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The Seeds of Life

An Interview with Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche

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Rebirth is a belief common to all Buddhist traditions, although in Tibetan Buddhism, a belief in reincarnation—the reappearance of a great master, known as a tulku— developed in the late 13th century C.E. The tradition continues amid much discussion of its contemporary relevance. Here, Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche, a Western-born tulku, discusses with Pamela Gayle White the traditional Tibetan view of reincarnation and answers some of the more common questions skeptical Westerners ask.

Westerners interested in Buddhism are often more attracted to its myriad meditation methods than its religious-sounding scriptures and canons. I regularly hear people say that they would gladly espouse Buddhism if it weren’t for the “ism,” the dogma: doctrines on karma; the idea that a human might be reborn as a pig and vice versa; confirmation of the existence of worlds and beings invisible to us; and so on. So what about reincarnation? Is belief in reincarnation central to Buddhism? What exactly are we talking about when we consider rebirth? 

Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche struck me as being just the person to shed some light on this ticklish subject. The son of an American mother and a French father, young Ananda was recognized by the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa as being the reincarnation of a Tibetan Buddhist master. As a small boy, his parents entrusted him to Kalu Rinpoche, with whom he began receiving the classical education reserved for tulkus alongside a select circle of his Tibetan and Himalayan peers. (His story is told in the Summer 2005 issue of Tricycle). Thus the framework of reincarnation has shaped Trinlay Tulku’s life and informed his choices much more directly than it has for the rest of us. 

Now in his thirties, Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche lives in Paris with his wife, Giselle, a native of California, and Moksha, their shamelessly pampered Pekinese. A very busy young man, he splits his time between academic research, retreat, teaching, and translation—he’s fluent in Tibetan, English, French, and Nepali, and understands a bit of Hindi and reads a bit of Sanskrit as well. 

His teaching takes him all over the globe—he loves to travel and take photographs, which he enjoys developing himself. Other interests include poetry (he’s particularly fond of Poe), opera, hiking in the great outdoors, and yoga. Though his life choices and hobbies have a decidedly Western slant, and despite the chestnut hair and deep blue eyes, when Trinlay Tulku discusses philosophy, he’s a Tibetan Buddhist teacher—no doubt about it. We spoke about reincarnation in Paris and Dordogne, France, last year. 

—Pamela Gayle White

seeds of life 1

Can you be a Buddhist or practice Buddhism without believing in reincarnation? Belief in reincarnation is not what defines us as Buddhists; taking refuge in the three jewels—Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha—is. That said, most religions and spiritualities, including all of the Buddhist schools, adhere to the idea that we are more than just our physical body and that a part of our being continues after death. However, you can certainly take refuge, practice meditation, and follow Buddhist moral principles without believing in reincarnation. You would, I think, get the same benefits. The fundamental aim of Buddhist practice is not belief; it’s enlightenment, the awakening that takes place when illusion has been overcome. It may sound simple, but it’s probably the most difficult thing of all to achieve. It isn’t some kind of magical reward that someone can give you or that a strong belief will enable you to acquire. The true path to awakening is genuine discernment; it’s the very opposite of belief. 

What did the Buddha have to say about rebirth? The Buddhist canon, considered to be the record of the Buddha’s words, is full of anecdotes about rebirth. For example, the Buddha recounts his past lives in the Jatakas to illustrate the relation between our actions and our becoming. A very strong moral incentive is connected to the notion of reincarnation, which apparently was widely accepted in the Buddha’s time. 

In the West when we talk about reincarnation, there’s usually an idea of a soul that continues on. Yes, we tend to think that some immaterial and permanent or eternal thing that we consider to be our “true self” survives at death and reincarnates in a new body. Buddhists would have a problem with that theory, because the nonexistence of a permanent self, soul, or atman is one of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism. 

