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.
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.