The meaning of "Personhood"

Discussion in 'Comparative Studies' started by Tariki, Oct 11, 2004.

  1. Tariki

    Tariki New Member

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    What is it to be a "person".............

    It seems within the Buddhist faith that whatever we are can just as much be expressed/represented by a gnat as by a human being..............(though it is only within human rebirth that we can appropriate the dharma teachings for ourselves?)

    I am a Shin (Pure Land) Buddhist...............yet personally I have never had much interest in reincarnation/rebirth (call it what you will).............and existentially find the "one/life scenario" more appropriate/meaningful on my own path............one unrepeatable life without much reference to "before or after"..........which always seems to evolve into the metaphysics of hope and fear.

    There seems to be a good cross section of faiths represented here. Whenever I raise the question of "true personhood" on Buddhist Forums the thread seems to fade away rather quickly!

    What does it mean to YOU to be a person? What do you see as the difference/advantages/disadvantages in the one life scenario as compared to the idea of infinite rebirth...or any other variation!

    Thank you
    Derek
     
  2. KnightoftheRose

    KnightoftheRose New Member

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    Well, as a Christian, I naturally believe in the one life scenario ;)

    But, doesn't the one life scenario diminish the Buddhist faith? Buddha himself proclaimed he was the final, perfect reincarnation in a long series of reincarnations leading up to him. Buddha's teachings incorporate reincarnation heavily - I mean, half the faith is about the suffering of eternal rebirth and the necessity to escape it in Nirvana.

    That isn't to say I couldn't see Buddhism existing without the concept of rebirth/reincarnation, or even Nirvana, but without that mystical element, that element of faith, isn't Buddhism diminished to a mere ethical way of life, rather than a religion? Or am I just an idiot who speaks too frequently and presumes too much ;)?
     
  3. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    Kindest Regards, Tariki, and welcome to CR!
    Please forgive my lack of understanding of the Buddhist path. Is "personhood" related directly with rebirth? Come to think of it, I suppose the continuation of a person's essence (soul/spirit/nephesh) would imply that the root basis of a person's essence continues?

    I am not well versed in rebirth or reincarnation. I have had the misfortune of hearing some who hold such views to use it as a flippant excuse for misbehavior. ("Oh, don't worry about it, if you don't get it right in this life, you can make up for it in the next.")

    Vajradhara and I have had this discussion elsewhere in different places. He could speak better to this than I from a Buddhist perspsective.

    From a Christian perspective, I am much more inclined to treat this life as the only one I am given. Should I be more correct in my assessment of the overall Grand Design, I will have done my best to be the best I could be. If others who believe in rebirth/reincarnation are more correct in their assessment of the Grand Design, then I should elevate by virtue of correct/proper living. I see this as win/win in my favor. (I believe this is a modification of Pascal's Wager, as I have been informed of elsewhere in this forum.) Does this help?

    I wish to nod to Knight of the Rose, and extend a welcome to CR!
     
  4. Tariki

    Tariki New Member

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    Thanks for the responses........

    I never really intended this for once again defending my own "disinterest" in rebirth.....though being a Buddhist. However, this seems more the point being raised........

    I would say I live more within the "Great Mystery" (which seems a rather grandiose description for what often passes for my own "spiritual" (ugh!) life!.......nevertheless, I prefer what this points to rather than living within the parameters of explicit beliefs) than in a direct denial of rebirth.

    For me, this can be justified by direct reference to many Buddhist texts. In a way, Buddhism sees our beliefs as reflecting our conditioning and our desires. Perhaps this is why the Buddha often advised us to concentrate upon suffering, its cause, its end...and the path leading to its end...........rather than on useless speculation concerning befores and afters. (See Majjhima Nikaya suttas 2 and 63 among others) There are also repsected Western Buddhist teachers such as Stephen Batchelor who speaks up for an agnostic attitude towards rebirth, as well as well known Theravada representatives such as Buddhadasa Bhikkhu from Thailand who argues in his book Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree that rebirth is "not the Buddhas teaching" as not being a fundamental principle, which are concerned only with the ending of suffereing (dukkha) And you can often read a hundred books by Zen Buddists witjhout hearing the word "rebirth" once, or indeed any direct reference to it!

    Anyway, like Christianity, the Budhism has "many mansions"!..........84000 dharma gates.............and as I am fond of saying on Buddhist forums, to a certain extent we are each our own dharma gate......unique individuals.

    Whatever................

    It is this last point, that we are "unique individuals" that this topic is more about................in Pure Land imagery gold represents how enlightenment is undifferentiated......and the Lotus flower represents the uniqueness - the "suchness" of each............there are billions of gold lotus flowers in the Pure Land! Often in Buddhism the "self" is seen as something to eradicate, to dissolve.............and as I said before, as a stream of consciousness that can express itself just as a gnat as well as a human being or any variation in between!. I am trying to clarify my thoughts!

    What is Personhood..........what does it mean to be a human being? The end of all our exploring is to "return to where we started and know the place for the first time"...........What is the difference between the person at the start and the person at the finish........

