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Future Life and Pure Land Rebirth
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Future Life and Pure Land Rebirth

A Lecture given at Northwest University, Xian, China

Afternoon of Nov. 10, 2011

An introduction by the organizer:

Good afternoon! On behalf of the Buddhist Research Institute of Northwest University, let me first welcome Khenpo Sodargye to our campus!

The name “Khenpo Sodargye” is one that resonates, even to those who have only a little contact with Buddhism. Hence I shall not take up time making introductions. If you feel yourself not fully informed about Khenpo, a simple Internet search will bring you up to date. For now, I just want to point out that Khenpo Sodargye, while appearing here as a fully ordained monk, is also a great scholar. He has authored many books amounting to more than 10 million words, causing a profound impact in our country and abroad. In addition, Khenpo is an advocate of charitable causes and has been tirelessly engaging in activities to benefit beings.

At Northwest University, we have Buddhist Research Institute and Religion Research Center. Many teachers and students sitting here are conducting researches in religion, focusing especially on the role of religion in life’s ultimate concerns. Religion, in fact, deals mainly on the ultimate questions of human existence, whichareclosely interrelated tolife. But what is life anyway? Is there a future life—a continuation of our being? If there is one, then in what fashion will it go on? These questions have greatly puzzled many scholars in the world and multiple propositions have been put forward.

In this respect, Buddhists have been expounding on the theory and engaging in the practice for over 2,500 years, most notably among Tibetan practitioners whose tradition came from India’s Mahayana. According to the account in The Great Tang Records on the Western Regions by Master Xuanzang, the most illustrious era of Mahayana in India was during the time of Nalanda Buddhist University. The teachings from Nalanda University have been best preserved in Tibetan Buddhism, of which our honorable guest speaker today, Khenpo Sodargye, is an authentic lineage holder. In the following hour, Khenpo will share the Buddhist wisdom he has realized with all those who are passionate about lifeand are curious about life’s coming and going.

Khenpo Sodargye has been to many universities—Peking University, Tsinghua University,China Universities, and so on—before arriving at our campus today. The talk we are about to hear will definitely be an academic presentation complete with direct and sound reasoning; but moreover, I think it will be a philosophical discourse that is bound to enlighten us tremendously. Therefore, before Khenpo takes the podium, let’s take a deep breath torelax both our minds and bodies,to prepare ourselves for this teaching on the truth of life and its sustainability——

Khenpo Sodargye:

What I’d like to discuss with you today is about rebirth and future life, which I have actually talked about and elaborated on at other universities. When I was thinking of switching to another topic, your organizer said it would be better to keep this one, and I thought I might as well give it a try. After all, this is a subject that deserves thorough analysis time and time again.

I. Different Perspectives on Future Life

“Do humans have a future life or not?” This is a weighty question. Suppose there is no future life, we could then go around willy-nilly in this life and not worry about any consequences. But what if there is one, then, what should we do?

There is a popular slogan that we need to “care for our future generation.” However, in truth it is not only our future generation but also our “future life” that we should direct our attention to. If we were to live without such considerations, we might end up being wildly unscrupulous in our behavior, precisely in a way as the Buddha described in the sutra: “Not knowing that there will be a next life, you will create negative karma recklessly.”

Many people these days are able to expound the Buddhist theories quite eloquently, but in fact they just cling to superficial matters while completely overlooking the most pressing personal issues. You know, our future life is extremely protracted. It’s not a matter of 100, 200, 1,000, or 10,000 years before it ends; rather, its length is absolutely beyond enumeration. If there isa long future ahead, how can anyone be unconcerned about making preparations? Hence, let’s devote the following hour to investigate seriously whether a future life really exists.

Today’s discussion of course is an open forum. In this modern auditorium, you as the audience are all sitting elevated and have a full view of me seated low at the podium. Perhaps in this setting, you won’t feel I am in a superior position so that you must accept whatever I have to say, right or wrong.

What’s more, now it is the 21st century, and whether one is a Han Buddhist, a Tibetan Buddhist, or an academic, one must analyze things with a fair and open mind. Therefore, should you find any flaw in my talk or viewpoints, please feel free to point it out in the discussion session later.

