Reincarnation and Buddhism: Here We Go Again

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Buddhism

 Oh, Bhikshu (Monks), every moment you are born, decay, and die. ~ Shakyamuni Buddha

Perhaps one of the most controversial, debated, and confusing topics in Buddhism is that of “Reincarnation” and “Rebirth”.  If you want to get a debate started, just bring this up with Buddhists from different traditions. For years this was a confusing topic for me, so my hope is this article can easily explain this important topic.  And I promise this:  you will experience rebirth by the time you read all of it.  Curious?  Read on.

This article is part of a series on the basics of Buddhism.  Click here to view more.  

Reincarnation: Not in My Lifetime

Hope you are sitting down for this, but reincarnation (or ‘transmigration’) does not exist at all in Buddhism.  But I’m sure you have heard Buddhists talking about “rebirth”.  These are two completely different topics, which confuse Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.  The reason for this confusion, or interpretation, is many to include there is no great ‘English’ translation from the original texts.

In a nutshell, here is the difference:

Reincarnation / Transmigration

  • A major part of Hinduism
  • Your permanent and unchangingself” (ātman) is reborn again in a new body
  • Karma:  Past actions influence the present, and present actions influence the future (i.e., you’re punished or rewarded in your next life based on what happened in the past, and vice versa)

Rebirth

  • A major part of Buddhism
  • Concept of  “non self” (anattā or anatman) in Buddhism (there is no “independent” self)
  • Ignorance creates desire, and unsatisfied desire cause rebirth
  • Rebirth happens to you moment-to-moment, and also after death
  • Karma:  Actions influence the present and future (actions are stored in the Alayavijinana or “Store Consciousness”)
  • Alayavijnana is the force, or energy, that creates rebirth
  • Only the Alayavijnana (“Store Consciousness”) continues in the cycle of rebirth (last to leave your body, and first to arrive in the next body)
  • The cycle of Rebirth can be transcended

Ven. Master Hsing Yun explains rebirth in this way:

The constant state of flux, renewal and metabolic change that we experience physically (birth, old age, sickness, and death) and in our minds (the forming, existing, changing and ceasing of thoughts) are what we call the wheel of rebirth.

“Who” Experiences Rebirth?

What exactly are “you”?  In Buddhism, “you” are a continuous set of thoughts, beliefs, ideas, and of course “ego”, that form the illusion known as “you”.  This illusion you have clouds you from the fact that “you” are not permanent (“impermanence“), and you do not have an independent self (“nonself“).

OK, I know right now you either have one eyebrow raised, or pinching yourself and going “um, I can feel ME…I’m real!”.  Let’s take a second and scroll back to the top of the page and re-read the quote I had from the Buddha.  What he is saying is that you are constantly experiencing ‘rebirth’.  Science has shown that many parts of the human body “regenerate”.  You are not the “same” you as a few seconds ago, or even in a decade ago.  By thinking you are unchanging, permanent, and having an independent self is the illusion.  We call this concept and term “nonself” in Buddhism.

Compared to other religions of the world where “you” are permanent, Buddhism says the opposite because nothing is permanent, and nothing has an independent self.  The only thing that continues in the cycle of rebirth is the alaya-vijnana (“store consciousness”), which (as Ven. Dr. Walpola explains) are the traces and impressions of past actions (Karma), and the future potentials of them.  As Ven. Walpola Rahula said in What the Buddha Taughtthe wrong notion of a permanent self or soul has long been the common belief:

It must be repeated here that according to Buddhist philosophy there is no permanent, unchanging spirit which can be considered ‘Self’, or ‘Soul’, or ‘Ego’, as opposed to matter, and that consciousness (viññāṇa) should not be taken as ‘spirit’ in opposition to matter. This point has to be particularly emphasized, because a wrong notion that consciousness is sort of Self or Soul that continues as a permanent substance through life, has persisted from the earliest time to the present day.

But that’s the physical side of things, but it’s also enlightening.  The bones I had when I was 20 are not the same bones I have now.  But I FEEL the same, and can’t tell the difference.  I’ve always thought the hair I had, was the same individual strands I had since I was a baby…nope, that’s an illusion too because new hair strands are always being created.  We understand that scientifically now, as a matter of fact, but that was not always the common understanding historically.

