Buddhism and the precept against killing. + A possible nature of souls.

So…I’ve recently started consciously re-engaging with Buddhism. My last post, Can’t change who I am, I guess. Maybe just go with it?…has brought me back around to a bit of knowledge that was likely missing 2500 years ago. This is that there are more things living than I think anyone could really have suspected, and to fully, “avoid killing living things,” is not possible, without dying oneself.

That is to say…death is part of life, and not everyone can be a Breathairian and survive without an immune system. I’m not entirely certain to what extent watching the feasting swallows outside my window, yesterday, had to do with this: but I’ve found the precept against killing anything (including insects) to be unfeasible, and the more limited directive just to kill plants, to be insulting to plants, as though plants aren’t living things (though 2500 years ago in India, maybe they weren’t considered truly alive). This is not to mention that to remain healthy, our bodies have to constantly fight microbial invaders.

This is part of who I am. I’m more about balance than abstinence.

Of course, killing unnecessarily or with malice, is off the table, as is killing people or pets. But I am making the choice, from this point on, to fight potential infestations in my home and in my body, because — I’m sure the ants would love it if I stopped defending my food.

Not to mention that when I first moved into my current dwelling two decades ago, the house was overrun with giant spiders, some of which did bite (imagine coming up the stairs, and you look up and there is a surprise spider over 4″ across, spread out on the wall in front of your face. And you have to walk past it to get to your room I’M JUST TRYING TO GET TO MY ROOM).

I’m not letting that happen again, although no, I don’t want to hurt them. If I did want to hurt them, it would be different.

It may not always be part of who I am, but today, at least…I can’t be “Buddhist” enough to take pity on every non-human living creature I find in this house and move it outside. There are PEOPLE we don’t let in this house.

The building marks the boundaries of the territory. They aren’t supposed to be inside.

And the process of life is dynamic. It’s not stagnant.

I’m thinking that when one’s lifestyle involves asking for food instead of growing it oneself, though, it’s easy to get alienated from this. (Not to say that all clergy primarily begged. I know some did not. But…it’s an interesting insight that they were at least one step removed from the business of staying alive…like when I get D to vacuum up a huge silverfish for me because just seeing it freaks me out too much, or one buys meat from a butcher because no one wants to kill a chicken.)

(No, I don’t want to kill a chicken. I have no desire to kill. I don’t think the swallows yesterday had a desire to kill. They had a desire to eat.)

Okay, now that I’ve admitted that. I’m not perfect.

But I shouldn’t let that hold me back from engaging with Buddhism at all — that is, the fact that I’m not already perfect.

Fragments of the Divine?

I came across an interesting idea today…and I’m not sure whether concentrating on my pendant today helped this. I mentioned in yesterday’s post something about the Five Dhyani Buddhas of each direction (each Buddha being related to an Element), being embodied in one of the vishva vajra pendants I have (and I’m sure you could see where I could be hesitant to wear the more official of these two, if I don’t agree with certain ensconced fundamentals of Buddhism).

The thought I came to is that we each embody something — some specific aspect — of the universe. One can see this in various different schema in various different religions, particularly the polytheistic, or poly/pantheistic ones.

I think I am the latter. Not a religion (!), but someone who thinks in a way in which a mix of “polytheism” (the status of the parts as Deities are my only hangup, here) and pantheism make sense. (Pantheism = the belief that the Universe is Divine.) I’ve found this in Tibetan Buddhism, Qabalah, Angelology, Demonology, somewhat in Hindu belief (though I know better than to say “Hinduism,” I’ve never really in-depth investigated stuff like Advaita Vedanta, Shaivism, Vaishnavism or Shaktism: it’s harder for me as someone with an East Asian diasporic background, not to mention that for some reason these beliefs haven’t been as established in my area), and some African syncretic religions…

I’m thinking…everyone is unique, because what we are, if we do have souls, is the universe, fragmented or projected. Then as we incarnate, we learn and are conditioned to be certain ways, but the conditioning is not the essence. When we die, maybe that part of us which is a fragment of the Divine goes back to being that fragment of the Divine which is, “us.” Uniquely, “us,” or maybe one who interacts in the world through generating the energy behind multiple lives, at once.

So we would remain who we are and we would have a soul, even if a group soul, but we would be cleansed of extraneous materials.

