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The rebirth doctrine in Buddhism, sometimes referred to as reincarnation or metempsychosis, asserts that rebirth does not necessarily take place as another human being, but as an existence in one of the six Gati (realms) called Bhavachakra. The six realms of rebirth include Deva (heavenly), Asura (demigod), Manusya (human), Tiryak (animals), Preta (ghosts), and Naraka (resident of hell).[note 1] This rebirth, state Buddhism traditions, is determined by karma, with good realms favored by Kushala (good karma), while a rebirth in evil realms is a consequence of Akushala (bad karma). While Nirvana is the ultimate goal of Buddhist teaching, much of traditional Buddhist practice has been centered on gaining merit and merit transfer, whereby one gains rebirth in the good realms and avoids rebirth in the evil realms.[note 2]
The rebirth doctrine has been a subject of scholarly studies within Buddhism since ancient times, particularly in reconciling the rebirth doctrine with its Anatman (no self, no soul) doctrine. The Buddhist traditions have disagreed on what it is in a person that is reborn, as well as how quickly the rebirth occurs after each death. Some Buddhist traditions assert that "no self" doctrine means that there is no perduring self, but there is avacya (inexpressible) self which migrates from one life to another. The majority of Buddhist traditions, in contrast, assert that Vijnana (a person's consciousness) though evolving, exists as a continuum and is the mechanistic basis of what undergoes rebirth, rebecoming and redeath. Some traditions assert that the rebirth occurs immediately, while others such as the Tibetan Buddhism posits an interim state wherein as many of 49 days pass between death and rebirth and this belief drives the local funerary rituals.
Buddhist terminology and doctrine
There is no word corresponding exactly to the English terms "rebirth", "metempsychosis", "transmigration" or "reincarnation" in the traditional Buddhist languages of P?li and Sanskrit. Rebirth is referred to by various terms, representing an essential step in the endless cycle of samsara, terms such as "re-becoming" or "becoming again"(Sanskrit: punarbhava, Pali: punabbhava), re-born (punarjanman), re-death (punarmrityu), or sometimes just "becoming" (Pali/Sanskrit: bhava), while the state one is born into, the individual process of being born or coming into the world in any way, is referred to simply as "birth" (Pali/Sanskrit: j?ti). The entire universal process of beings being reborn again and again is called "wandering about" (Pali/Sanskrit: sa?s?ra).
Some English-speaking Buddhists prefer the term "rebirth" or "re-becoming" (Sanskrit: punarbhava; Pali: punabbhava) to "reincarnation" as they take the latter to imply an entity (soul) that is reborn. Buddhism denies there is any such soul or self in a living being, but does assert that there is a cycle of transmigration consisting of rebirth and redeath as the fundamental nature of existence.
Before the time of the Buddha, many ideas on the nature of existence, birth and death were in vogue. The ancient Indian Vedic and Sramana schools affirmed the idea of soul, karma and cycle of rebirth. The competing Indian materialist schools denied the idea of soul, karma and rebirth, asserting instead that there is just one life, there is no rebirth, and death marks complete annihilation. From these diverse views, Buddha accepted the premises and concepts related to rebirth, but introduced innovations. According to various Buddhist scriptures, Buddha believed in other worlds,
Since there actually is another world (any world other than the present human one, i.e. different rebirth realms), one who holds the view 'there is no other world' has wrong view...
-- Buddha, Majjhima Nikaya i.402, Apannaka Sutta, translated by Peter Harvey
Buddha also asserted that there is karma, which influences the future suffering through the cycle of rebirth, but added that there is a way to end the cycle of karmic rebirths through nirvana. The Buddha introduced the concept that there is no soul (self) tying the cycle of rebirths, in contrast to themes asserted by various Hindu and Jaina traditions, and this central concept in Buddhism is called anatt?; Buddha also affirmed the idea that all compounded things are subject to dissolution at death or anicca. The Buddha's detailed conception of the connections between action (karma), rebirth and causality is set out in the twelve links of dependent origination.
Ideas of rebirth
There are many references to rebirth in the early Buddhist scriptures. These are some of the more important; Mahakammavibhanga Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 136); Upali Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 56); Kukkuravatika Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 57); Moliyasivaka Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya 36.21); Sankha Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya 42.8).
The Buddha and Rebirths
The texts report that on the night of his enlightenment the Buddha gained the ability to recall his previous lives. It is said that he remembered not just one or two, but a vast number, together with the details of what his name, caste, profession, and so forth had been in each life. Elsewhere, the Buddha states that he could remember back 'as far as ninety one eons' (Majjhima Nikaya i.483), one eon being roughly equal to the lifespan of a solar system.