    Thanks
    Derek
     
  5. Tariki

    Tariki New Member

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    Just to answer a couple of other points............

    Knightoftherose.........on the contrary, I think that often it is belief in rebirth that reduces Buddhism to a mere ethical system............where it can become the "metaphysics of hope and fear" - deeds done to gain a good rebirth, deeds not done to avoid a bad one - rather than evolving into an "ethics of empathy" which have the hope of entering a more "mystical" vein!

    And juantoo, to suspend my own "agnosicism"!.............your objection regarding "putting off things".........this seems to revolve around the more Western slant of reincarnation being a steady upward rise to perfection where each life follows another inevitably......so why not stop now and then along the way and smell the flowers......or even sleep in indolence! The mainstream Buddhist cosmology speaks of the ever turning wheel of suffering that does not go anywhere...........where each short human life - which alone gives the chance of "redemption" - can be interrupted by kalpas spent in the various hells - or as a gnat or whatever! - before the chance comes again.

    To return to my own misgivings.........in my experience an explicit belief in rebirth can lead to a sickening judgement of others. To see the life of each as some sort of "judgement" on previous lives...of "getting what they deserve". Zen speaks of the "great question"................I think that often the question can be greater when we confront a suffering human being who is seen as living their one and only life..............

    I think the combinations of "belief" can be endless.......we each have to relate to our own experience.

    Thanks again.
    Derek
     
  6. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    Kindest Regards, Tariki!

    Thank you for your post.

    Ummm, with all due respect, I haven't got a clue what you are talking about. I was in agreement with you about the concept of rebirth. What is it you mean by "putting off things?" Those are certainly not my words.

    Just a chance thought pertaining to the meaning of personhood: "I think, therefore I am" -Socrates

    Rational thought is what defines humans apart from all other sentient, even living, things. That humans are able to consider and ask questions such as yours, separates humans apart from the rest of nature, which would seem to me to define "personhood."
     
  7. Tariki

    Tariki New Member

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    Juantoo,

    My apologies! I was responding to your words beginning "I am not well versed in rebirth or reincarnation........." I seem to have misunderstood them?

    Anyway, thanks for your post.............I remember the words of Sartre, who spoke of the human being as one in whom "existence preceeded essence" as oppoesed to the rest of the animal kingdom, where "essence preceeded existence". In other words, as humans our choices determine our nature...........with the other animals, their natures determines their choices.......

    In Buddhism such a strict dividing line would not be recognised............and some studies of certain elephants - and dolphins and others - would call such a dividing line into question. Nevertheless, I think there is mush to consider in the words of Sartre.

    Thanks again.
    Derek
     
  8. Tariki

    Tariki New Member

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    I am still trying in my own mind to refine/define my question.........what is a person. There is a sense in which it "haunts" me!

    For a long time I held back from the "eastern" faiths because of my interpretation of what they seemed to teach............that there was a "real" self and a "true" self.................we were as it were like the layers of an onion..................peel away the various layers and hey presto! the "real self is revealed "within" Yet to my mind this was a form of betrayal............the "truth" of my own mother was tha she had this name, not that, had this nose, not that, was born here and not there, had those experiences and not those, had done this and not that, had these opinions and not those......these were not incidentals to be peeled away to reveal a "real" mum beneath! Sorry if I am not making sense. When I think of my mum I remember - and love - this "time/space, concrete, human being".........faults and all........and even the Christian "John Brown's body lies a mouldering in the grave but his SOUL goes marching on" seems in a way yet another betrayal of what we are...............or were..........as though there is something finer "beneath".

    Yet in religion we are engaged in a way with "transcending" - or "transforming" - our selves.............and the "little self" - the "ego" - is not the "self" that will "inherit the kingdom of God".........it will become the "new creation"...........(in Christian terms.....?)

    I love William Blake's line................"Mutual forgiveness of each vice opens the gates to paradise"............it is our "little self" that is loved, and therefore transformed!

    Buddhism offers its own way..........in the words of Stephen Batchelor........"ultimately it is impossible to put one's finger on anything, physical or metaphysical, that tells you what a person is..........this inability to find any essence or substance drops one into a depth that continues infinitely into the heart of things, never halting at something but also never coming to a stop at nothing..........upon awakening to the middle way between the extreme of reification, on the one hand, and nihilism, on the other, one is finally freed from anguish............

    Perhaps I have not refined/defined my question any better than before! It has to do with a fear of "betraying" this time/space individual for the sake of something/someone considered finer..........

    "The end of all our exploring will be to return to where we started and know the place for the first time"............in Pure Land (Shin Buddhist) terms........in the final stage of the religious life, the "unenlightened ordinary man becomes an unenlightened ordinary man" (The myokonin Ichitaro) No betrayal.

    Anyway, as I was saying.............what is a person? What is personhood? What is it to be human?
     
  9. Tariki

    Tariki New Member

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    ...........a means to an end........or an end in itself?
     

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