There’s been a debate raging over at the Wildmind blog whether Buddhists should believe in rebirth. The original post is reasonable enough, but the ensuing comments get somewhat heated (for Buddhists, at least) and raise a number of very interesting issues.
Then Justin Whitaker followed up with what I thought was a compelling response, eschewing a Buddhist practice limited to…
… a teaching on how to acquire pleasant states of mind or develop a good character so that people would like you and you would be successful. That might sound trite, but it does seem to be how a lot of contemporary Buddhists (particularly in the West) want to appropriate Buddhism.
He then makes the argument that a debate on whether Buddhists should believe in rebirth or not is missing the point:
Again, it’s not something to be ‘believed in’ (which seems to be a major tripping point for those steeped in Judeo-Christian traditions), but something to be understood and experienced for oneself.
This, to me, is a very important point. Highly accomplished and still living monks and teachers talk about deathlessness, the realization of unity and a loss of the idea that we are separate beings. Sometimes I think a lot of Western practitioners look at that symbolically rather than grasping the magnitude of that view when realized experientially. Whatever it is, there are advanced practitioners whom I respect telling me there’s more to this life than can be described in a blog post.
Good, healthy debate has long been a part of Buddhist monastic practice, so, fair enough – even if some of this debate walks that fine line between constructive debate and clinging to views.
Unless you are at the stage in practice where you know for sure (if there is such a stage), I think it best not to comment on your views of what happens after death. Limiting a fixed view to what science (which is the first to admit the substantial aspects of our universe it cannot remotely grasp at) seems as foolish to me as limiting a fixed view to what has been told to you by someone else or a scripture of antiquity. As one of my previous posts elaborated, this is one of those topics that should be set aside as it is not connected with the goal of the practice. Now, you might say that a favorable rebirth is certainly a reasonable goal of Buddhist practice. And I’d say that is fine, if that is your goal. But getting someone else to also have that goal has nothing to do with your own. And vice versa.