May 30, 2005

Rebirth Or Reincarnation?

The other day, I visited a Waterstones bookstore in Bath, trying to pass some hours. As is my usual way, I found myself sat down in the section devoted to religion, philosophy and spiritual matters.

I picked out a beautifully produced book, called The Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Buddhist Wisdom. I think I was drawn to it, because I wished to see images of places I had been, as well as to judge the photography. Throughout, were familiar sites that drew me back to my beloved Asia.

The book contained all the rudimentary teachings of the Buddhist path, written clearly and accessibly for the newly introduced. Even for an old horse, it is very beneficial to review the basics, so I glanced over page after page, reminding myself of everything I should have remembered, but had long forgotten.

There was a particularly fascinating section in the book, which quite vehemently disowns the word reincarnation, replacing it with rebirth, instead. Over the years, I have heard both terms used within Buddhist circles. However, to incarnate something, means that there must be a tangible, contained object in which to transfer. Buddhists do not grasp on to the sustainability of a person's personality or soul. The existence of self is a delusion. Rather, a much more subtle process occurs.

The book uses beautifully the metaphor of a candle. As a candle finally starts to burnout, the flickering flame ignites the wick of a new candle. The flame now burns brightly again. The flame could be seen to be the continuation of the old flame. It could also be seen to be the start of a new flame. It exists through causal dependency: Without the passing of the old flame, the new flame could not come into being. It is both, and yet, it is not.

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