How to understand why Buddhist rebirth does not require a self or soul

The basic reason no self or soul is reborn is neither exists independently of the mental universe that gave rise to our illusion of selfhood.

The mental universe within which we all exist is dynamic and so are we. In Buddhist terms, this dynamism is action or karma.

Buddhism does not say we do not exists. It only says that our selves are empty, that they do not ultimately exist. When we die our karma, the mental activity of this life, reconstitutes as a new being ensconced within the larger mental universe.

No one explains this better in modern terms than Bernardo Kastrup. In his essay Making Sense of the Mental Universe, he does not write about rebirth but rather about the conditions of our existence within the mental universe.

Nonetheless, his explanation of a “mental universe” shows precisely how rebirth can occur without there being any soul or pudgala or anything else that flies from the body upon death to transmigrate to another one.

I highly recommend reading the essay linked above. I have no idea if Kastrup is a Buddhist thinker. It’s even better if he is not, if his thinking arrived independently at a place consonant with original Buddhist thought.

Most Buddhists know that even Buddhists have trouble understanding how someone can be reborn without having a soul, self, or pudgala. What did the Buddha even mean by that? I know more than one university professor of Buddhist studies who explains Buddhist rebirth by saying, there is no such thing and neither is there such a thing as karma.

Those professors explain away karma and rebirth by claiming those fundamentals of Buddhist thought are nothing more than the Buddha “using the concepts of his day” to teach his moral doctrines and essentially atheistic Stoic philosophy.

I mean no disrespect for the professors. It is hard to understand how something can be reborn and yet be empty of any perduring self or soul.

The essay linked above provides an excellent explanation of how that happens. I strongly encourage Buddhists or people who teach Buddhism or are interested in it to read Kastrup’s essay when you are in a good mood and want to learn something new and really interesting.

This essay can give you another angle on Kastrup’s thinking: Matter is nothing more than the extrinsic appearance of inner experience.

And here are some of my comments on Kastrup’s essay Making Sense of the Mental Universe.

Large meta-study shows alcohol does far more harm than good

Key takeaways:

  • Alcohol is worse for you than many previously thought thought
  • It is linked to health outcomes such as heart disease, diabetes, tuberculosis, breast cancer (in women), and lip and oral cavity cancer (in men)
  • Despite some previous studies suggesting that moderate alcohol consumption has health benefits, the study found that the risks outweighed any benefits
  • The optimal amount of alcohol consumption is zero; that is, to minimize your health risk, the optimum amount of drinking is none (Alcohol’s Heavy Toll: The Largest Analysis Ever of How Alcohol Impacts Health)

The study is here: Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016

Global Workspace Theory and mistake awareness & correction

Global workspace theory is a description of how our minds work. The word global refers to the whole mind or brain, not the world.

The central feature of this theory—the global workspace—is conscious working memory, or working memory that could be made conscious with minimal effort.

This global workspace is also what a great deal of Buddhist mindfulness attends to. If we focus our attention on what is coming in and out of our global workspace, we will gain many insights into how our minds operate.

The Buddha’s five skandha explanation of consciousness can be understood as a form (or percepta) entering the global workspace.

Consciousness is the fifth skandha in the chain of skandhas. It is very important to recognize that whatever we become conscious of is not necessarily right.

With this in mind, we can see that being mindful of what is entering and leaving our global workspace can help us forestall errors from forming and growing in our minds.

In the Buddhist tradition, ignorance (a kind of error) is the deep source of all delusion.

But how do I know if the percepta or bits of information entering my awareness are right or wrong?

Well, there is science and Bayesian thought processes to help us, and they are both very good, but is there anything else?

What about my actual mind? My psychology? My understanding of my being in the world? How do I become mindful and more right about these?

Besides science and Bayes, I can ask an honest friend who knows me well if the percepta I think I just received from them is right or wrong.

If my friend knows the game, they will be ready to answer me before my global workspace changes too much. If my friend confirms my interpretation of what they just did or said, I will know that my interpretation (or consciousness) is correct.

If they disconfirm, I will know that my interpretation was incorrect, a mistake.

This kind of information is wonderful!

We calibrate fine instruments to be sure we are getting accurate readings from them. Why not our own minds?