On the existence of future life, there are documents in Han China, but more are found in Tibet and the West. Tibetans on the whole believe in the existence of past and future lives; anyone who proclaims otherwise is suspected of having some mental problem. However, in Han China the situation is reversed, a believer in past and future lives is instead regarded as abnormal and will be subject to public ridicule and much criticism.

Regarding the attitude on the existence of past and future life, I think there could be three types of people among you: the firm believers, the half-believers, and the absolute nonbelievers. Which one of these groups do you belong to? Check it out. Usually monastics like us with years of Buddhist study and sound reasoning are firm believers. Those who have some knowledge but lack in-depth analysis are usually not quite convinced. Those who hold an atheistic or materialistic view will never acknowledge its existence.

If you are the first kind of person, my talk may serve you merely as a reminder to strengthen your conviction. If you are of the second type, your lingering doubt could be dispelled right away while you are listening; or conversely, you may become even more perplexed. If you are the third kind of person, I hope after listening to my talk, you will be prompted to reconsider: “Are the arguments that support the nonexistence of past and future lives indeed infallible? “

Now I would like to explore this issue together with you objectively, without taking sides as a Buddhist or as a non-Buddhist. Through our discussion and open communication, let’s see if we can reach a new level of understanding in the end.

II. How to Prove the Existence of Future Life

Most people have never thought about a future life. Molded by education and upbringing, the majority just blindly take it for granted that this life is the only one to have, and that a human arrives in and departs from this world with no specific reason. When one dies, everything about oneself will cease to be, leaving no trace behind. Moreover, the emergence of mechanistic materialism in the 17th century followed by the mundane materialism in the 19th century has done a great disservice to the human race. In terms of destructive power,the atomic or hydrogen bomb ishorrendous; it kills living beings by the tens of thousands, or millions. But that’s all they do—to end the present life of a fraction of humans. Yet should a perverted propaganda spread all over the world and make people follow it like crazy to commit hideous crimes, then the harm done is on the scale of numerous rounds of lives of humans.

Indeed, if there were no future life, why must we Buddhists insist there is one anyway? But through many years of Dharma study, inquiry, contemplation, and debating, I, for one, am thoroughly convinced that there is past and future life. I challenge anyone who disagrees to refute with good evidence. However, among the many nonbelievers of future life in the world, so far none has been able to come up with a valid reasoning to back up their point.

My inquisition into past and future life does not start just today; rather, it has been going on for more than 20 years. Again, the existence of future life is really a very critical issue for humans. If I try to validate it by stories found in the Buddhist scriptures, intellectuals like you may not buy it as you’ll regard them as fables. Thus I’ll try a different approach today—don’t you all have a great deal of trust in scientists? So let us find out what the scientists have to say on this subject.

I am going to give you a few case reports; of course, you can object all you want. But I do hope you’ll at least reflect upon them. If you are absolutely unwilling to think it over—insisting that “I don’t care what other people have to say, I just don’t agree”—and all the while you have no sound reason to rebut, aren’t you kind of irrational?

Nowadays there is too little research on past and future life. Granted, academic circles frequently hold meetings and forums on Buddhist studies, but if the most fundamental issue—the existence of past and future life—is not probed thoroughly, they are chasing the wrong goose. In fact, not acknowledging future life is the same as not acknowledging tomorrow. If the world flatly rejects something that truly exists, we can only feel sorry for the human race. Of course, humans have made many impressive strides in the 21st century, yet if something undeniable is denied, do we call this state of affairs moving forward or regressing backward? I am afraid we all have to ponder this issue deeply.

1. Dr. Stevenson’s Study on Reincarnation

In past decades scientists abroad have begun the study of reincarnation, Ian Stevenson, M.D. (1918–2007) being the foremost among them. A psychiatrist and biochemist by training, he was a professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia and is an internationally renowned investigator of reincarnation. His studies are scrupulously objective and methodologically impeccable. Even though you may choose to dismiss his lifelong case studies on reincarnation, his scientific rigor and strict integrity deserve your recognition.

How did he do his research? Over a period of 40 years, he traveled extensively—from India to Sri Lanka, Brazil, Lebanon, and European countries—to personally document thousands of childhood cases and investigate closely the possibility of past lives.

In 1966, he selected from his many case studies the most convincing ones and collected them into a book, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, which was released to resounding interestin the U.S.

