Buddhism without Rebirth and Nibbana?

Revised August 18,2016

I  participated in several internet forums on “Buddhism” over 2013 and a part of 2014. One thing that clearly stands out is the fact that there are many people who like Buddhism, but they cannot understand what the big deal is about rebirth, and they cannot comprehend what Nibbana is. Thinking is: Why can’t we have Buddhism without rebirth (because I do not believe in rebirth) and Nibbana (because that seems to be too complicated)?

They are turned off by the concept of rebirth and are mystified by the concept of Nibbana.

  • Rebirth. I think that the first issue lies in the fact that most major religions are based on three levels of existence: This life, and one of two eternal stages of life thereafter; committed to either heaven or hell for eternity based on what one does in this life. That model is very simple. Buddha’s 31 realms of existence with many “unseen beings” seems to be far fetched. Also, the possibility of being reborn as an animal is an abhorrent thought similar to the one people had about “evolving from the monkeys” before the theory of evolution.
  • Nibbana. The second issue has become a problem mainly because of Mahayana doctrines. Mahayana sect arose basically out of the philosophical analyses of Nibbana by Nagarjuna, Asanga and other Mahayana forefathers. They could not understand the concept of Nibbana or what happens to an Arahant when the Arahant dies. So, they came up with concepts like sunyata (sunnata) or emptiness; see, “What is Sunyata or Sunnata (Emptiness)“.

1. There are two co-existing facets of Buddha Dhamma:

  • The Buddha said, “This Dhamma is unlike anything that the world has ever seen”. It really needs a paradigm change to get into the “new perspective about this world view of the Buddha”. One needs to be able to put aside all preconceived notions to understand the core message.
  • However, the Buddha also said, “My Dhamma is good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good at the end”. There is something to be gained from Buddha Dhamma for people who just came to know about it. This is why I have separated posts into three categories on the site.
  • In Bhikkhu Bodhi’s book, “In the Buddha’s Words”, there is a chapter on “The Happiness Visible in this Present Life”, where Buddha’s discourses to those who did not have aspiration to attain Nibbana, but were interested in pursuing moral lives, are described.
  • The concepts such as rebirth and Nibbana are paradigm-changing concepts. But as one follows what one understands, these concepts will become clear; I have  summarized these two concepts below. But it will take much more effort and reading many more posts if one is really interested in understanding Buddha Dhamma.

2. For those who do not believe in rebirth, there is a simple way to get started without having to believe in the rebirth process. I strongly suggest the following post:  “Starting on the Path without Belief in Rebirth“.

3. However, at the end — If one is to benefit fully from Buddha Dhamma — one needs to understand its core message. And that core message is that this life is only but an insignificant time in the cycle of rebirths that we have been on from eternity, and that “our world” is much more complex than we see with 31 realms instead of the two (human and animal realms) that we see. Even more significantly, the suffering in many of the lower realms of existence is much worse than that in the human or even the animal realm.

  • That is a LOT of things to accept as a basis. But we are fortunate compared to those who lived even a hundred years ago. Because now we have EVIDENCE to back up this wider world view of the Buddha; see, “Dhamma and Science – Introduction”.
  • And both major Mahayana sects as well as Theravada Buddhism believe in rebirth and the concept of Nibbana. All Buddhists (except the type of Stephen Batchelor, who has written some popular books on Buddhism) believe in rebirth and Nibbana. I have seen the label “secular Buddhism” being used to describe those who like other aspects of Buddhism (basically moral living and meditation), but not necessarily rebirth and/or Nibbana.
  • Thus a Buddhist not believing in rebirth/Nibbana is an oxymoron. The Pali or Sinhala word for Buddhist is “Bhauddhaya” meaning “a person trying the stop the rebirth process” (“Bhava+uddha”). One meaning of Buddha Dhamma is “path or method of removing bhava and thus stopping the rebirth process”. Buddha means, “one who has removed bhava (and attained Nibbana)”.
  • However, There is no need to forcefully accept rebirth, which gives rise to sansaric suffering. One can start at a point where one can actually experience the other type of hidden suffering in this life that most people can locate and remove: “Starting on the Path without Belief in Rebirth“.

