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I take it that an important claim of secular Buddhism is that the Buddha never actually taught literal rebirth.

What happens during parinibbāna according to secular Buddhism? How is it different from any other death? If there is no difference, how do secular Buddhists explain the very existence of this term? Can any death be called parinibbāna?

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    @What is the source of the claim in your first paragraph? – Erik Jan 24 at 16:02
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In my understanding, the notion of Nirvana was a nod towards pre-Buddhist (Inc. Jain) ideas of the times. Nirvana was something transcental, something ultimate everyone spoke about but barely anyone could define.

When The Buddha achieved his Breakthrough, he mapped his ideas back to preexisting notions, to make it easier to communicate with people. So Nirvana is a bit tongue-in-cheek term, the so-called Nirvana. The Buddha attained what he himself called "Liberation of mind from suffering through Wisdom", which he equated with the Nirvana everyone at the times were looking for.

Then, the notion of Parinirvana is an even more ironic gesture. Since "Nirvana in this life" was actualized by not holding on to anything that could create a basis for suffering, death of "someone who is like this" (Tathagata) was the ultimate act of not holding on to anything to the highest degree possible, thus it can be half-jokingly called Super-Nirvana or Parinirvana.

Regular people die while still grasping at things, and so their death leaves an element of regret which then lives on as a negative impulse affecting the lives of people to come.

The Buddha's death is the ultimate act of letting go. It's an act of letting things go on their own course, governed only by Natural Law. The Buddha haven't attempted to stay behind and continue teaching Dharma indefinitely - which would be an act of grasping. Instead, his Parinirvana is an example to all of us Buddhists to not force the right Dharma on everyone, nor be aggressive in teaching and saving people, but to let things play out naturally while helping whenever we can.

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A lot of people conflate the concept of 'rebirth' with the concept of 'reincarnation,' but philosophically speaking they are subtly different. Reincarnation implies an eternal essence or being that returns to inhabit a new physical form. Rebirth in the Buddhist sense is actually the opposite: the idea that our unresolved attachments set the ground for the recreation of the five aggregates that constitute a being.

In that sense, rebirth is like — to use a colloquial analogy — an echo. A sound is sent out and an echo returns; the echo is the same sound sent out again, and a new echo returns. The nature of the sound can change through distortion, clarification, or interference over time, but the process continues until the sound itself is silenced. After that, there are no more echoes. Don't misunderstand; silence can be a powerful thing. A room where everyone is talking is a comfortable jangle of noise, perhaps, but a room where everyone is silent borders on the state of awe. It's merely our attachments to that warm, comfortable, sensuous noise that leads to the echoes that recur.

So if nirvana is the achievement of true silence in our lifetime, parinirvana would be the continuation of that silence after death. Imagine that the whole of Buddhism is the continuation of the silence of the Buddha after his death — a silence that absorbs the noise of others and helps them find silence in their own right — and you'll get a sense for the nature of paranirvana.

Note that I haven't once used the term 'secular,' as though secular Buddhism were something different than 'regular' Buddhism. That's just more noise.

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I take it that an important claim of secular Buddhism is that the Buddha never actually taught literal rebirth.

'Birth' ('jati') is the production of ideas or views of 'self' or 'beings' ('satta'), as explained in SN 12.2, SN 23.2 and SN 5.10. Therefore, the Buddha certainly taught literal 'rebirth' but this literal rebirth is the literal re-production of ideas & views of 'self' or 'beings' or 'persons'.

What happens during parinibbāna according to secular Buddhism?

Parinibbana is described in the suttas as the cravingless ending of conscious experience of an arahant (Iti 44; MN 140; SN 22.85; etc), as follows:

'Here in this very life, all that is experienced, not being delighted in, will be extinguished.'

Iti 44


.

How is it different from any other death?

'Death' ('marana') is the idea that a self or "a being" dies (SN 12.2). Parinibbana is not 'death'. There are many suttas that say an arahant does not experience death (SN 22.85; MN 140; MN 38; etc).

If there is no difference, how do secular Buddhists explain the very existence of this term?

Parinibbana is a term used for the peaceful cravingless ending of the life of an arahant. Currently, I do not know the reason why this term is used but I imagine it is possibly used so Arahants & Buddhas are not insulted by applying the word "death" to them and to highlight how the life of an arahant ends peacefully without any craving. The suttas say:

Dhp 21. Heedfulness is the path to the Deathless. Heedlessness is the path to death. The heedful die not. The heedless are as if dead already.

