Precious Human Life

Buddhists believe that beings are reincarnated — good animals are reborn as humans and bad humans are reborn animals (or ghosts).  Of course to us atheists, this is a rather silly proposition.  But if one looks generously at reincarnation not as an empirical statement but as a tool of thought, I think it can be used wisely.  Indeed any myth can be used both poorly and well.  I will later post how I have seen the reincarnation myth used oppressively but below is an example of a good use of the myth.
One way Buddhists use the reincarnation myth wisely is with the concept of “Precious Human Life”.  In the reincarnation ideology, there is a hierarchy of beings with humans at the top (of course).  But the reason humans are considered to be at the top is that humans are considered to have the wonderful ability to reason, choose and act in such ways as to escape the cycle of suffering and rebirth.  Humans are seen by Buddhists to have the ability to transcend their bad habits of mind without the aid of a god.
Indeed I agree that we humans can transcend our limitations — we do not have to be enslaved by our genes.  But such transcendence takes concerted effort.  In a previous post I criticized the feeble attempts by people to declare humans superiorly unique to other animals, and perhaps I am getting dangerously close to declaring us superiorly unique in this quality.  But perhaps we should think about it as Humbly Unique.  This site is my sandbox for refining and changing my ideas, so I may have to go back and work on that post !  Smile !
I value the way Buddhism uses the notion of seeing this human life as precious because of our opportunities to transcend our genetic slavery.  On another site, I just wrote about transcending tribalism, which is one of the many potential enslavements of mind

reincarnation myth

Do You Believe in Reincarnation?

55% of readers do !  (August 2010)
Take the Poll below !

You don’t have to believe in reincarnation to enjoy the benefits of either meditation nor Buddhist psychology.  Yet the majority of everyday lay Buddhists believe in reincarnation – especially those living in non-Western countries.   My poll also shows that most people finding this post also believe in reincarnation.  However,  many Buddhist theologians feel reincarnation was not a teaching of the Buddha himself.  This post is to explain a possible usefulness of the doctrine of reincarnation even if it is not true.

If you have time, please vote in this poll before continuing:

Many Buddhists believe that sentient beings are reincarnated — good animals are reborn as humans and bad humans are reborn animals (or ghosts).   Most atheists  not only do not believe in gods, but also don’t believe in spirits or the afterlife.  Most atheists and many Buddhist feel that reincarnation is yet another invention to comfort us about death.  The teaching was around for a long time before the Buddha and the Buddha is recorded to have refused to discuss the afterlife.

But even if reincarnation is false, if one looks generously at reincarnation not as an empirical statement but as a tool of thought, I think it can still be used wisely.  Indeed most myths can be used well but many are used oppressively.  I will later post how I have personally seen the reincarnation myth used oppressively meanwhile below is an example of what I see as a good use of a myth.

One way Buddhists use the reincarnation myth wisely is with the concept of “Precious Human Life“.  In reincarnation ideology, there is a hierarchy of beings with humans at the top (of course).  But the reason humans are considered to be at the top is that humans are considered to have the wonderful ability to reason, choose and act in such ways as to escape the cycle of suffering and rebirth.  Buddhists see humans as having the ability to transcend their bad habits of mind.

Indeed I agree that we humans can transcend our limitations — we do not have to be enslaved by our genes.  But such transcendence takes concerted effort — almost all faiths agree on this but differ on the solution (see Cat vs. Monkey Religion ).  I like the Buddhist solution.

I have previously criticized feeble attempts to declare humans uniquely superior to all other animals, and perhaps I am getting dangerously close to doing the same here.  But maybe all I am saying is that we are Humbly Unique (smile).   I value the way Buddhism uses the notion of seeing this human life as precious because of our opportunities to transcend our genetic slavery.
___________
Notes:
1. Many sites carry this picture of Reincarnation. I did find it also here at www.krishna.com where it has a copyright stamp on it and an article on reincarnation from a Krishna worshiper perspective.