-- Damien Keown, Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction[note 3]
Rebirth is discussed in Buddhist scriptures with various terms, such as ?gati-gati, Punarbhava and others. The term ?gati literally means 'coming back, return', while Gati means 'going away' and Punarbhava means 're-becoming'.?gati-gati in the sense of rebirth and re-death appears in many places in early Buddhist texts, such as in Samyutta Nikaya III.53, Jataka II.172, Digha Nikaya I. 162, Anguttara III.54-74 and Petavatthu II.9.Punarbhava in the sense of rebirth, similarly appears in many places, such as in Digha II.15, Samyutta I.133 and 4.201, Itivuttaka 62, Sutta-nipata 162, 273, 502, 514 and 733. Numerous other terms for rebirths are found in the Buddhist scriptures, such as Punagamana, Punavasa, Punanivattati, Abhinibbatti, and words with roots of *jati and *rupa.
While all Buddhist traditions except Navayana accept some notion of rebirth, they differ in their theories about rebirth mechanism and precisely how events unfold after the moment of death. The early Buddhist texts suggest that Buddha faced a difficulty in explaining what is reborn and how rebirth occurs, after he innovated the concept that there is "no self" (Anatta). The texts also suggest that the Anicca theory led to difficulties in explaining that there is a permanent consciousness that moves from life to life. Later Buddhist scholars such as Buddhaghosa suggested that the lack of a self or soul does not mean lack of continuity; and the rebirth across different realms of birth - such as heavenly, human, animal, hellish and others - occurs in the same way that a flame is transferred from one candle to another.
The Sautrantika sub-school of the Saravastivada Buddhist tradition, that emerged in 2nd century BCE, and influenced the 4th-century CE Yogacara school of Buddhism, introduced the idea of "transmigrating substratum of consciousness". It stated that each personal act "perfumes" the individual and leads to the planting of a "seed" that would later germinate as a good or bad karmic result.
The Pudgalavada school of early Buddhism accepted the core premise of Buddhism that there is no att? (?tman, soul, self), but asserted that there is a "personal entity" (pudgala, puggala) that retains a karma balance sheet and is mechanistically involved in rebirth; this personal entity, stated Pudgalavada Buddhists, is neither different nor identical to the five aggregates (skandhas). This concept of personal entity to explain rebirth by Pudgalavada Buddhists was polemically attacked by Theravada Buddhists in early 1st millennium CE. The personal entity concept was rejected by the mid-1st millennium CE Pali scholar Buddhaghosa, who attempted to explain rebirth mechanism with "rebirth-linking consciousness" (patisandhi).
Some schools conclude that karma continued to exist and adhere to the person until it had worked out its consequences.Theravada Buddhists assert that rebirth is immediate while the Tibetan schools hold to the notion of a bardo (intermediate state) that can last up to forty-nine days.
The bardo rebirth concept of Tibetan Buddhism, along with Yidam, developed independently in Tibet, and involves forty two peaceful deities, and fifty eight wrathful deities. These ideas led to mechanistic maps on karma and what form of rebirth one takes after death, discussed in texts such as The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Another mechanistic rebirth theory that emerged in Buddhism posits that a being is reborn through "evolving consciousness" (Pali: samvattanika viññana,M.1.256) or "stream of consciousness" (Pali: viññana sotam, D.3.105) that reincarnates. Death dissolves all prior aggregates (Pali: khandhas, Sanskrit: skandhas), and this consciousness stream combined with karma of a being contributes to a new aggregation, which is rebirth. Nirvana is the state that marks the end of this consciousness continuum and the associated karmic cycle of suffering through rebirths and redeaths.
In traditional Buddhist cosmology the rebirth, also called reincarnation or metempsychosis, can be in any of six realms. These are called the Gati in cycles of re-becoming, Bhavachakra. The six realms of rebirth include three good realms - Deva (heavenly, god), Asura (demigod), Manusya (human); and three evil realms - Tiryak (animals), Preta (ghosts), and Naraka (hellish). The realm of rebirth is conditioned by the karma (deeds, intent) of current and previous lives; good karmas will yield a happier rebirth into good realm, bad karmas is believed to produce rebirth which is more unhappy and evil .
The release from this endless cycle of rebirths, rebecoming and redeaths is called nirvana (nibbana) in Buddhism, and achievement of nirvana is the ultimate goal of Buddhist teaching.[note 4][note 5] However, much of traditional Buddhist practice has been centered on gaining merit and merit transfer, whereby an individual gains rebirth for oneself or one's family members in the good realms, and avoids rebirth in the evil realms.
