Thursday, April 15, 2010

Used Toilet Paper

DHS 155

Just in case it's not clear, the title pertains to the Daily Heart Sutra.

This is an extended quote from another of my favorite books, The Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. If you haven't read it, turn off your computer, go out and buy a copy, and get started tonight.

~Begin quote~
[King Milinda] asked Nagasena: "When someone is reborn, is he the same as the one who just died, or is he different?"

Nagasena replied: "He is neither the same, nor different... Tell me, if a man were to light a lamp, could it provide light the whole night long?"


"Is the flame then which burns in the first watch of the night the same as the one that burns in the second... or the last?"


"Does that mean there is one lamp in the first watch of the night, another in the second, and another in the third?"

"No, it's because of that one lamp that the light shines all night."

"Rebirth is much the same: one phenomenon arises and another stops, simultaneously. So the first act of consciousness in the new existence is neither the same as the last act of consciousness in the previous existence, nor is it different."

The king asks for another example to explain the precise nature of this dependence, and Nagasena compares it to milk: the curds, butter, or ghee that can be made from milk are never the same as the milk, but they depend on it entirely for their production.

The king then asks: "If there is no being that passes on from body to body, wouldn't we then be free of all the negative actions we had done in past lives?"

Nagasena gives this example: A man steals someone's mangoes. The mangoes he steals are not exactly the same mangoes that the other person had originally owned and planted, so how can he possibly deserve to be punished? The reason he does, Nagasena explains, is that the stolen mangoes only grew because of those that their owner had planted in the first place. In the same way, it is because of our actions in one life, pure or impure, that we are linked with another life, and we are not free from their results.
~End quote~

What reminded me of this was a lecture i was listening to this morning on a DVD course called "Consciousness & Its Implications." In it, the lecturer gave this interesting example. (I'm going to pass it on, but not dwell on the answers he proposed.)

Suppose Lao Bendan owns a boat; an old wooden boat, that he called Bendan. Over the years, because everything wears out, Lao replaces rotting or broken pieces of wood here and there, replaces sails as they wear out, replaces equipment as it wears out, etc., until in the course of time, every piece of every thing on the boat had been replaced.

Is it now the same boat as it was when it was first built? Is is still the Bendan or is it a different boat? If you say the same, how is that possible, nothing is the same as when it was built. If you say different, when, exactly, did it become different?

Now to take the example a little further. Suppose a friend of Lao's happened to be pretty smart and every time Lao threw away some of the wood from his boat, or one of the old sails, or a piece of broken equipment, he would secretly collect it, restore it, and store it in his garage.

After Lao had completely replaced everything on the Bendan, his friend took all the now restored old pieces and put them back together, in effect creating a clone of the original Bendan. It' looks exactly like the original Bendan. It is built from the exact same material as the original Bendan. It is, for all intents and purposes, the original Bendan put back together again.

Which boat is now the real Bendan? Lao's? His friends? Both? Neither?

I find this a fascinating line of reasoning because it's not as abstract as some may think. We, as living human beings, are not the same as the human being we were born as. All of our cells have been replaced, nothing today is the same in our bodies as they were when we were born. Nothing. Yet you still think you are the same person. Are you? Why? Why not?

If you, today, can still consider yourself the same person even though absolutely every part of you has been replaced, why would you say that there can be no rebirth?

Interesting dinner conversation.....

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