As with all of my questions, I am seeking a person who has experienced and truly knows the answer. Hopefully, and with respect I am not seeking mere recital of texts ☺️
I prefer people speaking from experience. It’s one thing to learn from an ancient text, and completely different to learn from another who has come to experience the truth the text was attempting to express.
If we are trapped in Cyclic Rebirth
Edit: So I think I should preface this with my belief that this teaching has become conflated over time and has become more mystical. I think the teachings of rebirth were once very grounded in personal experience, but due to translations and people not understanding the original teaching, it transformed into an expression of multiple lives. While interesting to discuss, I’m going to pass on this traditional interpretation, and explain my understanding of the concept of rebirth from personal experience alone.
First, let’s define Cyclic Rebirth from my perspective. Rebirth is a phenomena that occurs because of the transient nature of experience. Seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, and thinking are all impermanent by nature. One sensate experience only lasts for an almost imperceptibly short length of time before it is replaced by the next, or it ends entirely. These transitory experiences are the foundation in which we build up our belief systems about the physical world. For example, a gargantuan number of short “sight” experiences occur one after another and we jump to grand conclusions. Our logic tends to look something like “There is sight. I am seeing. I see outside. Outside I see a tree. A tree exists outside.” Due to our belief systems, we went from observing a simple experience to believing in the existence of yourself as a separate entity and objects in a material world.
This process of self identifying with some aspect of your experience is what I define as Rebirth. Every moment we are experiencing, we are involved in a process of self identification. Even though these experiences last for only a moment, we continually shift what we believe ourselves to be. For example, we look in the mirror and say “that is me”. Then you walk to the left, and still think it’s you. Walk to the right, and still think it’s you. All while walking your sight is changing as you see your body from different perspectives. But in reality, you are experiencing multiple sight experiences, none related or connected to one another, and are making arbitrary decisions that “this subsection of sight is me, but that subsection isn’t”. This process happens continuously when experience is present, and what you classify as yourself has to change in every separate experience. So what is effectively happening is, every time an experience you identify with ends you die, and when a new experience arises and the process of identification happens again, you are reborn. This process of rebirth does not end until you experience Nirvana for the first time and become enlightened.
we are then being held against our will.. If we are being held against our will, what or who has set this trap?
I would say you are only being held against your will if you desire to be free of this cycle. It is your own belief systems that keep this cycle going, so if you want to blame something, that’s a better target than any other. But if you don’t care about being free from suffering or understanding the true nature of the universe, it’s your will to stay as you are. So in that situation, rebirth as it occurs is in alignment with your will.
The trap wasn’t engineered or set up by anyone. The process of self identification happens naturally, and is necessary for us to learn how to navigate life as a human being. It isn’t the optimal way to live though, in my opinion. Once the process of rebirth stops, so does suffering. There is also an unending presence of peace accessible in all experience. Also, the process of identification is absolutely exhausting. It’s insane how tiring it is. Once it stopped, I was shocked I was previously unaware of the effort. It’s like a clenched fist you hold for a long time. After a while you don’t notice the feeling. But once you open your hand and relax you can feel the exhaustion.
If I escape, where am I escaping too?
You are gaining a perspective that takes no effort to maintain. It’s a way of viewing the world that is pervaded by peace and acceptance. It’s a perspective where you are no longer a small, fragile mortal, but something much more that is unaffected by the goings on in the physical world. It’s a beautiful place that I only describe in the hopes it will motivate others to experience it for themselves.
I would not use the word “escape”. It’s more like a life of complete imperviousness and an acceptance of all things. When Rebirth ends you aren’t escaping from a prison cell, you are realizing your assumptions were wrong and the prison cell door was never locked! Stay if you want. Or don’t! It’s your life to live as you please. Life in a cell is way more comfy if you break past your belief that you are trapped.