Buddhist arguments for rebirth
Ancient Buddhists as well as some moderns cite the reports of the Buddha and his disciples of having gained direct knowledge into their own past lives as well as those of other beings through a kind of parapsychological ability or extrasensory perception (termed abhiñña). Likewise, Buddhist philosophers have defended the concept of special yogic perception (yogipratyak?a) which is able to empirically verify the truth of rebirth.
Besides defending the status of the Buddha as an epistemically authoritative or reliable person (prama puru?a), Indian Buddhist philosophers like Dignaga (c. 480-540 CE) and Dharmakirti (fl. c. 6th or 7th century), as well as later commentators on their works, also put forth philosophical arguments in favor or rebirth and especially directed against the reductionistmaterialist philosophy of the Carvaka school. To defend rebirth, Dharmakirti initially focuses on refuting the materialist doctrine of the Carvaka school, which held that the support (asraya) for cognition is the body and that when the body is destroyed, cognition is destroyed.
According to Richard P. Hayes, Dharmakirti denied that mental events where a mere by product of the body, instead holding that "both mental events and physical events can be seen as effects of the same set of causal conditions." For Dharmakirti, all events are dependent on multiple causes, and they must be preceded by an "antecendent causal condition" of the same class. This means that all mental events must have a previous mental event as part of its causal nexus (presumably stretching back before one's birth). According to Hayes, Dharmakirti holds therefore that "both physical factors and nonphysical factors play a role in the formation of mental events", if not there would be no difference between sentient beings and inanimate matter. Eli Franco mentions that for Dharmakirti, the position that cognition "can arise from the body alone, independent of their similar causes" at the moment of birth is irrational. That is, if the mind is not being conditioned by a previous cognitive event, then it cannot arise from inert matter.
Dharmakirti also argues that mental events can causally condition physical events, and thus there is no reason to privilege matter as being primary.
Pragmatic arguments and wager theories
Various Buddhists and interpreters of the Buddhist texts such as David Kalupahana and Etienne Lamotte, have argued that the Buddha is a kind of pragmatist regarding truth, and that he saw truths as important only when they were soteriologically useful. Thus, the Buddhist position on rebirth could be defended on pragmatic grounds instead of empirical or logical grounds. Some modern Buddhists have taken this position.
The American monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu has argued for the acceptance of the Buddhist idea of rebirth as a type of pragmatic wager argument (Pali: apaaka, "safe bet" or "guarantee"). Thanissaro argues that "the Buddha stated that it's a safe wager to assume that actions bear results that can affect not only this lifetime for also lifetimes after this than it is to assume the opposite." Thanissaro cites Majjhima Nikaya 60 (Apaaka sutta) where the Buddha says that if there is an afterlife, those who perform bad actions have "made a bad throw twice" (because they are harmed in this world and in the next) while those who perform good actions will not, and thus he calls his teaching a "safe-bet teaching". According to Thanissaro:
The Buddha's main pragmatic argument is that if one accepted his teachings, one would be likely to pay careful attention to one's actions, so as to do no harm. This in and of itself is a worthy activity regardless of whether the rest of the path was true. When applying this argument to the issue of rebirth and karmic results, the Buddha sometimes coupled it with a second pragmatic argument that resembles Pascal's wager: If one practices the Dhamma, one leads a blameless life in the here-and-now. Even if the afterlife and karmic results do not exist, one has not lost the wager, for the blamelessness of one's life is a reward in and of itself. If there is an afterlife with karmic results, then one has won a double reward: the blamelessness of one's life here and now, and the good rewards of one's actions in the afterlife. These two pragmatic arguments form the central message of this sutta.
Sri Lankan Buddhist philosopher K.N. Jayatilleke writes that the Buddha's "wager argument" in MN 60 is that a rational person (viññu puriso) would reason as follows:
If p is true
If p is not true
We wager p [atthikavada, rebirth based on moral actions is true]
We are happy in the next life
We are praised by the wise in this life
We wager not-p [natthikavada, it is false]
We are unhappy in the next life
We are condemned by the wise in this life
The Kalama Sutta also contains a similar wager argument towards rebirth, called the "four assurances" or "four consolations".
