Saturday, January 29, 2011

LITERAL REBIRTH



Here's one of the videos up on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles page. It's all about reincarnation.

I want to create a brand of Buddhist evaporated milk called Reincarnation Evaporated Milk!

Here is one of the videos that are linked as a related video. This guy's response is based on the notion that if you believe that there is a realm other than the material one, then there is life after death.

Here is a supposed contrast/comparison between the Islamic and Buddhist perspectives that's really long. These guy's understanding of Buddhism is vastly different from mine. So much so that it would take far longer than I care to spend to explain how.

Here is an NBC report on the subject with Deepak Choprah making more money for himself by promising his readers life after death. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't just do this myself.

I got this in the email the other day:

"I have studied the Nishijima version of Shobogenzo quite a lot years ago. Master Nishijima's attitude towards rebirth/reincarnation is essentially the same i myself hold, however i took and take objection to his persistent opinion that the teaching of literal rebirth is not Buddhist. I have studied Dogen quite allot and must come to the conclusion that for Dogen literal rebirth is clearly part of his Buddhist view (it has nothing to do with the Senika view of eternalism). Like i said my own opinion about this matter is essentially the same as master Nishijima's but that view should not be forced upon Dogen, it is not appropiate and i feel that master Nishijima does exactly that. When reading Dogen we should try to think like an ancient Japanese monk who viewed the world in a Mahayana Buddhist way and take what we can from it in our modern world without trying to alter aspects of it that seem alien or even superstitious to us.

"Anyway master Nishijima persistence on this view somehow put me off his Shobogenzo, that is just how my flawed mind works. It has been years since i have studied his version of the Shobogenzo and i feel i would like to own the Shobogenzo again so i was really excited about the Kazuaki Tanahshi's version until i read your blog. The same things that bother you about this translation would bother me to! So i'm considering to buy the Nishijima version again instead. It has been so long since i have studied it so:

"My real question is: Does the Nishijima version sneak in some of his what i feel are modern views about rebirth/reincarnation or is the text as literal as possible and reflect Dogen's teachings purely?

"I severely respect master Nishijima and mean no disrespect at all, he is a great teacher."


My reply:

Nishijima Roshi leaves all of Dogen's references to rebirth within Shobogenzo just as they are in the original. People are getting reborn all over the place in that thing! When people questioned Nishijima about this during talks, he always explained that these references were meant metaphorically, not literally. However, within the text of his translation he never alters any of these references, nor does he even add any footnotes saying they are metaphorical.

To me, the more direct questions are 1) What do we today mean by "literal rebirth" and 2) why does it matter if Dogen believed in it or not?

In the case of the questioner, the answer to #2 is he wants to know if Nishijima's translation is reliable. The answer to that is, yes, it is. So is Kaz Tanahashi's fine translation.

But I think for most people #2 is important because we regard Dogen as a religious authority. If Dogen agrees with other religious authorities like Deepak Choprah on the question of literal rebirth, we can feel that much more relieved. As Mr. Choprah has learned, people will pay good money to be told by a religious authority figure that they will live forever. People have paid damn good money to hear that from religious authority figures for a very long time and in cultures across the globe. It is quite a reliable strategy for making a living.

But Deepak Chorpah doesn't know anything more about life after death than you do, dear reader. Dogen didn't know anything more about life after death when he was alive and writing than you do either. I also do not know anything more than you. Unlike the "she" in John Lennon's song She Said, She Said, I do not know what it's like to be dead.

("She" was actually Peter Fonda, out of his mind on LSD who said this to Lennon while they were tripping together in the Hollywood hills. I was once in line at Ralph's grocery store in West Hollywood with Peter Fonda. He was alive. But after Ghost Rider his career was dead. Perhaps that's what he meant?)

I don't necessarily think that Mr. Choprah is cynically exploiting his readers by telling them lies. He says what he says in order to create a reassuring feedback loop from himself to his readership and back again that helps relieve his own fears of death. This is also a time-tested strategy and appears to work for some people.

