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How to prove reincarnation/rebirth?
I have been thinking about this. How can we
prove it scientifically ?
We cant film it. We cant trace the molecules.
Repeat that hundreds of times with different cases, different researchers, thorough oversight, and you'd start to build up a serious body of data.
Remember science is about a method, not just measuring with gadgets. It can be done just as validly with paper and interviews and peer review.
As Karasti said, if it could be proven at this time, it would have been.
While I don't think it's an imponderable, I do think it's frivolous chatter...although I have no problem with frivolity...to a degree.
For me personally, 2 of my 3 kids have made several statements that lead me to lean towards the truth of rebirth/reincarnation, at least in some form. It's not simply the words they say, but the look on their face, the dawning in their eyes of experiencing something they don't even have the vocabulary or cultural knowledge for, but there it appears out of no where. But none of it is traceable or followable or duplicable. (is that a word? LOL)
Also, keep in mind that science doesn't "prove" anything @hermitwin; rather it provides evidence by means of testing and other methods. There is plenty of evidence for reincarnation (such as Ian Stevenson, as mentioned) and it is up to the individual to decide whether or not it is valid.
Maybe find a way (I don’t know yet how) to eliminate the data the kids have picked up from their parents or from TV.
Think about good criteria for qualifying data as correct.
Compare the result with the amount of correct data that is found in a collection of random facts.
The question is: do we find more correct facts in the information the kids spontaneously produce than we find in random facts?
(I'm an amateur. A professional scientist could make a better plan for this research.)
Find the karma-particle in the Large-Baby-Collider.
(I'm an amateur. A professional scientist could make a better plan for this research.)
You will die. Prefer fantasy? Then dream on . . .
. . . looking forward to remembering my past lives . . . or not . . .
Science can prove no more or less that what we can experience.
If enough children had detailed memories of a previous life that could be tracked down and verified and no obvious way they could have been coached from the adults around them, then that would be strong evidence for some sort of reincarnation. However, vague statements and overheard conversations followed by data mining and ignoring incorrect details to focus on chance hits are what we have now.
How would you design a test for reincarnation? Get a whole bunch of people, give them a secret message and tell them in their next life to remember that and contact the researcher, then wait until they're reborn and grow up enough to follow instructions? The children written of in the books now can't even remember their own complete past names or the names of parents or past family like husband or children.
Don't forget that when reincarnation was written about by early Buddhists, it wasn't just a few memories that was supposed to be inherited from your past life. The theory was supposed to explain how you acquired the color of your skin, birthmarks, deformities, and your entire personality. Today we have a better theory to explain most of that, and that's genetics, something completely unknown to people who had no concept of cells or DNA.
If consciousness is just an attribute of the physical brain, then it becomes hard to argue for rebirth -- because there is no logical explanation or mechanism. When the brain dies, consciousness dies with it. End of story. There's no possibility of genuinely recalling past lives because there is no mechanism that could store those memories.
But not everyone agrees with a physicalist explanation of consciousness. There may be other explanations, some of which allow for the possibility of rebirth.
I think that's why there's so much interest in NDE (Near Death Experience) research. Personally, I find these cases unconvincing, but it's easy to see why they attract attention. If it ever could be shown conclusively that mind can survive independently of the physical brain, then scientific objections to an "next life" or "afterlife" would disappear. A non-physicalist explanation of consciousness combined with research similar to Stevenson's could add up to a strong case for rebirth.
On the other hand, if neuroscience is able to solve the "hard problem" of consciousness, then rebirth will probably have to be thrown out along with all other religious conceptions of an afterlife.
There is continuation, but this continuity is not "me," it is not "mine"-- this would require a fixed definition of who "I" am. There is no metaphysical substance which is annihilated nor is there a metaphysical substance which exists eternally. All this seems to me to be seeking after some sort of fixed metaphysical substance when there is none to find.
There are universes of truth outside our ability to prove as true. That is a cornerstone to my belief system.
So, to me, reincarnation may well fall into the category of "truth which is unprovable as true."
Also, his extant work does not constitute convincing evidence for reincarnation. From the same page:
Didn't the Buddha say something like be a light unto yourself? On one interpretive angle, other than the obvious, I see this as meaning you only have to prove it to yourself and to no one else.
By definition, an inference is the act or process of deriving logical conclusions.
But don't give me your claptrap. Just answer yes or no: Have you or has anyone else PROVEN reincarnation/rebirth. YES or NO.
Excerpts of the Buddha's teachings:
[on recollecting one's own rebirth]
""With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives. He recollects his manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two births, three births, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred, one thousand, one hundred thousand, many aeons of cosmic contraction, many aeons of cosmic expansion, many aeons of cosmic contraction and expansion, [recollecting], 'There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.' Thus he recollects his manifold past lives in their modes and details...."
[on knowledge of another person's future rebirth]
"With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to knowledge of the passing away and re-appearance of beings. He sees — by means of the divine eye, purified and surpassing the human — beings passing away and re-appearing, and he discerns how they are inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate in accordance with their kamma: 'These beings — who were endowed with bad conduct of body, speech, and mind, who reviled the noble ones, held wrong views and undertook actions under the influence of wrong views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. But these beings — who were endowed with good conduct of body, speech, and mind, who did not revile the noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the good destinations, in the heavenly world.' Thus — by means of the divine eye, purified and surpassing the human — he sees beings passing away and re-appearing, and he discerns how they are inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate in accordance with their kamma...."
However, many wise teachers caution against being motivated to practice meditation in order to attain these "higher knowledges". This is because it is not necessary to attain such knowledges for the purpose of enlightenment. Therefore, many teachers regard it as a waste of precious time and would advise that the focus be on obtaining insight after a sufficient degree of concentration has been attained. Also, even if one were to be able to attain the higher knowledges, there is a danger that one can confuse this with true enlightenment and stray off the path.
As for scientific proof of rebirth, the studies about near death experiences seem interesting. A good read is the following Skeptico interview of Dr. Jeffrey Long, author of New York Time bestseller, "Evidence of the Afterlife" (2010).
As an example, take free will. Science has a lot of evidence for there to be no free will. Still, do people who get faced with this evidence accept its implications? Most of the time, hell no. The mind will rebel, it doesn't want to accept it, so it doesn't. Out of self defense, it will just decide the proof isn't good enough, the results must be false, the test missed the real "free will", or it just ignores it, or whatever. I say the same will happen if rebirth is ever proven. Most minds will probably not accept no matter how convincing the arguments. And for the minds who do accept, it will only be on a theoretical level.
So that takes me back to my previous statement and what others also said, we have to realize what is truth. The way the Buddha did it. Otherwise, it won't do much, it won't free the mind. Still, I do support scientific research on these subjects, but I see it's relative value.
Rebirth and reincarnation are different ideas.
Reincarnation requires a separate and permanent you that does not truly exist except as an idea in your mind.
On the other hand, rebirth can be seen as it is how you manifest in the present moment.
It is the present moment that is eternal not the idea of you.
The present moment is reborn. It arises (birth), sustains (life), and dies (cessation.) Always based on cause and conditions.
When you see with increasing clarity that what you really are is pure awareness or consciousnesses. That the observer is the observed.
Then belief is not so important. Worrying about the next life is not so important. This present moment is the next life.
But the idea of rebirth does not actually require that we reify anything. Whatever is transmitted from life to life need not be reified, nor any underlying metaphysical substance. Some versions of rebirth would imply this but not all.
One idea would be that what passes between lives, or what re-combine to cause new lives, are 'impressions', not so much phenomena in themselves as imperfections in some other phenomenon, like dents in the car bonnet or eddies in a stream. The stream, while being a phenomenon, need not be a metaphysical substance in the sense that you mean.
But this is idle speculation. I'm pretty sure that this is one of those things that must be learnt the hard way or not at all.
Voltaire famously said "It should be no more surprising to be born twice as it is to be born once".
I am constantly surprised by Life, so I await the surprises Death has in store for me, with bated breath.....
is very close to the hindu one. the main difference is
the hindus believe in an eternal soul while the buddhists dont.'
The Buddha taught that rebirth is part of a process called dependent origination that its happening all the time. So it can be taken as "rebirth from life to life" or "rebirth from moment to moment", and thats where scientists can get their hands on..:)
Buddha trumps non-buddha.
Even the Dalai Lama can't remember what he was doing last thursday.....
@riverflow - Yes, sorry, it seems we agree. I missed the distinction you made between rebirth and reincarnation.
