The Problem of the Knowledge in the Rebirth

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The present is the offspring of the past, and becomes, in turn, the parent of the future. If we postulate a past, present, and a future life, then we are at once faced with the alleged mysterious problem -- "What is the ultimate origin of life? Either there must be a beginning or there cannot be a beginning for life. One school, in attempting to solve the problem, postulates a first cause, God, viewed as a force or as an Almighty Being.

Another school denies a first cause for, in common experience, the cause ever becomes the effect and the effect becomes the cause.

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In a circle of cause and effect a first cause is inconceivable. According to the former, life has had a beginning, according to the latter, it is beginningless. From the scientific standpoint, we are the direct products of the sperm and ovum cells provided by our parents. As such life precedes life.

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With regard to the origin of the first protoplasm of life, or colloid, scientists plead ignorance. According to Buddhism we are born from the matrix of action kammayoni. Parents merely provide an infinitesimally small cell. As such being precedes being. At the moment of conception it is past kamma that conditions the initial consciousness that vitalizes the fetus.


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It is this invisible kammic energy, generated from the past birth that produces mental phenomena and the phenomenon of life in an already extant physical phenomenon, to complete the trio that constitutes man. For a being to be born here a being must die somewhere. The birth of a being, which strictly means the arising of the five aggregates or psycho-physical phenomena in this present life, corresponds to the death of a being in a past life; just as, in conventional terms, the rising of the sun in one place means the setting of the sun in another place.

This enigmatic statement may be better understood by imagining life as a wave and not as a straight line. Birth and death are only two phases of the same process. Birth precedes death, and death, on the other hand, precedes birth. The constant succession of birth and death in connection with each individual life flux constitutes what is technically known as samsara -- recurrent wandering. What is the ultimate origin of life?

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The Buddha declares: "Without cognizable end is this samsara. A first beginning of beings, who, obstructed by ignorance and fettered by craving, wander and fare on, is not to be perceived. But on the basis of them he somehow managed to arrive at something that was true — conditionality. All that striving, all those years of austerities, and all that walking the dusty roads of India to help others to attain Awakening were useless — at least in terms of solving the existential issue with which he, and many others of his time, were primarily concerned.

Padmasambhava might as well pour away the contents of his skullcup, and Amitayus can ditch that vase. Of course, we can always fall back on saying that these passages from the suttas are later additions, and that the Buddha himself never gave this account of his Awakening, never spoke in terms of the Deathless. However, although historical criticism is valuable in helping us come closer to what the Buddha may actually have taught, it needs to be used objectively. As Professor Gombrich puts it, a text should be innocent until proved guilty. Another argument that is sometimes put forward is that the Buddha used the language of rebirth because it was a commonly-held belief at the time.

This is highly unlikely. Certainly, as a teaching method the Buddha often engaged people on their own ground, reinterpreting things in a way that was in line with the Dharma. However, it is hard to imagine him teaching so extensively and literally about rebirth while knowing full well that there was no such thing.

Was he just humouring people when they asked him about what had become of someone after death, telling them he could see what had happened to them? It seems inauthentic and dishonest in an Enlightened teacher to act in that way. And presumably if he had felt the need of it he could have reinterpreted rebirth in some way — perhaps as an influence rippling out into the world after your demise, as some of my friends are doing — just as he reinterpreted other popular beliefs of his time.

Ajita of the Hair Blanket Ajita Kesakambali was a well-known spiritual figure. He is represented in the Buddhist scriptures as teaching ucchedavada, the doctrine of annihilation at death. So if the Buddha believed that there was nothing after death, he could simply have sided with Ajita on this matter. In it he outlines seven ways in which one might identify with a self and imagine that it is annihilated at death. He then claims to have seen the truth of the matter, and interestingly enough, he also claims to have seen the kind of realm in which people who hold such views will be reborn.

Even if we assume that the Buddha only taught rebirth as a kind of skilful means, what are we to make of the fact that virtually no realized Buddhist practitioner down through the centuries has contradicted him? There are no figures on our Refuge Tree, neither teachers of the past nor present, who seem to have believed that death is the end. Assuming that they had some deep insight into the nature of things, did none of them speak out to contradict the Buddha out of respect for him?

Did they all talk about rebirth, often at great length, while keeping their fingers crossed behind their backs? A noble and inspiring human death, yes, but rather than consciousness going beyond all limits, finding its boundless freedom, as brain activity stops and the Buddha flatlines, there is no freedom, no awareness, nothing. In the same way, the significance of many of the stories involving death in the Pali Canon also changes.

