February 18, 2008
Human beings in general share the same overarching illusion: that there is this thing called the "self". Imputing permanence to that "self" is an obvious extension of that illusion, in fact it's combining two illusions. The inconvenient fact that people die is explained away by the assumption that their "self" is going to carry forward and assume another form, perhaps another human life. It's easy to interpret Buddhist teachings that way. Heck, the Dalai Lama's on record as being reincarnated 14 times!
But here's the problem: according to Buddhists, there IS no self. So what is being reincarnated?
My answer: I have no idea. I don't believe it, and I don't disbelieve it. I am simply dumbfounded by the whole question.
A lot of people ask me about reincarnation. It can only BE an opinion of course. Proof will come to us all, but too late for us to discuss it. What I know is this: the entity called "Franca" is simply a set of behavioural patterns, memories and fantasies shaped by a whole host of factors, including DNA, childhood, current circumstances, possible previous lives, magical spells cast by evil sorcerers, etc. Sort of like the programs on my computer. But unlike the programs on my computer, I am aware. (Perhaps this is what Descartes was getting at when he said "Cogito, ergo sum," but of course now that we have machines that can think, we have to look deeper.)
This awareness is pretty hard to explain away. It cannot be proved or disproved. But when I look, there is nothing there to prove or disprove anyway. I can't see it, or touch it, I find no direct evidence of it, aside from the fact that... I know. I know, simply, that I am aware.
Like I say: dumbfounded. In that I am not alone. Buddhists as a whole intentionally cultivate a sort of continual state of bamboozlement on this whole issue.
I suspect that "Franca" will end when this body dies. But what is this body? Every cell that was "my body" 10 years ago has been pooped out, breathed out, scraped off, trimmed away, cut out, or shed in some other way. So what's this then? When it turns into a corpse, what can we say that it was?
I also suspect that awareness will continue. How, I don't know: I can hardly imagine it. I suspect this for two reasons. One, I have had several vivid experiences of people within days after they have died... just an intense experience of that individual being present and communicating something quite clear, specific, and understandable. Are these delusions? It's possible. But whatever the explanation, the experiences were real. The second reason I suspect so is because people like the Dalai Lama and many others, some of whom I have met, are not fools or liars. I, however, can be both, and the conventional explanations to which these teachers resort are certainly adapted to the limited understanding of the non-awake. The paradox of wisdom: real truth cannot be expressed in words.
The story: When Buddha awakened, after sitting out for a night under a tree, Mara, the Lord of Illusion, threw some crazy things at him: beautiful women, mighty armies, etc. etc. Buddha just sat there and experienced it all. Finally Mara sat down in front of him and said something like this: "By whose authority do you know these things you claim to know?" Buddha replied with a gesture: he simply stretched his right fingers down and touched the ground.
That is the final answer: one's own experience. The sound of snow crunching under one's boots. The blue of the sky just before sunset. The sensation of breathing in, and breathing out. Perhaps, some day, the moment after dying.
As I said earlier, we will not be able to discuss it.