illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
"Secular buddhists" often agree with moment-to-moment rebirth while rejecting life-to-life rebirth. Based on moment-to-moment rebirth, the shared post could have been part of my "karmic continuation", if only I had Giselle's talent for words.
The point of moment-to-moment rebirth is that the previous instant in your life causally sets a lot of conditions and circumstances (internally and externally) for your existence here&now… but without automatically taking all choices away.
While causal inertia seems easy to track 'locally', you can always open up to a new, wiser perspective and immediately start engaging to 'correct' an unwholesome course currently unrolling.
Inertia and causality are not denied, freedom is not denied either.
While this seems intuitive, it doesn't necessarily give much guidance on how to live one's life. This is because it assumes and uses the concept of causality, rather than observing and engaging with causality. It proposes an explanation of the world, rather than an intention of wholesome engagement.
'Suffering' in Buddhism takes many forms, but the sūtras use a particular formula often: "birth, sickness, ageing, death." No wonder the first noble truth is often simply stated as "life is suffering".
In "moment-to-moment rebirth", one will at some point be reborn 'old', or reborn 'ageing'! This might seem stupid at first, but observing people around you will quickly show it is not as stupid as it seems.
The first "birth in old age" for an individual depends on circumstances and conditions but it will usually happen at one of the following 'milestones': passing the 40th anniversary, seeing the kids leave home (or get married, or get their first-born), being offered a seat in public transport because one seems unsteady, retiring from the workforce…
But can we phrase this in terms of 'rebirth' or "karmic continuity" (rather than 'birth')?
The way one treats the elderly is likely to influence (if only by setting 'precedents' and de facto promoting one's behaviours as 'acceptable') how one will be treated when becoming an elderly.
If one spends all of one's life criticising elderlies for being unproductive and boring and stuck in their ways and occupying space that could be put to better use, these messages will indeed contribute to forging the social consensus one will face in due time. There will be little impact then to say « Oh! But this was about the other elderlies, not me! »
However, how the elderlies engage with the younger generations also has an impact, of course.
It is e.g. less 'tempting' to take care of the elderlies if all they do is take everything for granted (rather than cultivate appreciation. This is particularly true if the narrative becomes « I sacrificed so much for you » when the kids can simply reply that they never asked to be born)… So elderlies participate in shaping how the next generation treats them, which will set an example for the following generation, etc.
Rebirth as continuity
'Elderlies' die, and the former 'middle-aged' are moment-to-moment reborn as elderlies… The ex-middle-aged then face the consequences of how they treated 'their' elderlies.
Some will have considered 'their' elderlies to be their sole parents, some will have considered 'their' elderlies to be their extended family (parents but also aunts, uncles…), some will have considered wider circles… or even 'all' elderlies the world over.
This will have set precedents and examples; it possibly even participated in shaping laws.
If one has chosen a very selfish my-family-vs-rest-of-the-world attitude, one will have contributed to a world now set on not helping them (be it by status quo, or retaliation)… If one has chosen a selfless attitude, one will have contributed to a world where human dignity is indeed valued regardless of individual circumstances.
Vote to cut food stamps now and you're sending a message to —or 'leading'— the next generation to think it's 'okay' to let you starve once you fall away from the "lucky few".
Rebirth as cyclicality
Elderlies die, and former middle-aged are moment-to-moment 'born' as elderlies… From the perspective of the dead elderlies, this is also 'rebirth'!
Rebirth is not reincarnation! There's no self, you are what you do and whatever mental fabrications you appropriate as 'yours', whatever ideas (call some of them 'memories') you identify with.
'Rebirth' is thus about: are the ideas of the previous elderlies (re)appropriated by the new elderlies? If the same ideas are embodied again, and experienced as "this is me" (e.g. "this is where I come from", "this is my culture") or "this is my life", then it is rebirth: 'same' self, embodied afresh, co-dependently arising with a context (physical, social, cultural…).