Dr. Stevenson sort of stumbled onto this field through his curiosity. In the beginning, he traveled with a grant to India to study childhood cases of reincarnation with the idea of vacationing on the side. Before his trip, he had never imagined that spontaneous memory of a past life in children was quite common in India. Soon after his arrival, the number of such cases jumped to 30 in no time. He stayed on in India for six weeks to interview direct witnesses, including the child in question and relatives. He methodically documented and investigated huge volumes of data, and from then on he never turned back.

Thus from his venturing into the study on reincarnation at the age of 39 until his death in 2007 at the age of 89, Dr. Stevenson has devoted his whole life to explore and verify the existence of past and future life using strict scientific protocols and objective approaches. After retiring from the Division of Perceptual Studies, School of Medicine, University of Virginia in 2001, he busied himself with ongoing writing and research. His last book European Cases of the Reincarnation Type, published in 2004, also received wide attention, but regrettably there is no Chinese translation yet.

Dr. Stevenson has written many books and has collected more than 2,500 cases of real people and real stories. These cases are neither hearsay nor presumptions; rather, they are firsthand information he obtained by personally visiting and interviewing witnesses one by one. These days, many people tend to be suspicious about claims made purely in Buddhism, Dr. Stevenson’s findings. I think, is worthy of exploration.

This year, a number of doctorates who have studied in the United States came to our institute; some of them have taken monastic vows, and some are lay practitioners. Together with other overseas graduate students they founded the Wisdom and Compassion Translation Center and set a goal to translate into Chinese some of the books on past and future life in the United States, United Kingdom, and so on, in ten years.

2. Dr. Jim B.Tucker Firmly Believes in the Existence of a Future Life

Jim B. Tucker, M.D., is the medical director of the Child and Family Psychiatry Clinic and an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia. He worked on reincarnation with Dr. Ian Stevenson for a number of years before taking over upon Stevenson’s retirement.

At first Dr. Tucker was skeptical about reincarnation, but after reading the books by Dr. Stevenson he was greatly intrigued and joined the research. I had some contact with Dr. Tucker recently. Just like Dr. Stevenson, he is a meticulous scientist, but unlike Dr. Stevenson who worked mostly with Asian children, his main focus is on childhood cases in the United States. He noticed that the cases of children remembering previous lives were found most frequently in India, Sri Lanka, Burma, and other Asian countries, and later were also reported in England, but why not in the United States? Thus he redirected his research to the United States and has been richly rewarded.

During an interview in 2010, Dr. Tucker shared one of the more striking cases. An American boy had been talking about his past life since he was 4 years old, saying the house he lived in Hollywood had a big swimming pool, and that he had been a dancer, an actor, and an entertainment agent, and traveled around the world on ships. It all sounded like fantasies from a toddler.His mother, trying to help her son to cope and be more specific,searched and found books on old Hollywood movies. Flipping through one of them, the boy got excited when he saw an old still photograph; pointing to one of the figures, he exclaimed, “That’s me!

Dr. Tucker then enlisted the aid of many professionals and found the information on the boy’s presumed previous life. Indeed he had been a dancer before becoming an actor in Hollywood. He had lived in a mansion with a huge swimming pool and was a successful agent traveling around the world on ocean liners.

Dr. Tucker told the reporter that he did not believe in reincarnation earlier on, but was intrigued that he began to work with Dr. Stevenson. Gradually, he turned into a half-believer, and lastly he believes the cases suggestive of reincarnation are hard to dismiss. This information is not yet available in a Chinese, I am just quoting part of the translation done by the Wisdom and Compassion Translation Center. You can get more detailed information if you read the English original.

Dr. Tucker suggests that quantum theory may offer a mechanism to explain reincarnation. That is, if consciousness can be verified as existing independently from the physical entity, it would be possible to conceive of it continuing to be carried over from one body to another. He argues that since the act of observation collapses wave equations, consciousness may not be merely a byproduct of the physical brain but rather a separate entity in the universe that impinges on the physical. He provides the analogy of a television set and the image transmission; the television is required to decode the signal to images on the TV screen, but it does not create the signal. In a similar way the brain may be required for consciousness to express itself, but may not be the source of consciousness.

This is an issue that we all need to think over. The mechanistic materialism and the atheism posit that consciousness arises merely out of a physical body. If this were the case, it could not be validated by logical reasoning. Actually, the main determining factor that leads us to be a human in this life and another being in next life is none other than our own mind.