The Buddha explained that self is baseless. For example, “I” seems to refer to a single and permanent entity, the possessor of my mind and body as well as that thing which might possess another body when this one dies, right? But have we ever seen this “I?” What color and shape is it? We could say that it’s immaterial, so we can’t see it. In that case, how do we know it exists? We might say that if it weren’t for “I,” we would be nothing; it’s that thing that makes up its mind, wants this or that, and distinguishes us from others. If that were the “I,” it clearly couldn’t be a single and permanent entity, because it’s always changing. Perhaps we’re mistaking our mind for “I,” but our mind is very different; it is not a single, unchanging, permanent thing. We might argue that we don’t really think of ourselves as being one and eternal, but if we look carefully, these are exactly the various attitudes and feelings that arbitrarily give rise to a sense of self.

And we identify with this? Yes, as something independent and enduring that’s specific to me and that I cherish more than anything else. It’s a generally unnoticed conviction; all of our thoughts and actions are based on this unspoken presumption and feeling of “I.” But when we look, we can’t find anything that corresponds exactly with this feeling. “Self” is a figment of our imagination, a concept that isn’t consistent with any ultimate reality. 

Buddhism seems paradoxical because it denies the existence of a self, yet rebirth is a central theme of its teachings. Buddhists aren’t nihilistic: we don’t say, “We are nothing and all of this is nothingness.” Obviously we’re not in some kind of vacuum: we sense this body and the world around it. What enables that? Our mind! There is truly no means of knowing the world independently from the mind that knows it. If it weren’t for mind, we wouldn’t know or sense anything

Reincarnation really makes sense when we recognize the preponderant role that mind plays in how we see life and everything we experience. What we think and do determines what we become.

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Thailand's picture

Reincarnation follows the teaching of the dharma in that all life is spirit that is changing and in flux . What happens to our bodies is prone to the physical world, our minds are divisible by the universal and the material. That our physical reality transcends its being in spirit, is the understanding I have that we have no permanent life cycle that the observance we pay in tribute to the dharma, the sangha and the Buddha, help us not to sit like a rock, but to live like fluid and air in the transcendental universe. If you believe that life and birth cycles transpires in any way from spirit than you can see that even in death we are submitting to the very act of birth in ways in which fertility is an energy which renews with the coming of the spirit as is with the world as it was and the world that is yet to be.

jackelope65's picture

Atoms are not dead and are being reincarnated millions of times each second and are never truly separate, such as "spooky action at a distance" or quantum entanglement. We know so little, it is arrogant to deny others experiential knowledge.

rdpenumbra's picture

Can someone please clarify for me? Here are two quotes lifted from the interview:
(1) That said, most religions and spiritualities, including all of the Buddhist schools, adhere to the idea that we are more than just our physical body and that a part of our being continues after death.
(2) Yes, we tend to think that some immaterial and permanent or eternal thing that we consider to be our “true self” survives at death and reincarnates in a new body. Buddhists would have a problem with that theory, because the nonexistence of a permanent self, soul, or atman is one of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism.

What I'd like to hear about is just "what" part of our being is supposed to survive after death. Wouldn't we westerners simply define the "soul" as that part which survives death? I'm lost.

sanghadass's picture

"Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared." - Buddha

When one candle is nearly spent it can be used to light another candle and so on! The spent candle can then run out of fuel and the next candle continues to burn. This process will continue until the last candle is allowed to burn all its fuel and the last flame goes out. The fuel for rebirth is said to be the 'craving' for existence. Craving is said to ignite the flame of re-becoming - a new life begins! The new life is a new life the previous life has come to an end - it is nothing but a memory. If we cannot remember previous lives we may simply believe that they happened - or not! Our peer groups let us know what we should believe and disbelieve while others are undecided - they admit their ignorance!

