As Buddhism comes to the West, i
t cannot be stated emphatically enough, that a paradigm shift is necessary to understand karma and rebirth, because from the modern materialistic perspective of secular scientism karma and rebirth seem like supernatural mysticism or superstition and from the modern materialistic perspective of the Abrahamic religions karma and rebirth seem like amoral ungodly atheism. On the one hand, we have to give up our attachment to the idea that only what is tangible is real; and on the other hand we have to give up our attachment to the idea that what is revealed by God written in a sacred text is literally real. The core problem with the so-called secular Buddhist movement is that the participants do not want to acknowledge the necessity for this paradigm shift, of needing to change their perspective about what is real, and to inquire deeply with determination and vigor into the foundations and the fountainhead of our own mind.
Here are some commonly asked questions by people trying to understand karma and rebirth from within the secular modernist perspective.
Q.: In what medium do the effects (fruits) of karma propagate?
Q.: If it is some form of mental causation that connects “lives,” how does it continue after the dissolution of the current brain?
“Rebirth is not a process that we can in any way observe. We can neither measure nor weigh not photograph it. It is entirely beyond sense perception. We have to do here with a purely psychic reality, which is transmitted to us only indirectly through personal statements. One speaks of rebirth, one professes rebirth; one is filled with rebirth. This we accept as sufficiently real. We are not concerned here with the question: is rebirth a tangible process of some sort? We have to be content with its psychic reality. I hasten to add that I am not alluding to the vulgar notion that anything ‘psychic’ is either nothing at all or at best even more tenuous than a gas. Quite the contrary; I am of the opinion that the psyche is the most tremendous fact of human life. Indeed, it is the mother of all human facts; of civilization and of its destroyer, war. All this is at first psychic and indivisible. So long as it is ‘merely’ psychic it cannot be experienced by the senses, but is nonetheless indisputably real. The mere fact that people talk about rebirth, and that there is such a concept at all, means that a store of psychic experiences designated by that term must actually exist. What these experiences are like we can only infer from the statements that have been made about them. So, if we want to find out what rebirth really is, we must turn to history in order to ascertain what ‘rebirth’ has been understood to mean.”
We can see here that Jung discovered the paradigm shift needed to understand Buddha Dharma and called it "psychology." The statement "the psyche is the mother of all human facts" calls forth the mind-only (citta-matra) perspective of the Lankavatara Suta's view that all things are "only the manifestations of one's own mind" (自心現量). Jung's "store of psychic experiences" directly calls forth the storehouse-consciousness (alayavijnana). Because Jung dared to challenge the paradigm of secular science's prejudice for the tangible he was tarred as a mystic, and the discoveries of his analytical psychology, as well as the psyche itself, have been pushed aside by the materialist secularism of the physical sciences masquerading as psychology. But when Jung was on his deathbed, he was reading Zen master Hsu Yun's talks on the Eight Consciousnesses in Charles Luk's Chan and Zen Teachings: First Series, and he asked his secretary to write Luk and report "He was enthusiastic... When he read what Hsu Yun said, he sometimes felt as if he himself could have said exactly this! It was just it." (From a letter dated September 12, 1961.)
Jung was still a man of his time, so to maintain his empirical objectivity, he recommended the study of history to learn what has been understood about rebirth. In turning to history, Jung's methodology was a cross-cultural and cross-historical approach to determine and identify the shared meaning elements among the plethora of manifestations of myth, folklore, legends, fairy tales, prophetic visions, dreams, etc. that have gripped the imaginations of people throughout history. In this way he could arrive at an empirical conclusion (as a scientific hypothesis) of the unobservable intangible aspects of psychic reality. However, this is only half of the story, the half that is available for the researcher from the "outside." The other half is what is available to the researcher from the "inside," that is by direct experience through the practice of meditation or other psychic practices such as what Jung called "active imagination" or even hypnotherapy.
However, we have to be forewarned and aware that what is a directly experienced psychic reality must still be analyzed and subjected to evaluation. That is, we don't always come to the correct conclusions about our own experiences and need to understand how we can delude ourselves. The primary example of this in relation to rebirth is the concept of a self. We have direct experience of our own life and come to the erroneous conclusion that we are an individual self, a separate soul. Rather than being seen through for the illusion that it is by a direct experience of rebirth, this mistaken notion of a soul actually can be reinforced by past life memories that may be accessed through meditation or trance states such as hypnosis. Thus, the Buddha's great discovery of the reality of the non-soul, no-self, perspective was applied to the then current ideas about karma and rebirth, not to say that the psychic reality of karma and rebirth was false, but to clarify that the psychic reality of karma and rebirth does occur, but not within the context of our mistaken notions of a self or soul.
To be continued...