Sentient beings (such as people) do not have an independent self that is unchanging.  The Buddha said that what we call “I” or “you” is a temporary condition caused by the combination of both physical and mental components of existence.  When causes and conditions bring these two components together, your body is formed.  And when conditions cease, your body will also cease (for example, if one of your body organs ceases to function, you have no air, no food, etc.).  There is nothing permanent in you thanks to the Buddhist concept of Impermanence (the 1st Dharma seal).  But this is not something to be sad about, in-fact it something to be happy about because it helps lead us towards understanding our true nature, Nirvana.

This all sounds very depressing of course.  If “you” are not permanent, then “who” is experiencing rebirth?  “Who” continues on?  And maybe more importantly, if “you” are not permanent, what does it matter what you do in this life?  As explained earlier, the “store consciousness” is what continues on in the cycle of rebirth which has all your seeds (actions) that are ripe to manifest in this “life” you are in now, or in the future through rebirth.

But if the physical body you have now is “gone”, and thus all your money and possessions are gone, then who “cares”?  Ah!  That is the right question.  Your body, money, possessions, and other attachments are impermanent…even in your current “life” and do not bring you real happiness (do you worry about losing them, them changing, or what happened if you did lose them?).

Understanding that everything is interconnected, nothing is permanent (impermanence), and that things like you do not have an independent self (nonself), you begin to look beyond this illusion of an “independent you”.  That little baby born halfway around the world in a poor family with horrible living conditions?  Perhaps your store consciousness made it to that baby, and through your actions (Karma) in this life you have not only allowed positive seeds to be within this little baby, but also you donated to a non-profit organization that brings healthcare and education to rural villages which thus gives this baby a chance at a better life.

Did that save or benefit the next “you”?  There is no “you” to benefit!  And that is the point…we are all connected and not independent of each other (no matter how much we try).  If a wave appears on the ocean and we call it “Bob” (since it “looks” different from the rest of the ocean and has a “body”), and then it ends on the beach and flows back into the ocean again, did “Bob” ever exist as an independent and unchanging thing?  Nope.  You also are part of a large ocean my friend.

If you are a fan of the long-running British BBC series “Doctor Who“, you’re very familiar with how the “Doctor” has changed throughout the years into a different physical form and acts differently, but is still the same stream of ‘consciousness’.  He is a completely different person each time shaped by new actions, thoughts, and impressions, but has a somewhat greater understanding of his past “lives”.  Please take this example simply as fun or with a grain of salt, since the Dr. Who series is pure fiction, and is not intended to be rooted in reality or even Buddhism.

The different "Doctors" who played on the TV show "Doctor Who"

The different “Doctors” who played on the TV show “Doctor Who”

Learn more about “Nonself” with my article here and “Impermanence” with my article here.

Karma Again?

We can’t go further talking about rebirth, without touching (briefly) on karma (you can read an entire article on karma here).  While karma is referred to in popular culture as some sort of supernatural force (almost godlike) that determines your “fate”, but it is nothing like that at all.

The word “Karma” means “deed” or “action” in the ancient Sanskrit language and is a central teaching to all schools of Buddhism, and all teachings and interpretations of the Dharma.  Karma governs the concept of “cause and effect”, meaning that all “intentional” deeds produce results that the doer (“you”) will eventual feel.

So how does this impact you?  The karma you create can influence which of the Ten Spiritual realms you want to live in (more on that in the next section).  But not to worry, you can leave the lower realms for the higher realms whenever you’d like!  YOU are in control of karma.

You make [wholesome or unwholesome] karma through three ways:

  1. Your Actions
  2. Your Thoughts
  3. Your Words

By understanding these three things create either wholesome or unwholesome karma, you can always change it…even at deaths door.

  • Wholesome karmic actions are based upon generosity, compassion, kindness, sympathy, mindfulness or wisdom
  • Unwholesome karmic actions are based upon greed, hatred, and delusion

Ven. Master Hsing Yun explained why karma is so important to the concept of rebirth:

All sentient beings are trapped in the ocean of birth and death due to their karma.  Karma is like the string that holds prayer beads together.  The string connects all the beads; likewise, karma connects our lives from the past to the present and into the future, continuously causing us to be reborn in the six realms of existence.

