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The Meditation Center Presents Great Courses Series

By Frank Simons

The early Vedic view of the afterlife was similar to the view found in some ancient European traditions: people who live virtuous lives go to live in the “land of the ancestors” when they die. By the time of the classical Upanishads, sages took the position that human beings did not live just one life but cycled around again and again, life after life, in a process of death and rebirth. This doctrine is known in English as reincarnation, transmigration, or rebirth. In Sanskrit it is called samsara, which means simply “wandering” from one life to the next. If samsara is considered fundamental and is also a burden, how can a person deal with it? The answer is to follow the law of karma, the law that governs the passage from one life to the next. Good actions bring a good rebirth; bad actions, a bad rebirth.

Video Presentation
Buddhism, Part 3, The Doctrine of Reincarnation
Thu, Dec 17, 5:30pm
Meditation Center
Callejón Blanco 4
Free, donations accepted

The law of karma allows two strategies to deal with the problem of samsara. 1) A person attempts to perform good works to achieve a better rebirth, such as heaven, a state which is impermanent, requiring another rebirth; or 2) A person does not attempt to perform action, either good or bad. The goal is not a better rebirth but no rebirth at all.

The state of no rebirth, called moksha (liberation) or nirvana, is permanent. The followers of path #1 are the mothers, fathers, teachers, students, priests, and kings, and they are bound by the rules that govern each of these social roles. People who follow the extraordinary norm, path #2, renounce social roles. The renunciants have few possessions, often beg for their food, and live lives of deliberate simplicity to escape the network of karma that ties them to the cycle of samsara. When Siddhartha Gautama left the palace and became a wandering ascetic, he chose to follow the second path in hope of freeing himself from the cycle of birth and death and rebirth.

Questions to consider: Why do you suppose the doctrine of reincarnation seems so self-evidently true in India? Does it have anything to do with the way Indian society is organized? How would you live your life differently if you took seriously the Indian view of reincarnation?

The course of 24 lectures is presented by Professor Malcolm David Eckel, professor of Religion and director of the core curriculum at Boston University, who holds graduate degrees from Oxford and Harvard. An expert on Buddhism, comparative religion, and Asian faiths, Eckel has written insightful books on Buddhist philosophy, including Buddhism: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places. There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video. Presentations of the Center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.


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