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Reconciling Non Birth and Death with Consciousness

spencerstonespencerstone Eastern Mind stuck in the Western World Veteran

Hey folks,

So I joined two newbuddhist two years ago, and I haven't been a constant user, but I have progressed quite far in my mindfulness journey. I have been reading TNH quite a lot and find his writing accessible and thought provoking.

A hangup that I have been struggling with recently, and this quite possibly could be due to my proclivity to overthink things, has been reconciling the miracle of consciousness with non birth and non death. I fully accept the idea of a physical non birth and non death, "beings are either manifested, when conditions are correct, or not manifested, when conditions are not correct." That being said, I have found it more difficult to understand how our mental formations fit into the non-dichotomy of non birth and non death.

Consciousness is somewhat of an anomaly in the scientific community, as it is quite difficult to quantify. That being said, of course humans are conscious. Possibly the "most conscious" being on earth, if you can even say that, but that's beside the point. We are a collection of our thoughts, experiences, and mental formations. These have come to fruition since our "physical birth." When our being no longer has the conditions necessary to be a functioning human being, what happens to our consciousness? After death, as our physical form experiences an exponential increase in entropy, does this occur to our consciousness as well?

It seems nihilistic to suggest that when the synapses stop firing, that memories are lost forever, but it also (at least to me) seems like the most likely scientific explanation. Of course, there is the fact that this doesn't really matter, I mean it wouldn't really change my human experience if I knew one way or another about the "death of consciousness."

Not an easy question I know, but if anyone has any advice or a Dharma talk to point me to that would be great. Please strike up a convo in the comments or message me, this has been a burning question for me and I feel like I am spinning wheels trying to understand non birth and non death. Peace.

personScottPen

Comments

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    You can't practice in the future, or the past. You can only practice NOW. So do that.

    http://newbuddhist.com/discussion/9768/enlightenment-in-one-lifetime-do-able

    spencerstone
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    I'd refer you to a book called "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" to get an in depth idea of what the Tibetan's believe happens to consciousness (mindstream) at the time of death and afterward. I know @federica is a huge fan of this book so may be able to add some more.

    In the Theravadan tradition there doesn't appear to be that much written about it in a sense. There are lots of references throughout the Pali Canon about which realm the mindstream will arise in after death based on our behaviour is this and past lives.

    I am no expert though....others on here will have a better take on it all.

    personspencerstoneDavid
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    P.S. Like you @spencerstone, I thought about this stuff for a long time but relatively recently I decided to take the Buddha's word for it and believe what I read in the Pali Canon. A leap of faith if you will....

    It is certainly beneficial to your practice to at least be open minded to the fact that this mindstream has been flowing for so many aeons and this life is but "a flash of lightning in the night sky".

    Peace....

    rocalapersonspencerstoneBodhiTzu
  • pegembarapegembara Veteran
    edited July 20

    @spencerstone said:

    It seems nihilistic to suggest that when the synapses stop firing, that memories are lost forever, but it also (at least to me) seems like the most likely scientific explanation. Of course, there is the fact that this doesn't really matter, I mean it wouldn't really change my human experience if I knew one way or another about the "death of consciousness."

    "Consciousness" doesn't die because it doesn't exist on its own ie. it is not separate from sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, thoughts. "It" is a dependently coarisen phenomenon.

    Yet one can be aware of the presence and absence of those phenomena.

    "Consciousness, monks, is classified simply by the requisite condition in dependence on which it arises. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the eye & forms is classified simply as eye-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the ear & sounds is classified simply as ear-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the nose & aromas is classified simply as nose-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the tongue & flavors is classified simply as tongue-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the body & tactile sensations is classified simply as body-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the intellect & ideas is classified simply as intellect-consciousness.
    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.038.than.html

    The citta/awareness gains release from identifying with the aggregates.

    "Any kind of consciousness whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near must, with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: 'This is not mine, this is not I, this is not my self.'

    When liberated, there is knowledge that he is liberated. He understands: 'Birth is exhausted, the holy life has been lived out, what can be done is done, of this there is no more beyond.'"

    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.059.nymo.html

    What happens at death?

    “What, bhikkhus, is the Nibbāna-element with residue left? Here a bhikkhu is an arahant, one whose taints are destroyed, the holy life fulfilled, who has done what had to be done, laid down the burden, attained the goal, destroyed the fetters of being, completely released through final knowledge. However, his five sense faculties remain unimpaired, by which he still experiences what is agreeable and disagreeable and feels pleasure and pain. It is the extinction of attachment, hate, and delusion in him that is called the Nibbāna-element with residue left.

    “Now what, bhikkhus, is the Nibbāna-element with no residue left? Here a bhikkhu is an arahant … completely released through final knowledge. For him, here in this very life, all that is experienced, not being delighted in, will be extinguished. That, bhikkhus, is called the Nibbāna-element with no residue left.

    https://suttacentral.net/iti44/en/ireland

    BunkslobsterpersonDavid
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @Bunks said:
    I'd refer you to a book called "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" to get an in depth idea of what the Tibetan's believe happens to consciousness (mindstream) at the time of death and afterward. I know @federica is a huge fan of this book so may be able to add some more.