Of course…this would fly in the face of Buddhism (which does not see an essential “Self” as real), but about as much as Psychology flies in the face of Sociology (Sociology sees people as constructed [or at least heavily conditioned and sometimes warped by] relations of power)…

I’m not sure if this is making sense to anyone but me. I’m hoping it will continue to make sense, because right now I’m a little tired (?) of writing.

And yeah…right now I’m wearing the little amethyst pendant…and I think it’s happy with me. 🙂 Not to sound crazy, though I know I must…

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Can’t change who I am, I guess. Maybe just go with it?

I can’t believe I’m still at this desk, but I am getting things done. This is to the point where I want to loosen up, a bit, so I’ll write, for now.

I did go and find both of my vishva vajra pendants. One of them is amethyst and silver, which is the one I’m wearing now. The other one is cast and assembled metal (I’m not sure of the alloy)…which I kind of feel asks for a bit more “commitment” to wear. Especially as, at this point, I am basically nondenominational.

I’m just now learning, for example, that the Heart Sutra is much more important for one group than the others, though I can’t remember offhand or find offhand which group this is. I mean…it’s kind of like the Flower Garland Sutra is very closely correlated with the Hua-yen school, which in turn originated in a particular historical time and place (and cultural milieu).

Right now the swallows (or swifts?) are playing around outside my window, catching bugs in midair. It’s kind of cute, though they’re really going fast! (They’re also coming really close to the window!)

And yes, I did eventually see the swarm of tiny insects also outside my window…which is another one of those things to make me happy the swallows (swifts?) are here.

A vajra in Tibetan Buddhism is a symbol of compassion, also associated with lightning and diamond. A vishva vajra is two vajras, crossed: it’s a protective symbol. The one I’m wearing now has five small amethyst cabochons mounted in it. The other, more serious-feeling one, has the more classic pronged formation representing the Five Dhyani Buddhas in each direction, with what appear to be stylized markings that look like they might represent Fire. They’re closed (peaceful) prongs: open prongs mean something else.

I had stopped wearing these both a while ago, in an attempt to combat premature identification with a religion out of materialism, or a need to belong. What’s ironic is that I know at this point that it would be inappropriate to wear either of these to work: if it’s against the rules to visibly wear a cross, it’s against the rules to visibly wear this. (It can alienate patrons.)

But I can wear it where it can’t be seen. And although there is the possibility it won’t be recognized as a religious object, I have had it misread, often, as a Christian cross. That’s not really my goal, and I have thought of wearing a single vajra (a reminder of compassion) or a lotus flower (water always seeks the lowest point and mingles with everything; from that arises purity), instead.

I am really hoping those bugs aren’t mosquitoes…though they seem to have just moved (at about the same time I checked to make sure the window was closed).

It’s kind of funny for me; it’s like identity happens for me despite myself, and regardless of my intention. Just listening to myself is the biggest thing I have to deal with; listening, and resisting the urge to explain it all immediately.

(Which does sound like meditation.)

One point of this identity that I can’t easily change: rebirth (no essential “soul”) or reincarnation (with essential “soul”) are the only options after death which I can see as being realistic (granting that death is another kind of birth, into spirit). It’s been this way since I was about six or seven years old.

Otherwise, the question of, “where I came from,” is unanswered, and, “where I’m going,” doesn’t make sense (in a scenario where increasing numbers of souls constantly multiply and then are shipped off somewhere to spend the rest of eternity, somehow kept happy…for eternity. It only makes sense if time stops, and the moment is forever for them — or they exist outside of time and space, so that when seen from within space-time, they seem to last forever and be everywhere).

Not to say that spirits don’t exist…which I wouldn’t, having met a number of them. But I’m sure something goes on that I don’t know about, and which I won’t know about for a while (if I’m lucky). Part of wisdom may mean leaving unexplained, the unexplainable…at least when one knows they don’t know the answer. And can’t explain the answer to others in language, when they do know. Sometimes because no one who is asking knows enough to formulate the right questions.

It could be why there is relatively little speculation on the afterlife and metaphysics within Buddhism…at least, within early Buddhism. Or…the speculation that is there, doesn’t read so much as speculation, to me, because there’s a shared ground of assumption and understanding. Which I may have been trained to accumulate over multiple lifetimes.

“Those who speak don’t know, and those who know don’t speak,” makes sense, here.

