impulse for] misconduct and develops right conduct.

  1. Bhikkhus, what is [motivating] fear of blame from others?

Here, bhikkhus, someone reflects thus - If I were to misconduct by body, words or mind, won't others censor me for those actions? He, frigthtened of blame from others, dispels [the impulse for] misconduct and develops right conduct.

  1. Bhikkhus, what is [motivating] fear of punishment?

Here, bhikkhus, someone sees the king punishing a highwayman or a robber in various ways such as whipping, beating with the, jungle rope, poisoned stick. Cutting hands, cutting feet, cutting hands and feet. Cutting the ears, cutting the nose, cutting ears and nose. Putting in the gruel pot, giving the shell tonsure, putting in Rahu's mouth, garlanding with a flaming garland, burning the hands with a torch, beating until the body is like straw, making to behave like an antelope, hooking the flesh, cutting squares out of flesh, burning in an alkaline solution, driving a spike from ear to ear to turn, making like a straw foot stool, sprinkling boiling oil on the body, giving to the dogs to be eaten, raising on a pole until death and also cutting the neck. Then it occurs to him the king punishes the highwayman or the robber in various ways for his evil actions and if I do evil actions the same will be done to me, such as whipping ... and also cutting the neck. So he does not rob, fearing punishment from the king. This is called fear of punishment.

  1. Bhikkhus, what is [motivating] fear of bad rebirth (misery)?

Here, bhikkhus, someone reflects thus: Bodily misbehaviour leads to bad hereafter, verbal misbehaviour leads to bad hereafter, and mental misbehaviour leads to bad hereafter. If I misbehave by body, words or mind, I too after death will go to misery, to hell, to a bad state and thinking thus he dispels [the impulse for] misconduct and develops right conduct.

The function of rebirth is to serve as a motivating factor. The name of the sutta is Attanu­vada, "the doctrine of self".

  • how are you with Dhammadhatu when in your comment you agree with me on rebirth being a motivaton? – Баян Купи-ка Oct 4 '17 at 10:18
  • An illusion can still perform a motivating function ;) – Andrei Volkov Oct 4 '17 at 14:16
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It's a stock answer that appears here and there, seemingly in its current form to help pass the old oral tradition. Rebirth, in that it deals with the mostly 'not here and not now', has little to do with ending stress/suffering in the 'here and now'. It's not that it is inaccurate, nor that it is Essentialist. AN 4.77 https://suttacentral.net/en/an4.77, in stating that the full results of Kamma are unconjecturable (undecipherable?), imples that rebirth is the same, as the two are intrinsically linked. I've always had issues with remembering past lives because again, they are not me, they are not mine. (within the Pali canon too, given MN27, proof requires direct experience, not scriptural evidence)

protected by Andrei Volkov Oct 3 '17 at 21:37

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