VincentRJ

How does Karma and Rebirth relate to modern theories of Evolution

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I've noticed on this forum and other Buddhist forums a problem in accepting the concept of Karma and Rebirth literally. For the scientifically-minded atheist, there's a way out. One acceptable interpretation is that rebirth really refers to the arising of new thoughts (and/or attitudes) in this lifetime, and that the Buddhist scriptures that imply otherwise are just distortions of the Buddha's 'true' teachings, probably due to the influence of the cultural background of Hindu Reincarnation beliefs, sometimes referred to as Hindu contamination.

 

My personal view is that there is some merit in the Buddha's 'amendment' of the Hindu theory of reincarnation. In other words, it represents some degree of progress towards what we now understand about the genetic characteristics that are carried forward to future generations, and the way in which cultural behaviour has had an influence on what genes are carried forward.

 

We often tend to hear the mantra, 'nature or nurture'. There's a modern concept that what we are (our personality, skills, achievements, and so on) is a combination of our genetic characteristics and cultural background.

In one lifetime we don't expect to change our genetic make-up, at least not without the intervention of a genetic specialist. However, over many lifetimes, the genetic characteristics of human individuals will change as a result of cultural influences, so our current state of affairs is in part due to a gradual change in our genetic characteristics, and in part due to our behaviour in past lives.

 

For example, 10,000 years ago, most people would have died from lactose intolerance if cows' milk was a part of their diet. Now, only a relatively few suffer from lactose intolerance.

The following article addresses such issues, but unless you are willing to pay for the full article, you will have to be satisfied with the abstract, as I am, because I'm a poor Buddhist. :wink:

http://www.nature.com/nrg/journal/v11/n2/full/nrg2734.html

 

"Researchers from diverse backgrounds are converging on the view that human evolution has been shaped by gene–culture interactions. Theoretical biologists have used population genetic models to demonstrate that cultural processes can have a profound effect on human evolution, and anthropologists are investigating cultural practices that modify current selection. These findings are supported by recent analyses of human genetic variation, which reveal that hundreds of genes have been subject to recent positive selection, often in response to human activities. Here, we collate these data, highlighting the considerable potential for cross-disciplinary exchange to provide novel insights into how culture has shaped the human genome."

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I should add that what has promted this question in the title of this thread, is the confusion I see in the distinction between Reincarnation and Rebirth.

The Hindu concept of reincarnation implies a permanent identity that is transmitted from one biological birth to the next biological birth. Stories in the Pali Canon recount how Gautama recalled his past lives in all their detail, during his night under the Bodhi tree.

 

It's inconceivable how anyone could recall a past life without the existence of some sort of durable identity, whether one calls it a soul or a personality, or something else.

Tendencies and attitudes are impersonal. If the concept of rebirth in Buddhism relates only to certain tendencies, affected by our actions in this life, then doesn't that diminish the social power of the concept of Karma?

 

If I behave badly in this life, it's nonsense to say that I might be reborn as a dog or a cow, because there's no 'I', or personality, or identity that is reborn. It's just a tendency of behaviour, which is more in accord with the behaviour of a more primitive animal, that is reborn.

 

If it were the case that someone were to retain his human identity whilst being reborn as a cow, it might feel like hell. However, I haven't noticed that cows seem particularly disturbed. They seem quite peaceful.

 

In other words, if there's no soul, personality or durable identity that is reborn, then why worry about it or even give it any thought?

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On 10/13/2016 at 7:07 PM, VincentRJ said:

I should add that what has promted this question in the title of this thread, is the confusion I see in the distinction between Reincarnation and Rebirth.

The Hindu concept of reincarnation implies a permanent identity that is transmitted from one biological birth to the next biological birth. Stories in the Pali Canon recount how Gautama recalled his past lives in all their detail, during his night under the Bodhi tree.

 

It's inconceivable how anyone could recall a past life without the existence of some sort of durable identity, whether one calls it a soul or a personality, or something else.

Tendencies and attitudes are impersonal. If the concept of rebirth in Buddhism relates only to certain tendencies, affected by our actions in this life, then doesn't that diminish the social power of the concept of Karma?

