Modern Buddhism: Past Lives or Present Moment? You Decide…

I accept all forms of Buddhism, as long as they have no quarrel with Science. But, that’s easier said than done, given the spat over rebirth, as to exactly what it means and how it applies. The main conundrum, of course, is that Buddha cut his teeth on his anatta no-self doctrine, and so, if Buddhism accepts rebirth, then what exactly is it that gets reborn? Good question. And many are the answers, ranging from karma to consciousness, anything but the body itself in reincarnation, complete with a permanent self or soul intact.

Because, that’s the Hindu Vedic Brahmanistic principle that the Buddha was in fierce competition with, and this was the most prominent point of departure between them, so a definite no-no. So, the Buddhists tend to explain the controversy away, while at the same time talking about past and future lives like so many trips to the grocery store. And many Buddhists will explain that not only is this not unscientific, but science is gradually coming around to a similar view. I’ve got a better idea: drop the whole idea, since it’s not really necessary, anyway, so why raise a ruckus over something this has no proven relevance to this life in this world, which is all that we really know?

The irony is that many of these ‘re-birthers’ are Present Moment Buddhists, also, the same Buddhists who most loudly promote the relatively new idea that this so-called ‘present moment’ is not only all that we can know, but it’s all that there is. But this idea is not only in direct contradiction with Rebirth and Past Lives, but it’s also in contradiction with itself, simply because it defies common sense, in that what we see in life is not a still photo, but a movie, by analogy. Okay, but a movie is a succession of twenty-four frames per second, still the present moment people seem to be insistent upon THIS present moment, and no other.

This may be only a problem of syntax and semantics though, since Eckhart Tolle has no real problem with his concept of the NOW, which, like particles or waves, may presumably be envisioned as either individual moments or a stream in flow. And, like rebirth, maybe it’s just best not to think about it too much. After all, Eckhart Tolle is not a Buddhist, anyway, and neither is much of what he says, but much also is, and the concept of NOW has much currency in the modern New Age movement. Bottom line: neither can be proven by Science, Past Lives or Present Moments. Still, I’d gladly take NOW, with all its conceptual flaws, if that could put the final nail in the coffin of rebirth. It’s time. We can deal with NOW in the next millennium, if that’s how long it takes…