In Commentary on Explanation of Valid Cognition- Chapter of Establishing that Buddha Has Truly Valid Cognition, Master Dharmakirti expounded that consciousness has the characteristic of continuing unceasingly. This stream of consciousness will keep on going until it is interrupted by specific conditions, such as attaining the stage of Arahat. Therefore, consciousness is an entity independent of the physical body, a notion echoed in Dr. Tucker’s analogy.

Such a proposition is highly logical and deserves our thorough examination. In fact, the idea that “consciousness is the byproduct of the brain” has long been challenged. If it were absolutely true, how could we explain that a headless being can survive and live on normally? Mike the Headless Chicken was a chicken in the United States in the 1940’s that lived for 18 months after his head had been mostly cut off. His owner fed him with a mixture of milk and water with an eyedropper by way of his esophagus. The headless rooster grew from a mere 2.5 lbs. to nearly 8 lbs. before it died. Thought by many to be a hoax, the rooster’s owner took him to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City to establish the facts of the story and later toured the countryfor many appearances before paying audiences.

As to the stance toward reincarnation and the continuation of consciousness, some scientists these days still get caught in a common slip: They tend to turn a deaf ear to reasoning and would rather hold onto their own ideas which are probably full of loopholes. This kind attitude is irrational. Now in Han area, organizations or investigators collecting reincarnation data are still comparatively rare. Should some work gets going, I bet many cases will surface. At Northwest University, you have the famous Buddhist Research Institute; why not direct some serious effort to this area? The result could be very significant to the future of the human race.

Incidentally, among you audience here, a few individuals may well be able to recall past lives if being interviewed. A few months ago, a summer camp attended by more than 200 college students, including some from here, was held at the Larung Buddhist Institute. Several campers who firmly believe in past and future life have shared their incredible experiences in this aspect, you may remember their stories if you were there.

I recall having made the comment then: “College students are usually quite rational, and I see no reason for them to make up such elaborate past life stories. For non-Buddhists here, you may regard past and future life a superstition. But the truth says otherwise. Your doubt comes from your upbringing and educational background. It is hard to accept the new notion at once, even if it could be true. ”

But I don’t mean to push you to believe what I have just told you. I just want to encourage you to think over the research done by these serious oversea investigators. Failing to do so, I am afraid you are acting irresponsibly. Irresponsible to whom? To yourself! Because at the time of death when facing future life—if there indeed is one—there is no time for remedies. It’ll be way too late to regret that you have not done any preparations in this life, such as accumulating merits and practicing virtues; worse, you may have committed many evil actions.

Xian City has seen the glorious times of Buddhism over the course of its history. During the Tang Dynasty especially, Buddhism was revered and practiced by almost all of its reigning emperors. The country as a whole, from government dignitaries to common folks, never regarded Buddhism as a superstition. As far as I know, Xian was the first city in the world to have a population over millions. When Master Xuanzang entered paranirvana in 664 A.D., 1,300 years ago, more than one million people joined his funeral procession, enough to show how well Buddhism was flourishing at that time.

However, today with 1,300 years behind, very few people in exactly the same city are Buddhists, and even those who proclaim to be one don’t even acknowledge the existence of past and future life. It is quite sad indeed.

Actually, why not think this way: Suppose there is really past and future life, yet numerous beings are unaware of it. Isn’t it kind of disheartening? Now that we have obtained this human existence out of sheer luck, if we keep ourselves constantly busy for inconsequential goals and never make any preparation whatsoever for the long journey ahead, what a great pity it is!

3. Historical Account of a Reincarnation Experiment

Some individuals will say, “What you have said seems to make sense that I cannot refute right away. Yet I still maintain there is no such a thing as past and future life!” Indeed, in both ancient and modern times, there are plenty of people holding such an opinion. A story told in Taranatha’s History of Buddhism in India is about one of them: In ancient India, there was a renowned Buddhist scholar Candragomin who held many enlightening debates with Madhyamaka Master Candrakīrti over a span of seven years, which to this day people still take delight in talking about.