Onto question #1, what do we mean by "literal rebirth?"

The late e-sangha said this about me in reference to the above: "Brad Warner is a materialist i.e. he denies rebirth; and therefore, the only conclusion he can assert is that the mind is merely an ephiphenomena (sic) of brain activity. That is principally why knowledgable (sic) Buddhists take issue with him. That being so, he isn’t teaching Buddhism, but instead teaching a Worldly dharma that he and his teacher call 'Zen'.”

As I said before (I think), I do believe that the mind is the product of brain activity. That's what epiphenomena (not ephiphenomena) means. But I also believe that brain is an epiphenomena of mind activity. The mutual inter-relationship causes both to appear.

But that's beside the point. The e-sangha guys believed in literal rebirth. For them it was very important that others also believed that. If they thought someone who claimed to be Buddhist denied literal rebirth, they labeled them non-Buddhist and tried to cast doubt upon them by using phrases like, "That is principally why knowledgable (sic) Buddhists take issue with him." There is no evidence I am aware of that any knowledgeable Buddhists (whoever they might be) take issue with me about my stance on rebirth. It's good to be careful of vague unattributed claims like this in general, by the way.

But what in Heck's name is "literal rebirth?" When you really come right down to it I suppose it means, to most people, that someone is telling them they'll live forever. Literal rebirth means that someday I will actually die as a person in some place and I will get reborn in another place as another person, celestial being or animal.

This is not what Buddhism teaches. Well, it's not what the kind of Buddhism I teach teaches anyway. There is no "literal you" to get "literally reborn." This is the heart of the argument.

And Dogen is pretty clear that there is no "literal you." So the idea that he taught anything like what most people in the Western world mean when they use the phrase "literal rebirth" is absurd.

Does that make sense?

You'll forgive me in a year or so, I hope, when you see the above article reworked into part of a book.

243 comments:

«Oldest   ‹Older   201 – 243 of 243
Ran K. said...

That is not true. The primary source of materialism is your mind being disconnected from reality. Not being able to distinguish true understanding from intellectualism.

(and btw, I’m out till tomorrow)

anon #108 said...

Afternoon john e, Ran K,

"The primary source of materialism is..."

You are both completely and utterly wrong.

I just googled "primary source of materialism": nothing. Ergo, such a thing does not exist.

(I can't be expected to check these things out a regular basis. Please do your own research in future. Thank you :))

john e mumbles said...

Well Ran, it may not be true for you, it's only my opinion. You have those too, I believe? Besides, is the "mind" part of the body or not? Where does "mind" reside for you?

& semantics aside, I think you make my point, Malcolm?

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anon #108 said...

& semantics aside, I think you make my point, Malcolm?

Quite possibly, john...I was just mucking about ;)

It seemed bleak said...

I can think of consciousness as a product of non-conscious processes. These can be viewed as unconscious processes which are based on what I shall call non-brain-specific processes.

Moreover, I can think of consciousness as the interaction of those non-conscious processes with processes external to the individual: those that the individual organism comes into 'contact' with (and not just via the senses - anything which influences the 'internal' environment.

Though I say external or internal, these processes could also be viewed as non-brain-specific and thus not bound by conventionally dualistic description.

I could call these non-brain-specific processes mind, as opposed to 'the' or 'a' or 'my mind', as it constitutes and informs the brain's activities, conscious or otherwise.

(Which gives rise to my mind, which is recognised by conscious activity... my conscious recognition, or another's when viewing my mind's activities when I'm not so aware of my self)...or recognised by unconscious activity - two people mirroring body posture, for example, or my left foot adjusting to the right as I walk, without me being consciously aware.)

This 'mind' can be said to be immaterial in that it resides in no particular or discrete form, or at no particular order of identified complexity for it to be considered material - unless, that is, I consider material to be essentially immaterial:

Which I can also, and maybe should too. Or is it, I can too, and maybe should also?

