Friday, February 7, 2014

508: Karma and Rebirth

Why is this talk about a Self or non-Self not just philosophical hair-splitting? It is because it relates to really fundamental questions in life.

For instance our longing for enduring happiness. The Buddha could have been reasoning like this. Suppose you are craving for beautiful clothes, because they make you feel good and attractive.

And indeed, when walking around in your new clothes people look at you with admiration and you feel good. Happiness ! However, after a while the clothes begin to bore you. One of the reasons might be because nobody is looking at you anymore. So, goodbye happiness.

In the Buddha’s words it might sound like: the psychophysical events you are enjoying are not permanent, therefor they can not be the basis of true happiness. Nor can your always changing body. This is about the five aggregates, which I referred to in previous lectures.

This line of reasoning in relation to the idea of a permanent happiness or wellbeing is not uncommon. You also find it among ancient Greek and christian philosophers.

We say “I want to be happy” and the Buddha points out that there is nothing that the word ‘I’ genuinely denotes, as he reasons:

1. If there were a self it would be permanent.
2. None of the five kinds of psychophysical element  
           is permanent.
3. There is no self.

Therefor this “I” in “I want to be happy” can not refer to something permanent in us, which can get into or be in a state of permanent happiness.

This brings up a second problem: is there or isn’t there something permanent in us? A self, a person, an identity, anything?

This too is a fundamental philosophical problem: substance dualism. You find this kind of answers given by religions, but also by a philosopher like Descartes. 

The basic idea here is that there are two substances: on the one hand the material substance of the body and its psychophysical experiences, which is not permanent, and on the other hand a non-material permanent substance, called the Mind or in religion the Soul.

Since the Pāli Nikāyas, an important basic Buddhist text, accepts the common sense usages of the word “self”, primarily in idiomatic expressions and as a reflexive pronoun meaning “oneself,” the doctrine of non-self does not imply a literal negation of the self. 

Similarly, since the Buddha explicitly criticizes views that reject karma and moral responsibility, the doctrine of non-self should not be understood as the absolute rejection of moral agency and any concept of personal identity.

This puts the Buddha in a difficult position.It is clear that the body ceases to exist at death. And given his argument that mental states all originate in dependence on sense-object contact events, it seems no psychological constituent of the person can transmigrate either in rebirth. 

Yet the Buddha claims that persons who have not yet achieved enlightenment will be reborn as sentient beings of some sort after they die. 

If there is no constituent whatever that moves from one life to the next, how could the being in the next life be the same person as the being in this life?

Is there a personal identity through time, a diachronic personal identity? Yes or no? Some Buddhist schools say no and do not support the idea of rebirth.

The Buddha gives a subtle answer. He rejected the two extreme positions of a permanent, unchanging self persisting in a cycle of death and rebirth through successive lives, and of a self which is completely destroyed at death. 

He taught instead a middle position of dependent origination, according to which our existence in this life has arisen as a result of our Karma in our last life, which means our ethically significant volitional acts, and such volitional acts in our present life will give rise to our new existence, but will not determine our acts in our next life. 

What we are now is thus not the same as what we were, since this is a new life with a different body, different feelings and so on, but neither is it entirely separate from what we were, since what we are now is the result of decisions made in our past life.

A way how I could understand such a point of view could be like this: You have some job and are corrupt, make people pay extra. You die and based on your actions your successor continues this immoral action 

until a next successor sees that it is wrong and gets rid of the corruption and treats people in a fair way. Perhaps this is how Buddhist rebirth leads to a better world eventually, since this last person might have achieved his insight through meditation.

