Chien-Te Lin, Ph. D. is Associate Professor of Religion and Humanity at Tzu-Chi University in Hualien, Taiwan. Wei-Hung, Yen, Ph.D is Assistant Professor of Philosophy Department at Tunghai University in Taichung, Taiwan.
Although Buddhism has become increasingly popular in the West, some vital concepts remain abstruse. Naturalistic Buddhism has arisen mainly as an attempt to demystify certain aspects of Buddhist philosophy, with the idea of rebirth being a particular case in point. In this paper we discuss the difficulties of the naturalization of karma, and show that an understanding of karma with rebirth is coherent with the core teachings of the Buddha. We then attempt to clarify the purpose of karma from the standpoint of Mahayana ethics. We argue that the concepts of rebirth and karma were not only taught to encourage virtuous behavior for the sake of future benefit, but also to reinforce the practitioner’s commitment to moral discipline. Although Buddhism allows for different perspectives on rebirth from a modern point of view, a reinterpretation of the concept should not focus on rebirth as something to be explained away. Instead, new perspectives can be used as an additional means to enhance moral education and spiritual development.
Introduction 1 Is rebirth merely a supernatural concept in Buddhism? 2 Is the Buddhist concept of karma possible without rebirth? 4 Does rebirth have tension with the Buddhist theory of no self? 5 Could karma with rebirth discourage positive action? 7 On rebirth and the iIncentive of external rewards 8 How the Buddhist concept of rebirth could contribute to ethical reflection 9 Conclusion 11 Endnotes 12 References 17