This kind of calibration can be done in a general way, but you will get a general answer in that case. If you want a precise reading, a mindfulness answer, you need to play the FIML communication game.

Making Sense of the Mental Universe

Try reading the following paper while keeping the Mind Only Buddhist interpretation of our world in mind.

In 2005, an essay was published in Nature asserting that the universe is mental and that we must abandon our tendency to conceptualize observations as things. Since then, experiments have confi rmed that — as predicted by quantum mechanics — reality is contextual, which contradicts at least intuitive formulations of realism and corroborates the hypothesis of a mental universe. Yet, to give this hypothesis a coherent rendering, one must explain how a mental universe can — at least in principle — accommodate (a) our experience of ourselves as distinct individual minds sharing a world beyond the control of our volition; and (b) the empirical fact that this world is contextual despite being seemingly shared. By combining a modern formulation of the ontology of idealism with the relational interpretation of quantum mechanics, the present paper attempts to provide a viable explanatory framework for both points. In the process of doing so, the paper also addresses key philosophical qualms of the relational interpretation. (Making Sense of the Mental Universe)

Edit: The explanation offered in the linked paper, without saying as much, provides a very reasonable way to see Buddhist rebirth occurring without there being any soul or pudgala being reborn. Nothing need fly out of the body or transmigrate anywhere.

Instead, the classic Buddhist description of karma alone giving rise to a new life works perfectly. Rather than conceive of ourselves as fundamentally material beings, we can conceive of our personal individuality as being (a part of a “mental universe”) enclosed within a Markov blanket.

If there is still karma, a new Markov blanket or bodily form will be “reborn” or rearise after the extinction of its prior existence. In Kastrup’s way of putting it, our physical bodies are themselves Markov blankets causing or allowing us to arise as forms separate from the wholeness of the mental universe.

I suppose we might venture to say that enlightenment occurs when the karma, or reason for our separation in a Markov blanket, is gone and “we” remain the whole (of the mental universe) without being reborn (in a body).

Is the thought “I should have seen that” where we draw the line between higher and lower awareness?

As humans, we cannot but think sometimes: “I should have seen that. I had all the information but had not put it together.”

I am pointing this out because this ineluctable thought is an aspect of our consciousness itself and not of our culture or language, whatever those may be.

Do conscious beings who have no language think thoughts like this non-verbally? Do they have a sensation like we do that accompanies a similar realization in them?

Maybe they do and maybe they don’t. Non-verbal beings on earth obviously correct their behaviors, but how far does that travel in their awareness? Do dogs laugh at themselves? Do they have a feeling of self-recrimination as we sometimes do when we realize I should have seen that?

Is at least some of the feeling of shame grounded in this thought? Dogs clearly manifest shame.

Would a computer that can pass many tests of consciousness have the thought I should have seen that?

It seems to me that beings higher than us—angels, Bodhisattvas, Dharma protectors, prophets, and more—would very probably have this thought sometimes.

The full enlightenment of a Buddha as understood in the Mahayana tradition seems to indicate a state of awareness where the thought I should have seen that no longer arises.

In his life as we know of it, the Buddha did make new rules for monastics as conditions dictated. At such times, did he have this thought or not?

In your view, is the highest consciousness possible unbounded? Such that it must also think this thought?

Would you be happier if you never had the thought I should have seen that or not?

Is consciousness inert, like water, yet permeates everything? Inert but does not permeate everything?

I should have seen that is interesting because this thought seems to inhere in consciousness itself and not arise from language, culture, training, or other conditions. It seems to be accompanied by a sensation, at least in us.

Is it subject to Buddhist “dependent origination” and thus a feature of ordinary consciousness but not of ultimate consciousness?

Are the conditions it depends on its own conditions? Or other conditions? This might be a very big question.

A materialist would say consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter dependent on matter. A true physicalist would not speak so fast because conscious may very well be a primary aspect of all things, even the driver of physical laws.

Is the thought I should have seen that where we draw the line between higher and lower awareness? Do single cells, which can change their minds, have a sensation that expresses this thought? Does God never have this thought? Do Buddhas?

Notice that a great deal of humor depends on bringing to our awareness something maybe not that we should have seen but that we could have seen. Humor like that gives us no new information outside of our ourselves, though it does fit together information we already have in a new way,

So, I should have seen that can be occasion for delight and laughter. Fundamental to feelings of relief or peace of mind; it’s a feature of consciousness that arises in consciousness and that we react to consciously, almost always with some sort of sensation.