The flame of a candle serves as a good metaphor! A flame flickers but has a relatively constant shape and appearance. Its never really the same flame from one moment to the next - new fuel is constantly igniting. We are also a flood of energy in constant motion but the process is rapid and subtle and we lack the sensory acuity to perceive it. We are also burning fuel to keep the body - that is composed of innumerable cells - alive and kicking. What we call our life is really countless little lives - the cells - working together. The body is a co-operative!

mahakala's picture

It seems that much of the argument centers around the idea of an "unchanging self-nature", if the word "soul" would indicate such a thing... whereas the buddhist view would regard this continuing essence to be the momentum of conditional circumstances inherently empty of self-nature, which are mistaken for an identity due to their obscuration of perception

if you wanted to think about it in terms of science (the evil spectre of scientism?), you could refer to the modern understanding that matter and/or energy is neither created nor destroyed, just changed into various forms.. so at death, the electricity which causes the nervous system to function leaves the body.. but exactly how does it dissipate? and where does it go? and is that electricity even "you" in the first place?

there are plenty of perspectives to look at regarding metaphysical theories of post-mortem activity, but it seems that the key aspect of buddhism does hinge on the inherent emptiness of self-nature in regards to all phenomena - not simply as an idea or conceptual stance that gives political/social leverage, but as direct experience which illuminates the boundless reality as well as the resulting actions that flow from actual understanding of it

Dominic Gomez's picture

Think of people's lives as waves, continually forming on the surface of the ocean and subsumed by it. Life takes on physical form at conception and sheds it at clinical death, becoming re-absorbed by the universe to show up again at some other time and place. There is no permanent, individual soul, just as there is no permanent wave on the water's surface. Each human life is an expression of the greater life of the universe (e.g. the ocean) itself.

jgoger's picture

I agree that this is a lovely analogy, and I can grasp it conceptually and viscerally. It makes "sense" to me. But is it supposed to explain or somehow apply to reincarnation?

"Apparently when I was very young I told a number of lamas who I was and who they were; subsequently I was recognized as Karma Trinlay Khakhyab’s tulku."

The implication seems to be that a substantive essence of one individual later reappeared in the form of a different individual. How is the analogy of "people's lives as waves" applicable to this?

silcarry's picture

That was lovely. Thank you.

awd-s's picture

A good definition, thank you.

annieheckman's picture

Hello Rinpoche and Pamela,

I enjoyed this article in print over the summer and am just now able to log in and comment online, quite some time after the discussion has wrapped up! The article itself is so clear (and humorous) and I've further enjoyed the discussion here, with really excellent questions and challenges, and generous responses as well.

Pamela, I'm wondering, as an interviewer, how do you put this whole conversation in motion? Are you drawing on your own personal questions, things you've heard others say, etc? How does your own experience with the dharma and teaching help you to frame these questions for a broader audience? Or any insight you might offer on how you put the process in motion to discuss rebirth so concisely and with real depth. It's especially interesting to me because it can be a touchy subject and you discuss it with great humor but also elicit answers about some of the details I know I myself have hesitated to probe.

All best wishes --

Pamela Gayle White's picture

Hi Annie, and thanks for telling us you enjoyed the conversation. Honestly, Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche is so much fun to talk to, his knowledge of Dharma is so broad and deep, and he's so thoroughly approachable that it was almost too easy! Otherwise, there are questions that often arise when this subject is brought up - I guess most everyone who is interested in Buddhism from near or far has thought of or heard the same ones...
That's all I can think of; there's no template, really.
Best wishes to you,

annieheckman's picture

Hi Pamela,

Thanks so much. It sounds like a fun and natural process! Yes there are those FAQs, I really enjoyed that it touched on all of them. Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche has a way of conveying the full history of the topic along with a contemporary perspective, so illuminating.

Thanks so much and all best wishes,

nicoleann's picture

There is science, beliefs, and black swans. Black swans being the outcomes or possibilities of reality that we do not know yet are options or possibilities.

Karma Kunchar's picture

I really enjoyed this interview- thank you.

Richard Fidler's picture

This post is not about reincarnation or Buddhist teaching in particular. It is about Asian and Western concepts of a teacher. In Asia--from India to Japan--a teacher is seen as an individual who, after years of painful struggle, finally attained a state of near perfection. His students revere him, receiving his teaching with reverent gestures, never questioning--let alone disagreeing with him. It would be rude to do so.