It is said that Candragomin was a learned pandita in his former life who once entered a debate with a non-Buddhist Lokayata follower. Each of Candragomin’s arguments was impeccable and he thoroughly defeated his opponent. But the Lokayata would not accede, saying, “You are just good at debating, and can make things sound reasonable even if they are not. It’s just that I fall behind your rhetoric skill. You may well claim yourself a winner, but that does not prove the existence of past and future life, unless you can put forward some sound and real evidence.”

The Buddhist master though it over for a moment, nodded and said: “Fine, I will now embrace death and shall take a rebirth in a deliberate way in order to prove cyclic existence. Let us call the king to be our witness. You shall see the evidence you requested.”

The master requested the king to seal his corpse in a bronze casket. He dabbed his forehead with red ink as a mark and put a pearl in his mouth. Lying down, the master died right away.

The master, having thoroughly realized the illusory nature of life and death successfully took rebirth of his own accord and turned up as a newborn baby of a local pandita. The baby boy was born with many auspicious signs, including having a red ink mark between his eyebrows and a pearl in his little mouth.

This extraordinary phenomenon caught public attention and the news soon reached the king. The king called for the Lokayata and then ordered the sealed bronze casket to be opened in their presence. They found that the pearl was gone from the master’s mouth and the red ink mark had all disappeared. Now the Lokayata could feel nothing but utterly convinced, and together with his disciples they all took refuge in Buddhism.

People may find this incidence unbelievable: “How could it be possible! How did the pearl end up in the mother’s womb?” But in the Buddhist text The Four Hundred Verses, there are detailed explanations of the intricate workings of this phenomenon.

A few years ago in Thailand, a woman was reported to have taken rebirth with a lucky charm. When her previous incarnation was dying, she clenched a lucky charm tightly in her right fist and told her relatives that she would carry the charm to her next life. Six months later, her sister was pregnant and upon delivery, the baby’s tiny fist was holding something tightly. Opening it, they found the very same lucky charm.

Such phenomena, according to the Buddhist perspectives, are the displays of the inconceivable interdependence of cause and effect. That is, so long as the necessary cause and condition come together, there is nothing that cannot take place. And with this reasoning the existence of past and future life can readily be corroborated.

4. Evidence of Multiple Lives by Hypnosis

In addition, hypnotic regression is another way to help people to recall past lives.

Brian L.Weiss, M.D. is a respected, Yale University–trained psychiatrist and the author of the international best seller Many Lives, Many Masters, which has more than two million copies in print and which has been published in 20 languages. At first Dr. Weiss was an atheist who knew nothing about rebirth and never believed in past lives. One of his patients, Catherine, changed all that and his life took a sharp turn henceforth.

When Catherine went to see Dr. Brian Weiss, she was 27 years old and suffered from recurring nightmares and chronic anxiety attacks. Dr. Weiss used routine psychotherapy to treat her, but after 18 months saw little improvement. Believing that her phobias could be explained by experiences lost in the subconscious, Dr. Weiss thought hypnosis would enable his patient to recall childhood traumas that may clue him in to the reasons for, and therefore the cure to, Catherine’s turmoil. Once the patient agreed to hypnosis, however, Dr. Weiss found himself in a very different place.

In the process of hypnosis regression, Dr. Weiss asked Catherine to “go back to the time from which your symptoms arise.” She did—back to the year 1863 B.C. when she was a person with a different body and a different name; she remembered she lost her child she was holding in a flood and she herself also drowned in the flood. After this hypnosis session, her fear of drowning and suffocation disappeared.

In following therapy sessions, Catherine regressed into many more lifetimes vividly and re-experienced the ancient causes related to her many phobias of this life. With more and more of her past lives remembered, her symptoms were cured one after the other without resorting to medications.

After treating Catherine, Dr. Weiss felt a seismic shift in his perception of reincarnation. Four years later, fully aware of the real professional risks involved and the ridicule from his peers he might have to endure, he finally mustered enough courage to write about Catherine’s story in Many Lives, Many Masters, in order to reveal the continuation of life and its meaning. The first of its kind, this book has been favorably received by many readers, including celebrities—movie stars, talk show hosts, politicians, academics, etc.—and I have also read its Chinese translation.

Dr. Zhong Maosen, while teaching at the University of Texas in the U.S., once spoke to Dr. Weiss on the phone in 2002. Dr. Weiss told him that he had so far treated more than 20,000 hypnosis regression cases, which had helped the patients to recall their past lives.