Take the case of Suppabuddha, in the Kutthi Sutta. He is a leper, who only approaches the assembly where the Buddha is teaching because he hopes that where a large crowd has gathered there may be some food to be had. The Buddha sees that he is ready for the Dharma and directs his teaching to him. As a result he gains stream-entry on the spot. Having paid delighted homage to the Buddha and gone for refuge, he departs. Then the sutta says: a large number of monks went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. What is his destination?

What is his future state? He practised the Dhamma in accordance with the Dhamma and did not pester me with issues related to the Dhamma. With the destruction of the first three fetters, he is a stream-winner, not subject to states of deprivation, headed for self-awakening for sure. If you hold the idea of rebirth, as the Buddha is represented as doing, then this entire story is a triumph. The Chinese term " de " or "virtue" is reserved for what might otherwise be termed "good karma" in Buddhism.

Karma is understood as the source of all suffering - what Buddhism might refer to as "bad karma". Li says, "A person has done bad things over his many lifetimes, and for people this results in misfortune, or for cultivators it's karmic obstacles, so there's birth, aging, sickness, and death. This is ordinary karma. Falun Gong teaches that the spirit is locked in the cycle of rebirth, also known as samsara [] due to the accumulation of karma. Falun Gong states that karma is the reason for suffering, and what ultimately blocks people from the truth of the universe and attaining enlightenment.

At the same time, karma is also the cause of one's continued rebirth and suffering. Ownby regards the concept of karma as a cornerstone to individual moral behaviour in Falun Gong, and also readily traceable to the Christian doctrine of "one reaps what one sows". Others say Matthew means no unbeliever will not fully reap what they sow until they are Judged by God after death in Hell. Ownby says Falun Gong is differentiated by a "system of transmigration", though, "in which each organism is the reincarnation of a previous life form, its current form having been determined by karmic calculation of the moral qualities of the previous lives lived.

Li says that "Human beings all fell here from the many dimensions of the universe. They no longer met the requirements of the Fa at their given levels in the universe, and thus had to drop down. Just as we have said before, the heavier one's mortal attachments, the further down one drops, with the descent continuing until one arrives at the state of ordinary human beings.

Those who fail to return will have no choice but to reincarnate , with this continuing until they amass a huge amount of karma and are destroyed. Ownby regards this as the basis for Falun Gong's apparent "opposition to practitioners' taking medicine when ill; they are missing an opportunity to work off karma by allowing an illness to run its course suffering depletes karma or to fight the illness through cultivation.

Since Li believes that "karma is the primary factor that causes sickness in people", Penny asks: "if disease comes from karma and karma can be eradicated through cultivation of xinxing , then what good will medicine do?


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Li also states that "An everyday person needs to take medicine when he gets sick. One of the significant controversies with the karma doctrine is whether it always implies destiny, and its implications on free will. This controversy is also referred to as the moral agency problem; [] the controversy is not unique to karma doctrine, but also found in some form in monotheistic religions. The free will controversy can be outlined in three parts: [] 1 A person who kills, rapes or commits any other unjust act, can claim all his bad actions were a product of his karma: he is devoid of free will, he can not make a choice, he is an agent of karma, and he merely delivers necessary punishments his "wicked" victims deserved for their own karma in past lives.

Are crimes and unjust actions due to free will, or because of forces of karma? Or, should one blame oneself for bad karma over past lives, and assume that the unjust suffering is fate? The explanations and replies to the above free will problem vary by the specific school of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

The schools of Hinduism, such as Yoga and Advaita Vedanta, that have emphasized current life over the dynamics of karma residue moving across past lives, allow free will. Not only is one affected by past karma, one creates new karma whenever one acts with intent - good or bad. If intent and act can be proven beyond reasonable doubt, new karma can be proven, and the process of justice can proceed against this new karma.

The actor who kills, rapes or commits any other unjust act, must be considered as the moral agent for this new karma, and tried. Another issue with the theory of karma is that it is psychologically indeterminate, suggests Obeyesekere. If something goes wrong — such as sickness or failure at work — the individual is unclear if karma from past lives was the cause, or the sickness was caused by curable infection and the failure was caused by something correctable.

This psychological indeterminacy problem is also not unique to the theory of karma; it is found in every religion adopting the premise that God has a plan, or in some way influences human events. As with the karma-and-free-will problem above, schools that insist on primacy of rebirths face the most controversy.

Their answers to the psychological indeterminacy issue are the same as those for addressing the free will problem. Some schools of Asian religions, particularly Popular Theravada Buddhism, allow transfer of karma merit and demerit from one person to another. This transfer is an exchange of non-physical quality just like an exchange of physical goods between two human beings. The practice of karma transfer, or even its possibility, is controversial. It defeats the ethical foundations, and dissociates the causality and ethicization in the theory of karma from the moral agent.

