Now this is often raised whenever a monk teaches and talks about the five precepts. They often say that these are not, like in the judeo christian faith, commandments and that no higher entity or something will punish one. Now to my question: These monks belief in post mortem rebirth (I do not) and they therefore employ wrong speech regarding the aspect of punishment. One is getting punished (hell realm etc.) if one is not in line with the precepts (based on their view on post mortem rebirth).

Can anyone explain this phenomena?

  • If you fall when you jump off the window, is it punishment? – Tenzin Dorje Mar 30 '18 at 17:44
  • Can you please answer my question? – Val Mar 30 '18 at 17:45
  • Can you please clarify the contradiction – Andrei Volkov Mar 30 '18 at 19:39
  • Gee. If they say that in Buddhism there is no punishment (like in the monotheistic religions) but in the same time they belief and teach rebirth, then there is punishment and therefore they are contradicting themselves that no punishment follows. It's not an entity that causes the punishment, but nonetheless punishment. Can you follow now? – Val Mar 31 '18 at 2:57

Although I was not present, it sounds like the monks were not referring to "punishment" in the sense of being "punished for sins" by some divine arbitrator. Instead, the fruits of karma (cause and effect) ripen and cause what we name a "rebirth" in a higher, lower, or equal realm. In the Buddhist tradition, anything that is not a human rebirth is perceived as not desirable as the human experience is the one most able to approach enlightenment.

Since the fruits of karma come about from one's own actions, it would be self-inflicted "punishment" - perhaps not the best choice of words but not wholly inaccurate. Is it punishment if you fall to your death after jumping off a cliff? We might say it is gravity "punishing" an individual in such a situation - such is the verbiage here. In Buddhism, it is up to you to experience your own karma. Nobody judges you for it or can change it for you, but karma will allow you suffer the consequences of your decisions.

Interestingly enough, the Buddha contradicted himself on a number occasions depending on the crowd he was speaking to. This was due to the skillful use of words to explain something to his listeners in a way that they could understand. Have you thought that perhaps the monks in this case were employing skillfulness in a similar manner to describe these things in such a way that it would cause you to wrestle with these concepts?

As an aside, it sounds like the real problem may be with the question of rebirth and a desire to object to any language centered around it. If indeed rebirth existed, then would you still have an issue? There are a number of highly realized individuals throughout history that have claimed either experience or insight into other planes of experience.

That said, I have wrestled with the concept of rebirth in the past and can't say that I have solved it but I would put forth a few thoughts:

  1. The base (most subtle in Buddhist terms) awareness we experience seems to be the exact same awareness that animals and even insects experience. I am not talking about intellect or cognitive abilities but the simplest base sense of "experiencing the world around us". Personally, meditation on this concept has helped.

  2. "Hells", "Heavens", and the like could simply be states of mind. In some ways, we are born, live, and die moment to moment as each moment causes the next, and a bad mindstate in any given moment could indeed be considered "hellish".

  3. Modern neuroscience has not been able to pin down if human experience is indeed purely physical or if it is perceived by the brain. I have corresponded with numerous neuroscientists on Quora and have found a consensus that this is still the elephant in the room. Sure, we can see how the brain uses nerves to send a signal to my fingers to tap the keys on my keyboard. But the actual experience that decides to initiate the tapping? That is still elusive.

  4. Modern quantum physics involves reality coming into being when there is an observer. Perhaps our experience is the observer when a quantum wave collapses? If so, it is independent of the physical universe it observes. (On yet another side note, the overlap between Buddhism theory of mind and quantum physics is a fascinating study)

And so on, I could keep going, but I think you can see there is much more here than a simple materialist approach can resolve.

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It would be wrong view not wrong speech if in fact they were wrong.

Karma is not punishment it is cause and effect.

There is no "post mortem", there is no death. All that there is is moment by moment awareness of mindbody experience.

Also, you are forgetting that there is faith in Buddhism. It's an important faculty that needs to be balanced with wisdom.

All the proof is found inside us, moment by moment. Nobody else can see this proof so those who's religion is science can't understand the concept of ineffable proof. If they can't go after the proof with tools in a laboratory then they believe this proof can't be real. The laboratory is the mind and why does proof need more than one person?

So, it's not wrong speech for one to speak as though one believes in things that are wrong, it's wrong view but who says? Believing someone has wrong view or wrong anything, is a view, wrong view. All views and any views are **wrong views*_, ultimately.

