The Truth of Rebirth
AND WHY IT MATTERSFOR BUDDHIST PRACTICE
Each time you choose one course of action over another, you’re making awager as to the consequences of your choice. This is especially true if the choiceis between something easy that promises pleasant short-term rewards, andsomething hard that promises great rewards but only after a long time. Will theharder choice be worth the effort? Will the easier one be irresponsible in the longrun? As a person embedded in time, there’s no way you can know for sure.To begin with, there are the particulars of your own personal future: Will youor those you love live long enough to experience the results of your choices? Willdisaster interfere to wipe out everything you’ve done?Then there are the larger uncertainties of life in general: Do we even havechoices in our actions, or are all our choices predetermined by some past oroutside power beyond our control? If we do have choices, is it worthwhile tostruggle over difficult ones? Do they really matter? And even if our choices domatter, how far into the future should we calculate the consequences? Do theyshape only this life, or can they shape lives after death?Arguments based on logic or reason have never been able to settle theseissues conclusively, the world’s great religions don’t agree on their answers, andthe empirical sciences have no way of answering these questions at all. Yet we allkeep having to grapple with these questions. We don’t leave it at, “I don’tknow,” and refuse to entertain them, for even the refusal to think about thesethings is a wager: that ultimately they won’t matter.The Buddha taught, however, that they
matter a great deal, and thatawakening—in going beyond the dimensions of space and time—givesperspective on how choices operate within those dimensions. You see thatchoices are real, that they do make a difference, and that the consequences of your choices can shape not only this life but also many lifetimes in the future—aslong as the mind still has the craving that leads to rebirth after death. Prior toawakening, you can’t know these things for sure, but as the Buddha states, if youwant to gain awakening and to minimize suffering in the meantime, it’s wisest toassume these principles as working hypotheses.Of course, that’s taking the Buddha at his word—which as long as youhaven’t gained awakening, is a wager, too. The purpose of this small book on theBuddha’s teachings about rebirth is to show why, as you engage repeatedly inthe wagers of action, the wisest course is to place your bets with him.