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Buddhadharma : Summer 2018
112 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY Analayo’s goal is not to persuade but rather to understand “things as they really are.” As such, he writes in the balanced, dispassionate style of an academic who expects to be challenged on any statement not supported by facts. Yet Analayo does not shy away from controversy, taking up an array of viewpoints on the issue and thoughtfully considering each. This alone makes the book a refreshing approach to a topic often muddied by polarizing opinions. reBirth in the Buddha’s teaChings In Buddhist countries such as Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand, the idea of rebirth is almost universally accepted. But in the West, practitioners are more apt to ques- tion tradition and approach foundational teachings with skepticism. Today many Buddhist teachers deny that the Bud- dha even taught rebirth, arguing that the numerous references to the concept in the early discourses were a later addition. Oth- ers claim the Buddha taught rebirth only to conform to the pervasive cultural belief of his day. Analayo begins his investiga- tion by examining these ideas in light of the Buddha’s teachings on rebirth as found in the Pali Nikayas and Chinese Agamas, his sourcebooks for early Buddhism. In so doing, he contends that teachings on rebirth are integrated so fully into the early discourses that they could not have been interpolated later. The Buddha spoke of his recollection of past lives not as a spec- ulative theory but as a truth he realized on the night of his awakening and as an insight available to anyone who trains in the required meditative discipline. Analayo begins by analyzing the role of rebirth in the chain of causal links of dependent arising (paticca samupada), which describes in detail the genesis of suffering. He focuses especially on the link between consciousness and name- and-form. Here “consciousness” refers to the mind’s capacity to have any experience at all, while “name” is the mental capac- ity for naming elements of sense experi- ence, and “form” refers to the physical body. In one discourse the Buddha asks Ananda, “If consciousness did not enter the mother’s womb, would there be name- and-form?” And Ananda replies, “No.” In other words, the Buddha taught that con- sciousness, continuing from the previous life, meets with a newly forming embryo in order to make possible the body (form) and cognitive process (name) of the new being. In the materialist view, a rebirth doc- trine would imply a mind-body dualism, which would be unacceptable. As Analayo shows, however, the Buddha’s understand- ing of the mind-body relationship is more nuanced than either a strictly unitary or strictly dualistic view would permit. The Buddha spoke of the mutual dependency between consciousness and name-and- form, comparing them to two sheaves of reeds leaning against one another. Today many Buddhist teachers deny that the Buddha even taught rebirth. Others claim the Buddha taught rebirth only to conform to the pervasive cultural beliefs of his day.