 

If I behave badly in this life, it's nonsense to say that I might be reborn as a dog or a cow, because there's no 'I', or personality, or identity that is reborn. It's just a tendency of behaviour, which is more in accord with the behaviour of a more primitive animal, that is reborn.

 

If it were the case that someone were to retain his human identity whilst being reborn as a cow, it might feel like hell. However, I haven't noticed that cows seem particularly disturbed. They seem quite peaceful.

 

In other words, if there's no soul, personality or durable identity that is reborn, then why worry about it or even give it any thought?

 

just because its inconceivable to you doesnt mean it couldnt happen. the two slit experimental result is inconceivable to me but it happens

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On 10/27/2016 at 9:48 AM, AYJAYDEE said:

just because its inconceivable to you doesnt mean it couldnt happen. the two slit experimental result is inconceivable to me but it happens

 

I agree that because something is inconceivable to me, it does not follow that  that thing (event or phenomena) cannot exist or occur and therefore cannot be be conceivable to someone else. I'm not so arrogant as to think otherwise, because I am, after all, a humble Buddhist. ;)

 

However, it is also the case that simply because something is conceivable to a number of people, even a large number of people, it does not follow that that thing or event must therefore exist in reality, as described.

 

Generally, when we are faced with choices between the conceivable and the inconceivable, as we often are throughout life, many of us tend to opt for the conceivable. Wouldn't you agree? Otherwise, we'd all be living in a land of fairy tales. ;)

 

The two-slit experiment, and lots of other effects often referred to as 'quantum weirdness', are unable to be explained in terms of classical, or Newtonian science, because such classical systems tend not to take into consideration the effect that the 'act of observation' has on the observed phenomena.
In other words, there's a cultural tendency, which is also embedded in common language, to treat the observer as completely separate from and independent of the object or phenomenon being observed.

 

When examining relatively large objects, the effect of the observer is usually so minuscule it can be ignored.
However, when examining the behaviour of such tiny particles as photons of light, we have to destroy the photons or transform them in order to observe them. There's no way we can observe the trajectory of a photon as we can observe the trajectory of a mosquito, bird, or a plane, because we have no access to significantly tinier particles than photons that could be used to bounce off the photon being observed, without drastically changing the photon.

 

This is the concept that makes sense to me and which I think is also consistent with basic Buddhist principles at the philosophical level, such as the law of cause and effect.

 

Now, Ajaydee, if you can clearly explain to me how it might be possible for anyone to recall their past lives in all their detail, as Gautama is claimed to have done whilst under the Bodhi Tree, whilst simultaneously claiming that  ego, self, soul, personality, etc. are all an illusion, it would be much appreciated. I shall then be able to 'conceive' how that might be possible. After that, perhaps you could also explain the distinction between Rebirth and Reincarnation. ;)

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1 minute ago, VincentRJ said:

 

I agree that because something is inconceivable to me, it does not follow that  that thing (event or phenomena) cannot exist or occur and therefore cannot be be conceivable to someone else. I'm not so arrogant as to think otherwise, because I am, after all, a humble Buddhist. ;)

 

However, it is also the case that simply because something is conceivable to a number of people, even a large number of people, it does not follow that that thing or event must therefore exist in reality, as described.

 

Generally, when we are faced with choices between the conceivable and the inconceivable, as we often are throughout life, many of us tend to opt for the conceivable. Wouldn't you agree? Otherwise, we'd all be living in a land of fairy tales. ;)

 

The two-slit experiment, and lots of other effects often referred to as 'quantum weirdness', are unable to be explained in terms of classical, or Newtonian science, because such classical systems tend not to take into consideration the effect that the 'act of observation' has on the observed phenomena.
In other words, there's a cultural tendency, which is also embedded in common language, to treat the observer as completely separate from and independent of the object or phenomenon being observed.

