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Questions: Reincarnation

Q&A #3

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A Reader recently wrote:

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My wife, a devout catholic, asked me some interesting questions when i brought up reincarnation.

1. Can you do it right the 1st time and never come back to earth?

2. Are there new people comming into the cycle or are all spirits recycled from past lives?

I couldn’t answer. please help.

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My Response:

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1. Can you do it once perfectly?

I suppose it’s technically possible, but as far as I am aware, no one, not even the original Buddha has done it. Some people might say it’s just not possible to accumulate enough positive karma to make it in one go-round, but how could anyone really know that? I’ll say yes, it could be done, but it’s ultra-super-unlikely.

2. Are there new souls coming into existence?

Much of the confusion about this topic comes from our translation of “reincarnation” and “souls.” The Eastern way of looking at these two things are not quite the same as our thinking in the West.

Actually “reincarnation” isn’t precisely the right word; Buddhists prefer the term “rebirth.” I haven’t really looked this up, and I don’t remember the question coming up before, so this answer is just my opinion on it, but I do not think that there are new souls coming into existence. Logically, where would they come from? I’d love to hear other’s thoughts on this.

“Soul” really isn’t exactly the right word for what Buddhists have anyway. Here’s a link that might clarify that:

http://www.esalenctr.org/display/confpage.cfm?confid=9&pageid=96&pgtype=1

Buddhists often use the analogy of a flame being passed from a burning candle to an unlit candle. It’s not the same fire, but it also is the same in some ways. It’s complex, that’s a certainty.

8 comments to Questions: Reincarnation

  • pansy swinson

    The Dali Lama’s book we are one atom. I think explains reincarnation and compares it to known science. In his book, quantum and relative physics are compared to Buddhism. I actually attended the 14th mind life conference with scientist and the Dali Lama where more amazing imperial evidence on the benefits of Buddhist thought has been qunitativly studied for years. There is a growing amount of mathematical data for the string theory that uses the concept of different dementionint . First that Buddishim is not a faith baised phlosphy. If one belief is scientificaly proven that something we beflieve is trure to be scientificaly proven not to be ture, we just adjust our belives to go with the proven theries as they relate the laws of physicas. So far the most recent studies in matter and physicis does not disprove reincarnation. Matter can not be distroyed it can only changes form. The Mind Life Institude, which includes scientist and the Dali Lami have gathered imperica data to show the health benifits of positive mental stabiity and screnity and that negative states of mind effect your healthe negativly. Even in quatim physicas level the positive and negative charges make the difference on what type of atom you will evolve into. In another book advive on ageing and dying , The Dalia Lama noted that the state of mind at death is very important. That is why we practice a screine states of mind in meditation hopeflully several times a day. Then we will have the calm state of mind at death and that we would have no attachements that would cause us to suffer. At the time of death the goal is to produce a positve engergy caused by positve states of mind. This will effect your energy or your matter. As we know in science the charge of the particales have to do with what they become. The highest eveloution of this trained mind would be a controled transformation. The lowest would be a uncontroled transformation.

  • pansy swinson

    Thes book we are one atom. I think explains reincarnation and compares it to known science. In his book, quantum and relative physics are compared to Buddhism. I actually attended the 14th mind life conference with scientist and the Dali Lama where more amazing imperial evidence on the benefits of Buddhist thought has been qunitativly studied for years. There is a growing amount of mathematical data for the string theory that uses the concept of different dementionint . First that Buddishim is not a faith baised phlosphy. If one belief is scientificaly proven that something we beflieve is trure to be scientificaly proven not to be ture, we just adjust our belives to go with the proven theries as they relate the laws of physicas. So far the most recent studies in matter and physicis does not disprove reincarnation. Matter can not be distroyed it can only changes form.