I don’t think I would have come to this, except for my interactions with others who are very different from me and have been consistently different from me, for decades (some of whom are family). It just seems granted — to me — that we have differing histories beyond this life, and that impacts who we are, now. I’m not sure I can reconcile it all with training and conditioning within this lifetime…but, maybe.

Bodhisattva questioning. It’s probably immaterial, in the long run.

It’s been about eight hours of work, but there is now space in my office. Not to mention, a lot less dust. I still have some stuff to clean up, but it’s minor. I also still have books (and folders) to go through.

I didn’t realize how many materials I had, here. I rediscovered my little, “treasure box,” from the time I was collecting things like this…I had forgotten that one table in particular had been designated for spirit-nurturing stuff. Right now it also has a file holder on it. Not sure how I feel about that…

…but it’s…just odd, being on the verge of becoming a Librarian, and having worked with community organizing before. Plus being so involved in creation. There are other things that are important to me, but my own sense of integrity will not allow me to take some paths. Possibly, many paths.

I also did find a Kuan Yin figurine which had been gifted to me, a while ago. Around the last few days, I’ve been thinking about the Bodhisattva thing…particularly if the conditions of my life this time around are because of past-life directives.

Just now, my attention was drawn to an acorn I picked up some time ago. What is a seed if it’s never planted? (If I hadn’t picked it up, chances are good it would have been crushed, or food for a squirrel. If I plant it…I’d better be sure it’s away from gas lines!)

And I guess it’s worth mentioning that seeds are planted in the Earth…which can be as nourishing as it is polluted. Or, more to the point, the Earth provides disease-causing organisms as well as beneficial ones. We just hope the beneficial ones keep the others in check, most of the time. (And we all depend on it.)

A long time ago, when I was still notably ill, I did seriously question whether I had taken bodhisattva vows in a past life. The thing is, even if one is ill, it’s hard to move forward without acknowledging that one experiences what one experiences. My life didn’t really start to move forward until I acknowledged my reality, even if that reality didn’t match what anyone else experienced. Even if my explanation of reality was untrue: the experience of it was not.

I also had to own that no one else could have a clear window to objective reality, either: assuming that one’s thoughts are always true and right just because one thinks them (but others can be wrong), is part of what makes people ill.

The major thing about the entire bodhisattva concept, here, is that “American” Buddhism is still in its infancy. I also find that it is relatively vulnerable to romanticized and wrong ideas of other cultures, and people from other cultures, including the ones from which our knowledge of Buddhism has come.

Thus there is this thing about “how to be a Bodhisattva”…which, I’m not sure is actually true to how people in non-English-speaking countries, who are exposed to non-English texts and cultures including a more mature interpretation of Buddhism, experience being a bodhisattva.

A bodhisattva is someone who has sworn not to enter nirvana (liberation beyond rebirth and duhkha [“suffering,” or, “unease”]) until all other sentient beings have done so. That is, they have sworn to be reborn until the last sentient being ceases to suffer and is liberated from the cycle of birth and death. It gives them implicit motivation to help other beings toward their own enlightenment.

Bodhisattvas are also, notably…shown bedecked in jewels, with long hair (as versus shaved heads), and as beautiful. This is symbolic. From what I know, basically all the Mahayana (Great Vehicle) paths advocate this as an ideal, as versus just trying to get oneself to liberation.

What I read in English texts, however, seems like a cotton-candy idealized perfect version of something which was already idealized to begin with, so it’s like “How to Be A Buddhist,” and “You’re Not Being Buddhist Enough,” when I am not certain it is actually to anyone’s benefit to identify as a Buddhist. If the goal is to let go of fixed ideas of Self…the idea of identifying as, “a Buddhist,” is a stepping-stone at best, and grasping for permanence and identity in a world with a defining trait of impermanence, at worst. (“Grasping,” is noted to cause duhkha.)

Let me say this: I don’t think Bodhisattvas are perfect; because if they were perfect, I don’t know that they would be here.

That does bring up the question of whether taking Bodhisattva vows is born of imperfection, and I would say that, given the level one is at when one first takes them, it has to be. Does it start to make one, “clean?” I don’t know. But I would say it likely does give one a community to fall back on, at least in spirit.

There are people I’ve known and presences I’ve sensed which actually are beneficent…the process is called Taking Refuge (in the Buddha [the one who taught the way to live; note there are many Buddhas], the Dharma [the path out of pain], and the Sangha [the religious community, in whatever form that takes]). I have done this in the past, privately. It did help me. A lot. Particularly when I sought Kuan Yin (who is known to give compassion, and is one of the Bodhisattvas who appear both in male [Avalokiteshvara] and Goddess forms).