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  • My view, my opinion in a way is right view but in another way any view is wrong view...because a view or opinion that is made up of words is not experienced directly. Words and concepts are not exactly real. – Lowbrow Mar 30 '18 at 18:41
  • "There is no "post mortem", there is no death. All that there is is moment by moment awareness of mindbody experience." You are aware that the ending of mind and body is called death, right? I'm not here to go into philosophical debates. You can agree or not, but the ending of bodily and mental phenomena is what I call death. Furthermore, I am aware that faith is important, but not blind faith. It's more like: "it seems kind of logical let me try it out without judgment and test it out". I somewhat familiar what kamma is. Sorry but your answer was dukkha to me. Regards – Val Mar 31 '18 at 3:05
  • I'm not saying that Kamma is punishment. I'm saying that not following the precepts will cause punishment if they believe in physical rebirth. Now in detail: "If you don't follow the precepts you are going to feel bad now (this is obvious) and will get into a lot of troubles (obvious too, since other humans also defend themselves if threatened). "And you will inevitably suffer in your next life due to your misbehaviour". So it is in this way no different than the monotheistic religions. So the monks initially said the precepts are not like commandments. Contradiction? You decide. – Val Mar 31 '18 at 3:15
  • @Val Scrutiny is important but I think it's a good thing to scrutinize what we take for granted too. Like prepackaged materialistic logic ideals that are affected by subtle emotional & egotistical bad habits... Buddhism when practiced correctly is not philosophy it is applied science. Objectively looking at the subjective moment by moment to see the most subtle processes of our mindbody. When I say "death doesn't exist" you filter it through a very "materialistic only" belief system. Obviously I didn't mean there is no such concept as death. – Lowbrow Mar 31 '18 at 18:14
  • @Val If a guy's body gets blown into little tiny pieces were is the evidence that the guy is dead? How convenient that materialists only have to worry about the easy and obvious gross material phenomena. A lot of scientists say that the mind doesn't exist...only in the make believe material only paradigm but that is just concept not the ultimate truth. – Lowbrow Mar 31 '18 at 18:22

It appears preachers of post-mortem rebirth are engaged in false speech, which is defined as follows:

If he doesn't know, he says, 'I know.' If he does know, he says, 'I don't know.' If he hasn't seen, he says, 'I have seen.' If he has seen, he says, 'I haven't seen.' Thus he consciously tells lies for his own sake, for the sake of another, or for the sake of a certain reward. He speaks out of season, speaks what isn't factual...

AN 10.176

An explanation of this phenomena is these monks have an unreflective & materialistic faith in the sutta teachings, which causes them to misinterpret what they read in scripture, as follows:

There are two kinds of language. One is the conventional language that ordinary people speak, what I call "people language." People language is used by the ordinary people who don't understand Dhamma very well and by those worldly people who are so dense that they are blind to everything but material things. Then, there is the language which is spoken by those who understand reality (Dhamma), especially those who know and understand reality in the ultimate sense. This is another kind of language. We can call it "Dhamma language." You always must take care to recognize which language is being spoken.

Ajahn Buddhadasa

Thus, when these monks read words such as "birth", "death", "kaya" ("body"), "heaven", "hell", etc, in the suttas, they interpret them materialistically or physically rather than mentally. For example, about "hell" that is directly knowable, the suttas say:

I have seen, bhikkhus, the hell named ‘Contact’s Sixfold Base.’ There whatever form one sees with the eye is undesirable, never desirable; unlovely, never lovely; disagreeable, never agreeable. Whatever sound one hears with the ear … Whatever odour one smells with the nose … Whatever taste one savours with the tongue … Whatever tactile object one feels with the body … Whatever mental phenomenon one cognizes with the mind is undesirable, never desirable; unlovely, never lovely; disagreeable, never agreeable.

SN 35.135

Another explanation of this phenomena is the minds of these monks are polluted by the five hindrances, which causes them to misinterpret what they read in scripture, as follows:

Why is it, good Gotama, how does it come about that sometimes sacred words I have long studied are not clear to me, not to mention those I have not studied? And how is it too that sometimes other sacred words that I have not so studied are clear to me, not to mention those I have studied?

Well, Brahman, when a man dwells with his heart possessed and overwhelmed by sense-desires... ill-will... sloth-and-torpor ... worry-and-flurry and doubt... then he cannot know or see, as it really is... Then even sacred words he has long studied are not clear to him, not to mention those he has not studied.

Sangaravo Sutta

Another explanation of this phenomena is these monks are engaged in false speech however they believe the false speech will benefit the audience because the audience is so dense that the audience are blind to everything but material things.