Proponents of some Buddhist schools suggest that the concept of karma merit transfer encourages religious giving, and such transfers are not a mechanism to transfer bad karma i. In Hinduism, Sraddha rites during funerals have been labelled as karma merit transfer ceremonies by a few scholars, a claim disputed by others. There has been an ongoing debate about karma theory and how it answers the problem of evil and related problem of theodicy. The problem of evil is a significant question debated in monotheistic religions with two beliefs: [] 1 There is one God who is absolutely good and compassionate omnibenevolent , and 2 That one God knows absolutely everything omniscient and is all powerful omnipotent.

The problem of evil is then stated in formulations such as, "why does the omnibenevolent, omniscient and omnipotent God allow any evil and suffering to exist in the world? Other scholars [] suggest that nontheistic Indian religious traditions do not assume an omnibenevolent creator, and some [] theistic schools do not define or characterize their God s as monotheistic Western religions do and the deities have colorful, complex personalities; the Indian deities are personal and cosmic facilitators, and in some schools conceptualized like Plato's Demiurge.

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Some theistic Indian religions, such as Sikhism, suggest evil and suffering are a human phenomenon and arises from the karma of individuals. Those schools of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism that rely on karma-rebirth theory have been critiqued for their theological explanation of suffering in children by birth, as the result of his or her sins in a past life. Western culture , influenced by Christianity, [5] holds a notion similar to karma, as demonstrated in the phrase " what goes around comes around ".

Mary Jo Meadow suggests karma is akin to "Christian notions of sin and its effects. There is a concept in Judaism called in Hebrew midah k'neged midah , which literally translates to "value against value," but carries the same connotation as the English phrase "measure for measure. David Wolpe compared midah k'neged midah to karma. Jung once opined on unresolved emotions and the synchronicity of karma;. When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate. Popular methods for negating cognitive dissonance include meditation , metacognition , counselling , psychoanalysis , etc.

This results in better emotional hygiene and reduced karmic impacts. Such peak experiences are hypothetically devoid of any karma nirvana or moksha. The idea of karma was popularized in the Western world through the work of the Theosophical Society. In this conception, karma was a precursor to the Neopagan law of return or Threefold Law, the idea that the beneficial or harmful effects one has on the world will return to oneself. Colloquially this may be summed up as 'what goes around comes around. The Theosophist I. Taimni wrote, "Karma is nothing but the Law of Cause and Effect operating in the realm of human life and bringing about adjustments between an individual and other individuals whom he has affected by his thoughts, emotions and actions.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article is about the Indian religious concept.

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For other uses, see Karma disambiguation. Karma symbols such as endless knot above are common cultural motifs in Asia. Endless knots symbolize interlinking of cause and effect, a Karmic cycle that continues eternally. The endless knot is visible in the center of the prayer wheel. Main article: Karma in Hinduism. Main article: Karma in Buddhism. Main article: Karma in Jainism. Further information: Poetic justice and Mills of God. For example, Peter Harvey translates the quote as follows: "It is will cetana , O monks, that I call karma; having willed, one acts through body, speech, and mind.

The problem is aggravated when the trace remains latent over a long period, perhaps over a period of many existences. The crucial problem presented to all schools of Buddhist philosophy was where the trace is stored and how it can remain in the ever-changing stream of phenomena which build up the individual and what the nature of this trace is. The results of kamma "kamma" is the Pali spelling for the word "karma" experienced at any one point in time come not only from past kamma, but also from present kamma.

This means that, although there are general patterns relating habitual acts to corresponding results [MN ], there is no set one-for-one, tit-for-tat, relationship between a particular action and its results. Instead, the results are determined by the context of the act, both in terms of actions that preceded or followed it [MN ] and in terms one's state of mind at the time of acting or experiencing the result [AN ].

This explains why the Buddha says in AN that the results of kamma are imponderable. Only a person who has developed the mental range of a Buddha—another imponderable itself—would be able to trace the intricacies of the kammic network. The basic premise of kamma is simple—that skillful intentions lead to favorable results, and unskillful ones to unfavorable results—but the process by which those results work themselves out is so intricate that it cannot be fully mapped.

We can compare this with the Mandelbrot set , a mathematical set generated by a simple equation, but whose graph is so complex that it will probably never be completely explored. We do not believe in a creator but in the causes and conditions that create certain circumstances that then come to fruition.

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