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How can a religion or school of thought justify or rationalise the proposal that potential suffering could be inflicted on a subsequent rebirth - to all intents and purposes, a new individual, according to the anatta theory - because of the actions of a previous individual? Why the threat of subjecting another to suffering, if that being cannot be held responsible for actions in a previous life? If no soul or persistence exists, how can one suggest that performing positive karmic actions will improve the quality of life of a subsequent rebirth, if there is no element retained of a previous iteration to reap the reward and receive the incentive to continue to perform good karmic actions and/or continue in Buddhist schooling?

  • The Buddha adviced to answer on who experiances dukkha and sukha, "This person, with this and that name, is the carrier of the burden", good householer. – Samana Johann Oct 4 at 10:47
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The question is irrelevant because there are two levels of teaching in Buddhism (refer to two sorts of right view in MN 117). The Buddha generally did not teach about "kamma-vipaka" and "not-self" (anatta) together.

"Kamma-vipaka" is mainly for puthujjana (common village people who need to be taught morals so to avoid self-harm) and "anatta" is for Noble People. Only later heretics (such as the Brahman philosopher Buddhaghosa) taught "empty not-self phenomena are reborn in a Twelvefold Voidness".

When a Noble Person realises the reality of not-self (anatta), they no longer perform immoral actions because there is no longer selfishness or self-interest within their mind. Also, there is no self-referent to any past kamma. Refer to AN 6.63, which says:

Just this noble eightfold path — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration — is the path of practice leading to the cessation of kamma.

But for the common village people who have not realised not-self (anatta), the Buddha taught they themselves are the owners & heirs of their personal actions, as follows:

Bhikkhus, beings are the owners of their kamma, the heirs of their kamma; they have kamma as their origin, kamma as their relative, kamma as their resort; whatever kamma they do, good or bad, they are its heirs.

AN 10.216

The later is true because when kamma-vipaka occurs, the idea of "self" arises in the mind of the recipient of kamma, such as the regret: "Why did I do that bad deed? What did I do to myself? I have ruined my life".

In summary, whenever "rebirth" occurs, it is a "rebirth" of "self". Inwardly, it is never "not-self".

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Lanka May 6 at 12:27
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    So why is it that karmic actions that could be considered bad result in rebirth in lesser domains? Or at you saying that the entire concept of Samsara and rebirth is an allegory for poor/stupid people and neither exist? If karma exists for the individual only as the excerpt from AN 10.216 suggests, how can a wheel of rebirth exist if it has no purpose as a "feedback loop" of sorts? Did the Buddha not remember accounts previous lives? – NotThisAgain May 6 at 12:48
  • The Buddha did not remember any previous lives. The word "previous lives" is not found in the Pali suttas. The term falsely translated as "past lives" is "pubbe nivasa", which means "past abodes" or literally "past homes". SN 22.79 is the only sutta to explain the meaning of this. Read it here: suttacentral.net/sn22.79/en/bodhi You can also read more of my opinon, here: dhammadhatu.wordpress.com/2016/12/24/past-lives-pubbe-nivasa – Dhammadhatu May 7 at 8:19
  • @Dhammadhatu, In suttas, it's clearly written, how Gautama Buddha was given confirmation by the Dipankara Buddha (who was the previous Buddha) (niyata viwarana) it's about his previous life. And there are many suttas around 550, explains about his previous lives. So its not about past homes. When Dewdath attack buddha, buddha got a scratch (wound) in his leg. And Buddha explains that's Karma due to some thing he did in past life. Buddha can see his previous life according to this. And pubbe nivasanussati is a Gnanam, which we can get by meditating. – follower Jun 6 at 7:44
  • Sorry but nothing in sutta is real unless it can be verified. Also, there are not 550 suttas about past lives. Please do not spam by answers with superstition. Thank you. – Dhammadhatu Jun 6 at 8:39
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How can a religion or school of thought justify or rationalise the proposal that potential suffering could be inflicted on a subsequent rebirth - to all intents and purposes, a new individual, according to the anatta theory - because of the actions of a previous individual?

I think it's based on observation -- e.g. if you stick your hand in the fire now, then in future the hand will be conditioned by its having been burned n the past.

Also I don't think that "the anatta theory" says that there's a "new individual". I think it says there's "no" individual, no perpetual/unchanging "self" -- e.g. "I" might be known as "son" early in life, perhaps known as "husband" or "co-worker" later in life, and maybe known by some other name entirely in future life.

Why the threat of subjecting another to suffering, if that being cannot be held responsible for actions in a previous life?

Thinking that, "this is me", and, "that will be another", is not anatta as far as I know.

They're examples of "self views" or "identity views" which we're advised to do away with -- e.g. because they result in "a thicket of views" i.e. confusion -- and result in suffering, if only because they're unsatisfactory -- and, I think, because they result from and perpetuate a sense of "attachment" and of "seeing the aggregates as self", i.e. the "clinging attachments" identified in the doctrine of the "four noble truths".