Further: I can reflect that this non-brain-specific immateriality (immatereality?) compounds, concretises, reifies etc into what we identify as the brain and its processes, along with everything else a being can point to and influence as a discrete form, thing, substance, etc.

Thus: what is mind? It does the is of stuff and is the doing. Perhaps.

Am I not, therefore, rambling through a definition of 'form is emptiness and emptiness form'? Not to mention that the notion that the material and the immaterial are aspects of real?

And finally: 'process' or 'processes' imply the arrow of time, cause and effect, entropy etc.

In this case, I can think of the brain as a stream, freezing its own after-the-fact snap-shots, and putting a few together to come up with a 'stream' view of events and processes, past to present to future.

But if the apparatus is the stream freezing the stream into being...?

Is this any different to the dew collecting on morning grass?

Or its likeness to the ghost of late-December snow, a dew that caught my attention?

Mind-made footprints, my wet feet.

Moon Face Buddha said...

Do we go 'bonkers' at the mention of rebirth?

Or is it just that some folks like to point out that any so-called buddhist teacher who denies that gotama buddha accepted the reality of and taught the reality of rebirth is a lying sack of shit?

Yep, i'm being post post-modern :)

Anonymous said...

Pfft. Who cares what the Buddha said anyway? He's dead. Dead dead dead. Doornailed, baby.

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shonin said...

Pfft. Who cares what the Buddha said anyway? He's dead. Dead dead dead. Doornailed, baby.

I've never understood why people say that. Buddha is dead? So is Newton - yet gravity is still well-described by Newtonian physics. Whether someone is alive or dead has no bearing at all on the true-ness or otherwise of what they have said.

Mysterion said...

Blogger Shonin said...
"I've never understood why people say that. Buddha is dead?"

The implication is that (typically) IXEUS (fish, Vishnu*- Matsya) is the ever-living god. But then so is Adonis, Ate, Atlas, Atman, Aten, Athamus, Attis, Dionysus, Hades, Odin, Odysseus, Osiris, Tammuz, Pan, &ct.

Vishnu as a fish.

Regardless, a TRUE BELIEVER® can't spit out the hook - they have swallowed it with the bait, line, and sinker. (Sad, but true).

Mysterion said...

I've not read: "The Jesus Mysteries."

ORPHEOS BAKKIKOS [s PDF] Orpheus-Bachchus Crucified has been kicking around - for 90 years.

Ran K. @ 6:06 AM said...

- John e @ 6:42: - I thought you said “primarily” (as “original”) and to that I related.

+ said...

12:25 pm was humorous in my view.

And very good at it too.

(speaks of some)

++ said...

108?

Anonymous said...

Soku-shin-ze-butsu
Mind Here and Now Is Buddha


"Apart from this there is no buddha at all. This body must appear and disappear, but the mental essence has never appeared or disappeared since the limitless past. The appearance and disappearance of the body is like a dragon changing its bones, a snake shedding its skin, or a person moving out of an old house. This body is inconstant; the essence is constant. What they teach in the south is, for the most part, like this.”"

This then is the view of the non-Buddhist Senika.

Anonymous said...

"I don't believe in rebirth and yet, I don't negate it. ... If there is rebirth, it is all right, I will try to practice in the same manner. ..."
Rev. Shohaku Okumura
Director, Soto Zen Education Center
http://www.thezensite.com/ZenTeachings/Dogen_Teachings/Genjokoan_Okumara.htm

Anonymous said...

