Dogen Sangha Blog


Japanese / German

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Dear Master Nishijima,

In one of your previous answers, you said:
"Following Master Dogen's opinion he denied the existence of life after death in Bendo-wa, or Soku-shin-ze-butsu, and so I do not believe in the existence of the life after death."
How is this not a view of annihilationism? (which was preached against by Shakyamuni Buddha)

I imagine that Dogen meant that we are not the same person in the next life as we are now, and thus there is no "after-life" in that sense. But I'm not sure if this is also your interpretation.

Dear Mr. Thomas Amundsen,

Thank you very much for your valuable question. And unfortunately I have to say "yes." I think that the problem is too much serious, but we should pursue the Truth.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima


Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear Mr. Thomas Amundsen,

Thank you very much for your important questions.

However in Shobogenzo, I read that Master Dogen has written that "the oneness between body and mind is just the fundamental principle of Buddhism. Therefore it is impossible for us to think that after our death the spirit leaves our dead body, and come back to the world of the spirit.

And Master Dogen insists that even though the ancient Indian Brahmanism believe in such a spiritualism, but Gautama Buddha denies such a kind of spiritualism in ancient Brahmanism, and Gautama Buddha has established the Buddhist Realism.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

3:22 PM, February 26, 2008  
Blogger THOMAS AMUNDSEN said...

Thanks, now I see what you're saying. Your interpretation does not contradict the Buddhist view of rebirth. It is just refuting the Hindu concept of eternalism with atman and reincarnation.

Thanks Sensei!

11:02 PM, February 26, 2008  
Blogger THOMAS AMUNDSEN said...

Thanks, now I see what you're saying. Your interpretation does not contradict the Buddhist view of rebirth. It is just refuting the Hindu concept of eternalism with atman and reincarnation.

Thanks Sensei!

11:02 PM, February 26, 2008  
Blogger vinegar-daoist said...

If there is no "self", no "spirit" how can there be "rebirth"?

11:24 PM, February 26, 2008  
Blogger Rich said...

The idea of rebirth or going to heaven is so comforting to the ego self. As I let go more and more and be in the present, rebirth is just another comfort thought. It's irrelevant to the present moment.

11:45 PM, February 26, 2008  
Blogger Harry said...

Hi Thomas,

Maybe you would outline what you consider to be the Buddhist view of rebirth?



2:08 AM, February 27, 2008  
Blogger THOMAS AMUNDSEN said...


Being raised in a Western country under a Catholic background, the idea of rebirth is not comforting to me at all.

What I consider to be the Buddhist view of rebirth... directly follows the teachings on dependent origination and the law of karma. Essentially, there are no sentient beings, just the 5 skhandas. These skhandas are the result of their causes and conditions. When we die, the skandhas are still clinging to existence, so our mind searches for another being to take hold of. It leaves a 'karmic imprint' (yea, here is the shady part) on the new being, and they are thus 'reborn.'

If we accept dependent origination, this is the only possible cause for sentient existence. Our first moment of consciousness must arise from the cause of a previous consciousness - the last moment of consciousness in another life (this "being's" previous life). None of these lives or skandhas ever 'belong' to any specific entity. It's all just a process. No self is ever involved. Just a fluid process.


8:11 AM, February 27, 2008  
Blogger THOMAS AMUNDSEN said...


If it means anything, Dogen clearly accepts rebirth. Bendo-wa and Soku-shin-ze-butsu seem to only be refuting an eternalistic interpretation of rebirth.

In another book (although not Shobogenzo published by Nishijima), Dogen says - "Ancestor Nagarjuna said, " If you deny cause and effect in the worldly realm, as some people outside the way do, you negate this present life as well as future births. If you deny causes and effects in the realm of practice, you reject the three treasures, the four truths and the four fruits of shravakas."

You should clearly know that those who deny cause and effect are outside the way, whether they are living a worldly or a renunciate life..."

This comes from a book called Enlightenment Unfolds, page 266.

9:03 AM, February 27, 2008  
Blogger Harry said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:30 AM, February 27, 2008  
Blogger Harry said...

Hi Thomas,

Yes, it means something indeed, but I wouldn't claim to understand the nature of consciousness sufficiently to be able to advance (or refute) any such theories. Until I directly experience it then its just a theory.

Dogen said that phenomena realised us in zazen... he seemed to break down the distinction of what was conscious and what was not. Is some matter conscious and is other matter 'dead'? Where does mind stop and matter begin? When we drop these distinctions in zazen things don't seem so starkly unlike each other.

My own reading of Dogen is not particularly done with a view to affirming, or refuting, Buddhist doctrine. I could read much 'easier' books to do that (if that seemed relevant).

I personally am not really concerned with projecting theories beyond their relevance to practicing zazen and my own experience where, if anything of this nature is to become clear, it will be made clear I trust.

Dogen held that zazen was the entire Buddha-dharma. I have always felt that I agree, and this seems practical (to me).

I think there are good practical reasons for being ethical and observing that there is a general, personal rule of 'what you sow, so you reap'(sometimes this is not even an obvious process!)... the wider world and the universe does not seem to conform to such convienient and simple models though.



9:37 AM, February 27, 2008  
Blogger Rich said...

I think the purpose of Buddhist philosophy is to answer enough of your questions to give you enough faith to practice zazen. Since I need to experience the truth of the present moment directly for myself, the philosophy ideas are sometimes helpful but a lot of it is just bullshit to me. The important thing is to practice being in the present moment as much as I can and not get hung up on the philosophy stuff. However, I do enjoy reading and learning about it and I appreciate your thoughts.

5:10 AM, February 28, 2008  
Blogger proulx michel said...

When you buy a new computer, you are quite likely to transfer your data from the old HD to the new one, or at least some of it.
Considering the nature of computer data, it is quite likely that some of it will in return influence the behaviour of your new computer in ways that are akin to those of the old one.
Would you say for as much that the new computer is a "reincarnation" of the old one?
Considering the various cases of thought transmission, precognition etc., that are probably due to the fact that we are anyway but one with the Universe, it may well be that those tales of 'rebirth" are only a result of the transmission of souvenirs and remembrances from one dying individual to a new one. In which case, one does need no "self" for it.
Still, as Brad Warner puts it, why care for it? That would mean that THIS life is that future life you so much dreamed of in your former life...

I have been a tourist guide, in a former life ;), in the '70ies. One of the most remarkable things with tourists, especially those who travel in groups, is they don't live their visit. When in a city, they comment about the last one, they look at the photographs they took there, and wonder about the next, what to expect, and so on. Ever do they distract themselves from the present moment, the city where they actually are, which they'll see only when they are away.
It does seem that we live our lives like those tourists visit the cities. Never there when we should.

4:17 PM, February 29, 2008  

Post a Comment

<< Home