Buddhism Without Reincarnation

Buddhism Without Reincarnation

Rebirth metaphysics was opium
And scare for the untouchable.
Imagine no heaven or hell.
Imagine paradise here and now.

If I say the stars in the sky add up to an odd number,
You cannot prove me wrong.
If I say the stars in the sky add up to an even number,
You cannot prove me wrong.
This is metaphysics.

Is the universe finite or infinite?
Is the mind the same or different from the body?
Does a Buddha continue or cease to exist after death?
This is metaphysics.

Socrates says, “I don’t know.”
Confucius says, “I don’t know.”
Huxley says, “I don’t know.”
Huxley is an agnostic.

When Jews say, “We don’t know;”
When Christians say, “We don’t know;”
When Muslims say, “We don’t know;”
We shall have paradise here and now.

When they say, “We know,”
They will kill one another.
Hume says, “You cannot all be right;
You can all be wrong.”

Zhuangzi dreams he is a happy butterfly.
He wakes up and says, “I don’t know
If I’m a butterfly dreaming I’m a man.”
This frees you from “I know.”
This is philosophy.

LH Kwan 2006.2.24 Canada

“Buddhism Without Reincarnation” Resources and Notes:

1. Zhuangzi: Learning from Asian Philosophy. Joel J. Kupperman. Oxford University Press, 1999. Pages 182-3. I owe Professor Kupperman his insight that Zhuangzi’s humour is meant to free us from dogmas, and not literal anti-realism. This gives me simple awaking about Buddhist ‘emptiness’, which urges me to write the above composition.

2. Opium: Karl Marx’s thesis that religions are opium to pacify the exploited, to avoid revolutions. The untouchables were the miserable caste of ancient India. Reincarnation taught them to accept their misery, blaming their karma of past lives, while the exploiting castes enjoyed their power and wealth they claimed that they deserved from merits of past lives. The scare was hell after death or becoming animals in the next life, for the exploited.

3. Stars odd or even: either statement cannot be tested. They are not refutable or falsifiable. If an eclipse is predicted for a certain date and time, you have a chance to falsify it, if no eclipse occurs at the specified date and time. However, if I say there is a heaven or pure land somewhere in or beyond the universe, you have no chance of searching the whole universe to decide whether the heaven exists.

4. Is the universe finite or infinite, etc.? The Buddha declined to answer those metaphysical questions: Culamalunkya Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 63) in The Middle Length Discourse of the Buddha, trans. Nanamoli Thera and Bhikku Bodhi (Boston Wisdom, 1995), 534-36. Source quoted and given in Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor, page 14 and 119. New York: Riverhead Books, 1997.

5. Confucius says, “I don’t know.” Like the Buddha, Confucius would not talk about supernatural things. “The subjects on which the Master did not talk, were—extraordinary things, feats of strength, disorder, and spiritual beings.” (The Analects, VII, xx. James Legge translation, The Four Books, p. 201.) “Chi Lu asked about serving the spirits of the dead. The Master said, ‘While you are not able to serve men, how can you serve their spirits?’ Chi Lu added, ‘I venture to ask about death?’ He was answered, ‘While you do not know life, how can you know about death?’” (Ibid, XI, xi., p. 240-1.)

6. Huxley: see Stephen Bachelor’s online article “The Agnostic Buddhist: a Secular Vision of Dharma Practice.” http://www.stephenbatchlor.org, p.1. Read Marjorie L. Silverman’s online beautiful MA thesis paper “A critical examination of the Agnostic Buddhism of Stephen Batchelor.”

7. Jews, Christians, and Muslims: see Hume on contradictory religions in Professor Raymond D. Bradley’s online article “The Rivalry Between Religions.” Beautifully simple enough for grade 12 school students.

8. Anti-realism: my Buddhist instructor Yonten, whom I like and respect, is now teaching ‘emptiness’ like anti-realism, that his body does not exist, and that the world does not exist outside his thoughts. See Raymond D. Bradley’s online articles: “Does the moon exist only when someone is looking at it?” “How to lose your grip of reality: an attack on anti-realism in quantum theory.” http://www.sfu.ca/philosophy/bradley Again, beautifully simple. Professor Bradley writes to educate, not expert talk for experts only.

9. My thesis is that agnosticism helps religions to shed their unnecessary metaphysics and confusion, for the sake of religious harmony and a good life for humanity, a paradise here and now.

LH Kwan 2006.2.25 5 a.m.



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