Of Rebirth, Karma, and a Cockcroach

 

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A few days ago I saw a post in a facebook group about this article by an ex-catholic-buddhist Paul Williams, who was born a Catholic, converted to Buddhism for 30 years and converted back after 30 years of Buddhist studies, practices and learning in the Tibetan tradition.*

The post drew 100+ comments and quickly went past 200 within a few days.  After reading through some of the comments which escalated to name callings and several links to other articles, including one by Ajahn Sujato, I decided to leave a note.

Below is my comment in the thread.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/sgbuddhists/permalink/10152544592021881/

What a lively discussion! Nothing like an ex-catholic-budhist’s article to get the discussion going. 🙂

Question. What is the difference between having an opinion about a matter vs being judgemental? I digress.

REBIRTH – NO-SELF
Personally, I find Paul’s article interesting and honest, honest to himself that is. While I disagree with his conclusion, I can see how it is ultimately due to his non-acceptance of the teachings of no-self* that he decides to embrace other faiths, in this case, Christianity.

Or at least he seem to have trouble with rebirth to the extent of the statements “Rebirth means the end of me” and “That is it – end of it. There is no more to be said about me.” As much as Buddhists do not subscribe to a belief in a creator God(s), others may not subscribe to the teachings of no-self.

The intriguing thing is that for him, “None of this in itself means the Buddhist position is wrong”.

For some, learning, contemplating and vipassana meditation ultimately leads to such a realisation or direct seeing, but for others, 30 years of scholarly study and career, plus his exposure and practices just didn’t do it for him.

KARMA – ACTION -> FRUIT
His thoughts on Karma is quite interesting as well. It seems to hinge on the inequality of having results on a new person vs the absence of results on the original perpetuator.

In such cases, a typical reply would be to highlight that even within a single life, from childhood till adult and old-age, we are quite different in terms of body-mind, yet we many times have to experience the result of a past “I”.

The thing that strings the sets of “I”s into an identity seem to be our memories. Without our memories, it may be hard to concretely link babies with the adults.

Let’s say a toddler plays with fire and burns himself, his entire house and family, he will still have to live with those consequences when he grow up.

But to protect the child, the foster family may hide this from him. If he should discover the truth when he grows up, it may not be the easiest thing to bear, but it is still the truth. Granted, he may or may not be able to do much about the past as well. And while he cannot remember the past himself, he still has to live with the consequences.

The problem in real life is that not many people remember their past life. For that matter, an abysmally small number of people do. So our experiences with past life memories or the lack thereof, works against most people’s acceptance of rebirth, and perhaps consequently the inequality above.

Similar to accepting that there was Adam and Eve with the original sin and the rest of Christian theology, Buddhist may have to have that initial faith to get started. Call it faith, confidence, sadda, whatever, it is there. However, within Buddhism, this faith serves mainly as a starter, to propel us on the practice to move into insight, which would allow us to verify the teachings.

Again, for some this whole set of teachings makes complete sense, while for others it is just not hope-full enough, or as Paul would put it “hope-less”.

Interestingly, about Adam and Eve, the very idea of the original sin seem to imply that all humanity have no choice in the matter, that we have to face the consequences of something, the original sin, which is not done by us. Seem to be punishing us for something we didn’t do isn’t it? Again, I digress.

Should Everyone Accept the Buddha’s Teachings?

In the long past, I would try very hard to convince people of rebirth, karma, the teachings of the Buddha. But for years now, I’ve stopped trying to shoehorn everyone into Buddhism. I’ve come to accept that people have different values and views about this world, and many hold these views very closely to their heart.

More often than not, I share with Christians, verses of the Bible, and only share with them the Dharma if they really ask for it. Once, I ask a muslim cabby what he does in the mosque. He pray to God and reflect on God’s Goodness, Justness, etc, he said. Instead of trying to convert him, I urge him to extend what he did in the mosque beyond the five prayer times, and to emulate those qualities of God where possible.

I urge him, that he may pray so that he may be free from greed, hatred and delusion, be free from ignorance, craving and attachment. He said, yes, that’s what he would like to do.

As the Buddha would often reposition existing terms with new meanings, he would urge brahmins to be brahmins not be birth, but brahmins by being pure in body, speech and mind, and he would refer to Arahants as True Brahmins.

If “God” or “X” is perfect Compassion and perfect Wisdom, let us strive to be that, to be complete free of suffering, and ignorance*.


Footnote:

*Paul Williams is a professor of Indian and Tibetan philosophy at the University of Bristol, UK.

* Granted, by ignorance, I mean ignorance of how things are, that all compounded things are impermanent, subject to change according to conditions, and not to our whims and fancy, is no-self, and has no inherent characteristics or nature.

References

1. http://whyimcatholic.com/index.php/conversion-stories/buddhist-converts/65-buddhist-convert-paul-williams

2. https://sujato.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/contentment-and-hope-or-why-paul-williams-is-wrong-about-buddhism/

  • Bob Sim

    we can be a buddha but we can never be God.

    • Stanley Tan

      That depends on who’s definition of “God” are we talking about now, doesn’t it? 🙂

    • Thank you for sharing partly what is in your mind.
      So what do you mean by “God”?

      Granted, you may not wish to or is unable to share.
      Or perhaps like some Zen practitioners, often times, after making a statement, suddenly decide that words and labels are meaningless and hence declare all further discussions or explanation irrelevant to the ultimate reality or nirvana.

      In all the above cases, then we can safely ignore the statement ‘cos it is as good as saying “we can be a buddha but we can never be X” where ‘X’ can be anything but is undefined.