Group values and perverse individual needs for them: an example from NXIVM

The testimony below of Lauren Salzman can be interpreted in many ways.

One that stands out for me is how even a very wealthy person may need very weird external forces to provide meaning and direction.

This seems to be a core aspect of delusion in the Buddhist sense of the term.

You provide your own self-incriminating “collateral” material to join and stay in a group that then requires you to accept humiliation and punishment and even self-administer it while also continuing to provide yet more self-incriminating material.

The snake biting it’s tale is the traditional metaphor for this very graphic example of an ego entirely lost in self-delusion. The kicker is these initially “voluntary” behaviors were supposed to lead to some sort of “enlightenment” or “growth.”

I have no doubt that many very powerful groups use a formula similar to this to control their members and further their goals. If you think about it, there must be a lot of groups like this in the world because there is no better way to fashion a power- and/or crime-oriented organization.

This is the kind of senseless cycle Buddhist practice is designed to get us out of. Whether you manufacture your own delusive “values” or take on those of a perverse group, it’s much the same.

From Salzman’s testimony:

It wasn’t specifically about what would happen much beyond it was you were just in there until they let you out but what I — you know, you would just be in there surrendering, it could be, you know, ten minutes, it could be an hour, it could be days, like you didn’t know how long it would be and that was the whole point of surrender but what I imagined was like being in there and having to go to the bathroom or something and then having to go through like that type of a humiliation which I think was the point of surrender, being willing to go through things that were vulnerable or humiliating or being willing to go through whatever as an experience of complete surrender and so that’s what I imagined and, you know, obviously not the kind of thing you’re hoping to experience. I wasn’t. I wasn’t hoping to experience that. It wasn’t something I wanted to do. And the fact that it was being linked with growth, like the most committed people to growth, so it became like if I didn’t want to do it, then I was one of those people that wasn’t committed to growth and that was a very hard thing to get my mind around and I didn’t believe that you couldn’t be most committed to growth unless you were willing to do BDSM things.

For more of her testimony and an article about it see: Relentless Collateral, Staging Fake Crimes, Standing Barefoot in Snow, Locked in Dungeons, Being Kicked on Ground, Paddled — Welcome to the Insane World of Lauren Salzman.

 

Is psychology a self-imposed myth?

Language, and psychology are profoundly entangled. This causes fundamental problems with meaning and communication.

How do we know ourselves?

How do I know you and how do you know me?

How do we communicate with ourselves?

Do we impose meaning on ourselves from outside? Or do we create our own?

Is my psychology a self-imposed myth?

I can import psychological meaning from outside myself, from others, from books. But still, I must own what I import.

Psychological understanding is a mix of owned imports and owned own ideas, a sort of self-imposed myth.

It’s a myth because how can you or anyone analyze the psychology of a single person? How can you analyze and thus know your own psychology?

You cannot do that using psychological terms.

These problems or questions lie not only at the heart of psychology and language but also philosophy.

No abstract outline or explanation or description can let you know yourself. No static network of ideas or words can do that.

Only a method can. A way of talking that expressly addresses what can be known and nothing else.

No one has figured this method out before me (so far as I know) because:

  1.  people have always looked for an external network of ideas and words, rather than the thing itself; the real-time, real-world long moment of working memory, the self in action
  2. people have not looked there because it goes against a psycho-linguistic instinct to not interrupt or question an interlocutor abruptly (enough) about what they just said or did

The method is FIML and it is described here.

This method solves a core problem of language use and meaning; how to use language appropriately and well. At the same time it solves a core problem in psychology; how to understand it clearly.

This method takes time, but will bear abundant fruit. It does that because it strikes right at the heart of crucial problems in language, psychology, and philosophy.

It takes time because people are made up of many parts stitched-together. Many small parts (small enough to fit into working memory) must be identified and analyzed.

This takes time. And that can’t be helped. There is no quicker way to do it.

After many parts (linguistic, semiotic, psychological, memory, sensation, emotion, etc) have been analyzed, a much clearer idea will emerge about what your psychology is, how you use (and should use) language, what philosophy (especially of language and psychology) is.