The Discussion

[13:20] herman Bergson: Thank you ^_^
[13:21] oola Neruda: this is very confusing
[13:21] Bejiita Imako: hehe a bit at least
[13:21] herman Bergson: The basic idea might be this...
[13:21] Areyn Laurasia: looks thoughtful
[13:21] Bejiita Imako:
[13:21] Bejiita Imako: but i think i get most of it
[13:21] Gemma Allen: karma follows us then
[13:22] Gemma Allen: but we don’t really know it
[13:22] herman Bergson: Buddha called reality Dharma....and reality was amoral reality....
[13:22] Gemma Allen: in the next life if that is what they are saying
[13:22] Areyn Laurasia: what are the five psychophysical elements again?
[13:22] herman Bergson: Karma means "action", "moral action"
[13:22] oola Neruda: but if you are not well off or ill or can just say...oh well it is your own fault... you deserve what you get were no good in your last life
[13:23] herman Bergson: The elements are our body and physical world and our senses and mind Aryen
[13:23] oola Neruda: and the concept of helping others... is null and void
[13:23] Areyn Laurasia: hi Connie
[13:23] CONNIE Eichel: hi :)
[13:23] Gemma Allen: ??
[13:23] Bejiita Imako: but healing others might give yo a better next life also then cause if what u did in this life determines the next one
[13:24] herman Bergson: That is a classic remark oola but more in line with christian thought....the idea of a punishing god
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: helping
[13:24] oola Neruda: good point Bejita
[13:24] herman Bergson: The main point is that we are not some immaterial soul that reincarnates, but we are our moral actions in this life
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: so if you have been bad to others the previous life then it would be why the life you have now is bad ect in same way
[13:25] Gemma Allen: but you don’t really know what you were in the past life
[13:25] herman Bergson: You also could say that the world then would be worse than before Bejiita....
[13:26] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:26] Areyn Laurasia: so the self is just an evolution of awareness?
[13:26] herman Bergson: I think I hold a very liberal interpretation of rebirth here :-)
[13:26] Gemma Allen: don’t we have to assume that we had good karma from before?
[13:27] oola Neruda: the tea party seems to already believe this... and do not wish to help those who are in need...even when their policies put people into need
[13:27] Gemma Allen: and proceed in that say in this life
[13:27] herman Bergson: Something like that Aryen....where reality is some total moral awareness of which we are part
[13:27] Lizzy Pleides: sounds like a random rule in Buddhism
[13:27] Gemma Allen: ♥ LOL ♥
[13:27] Gemma Allen: i think the tea party has terrible karma coming and going
[13:27] Areyn Laurasia: this is so different from Ubuntu
[13:28] herman Bergson: I only know that Ubuntu is the name of a kind of Linux operating system Aryen :-)
[13:28] Bejiita Imako: ubuntu means humanness
[13:29] Bejiita Imako: the name is used for linux since it is seen as a very user friendly version of it
[13:29] herman Bergson: I see
[13:29] Areyn Laurasia: african philosophy I think... still learning.. like saying I am me because you acknowledge me.. and you are because I acknowledge you
[13:29] Bejiita Imako: have it on an old machine i salvaged from work btw, works great
[13:30] Areyn Laurasia: Took this from wikipedia  :) "...humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance” - Michael Onyebuchi Eze
[13:31] herman Bergson: Makes sense....
[13:31] oola Neruda: i like that
[13:32] herman Bergson: The issue of personal Identity and in Buddha's case rebirth stays an unanswered question.
[13:32] Gemma Allen: put it in the fire cabinet
[13:32] herman Bergson: Like christianity gets into big trouble when talking about resurrection...
[13:32] herman Bergson: It has the same philosophical problems
[13:33] herman Bergson: in the fire place, Gemma ^_^   ?
[13:33] Gemma Allen: i meant file cabinet
[13:33] Gemma Allen: ♥ LOL ♥
[13:33] Bejiita Imako: hahaha
[13:33] Gemma Allen: along with all the other questions
[13:33] Areyn Laurasia: fire is good too :)
[13:33] CONNIE Eichel: :)
[13:33] herman Bergsonherman Bergson grins
[13:33] Bejiita Imako: lol
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: burn it up and move to next subject
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: hahaha
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: it is tricky subject indeed this
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: but interesting non the less
[13:34] herman Bergson: I will Bejiita :-)
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: hehe
[13:35] herman Bergson: as I dealt with karma and rebirth today, I think buddhism has had attention enough :-)
[13:36] .: Beertje :.: what will be the next subject Herman?
[13:36] Bejiita Imako: we have done some comparison with other religions and defined buddhism in general anyway
[13:36] Bejiita Imako: the concepts behind it and so
[13:36] Bejiita Imako: indeed its a bit different
[13:37] herman Bergson: Maybe Arabic philosophy will be the next subject...
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: why not
[13:37] oola Neruda: i spent a lot of time today on Rumi's poetry... so am ready for you
[13:37] herman Bergson: Hinduism is an option but too much a religion
[13:37] oola Neruda: well... not ready...but interested
[13:38] herman Bergson: However, Indian philosophy had also materialist philosophers....
[13:38] .: Beertje :..: Beertje :. grins at Oola
[13:38] Bejiita Imako: hinduism is in someway related to buddhism it seems but here they have gods, and a lot of them
[13:38] herman Bergson: which (of course) were prosecuted and ignored
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: hinduism also gave us the word avatar which is how these gods show themselves for us
[13:39] herman Bergson: Maybe the Indian philosophers who opposed hinduism and religion can be a next subject :-)
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: like shiva ect
[13:39] oola Neruda: some of their poets made it out alive
[13:39] oola Neruda: Tagore.. mirabai
[13:40] herman Bergson: Krisnamurti
[13:40] oola Neruda: smiles
[13:40] herman Bergson: Well...We'll see where our road leads to next Tuesday
[13:40] oola Neruda: marveling that you could spell that
[13:40] Bejiita Imako:
[13:41] herman Bergson: Don’t believe it is correctly spelled oola ^_^
[13:41] Bejiita Imako: hehe
[13:41] oola Neruda: oh....smiles
[13:41] oola Neruda: just when you had my awe and admiration
[13:42] herman Bergson: had your introduction into Buddhism...and meditation...
[13:42] herman Bergson: May your left prefrontal cortex  prosper and grow :-))
[13:42] Gemma Allen: Yes-ah!
[13:42] herman Bergson: Thank you all again :-))
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: was really interesting indeed
[13:42] Gemma Allen: ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:42] oola Neruda: smiles
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: very nice
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: Hooo!!!
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: Hoooo!
[13:43] Areyn Laurasia: Thank you, Professor :)
[13:43] Lizzy Pleides: Thank you!
[13:43] herman Bergson: See you again on Tuesday
[13:43] Gemma Allen: Bye, Bye   
[13:43] Gemma Allen: for now all

[13:43] Bejiita Imako:

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