    In the Theravadan tradition there doesn't appear to be that much written about it in a sense. There are lots of references throughout the Pali Canon about which realm the mindstream will arise in after death based on our behaviour is this and past lives.

    I am no expert though....others on here will have a better take on it all.

    The over-riding impression I got from this book, was to cherish and enjoy the Present Moment.
    There is no better place than Here; there is no better time than Now.

    It's the book that drew me to Buddhism and charted my course.

    I heartily recommend you get yourself a copy and keep it as a travelling companion...

    BunksDavidBodhiTzu
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think 'Merica! Veteran
    edited July 20

    I like what David Chalmers and Sam Harris have to say on the topic. Specifically, what has been called the hard problem of consciousness.

    I think in regards to the continuation of consciousness after death there is enough uncertainty in what consciousness is and what causes it that one is allowed to believe that it survives death. I don't think there is enough certainty in scripture or the testimony of yogis or those who experience NDE to compel one to believe over scientific, materialist explanations either.

    So, I don't think there is any kind of conclusive answer to the question. In the light of that uncertainty we need to still move forward as Buddhist practitioners. Some will argue that belief is essential to obtain the liberation that is the primary goal of Buddhism. Buddha himself told the Kalamas that whether there is a next life or not, engaging in practices of virtue and wisdom will lead one to a happier existence.

    I do think though that whether consciousness persists after death in some meaningful way would change our worldview in important ways so I wouldn't go so far as to say the question is irrelevant, just uncertain.

    David
  • sovasova delocalized fractyllic harmonizing Veteran
    edited July 20

    @spencerstone Although your body may die, Reality continues.

    Mind is aliveness, perspicacity -- seeing something requires your eye as a basis organ, something to see/look at, and eye-consciousness or visual-consciousness.

    When we consider consciousness in dharmic terms, we're considering sense-consciousnesses like sound-conscioussness, taste-c, touch-c, smell-c, visual-c.

    We also have mind and the intellect. Sometimes in writing you will see people say mind instead of intellect. I think of mind as something deeper / more encompassing and intellect as thoughts and so forth.

    Yes, we could attempt to reason about what happens when there are no conditions present to support the body, what would happen to the mind? Yes, that is an interesting question, but I would implore you to consider a different approach to the question:

    If matter depends on mind,
    does anything in the cosmos not rest on our awareness (however clear, dull, or subtle)?

    ( Buddha said that in deep truth, the sense-consciousnesses are empty, what is it like to sit without letting their information hang hook or linger at all, like an echo through a canyon? )

    Imagine that your sensory organs are like sensors, giving you raw info. What is it like to sit and let the information flow unimpeded?

    Mind rests on an uneven axis amidst all these inputs and formulations.

    Birthlessness makes sense when what is effortlessly there is known
    But for the mind to come to rest in a space where that makes sense
    Requires some navigation beyond the realm of words
    And into the realm of gnosis

    spencerstoneKundoDavid
  • spencerstonespencerstone Eastern Mind stuck in the Western World Veteran

    @sova said:
    @spencerstone Although your body may die, Reality continues.

    Mind is aliveness, perspicacity -- seeing something requires your eye as a basis organ, something to see/look at, and eye-consciousness or visual-consciousness.

    When we consider consciousness in dharmic terms, we're considering sense-consciousnesses like sound-conscioussness, taste-c, touch-c, smell-c, visual-c.

    We also have mind and the intellect. Sometimes in writing you will see people say mind instead of intellect. I think of mind as something deeper / more encompassing and intellect as thoughts and so forth.

    Yes, we could attempt to reason about what happens when there are no conditions present to support the body, what would happen to the mind? Yes, that is an interesting question, but I would implore you to consider a different approach to the question:

    If matter depends on mind,
    does anything in the cosmos not rest on our awareness (however clear, dull, or subtle)?

    ( Buddha said that in deep truth, the sense-consciousnesses are empty, what is it like to sit without letting their information hang hook or linger at all, like an echo through a canyon? )

    Imagine that your sensory organs are like sensors, giving you raw info. What is it like to sit and let the information flow unimpeded?

    Mind rests on an uneven axis amidst all these inputs and formulations.

    Birthlessness makes sense when what is effortlessly there is known
    But for the mind to come to rest in a space where that makes sense
    Requires some navigation beyond the realm of words
    And into the realm of gnosis

    Thank you, this is absolutely brilliant.

    The ultimate goal is for my mind to rest on such an even axis with no judgement of my perceptions, but I certainly have a long way to go for that. :)

  • spencerstonespencerstone Eastern Mind stuck in the Western World Veteran

    @federica said:

    @Bunks said:
    I'd refer you to a book called "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" to get an in depth idea of what the Tibetan's believe happens to consciousness (mindstream) at the time of death and afterward. I know @federica is a huge fan of this book so may be able to add some more.

