If you do not believe
in unenlightened rebirth,
what are you seeking liberation from?
[to be continued…]
There are some who do not believe in the Buddha’s teachings on rebirth, who nevertheless consider themselves to be Buddhists. Some do not consider them to be Buddhists though, while others feel that it is alright, and the rest ambivalent. Given that the doctrines on rebirth, which are connected to the workings of karma spanning life to life form no minor part of Buddhism, how should we look at this issue? When we study the Kalama Sutta, at its end is a neat self-contained teaching. As summarised, the Buddha says that one whose mind is purified of aversion wins four assurances in this life. First, if there is afterlife and karma, one will have a good rebirth as one is good. Second, if there is no afterlife or karma, one will live happily now, as one is free of ill will. Third, if evil befalls the evil due to karma, it will not affect one as one does no evil. Fourth, if evil does not befall the evil due to no karma, as one does no evil and does good instead, one is pure both ways.
This teaching should not be taken to mean that belief in rebirth is arbitrary in Buddhism, especially since the Buddha did not say so. What it implies is that whether one believes in rebirth and karma or not, it always makes great sense to free oneself from hatred. This is not enough for liberation though. We have to remember that the Kalama Sutta is the very first teaching that the Buddha delivered to the Kalamas. It is a preliminary teaching, that concluded with encouragement to do good; it was definitely not their final lesson. That said, the Kalamas took refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha right after that teaching. Assuming there might be some among them, who were skeptical about the truth of rebirth, does that make them any less Buddhist? Well, anyone who is diligent to learn, like the Kalamas, is already a good Buddhist in the moment. To be a Buddhist does not mean one must be a perfect one straightaway. There is after all a journey to take to become a Buddha!
The Kalamas were first open-minded enough to approach the Buddha to enquire about his teachings. After resolving their initial doubts, of course, their minds remained open, albeit now better guided with the Buddha’s wise guidelines. So long as even those uncertain about the reality of rebirth or any other truths continue to learn from the Buddha with an open mind, surely, they are proper Buddhists training to be Buddhas. Those, however, whose minds are stubbornly closed, opposite from the Kalamas, are to that extent not exactly Buddhists, or are self-limiting ones, who cannot grow in understanding the bigger picture of many other interconnected truths taught by the Buddha. The very essence of Buddhahood is the complete liberation from rebirth, while being able to re-manifest rebirth out of immeasurable compassion to share boundless wisdom. If this central theme of rebirth is mistaken as of arbitrary importance, how can Buddhists become Buddhas?
If you do not believe
in enlightened rebirth,
where will liberation lead you to?
[… as continued]
The Very Assuring Four Assurances
The Kalama Sutta