History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Buddhism and the rebirth question

May 25th, 2011 · No Comments

Good comment from Richard:

Richard Submitted on 2011/05/24 at 9:51 am
From Ted Meissner’s site:

“Knowing that my grandfather was a toymaker or a horse thief has no more effect on my meditation than the other person’s conviction that they were Eleanor Roosevelt, nor should it. Whoever I was in the past is totally irrelevent to what I choose to do this very moment.”

I think the problem here is that strawmen (pop) versions of reincarnation/rebirth misrepresent the idea. The real issue is the mind’s relationship with space-time and the “present moment” is much more subtle and has many more implications than you suggest:

“It is important to note that right view functions in two time frames: small and large. Its primary frame is in the small frame, dealing exclusively with the immediate present. As it focuses on the phenomenon of origination and passing away, it reduces its terms of analysis to more and more basic levels until reaching the point where it sees even such simple categories as “being” and “non-being” as extraneous, inappropriate, and irrelevant to the simple flow of events arising and passing away in the present [§186]. As a result, it strips everything down to the most basic categories of experience — the presence and absence of stress — without adding anything further. This phenomenological mode of perception, or “entry into emptiness,” sees things simply in terms of what is present and what is not [MN 121; MFU, pp. 82-85]. Here, realizations are expressed merely as pointers to present phenomena without any content that would point to anything outside of direct experience: “There is this,” [MN 102; MFU, pp. 81-82] “Such is form, such is feeling,” [§149] etc. The Pali name for this/that conditionality, idappaccayata, points to the fact that not only the phenomena but also their relationships are a matter of immediate, “right here-and-now” insight.

Once these insights are gained on the level of radically immediate experience, one realizes that they have implications for the larger time frame of the whole process of transmigration and one’s entire experience of the cosmos as well [§§211-15]. The process of stress arising and passing away in the present is precisely the same process as that of living beings arising and passing away on the cosmic scale. One sees that one has participated in this process from an inconceivable beginning in time; one knows — now that the process has been disbanded — that one has found the end of the cycle of rebirth. This is because, in entering radically into the present moment by stripping away all clinging, one ultimately steps out of the dimensions of time and the present; having done so, one can see the totality of what it means to be in those dimensions.

This point is illustrated in two passages [§§74, 64] that express the content of right view immediately before and after the experience of the Deathless:

‘From an inconceivable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. The total fading & cessation of ignorance, of this mass of darkness, is this peaceful, exquisite state: the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

‘This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress… This is the way leading to the cessation of stress… These are effluents… This is the origination of effluents… This is the cessation of effluents… This is the way leading to the cessation of effluents.’ His heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, is released from the effluent of sensuality, released from the effluent of becoming, released from the effluent of ignorance. With release, there is the knowledge, ‘Released.’ He discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’

The first passage depicts the act of discernment that verifies the principles of conviction. The second passage depicts the act of discernment that confirms the fact that the five faculties, when fully developed, do lead to the Deathless [§89]. Notice that both passages follow a similar pattern, even though they deal with vastly different time scales. Transmigration and darkness, in the first passage, correspond to stress in the second. Ignorance and craving are the origination of stress, and the sentence, “The total fading & cessation of ignorance… Unbinding,” describes the cessation of stress. The act of discernment that sees all these things is the way leading to the cessation of stress.

This repetition of the same pattern on two different frames of space and time in non-linear systems is called scale invariance: the same process on two different scales [I/B]. It is one of the most distinctive features of the Buddha’s teachings, for it shows how an insight into a present moment in the mind can have repercussions on one’s entire involvement in the cosmos. The principle behind the scale invariance of right view is this/that conditionality: the fact that one’s continued participation in the cosmos is kept going by one’s present contribution to the causal stream initiated over the long course of the past. By reaching the state of non-fashioning, one stops contributing to the present, and thus can bring the totality of one’s participation to an end, leaving the utter freedom of Unbinding. In this sense, the principle of this/that conditionality explains the possibility of attaining the Deathless, while the actuality of the Deathless — once it is attained through skillful mastery of kamma — is what proves the principle of this/that conditionality as an adequate description of the causal process that fabricates conditioned experience and provides an opening to the Unfabricated.”


Implicit in Bennett’s work too:

“But his basic scheme was based on the idea that ‘time, eternity, and hyparxis’, that is, three dimensions of time, were needed to describe the human mind, and that, however, outlandish at first sight, is not so different from what is implicit in Kant/Schopenhauer, although they won’t say so.”


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