      If we substitute ‘X’ with say a ‘car’, that statement may well be true, but if we let ‘X’ be ‘happy’ then it is not.

      For those who would like to further the discussion with a commonly known set of definitions, may I recommend google.

      https://www.google.com.sg/search?q=god+definition

      noun
      1.
      (in Christianity and other monotheistic religions) the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being.
      2.
      (in certain other religions) a superhuman being or spirit worshipped as having power over nature or human fortunes; a deity.
      “a moon god”
      synonyms:deity, goddess, divine being, celestial being, supreme being, divinity,immortal; More

  • Fusioncat WingBliss

    Here is my reply at the main site.

    When I was small, I wondered about life, like why will wasps lay eggs into a caterpillar, have its young eat out from within the caterpillar killing the caterpillar. I wondered about war, rape, murder and the cruelty of nature. The crying of a woman affected me the most. I then realised that you can never get dirty water from a clean river and with the contradiction in the human printed bible, confirm that a creator is only in the mind of people who want to believe or promote it for personal interest. After all, why not fence up the apple tree? Why not just catch the snake and put it into the zoo? All these troubles would have been avoided right? After that I am no longer interested in a story about a creator fighting with his imperfect creation that mabe was perfect but later become imperfect.

    • Yeah, I had similar questions when my various Christian friends tried to share with me the Christian faith.

      Just didn’t quite gel for me. Ah well, different people, different strokes. ^_^

      • Fusioncat WingBliss

        Thank you Venerable. _/|_

  • Bob Sim

    in buddhism, we try to practise diligently to achieve buddhahood. that’s the ultimate goal. in christianity, they submit to a loving God. that’s their faith just like ours is on the Buddha and the dharma.

    by mocking about their God , it is very unmindful and quite similar to they mocking on the Buddha. so to each their own belief like what a simple book from POH MIN TSE quoted:

    AGREE TO DISAGREE

    just like the numerous buddhist sutras to suit so many different preferences of buddhist practitioners, there are just as many religions which a believer can find himself related to comfortably.

    all religions lead to peace, harmony and love and enhancing all the goodness and virtues of human being.

    only when we are dead, then all the truth shall be revealed. 🙂

    there maybe a God or there also may not be. there could be more gods or probably they could be none.

    suppose there is “karma”, i believe anyone who have done good when they are alive would surely receive good merits in return. however, when living, the “good deed deserve a good return” doesn’t always happen that way. it’s like suppose u save a tiger from the hunter. then u approach it and try to pat it. well, the tiger might just as well gnaw off your arm for snack. good deed but not good return. LOL!

    i may be “officially” buddhist now but i still believe in a loving God in christianity. i call myself a cross between buddhist and christian = buddhistian 🙂

    i know many would frown upon this…..BUT, again, that’s my own preference. and 佛法是无边。buddhism is boundless….

    my cup is always empty and i hope to fill it until it overflows . sadhu, sadhu… _/_

    Instead of criticising christianity and they criticising back, we should learn to embrace each other and share our faith. this would enhance understanding and harmony.

    and yes, i still go to the church beside meditating in temple. whether in church or in temple, both of them give me a sense of tranquility and inner peace.

    many would criticise i very “luan”…..what’s is luan or confused to them by the way? then again, how much do they know about inner calmness?

    ah….it’s all in the mind 🙂

    i think after i post this, there shall be incoming flaming bazookas. hahahaha…..:D

    • Most agreed that it is not good to go around mocking others, God, Buddha or anyone.

      In the other comment you mentioned that “we can be a buddha but we can never be God”, but you didn’t reply to both queries and instead started this new comment suggesting that someone is mocking or criticising Christianity.

      It would be good to highlight the paragraphs or statements that are seen as mocking or as criticism, so that everyone can make sense of your comments.

      Are you just making a general statement about the mocking and criticising of Christianity or are you referring specifically to my article, or someone else?

      There’s a reason why I sometimes choose not to reply to certain comments. It is because sometimes, there is no two-way communication that is needed to further the discussion or to promote understanding.

      In some cases, it is just ranting and no replies are needed.

      So if you need any replies, please let me know. If not, we can then assume that you are making a general comment and no further reply is needed.

      • Bob Sim

        it’s a statement that i ve wanted to voice out to buddhist brothers and sisters that if we feel offended when other religions particularly christians who misunderstand buddhism frivolously criticise against buddhism is also similar when we doing the same thing criticising their belief.

        and i thought when we practise buddhism, we are more “awaken” and “mindful”.

        again, i repeat “we can be a buddha but we can never be God.”

        there is only one GOD but there are many buddhas and future buddhas to be.

        reference (there are many by the way, just GOOGLE): http://buddhism.about.com/od/whatsabuddha/a/whatsabuddha.htm

        QUOTE:
        How Many Buddhas?

        How many do you need? Seriously, it’s not a fixed number. In Mahayana, Buddha-nature is the true nature of all beings. In a sense, everyone is Buddha. In the Zen monastery where I first studied Buddhism, the monks often pointed to the Buddha on the altar and said, “That’s you.”

        All Buddhas Are One

        The most important thing to understand about the Trikaya is that the countless Buddhas are, ultimately, one Buddha, and the three bodies are also our own body. A person who has intimately experienced the three bodies and realized the truth of these teachings is called a Buddha.

        i may not be as well versed in buddhist training or knowledge as shifu but i do understand a wise saying.

        a teacher is a student and a student is also a teacher….

        apology if i ve offended you or others reading this. sadhu, sadhu….