Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Buddha Dharma In A Perceptual Universe

Let us call the universe as perceived by me from my birth to my death a "perceptual universe". Like many other such, this mini-universe is a very small part of the much vaster universe as perceived by an even smaller part of itself, a single psychophysical organism. One theory of the vaster universe gives it a Big Bang origin and a heat death conclusion but, whatever the actual ultimate fate of that vaster universe, my perceptual universe begins with my birth and ends with my death. For the time being, I discount any prospect of a hereafter. If there is one, then we will find out. The Buddhist teaching of rebirth, even were we to accept it, does not involve any continuation either of personal identity or of memory into a future life, just later psychophysical effects of earlier psychophysical causes as occurs within the current life.

Memory involves the thought, "I saw/perceived/did that," thus the concept of a temporally enduring self or subject of consciousness, but it does not follow that there is an entity corresponding to this concept. On the contrary, earlier mental states cause later mental states within a temporarily existing organism consisting entirely of empirically discernible and continually changing constituents.

The history of each mini-universe is measured in years and decades, not in aeons or epochs. Each of us can see the Buddha Dharma working in our perceptual universe: there are actions (karma) and their consequences, including suffering and rebirth both of dispositions and of memories. Because a past experience was particularly painful, its memory recurs, thus the illusory self of that past moment is reborn now. The dispositions that caused actions that made experiences painful also recur and thus are "reborn". In fact, basic dispositions like self-preservation will be reborn in later organisms after the end of this perceptual universe. 

However, I do not accept the Buddhist teaching that there is a one-to-one relationship between the last state of a dying organism and the first state of a later organism. Thus, as Buddhists criticise and reject reincarnating souls (permanent subjects), I criticise and at least provisionally reject one-to-one rebirth in the vaster universe.

But we are concerned about the rebirth that is discernible within our perceptual universes. Attentive action prevents the kind of psychological suffering addressed by the Buddha Dharma and thus prevents this rebirth. 


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