The always provocative website Edge.org poses an annual question to a long list of prominent thinkers, mostly scientists, and then posts their responses. This year’s question was: What have you changed your mind about, and why? We at Tricycle thought it would be no less intriguing to ask the same question with a Buddhist spin. So we’ve approached a wide range of old Buddhist hands with our own adapted version: What in Buddhism have you changed your mind about, and why? What follows is a cross-section of the answers we received. A larger sampling is available on tricycle.com. And now the ball is in your court. We invite you to post your own response and comment on what strikes you most. As we wrote in our original invitation to those we asked: Surprise us!
ANDREW SCHELLING is a poet, translator, and essayist. He is on the faculty of the Writing and Poetics program at Naropa University.
Reincarnation is a concept I could never accept. It seems absurdly egotistic, chafes against every principle we know of natural history, and contradicts the Buddhist teachings I’ve cracked my thoughts against for thirty years. Yet in the Mumonkan, when the old man tells Pai-chang that for giving a slipshod answer to a kind of pointless question, he “was reborn five hundred times as a fox,” I feel a shiver go up my spine.
Most of my friends have aged or dying parents. Our children are no longer young. One friend shot himself last year. Others have had health concerns that could snatch them away tomorrow. I try to envision what comes after “old-age-sickness-and-death,” and find a companion’s description of tall-grass prairie much better solace than notions of rebirth.
So I change my mind about reincarnation all the time. When otherwise pragmatic friends describe Tibetan lamas getting born again, it strikes me as silly. Within a few days a fox slips past and I know it’s a girl or some old man I had relations with in a former life. And last week I read something that comes close to what I believe today: “Those who eat will be eaten.” This accords with my studies in ecology. The body will be eaten by wind, rain, earth, bacteria, corrosives, prairie grass, coyote, ravens. It will ferment, decompose, break apart into nutrients. That’s a pretty good reincarnation. Almost as good as five hundred fox lifetimes. But then I wonder, what eats our dreams, thoughts, fears, hopes, and notebooks? What will eat our changing minds?
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