But then the last four lines of the sutta present a very different message:
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.
Until those last four lines, there’s a seamless flow of ideas, a deeply inspiring sentiment that the Buddha encourages for all of us. It continues to get more exalted and bright, and suddenly there’s the punch line:
“Not born again into this world.”
That’s quite a dramatic change of gear. And it takes us aback. What happened to loving all beings? Something else has come into play, but what is it?
These last lines remind us of something that many of us would like to forget: the notion of not being born again. This has not exactly taken root as a cultural ideal in the West. Instead, things like comfortable retirement plans and good medical coverage are very popular. There’s nothing wrong with these things, but they are not our lives’ purpose.
Particularly in the Western Buddhist world, we don’t really think in terms of birth and death. We may have a vague idea that after death something might happen, but we’re not quite sure what and most of us don’t seem to care very much. Our main concern is getting on with our practice, which is all well and good, but even this important focus is not the culmination.
So it can be useful to take a step back and consider our cultural conditioning and how that has an impact on our understanding of what it means “not to be reborn.”
This reflection by Ajahn Amaro is from the book, Small Boat, Great Mountain, (pdf) pp.122-123.