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18 Comments

Filed under Consciousness, Philosophy & Religion

18 responses to “Precious Human Life

  1. Buddhists are atheists. ^^

    Seriously though, I love their ideas too – even if not literally. Still. Thanks for the post. I think I’ll stay around. 🙂

  2. Indeed, many Buddhists are atheists. But a huge number of buddhists pray to spirits, “buddhas” and the like for favors and salvation. Buddhism, like any religion, can be loaded with human superstitions. Buddhists argue, like Christians, over the real teachings of the Buddha, and so we have lots of different Buddhist theologies not to mention how common folks naturally think superstitiously no matter what their theologians tell them. 🙂

    Glad to have you visiting Mark !

  3. Transcending is possible but painful. Sometimes I feel that I have transcended too much for one lifetime. No wonder I am so tired.

    I’ve transcended a family, a culture, a religion, emotional trauma, and yet another culture. Maybe I should quit transcending already.

  4. Re-incarnation appears to be fact.

    Rebirth is ‘YES’. I know about my previous birth. My most Revered Guru of my previous life His Holiness Maharaj Sahab, 3rd Spiritual Head of Radhasoami Faith had revealed this secret to me during trance like state.
    HE told me, “Tum Sarkar Sahab Ho” (You are Sarkar Sahab). Sarkar Sahab was one of the most beloved disciple of His Holiness Maharj Sahab.

    Since I don’t have any direct realization of it so I can not claim the extent of its correctness. But it seems to be correct. During my previous birth I wanted to sing the song of ‘Infinite’ but I could not do so then since I had to leave the mortal frame at a very early age. But through the unbounded Grace and Mercy of my most Revered Guru that desire of my past birth is being fulfilled now.

  5. Wow, AKS, we are happy for you !

  6. [admin note: I was just about to delete this comment because of violation of comment policy: obvious generic spam without interaction to actual post. Actually, I deleted this once before and will spam the author if done again. Nonetheless, I leave it because Anoat already responded. ]

    Gravitation Force is the Ultimate Creator, this paper I presented at the 1st Int. Conf. on Revival of Traditional Yoga, held at The Lonavla Yoga Institute (India), Lonavla, Pune in 2006. The Abstract of this paper is given below:

    The Universe includes everything that exists. In the Universe there are billions and billions of stars. These stars are distributed in the space in huge clusters. They are held together by gravitation and are known as galaxies. Sun is also a star. Various members of the solar system are bound to it by gravitation force. Gravitation force is the ultimate cause of birth and death of galaxy, star and planets etc. Gravitation can be considered as the cause of various forms of animate and inanimate existence. Human form is superior to all other forms. Withdrawal of gravitational wave from some plane of action is called the death of that form. It can be assumed that gravitation force is ultimate creator. Source of it is ‘God’. Gravitational Field is the supreme soul (consciousness) and its innumerable points of action may be called as individual soul (consciousness). It acts through body and mind. Body is physical entity. Mind can be defined as the function of autonomic nervous system. Electromagnetic waves are its agents through which it works. This can be realized through the practice of meditation and yoga under qualified meditation instruction. This can remove misunderstanding between science and religion and amongst various religions. This is the gist of all religious teachings – past, present and future.

  7. AKS,

    (Joking Mildly)
    “Then you put the little piece of paper on your tongue and like TOTALLY see God man!!!”
    Seriously, LSD is cool and all but you can’t believe much of what you see.

    Not Joking.

    Actually I find some real beauty in your theory. I have alway pondered why we ever strayed from frank Sun or Sun God worship. I tell you if the Sun or Gravity changed intensity, brightness, closeness…etc, by even a minute fraction, we would be Toast. Where as, if Humans dissapeared, Jesus would too…hmm something backwards about that…

    Anoat

  8. Thank you very much Anoat. In fact, Sun is our visible God.

  9. @ Satsangi : In your system, what qualities must something possess to be a “God”? Of course, in this case I am think of the Sun ( Surya सूर्य ).

  10. Source of Consciousness (in scientific terms gravitational force, in my view) is God. Sun is the Direct Visible Source of our Earth Planet. Thank you Sabio Lantz for your very kind response to my comments.