Like seeds in a garden, your actions (karma) are planted in the Alayavijnana (“store consciousness”) ready to be watered and grow due to causes and conditions.  This can happen when conditions are right in your ‘current’ life, or continue on during the cycle of rebirth.  For example, lets say you lie about stealing some office supplies.  You have now planted unwholesome seeds in your Alayavijnana.  If the conditions become right, such as you have to take a lie detector test for a promotion or another job, they are watered and bloom and affect you (perhaps not getting the job).  For any seeds that do not bloom in your current life, they still continue on in your Alayavijnana.  Actions are energy, so it could impact at some future time.  Because we are all interconnected, there is always a “you” that is affected (or in a reverse explanation, there is never a “you” that is not affected).

Only a truly enlightened being, such as a Buddha, is not impacted by Karma, and does not create Karma.  In this way, they escape this cycle of rebirth (since rebirth requires karmic actions).

For the rest of us we might think “it is hopeless!”, especially if we have created a lot of unwholesome Karma in our past.  Not so.  Even though Karma does not “go away”, and we have to face these repercussions (good or bad) at some time, we can still mitigate them.  I have always liked the example of the ocean and a cup of water.  Imagine if you had a cup of perfectly clear and pristine water.  You can drink it and it tastes perfect (perhaps we can create a slogan of “Karma free!”).  But if we dump this cup of water into the ocean, which is quite salty, and then dunk our cup of water in there again, we would be unable to drink that water due to the salt (and pollutants).  Now imagine a different scenario where you have that same cup of water and you pour some salt in there making it too salty to drink anymore.  Now you dump that water into a large bucket or container full of pristine clear water.  Suddenly, the salt is dispersed and not as concentrated as before making the water “drinkable”.  There is still salt in there, but you have reduced its affects.  The same holds true with Karma as you can always change your actions and start creating wholesome karma.  You can’t erase your past, but you can sure dilute it.

If a single movie [franchise] can somewhat explain rebirth and karma, it has to be the Terminator movies and TV series.  As the character Sarah Connor said in the movie Terminator 2:

The future has not been written. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.

Learn more about “Karma” with my article here.

 

Rebirth Now:  Animals, Hell, and Hungry Ghosts

You’re bound to hear about ghosts, hell, and animals…and that you can be reborn in any one of these!  While not all branches of Buddhism believe in what is known as the “Ten Spiritual Realms”, it is part of the rebirth discussion and some Buddhists believe you will be ‘reborn’ into one of these realms.

Now that you understand from this article that rebirth is happening to you all the time (or ‘moment to moment’), the Ten Spiritual realms we are going to talk about will make better sense.  Each one relates to a state of mind you have which is important because you want to be part of the higher realms:

  • The Six Realms of Desire are: Hell, Hunger (also called “Hungry Ghosts”), Animality (or Beasts), Arrogance (or Anger), Humanity (or Passionate Idealism), and Heaven (or Rapture)
  • The Four Higher (Noble) Realms are: Learning, Realization (or Absorption), Bodhisattvahood, and Buddhahood.

Takashi Tsuji puts this into perspective for us:

In what realm do you now live? If you are hungry for power, love, and self-recognition, you live in the Preta world, or hungry ghosts. If you are motivated only by thirsts of the human organism, you are existing in the world of the beast.

So, don’t worry that you will be reborn as a pigeon because you stole some candy as a kid and have ‘bad karma’.  The reason that people often believe they can actually be reborn into one of these realms, is due to a teaching performed by the Buddha with farmers.  The Buddha often used what is known as “skillful means” to explain his teachings (many which were complicated and difficult to understand) to different groups and types of people.  When he explained rebirth to farmers, he used concepts they understood such as animals in an effort to explain morality.  But due to misunderstanding the teaching throughout the centuries, it turned into “fact” in the minds of many believers.

Takashi Tsuji expands upon this:

A parable, when taken literally, does not make sense to the modern mind. Therefore we must learn to differentiate the parables and myths from actuality.