Socrates represents the Western view of a teacher. He carried on dialogue with his students in an effort to arrive at the truth. Of course, he was respected by all, having demonstrated his perceptiveness on many occasions. Unlike Eastern teachers, he welcomed questions and disagreements as a means to clarify his thinking.

In this forum the two concepts clash. Many posting here accept teachings with expressions of profound gratitude and reverence, while others raise questions asking for clarification or disagreeing with the ideas expressed. I wish Tricycle would address these different views of the teacher with an article. How do Asian teachers feel when they are questioned harshly? Do Western teachers feel uncomfortable when they are treated with reverence? How should a blog deal with these different sorts of behavior? These questions interest me.

Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche's picture

Debates do go on in Buddhist monasteries. The teachings are questioned or how else can the student be sure of their truth.

celticpassage's picture

Well for me this article is about reincarnation and specifc concepts/topics and not about the nature of a student's relationship to a teacher...which I don't really care about.

Bye the way, Socrates wasn't respected by all...that's why he was condemned to death by the authorities of Athens.

melcher's picture

Once again celticpassage gives us a vivid demonstration of the endless and fruitless play of the mind around questions that have no answers.

celticpassage's picture

This is such an old thread it isn't worth opening again.

However, I think a general comment to your comment may not be wasted.

Your comment falls under the understanding of what I would call a typical westernized 'modern', that is, someone who is overly influenced by a scientistic mindset which keeps them blinkered to a concrete world.

One of the consequences of this is your apparent belief that there is no point in pondering or asking questions that have no answers. I would maintain many of the questions which have no answers are ones that are especially worth pondering and are the ones that give life meaning.

Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche's picture

Thanks for the questions. I hope we will have again the opportunity to discuss this topic in the futur.
Wishing you all the best

Richard Fidler's picture

Am struck by the dualistic language that surrounds this discussion. When you talk about "mind" being separate from the physical world, you are making a split that neither Zen Buddhists nor modern scientists can accept. What we perceive, think, remember, fantasize, plan--is nothing more than what the brain does.There is no "out there"--what we experience IS "us" (or, "it"). The mind is nothing more than a construct. As Buddha said, it has no reality--and neuroscience is, at present, in agreement with his view.

As the Rimpoche says (and all neuroscientists), we (our brains) are constantly interpreting the world. And, yes, there is a world out there that is not the same as our experience--a world that has structure that does not depend on interpretation: that is what science is all about, isn't it?--discovering structure that is not subject to interpretation. After all, water is always two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen--and THAT fact is not a creation of our minds.

My point is that one can be Buddhist and still retain a scientific perspective. There is no doubt that humans experience suffering due to their propensity to see life as winning/losing, I'm right/you're wrong. People get attached to outcomes rather than working towards goals without regard to what happens. Letting go of such attachment means the end of suffering. Finally, in the Fourth Noble Truth, insight into the nature of suffering and its cessation can spread throughout every corner of one's life--one's work, one's speech, sexual behavior, and so on. Futhermore, the Buddhist "no-mind" perspective can be strengthened through meditation, both formal and in everyday life. Other than these basic teachings, what else is required to practice Buddhism?

It is foolish to dwell upon belief and dogma--other religions emphasize those things, much to their discredit. Buddhism is about practice. Progress is measured by whether or not you feel you are becoming a better person. For many of us, the husk of early belief, riddled with superstition and cultural accretions, needs to fall away to reveal the vital seed within. That is what should be cultivated.

celticpassage's picture

"Am struck by the dualistic language...", that's funny since your post is as dualistic as anyone else's.

I find it entertaining that some Buddhists seem to align themselves with 'science' as if this somehow gives their pronouncements more authority. However, Buddhism is not a science it is a religious faith with lots of faith-based concepts and demons and gods just like many other religions...which of course would be considered primitive tribal thinking by 'scientists'.