  11. So AKS, God=Consciousness. But why is Sun also god? Is a rock also god and a tree also god? Is everything god?

  12. Source or Reservoir of Consciousness is God, not the Consciousness itself. Consciousness of every individual is limited whereas Source or Reservoir is infinite. Of course, there is difference of quantity, not quality. Sun is the Creator of Earth. Sun is the Sustainer of Earth and when Sun collapses the entire solar system will collapse. In this way Sun can be considered as our immediate God which is visible to us through naked eyes. I hope you will agree with this Dear Sabio Lantz.

  13. Then you mean something very different in your use of the word “God” for both the source of consciousness and of the physical entity known as
    “the Sun”. The metaphor is cute, and I get that it allows you to keep worshiping Surya as your ancestors did and yet still embrace your abstract version of Vedantic philosophy. I understand the categories you use now. Thank you “Dear” Anirudh.

  14. This does not mean I worship Sun. I want to reach at some conclusion, from concrete to abstract. I also want to create awareness of scientific background amongst the grassroot level for everything we do and act.

  15. @AKS : Then I would suggest if you use normal words in abnormal ways, you try to be more clear. I think people can refer to your articles if they wish to read more on your Vedantic philosophy.

  16. Thank you very much, Lantz, for your very kind words of useful suggestions. I will keep this in mind while writing.

  17. B.A.

    Since I started investigating Buddhism 15 y. ago I have never been able to “believe” in reincarnation. With the first words I ever read attributed to the Buddha (paraphrased), “don’t believe anything anyone or anything says…seriously test it out for yourself and conform yourself thereto,” I have always thought of reincarnation as a philosophical tool. But they go on in every tradition about it as an “apparent” truth to them. As a provisional, relative truth, teaching I see how it would effect a larger percentage of people. In the Theravadin tradition if you reach enlightenment, Arahant, you dont come back. In the Tibetan, it is said that great masters can will themselves to return–and if so then why arent there a substantial number of great teachers all over the world? That might mean that it takes longer than imagined to really get it right. Well, that seems daunting to the ordinary person who might think, well, I’ll practice next life…I will have many to get it right. This is where the precious life teaching comes in–yeah? Its so rare, they say. Then why are there so many freakin people on the planet? If animals can actually incur merit to become human next life–what are the chances of the opportunities for this to actually happen? Because what I am sayin is that the ratio of animal to human life is excedingly out of balance, and became so in a very very short time. Was there some ‘morphic resonance’ in the animal kingdom that allowed so many animals in such a short time to gain a rare human life? Well then, how rare is it exactly? How difficult is it to get one? Now, I can go along with the preciousness of human birth, but rarity doesn’t function well for me. Next, if its so easy to lose ones precious birth right in the next life so as to be born in the lower realms, then wouldn’t you think there would actually be fewer humans on the planet today? This may indicate that its not actually that easy to lose once gained–especially since we have such a hefty percentage on the “in-virtuous minds/deeds”(down to the overlooked minutiae) side of the spectrum in the world today.
    As a philosophical tool the dependent-origination model makes perfect sense when applied to the moment-to-moment flow of thought. The immediacy of it sets clear the task for a personal mission of self-development. There’s no waiting in this view–its now or never. There is only now according to this model–and its always in front of you.
    There are no prayers, rituals, good luck, hope, offerings, energies, powers, beings, gods, or buddhas that can do it for you–neither can they even remotely help us! What wonderful testament of individual ability (perhaps not the inclination) to take our lives meaningfully.

    Ive already rambled on. This doesnt take into consideration the transferrance of karma teachings. Again, I personally apply this to this life.

    1. Buddhists Against Reincarnation
    2. About Karma by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
    3. Buddhism on ReBirth
    4. Reincarnation – article at Buddhanet

  18. Thanx for the links — these are good sites, I have been there before.
    I lived in Buddhist countries where reincarnation is firmly believed by Buddhists — OK , maybe some intellectuals don’t (like you and me), but the majority do.
    Thanks again for visiting !

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