4. Therefore, one can be a “secular Buddhist”; that could be an intermediate state before becoming a Buddhist. We just need to get the concepts clear. Since there is no formal established way to declare oneself a “Buddhist” (or a need to do that), it is really in one’s own mind whether one is a Buddhist or not. The Buddha clearly stated that each person is at his/her own level of understanding. And there is no need to pretend; what one believes is what it is. The critical thing is to make sure one is fully informed.

  • One does not become a Buddhist by reciting the precepts. One becomes a Buddhist gradually as the mind embraces the world view of the Buddha and realizes that the real happiness is attained by comprehending the true nature of this world: anicca, dukkha, anatta, and eventually by stopping the rebirth process.

5. In the mean time, it is important to realize that certain wrong views are bound to have adverse consequences according to Buddha Dhamma. Established (firm) view that there is no rebirth process is one included in micca ditthi, which is one of the (strong) dasa akusala, that makes a birth in the apayas (four lowest realms of existence) possible. It is not necessary to firmly believe in rebirth, one should at least leave that as a possibility. What is critical is not to have niyata (established) micca dithi.

6. Finally, it will take a real effort to sort through all different versions of “Buddhism” that are out there. Over two thousand five hundred years, just like now, people have tried to “mold” Buddha Dhamma to a form to their liking, and that is why we have so many versions. But when that is done, the uniqueness, the real message, gets lost. We need to keep intact this unique message, with the understanding that not everyone comprehends it right away.

  • The key is to discard any version or aspect that does not provide a consistent picture. Buddha Dhamma describe the laws of nature, and there cannot be any inconsistencies. That is what I try to do with this website. If you see something inconsistent on the website, please let me know.
  • I use the Tipitaka (Pali Canon) as the basis. It was written down over two thousand years ago (by Arahants who had experienced Nibbana), and is the oldest document encompassing the three main teachings: suttas, vinaya, and abhidhamma.
  • I have documented the flaws in both Mahayana and (to a lesser extent) in current Theravada books by pointing out the inconsistencies with the Tipitaka. Also, I show that everything is self-consistent, which is the scientific basis to illustrate the validity of a theory. Newton’s theory on gravity had to be modified because they were not consistent with  finer measurements.
  • It does not matter what we believe personally. We need to find the true laws of nature that the Buddha discovered. Laws of nature, like gravity or laws of motion, do not care about what we believe; see, “Why it is Critical to Find the Pure Buddha Dhamma”.
  • Buddha Dhamma (in its pure form) has withstood all tests to date;  see, “Dhamma and Science – Introduction”. Both current Mahayana and Theravada teachings need to be revised back to the original. It can be proven that there are self-contradictions within both sects in addition to contradictions with the teachings of the Buddha. I have a series of posts that point out these “problem areas” starting with, “Key Problems with Mahayana Teachings“.

Having established that rebirth and Nibbana are the “lifeblood” of Buddha Dhamma, now we can turn to the next question: What evidence is there to “prove” rebirth? What is the big deal about Nibbana, which sounds so esoteric?

A. REBIRTH

I have summarized some of the existing evidence for rebirth; see, “Evidence for Rebirth”. I am not sure what will qualify for “proof”, but one thing is very clear: A strong case can be made for it. There is evidence from many different areas, and that are consistent with the Buddha’s other teachings, for example, the existence of a manomaya kaya; see, “Manomaya Kaya and Physical Body”.