Do I understand Taking Refuge? Intellectually, no. But, emotionally, it helps.

I have not tried reaching out in person to any Buddhist temples — most of the ones around here are of the Pure Land variant, which isn’t where I’d ideally go first — but the aura I get from two actual Buddhists whose presence I have been in…is very different. (I am assuming my past sensei was at least lay Buddhist, if not monk…just, many things point to that.)

This is long enough. I started to get into stuff here linked with possible past-life influence…but it’s unnecessary and off-topic.

And this may have been partially caused by an artwork I did of a temple, which someone said did remind him of his visit to the Himalayas. (I did not paint this from a reference.)

The point is, for me, that the path I’ve taken in this life is actually kind of…congruent with what I would expect, if I did take Bodhisattva vows. The grad work shapes a person, but on top of that is the public service thing, and how we are not supposed to assume what a person is like, by their appearance. This hits me on the levels of gender, orientation, disability, race, ethnicity, occupation.

I have the ability to communicate. I can be a force for good.

And I am very glad I have certain people in my life…

Today’s work.

Today was spent exchanging research materials at the library, and studying for the Database Mock Final…which is not difficult. I am very glad. In a few days, my Art + Zen Research Guide will be due. Though I wanted to study for that, I found it more important to focus on the Database class, because Database Management is basically the hardest course I’ve got going this semester. And the Mock Final was due tonight.

Luckily for me…I took a lot of notes. I have an A4 notebook for class with 40 sheets of paper which is basically full from the first page, to about 40% of the last page. I was actually kind of flabbergasted that I filled it up almost exactly (I was scared of having to double-back and write on the backs of the pages).

But I think I’ll be using these notebooks, again: they’re much better for what I need them for, than buying American-sized notebooks (which can go 60-80% unused, and have worse paper, if you’re using pen). This is not to mention that the American-sized notebooks generally cost about 5x as much (I’m getting my stuff from a Japanese dollar store). There are the 8″x10″ things for ~$1, but I hate the texture and absorbency of those, so…

Also luckily, the nonfiction books I’ve been looking in for my Research Guide seem fairly well-organized, so it isn’t difficult to locate needed chapters or sections.

I have gotten to the point where I believe that when some of my sources refer to “Void,” they’re referencing sunyata, or Emptiness, the realization of which is key to understanding “Buddha Nature.” How I’m going to explain this is yet to be determined (and I suspect Zen would probably approach this from the angle of not trying to explain it), but I know that I need to toss sources which refer to Zen being based in nihilism. I read at least three different sources today in the Reference section, which dispute the nihilist claim.

Actually, as a matter of fact, the first book I picked up on Ch’an Buddhism has a first chapter which is about sunyata.

So…there is something in this that is causing me to feel the spirits are with me. 🙂 And…yeah, there is a bit of stuff in there about, “wait, I thought things were without soul/self (anatman)?” But that’s only partially correct; things are without self-arising self-identity, but phenomenal self, exists. (It is also implied that clinging to a phenomenal self gives rise to duhkha, or “suffering” [which is a poor translation].)

And I’ve read that psychic phenomena and the ability to undertake sorcery do arise on the path, and just to ignore them and keep on doing what you’re doing.

Well.

I guess it’s like being reborn in a more fortunate position than many can cause one to crash back into lower Realms, because it’s too easy to get lax in one’s conduct and mind…

I’m not certain at this point how I’m going to put this all together, but I should probably start diagramming on something. I have several different sections I could use, though it might be more useful to combine some of these:

  • Japanese Zen (Bodhidharma, on)
  • Ch’an Buddhism
  • Taoism
  • Emptiness/Void
  • Satori
  • Zen and Brush Painting
  • Zen and cha-no-yu
  • Philosophy
  • Wabi and Sabi as aesthetic principles
  • More aesthetic principles
  • Introduction of Zen to the West
  • Distortions (nationalistic, linguistic, etc.)

I would be more readily accessing the template I’ve been provided, but I’m unsure as to how to delete things once I’ve created them…

Cultural location and creative context: Part 1

If circumstances were different, I might be using this time to read. However, I was so out of it this morning that I forgot to bring or wear my glasses, so reading (especially tiny blurry text) isn’t a feasible option. So…we have a half an hour here which I can dedicate to writing.

