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Jul 24

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Rebirth / Reincarnation , Self , not-self and Karma – Discussion Group Topic 7/22 at the Buddha Center


Rebirth / Reincarnation , Self , not-self and Karma

In order to understand what Buddha actually taught on this obviously difficult topic it is important to, firstly, understand Buddhas view on Reality.

Buddha taught the so called Middle Way which means we should look at Reality in two ways.1; the Ultimate Reality of the Non-Dual or the Deathless in which nothing exists and 2; the relative realty of our daily lives – the dualistic experiences in object – subject relations.

On top of this view on Reality we need to understand Buddhas teaching on Self and on not-self and / or personality view if we wish to answer the question if there is a lasting personal entity like a so called “soul” that is reincarnating / rebirthing.

Let’s start by explaining those terms:

The Deathless
If you study the Sutra’s you will learn that the Ultimate Reality, Deathless, the Other Shore, the goal of our practice is to be seen as being ‘Non-Dual’. It is un-become, un-compounded and never changing.

This notion of the Deathless as being changeless has deep and profound logical consequence if we think about it.
We have to understand that if one reaches the Other Shore, the Other Shore can not have changed because of that, or it would never have been changeless! So we have to conclude that we never at all were separate from that Changeless Non-Dual Other Shore called the Deathless!
(see for instance: Udana VIII 1-4)

Self
If you study the Sutra’s you will learn that the Self as Buddha taught it is to be seen as ‘Subject that experiences the objective world’.
Although this is a very much misunderstood teaching of the Buddha it is quite clear that, for the Buddha, the Self has to be changeless, free from rise and fall!
For the Buddha the idea of the Self being subjected to rise and fall is an untenable point of view.

There is deep need to emphasize that Buddha never taught that Self does not exist! Buddhas teaching on not-self (Anatta) is often misunderstood to mean that there is no Self.
The teaching of Anatta actually teaches that the Self can not be found in the Skandhas or in any other thing that is become or compounded!

Contradicting that wrong view of the not-self teaching, is the clear teaching of the possibility for ‘some-one’ to attain the Ultimate Goal of the Deathless, the Other Shore.
If not ‘the Self’ were the One to be gaining this attainment, who or what then would be attaining it?
Denying the existence of Self is denying your own existence! Denying the existence of the Self is denying you are the subject experiencing the Skandhas!
(see for instance: Middle length Discourses of the Buddha ‘Majjhima Nikaya’ 148 under Demonstration of Not Self).

In order to honor Buddha’s teaching I wish emphasize here that I have not seen any Sutra in which there is posited a ‘View on Self’ in positive terms. As with the Deathless, the Self can not be seen or known from the dualistic relative reality and therefor it can only be denominated in negatives like not-this and not-that. Hence in Buddhism there is no view on the nature of Self other then that it has to be Changeless not subjected to rise and fall.

Personality view or ego.
Buddha teaches the way how personality-view arises like this:
If ‘some-one’ identifies with ones physical body, or any one of the other Skandhas, “thinking this is mine, this is I, I am this, this is my self” then the personality-view arises.
(see for instance: Middle length Discourses of the Buddha ‘Majjhima Nikaya’ 148 under the Origination of Personality).

This is the correct ‘Anatta’ teaching; teaching there is no Self to be found in the Skandhas or any other thing that is become or compounded!

So what insight does understanding these terms bring ?
1; In Ultimate Reality there is the Deathless which logically has to be understood to be the same as the Self, since they share the same denominator “not subject to rise and fall – changeless”.

First conclusion:
In Ultimate Reality the Self = the Deathless. It follows that ‘the-Self-we-experience-in-us’ (if one can say this like that), the observer of our ‘personality-lives’ never gets born nor can it die; is Eternal and never changing, it is Buddha Nature.

Second conclusion:
Existence in relative reality:
How do we come to be in our Samsaric lives in which we experience the duality of Subject – Object relations, according to the Buddha?
We come to be by means of the chain of interdependent arising; our consciousness grabs ‘name and form’ and that becomes the basis for birth of a so called being.
It is the personality-view that keeps us clinging to this dual existence in Samsara, our relative reality, Personality view that arises on the first two links of the chain of interdependent origination that is the creating force for the next moment and the next body for samsaric life!

Of course this personality never really objectively exists or existed. It is an illusion like all compounded things. Nevertheless as long as one (personality) believes it is an objective Self- existing entity which is not dependent on anything else, the creating of the next illusion of existence will continue.

So the Self can’t be known in positive terms, it is changeless and non dual. It always is the same and therefor can’t be seen to be moving or being born or born again.
The acquiring and maintaining of personality view is the root force that drives our Samsaric existence as persons, from moment to moment and from birth to birth. This relative existence is ever changing , we gain and then we loose and therefor we suffer.

As long as we maintain this personality view it functions as a so called soul. It gathers the fruit of karma. It will give us heavenly rebirths or hellish reincarnations as is appropriate.