III. To Explore the Unknown Terrain with a Right Attitude

However, the attitude of some individuals is inflexible; even hearing these accounts, they will insist that they are fables or hearsay. In this way, these individuals may as well discount totally everything that happens in our society today, much less that of past lives.

Historically, humans have been reluctant to embrace new ideas that are in conflict with their earlier convictions. Even if sufficient evidence is accumulated to support a new idea, they can’t care enough to even just take a look. Logistically, a flat denial must be supported by sound reasoning. If one’s argument is nothing more than “I do not believe in past and future life, because I cannot see it,” it runs the risk of being too shallow. After all, there are just too many things in the world that we can neither see nor hear with our sense faculties.

Some people these days may have been endowed with exceptional intelligence but which, if not guided by the right view, may turn into what we called the perverted view. As it is said in the sutra:

Without right view, faith turns into delusion;

Without faith, views become perverted.

It means that if a faith is not sustained by wisdom, the faith will easily become blind superstition. And if wisdom is not backed up by faith, the wisdom will turn into wrong views.

In modern society, science is put on a pedestal as the standard to gauge everything by. And people argue that as science says nay, then past and future life could not have existed either. However, we should remind ourselves that science deals only with the material entity, its answer on the aspect of consciousness is still largely a blank sheet. Occasionally science may venture into the terrain of the mind, but it only scratches the surface. Many scientists know only hazily about this particular topic, how can they be qualified to make pronouncements about something they have yet to comprehend?

Once I heard this interesting little story: At the end of World War I a certain country in Europe, trying to promote atheism through scientific reasoning, summoned three learned scholars to give lectures in a public square. The first speaker was a doctor of astronomy who expounded many theories to support atheism and concluded emphatically: “I have been using the most powerful telescope to search the universe for more than 20 years. Yet I have never seen God—hence, God does not exist.” The crowd cheered with applause.

The next to step behind the podium was a medical doctor. He made the argument that the soul could never exist and concluded: “I have done autopsies on more than 100 corpses and observed closely each and every organ, but I was never able to identify where the soul resides. Is it in the heart, the brain, or the blood? After decades of dissecting and probing the human body, the soul still eludes me. Therefore, there can’t be a thing called the soul.” Again the audience applauded thunderously.

The third expert held a doctor’s degrees in ethics. She proclaimed: “When people die, it’s like a flame goes out. A death is a death, the absolute end. There is neither heaven nor hell whatsoever. I’ve read copiously and broadly books from all periods and all countries, yet I found no record to corroborate the continuation of a soul.” Once more, everybody roared with cheers.

At the end of the speeches, the organizer pronounced: “If anyone is unhappy with what the three doctors have said or would like to object, please come to the podium and speak up.” There was a long silence before anyone responded.

Just as the assembly was to close with a victorious note, an old granny from the countryside walked to the platform and said to the organizer “May I ask a few questions?” The organizer answered: “Of course, you are most welcome.”

The granny first asked the astrologist: “In your 20 years of using telescope, have you seen the wind with it? And what is the shape of the wind?” The doctor replied: “The wind cannot be seen by a telescope, no way.” The granny asked, “But there is wind on the earth, isn’t there? Now that you’ve failed to see the wind with your telescope, how do you expect to see God with the same instrument? When you find no God with your telescope, can you thus conclude that there is none?” The astrologist was dumbfounded.

The granny turned to the second doctor, the physician, and asked: “Do you love you wife?” The doctor replied: “Sure I do.” The granny followed: “Please lend me your scalpel then. I would use it to dissect your tummy and find out where does this ‘love’ of yours for your wife reside—is it in your liver, your stomach, or your intestine?” The crowd roared with laughter.

Lastly the granny addressed the lady doctor: “When you were in your mother’s womb, suppose you were told, ‘you are to be born on the Earth, a place with hills, water, the sun, and the moon, and you will need food and clothing.’ Would you believe it then? Now that you are actually living on this Earth, doesn’t it go beyond just believing it? Therefore please do not rashly negate all things out of your own ignorance.

In this rather short story, the “scientific” viewpoints alluded to by the three doctors represent the perceptual blind spot of the general public. This is like the Buddhist who goes to a temple to pray for longevity and good luck, and his non-Buddhist father admonishes him: “You can’t go to the temple, you must trust science instead!” In fact the father hardly knows what science is about. Even science cannot be a stagnant discipline: it must continue to explore unknown territory. To deny the existence of certain phenomenon which science has yet to explain would be an act most unscientific.

