1. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil
It is true that some might gain significant reassurance from a belief in reincarnation and we should be sympathetic to this. People who need a belief will tend to defend it by ceasing to listen, switching attention, or being distracted by irritation and contempt. Hopefully they will not be harmed by this site. Perhaps they would choose not to read further.
2. Seeing is believing
To hold untrue beliefs has unpleasant side effects. Irrational beliefs are often in conflict with rational ones and this causes tension and suffering to the believer (Festinger Cognitive Dissonance Theory in psychology). ‘We learn things with great certainty through directly experiencing them via the senses.’- This human belief is in conflict with a belief in reincarnation (which few believers would claim to have any direct experience or evidence of). As there is no physical evidence for reincarnation there is little reason to believe in it.
3. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater
Human beings have a tendency to reject a group of associated ideas (as in the case of Buddhism) if they find just one of these ideas to be untrue. This means that intelligent people might reject Buddhism on the basis of their strong reasonable disbelief in reincarnation. This would be unfortunate.
4. ‘It’s not a religion’
Buddhism is not a religion yet it strays away from human observation into ‘spiritual’ territories when it deals with reincarnation and the human soul. It therefore puts itself in conflict with other religions which may disagree that, for example, a human might come back as a goat after death. As a result many religious people may not contemplate Buddhist beliefs simply because of its association with reincarnation. This is unfortunate as they may benefit from Buddhist ideas and practices.
A belief in rebirth can encourage thoughts and desires of surviving death. This grasping tendency leads to suffering (see 4 noble truths below).
6. Buddhism is subtle
The rebirth can be seen as metaphorical. Every day and every moment we change and are ‘reborn' as the contents of our bodies, thought, memories and feelings change. In fact after 7 years there is very little original material left in a human. Most has been replaced. Buddhism is subtle but its simplified expression can be misleading.
7. The Messenger and the Message
The message of Buddha was carried orally for a 100 years before being written down. It is unlikely to have remained unaltered in that time due to the limitations of human nature, intellect and memory. It should also be remembered that Buddha was a human being and was therefore able to be wrong as well as right about intellectual matters including Rebirth of consciousness at the point of death.
Buddha appears to Reject the concept of Reincarnation
‘There is rebirth of character,
but no transmigration of self.
Thy thought-forms reappear,
But there is no egoentity transferred.
The stanza uttered by a teacher
is reborn in the scholar who repeats the words.’ (9)
‘Thy self to which though cleavest is a constant change.
Years ago thou wast a small babe;
Then, thou wast a boy;
Then a youth, and now, thou art a man.
Is there an identity of the babe and the man?
There is an identity in a certain sense only.
Indeed there is more identity between the flames
of the first watch and the third watch,
even though the lamp might have been extinguished
during the second
watch’ (57) .
Reproduced from Chapter 53 ‘Gospel of Buddha’, a compilation of ancient texts published 1894 by Paul Carus
Available on www.mountainman.com.au/buddha/