Even though we cannot know the state of human beings after death, any transition that may take place for the realizing, unattaching person is necessarily a transition that remains connected to all other things, as the idea of an independent existence is rejected in Buddhism. This is a common source of misunderstanding in Buddhism: that upon realization, one “exits” existence. This, however, does not take into account the central Buddhist concept of the dependent origination of all things, and its two fruits: interconnectivity and interdependence. One’s liberation after realization is a freedom or release from the perpetual unsatisfactoriness created by dualistic craving and attachments in oneself. It is not a literal liberation into a different realm, or into non-existence (something that exists cannot be “annihilated,” but can only transform). The Buddha rejected both eternalism (the belief in permanent existence) and annihilationism (the belief in permanent destruction).
http://www.pragmaticbuddhism.org/education/overview.html#principles

Anonymous said...

“rebirth” is that it simply implies that one is not “annihilated” upon death, and that one necessarily remains interconnected with the rest of existence. Thus, while loyalty to experiential verification calls one to refrain from speculating on what exactly happens after death, it can at least be known—through modern physics and awareness of dependent origination—that like all things, human beings are not “created or destroyed.” Whatever the case, we can at least know that we will remain an integral part of our Universe in some form, though not in our current form (nothing is eternal or unchanging), which includes the “self” or “consciousness” we presently know. This is a valid and widely held interpretation of rebirth in the Buddhist West.

http://www.pragmaticbuddhism.org/education/overview.html#principles

Anonymous said...

by Kosho Uchiyama
I eat food from the garden of the universe
I drink water from the fountain of the universe
I breathe the air of the whole universe
My life comes out of the whole universe.
Being pulled by the gravitational force of the whole universe
I become pure and clear.
The whole universe is where I return.

Anonymous said...

Even though we cannot know the state of human beings after death, any transition that may take place for the realizing, unattaching person is necessarily a transition that remains connected to all other things, as the idea of an independent existence is rejected in Buddhism. This is a common source of misunderstanding in Buddhism: that upon realization, one “exits” existence. This, however, does not take into account the central Buddhist concept of the dependent origination of all things, and its two fruits: interconnectivity and interdependence. One’s liberation after realization is a freedom or release from the perpetual unsatisfactoriness created by dualistic craving and attachments in oneself. It is not a literal liberation into a different realm, or into non-existence (something that exists cannot be “annihilated,” but can only transform). The Buddha rejected both eternalism (the belief in permanent existence) and annihilationism (the belief in permanent destruction).

Anonymous said...

Even though we cannot know the state of human beings after death, any transition that may take place for the realizing, unattaching person is necessarily a transition that remains connected to all other things, as the idea of an independent existence is rejected in Buddhism. This is a common source of misunderstanding in Buddhism: that upon realization, one “exits” existence. This, however, does not take into account the central Buddhist concept of the dependent origination of all things, and its two fruits: interconnectivity and interdependence. One’s liberation after realization is a freedom or release from the perpetual unsatisfactoriness created by dualistic craving and attachments in oneself. It is not a literal liberation into a different realm, or into non-existence (something that exists cannot be “annihilated,” but can only transform). The Buddha rejected both eternalism (the belief in permanent existence) and annihilationism (the belief in permanent destruction).

OsamaVanHalen said...

Beating a dead horse will not make it reincarnate but carry on if you enjoy doing that kind of thing.

226 [- Ehhh! R] said...

I guess I should correct [!!!] my (quite silly) remark @ 12:53. [am]

In case mumbles means “primary” as “original”, - I hold what I said.

In case he meant it as “main”, - you might consider it (- i.e. - my correction @ 6:06 am) to be a misunderstanding.

a resurrected horse said...

OVH touched the matter unawaringly. - It is a matter of whether the heart of your thinking is alive or dead.

- If it is dead, - however intelligent you are - you may be a fool.



(It is not a point the American society upholds. As it is generally blind to what it is in first place.)



Practice enlivens it.



With time.

+ said...

Nothing, only this.

Soulagent79 said...

Look what I just found...

"China Bans Reincarnation Without Government Permission"

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2007/08/22/china-bans-reincarnation-_n_61444.html?ref=fb&src=sp

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
231 said...

Anybody interested in viewing Charles present state of mind, and consequent excellence of mental abilities, view his last link.