Please be advised that what we can perceive through our senses—the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind—is quite limited. The Buddha says in The King of Concentration Sutra that if we rely on our sense faculties and accept their perceptions as the only truth, then what is the use of the holy doctrines anyway? To reject something outright because one has no knowledge of it borders on absurdity. But that’s the stance some people choose to adopt these days. For example, someone snubbed the book Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr. Weiss, saying, “How is it possible to go back to 1863 B.C. by hypnosis? Wouldn’t it take a long time?” To suspect and deny bluntly all things about which you have limited knowledge puts you outside of the league of rational beings.

Many people these days hold that consciousness is a product of the physical body and that when the body dies, so does the consciousness. This is an awful assertion. Frankly, if the body were capable of producing consciousness, why couldn’t the corpse—an otherwise completely intact body—produce a consciousness? If you argue that some other factors are still needed, then what are these factors anyway? In the final analysis, the body is composed by the four elements—earth, water, fire, and wind. If the body, which is nothing but the four elements, could produce consciousness, then it goes without saying that the outer environment, which is also composed of the same four elements, should likewise be capable to produce consciousness at any given time. But this is not the case, is it? The argument may sound simplistic, but it actually is imbued with quite profound logic that will take one a long learning process to comprehend. Merely having heard one lecture or studied one treatise will not make you a firm believer immediately, nor will it dispel all your doubts on past and future life right away. It’s not that simple!

I used to know a scholar who started as a total nonbeliever of reincarnation. As he is not an irrational person, when he could find no argument to refute me after a few rounds of debate, he began to look up references, make inquiries, listen to teachings, and think it over. In the end, he made a 180-degree turn into a firm believer.

He says: “I found no reliable evidence to support the nonexistence of past and future life, but plenty supporting their existence. These include cases of past-life regression; teachings, logistic reasoning, koans in Buddhist scriptures; and scientific documentation. If I still remain unconvinced of the existence of the past and future life, am I not a complete idiot? In addition, such an attitude would be unfit for me as a researcher in philosophy.”

Therefore, right view can be cultivated within oneself by proper ways. Many of you may have the same questions this scholar had early on, and I hope you will find time to investigate persistently, and do not take in blindly what so-called experts have to say. Not too long ago I saw an “expert” on the show CCTV Lecture Room who said, “According to superstitious people, past and future lives do exist, and so does the law of cause and effect.” Upon hearing this, I really had the urge to walk up to him and ask him if he ever studied the topic of past and future life, and why he is drawing his conclusion so flippantly? Too bad at that time he was appearing on the TV and I had no way to debate with him.

Of course, this kind of expert is not just one or two, but there are plenty of them around. After my talk today, you may not instantly vote for the existence of past and future life either. But at least you should think it over: “Is what this the monk said based on sound reasoning?” If the answer is no, then make your case by refuting. Otherwise, you may as well reflect deeply. Try also to read books of modern and ancient times and of all countries. In this way you will not go on to make many mistakes. Otherwise, when you prattle on about something which you are ignorant of, you become what Shakespeare has described ““Disparage not the faith thou dost not know, lest, to thy peril, thou aby it dear.”

In the world, any talk that runs contrary to the truth should be regarded as a fallacy; there’s no argument about this point, whether the talk comes from a leader, an expert, a university professor, or a monastic. It pays for us humans to wake up to the truth quickly, to be free from the deep mires of confusion. I sincerely hope that you intellectuals here will establish more communications with people in the Buddhist circle; it definitely will be beneficial to you.

Not too long ago I read the discussion of his 8-day Tibet trip of Zhu Qingshi, former chancellor of University of Science and Technology of China, with his calligrapher friend. I felt Professor Zhu has made fairly impartial points about Tibetan Buddhism in their discussion. But unfortunately he met only a few Tibetan masters who, perhaps due to the lack of time, did not speak to him about more profound Dharma. Nonetheless, Professor Zhu felt his mind had been refined considerably after his trip to Tibet.

Therefore, we need to have an overall understanding of our life and at the same time see the confusion of people around us. It is a pity that many people strive day and night just to make money, thus wasting their rather short human life meaninglessly. College students like you have great expectations for the future, but once you go out into the world you may find that life is full of hardship with little fun. Therefore, do not be puffed up with high hopes now, lest you become disappointed later.

