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A Question For Deva Or Any Of Our Buddhist Friends


Guest Babylonian Dream
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Guest Babylonian Dream

In Buddhism, you go through a cycle of birth, death, and being reincarnated until you reach nirvana, right?

 

But Buddhism also teaches, that the "self" doesn't exist, that its an illusion. If so, then what reincarnates? How does that work?

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I asked myself a similar question about reincarnation. What is it that makes your reincarnation yourself? You don't have your body, your memories and probably not the same character traits (since they are influcenced by memories).

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There are multiple sects of Buddhism.  Not all emphasize reincarnation.

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According to my understanding, the Buddhist view is that an unchanging, permanent "self" does not exist.  This does not mean that no self of any kind exists.

 

This is a complex subject. As others have noted, different Buddhist schools have somewhat different teachings. All I have been studying and practicing is Tibetan Buddhism according to the Nyingma School. 

 

The following is from the Berzin Archives:

 

http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/approaching_buddhism/introduction/basic_question_karma_rebirth.html
 

We may try to understand rebirth with the analogy of a movie. Just as a movie is a continuity of the frames of film, our mental continuums or mind-streams are continuities of everchanging moments of awareness of phenomena within a lifetime and from one life to the next. There is not a solid, findable, entity, such as "me" or "my mind," that gets reborn. Rebirth is not like the analogy of a little statue sitting on a conveyor belt, going from one life to the next. Rather, it is like a movie, something that is constantly changing. Each frame is different but there is continuity in it. One frame is related to the next. Similarly, there is a constantly changing continuity of moments of awareness of phenomena, even if some of those moments are unconscious. Further, just as all movies are not the same movie, although they are all movies, likewise all mental continuums or "minds" are not one mind. There are a countless number of individual streams of continuity of awareness of phenomena.

These are the arguments that we start to investigate from a scientific and rational point of view. If a theory makes sense logically, then we can look more seriously at the fact that there are people who remember their previous lives. In this way, we examine the existence of rebirth from a scientific approach.

Question: Buddhism says that there is no soul or self. What then takes rebirth?

Answer: Again, the analogy of rebirth is not that of some soul, like a concrete little statue or person, traveling on a conveyor belt from one lifetime to another. The conveyor belt represents time and the image it implies is of some solid thing, a fixed personality or soul called "me" passing through time: "Now I am young, now I am old; now I am in this life, now I am in that life." This is not the Buddhist concept of rebirth. Rather, the analogy is like that of a movie. There is a continuity with a movie; the frames form a continuity.

Neither does Buddhism say that I become you, or that we are all one. If we were all one, and I am you, then if we are both hungry, you can wait in the car while I go to eat. It is not like that. We each have our own individual streams of continuity. The sequence in my movie is not going to turn into your movie, but our lives proceed like movies in the sense that they are not concrete and fixed. Life goes on from one frame to another. It follows a sequence, according to karma, and thus forms a continuity.

 

http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/approaching_buddhism/introduction/basic_question_karma_rebirth.html

 

If anyone is interested in Tibetan Buddhism, the Berzin archives at www.berzinarchives.com is a good place to start.

 

In Buddhism, there is the view that things don't just end. As the article says, there is a continuity.

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Guest Babylonian Dream

Deva, I don't get the distinction he drew. Who or what was doing the reincarnating? Yeah, sure... it's a like a different movie playing out. But how do "I" get from this movie to that one, when "I" isn't real?

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When you use the word "real"- in Buddhism that means something absolute, permanent and constant. Because everything, including the "self" is constantly changing, it is not considered to be real. However, it does exist. I don't know if I can explain it.

 

In the sutras when it says "no self" often everything else is negated as well -"no eye", "no ear," no nose", etc.. Doesn't mean these things don't exist.

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There also seems to be something about the self not only being changeable, but being "an aggregate". So in addition to being temporary, the self isn't real in the sense of being a single thing; the self is a set of things that are working together for now. That idea is very different from the idea of a soul being this... singular thing that's eternal and always a specific soul.

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I don't know if this will help or not.  

 

In the michael teachings,  reincarnation is often talked about.  

 

There are two distinct yet similar things.  There is the personality of this life and essence.   

 

The personality would be like the "self".  It only "exists" for this life.  Once this life ends, that personality ends as a physical presence.

 

Essence creates the personality for the life with a plan for it, and then lets personality grow and develop as it will, with or without help from essence as the personality chooses.   Once the personality dies, then essence works with personality evaluating and analyzing the life.  Eventually, after much evolution,  Essence reunites all personalities from all previous personalities.   
 

You as you exist now will never exist the same way again. You are a part of a larger whole.  That larger whole will create a new you for another life.  This cycle will go on and on until essence has learned all it can this time around.  Eventually the whole process starts over again. 

 

This is a simplified version.  

 

As a side note, The Dalai Lama is exactly what he appears to be.  In this particular case,  the essence has made agreements with other essences to find the Dalai Lama wherever he reincarnates. This is an interesting and unusual experiment that is being examined. 

 

In most cases, the Greek myth of being dipped in the river of forgetfulness before being born is apt.  Most personalities choose to forget previous lives.

 

Anyway, I realize this is not from Buddhism as requested....so take it as you choose. 

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Guest Babylonian Dream

Okay, I get it now. It makes sense. Its just that when I think of self, I don't think of the same thing. By default to me, it seems like the sum total of what my brain consciously does. That's though because I know about the brain and what its doing. It makes sense actually to see the sense of self that way.

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There also seems to be something about the self not only being changeable, but being "an aggregate". So in addition to being temporary, the self isn't real in the sense of being a single thing; the self is a set of things that are working together for now. That idea is very different from the idea of a soul being this... singular thing that's eternal and always a specific soul.

 

Yes, I would say that is correct.  The Dalai Lama says he is not a direct reincarnation of his predecessor, but an "emanation". Its not a single self carrying over.  Its not a specific "self" or a singular solid thing.

 

I can't remember who the lama was, but someone asked one of the high lamas what reincarnates and he said "your bad habits."

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Or, from another angle, a thought experiment: Are you the same person you were when you started reading this sentence?

 

Are you the same self you were yesterday? Last month? Last year? When you were five? Thought in your brain is a chemical process, really. The state it was in just a few seconds ago is not the chemical state it is in now. The "you" of a couple seconds ago is already dead. Our consciousness rides along on this knife-edge between resolved states and future states. The only thing maintaining the illusion that we are continuous is memory - your brain is structured to be able to retrieve echoes of previous states as part of the present one. Yet, there's loads of research that shows that memory is soft and pliable at best, a moving target moderated by the present. My mind, my "self" is an extension of the physical world, like a region of this mandelbulb. Any sense of separation from the whole is an illusion. Yet, each region of that figure can be described. "I" think that "I" am conscious. Total negation of "self" is also incorrect. The Diamond Sutra (there's loads of ways of trying to translate the title into English, so I went with the short one) is a Buddhist view on exactly the problem of self.

 

Although I'm not Buddhist, or any other religion, I think that each spiritual path contains impressions of the way things are: we are part of it, after all. Thing is, where there may have been people throughout history encountering this, only the versions of the re-telling that had something to offer humanity in a social-structure kind of way survived. In order to be a religion, a teaching has to serve some social purpose to win converts. Like the blind men and the elephant, there's the same thing under there, but it gets expressed in different ways (see the "99 Names of God"), with different cultural trappings covering the grain of truth so a human society can incorporate it, like a pearl covers a grain of sand so the oyster can tolerate it. Yes, I'm an atheist, from a position of hard ignosticism, yet, I can get with this idea. This stuff is my spiritual high.

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