Mindful Life or Mindful Lives? Exploring why the Buddhist belief in rebirth should be taken seriously by mindfulness practitioners
Date: 10 November 2018
University of Exeter
PhD in Philosophy
This thesis will explore whether those interested in Buddhist practices such as mindfulness but who approach such practices from a broadly secular perspective can be offered reasons to take rebirth seriously as an afterlife possibility. It will begin by exploring some of the history of mindfulness and its adoption from Buddhism to show ...
This thesis will explore whether those interested in Buddhist practices such as mindfulness but who approach such practices from a broadly secular perspective can be offered reasons to take rebirth seriously as an afterlife possibility. It will begin by exploring some of the history of mindfulness and its adoption from Buddhism to show how foundational cosmological elements such as rebirth have been side-lined as part of a wider movement to bring Buddhism in line with modernist, particularly scientific, discourses. The thesis will investigate the philosophical principles behind the Buddhist multi-life perspective in order to see whether arguments could be rallied in defence of it. This will involve focussing specifically on the argument in defence of rebirth offered by Dharmakīrti and show how its premises draw from philosophical principles adopted by the earliest Buddhist philosophical systems. Dharmakīrti’s argument will be examined within the context of contemporary philosophy of consciousness where philosophers such as Evan Thompson and Galen Strawson have challenged the view that consciousness could arise from entirely unconscious factors. This challenge aligns with a key premise of Dharmakīrti’s argument for rebirth as well as Buddhist Abhidharma principles. Arguments against the emergence of consciousness from unconscious factors strengthen the case for claiming that consciousness cannot simply appear at the beginning of life and disappear at death. Whilst supporting Strawson’s arguments, the thesis will ultimately reject his claim that an individual consciousness could be constructed from, and ultimately collapse into, multiple consciousnesses. From here it will be argued that conscious experiences arise as part of an unbroken stream that can neither arise from nor collapse into rudimentary factors that are devoid of the distinctive characteristics of consciousness. The argument will conclude by suggesting that the stream of consciousness involves an inseparable capacity for retention and recall. This capacity provides the possibility for the sort of psychological continuity between lives that, within traditional Buddhist cosmology, allows an ordinary being to cultivate the extraordinary personal qualities of a Buddha.
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