As a Buddhist I had trouble with the belief of rebirth/reincarnation. It was expected that I believe unquestioningly in rebirth/reincarnation, but I could see no way to reconcile such a belief with reality. It only serves to comfort those afraid of dying.
Buddhists hold views of the world and reality that are deeply at odds with science and Japanese monks especially are ignorant of scientific research.
It was mainly this one fixed and unquestionable belief of Buddhism that helped me realise that Buddhism was after all another religion based on dogma and belief with a very heavy dose of faith.
Stating that I don’t believe in rebirth/reincarnation was tantamount to saying I don’t believe in the teachings of the Buddha and that’s not acceptable here in Asia.
For Japanese monks, all that one had to know had already been discovered by the Buddha centuries ago and that was it. It was all laid out, the complete meaning of life and the complete reason for the cosmos - all written down in the sutras.
The fact is the idea of rebirth/reincarnation is actually pre-Buddhist and is first encountered in the early Upaniṣads (c.800 B.C.E.). The notion is widespread in Indian religions.
The most interesting and confusing thing in Japan is the insistence on there being a “soul” or a “life force” that leaves the body and is completely autonomous, being able to act on it’s own. Writings attributed to the Buddha make it quite clear that no such thing exists (atman - no self/God/soul). No self, no soul, nothing to carry over.
But, Japanese Buddhists insist that a soul exists. Not only does it exist but it can affect the lives of the living. One must always keep in mind the souls of past relatives and ensure that they are placated. Elaborate rituals ensure that the souls of the dead are happy and don’t come back to wreak havoc. Talismans and charms can be purchased at temples to keep away bad spirits and monks can exorcise people or places that are deemed to be haunted by trouble making souls.
I’ve watched an exorcism first hand, and it is no different than one sees on TV being performed by Christians. A person is “possessed,” monk is called, monk carries out prescribed centuries old ritual and chants magic words, “possessed person” screams and carries on (supposedly the “spirit” is resisting being cast out), and then spirit leaves, is shut up in a sutra box and the monk gets paid.
Lots of money.
Think lots of new clothes, electronics, cameras, perhaps a new car.
It was explained to me at one Zen temple that driven by good and bad karma committed over countless lifetimes souls are constantly reborn as Gods, humans, animals, ghosts, and demons of the hell realms. They may live for a time in one of the heavenly realms or, worse, be subjected to pain (souls feel pain, right?) in one of the hell realms. Until they are able to break the cycle and reach nirvana by putting the Buddha’s teachings into pure practice and cleanse themselves.
In the Zen temple I trained at last, It was explained that the mind has no physical properties. It cannot be seen, heard, touched etc. But the mind is there. The mind is immaterial and cannot be produced by something material such as the brain. The mind isn’t in the brain, it comes from a previous continuum of mind, a consciousness that transcends and passes on from one life to another.
I had grave doubts. I have no problem believing that the brain is indeed capable of producing thoughts and perceptions.
It was explained that only an advanced meditator could come to realise this. An advanced meditator comes to “see” reality, that the mind - the consciousness - carries over from one life to another. Rebirth is “proven” by advanced meditation into all things (!)
Well, I have been meditating for over 20 years in several traditions and I was yet to “see” anything that revealed to me that we are reborn. That there is an immaterial “force” that travels from one body to another. I voiced my doubts and was told that I should simply trust those who were “more accomplished.”
Or deeply deluded?
I know I wanted to believe, but………..
Trust. Faith. The suspension of rational thinking.
So “proof” of rebirth is the sutras of the Buddha stating that it is so. Just as the Bible is “proof” of a God. Rebirth depends a shit load on faith and the words of those who are “more accomplished.” To me this is no different from Christians claiming that God exists because the priests and followers claim to “talk” to him.
Quite simply, rebirth/reincarnation is a metaphysical speculation.
Fixed spiritual beliefs and concepts bring comfort. They are seductive. They bring false security. We trade our possibility of experiencing reality directly for a familiar, accepted, and unquestioned filter that is projected onto reality. These masterful creations of the mind - heavens, hells, spirits, rebirth, demons, goblins, angels etc. - are attachments, they cloud and colour our own experience. They become accepted representations of truth, of reality.