Fruit of Karma

You perhaps now can see the nature of Self, as being identical to the Deathless, meaning it is beyond rise and fall. It is eternal and Changeless.

You perhaps now can see the logic that “all beings have to ‘exist’ within the Deathless or the Self’ because if they were not already contained within It, the Deathless or Self would from necessity have changed. (Of course from the point of view of Ultimate reality one has keep realizing the Buddha taught that Nothing ever objectively exists or existed)

If ‘some-one’ attained total Enlightenment and Liberation from Samsara, which in the case of that some-one existing ‘outside’ of the Deathless or Self, would have to be literation INTO the Deathless or Self! The Deathless or the Self would have changed which is not possible! Samsara and all beings ‘are within’ the Self, ‘within the Deathless’.
The Nature of the Self / Deathless (also called Buddha-womb (Tathagata-garba and Buddha-Nature) is, if you ask me, omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence – But Buddha gave a lot of effort not to denominate any qualities to It other than Changeless and un-become un-compounded (non dual).

You perhaps see that identifying ‘one-self’ with the vehicle of expression or existence (the Skandhas, the body, feelings and consciousness of it)) causes the rise of the idea that that vehicle is a permanent entity. It however is not permanent and therefor it can not be the Self which has to be permanent (according to Buddha). Buddha therefor taught that that is personality view and is NOT SELF

Now truly understanding these concepts and accepting them as Truth, automatically will start a process of shifting away from identifying with your body, feelings and consciousness!
This process will automatically give rise to compassion for all sentient beings, since you will recognize the Self in all of them as well as you recognize the Self within ‘your own personal appearance’.
This process will automatically start strengthening the control over mind and body because of reorientation of the self away from not-self (personality-view) towards the True Self, the Deathless.

If you consider these concepts in relation to what Buddha taught as the Chain of Dependent Origination it gets clear that ‘personality view’ is that what is described as the first two links (or 4 if the chain has 12 links) of the chain being Ignorant-consciousness (1) that clings to Name and Form (2). Because of this a ‘being’ arises in the one world or another.
Some-one = Consciousness-Name-Form-complex
Of course such a some-one actually is not some-one because there is no Self to be found within the Skandhas. The Skandhas are empty ! A rebirth therefor is a new Consciousness-Name-Form-complex which will acquire a new personality view (if it does that). The previous personality views are as easily discarded after death as the Skandhas have fallen away. Nevertheless these previous personality views are what drives ‘some-one’ into being born again to work out Fruit of Karma.

Karma, Fruit of Karma and personality-view

Now it is the Fruit of Karma that determines what ‘some-one’ will have to experience so therefor it is the Fruit of Karma that will make ‘some-one’ rise in the one world or the other.
Buddha taught that intention = action = karma!
Good intentions or actions bring good karma leading to favorable rebirths (and circumstances in general) and bad intentions or actions lead to bad karma and unfavorable rebirths (and cicumstances in general).

This gives us the possibility to work on what karma we create by working on what intentions = actions to cultivate.
More importantly though, understanding that the ‘personality’ is Not-Self will break the absoluteness of the connection that the Fruit of Karma has to that ‘now no longer recognized personality’. If you don’t entertain a personalty-view karma has nothing to attach to!

An example of Fruit of Karma:

If ‘some-one’ now for instance is addicted and that ‘some-one’ is not free from personality-view, they might be afraid they might end up in the realm of hungry ghosts. Is that realistic though?

Imagine you are addicted and you don’t like being addicted so you have the intention to break the addiction. You fail to do so and you remain addicted.
In this case the intention of wanting to break the addiction is a positive action weakening the worst fruit-of-karma-effects of that part of the mind (actions) that can’t resist the addiction. In essence the suffering because of this internal division is already working out the negative fruit of karma of the addiction.

Karma in general is rather unpredictable. Karma from many lives ago can pop up in some life now or in the future. What we surely can understand is that we all made a lot of negative fruit of karma (look at the world) and the wise have stopped doing that and started making good karma. The Wise don’t do that for ‘themselves’ since they know their appearance is not-self !
Remember the Buddha taught that one will not again fall into states of woe entering the Path to Liberation!

Big and little Fruits of Karma

Some intentions or actions are creating terrible fruit of karma, like killing human beings. Other intentions or actions create less negative fruit of karma, like killing animals for eating. Cruel intentions for ‘some-ones’ reason of killing animals will however create more negative karma than killing for eating will do.
Being addicted can be the result of karma from previous lives in which case the one being addicted is not ‘as this personality’ directly responsible for the addiction which will lessen the negative-fruit-of karma-affects of the addiction.
‘Some-one’ being not addicted deciding for some negative reason to throw themselves into an addictive habit has to fear worse fruit of karma.

With this this expose ends.

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.thebuddhacenter.org/2018/07/24/rebirth-reincarnation-self-not-self-and-karma-discussion-group-topic-722-at-the-buddha-center/

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