On a personal note, if we truly can be reborn as animals…I will gladly take the life of a house cat (they have it made!) 😉

One of my previous cats, Tara, getting ready to meditate.

One of my previous cats, Tara, getting ready to meditate.

Rebirth Later:  What Happens When You Die

Now that you have learned that in Buddhism the concept of “you” is an illusion, well…what happens to “you” when you die?  This section may be a little long, but there are a few concepts to explain that helps explain what happens.

In one of my favorite books, What the Buddha Taught, Theravada scholar Ven. Walpola Rahula summed up what happens when you die:

What we call death is the total non-functioning of the physical body.  Do all these forces and energies stop altogether with the non-functioning of the body?  Buddhism says ‘No’.

He later goes on to say:

According to Buddhism, this force does not stop with the non-functioning of the body, which is death; but it continues manifesting itself in another form, producing re-existence which is called rebirth.  … when this physical body is no more capable of functioning, energies do not die with it, but continue to take some other shape or form, which we call another life.

All that talk about “energies” and “force” sounds a bit mysterious, however Barbara O’Brien explains explains it this way:

One way to explain rebirth is to think of all existence as one big ocean. An individual is a phenomenon of existence in the same way a wave is a phenomenon of ocean. A wave begins, moves across the surface of the water, then dissipates. While it exists, a wave is distinct from ocean yet is never separate from ocean. In the same way, that which is reborn is not the same person, yet is not separate from the same person.

But lets get back to basics.  Why does rebirth even occur?  According to Ven. Master Hsing Yun, rebirth is a result of Karma:

Karma is the force that causes us to be born even if we do not want to be born and causes us to die even if we do not want to die.  However it is important to understand that in the cycle of birth and death it is not “we” who are being born again and again, but rather it is our karma.  Buddhist practices places great emphasis on doing good deeds because the good that we do today will form the foundation for future lives.  The right way to understand karma is not to think about what we are going to “get out of” our actions, but rather to pay attention to what we [are] doing right now, and what the effects of our actions will be.

But how does karma impact rebirth?  And how the heck is all that Karma stored up to impact rebirth?  Good question!

Now this ‘consciousness’ I was referring to earlier with “Doctor Who” is part of the fifth aggregate in Buddhism.  In Buddhism, “you” are made up of “the five Aggregates”.  These aggregates are impermanent, and don’t last (and in-fact, “change”).  They are:

  1. Form
  2. Sensation
  3. Perception
  4. Mental Formation
  5. Consciousness

All of these are connected to each other, and make you what you are.  However the fifth one, consciousness, takes a special meaning as it relates to rebirth (and is considered the core of rebirth in Mahayana).  Once again according to Walpola Rahula:

According to Mahayana Buddhist philosophy the Aggregate of Consciousness has three aspects:  citta, manas and vijnana, and the Alaya-vijnana (popularly translated as ‘Store-Consciousness’) finds its place in this Aggregate.

For most in the Theravada tradition, Alayavijnana is treated as purely as Mahayana invention (specifically the Yogacara or Vijnanavada School), and not what the Buddha taught.  It should be noted, however, that eight years after Dr. Rahula (A Theravada scholar and monk) wrote the popular book “What the Buddha Taught” (and the verbiage above), he wrote an essay on Alayavijnana (Middle Way , London, August 1967 – click here to view [PDF-9mb]) where he said at the end:

Thus one may see that, although not developed as in the Mahayana, the original idea of alayavijnana was already there in the Pali Canon of the Theravada

This Alayavijnana or “Store Consciousness” impacts rebirth.  As Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh explains:

According to Buddhist psychology, our consciousness is divided into eight parts, including mind consciousness (manovijnana) and store consciousness (alayavijnana).  Store consciousness is described as a field in which every kind of seed can be planted – seeds of suffering, sorrow, fear, and anger, and seeds of happiness and hope.  When these seeds sprout, they manifest in our mind consciousness, and when they do, they become stronger.