    In the Theravadan tradition there doesn't appear to be that much written about it in a sense. There are lots of references throughout the Pali Canon about which realm the mindstream will arise in after death based on our behaviour is this and past lives.

    I am no expert though....others on here will have a better take on it all.

    The over-riding impression I got from this book, was to cherish and enjoy the Present Moment.
    There is no better place than Here; there is no better time than Now.

    It's the book that drew me to Buddhism and charted my course.

    I heartily recommend you get yourself a copy and keep it as a travelling companion...

    I ordered the book this afternoon and it will be my companion throughout my next semester in college. Thank you and peace.

    BunksKundofederica
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think 'Merica! Veteran

    I think its important to define what we mean by consciousness, since it can be thought of in several ways.

    There is conscious as in self aware, conscious of being a distinct entity. Several animals pass what is known as the mirror test where they can recognize that their reflection is themselves and not another animal.

    There is consciousness in terms of mental contents such as sense impressions, feelings, thoughts. These can be measured and observed in terms of neural firings or even manipulated to a degree by outside forces such as magnets or light. Robots and AI may soon reach this definition of consciousness, making them by all appearances indistinguishable from other conscious beings.

    There is consciousness in terms of a wholly subjective, phenomenal experience or qualia. The simple quality of "what its like" to have an experience. Does a robot that can perfectly mimic human behavior, respond to stimuli, protect itself from harm, cry, even report that it has an internal state that only it is aware of, actually have this form of consciousness? And could we ever truly know? Will there always be an unbridgeable gap between what we can empirically observe through a third person perspective and what is available to us from a first person perspective?

    When I speak of consciousness its the third definition that I am usually referring to. This is the aspect of consciousness that we don't understand and remains mysterious.

    kando
  • spencerstonespencerstone Eastern Mind stuck in the Western World Veteran
    edited July 21

    Thank you all, I now see that consciousness is dependently arisen and is therefore impermanent.

    No longer am I afraid of "losing" my consciousness, as consciousness is non-self.

    Blessings to all.

    Shoshin
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    The ultimate goal is for my mind to rest on such an even axis with no judgement of my perceptions, but I certainly have a long way to go for that.

    Perhaps.
    Perhaps if you meditate, the 'mind rest' is already as close as each breath. :)
    https://cundi.weebly.com/meditation.html

    @spencerstone said:
    Blessings to all.

    <3

    spencerstone
  • DavidDavid some guy Veteran
    edited July 22

    @spencerstone said:
    Hey folks,

    So I joined two newbuddhist two years ago, and I haven't been a constant user, but I have progressed quite far in my mindfulness journey. I have been reading TNH quite a lot and find his writing accessible and thought provoking.

    A hangup that I have been struggling with recently, and this quite possibly could be due to my proclivity to overthink things, has been reconciling the miracle of consciousness with non birth and non death. I fully accept the idea of a physical non birth and non death, "beings are either manifested, when conditions are correct, or not manifested, when conditions are not correct." That being said, I have found it more difficult to understand how our mental formations fit into the non-dichotomy of non birth and non death.

    Consciousness is somewhat of an anomaly in the scientific community, as it is quite difficult to quantify. That being said, of course humans are conscious. Possibly the "most conscious" being on earth, if you can even say that, but that's beside the point. We are a collection of our thoughts, experiences, and mental formations. These have come to fruition since our "physical birth." When our being no longer has the conditions necessary to be a functioning human being, what happens to our consciousness? After death, as our physical form experiences an exponential increase in entropy, does this occur to our consciousness as well?

    It seems nihilistic to suggest that when the synapses stop firing, that memories are lost forever, but it also (at least to me) seems like the most likely scientific explanation. Of course, there is the fact that this doesn't really matter, I mean it wouldn't really change my human experience if I knew one way or another about the "death of consciousness."

    Not an easy question I know, but if anyone has any advice or a Dharma talk to point me to that would be great. Please strike up a convo in the comments or message me, this has been a burning question for me and I feel like I am spinning wheels trying to understand non birth and non death. Peace.

    I see it like we are the infinite perspectives of the awareness that has always been but I won't cling to the idea as a belief or anything nor will I give this awareness a proper name.

    Buddhanature, Tao, Brahman as Vishnu, God... even all is one. As soon as we cling to one of these labels we start imposing limits, defining borders and losing a certain quality I can't quite put my finger on.

    I know I am here now. How I came to be in this world, I don't remember but I would have to assume that when the conditions for my being here expire, it will be the same as before my birth. If that's the case then we've been there before.

    There are so many things that could happen so I try to stay agnostic as to possibly keep my options open.

    The way I see it, at the basest sense, emptiness is potential.

    No borders, no limits.

    kandospencerstone
  • pegembarapegembara Veteran

    Long clip. Start from 18:10 if you don't want to see the whole thing.

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