After; life after life

Yesterday we met at the Tai Pan for lunch, movie and discussion. Nice to catch up with many regulars. Some people came for the food only, some for all or part of the films.

The first film was ‘Life After Life’ about the extensive research of Raymond Moody into NDE – Near Death Experiences. Some of our focus was on the question of whether the 6 subjects in the film actually died or not. Certainly they had some wild experiences that stemmed from a condition of ‘clinical death’ if not actually full death. Their stories were split into the sudden separation from the body, the ‘proof’ this is real and not hallucinatory, the life review, the tunnel of light and the reconnection with the body.

The second film was a BBC Doc about a boy who recalls a previous life in some detail. The recollection was of a tiny Scottish island making for a unique opportunity to investigate the memories at the location. The results were mixed. Many details matched exactly what was found on the island. Other details did not.

The discussion seemed to focus overly on the Buddhist ‘authodox’ view.


For the first topic in fact, the experiences reported in the film were not out of place with any religion, and perhaps even leaned towards a Christian interpretation of angels, God and a heavenly realm. Buddhism should have no real quarrel with the experiences, except that in Theravada one is reborn instantly, rather than meeting lights and angels. This Theravada view became authodox around the time of the 3rd Council 300 years after the Buddha, in contradiction to the common Buddhist view of the time that there is an intermediary stage between dying and being reborn.

The second film suggested that rebirth is instant – the boy describes falling through a hole, into his new family. The memories were hazy, and several people suggested that perhaps the memory was ‘picked up’ somehow, and did not mean that it was the same person reborn.

From the Buddhist view, it is not the same person reborn. Neither the previous, current or and future incarnations are the same person, but just a continuation of the karma.

This makes it rather unfair – you receive the karma of a different person who was your previous incarnation ???? The process is not presented as fair, nor is it rational. That is why the Buddha was so keen to declare a way out of the cycle.


Anyway, with all this inconclusive evidence is it necessary to ‘beleive’ in rebirth ? In India it was considered necessary, as part of Right View. Yet when Buddhism went to China and Japan, the whole aspect of rebirth was ignored – they just did not consider it important. One can still practise and gain enlightenment with or without the belief in rebirth. ‘Belief’ does not play a big role in Buddhism.

Western interest in Buddhism centres around peace of mind, meditation, compassion and such. The cosmological aspects, in both Buddhist and the wider Indian context will remain harder to assimilate.