The concept of rebirth: leap of faith?


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Hello there!

I was very impressed to hear that the Kalamaa Sutta asks every person to test the Buddhist techings for themselves before accepting them. Most religions require believers to perform some leap of faith, it seems.

I had difficulty, however, to understand the concept of rebirth thoroughly, I think. To what degree is the buddhist system of thought really dependent on the concept of rebirth? Will I need numerous lives to reach the state of awakening? But then, is there any plausible argument that rebirth does inf act occur? Or will I have to "jump"?

If I am confusing things, please accept my apoligies. I would be happy about any replies and comments on this.

Thank you!

Dear Julia,

allow me to start with pointing out that - with respect to those schools who do - there are Buddhist schools such as the Ch'an / Zen schools where the concept of reincarnation is the subject of "Great Doubt", or interpreted very differently then what we are accustomed to associate with the concept.

Dogen-Zenji, for example (the founder of Japanese Soto Zen) wrote that a human being is reborn 180.000 times per day (i.e: every time a thought arises).

From a personal point of view, again with respect to those schools who integrate the rebirth concept in the teachings, I'd say that this concept is one of those social concepts that was around in Hinduism when the Buddha created his teachings, and was incorporated into the Dharma since reincarnation was part of the society "norm" that the historical Buddha grew up with. Stephen Batchelor compares it to the general social acceptance that the Big Bang theory has gained in our society.

Personally, I consider the issue of Reincarnation, just like the (in)existence of a deity, to be irrelevant. It is not essential to accept rebirth to grasp the essence of the 4 noble truths or any of the other cornerstones of the Buddha's teaching. The Buddha himself said that we should not accept anything just because it was written, conveyed by patriarchs or generally accepted, but that we should take to heart what we ourselves felt to be true.

in gassho,

Hi Julia,

I think Hyozan is right when he says that it is possible to embrace other aspects of Buddhism without accepting reincarnation. However this begs all sorts of new questions. For example, if we do not reincarnate then what happens at the point of death? do we just cease to be? In that case, where do the new people come from? I think it would be very difficult to piece it all together without the constant cycle of rebirth in samsara.

I suppose it is just faith in a way, but I have faith in the teachings of Buddha because I have personally found the law of Karma to be true and the concept of enlightenment simply feels right to me. Because of this I am willing to accept Budda's word as the truth.