Comparison with rebirth doctrines in Hinduism and Jainism
The rebirth theories in different traditions within Hinduism rely on their foundational assumption that soul exists (Atman, att?), in contrast to Buddhist assumption that there is no soul. Hindu traditions consider soul to be the unchanging eternal essence of a living being, and in many of its theistic and non-theistic traditions the soul asserted to be identical with Brahman, the ultimate reality. Thus while both Buddhism and Hinduism accept the karma and rebirth doctrine, and both focus on ethics in this life as well as liberation from rebirth and suffering as the ultimate spiritual pursuit, they have a very different view on whether a self or soul exists, which impacts the details of their respective rebirth theories.
Rebirth and karma doctrine in Jainism differ from those in Buddhism, even though both are non-theistic Sramana traditions. Jainism, in contrast to Buddhism, accepts the foundational assumption that soul exists (Jiva) and is involved in the rebirth mechanism. Further, Jainism considers that the rebirth has a start, that rebirth and redeath cycle is a part of a progression of a soul, karmic dust particles emanate from ethical or unethical intent and actions, these karmic particles stick to the soul which determines the next birth. Jainism, further asserts that some souls can never achieve liberation, that ethical living such as Ahimsa (non-violence) and asceticism are means to liberation for those who can attain liberation, and that liberated souls reach the eternal siddha (enlightened state) that ends their rebirth cycles. Jainism, like Buddhism, also believes in realms of birth[note 6] and is symbolized by its emblematic Swastika sign, with ethical and moral theories of its lay practices focussing on obtaining good rebirth.
^This is discussed in many Suttas of different Nikayas. See, for example, Devaduta Sutta in Majjhima Nikaya (iii.178).
^This merit gaining may be on the behalf of one's family members.
^It is unclear when Majjhima Nikaya was written down. For the historicity of rebirth, samsara in early texts, see Carol Anderson; Ronald Davidson: "While most scholars agree that there was a rough body of sacred literature (disputed)(sic) that a relatively early community (disputed)(sic) maintained and transmitted, we have little confidence that much, if any, of surviving Buddhist scripture is actually the word of the historic Buddha." Richard Gombrich: "I have the greatest difficulty in accepting that the main edifice is not the work of a single genius. By "the main edifice" I mean the collections of the main body of sermons, the four Nik?yas, and of the main body of monastic rules."
^On samsara, rebirth and redeath: * Paul Williams: "All rebirth is due to karma and is impermanent. Short of attaining enlightenment, in each rebirth one is born and dies, to be reborn elsewhere in accordance with the completely impersonal causal nature of one's own karma. The endless cycle of birth, rebirth, and redeath, is samsara." * Buswell and Lopez on "rebirth": "An English term that does not have an exact correlate in Buddhist languages, rendered instead by a range of technical terms, such as the Sanskrit PUNARJANMAN (lit. "birth again") and PUNABHAVAN (lit. "re-becoming"), and, less commonly, the related PUNARMRTYU (lit. "redeath")." See also Perry Schmidt-Leukel (2006) pages 32-34, John J. Makransky (1997) p.27.
^Graham Harvey: "Siddhartha Gautama found an end to rebirth in this world of suffering. His teachings, known as the dharma in Buddhism, can be summarized in the Four Noble truths." Geoffrey Samuel (2008): "The Four Noble Truths [...] describe the knowledge needed to set out on the path to liberation from rebirth." See also [web 1][web 2]
The Theravada tradition holds that insight into these four truths is liberating in itself. This is reflected in the Pali canon. According to Donald Lopez, "The Buddha stated in his first sermon that when he gained absolute and intuitive knowledge of the four truths, he achieved complete enlightenment and freedom from future rebirth."[web 1]
The Maha-parinibbana Sutta also refers to this liberation.[web 3] Carol Anderson: "The second passage where the four truths appear in the Vinaya-pitaka is also found in the Mahaparinibbana-sutta (D II 90-91). Here, the Buddha explains that it is by not understanding the four truths that rebirth continues."
On the meaning of moksha as liberation from rebirth, see Patrick Olivelle in the Encyclopædia Britannica.[web 4]
^Jainism posits that there are four realms, in contrast to six of Buddhism; the Jaina realms are heavenly deities, human, non-human living beings (animal, plants), and hellish beings. Within the human realms, Jainism asserts that rebirth lineage and gender depends on karma in the past lives.
^Trainor 2004, p. 58, Quote: "Buddhism shares with Hinduism the doctrine of Samsara, whereby all beings pass through an unceasing cycle of birth, death and rebirth until they find a means of liberation from the cycle. However, Buddhism differs from Hinduism in rejecting the assertion that every human being possesses a changeless soul which constitutes his or her ultimate identity, and which transmigrates from one incarnation to the next..
