Not many things in life are free, but there are exceptions. One of them is Insight Journal, the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies publication edited by the center's co-director Andrew Olendzki. You can either order the hard copy or, if you're eco-conscious, download it. Of course, it's always a great help to offer dana—a donation—when you do. The organization supports itself through its paid courses and the generosity of its members and friends.
This issue features a piece by Stephen Batchelor on his doubts about (or nowadays, his outright rejection of) rebirth—and he finds what he feels is support in Pali Canon. Years ago we featured a debate between Stephen and Bob Thurman on the topic—Stephen played skeptic, of course, and Bob the true believer. But nowadays Stephen isn't particularly interested in arguing the point and is more likely to reflect on how he came to his beliefs and his ever-evolving understanding of the Buddha's teachings. Here's an interesting excerpt from the Insight article:
I am not in any way suggesting that the Buddha rejected the idea of rebirth, or did not believe in it..there is just too much in the Canon to say the Buddha was even agnostic about this.
But there is another strand of text that seems to not quite fit that very well. I think the Pali Canon actually has multiple voices within it, not a single, monolithic voice. You get contradictory perspectives introduced all the time, which is part of the very richness of that literature.
In the Kālāma Sutta the Buddha says, don’t just accept what I say because I am your teacher, because the tradition says it, or because it seems to be reasonable. At the end of that text, he speaks about the four solaces, or rewards, that come from the practice of the Dhamma. One solace says, if there is indeed another life, if there is, indeed, a law of karmic cause and effect, then, after death, you will be reborn in a happy realm and benefit from the results of your present karma. The second solace says, if there is no future life, if there is no law of karma, then, too, by practicing the Dhamma you will live happy and content, here and now, in this world. That is very striking: the Buddha seems to be saying what really matters is not what may or may not follow after death, but the quality of your experience, here and now in this very life.
Admittedly, this passage occurs once, whereas rebirth and karma occur everywhere. Nonetheless, it looks oddly out of place. For that very reason, it is probably original: It would have been in no orthodox tradition’s interest to have added it later. Even more to the point is “the declared and the undeclared” in the Mālunkyovāda Sutta, Majjhima 63: