This seminar about birth, death and the unborn is going to be a discussion of the Buddhist philosophy of change.
And I’m going to start out by going into the very tricky and difficult question of the Buddhist view of birth and death and the doctrine which is ordinarily understood as reincarnation or rebirth, it’s a curious thing. That many Westerners who become interested in Hinduism or Buddhism do so because of this idea of reincarnation.
They like it.
It gives a more satisfactory vision of individual. History and development. Then the two possibilities that would normally be open to Westerners to believe in.
On the one hand.
You’ve got the choice of the Christian view, which is that you live in this world once and in this fourscore years and ten, your eternal fate is settled. Or you’ve got the possibility of the materialistic view, which is that you only live once and when you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s that. You’re a flash of consciousness between two. Eternal darkness is. Intelligent people in the Western world have never felt very happy about either of these two prospects, and therefore there is a certain attractiveness about the idea, which seems to be the point of Buddhism and Hinduism, that you are a soul on a pilgrimage and that from some extremely obscure origin you began as some sort of animal kewl and worked your way up step by step through all sorts of forms of life. And finally, you have the privilege of appearing in human form. And once you’ve got there, you have an opportunity to develop to the highest spiritual position. You must remember that according to both Hindu and Buddhist doctrines, the human form is a very privileged position. For there are, according to both of them, because they share a common cosmology, six domains of beings.
And if you will visualize the wheel of life.
With its six divisions at the highest top division, there is the realm of the diva, diva is the word from which we get the word divine and equally the word devil diva means, though, originally a God or more correctly, an angel.
Angel is a better Western translation of diva than God. Immediately opposite the diva world at the bottom of the circle. There is the naka world of beings in torment of the absolute. This is the dimension of the world, which is the screaming meanies, which is experience in the form of horror. The diva world is the experience of being in the form of bliss.
And between these two poles, there are all kinds of ranges. There are, for example, the assures next to the divers going clockwise around the wheel and the insurers are.
They are a wrathful beings, are sure is the incarnation of divine anger. They’re next to the ashore, are going around are the animals or animals whatsoever. Then again, we get to the Naka at the bottom, the place of the purgatory, we’ll call it then coming up again. Does the world of the proto who are frustrated beings and they’re represented?
I cannot graphically as having very large bellies and very tiny mouths. That is to say, an immense appetite with very little means of satisfying it. There are sort of spiritual bottleneck. And then coming up between the predators and the devils is the world of the humans. And this is understood to represent a sort of middle position. You can be liberated from the human state because the dangers are too happy to be liberated. The assures too furious the animals to dumb, the narcos too tormented and the predators too frustrated. You need not take this as a literal. Account of various kinds of being in the universe. You can take them simply as a depiction of various states, of the human mind, of the moods you can go through. They’re all really in your own head, as we shall see later on, about many other things. But these are the six worlds of Hindu and Buddhist cosmology, and the notion is that one reincarnate again and again through the six worlds. This is the popular idea. In other words, if you live this human life in a bad way and you become angry.
If you devote your life to fury, you’ll be reincarnated as an insurer. If you devote your life to merely living for back and belly, you’ll be reincarnated as an animal. If you are horribly cruel to people and so on, you’ll be reincarnated as another cat. And so on all around. But on the other hand, if you do good things in the course of your karma, you will be reincarnated in the devil world or in better and better situations in the human world.
That’s the popular understanding, and Westerners, many of them think, well, that’s great. Cause this opens up vast vistas of future development. We can go on in future lives working out our destinies, and we can also love to think about who we were before. When you fall in love with somebody, did you meet before in some past life?
Is this the working out of a Columbine that is between you? And it’s very interesting. But the funny thing is that Hindus and Buddhists who do believe in rebirth do so not because they like it, but because they feel they have to accept it as a hard fact. And the whole task of the work of sadhana or spiritual practice and discipline is to get out of it. So it always strikes me as very funny that Westerners take this up because they find it comforting. But Easterners are always trying to get away from being reborn. It was so funny once. Joseph Campbell told me a story that he was sitting with a Vedanta swami. One of these Vedanta societies, Swami. And the swami was saying, oh, dear me. He said, you know. Really? The idea of rebirth is so wonderful, said I, really. I think this is the most the most comforting notion. And Joe said to him, Swami, don’t be a damn fool. What are you talking about? The idea of rebirth being so comforting. Don’t you realize that that’s what you’re supposed to get away from? And the swami suddenly jumped, said. Oh, yes, of course.
It was like I once had a talk with a swami and he was arguing, you see that behind all the multiple forms of this world. There was only one single divine principle and he was going on about this. I said, Swami, you can’t talk like that. You know very well that the Brahmin the ultimate reality isn’t one, because one has an opposite, which is many, and Brahman has no opposite. Who should speak as Brahman as the non duel. And again, he said, did you talk just like a Hindu?
They are funny, you see, because these families have accepted an enormous amount of Western feeling and the British were responsible for that, for occupying India so long and perverting its traditions. Now, it is so curious to all of us because in Buddhism. That still prevails an idea of rebirth. Very strong among all Buddhist countries, and yet. Buddhism explicitly denies that there is any individual reincarnated soul.
In Buddhism, there is a doctrine which is called the three signs of being. And these three signs of of being, well, I should more correctly say the Sanskrit word is power B, HIV A, and that means becoming rather than being HAVA is from the basic root.
I think B H which is connected with the with growth. So Barber becoming the process of change has three signs. One is called Duca.
The U H K HK looker in Sanskrit means frustration.
Sometimes translated suffering. But I think frustration is a more general word, which is perhaps better.
It’s Ducker is the opposite of Sucre. Sucre means sweet. Duka perhaps means sour. But in this in the way it’s used, it means frustration as a basic characteristic of living beings.
Because for some reason or other that life is always eventually frustrating. You have what you desire more than you can ever get. You overreach the possibilities. And so to every being, death comes as a collapse.
And something unfortunate.
The next sign of being is called a ninja A and I T way in Sanskrit. Anita, which means impermanence. The opposite word being Nita.
Eternal. So Annika is everything is in flux.
And finally, I’m not on a an 18 million allotment, which means that nothing has its own, so.
Now, that’s a. Sounds to a Christian. A terrible idea.
Because we use the word soulless or we say to a person, you have no soul, which means you have no finer feelings. You have no or you’re not a human being. Because Christian theology did distinguish between humans and animals by saying that animals have no soul. Idiots have no soul. They’ve lost their soul. But you can see at once that there is a complete difference of the meaning. This is a to translate Ottoman as soul is ridiculous.
Apartment means basically that nothing exists.
Well, there’s another word in Sanskrit. You have to nose fab, however, SGA, V.A., that means oneself or one’s own.
Same as the Latin source because the V becomes the U so far. Viva, viva becoming again your own becoming. Or sometimes it’s called your own nature or self nature. And so what it is saying is that you don’t know that nothing has. Any real sub, however. Because no individual thing of any kind exists except in relation to all the other things. In other words, you are what you are. Only because of your relationships to everything else. And therefore, the whole universe is a system of interdependence. It’s just as if, for example, you were to stand two sticks on the ground and lean them against each other and they will stand up and form an inverted V. Because they lean on each other. And this is an old thing that they teach children in Japan that these sticks leaning against each other form the Chinese character for man. And they say, therefore, man cannot exist unless we support each other. This is the basis, therefore, our brotherhood and of good social relationships.
But underneath that is the far more profound idea.
The universe. Cahiers. By everything, depending on everything else. And therefore, nothing. Exists alone. Nothing exists in its own right. And that’s what that man means.
You do not have an indestructible, immortal soul, which is just plain you forever and ever and ever. And is independent of there being anything else at all.
Also, though, this does go along with the idea that there is not some kind of gaseous spook, some kind of etheric double astral body. What have you, which outlast the existence of the physical body and migrates to the next incarnation. So it has always been a puzzle for Buddhist philosophers to explain how they cannot once believe in reincarnation. And at the same time deny the existence of an individual spook, which is independent of the physical frame.
And the most subtle discussions in all Buddhist literature range around this puzzle. The most important text of early Buddhism is a book called The Questions of King Melinda.
This is the Greek man under. He is a king in the succession of Alexander the Great, who ruled in Alexander’s Eastern Empire and had long conversations with the Buddhist sage by the name of Magaziner. And Magaziner tries to explain to the king how there can be rebirth without anyone who is being reborn.
And so this is the problem to which we address ourselves. How can there be a continuing process without anything carried along by it? And you will recognize at once that the problem is very largely semantic.
Because it involves our whole idea of continuity. What, for example, do you mean by a wave?
When you see you throw a stone into the water and from the plop point where the stone goes in, a whole lot of rings emerge and they are waves and they go out. And you can, as it were. Look at one of them and follow it. And you say I am watching a wave. But what is a wave? You know very well that the water itself.
No. No volume of water, no specific volume of water is moving outwards from the place where you dropped the pebble.
If the water is staying quite still so far as lateral motion is concerned, but the water is moving up and down and these up and down movements create the illusion of a thing called a wave that goes along. Similar to the illusion, when you watch a barber’s pole revolving, it seems to be a procession of something that keeps going up from the bottom of the pole to the top.
But actually, it’s just going around.
Now that that appearance of something moving when there is actually the only thing that is going outwards is motion and motion is about as abstract as you can think. This is the whole route of the Indian idea of Maya of the world as Maya.
As a construct. Something which, shall we say, exists only in your mind.
Only we shall have to be very careful what we mean by that. And I’m going to come to that later on in the seminar.
So here. Here is here is the point. You are delivered from rebirth. This being the purpose of the spiritual disciplines of Hinduism and Buddhism. As soon as you are relieved of the illusion that something is going on. Continuity. This after this, after this, after this, all linking up together into a chain. In the famous Zen text call, the Platform Sutra attributed to Wayne on the Sixth Patriarch.
There is a passage that says if we allow our thoughts past, present and future to link up into a series, we put ourselves under restraint.
But on the other hand, if we just see that they are not. There is just this thought and then this thought and then this thought, you are liberated.
This is an idea which is taken up by T.S. Eliot in this poem, The Four Quartets. Where he could you come to the passage where he says that you are getting on a train.
And you settled down in the compartment with your newspaper and you’re going on a journey. But the one who arrives at the destination will not be the same person who left the platform in the beginning. Because you sit here now. Are not the same as the people who came in at the door a little while ago.
Just in exactly the same way as the flame of a candle appears to be a constant flame, which we can identify as a thing, but as a matter of fact, it is a stream.
Hot energy. Which is.
Whatever particles, whatever gaseous molecules are here, are going like this the whole time, flowing upwards and disappearing the conflict, the flame is converting the candle wax into gas. And in exactly the same way as we can see that the flame has an identity. You say it is a flame. We have a noun for it. We’re actually it is a process. It is flaming. And so in this in just precisely that way, every human being is a process. Just as the flame is the conversion of wax into gas.
So you and I are the conversion of air and water and light and beefsteak and milk into. Shit, and which again converts into something else. You see, we are the flowing vibration through which all this goes. I’m not for one moment.
Are we the same?
So then the meaning of the Buddhist doctrine is that.
You who live today are never going to die.
Because the ones that are going to die will not be the, you know. And likewise, the one that’s here now was never born.
It goes like this. It is explained by Dogan, who was the most fabulous Zen philosopher living around twelve hundred A.D.. When he said.
The spring. Does not become the summer and the summer does not become the autumn. No one would say that. Spring becomes the summer, there is spring and then there are summer.
He said in the same way, when you burn wood, there are ashes. But the wood does not become the ashes. There is wood and then there is ashes.
Each is, as it were, sufficient to itself. Their eyes were so steps. It’s like vibrations wave crests. You see where.
The water doesn’t move. You see what it doesn’t move laterally.
So in this sense, by analogy, the spring does not become the summer. But by watching it, you in your mind impose motion on the up and down of the water. And so you say the spring becomes the summer. So likewise, you say the baby becomes the adolescent, becomes the man, becomes the crone, becomes the cops. And the Buddhists say no. These states follow in the same way as the apparent motion of a wave.
The the word to the wise is live the moment you’re in. There is no other place to be. You will not die and you were never born. If you realize if you see through the illusion. Now, this may sound as if one were creating a theory of the universe, which is what you might call at a mystic. Discontinuous, it is saying the universe is nothing. But point instance.
And it all comes down to that. I see this as an extension of the Western philosophy of nominal ism, nominal ism as opposed to realism. The nominal lists argue against the realists point of view, which is realists say there is such a thing as mankind.
Mankind is a reality, and every individual human is a special instance of a real universal substance called man.
The nominee analysts argue this is an abstraction and nonsense. There is no such thing as mankind. There are only individual people. And of course, this has become in the 20th century the ascendant point of view. There is not really such a thing as the United States of America. That is a political abstraction. There are just the people who live here.
But if you take nominal ism to its logical conclusion, you’ll get to the point where you don’t exist at all a human being. There is no such thing as a human being. It’s an abstraction. All there is is the molecules that are the cells which infest your bones.
And dissolve those further into the nuclear particles and you can say, well, that’s all there is. You see there are just these things.
But then you suddenly begin to realize there is no end to that way of thinking because you can always give an imagination and given instruments of sufficient subtlety, subdivide any unit of existence, of motion of energy into further subdivisions.
Further units of measurement.
And say, well, that we get more real as we get smaller. You see that simply saying that the smaller things are, the more real things. Well, that’s a ridiculous argument because you can play it exactly in the opposite direction. You can say, oh, no, no, no, no. Since all small things only exist relatively. That is to say, in relation to each other.
The only real thing is the big thing.
So all those small particles are relatively unreal. The only thing that is real is the whole universe.
And that’s so big that nobody can conceive it.
So do you see all philosophical argument is a game playing with people, arguing with each other in words, playing up and down the scale of arguing as to which level of bits, collections of bits, all bits whatsoever.
Which one is real?
I’ve noticed a very funny thing in observing with my experiments with psychedelics that psychedelic conversations are absolutely perfect examples of what is going on and always has been going on in philosophy. People start talking with each other, having very animated conversations about nothing at all except the processes of grammar. In other words, let’s imagine a conversation in which nothing specific is mentioned. No proper names are used. No proper nouns. Nothing is being referred to whatsoever.
But all the words that indicate more or less dimensions of quality, dimensions of quantity are all the operative words. Say words like to be.
To grow, to diminish.
To expand, to contract, all these are operant words which can be used with reference to all kinds of specifics, but they get into conversations where all specifics are dropped out and only operant words are used and they dance with each other. By using these kinds of words. And philosophers are doing exactly the same thing now. Philosophy is an intellectual dance of a game that we play just like it might be go.
It might be chess or checkers or poker where we take these abstractions, the set of cards 52 to the deck and we play numbers.
And orders against each other. See what philosophers do, just the same thing and all their arguments.
And you say, well, isn’t that kind of silly? Well, maybe it isn’t. Because life itself, biology is the same thing.
We have all these species that eat each other and come on in different shapes, in different forms and so on.
And there is a contest going on all the time to prove whether the cats are more powerful than the mice or the humans than the rats. And there’s this constant thing is going on. But it is the same kind of bubbly, bubbly bubble only it takes instead of such a simple word as bubble, which is a vibration in the air.
It comes on as a mouse. And a mouse is a very complicated way of saying bubble.
So in all this, you see when when when you get it, when you get a game going of this kind, there comes the point of what you might call emotional investment. When you feel that the outcome of this particular feature in the game is urgent, this matters. And you do see that that’s what we mean by matter. The words matter, meaning something substantial, something material also means important. It matters. And it’s up to you what you think matters. We teach our children. What matters? What’s important for them to learn? And we teach them basically that it’s important to live.
You must go on. That’s terribly important. When you get a schizophrenic child or a Mongolian, so-called Mongolian idiot, these children don’t realize that it’s important to go on and they don’t give a damn. And they are very happy. But from our point of view, incompetent and adapted to society, useless because they don’t understand why it’s necessary to go on living. They’re just going to have a ball where they are. And generally what we would say goof off.
And in a way, every being in this world is torn between going on and goofing off.
We feel that’s that’s the basis of our distinction between work and play. Play is everybody needs some time to goof off, but they must go back to work because you’ve got to farm and fish and manufacture and produce so that you can go on.
But when you see you have this terrifying urgency to go on. And field, you must. This is. This is important. This matters. We screen out of our consciousness the fact that this is our own volition and our own game. Because we are captivated by the illusion of the necessity and the importance of going on.
To keep other people going on, to keep children going on, to keep this thing up.
And the difficulty is that as we become disturbed and anxious about this.
It’s more difficult to keep the game going.
In proportion, as we are frightfully concerned to survive, we start fighting other people. We start clobbering our neighbors were stealing our crops and whatever it is. All the old fights start. And it is these fights which more than anything else at the moment to see are endangering the entire human project. But all based fundamentally on the illusion that it’s utterly important that we survive.
A little while before he died, Robert Oppenheimer said. It is perfectly obvious that the whole world is going to hell. It’s going to blow up.
There is no way know that it can be stopped except that we don’t try to stop it happening. Because you see the panic. What’s going to happen if this bomb goes off? See, this more than anything else will make it go off. Because it’s like a person who’s looking down over a precipice. And starts to get unreasonable. He is terrified to fall over it and therefore suddenly all the strength goes out of his fingers and his legs get wobbly.
And he’s ready to fall. Simply because of his fear of falling.
But you see in all this, what underlies is the illusion.
But that I am going on, that I constitute a real continuity. From this moment to the next moment to the next moment to the next moment. What are you afraid of losing when you die? Why all the capital you’ve acquired during your life, the experiences, the friends? The status. The skills. Everything that you remember. Would be destroyed. Ordinarily, when you die. And that’s why, in other words, we are afraid of losing the past. Now, it’s perfectly obvious to me that when you die. Yes. Everything that you’ve acquired as an individual and stored in your brain is dissolved and distributed.
But at the same time, it is equally obvious that you are not going to that when you die, there won’t be following the moment of death.
That would be as ridiculous as to suppose that you went immediately to heaven and joined the Saints and Angels.
The point is that when you die. You’re always reborn. De novo, that is to say, just as you were before. When you came into this world. There gradually arose into being the sensation of I. And it stays there a while, it goes through a development and then it drops off.
But all the time, everywhere, there are other eyes starting up, see whether they be human, animal. Anything you like to be in other galaxies, etc. Always. They’re starting up now. But we would say, is there? No, there is no connection between.
No. In the same way. There is no connection between the molecules in your hand. And yet you say it is a hand.
But if you look at it under a powerful enough microscope, the molecules in your hand are miles apart. And you would say there is no connection between what’s the connection between this galaxy and other galaxies.
While we can’t see any connection and yet there are gravitational swings whereby they respond with each other and move in a certain collective order. So a in a very similar way, the the constant appearance of beings who feel that they are I. Constitute a wave motion.
And they may be considered individually.
See what we’re doing in this? I’m not sure. Is not setting down a doctrine, but it is doing an exercise in perception. You can see it either way. You can see yourself, in other words, as existing only now. That’s the only you there is. The alternative to that. Logically is to see yourself as everything. Either it must be that you exist. Bingo like that, your point, instant bond.
You know, if you go and the Fillmore Auditorium and dance, they’ve turned on the strobes, copy light going very rapidly.
Brilliant light on and off, on and off, on and off, on enough. And it seems that everybody’s all the time going in and out of existence.
Now, in a way, that’s a kind of. Exemplify creation of the truth that we are vibrations and that everything does go on and off, on and off, on and off all the time.
So the only real thing is the moment of on where you are now. Got it busted. Got it lasted. Got it last. See, that’s the only thing real. That’s one poll. The other poll is the view that.
All these on and off. Just like the molecules in your hand constitute a continuous reality.
But if you follow that line, you’ve got to add up not to just what you are at this moment. You’re going to add up to the whole universe. Through the entire span of its existence in space and time. Any middle position you take between these things is arbitrary.
Say, OK. I’m gonna be so much. I’m going to call myself this particular human being who lives for substance at a time.
OK. That’s where you want to play the game as the rules you’ve been told. And if you wonder to get attached to that and hung up on that, you’re going to say that matters. And so you feel material.
And the Buddhist idea is simply saying don’t get hung up on a what is called in Sanskrit, Rushdie.
Rushdie means a view. A particular way of looking at things.
You say that’s it. I looking at it from this point of view.
This is the way it seems to me to be. And I’m going to stick for that. I’m going to get hung up on that. That is the meaning of attachment. So in Sanskrit, the word psychiatry, she means the view of separateness. The view that this is the separation of a certain bundle of. Wiggles. Taken out of the total willingness of all that there is is me. And another bundler, Wiggles, is very definitely you and I get stuck on that, see, and therefore to start a fight about it. Therefore, to start crying and weeping and gnashing of teeth, all about this thing being the real thing.
That is what these people are trying all these Buddhist sages and Hindu sages to get people off that hang up.
And say, wake up, wake up, wake up.
Don’t you understand the whole thing’s an illusion. Not that this is a word to put it down and say that it’s horrible or bad. If you could see that the whole thing is an illusion, you would be happy as a lark. And life would be lived much more joyously by everybody.
We would dance together and give things away and stop, stop fighting. See if we really saw it was an illusion. We’d all be happy in our big dream.
But we are constantly saying to ourselves and we are saying to our children, it’s real. God dammit, it’s real. And death is gonna be awful and sickness is gonna be horrible. You see, it’s real. And you better watch out.
See, you can see people say to me, you can say as a philosopher that all this things and you could talk this way because you’re sitting in a comfortable place. You’ve got plenty to eat, but you watch when the thing hits you, you’ll laugh the other side of your face.
Well, I don’t give a damn when it happens, it’ll happen, but it’s not happening now. And what I’ll do when it does happen is these sufficient unto the day is the trouble. They’re off. As if you let yourself be free to react as nature dictates when catastrophe falls.
You’ll be OK.
But if you go through your whole life standing in a state of preparation for catastrophe and you know what’s going to happen, you just torment yourself and get ulcers and rotting of the brain long before it’s necessary for that to happen.