Been reading Confessions Of A Buddhist Atheist. Interesting quote here, about how the Buddha reoriented the position of the soul in the cosmology. Before and still, the soul, or self, was thought of as something constant, even beyond that. The Buddha challenged and practiced something called stream entry, becoming aware that we are ever changing, and finding freedom there. Here’s the quote:
Gotama did for the self what Copernicus did for the earth: he put it in its rightful place, despite its continuing to appear just as it did before. Gotama no more rejected the existence of the self than Copernicus rejected the existence of the earth… instead, rather than regarding it as a fixed, non-contingent point around which everything else turned, he recognized that each self was a fluid, contingent process just like everything else.
This is interesting, and much of how I try to experience Buddhism, but it gets to the point of the book. How does any of this fit into rebirth? If the self is ever changing, what is being reborn? More directly, if there is no self, what on earth would be passed on, and why does it matter? The writer is interesting cause he went from the west to the Dalai Lama, becoming ordained in the Mahayana/Tibetan tradition, then to Zen Buddhism, with more Sri Lankan style Vippasana meditation and a focus on Theravada Pali texts.
I haven’t finished it yet, but he seems to embrace the Buddha’s path, but not rebirth. Which I think I agree with. The development of modern science has largely been the discovery that we are not the center of the universe. That things are changing. Einstein’s Relativity Theory shows, essentially, that things are relative, even phenomena we accept as constant, like time. What I think the Buddha found was a way to experience, understand and apply this reality, over two thousand years before.
The concept of rebirth, however, seems a throwback to earlier mind/body divisions, concepts of an eternal soul, and any number of metaphysical concepts not especially pertinent to waking up. I’ve read the Dhammapada and it clearly references rebirth, but I actually ignore those points. Not that I reject them, I honestly don’t know. It seems unlikely, but I’ve met practicing monks who say they’ve seen it in their meditations. I’ve never met one who told me I had to believe, they just said that’s what they saw, which I respect. That said, I haven’t seen it, and I don’t consider rebirth especially relevant to my personal faith. I guess I’m agnostic on that count.
The Buddha I follow was very focused on finding a way out of suffering, and finding it now, in this life. Part of that is the recognition of the self as a fluid, ever-changing process like everything else. That to me is an amazing insight, and rebirth kinda just waters it down.