  • Michael Layne

    I don’t want to stick my foot too deeply in my mouth here. However, I would like to second the book the Universe in a Single Atom. This direction is what I would like to think of when I think of Buddhism. It is progressive and is not necessarily entrenched deeply in metaphysics. Honestly, I just don’t see this as religion, and I often find it refreshing to hear the Dali Lama make this point. Buddhism is something different, something that can accept the epistemological limits of our current form. If you read that book, you know that he lists some 14 unanswerable questions, all of which highlight the inability to really get beyond the questions of the void. Maybe someone can. However, in my burgeoning practice, I like to think about the discussion of the arrow. If one is shot with a poison arrow, does it exactly matter at the moment who shot the arrow or of what quality was the bow? The real issue is getting treated for the wound. My understanding is that the Buddha, himself, often dodged the metaphysical questions. In many ways, I think Hinduism tacked some of this on to Buddhism, and I don’t find the metaphysics instructive to my practice. Maybe I’ll change my mind as I grow.

  • pansy swinson

    Each person has their own way of understanding the teaching of Buddha. The Buddha himself taught differently to different
    audiences. I happen to be interested in Science before I became a Buddhist. I understand that I am not an expert on any subject. I am basically trying to learn to communicate to so many of my friends that are suffering from their attachments My ultimate wish is to have the words to ease the suffering of some many people I meet these days.

  • “My ultimate wish is to have the words to ease the suffering of some many people I meet these days.”

    Me too!

  • Michael Layne

    And the metaphysics just get in the way of that goal, if you ask me. We do what we do because it is right, not because we are something better next time. That seems selfish to me. We are at our best when we loose metaphysics entirely… and we (in my view) are a step further on the path.

    I believe it was Ma Tsu who answered the question, “Why do you teach mind is Buddha?” with the answer, “To stop a baby from crying.” The metaphysics, in my view, are just there to shut us up for a minute from or fear of impermanence; and once we find, as Mau Tsu puts it, “Not mind, not Buddha,” we find the clearing to take the next steps toward enlightenment.

    Now, understand that this comes from a man who reads a ton, practices little, and understands that the real struggle the he personally faces is in the latter. My intellectualist approach is rooted in things that I seek to let go of in order to grow. Comments in #5 above probably say all that needs to be said. Let me be a lesson to everyone that it is better to listen more and speak less. This is a personal weakness.

  • Nisha

    @Michael – Buddhism IS a religion and it’s philosophy can be used, but just using the philosophy of it doesn’t make you a Buddhist. It’s like believing in Jesus, but not God and then calling yourself a Christian – it doesn’t work, it’s inaccurate. Many Western people have a hard time understanding this.

    I always notice all these people (not just random people, but famous ones as well – like Ginsberg and Kerouac) who think Buddhism is sooo free and open minded. Buddhism is very anti-drug (ANY kind of intoxication to be exact) and you can’t believe in God (one supreme being with a capital ‘G’) and be a true Buddhist either. We believe in many gods, we just don’t have to worship them if we don’t want to. They are another form of being. Higher, in many ways, but in other ways they have problems as well. Buddhism is actually quite strict at it’s core. I mean, the whole point is to eliminate desire! Even love is in the end quite negative because when you lose who/what you love, you suffer. No desire, no suffering. Simple as that. Many hippies like to call themselves Buddhist, but they usually don’t fit together at all. His Holiness is a very good man, but it is also part of his title to help keep Buddhism alive. It is against our religion to attempt converting others unless they ask to be converted, yet it’s obvious the fear of Buddhism dying out has caused some Buddhist leaders to make our faith seem more appealing to the West. In the end, what most Westerners practice tends not to be proper or even actual Buddhism. This isn’t true for many, but for most, it clearly is. Sadly, I think if people were more knowledgable about our faith, they’d be much less interested.

  • Nisha

    Also, Brian – I completely agree with the answers you gave. I don’t think new “souls” come into existence. Especially since we don’t believe in souls! haha, but whatever you call them, I don’t think they can just “appear” into being. Your descriptions and explanations make a lot of sense! 🙂

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