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Rebirth/Karma and the Buddha

To: alt.religion.buddhism.tibetan,alt.zen,alt.philosophy.zen,alt.magick.tyagi,alt.religion.buddhism,talk.religion.buddhism,alt.magick.tantra,talk.religion.misc
From: (xiwangmu)
Subject: Rebirth/Karma and the Buddha (was Tantra, Buddhism and Cultural Norms)
Date: 16 Aug 1996 13:28:39 -0700

#> the Buddha is a figment of our imaginations.  it is said that Gautama would
#> not teach on the afterlife and I like this teaching.

Konchog Norbu :
# I continue to be perplexed by those who would bypass the Buddha's 
# experience and teaching of rebirth and karma. 

show me the Buddha's experience and I will not bypass it.  because I seem
to say that I do not acknowledge the instruction on rebirth and karma does
not make it so.  it is possible I merely understand it differently in 
reflection of my own experience (if this is the same as the Buddha's or
not is a continual mystery).

# I especially wish to hear your explanation of the statement that rebirth 
# and karma is not a universal truth.... 

the Buddha did not teach truths except perhaps in their possible relation.
always always we are instructed to look with our own faculties, not to
accept 'universal truths', but to test the descriptions of the sages and
masters and determine for ourselves of what truth consists.

# the Buddha would not speak to the origins of the universe and whether or 
# not a self exists. 

it is this which you mention, I suspect:

	A monk of Buddha's who had retired into a life of solitary
	meditation suddenly realized that there were some gaps in
	his knowledge: "The lord has never explained to me whether
	the world is eternal or not eternal, finite or infinite,
	and whether the soul is the same as the body, and whether
	the Buddha is immortal. This does not suit me at all.  I 
	shall go and ask him to explain, and if he does not, I 
	shall leave the Order."

	He paid Buddha a visit and put his questions.

	"Malunkyaputra," said Buddha, "when you came to the Sangha,
	did I promise to explain these matters to you?"

	"No," admitted Malunkyaputra.

	"And anyone who waited for me to do so would die before I did.
	Malunkyaputra, you are like a man pierced by an arrow, and 
	when his family sends for the surgeon, he said, 'I won't have
	this arrow pulled out until I know who shot me and whether
	he was a Kshatriya or a Brahmin; and what his family name is,
	and where he comes from; and whether he is tall or short,
	black, dark, yellowish, or what; and what his bow is made of,
	and whether the bowstring was hemp, sinew, or fiber, and
	whether the arrow was feathered with a vulture's wing or a
	heron's or a peacock's, and whether it was wrapped around the
	sinew of an ox or a buffalo or a deer or a monkey' --
	Malunkyaputra, you'd be dead before you knew all this.

	"The religious life does not depend on whether the world is
	finite or infinite, eternal or not eternal, and whether the
	soul is the same as the body or whether I am immortal;
	therefore I have not explained these.

	"Suffering have I explained; and the cause of suffering,
	the destruction of suffering, and the Path that leasds to
	the destruction of suffering.  For this is useful, this
	is concerned with the principle of the religious life.

	"Therefore, Malunkyaputra, consider as unexplained what I
	have not explained; and consider as explained what I have

	_Gautama Buddha: In Life and Legend_, by Betty Kelen, pp. 127-8.

I have to this day interpreted the refrainment of instruction as regards
the separation of body and soul (atman) as indicative of instruction 
regarding any sort of 'afterlife'.  it was this bias of mine which led me
to comment as I did above.

# I don't recall him deferring a comment on what happens after this life. 
# Seems he had quite a bit to say about that.

agreed, as long as you take it within the context of instruction (a somewhat
ambiguous affair).  Harvey relates it thus:

	While Buddhism holds that the existence of rebirth and the
	efficacy of karma can be confirmed by experience in deep
	meditation, most Buddhists have not attained these.  They
	therefore only have *belief* in these principles, not
	direct knowledge of their reality, and use these beliefs
	to provide a perspective on life and action in it.  The
	reasonableness of the beliefs is nevertheless argued for
	in the Buddhist tradition.  In one early text..., the 
	Buddha says that to believe in these principles, and so
	live a moral life, will lead to a good rebirth *if*
	rebirth exists.  If rebirths do not exist, nothing will
	have been lost, and the person will in any case have 
	been praised by wise people.  The 'best bet' is thus to
	believe in and act on these principles.

	_An Introduction to Buddhsm_, by Paul Harvey, p. 44.

that is (at least within this tradition of the Buddha's words, which
I value greatly), it may be efficacious to abide by these concepts,
but we cannot know them as universal truths.  we must consistently
test them out, watch for whether they have substance, abandon them
if we discover they do not, reflect upon them if we discover that 
they do, and pursue any goals we may feel it necessary to accept.

you are correct that in general it is said the Buddha instructed 
several things about rebirth and karma, and yet I feel that in the best
senses these are not about what I mentioned above as "the afterlife".
to me they are present-centered instructions regarding cosmic principles 
of self-image recreation and the identification of cause and action
with this self-image.  they are no more an instruction about any notions 
of 'the future' (which I contend are delusory) than does the beauteous 
instruction of the Four Noble Truths and our relation to suffering and 

I would be very grateful to hear reflection of texts which appear to
contradict this, for it will tell me more of the traditions which
have congregated about the Buddha's name and Dharma and I may be 
able to learn more about myself as I come to know its context and depth.

thank you for your question, my insightful cybersangha-mate,

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