 

When examining relatively large objects, the effect of the observer is usually so minuscule it can be ignored.
However, when examining the behaviour of such tiny particles as photons of light, we have to destroy the photons or transform them in order to observe them. There's no way we can observe the trajectory of a photon as we can observe the trajectory of a mosquito, bird, or a plane, because we have no access to significantly tinier particles than photons that could be used to bounce off the photon being observed, without drastically changing the photon.

 

This is the concept that makes sense to me and which I think is also consistent with basic Buddhist principles at the philosophical level, such as the law of cause and effect.

 

Now, Ajaydee, if you can clearly explain to me how it might be possible for anyone to recall their past lives in all their detail, as Gautama is claimed to have done whilst under the Bodhi Tree, whilst simultaneously claiming that  ego, self, soul, personality, etc. are all an illusion, it would be much appreciated. I shall then be able to 'conceive' how that might be possible. After that, perhaps you could also explain the distinction between Rebirth and Reincarnation. ;)

 

as an admirer of Buddhadassa Bhikkhu, I subscribe to the idea that dwelling on such things is of a very low priority and that my time is much better spent concentrating on the moment to moment rebirth that I CAN conceive of. Words written down 500 years after they were spoken are not that reliable. As to rebirth, it is merely the continuation of energy in a new and different guise without the need for an unchanging permanent soul or personality . And that is enough for me , I am content knowing that if I live my life so as to minimize greed, aversion and delusion in this life of moment to moment births and deaths then, if there is actual new being rebirth, I'll be in good shape and if there isn't  I will have lived wisely and that is enough.

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6 hours ago, AYJAYDEE said:

As to rebirth, it is merely the continuation of energy in a new and different guise without the need for an unchanging permanent soul or personality . And that is enough for me , I am content knowing that if I live my life so as to minimize greed, aversion and delusion in this life of moment to moment births and deaths then, if there is actual new being rebirth, I'll be in good shape and if there isn't  I will have lived wisely and that is enough.

 

Sounds like a reasonable position to take, and probably very comforting. ;)

 

I would not argue against attempts to minimize  any 'bad' types of behaviour in one's life. That's only sensible, if nothing else.
However, there might be seen to be a flaw in such a position for a Buddhist.  A  lack of an accurate understanding of the true nature of a Karmic reality in which some sort of energy has been modified in this life due to certain types of good behaviour, and is passed on to a new physical birth, might result in disadvantageous consequences for the individual.

 

Without an understanding of how such a process works, one might unwittingly and mistakenly believe that certain types of behaviour in this life will favour some improved circumstances in a future life, if it turns out that Karma and physical Rebirth are connected.
If you are wrong about the nature of which types of behaviour work the most efficiently with regards to Karmic reality, because you haven't investigated it, because you've given it low priority, you might end up going backwards. ;)

 

Then in some future life, in a thousand years' time, when you are actually able to recall all your past physical lives, you might realize how you've wasted so many opportunities to improve your future lives because you assumed that investigating such matters of physical rebirth was a waste of time. ;)

 

But don't worry about it. I'm partly joking. :smile:

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ID: 7   Posted (edited)

6 hours ago, VincentRJ said:

 

Sounds like a reasonable position to take, and probably very comforting. ;)

 

I would not argue against attempts to minimize  any 'bad' types of behaviour in one's life. That's only sensible, if nothing else.
However, there might be seen to be a flaw in such a position for a Buddhist.  A  lack of an accurate understanding of the true nature of a Karmic reality in which some sort of energy has been modified in this life due to certain types of good behaviour, and is passed on to a new physical birth, might result in disadvantageous consequences for the individual.

 

Without an understanding of how such a process works, one might unwittingly and mistakenly believe that certain types of behaviour in this life will favour some improved circumstances in a future life, if it turns out that Karma and physical Rebirth are connected.
If you are wrong about the nature of which types of behaviour work the most efficiently with regards to Karmic reality, because you haven't investigated it, because you've given it low priority, you might end up going backwards. ;)

 

Then in some future life, in a thousand years' time, when you are actually able to recall all your past physical lives, you might realize how you've wasted so many opportunities to improve your future lives because you assumed that investigating such matters of physical rebirth was a waste of time. ;)

 

But don't worry about it. I'm partly joking. :smile:

 
 

if Buddhadassa tells me not to worry about that and live according to the 5 precepts and to enter  the eightfold path , then that is more than enough for me. 

