How can I approach the idea of reincarnation?

Sep 19, 2022

 

QUESTION

Hi Robina, 

 

L here. Thanks for giving me your email address. It was a benefit for me to meet with you. I became very aware of my neuroses, insecurity, clinging. The teachings you gave have been very profound in their simplicity. 

 

At our last talk I asked you how I could approach the idea of reincarnation and you agreed to send me some material that may help me begin; this is what I ask for now.

 

Lots of love and really the best wishes I can manifest. 

 

L

 

ANSWER

Good to hear from you, L!

 

As for reincarnation, the entire Buddhist world view, which of course came out of the findings of the Indian thinkers before the Buddha — as the Dalai Lama said one time, it was the amazing Indians of more than three thousand years ago who began the investigation into the nature of self — is rooted in the view that consciousness is not physical, is not the product of a superior being or, indeed, of one’s parents, cannot just come from nowhere, so therefore is necessarily beginningless. 

 

That’s the first point. The second one is that the natural law of cause and effect runs the universe, or you could say the universe runs within this law. Everything that exists is the result of previous causes. When it comes to sentient beings — humans, animals and many others that these Indians and the Buddhists have observed to exist — this law is called the law of karma. It’s a natural law, which means no one created it or runs it. 

 

According to this law, which has been observed by these Indians and indeed the Buddha and those holy beings who’ve followed him, every moment of what any sentient thinks/feels, does or says necessarily sows seeds in that consciousness/mind that will just naturally ripen in the future as their own experiences.

 

If whatever we think and do and say now produces our future then it follows that whatever we experience now is the fruit of our past.

 

Karma ripens in four ways: 1. As a type of body, such as human, animal, hell being, etc.; 2. The mental tendencies in the mind of that being; 3. The experiences of that being; and 4. The way their environment impacts upon them. 

 

As the Dalai Lama said one time, karma is like self-creation. 

 

If we look at our lives, broadly speaking we can see that we all want happiness and don’t want suffering. And we can see that we have happy experiences and suffering experiences. 

 

So at the first stages of practice for the Buddha, he exhorts us to at the very least not cause our own future suffering rebirths and experiences by right now refraining from harming others: because that’s the cause of future suffering.

 

Then we get a bit deeper and we start to unpack the mind and identify attachment, anger and the rest as the cause of why we use our body and speech to harm others, so now we start to change our mind.

 

The result of all this, even now but certainly after we die, is that we will get a reasonable human rebirth at the least, have good mental tendencies, pleasing experiences and a good environment.

 

Then having disciplined our body, speech and mind we can begin to actually grow the positive qualities such as love and compassion and patience and the rest and begin to benefit others as well.

 

Eventually we can rid the mind of all the rubbish and develop to perfection all the goodness — in other words cease the cause of suffering and perfect the causes of happiness — and become enlightened. Now we’re capable of effortlessly benefiting others with our wisdom and compassion.

 

Without the view of karma and therefore reincarnation, the entire Buddhist worldview would collapse into a heap of meaningless nonsense.

 

It seems to me over the centuries people take aspects of these Indian and Buddhist views and leave alone the bigger picture. Certainly in the Tibetan Buddhist systems in the great monastic universities, which stem from the monastic universities of India, particularly Nalanda, they study the big picture.

 

This is what I find enormously helpful. All my life I’ve been looking for a coherent view of the world. So as I like to say, this is my working hypothesis — I never say I “believe” in it. I find that leads to complacency and intellectual laziness. 

 

As the Dalai Lama tells us modern people, if we choose to follow Buddha’s path, his methodology, and we find at some point that what he says to be true is in fact not true, then we must reject him.

 

Which leads us to the key point that it’s not enough to leave all these ideas, these hypotheses, at the intellectual level. We must practice. The experiential implications of these views are powerful. I want happiness, for sure, and I do not want suffering. So what I am going to do about it? Given that I’m the product of my own past, then I’m in charge, so I will happily want to not harm others, first for my own sake but eventually for the sake of others as well. 

 

And all these views lead us to the subtlest one, which is to discover the very nature of our own self.

 

All this is covered in the literature over the centuries; it’s all there. 

 

The view of karma, of course, is based on the assumption that consciousness is not physical, not the handiwork of a creator or one’s parents, etc. etc. as above. This is what you need to think about. Because this has been the prevailing view in India and Tibet for centuries. 

 

So we modern people who accept either a creator or that our parents made us have to do this extra step of thinking about how it’s possible that we came from past lives and will go to future ones.

 

And these days there is more and more information from people who’ve remembered past lives. 

 

Love to you,

Robina

 

PS: attached are some things to read.

 

QUESTION

Hi Robina, the book by Lama Zopa, How to Face Death Without Fear arrived in the post this morning. One thing I have come to realise of late is there are a certain group of people who have a very different experience of life than I have had. And even though it is not my experience I can see that they are in touch with aspects of life I only dream about.

 

I really hate belief, but it seems I am constantly torn apart between what I read from these people and my own understanding. Something in me just wants to take the easy way and believe. As referred to in your teaching there are more subtle levels of our mind and I can accept this because I have had experiences like that. Do you see the problem, it is like I know something is there but my everyday experience suffers from a lack of that. Just keep working I suppose.

 

Anyway what I was going to say is that I find a comfort in what Lama Zopa says that the best thing I can do considering my level is the Medicine Buddha Mantra for P and it can be of help to her no matter what.

 

Lots of love and best wishes.

 

ANSWER

L: The options are not either believe someone else or follow your own ideas. 

 

Buddha would totally agree – mere belief is useless. Whoever says they believe in botany? Believe in maths? No one! We need to take the information as our working hypothesis and then gradually get the experience of them as we go along.

 

If you want to learn physics, you decide to follow Einstein. You’re not blindly believing in him! You’ve decided you want the knowledge he has; you want to become your own Einstein.

 

Same here. If you hear that Buddha says that you can become a buddha — free of all ego and delusions and full of all goodness – then you decide you want that, then you follow his methodology. That’s not belief, it’s practical.

 

And as the Dalai Lama points out to us modern people who assume that spiritual teachings are belief, who feel they can’t be proved – for the Buddha it’s the opposite – if you choose to follow the steps that Buddha laid out to achieve happiness and quit suffering, to remove from your mind all ego and neuroses and then to help others do the same, then as you move along each step of the way, ticking the boxes, proving with your own experiences the truth of what he said, if eventually you get to a point where you actually prove that he’s wrong, then of course you must reject him.

 

Merely believing is useless! We need to experience the reality of something, whether it’s physics or enlightenment.

 

Rxx

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