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Sep 26th
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Home Teachings Rebirth An Explanation of Rebirth - Rebirth is NOT Reincarnation

An Explanation of Rebirth - Rebirth is NOT Reincarnation

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Article Index
An Explanation of Rebirth
A Precious Human Rebirth
Rebirth is NOT Reincarnation
Debate of King Milinda
Putting an End to Rebirth
All Pages


Rebirth is NOT Reincarnation

Theravāda Buddhists do not use the terms 'transmigration' or 'reincarnation' because both of these expressions imply the existence of a permanent soul or self, which is contrary to the Buddha's teaching of not-self (anatta). We prefer to use the term 'rebirth.'

I will explain the distinction between the Buddhist doctrine of 'rebirth' and the Hindu doctrine of 'transmigration' — it is an important point, and one that is often misunderstood. This is hardly surprising, since it is through not understanding the nature of a person or being, a self or soul, that we have all wandered so long in the cycle of birth and death. The Buddha's teaching of not-self and rebirth was a radical departure from the theory of transmigration of souls that was commonly held at his time. Unless one studies carefully, or practises insight meditation with a strong commitment, one can easily misunderstand this teaching. Generally, people will err on the side of eternalism, or on the side annihilationism, instead of seeing the Middle Path of Buddhism.

Light a candle with a match, or visualise doing it. Hold the wick directly above the lighted match, but not actually touching the flame. Watch carefully. The wick will begin to smoke, and will then burst into flame. Does the flame jump from the match to the candle? Is the candle flame the same as the flame on the match, or is it a different one? If we describe the process scientifically we will say that the heat from the flame on the match vaporised some paraffin wax from the candle, and the paraffin vapour ignited, producing a new flame. The two flames are separate and burn from different fuels, but are causally related.

Likewise, kamma done in one existence is like the heat. The candle is like the physical basis provided by the parents. The candle flame is like the newly born being that arises dependent upon previous causes and present supporting conditions. One important difference between rebirth and the two flames is that the last conscious moment of the previous existence ceases totally, then rebirth consciousness arises immediately afterwards. No mental or physical phenomena "transmigrate" or pass between the two existences. Rebirth is simple a process of cause and effect. Whatever potential a being has accumulated throughout many existences is preserved to give its results whenever and wherever conditions are ripe. No good or evil deeds that a being does are destroyed at death. Some may be too weak to give any effect, but any significant kammas retain their potential to give results at some point in the future, as the seeds of desert plants await the coming of rain. Powerful kammas give their results immediately, while weaker kammas may have to wait for aeons to mature.



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" He who does not take the mind-and-body aggregate (nama-rupa) as "I and mine", and who does not grieve over the dissolution (of mind-and-body) is, indeed, called a bhikkhu. "

The Dhammapada

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