See also: - http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=xqyz_MgJu5o&vq=medium

Mark Foote said...

my comment on Tebbe's entry on "The Online Sangha":


I'll confess right off that the only time I ever witnessed 2nd Life was when my landlady showed it to me 5 years ago.

I'm a regular reader of Brad's blog; I like the way he writes, I appreciate that he has a love of rock 'n roll and a need for sitting zazen in his life; I can relate.

I'm also very moved by the comment by BSE on his experience.

Zazen is a peculiar practice. On the one hand, it's been associated with the cross-legged posture since the Gautamid first described the practice of setting up mindfulness. On the other hand, we have statements like "only zazen can sit zazen" (Shunryu Suzuki, to Blanche Hartman I believe, as recounted on cuke.com) and "you know, sometimes zazen gets up and walks around" (Kobun Chino Otogawa, in a lecture in the '80's at S.F. Zen Center). So is zazen something we do, or something that only happens in a cross-legged posture? Not exactly, it would seem.

This opens the door to 2nd Life practice.

In my own experience, I have come to understand practice this way: we not only have a pulmonary respiration (the ins and outs of which formed the basis of the Gautamid's practice of setting up mindfulness), but also a cranial-sacral respiration (a change in the fluid volume of the cerebral-spinal fluid that causes flexion and extension throughout the body, especially in the bones of the skull and at the sacrum); the two respirations place the occurrence of consciousness to cause the balance of the body to impact the current stretch in our fascial envelope, and thereby generate activity that aligns the body and opens feeling. Attachment, aversion, or ignorance of the particulars of feeling skews the subsequent placement of consciousness, while the spontaneous witness of how attachment, aversion, or ignorance skews the placement of consciousness frees the subsequent placement of consciousness.

What has this to do with virtual reality, or with traditional zazen practice in the cross-legged posture? here it is in the words of Dogen:

"When we let go of our minds and cast aside our views and understandings the Way will be actualized. One sage clarified True Mind (Reality) when he saw peach blossoms and another realized the Way when he heard the sound of tile hitting a bamboo. They attained the way through their bodies. Therefore, when we completely cast aside our thoughts and views and practice shikantaza, we will become intimate with the way… This is why I encourage you to practice zazen wholeheartedly."

(“Shobogenzo-zuimonki”, sayings recorded by Koun Ejo, translated by Shohaku Okumura, 2-26, pg 107-108, ©2004 Sotoshu Shumucho)

"They attained the way through their bodies"; I'm not saying it isn't important to think, that joy in thinking isn't a good thing, or that it's possible to communicate through a computer without some physical activity (even if it's just a movement of the eyes, as I guess it is in some cases). I am saying that there's confusion about this point even among some teachers, so it's important to encourage the exploration of the relationship between the two involuntary respirations necessary to life, consciousness, and the happiness of well-being itself. Can this be done in virtual reality, where the physical activity is so minimal? Yeah, sure; the usual medium is the upright physical posture, though, because it's much easier to see involuntary reciprocal activity out of stretch.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Max said...

I'm surprised to find no reference in the post or any comments to an excellent debate on the subject of Buddhism and reincarnation between Stephen Batchelor and Robert Thurman here:
http://www.tricycle.com/feature/3857-1.html

Both men make some great points, but it seems to me that Batchelor wins it for non-necessity of reincarnation, though that was my bias going in, along with a bias in favor of him (S.B.) as one of my favorite authors.

Anonymous said...

"It's all bullshit, folks and it's bad for ya."
— George Carlin

Anonymous said...

How do you know that Chopra has a fear of death that inspires his comments? Or that he just wants to make money? This is why I rarely read your stuff, and am frustrated when I do. You say things as definitive as the people you criticize for being definitive, or money grabbing, all for the sake of your "I'm punk rock and keepin it more real than those other guys" - so buy my stuff and keep me in business, not them! And I don't like Chopra any more than you do personally. But I don't presume to know what he thinks or feels or knows. He may be right about everything. I just don't much care.