If no soul or persistence exists, how can one suggest that performing positive karmic actions will improve the quality of life of a subsequent rebirth, if there is no element retained of a previous iteration to reap the reward and receive the incentive to continue to perform good karmic actions and/or continue in Buddhist schooling?

Some people suggest that Buddhism was originally about liberation in this life, rather than about a fortunate rebirth in a future life.

Still, that was my first question on this site -- Is rebirth a delusional belief? -- for example ...

The Buddhist doctrine of "anatta" (there is no self?) and "anicca" (self is impermanent?) seem to me to be saying that, if (it is believed that) there is rebirth, that 'rebirth' is fairly meaningless, i.e. it is a rebirth of nothing in particular: why not just call it a "birth" instead of a rebirth?

... so you might want to read the answers to that.

It's a frequently-asked question.

I think I decided that the question may proceed from identity-view, which we're better off without, e.g. How is it wrong to believe that a self exists, or that it doesn't?

And I think that some suttas -- perhaps A Safe Bet (MN 60) -- might suggest that Buddhist practice is "right" (or "safe"), whether or not there is a future existence.

  • Thanks for your answer Chris. – NotThisAgain May 7 at 11:11
  • I can see your point about the view of rebirth as being open to interpretation, but I can't help feeling that without the concept of rebirth, Buddhism just becomes a certain kind of Nihilism, i.e everything is transitory, nothing lasts forever, existence is discontentedness or suffering or however you interpret the word for it. What would be the reasoning for investing time to follow a faith or school if nothingness is destined for all of us regardless? – NotThisAgain May 7 at 11:17
  • I think it's based on observation -- e.g. if you stick your hand in the fire now, then in future the hand will be conditioned by its having been burned n the past. I wouldn't say that analogy really works in the context, as that would imply transmigration of state into a new lifetime. – NotThisAgain May 7 at 11:40
  • Also I don't think that "the anatta theory" says that there's a "new individual". I think it says there's "no" individual, no perpetual/unchanging "self" -- e.g. "I" might be known as "son" early in life, perhaps known as "husband" or "co-worker" later in life, and maybe known by some other name entirely in future life. Perhaps, but doesn't the suggestion that "I" refers to a different situation, i.e. another name, imply a new instantiation and allotment of life experience? So would this new life would be subjected to the consequences of my actions in the here-and-now? – NotThisAgain May 7 at 11:42
  • @NotThisAgain I think you're right that there's a risk that people may misinterpret Buddhism as Nihilism. I think there's even advice (for which a reference doesn't immediately come to mind, I suspect it's Mahayana) that it's a fault to teach the doctrine of emptiness to someone who isn't ready to take it well -- see also e.g. gradual training. And the suttas often and explicitly identify nihilism (as well as eternalism) as one of many types of wrong view. – ChrisW May 7 at 15:00
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According to Buddhism, a being is depedently arisen. For each moment to moment arisen state there is no unchanging core which is transmitted. In contemporary religions, there was a notion of an unchanging essence.

Past karmic action conditions over expences. With this as input and unripened karmic effects create the next moment of a being.

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This question is asked and answered in the suttas. Two citations which might prove helpful:

From: AN 3.22.82-Woodward trans. http://buddhadust.net/dhamma-vinaya/pts/sn/03_kv/sn03.22.082.wood.pts.htm

"So then you say that body is not the Self;
feeling is not the Self,
perception is not the Self,
the activities are not the Self,
and consciousness is not the Self,

Then what self can those acts affect
which are not self-wrought?"

Thereupon the Exalted One,
with his thought reading the thoughts of that brother's mind,
said to the brethren:

"It is possible, brethren, that some senseless fellow,
sunk in ignorance
and led astray by craving,
may think to go beyond the Master's teaching thus:

'So then you say that body is not the Self;
feeling is not the Self,
perception is not the Self,
the activities are not the Self,
and consciousness is not the Self,

Then what self can those acts affect
which are not self-wrought?'

That question, brethren,
I have already answered thus and thus
in those teachings that I have given you.

From SN 2.12.17-Rhys Davids: http://buddhadust.net/dhamma-vinaya/pts/sn/02_nv/sn02.12.017.rhyc.pts.htm

"What then, Master Gotama,
is one's suffering wrought by another?

"Not so verily, Kassapa,"
said the Exalted One.

"What then, Master Gotama,
is suffering wrought both by one's self
and by another?"

"Not so verily, Kassapa,"
said the Exalted One.

"What then, Master Gotama,
has [the] suffering [which is] wrought neither by myself
nor by another,
befallen me by chance?"[5]

"Not so verily, Kassapa,"
said the Exalted One.

"What then, Master Gotama,
is suffering non-existent?"

"Nay, Kassapa, suffering is not non-existent;
suffering is."

"Then Master Gotama
neither knows nor sees suffering?"

"Nay, Kassapa, I am not one who knows not suffering
nor sees it.

I am one that knows suffering, Kassapa,
I am one that sees suffering."