The Buddha-To-Be searched for freedom from "death" (MN 26) yet the question here does not focus on what "death" really is but wants to talk about Nibbana, which is something that will never ever be experienced if what "death" & the "deathless" really are is not discerned.

Can any death be called parinibbāna?

Death (marana) is not Parinibbana (cravingless ending of consciousness), as explained. Death is a personal self-view while consciousness is merely an impermanent impersonal natural element (dhatu).

"Death" is the death of beings or selves, as follows:

Long have you (repeatedly) experienced the death of a mother. The tears you have shed over the death of a mother while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time—crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing—are greater than the water in the four great oceans.

“Long have you (repeatedly) experienced the death of a father… the death of a brother… the death of a sister… the death of a son… the death of a daughter… loss with regard to relatives… loss with regard to wealth… loss with regard to disease.

SN 15.3

When life & experience is viewed as merely elements & aggregates, there will be no more "mother", "father", "son", "daughter", etc, and no more "death".

And what may be said to be subject to death... sorrow... defilement? Spouses & children... men & women slaves... goats & sheep... fowl & pigs... elephants, cattle, horses, & mares... gold & silver are subject to death... sorrow... defilement. Subject to death... sorrow... defilement are these acquisitions, and one who is tied to them, infatuated with them, who has totally fallen for them, being subject to birth, seeks what is likewise subject to aging... illness... death... sorrow... defilement. This is ignoble search.

MN 26

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  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Dhammadhatu Apr 19 '18 at 8:49
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    Are you saying that this answer is from a "secular Buddhist" point of view, i.e. that this is "according to secular Buddhism"? – ChrisW Apr 19 '18 at 13:36
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    There is no such thing as "secular Buddhism" from the perspective of reality. If you think there is a problem in relation to terms here, I suggest to focus on the question. I have tried to explain many times before that the official Dhamma as refuge is "visible here & now" and is unrelated to non-knowable ideas. – Dhammadhatu Apr 19 '18 at 19:51
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    My answer is from the Pali suttas that sort of matches what Eternalists think Secular Buddhism is. But, in my experience, I have not met one Secular Buddhist that would agree with my post. Most Secular Buddhists appear to believe the Buddha believed in & taught about reincarnation but they, as Secular Buddhists, choose to disbelieve what they believe the Buddha believed. Thus many Secular Buddhists are self-confessed heretics. I differ from Secular Buddhists in that I don't believe the Buddha taught about reincarnation ('meta-physical rebirth'). – Dhammadhatu Apr 20 '18 at 1:47
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    @Dhammadhatu Please note that I asked for a piece of information. When somebody asks for a Mahāyāna viewpoint, the answer should contain a Mahāyāna viewpoint. When somebody asks for an answer supported by Pāli suttas, the answer should refer to Pāli suttas. When somebody asks for secular Buddhist viewpoint, the answer should present a secular Buddhist viewpoint. This has nothing to do with the viewpoint of the answerer (as every intelligent person is able to present a viewpoint that he or she disagrees with), and nothing to do with actual correctness of the presented viewpoint. – michau Apr 23 '18 at 12:32
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I am not religious person.but I am very confused for rebirth. Beacuse I have no experience rebirth but i have no evidence there is no rebirth. So we can't say anything. Rebirth true. Rebirth false. We need evidance.

But we can say without no dubout . There is dukha Every one agree this is truth

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The OP asks: If there is no such thing as rebirth, then what is the difference between parinibbana and any other death?

But what exactly is rebirth? And what exactly is death?

Most people take rebirth to be the rebirth of oneself into a new life. If we zoom further into what this means, this is the continuation of the same consciousness that is aware of its surroundings and its thoughts into a new body with a new identity and new life. The same consciousness from birth wandered through life till death, then it continues in a new life after rebirth.

The Buddha did not accept this view in MN 38:

The Blessed One then asked him: “Sāti, is it true that the following pernicious view has arisen in you: ‘As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is this same consciousness that runs and wanders through the round of rebirths, not another’?”

“Exactly so, venerable sir. As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is this same consciousness that runs and wanders through the round of rebirths, not another.”

“What is that consciousness, Sāti?”

“Venerable sir, it is that which speaks and feels and experiences here and there the result of good and bad actions.”

“Misguided man, to whom have you ever known me to teach the Dhamma in that way? Misguided man, have I not stated in many ways consciousness to be dependently arisen, since without a condition there is no origination of consciousness? But you, misguided man, have misrepresented us by your wrong grasp and injured yourself and stored up much demerit; for this will lead to your harm and suffering for a long time.”

The Buddha taught consciousness to be dependently originated.

