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Wikipedia's article on Rebirth (Buddhism) says,

Buddhist meditation teachers suggest that observation reveals consciousness as a sequence of conscious moments rather than a continuum of awareness[citation needed]. Each moment is an experience of an individual mind-state such as a thought, a memory, a feeling or a perception. A mind-state arises, exists and, being impermanent, ceases, following which the next mind-state arises. Thus the consciousness of a sentient being can be seen as a continuous series of birth and death of these mind-states. Rebirth is the persistence of this process.

Two questions:

  • The first question is about this definition/description/explanation of 'rebirth'
  • The second question is about this definition/description of 'consciousness and awareness'

So:

  1. Can you give any citations for this explanation of 'rebirth'? Which tradition[s] of Buddhism is this from? Is it described in any canonical suttas, and/or does this idea have any specific names/nouns (e.g. in Pali, Tibetan, and/or Chinese) associated with it?

  2. Is consciousness inevitably always a sequence of moments, not a continuum of awareness? Is this also true during meditation?

  • It was an early version of this answer which prompted this question. That answer has since been expanded, and it now at least partially answers this question. – ChrisW Oct 25 '14 at 1:04
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In Theravada, these questions are considered abhidhamma material. The goto reference is the Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma, which says in regards to your second question:

2. Is consciousness inevitably always a sequence of moments, not a continuum of awareness? Is this also true during meditation?

A second distinguishing feature of the Abhidhamma is the dissection of the apparently continuous stream of consciousness into a succession of discrete evanescent cognitive events called cittas, each a complex unity involving consciousness itself, as the basic awareness of an object, and a constellation of mental factors (cetasika) exercising more specialized tasks in the act of cognition.

In the Theravada, reality is reality, whether you are meditating or not.


As to the first set of questions:

Can you give any citations for this explanation of 'rebirth'?

Mahasi Sayadaw says:

Before death the stream of consciousness depends on the physical body and is continuous with one unit following the other uninterruptedly. After death, the body disintegrates and the stream of consciousness shifts to the physical process in another abode. This may be likened to the continuous appearance of light in an electric bulb through the ceaseless generation of electricity. When the bulb is burnt up, the light goes out but the potential electric energy keeps on coming. Light reappears when the old bulb is replaced with a new one. Here, the bulb, energy and light are all changing physical processes and we should be mindful of their impermanent character.

(source)


Which tradition[s] of Buddhism is this from?

Maybe better to ask which it is compatible with... it is compatible with Theravada, and probably most other orthodox schools.


Is it described in any canonical suttas

As with many doctrines, the concept of rebirth as a continuation of a momentary string of consciousness is not explicitly spelled out in the Suttas. The way rebirth works is implicit, for example:

“Bhikkhus, what one intends, and what one plans, and whatever one has a tendency towards: this becomes a basis for the maintenance of consciousness. When there is a basis there is a support for the establishing of consciousness. When consciousness is established and has come to growth, there is the production of future renewed existence. When there is the production of future renewed existence, future birth, aging-and-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair come to be. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering.

-- SN 12.38 (Bodhi, trans)

“Bhikkhus, though someone might say: ‘Apart from form, apart from feeling, apart from perception, apart from volitional formations, I will make known the coming and going of consciousness, its passing away and rebirth, its growth, increase, and expansion’—that is impossible.

3“Bhikkhus, if a bhikkhu has abandoned lust for the form element, with the abandoning of lust the basis is cut off: there is no support for the establishing of consciousness.

If he has abandoned lust for the feeling element … for the perception element … for the volitional formations element … for the consciousness element, with the abandoning of lust the basis is cut off: there is no support for the establishing of consciousness.

-- SN 22.53 (Bodhi, trans)

“Sisters, suppose an oil-lamp is burning: its oil is impermanent and subject to change, its wick is impermanent and subject to change, its flame is impermanent and subject to change, and its radiance is impermanent and subject to change. Now would anyone be speaking rightly who spoke thus: ‘While this oil-lamp is burning, its oil, wick, and flame are impermanent and subject to change, but its radiance is permanent, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change’?”

“No, venerable sir. Why is that? Because, venerable sir, while that oil-lamp is burning, its oil, wick, and flame are impermanent and subject to change, so its radiance must be impermanent and subject to change.”

“So too, sisters, would anyone be speaking rightly who spoke thus: ‘These six internal bases are impermanent and subject to change, but the pleasant, painful, or neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling that one experiences in dependence upon the six internal bases is permanent, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change’?”

“No, venerable sir. Why is that? Because each feeling arises in dependence upon its corresponding condition, and with the cessation of its corresponding condition, the feeling ceases.”

“Good, good, sisters! So it is with a noble disciple who sees this as it actually is with proper wisdom.

-- MN 146 (Bodhi, trans)

5“Master Gotama, when a flame is flung by the wind and goes some distance, what does Master Gotama declare to be its fuel on that occasion?”

6“When, Vaccha, a flame is flung by the wind and goes some distance, I declare that it is fuelled by the wind. For on that occasion the wind is its fuel.”

7“And, Master Gotama, when a being has laid down this body but has not yet been reborn in another body, what does Master Gotama declare to be its fuel on that occasion?”

8“When, Vaccha, a being has laid down this body but has not yet been reborn in another body, I declare that it is fuelled by craving. For on that occasion craving is its fuel.”

-- SN 44.9 (Bodhi, trans)

When this was said, the Venerable Moḷiyaphagguna said to the Blessed One: “Venerable sir, who consumes the nutriment consciousness?”

3“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One replied. “I do not say, ‘One consumes.’ If I should say, ‘One consumes,’ in that case this would be a valid question: ‘Venerable sir, who consumes?’ But I do not speak thus. Since I do not speak thus, if one should ask me, ‘Venerable sir, for what is the nutriment consciousness [a condition]?’ this would be a valid question. To this the valid answer is: ‘The nutriment consciousness is a condition for the production of future renewed existence.

When that which has come into being exists, the six sense bases [come to be]; with the six sense bases as condition, contact.’”

-- SN 12.12 (Bodhi, trans)


and/or does this idea have any specific names/nouns (e.g. in Pali, Tibetan, and/or Chinese) associated with it?

The term for the stream of consciousness is viññāṇa-sota:

Again, having done this and gone further, he comes to know the unbroken stream of human consciousness as established both in this world and in the next. That is the third attainment. Again, having done this and gone still further, he comes to know the unbroken stream of human consciousness that is not established either in this world or in the next.

-- DN 28 (Bodhi, trans)

The term for the consciousness that links back to a new rebirth is paṭisandhi-viññāṇa.

The term for the process of the mind is citta-vīthi.

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    You described the "succession of discrete evanescent cognitive events" as being called "cittas", but Gurusinghe described them as 'mindlet' or "Naama". – ChrisW Oct 25 '14 at 14:09
  • "In the Theravada, reality is reality, whether you are meditating or not." Yes, good point. :-) Still, I wondered if meditation might affect (the continuity of personal) consciousness. – ChrisW Oct 25 '14 at 14:10
  • FMI there are a couple of Abhidhamma documents online in English at the palicanon.com website. – ChrisW Oct 25 '14 at 14:18
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    Mindlet... That's a new one :) Citta is the pali word for a single arisen mind or consciousness – yuttadhammo Oct 25 '14 at 14:42
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  1. This is similar to how my Zen teacher (an ordained Korean Seon monk) described rebirth, he said it happens moment-to-moment.

  2. In Mahayana, consciousness is not a sequence of moments, nor is it a continuum of awareness. Consciousness is an ocean of interacting forms-are-emptiness. Sequence of moments is an illusion, a hallucination. In Theravada, consciousness may very well be a sequence of moments, because Theravada adheres to phenomenological perspective.

  • Did your Zen teacher say whether it's possible/desirable to stop that rebirth, and (if so) how? – ChrisW Oct 25 '14 at 1:11
  • @andrei Was the "forms-are-emptiness" a typo? Or is it a real thing. Thanks. – DLV Oct 25 '14 at 1:11
  • @ChrisW he did not, but according to me sure, the illusion of gapless moment-to-moment continuity of the ego is to be stopped. How? By not appropriating any dharmas as "me" or "mine". – Andrei Volkov Oct 25 '14 at 1:54
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    @David, yeah that's a nod towards "form is emptiness and emptiness is form" of Sutra of Heart of Prajna Paramita. – Andrei Volkov Oct 25 '14 at 1:55
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    @ChrisW, that too is right, sure, but I meant it in the sense that it's not a single thread. – Andrei Volkov Oct 25 '14 at 2:42
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I'm reposting my answer to the question Isn't enlightenment the ultimate death?

My understanding is the term rebirth was used metaphorically in early buddhism . Buddhism practiced current times may be slightly different in many ways ,because it was many many years after the death of buddha the great king Asoka retrieved the teachings and made the efforts to propagate it. and pressures from hindu elites to keep the religion not to go against hindu teachings many times ended up in persecution of buddhism by hindus and ultimately the near death of the religion in india.

Consider rebirth like this You are not the same person now comparing to what you where at the age of 10 or 20 ,so humans change many times during their lifetime and each change is a birth of new personality,

and at a certain age it is possible to achieve a state of mind where you don't have craving,suffering etc..you have a supreme knowledge and you attain a stage where your mind is calm as still water, (It may not be possible for everyone but Buddhism emphasize on keep trying. ) and it is the death of personality changes not person,the cycle of personality changes ceases and you are in a state of supreme consciousness . Thats my view, others may disagree. but i think all these jataka tales mentioning of buddhas reincarnation are stories to teach moral lessons.

The various realms mentioned in buddhist cosmology is thus easier to understand, devas are considered to live in higher realms ,while naraka or hell the realm of greatest suffering. Consider them as state of mind ...if a person is suffering from mental illness then he is living in Naraka or hell...I think the realm of Atata or shivering hell ..may be related to to some neurotic illness ,neurosis causes hand to shiver when the person is very anxious. So all these are planes of existence ,these planes exist in the mind and also in real world. It is both mental and physical.

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