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OP: If they say that in Buddhism there is no punishment (like in the monotheistic religions) but in the same time they belief and teach rebirth, then there is punishment and therefore they are contradicting themselves that no punishment follows. It's not an entity that causes the punishment, but nonetheless punishment.

Firstly, there is no punishment or "cosmic justice" system in Buddhism.

Rather, it's cause and effect. If you knock your head on the wall, you will feel physical pain. That's cause and effect. Not punishment.

Even in your current lifetime, you can experience cause and effect according to the Sigalovada Sutta:

Bad friends, bad companions,
Bad practices — spending time in evil ways,
By these, one brings oneself to ruin,
In this world and the next.

So, you don't have to wait till the "next world", bad companions and bad practices can affect you in this life itself.

The same sutta explains the effects caused by intoxicating substances:

"These are the six dangers inherent in heedlessness caused by intoxication: loss of immediate wealth, increased quarreling, susceptibility to illness, disrepute, indecent exposure, and weakened insight.

The same sutta explains the purpose of the other four precepts both for this world and the next:

The Buddha said this:

"Young man, by abandoning the four impure actions, a noble disciple refrains from harmful deeds rooted in four causes and avoids the six ways of squandering wealth. So, these fourteen harmful things are removed. The noble disciple, now with the six directions protected, has entered upon a path for conquering both worlds, firmly grounded in this world and the next. At the dissolution of the body after death, a good rebirth occurs in a heavenly world.

"What four impure actions are abandoned? The harming of living beings is an impure action, taking what is not given is an impure action, sexual misconduct is an impure action, and false speech is an impure action. These four are abandoned."

For lay persons and others, the Buddha prescribed the minimum set of training rules, which is the five precepts. These are not commandments or prohibitions. Rather, they are training rules. It is up to you whether to undertake the prescribed training or not.

For example, you may not be forced to join the army. But if you join the army voluntarily, you would have to observe the army's training rules. There's a purpose to those training rules, towards achieving the goals of the army.

Similarly, you are not forced to practise Buddhism. If you choose to do so, the minimum training rules would be the five precepts, towards achieving the goals of Buddhism.

Whether you practise the five precepts or not, you are still subject to cause and effect. No matter what you choose to believe or practise, there is still cause and effect in this world and in this life.

To me, the phrase "at the dissolution of the body after death, a good rebirth occurs in a heavenly world" clearly refers to rebirth. But as a secular Buddhist or even non-Buddhist, you may interpret it as a metaphorical mental reappearance from moment to moment, into another state of mind.

Regardless of how you interpret that, cause and effect definitely affects you in this life itself. It's up to you to choose to accept or reject the voluntary training rules of the five precepts, towards the Buddhist goal of ending suffering.

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  • Why are you explaining cause and effect to me? I' m refering to the punishment coupled with rebirth. Actually rebirth was never mentioned by the buddha because the pre-fix "re" would imply that something happens again, but as we know nothing can stay the same for two conesecutive moments. Further, the Buddha said that this Dhamma can be experienced in the here and now. Your quote about the dissolution was most likely refered to a lay person or brahmin to convince him and/or motivate him to do good so that he avoids hell. Blind belief in "rebirth" is contrary to Dhamma. You're defiling dhamma. – Val Mar 31 '18 at 6:12
  • The Sigalovada Sutta was directed to a lay person. So there the Buddha employs the use of literal rebirth, again to motivate him to do good. – Val Mar 31 '18 at 6:22
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    Why are you explaining cause and effect to me? Because this is the answer to the question. The question is essentially asking, "Isn't Hell a punishment?" -- and this answer is saying, "I'd call it (i.e. Buddhism would describe it as) an effect, or perhaps a result". – ChrisW Mar 31 '18 at 7:43
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    Lying is not necessarily "bad" if it is beneficial. Otherwise he wouldn't teach lay people ordinary right view etc. or he wouldn't tell to one of his lustful disciples that he should meditate in order to get nymphs after death. He lied as a skillful means. Wake up. – Val Mar 31 '18 at 11:10
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    @Val Doesn't MN 61 seem to you like, you shouldn't tell a deliberate lie, ever? -- "In the same way, Rahula, when anyone feels no shame in telling a deliberate lie, there is no evil, I tell you, he will not do. Thus, Rahula, you should train yourself, 'I will not tell a deliberate lie even in jest." – ChrisW Mar 31 '18 at 14:19

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