Ajahn Sujato: “For early Buddhists, rebirth was an empirical, comprehensible process that involved nothing more mysterious than the ordinary workings of the mind and body.” This is undoubtedly true, but if something is empirical, it must be testable and repeatable. Now, clearly there are no test tubes or Bunsen burners involved here. Just how do you observe rebirth? The suttas have a straightforward answer:
- Develop your meditation.
- Achieve 4th jhana.
- Use that clarity of mind to see the process of rebirth directly.
That’s all there is to it! The Buddha considered recollection of past lives to be an invaluable tool along the path. If you can see directly the futility of life as it’s normally lived, it is easier to practice relinquishment, easier to do the work that needs to be done to escape another round of rebirth.
Now, one might argue: “Hey, if I have to do all that to directly observe rebirth, is it really verifiable.” Well, one might say that same about the Higgs Boson. Do I really have to build a $100 billion particle accelerator and get a PhD in Math if I want to see this for myself?
The suttas do not supply a scientific explanation of rebirth, or of anything else for that matter. It’s only within the last decade that evidence for the benefits of mindfulness has begun to come it. But it doesn’t make mindfulness more or less powerful than it always was. How much sincere scientific attempts have there been to explore rebirth after all? Could a young researcher get any grant money for that? Get tenure? Get published? Not a chance.