  • If a person can believe even a SINGLE piece of evidence presented there, it is not possible to explain that without accepting that there is a link between such two lives. Since there is no physical connection between the two lives (that existed many miles apart), the connection must be outside the physical realm, i.e., the mental energy. There is new evidence from “quantum entaglement” that is consistent with the presumption that everything in this world is inter-connected; see, “Quantum Entanglement – We Are All Connected“.
  • However, one can actually verify the rebirth process by developing abhinna powers via developing the fourth jhana. One can then “see” one’s previous lives; see, “Power of the Human Mind – Introduction” and the follow up posts. And there are some who have developed such abhinna powers, and this number can be expected to grow. When a significant number of people can verify the rebirth process, it will be accepted. Today, not everyone has traveled outside one’s own country. But everyone accepts that all those countries exist, because they believe the accounts of those who have made visits.
  • And recent evidence confirm that there is indeed an unbroken memory record, at least in this life; see, “Recent Evidence for Unbroken Memory Records (HSAM)“.

B. NIBBANA:

1. “Bäna” in Pali and Sinhala means “bondage”; thus Nibbäna means becoming free of bondage (to this world). We are bound to the unending cycle of rebirths via ten fetters called “sanyöjana = “san+yöjana”; see, “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansara (or Samsara)“;  yojana means bond. Sanyojana is sometimes called samyojana.

  • The ten sanyojana (or samyojana) are removed via the four stages of Nibbana: three at the Sotapanna stage, two reduced at the Sakadagami stage and removed at the Anagami stage, and the remaining five removed at the Arahant stage.
  • Removal of the ten sanyojana also removes greed, hate, and ignorance from our minds; the niramisa sukha increases step-wise at each of the four stages, and the “cooling down” or “nivana” becomes complete; see, “How to Taste Nibbana“. There are many synonyms for Nibbana, and nivana (or niveema) is one of them. The Sanskrit name “nirvana” does not convey any of these meanings.

2. When the mind becomes pure, a being is simply not reborn anywhere in the 31 realms. The mind has attained full release, and unconditioned happiness called niramisa sukha. Thus Nibbana is stopping the rebirth process; the suffering stops. it is as simple as that. That mind cannot grasp even a fine form of a material body (which is subject to decay and death) anywhere in “the 31 realms”. The mind becomes free of a body that is subject to decay and death (suffering). That is Nibbana.

  • The Nibbanic experience cannot be described by the terminology of “this world”; it is transcendental or “lokottara“, beyond “this world”; see, “Nibbana “Exists”, but Not in This World“.
  • Also, all we can say about what happens to an Arahant at his/her death is that he/she will not be reborn in “this world” of 31 realms.  There is no more suffering. The mind is free of bondage to a physical body that leads to so much suffering.
  • Many people say, “What suffering? I do not feel that much suffering”. But the real suffering is in the lowest four realms; that is why the complete picture of 31 realms of existence is important. Furthermore, there is much suffering that is masked, especially when one is young. As one gets old, it is inevitable that one will start experience suffering at a higher degree, and then face death. Here is a video that illustrates this point:

3. However, the point is NOT to get depressed about this inevitability. Some people get depressed thinking about old age, and try to “give up” everything to follow the Path of the Buddha.

  • It is not even possible for someone who is not familiar with Buddha Dhamma to start working on attaining Arahanthood straight away, and it is not advised either. It needs to be done with understanding. As one follows the Path, and learns Dhamma, one could start feeling early stages of Nibbanic pleasure (niramisa sukha) and thus will start having fact-based faith on concepts like rebirth and Nibbana: see, “Three Kinds of Happiness – What is Niramisa Sukha?“.
  • Have you seen any depressed Buddhist monks? They have given up the worldly pleasures voluntarily, NOT with the mindset of a depressed person. Depression leads to hate; true “giving up” is done with wisdom.

This is only a summary. All these are described in detail with supporting evidence at this website. The key point is that EVERYTHING we observe, all we experience CAN be explained with the complete “world view” of the Buddha of which rebirth and Nibbana are essential foundations.

One does not need to know all that if all one needs is a peace of mind. One could follow the basic guidelines for a moral life that the Buddha provided. However, his key message was that this 100-year life can be only be compared to a “drop of water in a huge ocean” that is the cycle of rebirths filled with suffering. Thus one should at least critically examine the evidence to see whether that message needs to be taken seriously.

Next, “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala)“, ………..

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