"'One and the same person
both acts and experiences [the results]'

-this, Kassapa, which you called at first
'suffering self-wrought,'
amounts to the Eternalist theory.

'One acts, another experiences [the result]'

this, Kassapa, which
to one smitten by the feeling
occurs as

'suffering caused by another,'

amounts to the Annihilationist theory.

To you, Kassapa, the Tathāgata,
not approaching either extreme,
teaches the Norm by a middle [way]:

Conditioned by ignorance activities come to pass,
conditioned by activities consciousness;
conditioned by consciousness, name-and-shape;
conditioned by name-and-shape, sense;
conditioned by sense, contact;
conditioned by contact, feeling;
conditioned by feeling, craving;
conditioned by craving, grasping;
conditioned by grasping, becoming;
conditioned by becoming,
birth,
decay-and-death,
grief,
suffering,
sorrow,
despair come to pass.

But from the utter fading away and ceasing of ignorance [comes] ceasing of activities;
from ceasing of activities ceasing of consciousness;
from ceasing of consciousness ceasing of name-and-shape;
from ceasing of name-and-shape ceasing of sense;
from ceasing of sense ceasing of contact;
from ceasing of contact ceasing of feeling;
from ceasing of feeling ceasing of craving;
from ceasing of craving ceasing of grasping;
from ceasing of grasping ceasing of becoming;
from ceasing of becoming ceasing of birth;
from ceasing of birth,
old age-and-death, grief, lamenting, suffering, sorrow, despair cease.

Such is the ceasing of this entire mass of ill."

  • (answer written by Mike Olds, which I posted on his behalf) – ChrisW Oct 4 at 14:31
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What is the transmigrating entity or soul experiencing moment by moment experience right now in you? There isn't any to be found. With some kind of good karma or good practice one can see one is made up of formations becoming born and dead every moment, there is no static soul, no static anything. Physical death is just another moment.

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What is the transmigrating entity or soul experiencing moment by moment experience right now in you? There isn't any to be found. One sees one is made up of formations becoming born and dead every moment, there is no static soul, no static anything. Physical death is just another moment.

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This is a very profound question that begs a profound answer. Karma is said to be based on Thoughts, wholesome or unwholesome. Science tells us that Thoughts, generate Energy and form the basis of Information. Science also tells us that Information can never be destroyed. Our Thoughts can also never be destroyed. We know that Human Beings never stop Thinking! Therefore, Karma can never be destroyed. The laws of Cause and Effect apply to Karma. Today we talk of Information Technology (IT), which has become the storehouse of Modern Information. The fundamental building blocks of IT are the very innocent zeros and ones. Similarly, the Buddha said that it is the Energy behind our ''innocent' Thoughts (Consciousness) that are the fundamental building blocks of the Universe. He further dissected Thoughts in to the Dhammas, which form the basis for the storage of Information, since the Big Bang or even before. Suggest you read "The Dhamma Theory" pdf by Prof Karunadasa. Now you may see how profound Karma can be. That's perhaps why the Buddha suggested that we leave that subject severely alone and instead develop insight, through meditation, to realize the truth of his Anatta Doctrine. While Einstein's theories on Energy were at the leading edge of science in the last century, the String Theory in quantum physics, which suggests that Information is more fundamental than Energy, is at the leading edge today. The Buddha, unlike Quantum Physicists, revealed that Human Consciousness is the ''spoil sport'' that has made us think that we are Real (Self-Atta). The Buddha, through his revolutionary Doctrine of Anatta, explained that even that Self, is illusory.To explore this further, suggest that a study of the Higher Doctrine of Buddhism (Abhidhamma) be undertaken. Bhikkhu Bodhi has conducted workshops 'Abhidhamma Retreats' in New York (utube) for several years to explain to his students the Nature of Human Consciousness. If you're not inclined to meditate, suggest you follow these workshops for the present and come to grips with your very profound question. Hopefully, the workshops may motivate you to eventually take to serious meditation, that will surely end your Noble Quest to find the Truth.

  • This seems to be a word soup that you mixed together blindly, as someone who actually knows the meaning of these words, it is gibberish... – Muuski Oct 8 at 21:57
  • Earlier, I was of a similar mindset. I disagreed with thoughts having energy or that information can never be destroyed. Had no idea that zero and ones, form the fundamental building blocks of IT. That Information is more fundamental than Energy in creating the physical world (wondered what happened to the 120 odd elements of the periodic table in the chemistry class). Who says that I'm not real? The thought that consciousness will become the spoil sport at the point of death, when this wonderful world will vanish, still lingers on!. Thanks to wise guidance from others, the fog is clearing. – Devinda Kalupahana Oct 9 at 5:33
  • @Muuski Thanks for your comment. Now and in future you can "vote down" the post -- there are up- and down-arrows near the number to the left of the post. The help says that voting is better than "Criticisms which do not add anything constructive ("-1, see previous comments you scallywag!"); instead, downvote (and provide or upvote a better answer if appropriate);" – ChrisW 2 days ago

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