He later goes on to explain:

Even before agitation manifests in our mind consciousness, it is already in our store consciousness in the form of a seed.  All mental formations lie in our store consciousness in the form of seeds.  Something someone does may water the seed of agitation, and then agitation mainfests in our mind consciousness.   Every mental formation that manifests needs to be recognized.  If it is wholesome, mindfulness will cultivate it.  If it is unwholesome, mindfulness will encourage it to return to our store consciousness and remain there, dormant.

Ven. Master Hsing Yun explained (November 21st, 1982, at the CKS Cultural Center in Kaohsiung, Taiwan) that Alaya-vijnana is the crucial part of rebirth:

If it is not the physical body that is reborn, then what is this “compelling force” that is at the core of rebirth? In Buddhism, the core of rebirth is described as the alaya-vijnana (storehouse consciousness).

He goes on to say:

Alaya-vijnana is the basic source of life. As it comes into contact with different conditions and circumstances, it gives rise to various mental formations and actions, hence karma. The seeds of karma are [in turn] stored in this giant warehouse of alaya-vijnana. The relative abundance of the good or bad karma in this giant warehouse then determines the direction of the next rebirth. When a being dies, the alaya-vijnana is the last to leave the physical body. When a being is reborn, the alaya-vijnana is the first to arrive in the next body. It is the core of rebirth.

Going back to the last section where we talked about the Ten Spiritual Realms, your karmic actions and influence impact rebirth while you are alive, and after you are dead.  For example, while you are alive your karma (“actions”) can move you in and out of different realms and you are in control of it.  While you are dying, and then deceased, your karmic influences are also part of the energy that is transmitted into new life.  This doesn’t mean that literally you will be reborn as an animal, but that it will impact the new life in that ‘realm’.  But like everything with Karma, that new life can change it.  Karma is not “fate”.

If we can sum up what happens to you when “you” die:

  • Your karmic actions (good and bad) are kept in your store consciousness (alayavaijnana)
  • Alayavijnana is the force, or energy, that creates rebirth
  • When you die, your store consciousness (alayavijnana) is the last to leave your body, and the first to arrive in the next body

Alan Watts, the famous Buddhism teacher, explains about “death”, along with impermanence, reincarnation (the term he used for rebirth, especially for the era he taught in), and self/non-self.

Do You Remember The Time?

So if ‘reincarnation’ or ‘transmigration’ doesn’t exist in Buddhism, then why do Buddhists talk about past life experiences?  This is primarily the part that creates the confusion, because a rational person would think that if you recall past life (or lives), then that must have been “themselves” in that past life.

While I’m still personally undecided about recalling past lives, the Buddha did explain his past lives (as a teaching aid) in the Jataka tales.  I personally believe the Jataka tales were “Upaya” (“expedient means” in Buddhism) where the Buddha used it as a teaching aid to help explain concepts, and not as fact.

To give some modern examples, here is a video by Mindah which gives you some stories and explanation in her video about rebirth and past lives:

We’re Not Done Yet:  Rebirth in a Pure Land

Thought you were done right?  Not yet!  In Mahayana Buddhism, there is something known as “Pure Land” (thus a school of Mahayana Buddhism called “Pure Land Buddhism”).

In a nutshell, there are many ‘pure lands’ that you can be ‘reborn’ in to better practice Buddhism and achieve enlightenment.  Specifically, the appeal is that you are ‘reborn’ in a Pure Land (the Western Pure Land is perhaps the most popular) in which there are no distractions and you can easily attain enlightenment which would be difficult or impossible in the earthly world (especially for laypersons with busy daily lives!).

In my personal opinion, the Pure Land(s) are truly a mental state, but it is often commonly considered by laypersons as a place you actually “go” when you die.  For example, chanting Amitabha Buddha’s name can be closely compared to meditation and “calling out” or “polishing” your own Buddha nature.  You are not praying or chanting to Amitabha to be reborn into a future Pure Land, but putting your faith into the Buddha Nature within yourself to create a Pure Land in your own world and mind right now (this is a topic I will expand on much further in a future article on Pure Land Buddhism).

As Ven. Master Hsing Yun explained:

An example of the Pure Land on Earth is the one described in the Vimalakitri Sutra.  It is said in the sutra that although Vimalakitri lived in the saha world, his state of mind was that of the Pure Land.