If you want a fascinating window into the world where Buddha grew up, read some of these fables. However, would you argue that there really are evil witches living in gingerbread houses because it's in an ancient collection of stories? Because many scholars and educated Buddhists alike recognize the Jataka as a collection of fables put into a standard Buddhist teaching format for the illiterate and uneducated lay people. They are not be be taken literally at all.
And before you jump on me, let's take one of the hundreds of lives pretty much at random. We'll pick life number 351.
...At that time a lion and a tiger lived in a mountain-cave in that forest. A jackal was in attendance on them, and living on theri broken meats began to wax gross of body. And one day he was struck with the thought, “I have never yet eaten the flesh of a lion or a tiger. I must set these two animals by the ears, and when in consequence of their quarrel they have come by their death. I will eat their flesh.” So he drew nigh to the lion and said, “Is there any quarrel, Sir, between you and the tiger?” “Why so, Sir?” “Your Reverence,” he said, “he ever speaks in your dispraise and says, ‘When I am gone, this lion will never attain to the sixteenth part of my personal beauty, nor of my stature and girth, nor of my natural strength and power.” Then the lion said to him, “Off with you. He will never speak thus of me.” Then the jackal drew nigh to the tiger also, and spoke after the same manner...
It goes on to tell the story of the jackal trying to cause trouble between the tiger and the lion, but in the end the tiger apologizes to the lion, the jackal runs off, and a lesson about friendship is learned.
And tacked onto the end of the story is Buddha saying the jackal was reborn as a beggar, the lion and tiger are now famous monks, and Buddha? He was a forest tree spirit who "saw the whole thing with my own eyes".
Now really, the sutras are full of Buddha's past lives and those include talking animals and tree spirits and we are familiar with the format today as fables meant to instruct. Each story, like most of the thousands of sutras, claims to have been spoken from the Buddha's lips. So animals used to talk and have human intelligence and motivations? You can be reincarnated as a tree? And where are a tree's eyes located, for that matter?
Certainly we can say from this that reincarnation was a widely held belief among Buddhists then and now. We can also say with certainty that the sutras have to be approached with discernment and intelligence, and not used as a sacred hammer to prove any belief because it's written somewhere in an ancient sutra. We have to ask ourselves, how does this sutra or statement or saying fit into the teaching of the Dharma as a whole? Is it central to the teaching, or is it something that monks were arguing about back then that isn't so important to us, or even something that fits into the other teachings of the Buddha?
But @Cinorjer, thanx for framing it so lucidly.
I would add that the Buddha was teaching to a people much attached to this notion of re-birth, and so used various expedient means to lead them to non-attachment of this view, but always respecting the various capacities of his listeners to understand.
The person is the coming together of all the aggregates and this constitutes the being in a single lifetime and not that this is the body and this is the mind, as if two separate existing entities where the mind of a particular person manifests again in another form after escaping from the previous one.
The Samsara the Buddha refers to occurs in the mind at a given moment as a manifestation of the preceding moment, and is directly linked to one's perception of the world and how one interacts with it. Nirvana is the end of this Samsaric re-birth of the mind, but it doesn't mean the person no longer exists or experiences either. The person continues to exist until they too must eventually pass.
All things must pass. Such is the nature of life, and there is nothing wrong with it. Its the way its supposed to be.
It's not just in the Jatakas. The Buddha saying he recollected his past lives is in many places of the suttas, and him referring to literal rebirth in one way or the other is in even more. I'm aware that also that doesn't make it true automatically, but surely it can't be as easily dismissed as a 'fable'. Of course, I'm aware these are also just texts, and I always say don't take the texts as truths automatically - but I also think we should represent those texts as they are, whatever our own ideas are.
I mean, texts such as the anapanasati and satipatthana sutta a lot of people (I'm not saying you, it's not meant personal ) take as very important and literal. They even get fiddly about single words or lines. But these suttas come from a book which discusses rebirth and past life memories like it is the most normal thing in the world, yet that's often overlooked or put aside. Give it your own judgement, but present the things as they are. Sure, I also get a bit itchy when I read certain parts of the suttas, like the Buddha being able to fly - but it is what it says.
Anyway, to get back on the topic. In Ajahn Brahmavamso's book Mindfulness Bliss and Beyond he describes a method to recall previous lives so people can try to check for themselves. This way we can get beyond all texts anyway. It's not the scientific proof the thread was intended for, but still proof enough, not?