Although, I do suppose that I could also be downloading and printing some additional readings. I try not to access my library login from too many separate spaces, though (I’m on lunch right now).

Apologies for the massive change from art-related postings to Library-School-related postings. This is an effect of what I’ve been going through on a larger scale: I want to have the time to dedicate to art, but what I’m doing now in the Master’s program is so that I will have more time to dedicate to art…just requiring that I shift my focus away from art, in the present.

So, when I was talking about the Japanese markets…I had been in Southern California for a bit, for a memorial. Before then, my sibling had been visiting from out-of-state. This is what I was referencing in my last post. It was especially very important to see my sibling. The major problem is that now, between myself and my parents, I’m the person who has time commitments and has to set limits.

One thing that I did do for myself when I was in SoCal was not go to Easter service. When I talk about, “doing stuff for myself,” I mean that the majority of our time in SoCal was sucked up by other people determining what we would do while we were there. So it wasn’t really a vacation, more than a educational field trip interspersed with shopping.

I really wasn’t in the mood to go to Church on Easter, though — I am basically never in the mood to go to Church — and I’m not Christian (and don’t want to become Christian), so the only reason to attend was to…well, make the minister (my uncle) happy. The amount of discomfort I would have been in kind of overruled that, though.

I’m not sure my uncle quite “gets” why I don’t attend. When he asked me about it, I didn’t broach the fact that I’m closest to being Buddhist, but I don’t even take Buddhism as truth or as something to be believed, at this point, more than as an intellectual tool.

That statement gives me a jumping-off point for something else I had wanted to talk about but just didn’t: which is, lacking a set cultural context for imaginative journeys (or whatever you would call them). Particularly, dealing with Buddhism requires (or encourages, at least) the clearing of, “illusions.”

I’m not certain I have enough time or resources here to back me up on this (I have a personal library section on Buddhism at home, and the ones here I’ve mostly not read yet: too many repetitions of the Buddha’s biography and hardly anything giving cultural context behind why that version of things is so often repeated [which some of the books I have, mention]), but…the act of “fabricating” (which I take as a word implying the weaving together of disparate threads) stories is something that I’ve become aware of within the time between my graduation with the Creative Writing degree, and now.

Maybe I should talk about writing as, “weaving,” or something, to keep this in mind. I mean, it is nice to have fabric! (Right?) It’s just not nice to have weirdly woven wonky fabric that disturbs you when you look at it or wear it and you wonder why anyone wove it in the first place…

Okay, well…

Anyway, 😉 I find a lot of inspiration from the Japanese side of my ethnic heritage. But I’m not Japanese-from-Japan, I’m Japanese-American, and apparently there is a large cultural difference, there. Although I’m finding that I do have a cultural location which is more Japanese-American than not (it surprises me, too)…I have not been able to feel wholly included because of the fact that I’m multiracial.

I’ve got to end this now and get back to work. Maybe I can continue it later.

Just because it’s believed, doesn’t mean it’s real.

I know it’s time for me to start preparing for the night, but I’ve actually had some interesting thoughts to share.  One of them, is how much easier it is to talk and define oneself when one isn’t aware of exactly how crazy one sounds.  🙂

I have a tendency — a strong one, on reduced medication (I’ve started to get off of Prozac, which historically has helped clarify my thoughts) — to be creative and define myself in creative manners.  However, what has become clear to me is just how many versions of myself I can have…and that none of them may be entirely accurate.

It’s actually really easy to define (or redefine) oneself (especially if one is delusional; meaning that no matter what evidence is presented to one that the belief is untrue, one will continue to hold the belief despite it).  And it’s easy to believe these definitions of oneself are true:  it’s the brain’s way, to believe itself.

The hard part is sticking to these definitions, because when you’re trying to be anything you can conceptualize, there will inevitably be holes (the true self may be beyond conceptualization).  And after a while you realize that all these outgrowths are symptomatic of a deeper reality, which is that your tendency is to create and that given no creative outlet, you rewrite and re-iterate yourself, as versus your art projects or your crafts or your writing or music…or apps… 😉

(Water has been a strong theme in my life.  It will seek out holes and burst dams.  The more I try to hold it back, the more catastrophic the floodwaters can be.)

As I’ve moved forward in life, as versus paused to ascertain whether and how to just hold steady and avoid despair, I’ve not had time to devote to things like energy work or spiritual topics which may only hold a side-benefit of (supposedly) better health.

