Sunday, July 11, 2010
Question : (Unedited)
Over the past few years I have begun to think a lot about the big question - what's it all about? Having looked at other religions I was drawn to Buddhism particularly because of the Buddha's warning not to take anyone's word for anything, even his own. It seems a refreshing change and I'm now convinced that Buddhism is as close to the truth as we are likely to get. I have found it reassuring. But I have two questions:
Firstly, am I right in assuming that not all Buddhists believe in reincarnation? I find it very difficult to reconcile this with Buddhist ideas about there being no real 'me', just a collection of impulses, sensations and attachments.
Secondly, I love my children very much. I am sad at the thought that there is no heaven or reincarnation for them and they too will die one day. I find that they are an attachment I do not want to break. But strictly it seems I should, as it is a distraction like all others. After all didn't Buddha himself leave his wife and child for enlightenment?
Thank you in advance for your reply
Your first paragraph indicates that you have made a wise choice. For someone new to Buddhism, it is like a first- time traveller discovering new and strange places, some totally alien and opposed to one's experiences. Buddhist doctrines will be totally alien to a stereotyped Caucasian who has been brought up in a Christian environment. This is because Buddhist concepts are very different from Christian doctrines. It will take some time for you to think "outside the box" and experience a paradigm shift in order to appreciate and understand what the Buddha taught. Welcome to the path of inner peace and happiness, although the journey will be a long one. It is not a question of arriving at the final destination, but the enjoyment of freedom and inner peace while taking the journey.
There is a difference between reincarnation and rebirth. The former assumes a permanent unchanging entity (or soul) that exists life after life. The Tibetan concept is similar to this reincarnation. "Rebith" takes on a totally different perspective. It views existence as an on-going process, just like the electric current lighting up a bulb. The "bulb" is like the physical body. When this bulb is blown, the current is still there and when a new bulb is fixed on, it lights up again. So you can see that there is a continuity in the electric current, but the current flowing through is not the same at any one moment. Our existence is in this state of flux. When the body is dead, the life energy seeks another form to "reborn". The type of rebirth will depend on the nature of this store-house of life energy. If this store-house of energy has more wholesome characteristics, then it will seek rebirth in a more conducive environment. On the other hand, if it has more negative characteristics, then its rebirth will be in a more unwholesome environment. As the life force is always in a flux, there is no permanent and unchanging soul, but a changing personality that exists throughout. To describe this process of rebirth, the Buddha used the term "Not exactly the same, yet not totally different". Another example will be a lighted candle. It is not the same light that we see, but not totally different.
As for your third paragraph, it is common to face the apparent contradiction between the Buddha's teachings and our worldly lives. We must understand that as lay persons, we are faced with myriads of mundane problems. As parents, our duties are to love and guide them. They cannot be considered burdens or attachments. As for heaven and reincarnation, you will gradually come to understand the real nature of existence, and you will be very happy to know that heaven and reincarnation are not big deals after all!
The Buddha's teachings are about universal truths or ultimate truths. These truths are truths irrespective of who you are or where you are. In other words, these truths transcend race, nationality, belief, and even time and space. These truths are universal and cannot change. The 3 characteristics of the nature of this world are universal truths. They are impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and without substance. In each of us, there are also 3 universal truths. They are greed, hatred, and delusion. They vary in intensity at different times and in different people.
The other truths are what we call conventional truths. These truths are based on convention and acceptance by the people who are concerned with them. Examples of conventional truths are money, laws of the country, customs, etiquette, culture, rites and rituals, and many other such conventional conduct and behaviour. These may not be considered as good or bad, although generally, they are for the benefit and protection of the population.
As lay persons, we are subject to abide by these conventional truths so that we can live in harmony within our society. However, at times conventional truths may not be in congruent with universal truths. Likewise our conventional thinking may not be able to understand and accept the Buddha's teachings of ultimate truths. We simply have not the intellectual or "wisdom" foundation to understand the Buddha's revelation of the ultimate truths.
So be patient and continue to have an open mind as aptly advised by the Buddha himself, that we should use our human intelligence and common sense to analyze his teachings, and to accept only when we are convinced.