Do I have to blindly believe in reincarnation?

Sep 18, 2023

 

QUESTION

Dear Venerable Robina,

 

First of all, thanks for the teachings.

 

I have studied Tibetan Buddhism of the Gelug tradition for seven years. I have taken classes with monks and a lama on lamrim and have listened online to the teachings that you, among others, offer. I reflect on these teachings and try to integrate them into my daily life.

 

The vision that Buddhism offers me suits me very well and I manage to combine it with my reality. I perfectly accept the idea of studying the words of an extremely careful observer of natural reality, of natural laws, of the nature of the mind. Everything suits me very well except for one thing, a central point in the Buddhist view: karma.

 

Until now, the fact that there is no talk in Buddhism about blind belief appealed to me. So logical, so flexible, so open. My mind accepts the idea of the need for renunciation and sowing good seeds as the way to achieve your happiness in the present and in the future — except when this concerns the long-term vision, that is, the idea of reincarnation.

 

Why? Because it leads me from a logic based on observation to a blind belief; it is impossible for me to prove or observe this before my death. This evidently triggers other ideas that support my thesis: if we all started to believe in reincarnation, there would be no one left to fight against social injustices.

 

Let’s take racism as an example here. The fact that a person was born in a black family in certain societies makes them less privileged and more vulnerable to injustice. We won’t do much to transform this way of being in society if I believe that this person (this baby) is born in an unfavorable situation as a result of his actions in past lives. It seems I must believe this since no one seems to remember it.

 

This leap from observation, logic, and analysis of the nature of phenomena and the mind towards a blind belief creates an intellectual tension in my mind and saddens me, because up to this point my reflections are integrated with a happy fluidity with Buddhist vision. 

 

If time permits and if you wish, I would be extremely pleased to hear your comments on this topic. I will listen and read your teachings carefully in search of light on this issue.

 

Again, thank you very much for your efforts and your teachings put online.

 

ANSWER

Dear K,

 

It’s good to hear from you. Thank you for your thoughts.

 

Whatever body of knowledge we study, if it is valid it must first be coherent theoretically. This is crucial.

 

So, if you’re studying physics and you hear Einstein tell you about relativity, you don’t just believe him, you decide you want to realize that for yourself, so you start by taking it all as a hypothesis; start at the beginning and then go one step at a time, each step of the way proving things experientially.

 

But first you must have the theories. And they must be coherent to you, well before you have a direct experience of them. You need inferential certainty before a direct realization.

 

Same with Buddha’s view of the world. It’s presented as a coherent worldview. And, like with Einstein, the entire view is coming from the direct experience of the Buddha — as well as all the people who followed his methodology and became buddhas themselves. That’s why you must first check on the validity of Buddha or Einstein.

 

They didn’t just make up their ideas — that’s outrageous! They used their intelligence, observed the world, and came up with their findings and then presented them.

 

And how can past and future lives be observed? Simple. The Indians more than three thousand years ago developed the very sophisticated psychological skill called single-pointed concentration that enables one to completely subdue the grosser levels of one’s cognition, one’s mind — the conceptual and the sensory — and to access much subtler levels of mind, which of course neuroscience and modern psychology do not posit at all. These subtler levels of mind are super powerful, super capable, and being subtle can observe subtler phenomena, such as the minds of others, the past, the future, etc.

 

This view of the mind, as I said, has been around for three thousand years! It’s all there, detailed in absolute clarity and great detail in the literature. Only now in the modern world are we beginning to respect this knowledge.

 

So we start studying the views, getting inferential certainty, and then through practice will get experiential realizations of it. Or, we’ll discover that Buddha — or Einstein — is wrong, and we reject him.

 

Buddha’s view of the mind is that it’s not physical, not the handiwork of anyone else, and being the product of the law of cause and effect is necessarily beginningless. His observation is that everything that any sentient being — mind possessor, in Tibetan — thinks and says and does necessarily programs that mind and produces the person they become in the future. Actions that are driven by attachment, anger, and the other negative thoughts necessarily ripen as suffering in the future; and actions that are driven by wisdom, love, compassion, and the other positive thoughts necessarily ripen as happiness in the future. It’s all described in the literature.

 

This is a natural law, he says. He’s observed it. No one runs it, it’s not punishment and reward — there’s no punisher and no rewarder! It’s just the way things are.

 

And how can you observe this for yourself? You first work with it all as a hypothesis, see the logic of all of it — that it all fits coherently as a view — and then practice one step at a time. Eventually you’ll get single-pointed concentration and prove continuity of consciousness for yourself: you’ll see it, crystal clear. Then you keep practicing, keep getting more wisdom, more compassion, your mind becoming more and more powerful, more and more capable, and eventually you remove all delusions and perfect all goodness. That’s buddha.

 

This is all there in the Buddhist literature, all laid out, for anyone who wants to study it and eventually realize the reality of it for themselves. It’s a logical, coherent, process.

 

One step at a time, K!

 

Love,

Robina

 

QUESTION

Thank you very much, Venerable Robina, for this beautiful answer.

 

I’m happy, relieved from my intellectual block.

 

Please, take care, we need you with us.

 

Love, 

K.

 

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