16. What Part does Belief in Rebirth Play in Buddhism?
Peter Harvey [+]
University of Sunderland
In Buddhism, various aspects of practice can be done without reference to the idea of rebirth, such as generosity, kindness, helpfulness, chanting, and meditation. While some modern, secularized forms of Buddhism avoid reference to rebirth, seeing it as an inessential hangover from ancient Indian belief, this can itself be seen as an importation into Buddhism of certain modern, mainly Western attitudes and beliefs. In the Buddha’s day, some kind of belief in repeated lives had already been developed within Brahmanism (which later developed into Hinduism), and another version of it existed in Jainism, one of the renunciant traditions that critiqued Brahmanism. Buddhism itself originated as such a non-Brahmanical renunciant tradition, and others included materialists, who denied rebirth, skeptics, who saw knowledge of such things as impossible, and fatalists, who believed in rebirth driven forward by blind fate, rather than by individual action (karma).