This is elaborated further in the same sutta:

“Bhikkhus, consciousness is reckoned by the particular condition dependent upon which it arises. When consciousness arises dependent on the eye and forms, it is reckoned as eye-consciousness; when consciousness arises dependent on the ear and sounds, it is reckoned as ear-consciousness; when consciousness arises dependent on the nose and odours, it is reckoned as nose-consciousness; when consciousness arises dependent on the tongue and flavours, it is reckoned as tongue-consciousness; when consciousness arises dependent on the body and tangibles, it is reckoned as body-consciousness; when consciousness arises dependent on the mind and mind-objects, it is reckoned as mind-consciousness. Just as fire is reckoned by the particular condition dependent on which it burns—when fire burns dependent on logs, it is reckoned as a log fire; when fire burns dependent on faggots, it is reckoned as a faggot fire; when fire burns dependent on grass, it is reckoned as a grass fire; when fire burns dependent on cowdung, it is reckoned as a cowdung fire; when fire burns dependent on chaff, it is reckoned as a chaff fire; when fire burns dependent on rubbish, it is reckoned as a rubbish fire—so too, consciousness is reckoned by the particular condition dependent on which it arises. When consciousness arises dependent on the eye and forms, it is reckoned as eye-consciousness…when consciousness arises dependent on the mind and mind-objects, it is reckoned as mind-consciousness.

So, is there such a thing as rebirth? Yes. But what is it?

It's not the rebirth of oneself, but it's the rebirth of one's self - not one's soul, but one's mental idea of a self. In SN 15.3 (below), the Buddha looks at YOU (the mental idea of self) and tells YOU that YOU have been reborn so many times and grieved the death of so many loved ones (which are more mental ideas classified relative to the mental idea of the self - see this question on papanca), that the volume of tears shed by YOU (the self) is more than the volume of water in all the oceans of the world combined. Also, a beginning to this samsara is inconstruable.

"Long have you (repeatedly) experienced the death of a mother... father... the death of a brother... the death of a sister... the death of a son... the death of a daughter... loss with regard to relatives... loss with regard to wealth... loss with regard to disease. The tears you have shed over loss with regard to disease while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — are greater than the water in the four great oceans.

What is death? Of course, it is also the death of YOU, a self identity.

Then what is Parinibbana?

Well, there is such a thing as clinging aggregates. According to this answer, for a living arahant, when ignorance is uprooted, this breaks dependent origination, that ends craving, clinging and suffering. In the chain of dependent origination, clinging aggregates would also cease.

The living arahant according to Iti 44, attained nibbana with fuel remaining (sa-upadisesa), meaning the non-clinging aggregates are still functioning like glowing embers, although the fires of passion, aversion and delusion have ceased.

Parinibbana is when the non-clinging aggregates stop functioning. This is nibbana without fuel remaining (anupadisesa) according to Iti 44.

What is difference between parinibbana and any other death? In the former, the fires of passion, aversion and delusion have ceased. In the latter, the fires of passion, aversion and delusion keeps burning, the (mental idea of a) self is reborn and suffering continues.

A change of perspective is needed i.e. rebirth, birth, death, and parinibbana should not be linked to any permanent consciousness or identity. The first noble truth is that there is suffering. It's not there is my suffering or your suffering but simply there is suffering. This also relates to anatta (not self).

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From a secular perspective, there is no such thing as rebirth or reincarnation. When you die, you die. Karma doesn't carry forward as what you did dies with you. There is no rebirth cycle to end, so the fact there is a buddhist phrase for it doesn't mean anything.

The Problem With Reincarnation

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    Sorry, but why was that down voted? – ThirdPrize May 18 at 10:59
  • I don't know. I guess it could be improved, with a reference? How could one assess whether this answer is true? – ChrisW May 18 at 18:46
  • So, an impermanent being has a permanent property of death? How does this square with anicca? – Ilya Grushevskiy May 20 at 20:15
  • The questioner asked in regards to secular buddhism. In my mind that is following the precepts, a bit about suffering and none of the mystical "smoke and mirrors" everyone gets so wrapped up in. So from that perspective you have life and then you die. It is as simple as that. No rebirth and no reincarnation. – ThirdPrize May 21 at 9:09
  • Wikipedia's Secular Buddhism says, "Within the framework of secular Buddhism, Buddhist doctrine may be stripped of any unspecified combination of various traditional beliefs ..., namely: supernatural beings (such as devas, ..., etc.), merit and its transference, rebirth, and karma, Buddhist cosmology (including the existence of pure lands and hells), etc." -- footnote references from that article might be a good addition to this answer. – ChrisW May 21 at 9:49

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