By the way, just because many neuroscientists consider that brain = mind, does not mean that this is actually true. It is simply the operation of the scientific assumption that nothing exists other than the material universe. And your alignment with that perspective doesn't make it true either. I think it just puts you in the camp that believes that Buddhist practitioners are somehow more rational than those that practice other religions: A disparagement that is both simplistic and prejudiced.

yourneighbor57's picture

I was about to post a response here and then read yours. Now I don't need to. Well said! Thank you.

Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche's picture

Buddhism doesn't need the approval of science to be safe and efficient. It is not a product. Science has indeed many assumptions and has yet to discover many paths. A Tibetan proverb says : "there are many paths the donkey has not taken and there are many sciences the foolish ignore". So whatever we claim someone else may refute it, except if like the great master Nagarjuna we are able to refute all thesis while being able to maintain the thesis of having none whatsoever.

celticpassage's picture

"Buddhism doesn't need the approval of science to be safe and efficient."
I'm not even sure what that means, but it appears to be untrue.
Religion is not safe in many many parts of the world, and is derided in many western countries as the pre-occupation of weaklings and fools.

I don't think "efficient" can't even be applied to a religion.

Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche's picture

An opinion is not an argument. The efficiency, actually, of Buddhist practice is well approved by western science today. For the past 2500 years it has been just as efficient without the present approval by science.
I'm not sure it is religion that is not safe, it seems to me that it is humans that aren't. Anyways Buddhism isn't strictly speaking a religion, but that is another question.

celticpassage's picture

"The efficiency, actually, of Buddhist practice is well approved by western science today. For the past 2500 years it has been just as efficient without the present approval by science." Sorry, but this is meaningless.

Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche's picture

Sorry but that is not an argument.

celticpassage's picture

Exactly. That was my point. A meaningless statement is not an argument and conveys no information

Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche's picture

Thanks for your questions and observation. I'll be back online Monday if you have any more questions. Wishing you all the best.

matthew.cheyne's picture

Hello Rinpoche,

My question about reincarnation is not about it's existence but rather about what we do with the knowledge that we have about our past lives.

In 2008, I did a ten day Vipassana retreat and it was in meditation there that I had a recollection of what I believe is my most recent past life. I had realized that in my most previous life I was a highly realized Buddhist monk of some description. I was not a committed Buddhist prior to this realization but I am now. I came away from that experience knowing that I wanted to honor the person that I was in this previous life and since have done a number of Buddhism and Buddhist meditation courses at a Triratna Buddhist Center in a nearby city. I have also just started a degree in writing which I hope to supplement with learning further Buddist teachings as I hope to become a Buddhist writer and teacher one day.

I guess what I am asking is how can I most honor this previous life and what should I do to be the greatest benefit possible for all sentient beings with the realization that I've had?

Matthew in Australia.

Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche's picture

Hi Matthew,

The most important thing upon the path is to gain knowledge and realization to that end we need to study and practice in accordance with our aptitude. Memories from the past can guide us but memories as you know are not always reliable.
I wish you a lot of succes with your degree. May your efforts be of benefit to all sentient beings.

celticpassage's picture

From a rational-explanative point of view, I don't think the article clarifies anything. Like all other articles on this topic, Buddhists cannot explain in rational terms really even what it is that reincarnates, or why 'reality' should so be structured to begin with.

Despite claims that Buddhists should 'know' the truth of reincarnation for themselves, it is clear that this principle is accepted solely on faith by lets say 99% of all Budhists who think reincarnation is true. This is a truism because 99% of Buddhists are not awakened and are in no position to 'know' and even the ones who are awakened cannot adequately explain it to those who are not. Besides, even if they could, it would still be an article of faith by the un-awakened ones.

I can see why it would be a good vehicle to promote moral behavior (in essence it has the same effect as the Christian moral viewpoint), but it is of no real importance besides this aspect.

Dominic Gomez's picture

What can be more important than how we behave towards one another, Celtic Passage?

celticpassage's picture

Given my comment, I'm not even sure where you're coming from Dominic.

Dominic Gomez's picture

What's the point of practicing Buddhism? Just to gain information for your own intellectual satisfaction?

Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche's picture

The fundamental question is: how do know that what we know is true? This question is studied at length in Buddhist epistemology. However regarding the denial of rebirth that is to say that we are nothing but our physical body is a much stronger belief in my view then the contrary. There just is no rational and conclusif proof that we are only our body. Furthermore most humans have had the intuition from times immemorial that we are not just our physical body. Today the majority of humanity still thinks that. Most Christians, Muslims, Jews etc. speak of an immaterial aspect of our being. Buddhist are much more cautious because although they accept this immaterial aspect they do not hypostatize it as a soul or an "I". Anyway to say I am finite or infinite are both inadequate to define our true nature according to bouddhisme. Most Buddhist are brought to realize mind's true nature through instructions from their teacher (provided he or she is a good one) and speak of rebirth not just on bassis of belief.

celticpassage's picture

Yes, I am well aware of what the fundamental question is.
Nevertheless, I was only commenting with two main points: the truth of reincarnation and it's acceptance being based on faith. I did not anywhere state that we are only our physical body.

To that end, I disagree that your two statemnts: "regarding the denial of rebirth that is to say that we are nothing but our physical body" are equivalent. We could still be more than our physical body without reincarnation being true. So I don't see that most of your comment was applicable to mine.

As an aside, I disagree that not postulating an "I" is more cautious than postulating one; it's just different.

I also don't think that your comments about teacher/student instructions really addresses the overarching role of faith in the belief in reincarnation. Of course people talk about these things, but that doesn't nullify the predominant role of faith in the student which is of two main flavors: Faith in the teacher, and faith in the concept of reincarnation as being true.

Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche's picture

If we are more then our physical body why would rebirth or reincarnation not be true? If we are more than our physical body it implies that once our body dies we continue to live in another way. What is that but a form of rebirth? For example when we are in the intermediate state of the Bardo. The Abhidharmakosha considers that to be a form of non physical rebirth. Life can take many different forms as we all know.
The reason why I claimed the refusal to accept the existence of "I" to be more cautious is because such a proposition is less refutable where as the existence of ego or "I" is easily refutable by reason and simple analytical observation.
Buddhism doesn't base progression within the path toward Buddhahood upon blind faith. It is said that progress towards Enlightenment can only come through genuine knowledge and wisdom, particularly the perfection of wisdom (prajnaparamita). So we can believe all we want it won't help. Faith in reincarnation is not a prerequisite or a necessity for a Buddhist. Furthermore in Buddhism the word faith is used but with a very different meaning then the common meaning given to that word in English. Faith in Buddhism is linked to knowledge, faith or confidence in the teachings arise because we have found it to be true. Buddha said : "Monks and scholars please verify my words as you would verify the purity of gold by cutting it and burning it, do not claim my words to be true by respect for me".
If rebirth or reincarnation is proven impossible followers of Buddhism would accept that.

celticpassage's picture

Well, let me see.
I think you're playing with terms when you equate rebirth and reincarnation in the way you just did. For example, Christians believe the soul survives death and is reborn with God in spiritual form, but they certainly don't believe in reincarnation.

I suppose you could consider the non-existence of an "I" is less refutable than the existence of an "I'. But I'm not so sure since the "non-I" is as slippery as the "I": The "non-I" or "true self" can't even really be described, so I would think that it isn't really more cautious.

With regard to faith issues:
"Buddhism doesn't base progression within the path toward Buddhahood upon blind is used but with a very different Buddhism (it) is linked to knowledge..." I never claimed that faith is blind and not based on any knowledge, only that it is faith and not knowledge. The belief that faith is blind (which looks to be primarily leveled at Christians) seems to be a common misperception of atheists in particular and apparently Buddhists as well. I don't think you would find many Christians claiming that their faith is "blind".

"faith or confidence in the teachings arise because we have found it to be true".
This gets to my point. This statement itself is a belief, and is certainly not discovered truth.