Broken Yogi said...

Not sure if this thread is dead or not. (heheheh) Why time stamp comments, but not date stamp them? It's a very simple adjustment to make.

Anyway, this notion that no one has any idea about life after death is just nonsense. Brad may not have any idea, but some people have some pretty reasonable ideas based on some pretty reasonable experiences, reports, traditions, etc. Some old, some new, some borrowed, some blue. Point being that even Brad's idea about brain epiphenomena is a belief system, with no real evidence.

Regarding Buddhism, Brad is mixing up categories. The Buddhist doctrine of anatta says that there is no one who is incarnating in this life, forget about some future lifetime or after death world. So whether the illusion of self persists after death or not has no bearing on this matter.

The Buddhist view on reincarnation is summarized in the doctrine of dependent origination, which explains how it is possible for the illusion of self to persist from life to life, or between lives, while yet being an illusion. It persists from hour to hour and year to year, does it not? Brad is not confused as to whether he feels an ongoing sense of self right now, or last year, or as a child, or will as an old man, is he? I don't think so.

It's not at all unreasonable to assume that this sense of self will persist after death also. Or that it will change forms and reincarnate through some other body-mind of roughly similar makeup. We change from childhood to manhood to old age already, and yet feel as if we are the same "self". Do you remember waking up one day as someone totally different? I don't think so. So it's unlikely that we die and vanish, or become totally different either. THere's a vague continuity that persists, and makes us feel that an "I" is ongoing through all this.

Now, it's also possible to develop a senistivity beyond the merely physical, that lets us peak a bit into past and future lives, in the subtle dimension, etc. After all, our mental state is already "not of this world". It is rooted in the subtle worlds, and yet identified and linked up with the physical. This allows us to have some unusual experiences at times, in dreams, in meditation, on drugs, under hypnosis, etc., that can give us a peak into such things. It's not exactly conclusive by any means, but it's real evidence that needs to be considered, and allows us to form ideas about the way life, death, life after death, and birth occur.

Whether Chopra knows jack about this stuff I wouldn't know. Probably not much more than the average guy. Maybe Dogen knew more, maybe not. It's not as important as knowing who we are right now, and why we think we've been born at all and persist from birth until death. But it's not utterly unimportant or inaccessible either. Sure, our motives for wanting to know are mixed. We do fear death and want reassurance. But that's not such a bad thing. We fear lots of things and it helps to get some basic knowledge about them and get over our fears of the unknown. Getting some basic knowledge about the death process is a good thing. It's just not everything.

Brad could probably be helped by a larger perspective on these things.

BTW, Brad, I like your blog and particularly your stance on Genpo.

Broken Yogi said...

Reading through comments:

I'm not an expert on Hebrew, but I believe the connection between spirit and breath there is in the word "ruach", which is usually translated as "breath, wind, mind, or spirit, in the case of a living creature". I'm not sure how this relates to other words in Hebrew connoting breath or wind, but this is the word that most point to when they say that the word for breath is derived from the word for spirit.

Mysterion said...

ruah ~ breath, spirit, wind...

see my comment HERE

I like the vanity connection...

all is vanity.

(It's just that false pride gets in the way of realization)

site said...

Well, I do not really believe this will have success.

Anonymous said...

Nobody knows about the afterlife, not me, not you, not even the Buddha or Dogen. Why is that? Because we are only men. But, is it really important to believe?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the relatively clear article! I always enjoy reading your well written humble opinions about stuff.
Especially this:Dogen didn't know anything more about life after death when he was alive and writing than you do either. I also do not know anything more than you.
This is so fundamental to all knowledge that i often wonder why we keep forgetting it:-) And why I still try to learn stuff from you:-)
Thanks for the independent and authentic way of being

«Oldest ‹Older   201 – 243 of 243   Newer› Newest»