When I was a youth, I was drawn to Buddhist philosophies, because having a philosophy which recognized the existence of duhkha (popularly translated as “suffering,” but this is an inexact translation), and was based around relieving it, gave me some comfort.  It meant I wasn’t alone in my pain.

By now, I have integrated parts of Buddhist philosophy which can help:  but I don’t really think it’s…true, anymore.  (Pretty much, nothing classified as, “metaphysics,” “spirituality,” or, “religion,” fall into the “undisputably true” category, with me.  Even the category of “philosophy” is questionable [if you start out with the wrong givens, in philosophy, you can’t hope to follow them to truth] — although I do realize that this post is in essence, philosophical.)

People are creative — is something I’m taking as a given — and many more things can be thought of, than are true.  Buddhism is a creation which has been co-created by many people over more than two millenia, which has likely helped sustain a large number of lives over the years it has been in existence…but its functionality (its usefulness) doesn’t relate to its truth value.

That is, something can be useful, and not be true.  I may have, on this point, come to the realization of what is meant by the Buddhist concept of upaya (usually translated as “skilled means”).  Although all explanations I’ve heard of this concept seem condescending — I’m kind of understanding, at this point, that this is both an admission that doctrine itself may not be founded on truth, and that it is still important to address duhkha in life.

Earlier tonight, I realized one thing:  that people in certain spiritual communities (myself having been included among these at multiple times) have felt relatively free to say things, precisely because they felt those things with such certainty.  However, my experience with mental illness has made at least one thing clear:  a subjective feeling of certainty is not a determinant of truth value.  What do I mean by that?

I mean that just because we think and feel and “know” something is true, that doesn’t mean it is.  It’s the brain’s nature to “believe in” what it tells itself.  Now it is possible to have subjective (or internal) dissonance, and that also needs to be attended to:  oftentimes, it has been feelings like these which have let me know that I didn’t have both feet in reality.  (There does seem to be a spectrum of, “More True”-to-“Less True,” when it comes to seeking out who one is.)

And once you’ve been around long enough, it becomes apparent when others are attempting to manipulate you for their own gain.  (It’s one thing for a person to choose what to believe; it’s another for someone else to try and choose what they believe for them, in a manner that benefits the one doing the choosing and not the disempowered subject.)  Just because I recognize that I cannot fully grasp reality in my mind, doesn’t mean that I think anyone else can, either.

This has been the largest reason I’ve stayed away from spiritual institutions.  Although I do admit that I am now curious about attending Buddhist services.

The priest at my family member’s funeral was from a Pure Land sect:  Jodo Shinshu, to be exact.  But he seemed to have his head on straight, and to know what efficiently and urgently needed to be addressed.

It’s apparent to me that we tell ourselves what we need to tell ourselves in order to simply function and stay alive.  In this sense, creativity in humans functions as a survival mechanism.  And is this why so many creative people deal with mental illness, as well (only the most creative, survived)?  I’m not sure.

It’s apparent to me as well, that religion is an outgrowth of creativity.

I’m not certain exactly what will happen if and when I succeed in entirely kicking Prozac.  What I do expect is that my creative faculties will become less muted.  In turn, I’ll probably become more eccentric than the way you’re used to seeing me behave.  I hate to say I can’t help it, but…it’s just the space I normally inhabit.

I just have to make sure I don’t box myself in too tightly with definitions and proclamations of “truth”…because words don’t matter where it comes to what’s real.

Buddhism and anatman — a personal view

Last time I was sick (I’m better now), I realized how quickly ideas about functional immortality (reincarnation or other continuance of a phenomenal spirit past the cessation of bodily function) fade due to having an unexplained fever which will not break, and weight that is dropping at a rate of a pound a day.  The reader may recall that I’ve had an interest in Buddhism from my undergraduate years…accordingly, I’m aware that at least some (if not many or most or all) school(s) of Buddhist thought hold to rebirth, but not reincarnation.

The distinction is fine, but the implications are vast, either from a general paradigm-shift back towards materialism or from a lack of hope or worry about immortality.

In a Buddhist theory of rebirth, the effects of past actions (karma) go on to seed a new birth after the death of a sentient being; however, death for the person who has died is seen as final.  That is, the new life which arises after the death of the being who seeded it, is not the same being as the one who existed before, even though this new being may maintain a sense of continuity with the past being (or a plurality of past beings) through inherited karmic effects (and/or the problem of identification with that which made one).