For example, Buddhists have certainly not found in their experience that reincarnation is true. Neither have they found anything stated about Bardo realms to be true either. If these things are accepted then they are accepted on the basis of faith, not because they have been found to be true by a practitioner.

And your own example: "It is said that progress towards Enlightenment can only come through genuine knowledge and wisdom, particularly the perfection of wisdom (prajnaparamita)."
This, even as stated, is a statement of faith, not of truth found by the practitioner.

"If rebirth or reincarnation is proven impossible followers of Buddhism would accept that." This is curious statement. Perhaps it is one of the kinds of beliefs Buddhists maintain about the rationality of their faith.
Firstly, it is a generalization, and I doubt that pretty much anything can be said of all Buddhists.
Secondly, it is impossible for it to be proven that reincarnation is impossible. So it puts this 'rational test' of Buddhist faith beyond reach.

Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche's picture

The Christian claim of life after death is in Buddhist terms rebirth or reincarnation although Christians don't use that term and consider the life after death in heaven or hell to be permanent while Buddhist consider the next life to be as impermanent as our present one.
With regards to the question of the inherent and autonomous existence of the subject, ego or "I" Buddhist claim that it doesn't existe because it can't be found and its existence can't be demonstrated. So they do not claim the existence of a true self that would be something else. The very idea of self is an assumption that it based on nothing. So "I" = nothing.
Where as when the ontology of phenomenon such as the mind, the universe is considered Buddhist and particularly the Madhyamaka consider all phenomena to be empty of inherent and autonomous existence. There the term emptiness is used. Emptiness doesn't equal to nothingness as the "I" would. Emptiness is a conventional word used temporarily to speak of the ultimate nature of all phenomena which are beyond the notions of existence, non existence, both or neither.
If you wish to claim that the Buddhist assertions are not cautious or that they are only belief based I suggest you first read Nagarjuna.
Regarding faith.
It seems that for you faith and belief mean the same thing. That is precisely what I'm saying faith is not supposed to mean in Buddhism. It's not the meaning of the Tibetan word "dad-pa" which is translated by the English word "faith". "Dad-pa" is the confidence that arises from knowing non erroneously.
Well, Buddhist claim that both reincarnation and bardo are true not because we are told to believe it but because this was discovered and can be rediscovered by any of us.
I don't see how you can claim that all Buddhist accept rebirth and bardo only through belief. Have you spoken to all the Buddhist in the world past and present to make that claim legitimately?
Rebirth is explained to buddhist as a reality and many arguments are given however no one is obliged to believe it. I, for instance, have never felt obliged for my salvation or for any other reason to believe in rebirth. Actually from an ultimate point of view rebirth is considered an illusion just our present body, life and the universe are.
I think rebirth is an important question that deserves that we try to find out for ourselves if it is a reality or not.
Now you really like to play with words! What makes you say that my statement about the perfection of wisdom being the cause of awakening is a statement of faith and not a truth found by the practitioner?

celticpassage's picture

Well, glad you cleared up that Christian life after death = reincarnation. Although I suppose Christian's are better off than Buddhists in that they don't have to worry about a possible rebirth as an ant.

I didn't claim that the "I" has an inherent autonomous existence, only that it does exist. I think it is demonstrated billions of times a day that the ego exists.

With regard to Buddhist beliefs:
You said, "Well, Buddhist claim that both reincarnation and bardo are true not because we are told to believe it but because this was discovered and can be rediscovered by any of us." Do you not see that this is a statement of belief?

Another example of a statement of belief is your wisdom statement. Perhaps a story might help.

Let's take Joe. He's just started meditating and just joined a Sangha. His teacher assures him that he will eventually become awakened if he diligently seeks the perfection of wisdom etc.

Now Joe must take his teachers word for it that there is such a thing as being awakened, that he will finally realize it, that reincarnation is true (and so karma is important), and that all those fascinating stories about the Bardo and the many gods and demons, etc., etc., are true.

All of this must be accepted on faith by Joe since his teacher cannot demonstrate any of these things to Joe (nor can anyone else including the Dalia Lama and Nagarjuna).

