Karma and reincarnation as teaching strategy

 

What do we know about life, death and what continues?

Well, we know for sure that this human self dies. It is gone. Never to come back. So if we take this human self, with its particular personality, to be “I”, then “I” will surely die and be gone forever, reincarnation or not.

At the same time, we see that the world of form is a seamless whole. Everything has infinite causes and infinite effects. The world of form is reorganizing itself in always new and different ways. There is no I with an Other within the world of form. Doing, but no (separate, individual) doer.

And if we look, we find that within all of this coming and going, all of this change, something does not come and go. The awareness it all happens within does not come and go. It is that which all forms happens within, to and as, including all time and space, all causality, and any sense of an I with an Other. This awareness is inherently free from all of it, so is also free to allow the appearance of it all. This is what we really are, awakeness inherently free from any of its content, free from any I with an Other, yet allowing the appearance of it all in its fluid richness.

So in this context, personal karma does not have much meaning, nor does reincarnation if we think of an “I” that is reincarnated.

There is no “personal” karma because everything has infinite causes and infinite effects. Every single little thing this human self does has causes that stretch back to the beginning of time and out to the extent of the universe. It is the karma of the world of form as a whole and does not belong to any individual entity within this world of form.

And there is no reincarnation of a separate “I” either, because it doesn’t exist. It only appears when we filter the world through a sense of I and Other, which all comes from a thought, which all happens within, to and as awakeness itself.

At most, there may be a rebirth of this alive presence with its many flavors of infinite love, wisdom, luminosity, nurturing darkness, and somehow personal and impersonal at the same time. This alive presence at the soul level, which may come in through certain soul level practices such as prayer, and which we can place our sense of “I” on if we want. But this too is within content of awareness, this too comes and goes, this too is inherently free from any I with an Other. So even if there is some form of rebirth here, it is free from a rebirth of any “I”.

So why does Buddhism, and some other traditions, emphasize personal karma and reincarnation? They are not stupid, they too must have discovered this either in their own immediate experience or at least rationally, so why do they still – sometimes – emphasize it?

To me, it seems to be a teaching strategy. A teaching aimed at a particular, introductory, level.

It is far too easy to be caught up in the words about these things… ground, awakeness, emptiness, no I with an Other. As soon as we start believing the thoughts about these things, or anything else, it quickly gets really weird.

So then it is better to encourage people to continue to believe in a separate self, with individual karma and the prospect of being reborn, because that at least invites in some personal responsibility, some measure of ethical living, the practice of thinking of the longer term and far reaching consequences of ones actions.

(It easily becomes a fear based motivation, which Buddhism traditionally is not foreign to, so we may agree or disagree with that particular approach.)

It aligns our sense of a separate I, with a conscious view of a separate I, which anyway is more honest.

If we are going to believe in thoughts, as we do until there is a shift into awakeness awakening to itself, we may as well believe in these thoughts. They do at least have some practical everyday value.

And if we, in addition to this, practice, we may eventually come to see through it all. We may discover that there is really no I with an Other. That the world of form is a seamless whole, where the local manifestations of the movements of the whole appears as under the influence of infinite causes and infinite effects. That what we really are is this awakeness within, to and as the world of form appears, inherently and already absent of any I with an Other.

And that there is no, and never was any, personal karma. No reincarnation of any I. No substance to those teachings.

Yet a great deal of appreciation for them anyway, as practical guides for a certain phase of the path.

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