Buddhists believe that there are cycles of death and rebirth throughout one’s lifetime.
This post will explore some of the beliefs and theories related to rebirth or reincarnation within Buddhism.
The concept of the soul being trapped in a cycle of death and rebirth until it achieves purification is well recognized in Buddhism.
It’s important to note that the terms
“rebirth” and “reincarnation” are not synonymous, though they are often used interchangeably.
Do the Buddhists Believe in Reincarnation?
Yes, Buddhism acknowledges rebirth.
However, rebirth and reincarnation are subject to different definitions. Buddhism denies traditional views on reincarnation because it believes the soul does not have a permanent nature.
And therefore, after death, it ceases to exist. It doesn’t go anywhere because there’s nowhere to go.
Buddhism has its own theory that associates rebirth with samsara and karma. Rebirth in Buddhism refers to the continuation of life which is affected by causation from one incarnation to another.
The idea is an expression in Buddhist thought stating that events are not random; rather, they cause other events and occur within a context of continuity and karma (causal actions).
Karma can be roughly defined as action or intention that causes effects on future circumstances including rebirths.
However, current lifetime’s karma may not necessarily influence one’s future lifetimes beyond the effect of natural laws without free will.
Did Buddha Believe in Rebirth?
If you study Buddha from his childhood, all through the course of his life including his last day, there will come to your mind an irresistible and indescribable feeling that he believed in it with a certainty which is beyond doubt.
He believed in rebirth and a law-governed continuity from one life to another. The Buddha denied an immortal soul (of all living beings) and asserted that there is no self apart from the five aggregates.
Traditional terms for the self-refer to something that is definite and tangible in contrast to the five aggregates; it also differs from any material form or other mental state experienced by senses.
However, the self is only a conventional designation that refers to a process of change which includes color, shape and any other material form as well as a mental state.
The fundamental concept behind rebirth is karma – actions having consequences.
In the case of reincarnation, those actions follow you from life to life in an unbroken chain until you make amends for your misdeeds and learn things the hard way.
The Buddha believed that the physical body was corrupt and impermanent, so it had to be discarded after death.
The idea of rebirth rejects any conception of an unchanging self or soul.
According to Buddhism, a new consciousness comes into being with every birth and passes on when the person dies, thus eliminating a permanent unchangeable entity that moves from one life to another.
Rebirth is not about someone coming back as you do in reincarnation but rather it is the passing away of one state of existence and arising in another – a process of transition/transmigration which will cease only when Nirvana is reached.
Why Did Buddha Believe in Reincarnation?
The Buddha believed in rebirth, but not reincarnation in the conventional sense.
It is not about an unchanging self or soul (the idea of an atman, which the Buddha denied). The Buddha explained rebirth through karma and dependent origination.
Karma attaches itself to a person like a shadow, giving rise to a particular set of circumstances that conditions one’s current life; this process continues lifetime after lifetime until it comes to rest with Nirvana as the final goal.
Is Reincarnation Buddhism or Hinduism?
Depends on how you define reincarnation. Hinduism sees reincarnation as the act of a soul changing bodies, while Buddhism sees it as the flow of life from one to the next.
Hinduism’s cycles of life, death and rebirth are essentially circular, while Buddhism sees the process as ultimately linear.
Hinduism believes in multiple lives, where one may become a man or a woman depending on their karma; according to Buddhism you will live only one life but will be born again based on your karma.
What Is the Difference Between Hinduism and Buddhism Reincarnation?
Though both religions accept the concept of rebirth, there are notable differences between them:
- 1. Hinduism accepts that souls can take birth in different species (human being – animal being) while Buddhism denies it.
- 2. Buddha rejected atman (soul); he accepted only five aggregates (body, feeling, consciousness, volition and sensations).
Hence, Buddhism does not accept rebirth as understood in traditional Hinduism, which believes that the soul (atman) transmigrates to another body upon death.
However, it does believe in an afterlife and a process of transition/transmigration after death wherein current lifetime’s karma may not necessarily influence one’s future lifetimes beyond the effect of natural laws without free will.
Events are not random; rather they cause other events and occur within a context of continuity and karma.
Why Does Hinduism and Buddhism Believe in Reincarnation?
Hinduism and Buddhism teach that we are bound to the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth until we have attained enlightenment.
Why is this so? If you believe in a permanent soul, as Hinduism followers do, then it makes sense to tie its fate to the life cycle – souls arise out of the soul world into an incarnation with some personality traits based on good or bad karma earned in previous lives.
Once a person dies, his or her indestructible soul goes back to live again (or go on) in another body somewhere else along its journey toward perfection (enlightenment). There’s nothing left behind at death but a new set of circumstances due to past actions.
On the other hand Buddhism followers justify the idea of rebirth by karma. The karma from past lives is the reason that a person is born here and it’s also the reason for the circumstances one finds oneself in.
In order for a person to escape the cycle of rebirth, he or she must achieve enlightenment.
In Buddhism, this means the soul becomes free from all desires in order to stop its cycle of birth and rebirth. It goes without saying that it takes multiple lifetimes (or rebirths) to achieve this final stage.
Do Zen Buddhists Believe in Reincarnation?
This is a difficult one to answer, because many Zen Buddhists believe in rebirth, but others do not.
Zen teaches that what is important is to live in the present; so many modern Zen Buddhists are rejecting the concept of rebirth. The concept of rebirth only serves as an excuse for people to live in the past or future and thereby neglect the present moment.
In other words, while many might be interested in how they got here and where they may go next when they die, Zen teaches us that it’s most important to focus on living life now.
The issue with Samsara is open-ended questions about things we have no control over – such as whether we will take birth again and if so, what we’ll be born as. Very little can actually be known about these things.
Does Mahayana Buddhism Believe in Reincarnation?
Yes, Mahayana Buddhism believes in rebirth (but not reincarnation). Mahayana Buddhists believe that you can be reborn in any of the six realms.
The six realms are – gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, hungry ghost and hells. The realm you are reborn into is dependent on your karma.
However it is possible to escape the cycle of rebirth by following the teachings of a Buddha and attaining enlightenment as a Bodhisattva.
There’s no reincarnation – there’s only rebirth since there is no permanent soul or self.
Does Theravada Buddhism Believe in Reincarnation?
Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism both believe in rebirth (and not reincarnation).
Does Tibetan Buddhism Believe in Reincarnation?
Rebirth is also part of Tibetan Buddhist belief system. Tibetan Buddhism also recognizes a 49-day interim existence (bardo) between death and rebirth.