^"Post-Classical Developments in the Concepts of Karma and Rebirth in Theravada Buddhism." by Bruce Matthews. in Karma and Rebirth: Post-Classical Developments State Univ of New York Press: 1986 ISBN0-87395-990-6 pg 125; Collins, Steven. Selfless persons: imagery and thought in Therav?da Buddhism Cambridge University Press, 1990. ISBN0-521-39726-X pg 215
^ ab[a]Anatta, Encyclopædia Britannica (2013), Quote: "Anatta in Buddhism, the doctrine that there is in humans no permanent, underlying soul. The concept of anatta, or anatman, is a departure from the Hindu belief in atman ("the self")."; [b] Steven Collins (1994), Religion and Practical Reason (Editors: Frank Reynolds, David Tracy), State Univ of New York Press, ISBN978-0791422175, page 64; "Central to Buddhist soteriology is the doctrine of not-self (Pali: anatt?, Sanskrit: an?tman, the opposed doctrine of ?tman is central to Brahmanical thought). Put very briefly, this is the [Buddhist] doctrine that human beings have no soul, no self, no unchanging essence."; [c] Edward Roer (Translator), Shankara's Introduction, p. 2, at Google Books to Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad, pages 2-4; [d] Katie Javanaud (2013), Is The Buddhist 'No-Self' Doctrine Compatible With Pursuing Nirvana?, Philosophy Now; [e] David Loy (1982), Enlightenment in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta: Are Nirvana and Moksha the Same?, International Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 23, Issue 1, pages 65-74; [f] KN Jayatilleke (2010), Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge, ISBN978-8120806191, pages 246-249, from note 385 onwards;
^See, for instance, the "Snake-Simile Discourse" (MN 22), where the Buddha states:
"Monks, this Teaching so well proclaimed by me, is plain, open, explicit, free of patchwork. In this Teaching that is so well proclaimed by me and is plain, open, explicit and free of patchwork; for those who are arahants, free of taints, who have accomplished and completed their task, have laid down the burden, achieved their aim, severed the fetters binding to existence, who are liberated by full knowledge, there is no (future) round of existence that can be ascribed to them. - Majjhima Nikaya i.130 ¶ 42, Translated by Nyanaponika Thera (Nyanaponika, 2006)
^The "fruit" (Pali: phala) is the culmination of the "path" (magga). Thus, for example, the "stream-enterer" is the fruit for one on the "stream-entry" path; more specifically, the stream-enterer has abandoned the first three fetters, while one on the path of stream-entry strives to abandon these fetters.
^Both the stream-enterer and the once-returner abandon the first three fetters. What distinguishes these stages is that the once-returner additionally attenuates lust, hate and delusion, and will necessarily be reborn only once more.
^"Post-Classical Developments in the Concepts of Karma and Rebirth in Theravada Buddhism." by Bruce Matthews. in Karma and Rebirth: Post-Classical Developments State Univ of New York Press: 1986 ISBN0-87395-990-6 pg 125 
^Collins, Steven. Selfless persons: imagery and thought in Therav?da Buddhism Cambridge University Press, 1990. ISBN0-521-39726-X pg 215
^"Post-Classical Developments in the Concepts of Karma and Rebirth in Theravada Buddhism. by Bruce Matthews. in Karma and Rebirth: Post-Classical Developments State Univ of New York Press: 1986 ISBN0-87395-990-6 pg 125 
^[a] Christmas Humphreys (2012). Exploring Buddhism. Routledge. pp. 42-43. ISBN978-1-136-22877-3. [b] Brian Morris (2006). Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 51. ISBN978-0-521-85241-8., Quote: "(...) anatta is the doctrine of non-self, and is an extreme empiricist doctrine that holds that the notion of an unchanging permanent self is a fiction and has no reality. According to Buddhist doctrine, the individual person consists of five skandhas or heaps - the body, feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness. The belief in a self or soul, over these five skandhas, is illusory and the cause of suffering." [c] Richard Gombrich (2006). Theravada Buddhism. Routledge. p. 47. ISBN978-1-134-90352-8., Quote: "(...) Buddha's teaching that beings have no soul, no abiding essence. This 'no-soul doctrine' (anatta-vada) he expounded in his second sermon."
^John C. Plott et al (2000), Global History of Philosophy: The Axial Age, Volume 1, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN978-8120801585, page 63, Quote: "The Buddhist schools reject any ?tman concept. As we have already observed, this is the basic and ineradicable distinction between Hinduism and Buddhism".