Monday, February 19, 2007

Rain... and Rebirth

Rain. It started last night, first a drizzle, then a good, heavy shower that lasted unfortunately only a few minutes. I heard it on and off during the night, but nothing really heavy, and this morning I note that the area under the pepper tree in our back patio is not even wet. It can't have rained much--not nearly as much as we need. In this morning's paper, I note that we're barely one fifth of our season normal to date--a fact that bodes a summer of serious drought and a dangerous fire season later in the year.

A wonderful gathering of our sangha yesterday. As I think I have mentioned before, we meet every Sunday morning for an hour's silent sit and an hour of discussion. I got the ball rolling with the question I found myself asking after one of my daily sits just the other day: if we believe in rebirth as one of the basic Buddhist tenets--and I'm sure that I mentioned my own problems with this belief--who gets to decide in what form we return? As a rat? A bat? A monk? An arhat? Who gets to weigh up the merits and demerits we have accumulated during this lifetime as regular human beings, and make that fatal judgment call?

Well, my neighbor at the sit, a fellow Brit who is only briefly here on his annual vacation visit to his brother, responded with an admirably concise and lucid explanation that each one of us makes that decision for him- or herself; that we keep making that decision in our actions throughout our lives, since our actions reflect our intentions. This, after all, is what karma is all about. It is not, as is often too glibly assumed, just another word for fate. It's a belief that our actions have consequences, and that the good ones bring about good results, while the bad ones bring harm to ourselves or to others. By the time we reach the moment of our death we have, through the sum of those actions and the trope of our lives, already decided the nature of our rebirth. And even at the moment of death, as Than Geoff teaches, we may still have decisions to make, should we by that time have developed the mindfulness and the clarity of intention to be able to make them.

Another of our members, a regular, followed up on our guest with an explanation in which contemporary scientific knowledge in effect confirms much of what Buddhism teaches on this subject: that what we think of as the self is no more than an illusion we create for ourselves, and that the only reality in the universe is energy and its constant process of change. The "selves" to which we attach such importance in our lives are as much engaged in this process as anything else, and the moment of death is no different from what has been happening to us from the moment of our birth. "Rebirth," then, is no more than an account of the principle of the universe...

... which led us to "The Secret", about which I knew nothing until I read Maureen Dowd's playfully mocking column in last Saturday's New York Times, spoofing Oprah Winfrey's recent whole-hearted embrace of "The Secret" on her show with the suggestion (Dowd's) that all we need to do to change the disastrous current course of this country is to send out good vibrations to Dick Cheney. I must confess I have difficulty with anything that advertises itself as "the Secret to everything - the secret to unlimited joy, health, money, relationships, love, youth: everything you have ever wanted." It sounds as easy to take as a diet pill and is probably, in my jaundiced judgment, as effective. Still, others in our group were more knowledgeable than I, had seen the movie which is causing such a stir, and described it as a non-intellectual's version of "What the Bleep Do We Know."

Well, okay. Ellie is determined that I should keep an open mind, but my skepticism is rampant... My British neighbor and I were agreeing, after the discussion concluded, that such enlightenment as we can achieve in our lifetime is more likely to result from the daily application of hard work than from any magical formula. Maybe it's in those pragmatic British genes...


Debra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debra said...

Thank you for recapturing the wonderful interchange regarding karma and rebirth. Yesterday's sangha was uplifting and energizing. I, too, have scepticism regarding the mass marketing of enlightenment, but, can it hurt?

Fred said...

Thanks for the recap, Peter. I thought Bob's brief, eloquent summary of "what it's all about" was brilliant. We are so blessed to have our sangha.

carly said...

P:I am certain all religions originated with psychics (which priests then canonized into dogma). In the case of karma, there may have been a psychic who saw past lives and interpreted them into what the subject had to work out or put into action. This then could have easily worked into the liturgy.
That's the only explanation I can see, so far.
For a lot of us it takes an experience to be receptive to a magical idea. I have big problems with anything beyond experience until I experience something of it myself.
Example, I told you about a gifted psychic's picture of me as a Chinese man who escaped some predicament and went to the countryside. where she saw me sitting in a doorway watching the sun set. This struck a chord instantly because I have always had a special interest in things Chinese and it seemed typically 'me'. And years before the reading I was introduced by serendipity to an intuitive facet of Chinese philosophy.
Anyway, it made believing the possibility more acceptable. But without that experience I would always have questioned past lives. Among the many uncanny things this psychic predicted, she never mentioned anything resembling karma nor a connection to this Chinese man in terms of a continuation of deeds, etc.
So, I'm afraid it's an intellectual fantasy for me, acceptable only as a wonderful idea, linked to moral idealism or some such. If someone could provide an uncanny explanation as to why we should accept it on faith, I'd be interested. But I've never heard one.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your sharing & your sincere interest in enlightenment.
You have made a comment about having to work hard for it, perhaps
you are feeling you are more worthy to earn it in this manner.
This may be your way to approach it.
However...I believe we have come to this new dawning of awareness to see through the veil that has separated all of us until now & are being given keener insights as to how to approach our old habits.
The movie "THE SECRET" that was spoken of could warrant a more appropriate review from you if you were to view it & then give us an honest opinion...
Again...thank you for raising our awareness by what you have so far offered.

PeterAtLarge said...

Anon: thanks for checking in and for the response. You're right, of course: I should see "The Secret" before I judge it--and will make a point of it. Best, PaL