In reincarnation, as I understand it, there may be a personal essence apart from the body which is transplanted and reborn into a different body.  However, keep in mind here two things:

One is that I have not studied advaita (non-dualist) schools of Hindu thought (like advaita vedanta) heavily, which seem monist from here (monist = the philosophy that everything is one); and I get my ideals of having a soul from various cultural points:  including Hinduism, as referenced by Buddhism.

That is, I get my ideas on the metaphysical validity or necessity of a “soul” (atman) concept through the lessons of people who do not believe in souls; and I believe the latter were referencing dvaita (dualist) Hindu thought, in which mind and matter coexist to create life.  I also know that it’s not uncommon to see distortions; at times, outright falsehoods; and torquing of what I as a Westerner percieve as ethics; promoted by Buddhist writers, in the name of pragmatism.

I also have not studied theories of reincarnation — in specific, reincarnation (not rebirth) — heavily, although any explanation of how I came to be which was not “reincarnation” was foreign to me when I was a child; and for much of my life the question of whether or not I have a soul (atman) has weighed on me.  This has particularly been the case after having been introduced to the Buddhist doctrines of anatman (no-self) and shunyata (emptiness).

The latter seems to fit well with a behaviorist and constructivist view of the self; the former is something that appears to be unique to Buddhism and philosophies which would likely fall under the heading of “atheism” — although “atheism” seems to be a misleading term, to me.

There are religions without deities (Buddhism, at times, being one of them), and religions with plural deities likely (in my experience) don’t grant those deities the same power and status as the big three monotheistic religions do.  That is:  the presence or absence of belief in a deity is irrelevant in determining whether someone holds religious ideals; or maintains a mode of thought closer to that of a religious person, than to someone who has divorced themselves from all religion wholeheartedly.

In any case…didn’t mean to get into that, but.

The following is based mostly upon unrecorded thought which I seem to intuitively understand but not be able to commit to words, easily.  I’ve come to the place where I’m getting to be okay with knowing that I don’t understand what happens after death, and in which I’m getting to be more okay with the concept that this is the only life I’ll have.

After all, if it’s so, being upset about it isn’t going to change it.

This has just been based on the threat of more war, on the peril to human civilization which is coming at us from at least two fronts, now.  I’ve been worrying myself in thinking about the metaphysical/energetic impact of 21st-century weapons (yes I know it’s silly), and about the future, should the belief in reincarnation be valid and we all are reborn as cockroaches on an irradiated planet, or one which is turning into a twin Venus.  Is that what we want our legacy to be?

In this point, I can actually understand the question as to how someone can lead a moral life if they don’t believe they will be judged for that life, later.  Because if you don’t believe that you will have to deal with repercussions for your actions, it’s hard to imagine some people — not all, but some, and they’re in the middle of exemplifying it — will take that as an excuse to behave in a way harms others, and harms themselves, and may cut off all of our futures.

Of course, what you and I take as “harm” are likely to be different things, at least slightly, if not radically.  But it’s obvious that people who don’t care about climate change, or who are welcoming it as the end of the world (like the death of life as we know it is something to celebrate) don’t believe they’re going to have to live later on with the mess we are all making.  That’s in violation of a direct action-reaction principle, because we collectively don’t want to be told we’re doing something wrong and that we need to change.  Because change is scary, and people are creatures of habit.

And we don’t like to be told we’re behaving out of fear, either.

But I’m getting better with the idea that perhaps I don’t have to take all of this on.  I’m getting better with the idea that this is temporary; that whatever this life is, it only exists on this side of the veil.  And that at the end of this stint, I may not have to deal with this at all, again — or at least until such time as the motions of the universe or multiverse see fit to bring together again the conditions that allowed this me to come into being.  For however long that lasts.

I know I won’t be the same person, at least figuratively speaking, and in that I can see the idea of anatman showing up, fairly clearly.  (Consciousness may be regained; identity may not be.)  But that doesn’t mean this will be the end of it.  (I should investigate ancient ideas of atman more thoroughly, I think…)

Maybe, in this philosophical position, the best I can hope for is either having gained enough advancement so that I don’t have to remain stuck in lower levels of learning for too long, the next time; or to…I don’t know what…savor what time I have, because it’s finite.

Of course, this “time” thing…I can still be punctual, but I’ve never understood it…