June 8 : Thinking about Rebirth
Not believing in rebirth, we would not appreciate our present life. If we believe in rebirth, that we can be reborn in other life forms, that “I’m not always me,” we ease into emptiness. But when we feel, “I’m always going to be who I am now,” we grasp at permanence and an inherent existence. The mind is completely absorbed in the root of samsara, gets angry at other people who talk about rebirth, and tells them that they are completely nuts. Even if people cannot initially believe in rebirth, they need to keep it on the back burner. Keep an open mind and see if the idea of rebirth can help you understand some things about your life.
Before I became a Buddhist, as a little kid, I asked, “Why am I born the way I am?” It was very clear to me that I had a fortunate life growing up in middle-class America that most other people in the world did not have. And I thought, “Why am I born with this fortune? It’s certainly not fair. Why am I born the way I am?”
Later, when I became the kind of adult that my parents had not planned on me in becoming, I also asked, “How did this come about?” If life’s growth is only about nature and nurture, we all should have grown up to be the exact adults that our parents wanted us to be.
But are any of us exactly what our parents wanted us to be? We all have our personalities, don’t we? We have our thoughts. We have our values and goals. How come that happens? There must be some other factors besides genes and conditioning of this life.
Thinking about rebirth helps us to understand why we are the way we are and helps us to think, “Okay, according to the law of cause and effect, if I am the way I am because I created certain causes in the past, then the causes I’m creating now are going to influence what I shall become in the future.” We all understand that in terms of our initial upbringing. That is why our parents wanted us to get a good education. If you get a good education, you get a good career, you make a lot of money, then you are happy. That is their way of seeing things. We grew up with some faith in causes and conditions. But our faith in causes and conditions apply only in this life. It is quite narrow. What about future lives? What about previous lives? Can we expand our minds to include a larger system of cause and effect?
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