But Joe isn't worried because he has faith in his teacher.

Unbeknownst to Joe though, his teacher is a total charlatan who has learned to talk the talk of Buddhism. Indeed, his teacher isn't awakened at all and in fact doesn't even believe in anything Buddhism has to say, but he makes good money doing what he's doing, and by conducting seminars and leading online Sangha's and publishing a little book here and there. And besides he likes the attention, respect, and fame he has as a result.

Not only that, he's very confident that he (and some others he knows) can continue doing this as long as they want because he knows that being awakened can't be demonstrated, nor can anything about the Bardo or Reincarnation, or any other of the myriad of concepts that Buddhists believe in.

In fact he thinks that Buddhists are pretty silly thinking that they are awakened and have perfected wisdom and see reality as it truly is.

He knows that he sees reality as it truly is and he has the bank account and the comfy lifestyle and access to great health care to prove it. This always brings a smile as he sits in the lotus position thinking about his good fortune and where he should plan his next vacation.

lschaden's picture

Lets take the story of Joan. She can just start meditating with a Sangha and see where it takes her. She doesn't have to believe anything just try out meditation to see if it can help with any of the problems in her life; say her anger. An over months and years she begins to see a positive change in her off the cushion. So then she starts doing some reading and begins to meditate on some of the things she reads about and sees results from those meditations as well. She has taken nothing on faith. She sits with things, sees changes and thinks there is probably a relationship her. Maybe not but maybe so lets keep going along that path. For me faith has not been necessary. This practice has made a positive difference in my life and that is enough.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Joan practices faith when she keeps going along a path that makes a positive difference in her life, allows her to see changes and thinks there is probably a relationship to her.

Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche's picture

Well now, regarding the first point: I don't know about you but I'd find the eventuality of being an ant for a short time rather less worrisome then that of burning in hell for all eternity.
Your second point: If the existence of "I" is demonstrated to you a billion times a day then give me please one example that proves that. To experience something is not the proof of its existence. For example we experience dreams but that doesn't prove they exist. Regarding the "I" its not even perceptible, we just assume it exists.
Your third point: I also think there are lots of charlatans out there, but that doesn't mean that all Buddhist teachers are charlatans. I have actually encountered enlightened teachers who have demonstrated their attainment. Buddhist scripture are very clear that you must verify if the teacher is genuine or not before following him. When the genuine teacher is found the disciple must not rely on his person but the teachings of the Buddha he gives, then he should not rely on the words but on their meaning and furthermore he should not rely on the relative meaning but on the ultimate meaning.

celticpassage's picture

Well actually Christians don't go to hell.

Yes i demonstrate the existence of an i everytime i respond on this forum.

perhaps you would like to demonstrate your awakened state to us?
Or that you are not a charlatan? I would like you to demonstrate either.

alalaho's picture

perhaps you can demonstrate where your "i" is? is it here, as i read on nov 30? or is it still in nov 7? where is nov 7? where is nov 30? do they also exist because "i" am typing?

mr or ms "i", the only thing your "i" is demonstrating is you ego. you are not here, but as i read your comments, i see someone who does not want to discuss, but to only promote their own agenda. this is my "i". believing in the reality of what "i" see. so "i" am not awakened. so we have some commonality.

Rinpoche has not claimed to be awakened, neither to be a charlatan. are there charlatans? i am sure of it. are there awakened beings? i have met beings who have an extraordinary effect on other beings, including me, "i". it transcends any description. but in Buddhism, we call it awakened.

where is your "i" dwelling now?

lschaden's picture

For me, Joan in my previous post, all of the discussion about whether or where the I exists misses the real point. When I see my I as solid and knowledgeable it interferes greatly with my interaction with the world and other sentient beings in the world. I see them through whatever lens the I is seeing the world through at that moment. That lens is constantly changing. If I can be aware of that in my interactions, I can try to test how the lens is distorting the interaction. I will never to the perfectly but just being aware will make a difference and over time perhaps I will get better at it.