The attitude the now-dead elderlies had, be it of resignation, constant complaining or of creating their own "safe space" and communities (cutting themselves from the generation that doesn't care for them, but thus also setting the precedent that it's okay not to care of the younger, ignorant ones), will likely be 'appropriated' by the ex-middle-aged. This attitude will define the consensus, will be considered by all as "this is what it is to be old".
If the ex-elderlies didn't care for the ex-middle-aged, the ex-middle-aged are likely not to care for the new-middle-aged, simply on the basis of « nobody cared for me when I was middle-aged. »
Added to their past contribution of not caring for elders (who were then forced by the circumstances to fend for themselves), another narrative is likely to arise: « you don't care for me, why would I care for you? » which will perpetuate the fending for oneself!
'Rebirth' can sometimes be toned down as "perpetuation of the status-quo". Hopefully, I've shown some of the mind-based, ignorance-based mechanisms involved.
'Karma' is based on tendencies, and since we're co-dependently arising with a context, these tendencies are both individual and collective (or societal, cultural, social…). But we can affect, right here right now, the consensus by engaging with the world, by leading by example, by discerning wholesome vs. unwholesome and putting the effort to move towards wholesomeness: the world co-dependently arises with us, it's a two-ways street!
All sentient beings wish to avoid suffering.
While in human forms, we're quite 'conditioned' (if only by our genes) to be 'social' beings. Thus isolating the elderly is causing a lot of suffering.
Whether one puts up a narrative « I put my parent in a home, the staff will take better care of him/her than I ever could » while conveniently forgetting that the said staff does not 'love' and —to keep the costs down— has (very) limited 'time', or whether one puts a narrative « I didn't ask to be born, I have no obligation » and blames their parents for everything under the sun, or whether one decides to share one's space and one's time with the now-vulnerable, karma and rebirth will manifest. Be wise…
Yoda said: « Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering. » Don't become an elderly afraid of dying alone… so don't under-engage with the current elderlies!
If this requires an effort, so what? "Right action", "right intention", "right speech", "right effort", "right view"… There is no bigger gift than the Dharma; the biggest gift you can give is to help the elderlies cease their suffering (and if they do, this will provide a map for you to cease your own suffering… that's hardly a bad deal!). Providing the adequately supportive conditions plays a role, and it's necessary to reflect on these long before you need them for yourself: causality exists and inertia too…
#Buddhism #engagedbuddhism #elderly
by Giselle Minoli:
Where will you be when you are old? With your family? Your friends? Alone? Will you be rich? Or poor? In good health? Or ill perhaps? Will you be mentally engaged? Or failing up there in some frightening way? How, and with whom, will you while away the hours of the day?
I've been reading the articles this week about the elderly Koreans who gather at a MacDonald's in Flushing, Queens to spend time together, to provide one another company. To come in from the heat, the cold, the wind, the rain, the snow...
They might buy large coffees and sip them for hours. They might get kicked out by the police, to whom the management has complained because they view these elderly people as interlopers, as loiterers.
It's a business they say, put up or get out. It's a business they say, not a meeting house. It's a business they say, not a public park with benches on which to sit and chat with passersby.
It's a business they say, not a living room, not a house, not a home. Pull out your wallet. Eat a burger and some fries. Have a large coke, throw out your trash, then take your leave. Please.
Okay. It's a business. And the homeless can't sleep in hotel lobbies. And the disenfranchised can no longer ride the subways for hours and hours and days and days. And panhandling is illegal.
And if the police come and round up all of the homeless people, and the crazy people who live on the streets because the street is home, and run off all of the lonely ones, the alone ones, the elderly ones...who tarry too long after the last sip of coffee is gone, who stay inside the atrium until just before the door is locked, who need just a little bit of contact with humanity before the sun goes down...
...then we won't have to wonder what the elderly are doing tonight. If they are warm. Or loved. Or where their friends and family are. All we have to do is empty the trash, and ready the shop for one more day of work. Because it's easy not to think about someone the police have kicked out...and why they loiter to begin with.
But where will you be when you are old? And do you think you will ever spend an evening wrapping your fingers tightly around a coffee cup, pretending it's half full, when really you drank the last sip long ago?