Edited by AYJAYDEE

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6 hours ago, AYJAYDEE said:

if Buddhadassa tells me not to worry about that and live according to the 5 precepts and to enter  the eightfold path , then that is more than enough for me. 

 

Whereas I'm a great fan of the Kalama Sutta, and even expand upon it in line with modern theories of science.

 

To be honest (as I always am) I'm a bit put off by Buddhadassa's tendency towards obesity. It implies a failing at a very basic level; a lack of control of his desires in respect of his appetite for food.

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26 minutes ago, VincentRJ said:

 

Whereas I'm a great fan of the Kalama Sutta, and even expand upon it in line with modern theories of science.

 

To be honest (as I always am) I'm a bit put off by Buddhadassa's tendency towards obesity. It implies a failing at a very basic level; a lack of control of his desires in respect of his appetite for food.

 

well you just convinced me of the waste of time and energy this has been!! my god!!

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On ‎29‎/‎10‎/‎2016 at 4:00 PM, AYJAYDEE said:

well you just convinced me of the waste of time and energy this has been!! my god!!

 

Do you mean my time, or your time?

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6 hours ago, VincentRJ said:

 

Do you mean my time, or your time?

 

I can only speak for mine

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On ‎30‎/‎10‎/‎2016 at 8:27 AM, AYJAYDEE said:

I can only speak for mine

 

 I see! Nothing new to say then. :wink:

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Just now, VincentRJ said:

 

 I see! Nothing new to say then. :wink:

 

not to you at least. lost interest

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On ‎30‎/‎10‎/‎2016 at 7:53 AM, thai3 said:

Fairy tales, there is no karma or re birth.

 

By what process of logic do you arrive at that conclusion?

 

We know from history that the behaviour of people in general have consequences for future generations. One war leads to another war. Actions in this life always have consequences for future lives, whether it's the action of just a few powerful individuals, or widespread cultural behaviour.

 

For example, climate change alarmists are worried about the effects on future generations of increases in the CO2 levels in our atmosphere, which are due to our current cultural behaviour of getting our energy requirements from fossil fuels.

Even if one believes that the effects of increased CO2 levels are greatly exaggerated, there are still the undeniable effects of pollution and smog from car exhaust fumes and the burning of coal, especially in countries with poor emission controls.

 

The science of genetics is in its infancy. We thought we'd cracked the human genome a few decades ago by identifying just 2% of our genes which are protein-encoding. The rest of the non-encoding genome was assumed to be 'junk' DNA, a relic from our distant evolutionary past.

Geneticists are now beginning to understand that this non-encoding DNA is not junk, and has some influence on our health.

https://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2014/12/19/only-two-percent-of-genome-codes-for-genes-so-whats-the-rest-for/

 

Other recent developments have taken place in the science of 'epigenetics', which is the study of 'heritable changes in gene expression (active versus inactive genes) that does not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence — a change in phenotype without a change in genotype — which in turn affects how cells read the genes.'

 

For a long time, as far back as I remember, it was assumed that no type of behaviour in a current life can alter a person's genetic make-up in such a way that the consequences of such behaviour could be passed on to future generations.

It now seems this is no longer thought to be true. There is a process called 'transgenerational epigenetic inheritance', which refers to all types of influences that the parent’s life experiences can have on their offspring, from mutations caused by drug use, or exposure to certain environments, or even physical trauma.

 

This process of 'transgenerational epigenetic inheritance' sounds quite compatible with the Buddhist notion of Karma and Rebirth, especially if one interprets Rebirth as referring to tendencies which are passed on, rather than an identity, personality or soul.

http://mysteriousuniverse.org/2014/02/have-researchers-cracked-the-case-for-past-life-memories/

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17 hours ago, AYJAYDEE said:

not to you at least. lost interest

 

You poor dear! I think you should try to be more inquiring. :wink:

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