Realistically, the importance of comprehending life, the Dharma, the Truth, and of learning to be an upright person in school cannot be overstated. Without having been educated in these aspects, even students from elite universities with bachelors, masters, or Ph.D. degrees may turn out to be just jejune when out of school. Why is that? Because without the slightest idea of how to get along with others, how to pay back to society and help sentient beings, one will work ceaselessly all day long for “my” happiness and “my” family only. Such a life is without much meaning, I am afraid, regardless of how wealthy, how powerful or how talented one may be.

My words may not be too pleasing to your ears, and as you have not offended me in any way, why am I on the offensive speaking here now? As a matter of fact, I could just do lip service but that would do little to address fundamental issues. But by considering my talk as a red flag, you may come to see the crudeness of society and become more prepared for it with an extra ounce of prudence.

To tell you the truth, I am more than delighted to see that people nowadays are well fed and clothed; but I am also struck with an unaccountable sadness to see people live mindlessly, just hanging around and drifting along. Why? Because they do not even know about future life and still consider themselves quite clever and are puffed up with self-importance. I feel utterly sorry for them, but again, this could be my own prejudice.

IV. A Brief Explanation of Pure Land Rebirth

If one has established a foundation of recognizing past and future life, then to take a rebirth in Buddha’s Pure Land is not too far-fetched. In the Han area in particular, the Pure Land School has long attracted many faithful followers. However, as the saying goes, “A sincere recitation is not in your mouth; a good meditation is not in your legs.” Reciting the Buddha’s name by mouthing it, though virtuous, is not what counts most—rather, it is to arouse in the heart a strong faith in Buddha Amitabha and aspire to be born in his Pure Land.

Equipped with a strong faith and aspiration, coupled by a dedicated long-term practice, we all will, according to what the last chapter of the Visualization Sutra (Guan Jin) has stated, have a good chance to be reborn to Buddha Amitabha’s Pure Land of Great Bliss.

The magnificence and blissfulness of Buddha’sPure Land is beyond the description of mundane language. On the other hand, happiness in our Saha world is always tinted with pain, no matter how joyful or how lucky one may claim to be.If our voracious desire for material goods is not curbed, no amount of owning real estate, luxury cars, or fancy resorts will be able to fill the void of the famished mind.

Thus people today really can take a good dose of the Buddha’s teachings. Tibetan Buddhism is now well-accepted in Han China and other countries, mainly because its essence is congruent with Han Buddhism and its instructions on training the mind to develop altruism can readily be applied to benefit society.

Of course Tibetan Buddhism, like any other religion, has its good practitioners as well as, unavoidably, some bad ones. But in all, its instructions from eminent masters and its sublime essence are particularly effective for modern people if followed correctly.

Again, I would submit to you to look into the science of life with an open mind—its importance to you as individual and to society as whole cannot be underestimated. As a matter of fact, there is no better guarantee of keeping a peaceful, stable society than to instill the notion of causality in society members. Some people give up their belief that “Good deeds, as well as bad ones, will always rebound upon the doer,” all too readily because they have not seen a favorable repayment for their good deeds in this very life yet. As to retributions in future lives, they could care less. Such a view is indeed shallow-minded.

When people flock to the temple to offer homage to the Buddhas and burn incense, most of them have only their own welfare of this life in mind; they pray to be successful in business, to be blessed with a baby boy soon, to have peace and health, a happy family with no feuding, etc. These are but narrow-minded, mundane wishes, not even up to the standard of the lowest Buddhist aspiration. What is there to say about the aspiration of rebirth to Buddha’s Pure Land? Hence we really have to dig into the true meaning of Buddhism and its practice.

Of course, I don’t mean to persuade you to take up Buddhism, as religion is one’s free choice; to believe or not to believe, either way is fine. But should you decide to learn Buddhism, you must not do it just superficially, rather, try to get hold of its right view. To do so, you have to learn Buddhist doctrines systematically and it is only by investing time and energy in Dharma study will you come to grasp its profound meaning.

In sum, may you all establish a right view and be always mindful of it. Once you truly learn the existence of past and future life, a rebirth to the Pure Land of Bliss is within your reach!

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