To reinforce my opinion that the Pure Land should not be taken as a literal place you are reborn, we can look to what T’an-luan (476-542, the third Pure Land patriarch) said:

If people hear that they will constantly experience pleasure in the Pure Land and desire to be born there because of it, they will not be born there.

However, I will digress that there truly could be an actual Pure Land(s) you can be reborn into and if your faith is focused on this, and it helps you do good in life and be strong, then keep doing it.  My opinion is simply based on focusing on Buddhism in the world we live in right now.  Once again, I will go more into this topic when my future article on Pure Land is finished (and a link will be provided here).

Humanistic Buddhism (which is part of Pure Land) tackles this concept in a different way:  to create a ‘pure land’ in the here and now on earth, and not wait for Amitabha Buddha’s pure land to go to after you die.  By bettering themselves and society on earth, they can create a ‘pure land’ for themselves and others right now.  As Ven. Master Hsing Yung said:

Humanistic Buddhism seeks to create a Pure Land on earth. Instead of resting our hopes on being reborn in a pure land in the future, why don’t we work on transforming our world into a pure land of peace and bliss? Instead of committing all our energies to some later time, why don’t we direct our efforts toward purifying our minds and bodies right here and now in the present moment?

To learn more about the Pure Land School, download this free book by Ven. Master Hsing Yun.

I’m Getting Tired of Rebirth

Rebirth is a result of desire (greed), and there are plenty of desires out there for us to “latch” onto (the six realms of desire we talked about earlier).  But as the Buddha has taught us with the Four Noble Truths, desire leads to suffering, and suffering leads to the endless cycle of birth and rebirth.

That is why we have Buddhism, and the Buddha’s teachings, to liberate us from this endless cycle of rebirth so we can enter Nirvana.  No matter if it’s rebirth in our current life (“moment to moment”), or the continuous cycle of life and death, we can escape it and the Buddha gave us the foundation of this liberation with his instructions listed in the Noble Eightfold Path.

As Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh said:

Birth is okay and death is okay, if we know that they are only concepts in our mind. Reality transcends both birth and death.

Ven. Master Hsing Yung said:

Birth and death are like two sides of a coin.  After death, there is birth, and when you are born, you are sure to die.  However, there is a phrase that states, “Birth is not truly birth, and death is not truly death.”  Because it’s all actually just one continuing process, we should not worry much over the fleeting appearance of birth and death.

So we shouldn’t really dwell too much on “death” and “rebirth”, as this is the natural course of sentient beings.  However, Buddhism says there are two types of birth and death:  one that is experienced by sentient beings and one that is experienced by bodhisattvas and arhats.

As Ven. Master Hsing Yung said:

Ordinary sentient beings only experience fragments of the cycle of birth and death.  We only see process, but cannot see the whole.  Each time a sentient being is reborn, their appearance and lifespan differs according to their karma.  As one life ends, the next beings, without much awareness of what is going on.

Bodhisattvas and arhats experience the cycle of birth and death differently.  Such beings have incredible self-cultivation and have compassion for all beings.  They see the cycle of birth and death functioning in all things:  the rise and fall of virtues, understanding, perception, and awakening.  Bodisattvas and arhats are different from sentient beings, for while their minds are still part of the cycle of birth and death, their bodies are unrestrained by it, and can be manifested as they wish.

What a wonderful view of birth and death in Buddhism.  Of course, striving towards being enlightened (as a Bodhisattva or Arhat) is truly a goal both practitioners in Mahayana and Theravada strive towards.

Still Not Convinced?

As a Buddhist you can believe, or not believe, in rebirth and that’s quite okay.  You can still practice Buddhism without believing in rebirth (even though it’s part of the Buddha’s teachings) and nobody would think any worse of you.

