Rebirth PART ONE: evidence in young children (Agnosticism)

by David Turell @, Wednesday, May 15, 2024, 16:46 (29 days ago) @ dhw

dhw: I remember that in our past discussions on this subject, we talked about the nature of “Nirvana”, which has always bugged me. One website defines this as “the highest state that someone can attain, a state of enlightenment, meaning a person's individual desires and suffering go away. The origin of the word nirvana relates to religious enlightenment; it comes from the Sanskrit meaning "extinction, disappearance" of the individual to the universal.” It means no more rebirth as well as no more self, and hence no more suffering or pleasure. To me, this means nothing more or less than our eternal death. Can you enlighten us?

MATT: Well, not exactly. Enlightenment is a personal practice.

dhw: Yeah, but my request only concerned the meaning and implications of “Nirvana”! Huge thanks for your whole post, which as always is immensely impressive and stimulating. I can’t comment on every detail, but will stick to the subject that bugs me, as summarized above. The following statements of yours are extremely relevant to my “bug”:

1. "...and abides in the first jhana, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion.

Rapture and pleasure seem mighty positive to me, but at a single stroke the jhana eliminates what for me is the greatest imaginable source of rapture and pleasure, which is love for others, including partner and children. Seclusion demands absolute focus on the self, which contradicts what I thought was another central precept of Buddhism: empathy and compassion for others.

4. "Again, with the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the previous disappearance of joy and grief, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the fourth jhana, which has neither-pain-nor-pleasure and purity of mindfulness due to equanimity.

This was a big leap, as pain and grief had not been mentioned before. Equanimity would seem to mean total indifference to everything!

8. "It is possible here that by completely surmounting the base of nothingness, some bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception."

dhw: I see that the literal meaning of “bhikkhu” is “beggar”. All part of the journey to total focus on the self, even at the expense of others? And this is the last stage before entering “nothingness”, or as I said in my own brief summary and you now repeat:

MATT: The next stage after that last one is "Nibbana," which is "extinction," which in Pali means the same thing as putting out a candle. […] You're still very much alive, but your mind is permanently changed. The reason why this breaks the cycle of rebirth is that a person who achieves nibbana is utterly incapable of engaging in impure acts, and can no longer generate kamma.

dhw: The person is utterly incapable of engaging in any acts at all!

MATT: it's clear to me that your consciousness doesn't get destroyed, the consciousness being that place where all your memories and seeds were stored […] it isn't clear to me what this means other than possibly just returning to the primordial stuff of the universe.

dhw: I have no idea what purpose can possibly be served by having all your memories – good and bad – stored in a consciousness which is no longer yours. Returning to the primordial stuff of the universe is precisely what happens when we die, and so the ultimate goal of Buddhism seems to be the total blank we call death. Frankly, this is one of the few subjects on which I actually agree with David: I love life, and I accept the grief and pain as the price that must sometimes be paid for the pleasure, rapture, joy and love. And I do my best to help others cope with their grief and pain, and I think that caring for others is infinitely preferable to “pure” equanimity (= indifference).

dhw thank you for equating us in this area of thought.

MATT: To the extent that there is a final mystery in Buddhism, it's this.

dhw: Yep, I agree. It just doesn’t make sense to me!

MATT: I'm not a huge expert here, I've done some research on this for my novel--and that was over 10yrs ago. I'll be revisiting it the next couple years however as I get those juices flowing again.

dhw: A novel? Hey, this is great news. A 10-year hiatus is not such good news, but please, please, get those juices flowing!

My thoughts also.

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