Rebirth is a core theme of classical Buddhism, in all the various groupings of doctrine and practice that have emerged over the centuries. As I’ve contemplated Buddhism for over 30 years, my take on rebirth is that the self-organization of the 5 aggregates re-forms on a moment-by-moment basis, and that the notion of being born again into some sort of organism is purely speculation.
Whenever anyone approached the Buddha with questions or speculations about what happens after death, he would refuse to respond for or against that belief. I believe there are several reasons for this. The Buddha would say: “The Tathagata [the name he used, generally translated as “Thus Gone”, or maybe “Suchness”] is here to develop understanding about the cause of dissatisfaction and the ways and means to alleviate dissatisfaction-that is all!” In this paraphrasing, it seemed to be an agnostic view, that is, not knowing one way or another what happens after death. I assume that he did know as much as is humanly possible about the nature of being alive, perhaps even the answer to that question, but chose not to answer because to hold onto any view for or against would hinder a person’s awakening process.
One of the core accomplishments of Buddhist spiritual development is to cultivate ongoing, mindful awareness without the burden of identifying with any particular view of life. My resolution for this is to just focus on ethical development and cultivating clear awareness; at the end of my life, events will unfold according to the Dhamma, that is, the natural order of the universe.
Having said this, I recently read an article in Salon, which is an online magazine, and it provided me with some intriguing information. It seems that a woman who had an aneurysm in an artery at the base of her brain required surgery that would cool her body down to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, drain the blood from her body, leaving here essentially in a deep, brain-dead coma. The aneurysm was successfully repaired, and when she was “brought back to life,” she reported events and objects that she couldn’t possibly have consciously witnessed, and which were verifiable as there was adequate telemetry to prove her brain was inactive, and there were 8 witnesses in the room, who could verify her account.
This is what is called a Near Death Experience, and the author of the article described some of the ongoing research and controversy about this phenomenon. What is especially interesting about the report is the objective data that substantiates the report, rather than anecdotal information. It certainly has stimulated my thinking! Here is the article. I hope you find it to be interesting. I wish you well. Peter