There are  Buddhists who do not believe in (or embrace) rebirth, such as some secular Buddhists (if you are a secular Buddhist, you may enjoy this article about an evaluation of rebirth), or even some Zen Buddhists.  Their rejection of rebirth can be for many reasons such as misunderstanding what rebirth actually is (they believe it may be more religious or confuse it with reincarnation), that the Buddha didn’t have the scientific ability to prove or disprove rebirth, or the inability for anyone to actually ‘prove’ rebirth occurs after death.  If you are one of these Buddhists who are still unconvinced, I’d like to refer you to an essay by Bikkhu Bodhi on Access to Insight who offers a more intellectual and ethical way to embrace rebirth in their practice.

For many, however, the teaching and belief in rebirth helps them grow and understand the Buddhist teachings (to include the four noble truths and impermanence), and also provides moral guidance.

See you later! 😉

 

Article Notes

 


Copyright © 2013 by Alan Peto.
This article was originally published on 07 Jul 2013, and last updated on 13 Aug 2017.



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  • Samantha

    Alan,

    Amazingly well written article! Very clear and concise and informative. I have had some confusion with the reincarnation and rebirth concept in Buddhism. I have believed that we do live on not as ourselves but our energy or consciousness change forms. I went to a sitting where a teacher guided us through meditation and talked about some lessons of Buddhism. I was very intrigued as I have always been a learner and always on a spiritual path but I never was taught by a group or religion. I had been on my own. Everything I found through Buddhism was the same concepts and realities/truths I had found on my own path and was very excited to find a local group. However, upon questioning the teacher about some of their teachings I asked,”How do you view death, the afterlife or lack thereof, etc.” He responded, “Well we don’t believe in that. There is nothing more. When we’re dead we’re dead.”

    On driving home I rambled on to my husband about what the guy had said and we both decided the Buddhist way was not ours. It really bummed me out. Now I understand, you explained it very well, thank you. I also hope to turn into a cat my next life, I wish.

    I have a question perhaps you could answer how do you know which realm of the 10 realms you are living in? I am sure it’s simple but I wonder if you could go into that a bit more. Like right now my state of mind has been on writing my novel, yes I have daydreamed of it becoming a success but I push it away as I don’t want to get attached to it. I focus on it without really attaching to an outcome, I am not even attaching to money as a payment for my writing, I just write to write. But I do feel a need to write, obsessed almost. So could that be a desire?

    Thank you Alan again for the awesome post!

    • Thanks Samantha! I’m glad you enjoyed and got benefit from the article 🙂 Writing is a love for many people like you and me, and even many famous Buddhist teachers love to write as well! We are actually in the ‘human realm’, which is marked by passion, desire, and doubt.

      I don’t have anything specifically written on this (yet), but there is some great stuff out there already. Here is a very thorough post: http://nyoho.com/2012/07/22/staying-human/ and then +Barbara O’Brien follows up with that one about the human realm too: http://buddhism.about.com/b/2012/08/04/the-human-realm.htm

      Hope that helps! Let me know 🙂

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  • Ananda Dhamma

    Hi Alan

    in your extract from What The Buddha Taught you have omitted the wording ‘……Will, volition, desire, thirst to exist, to continue, to become more and more, is a tremendous force that moves whole world lives, whole existences, that even moves the whole world.’ I can’t understand how you have considered this to mean “So another way to explain this is your consciousness (which is not your soul or self) is what does not die but takes some other shape or form.” So Walpola Rahula has explained that it is these energies that don’t die with the body, I don’t think he is referring to consciousness. Consciousness is explained in the book, as being something entirely different from this.

    • HI Ananda! Thank you for your feedback. To answer your questions:

      1) Correct, this was parts of Walpola’s book (page 33, specifically) which was shown broken up by the three dots “…”. It was not meant to be displayed verbatim.

      2) Good discussion and question about consciousness and energies. I believe he (and you and me) are talking about the same thing. In rebirth, it is that constant stream of consciousness that Buddhism talks about (samvattanika-viññana and viññana-sotam). Some may refer to it as energy, but it is now often referred to as consciousness or stream of consciousness (Walpola, in the book, refers to consciousness as viññāṇa, and is cross referenced as such in the index). A good refrence about this changing consciousness is on page 65 (1st paragraph), as well as page 23 where he says “It must be repeated here that according to Buddhist philosophy there is no permanent, unchanging spirit which can be considered ‘Self’, or ‘Soul’, or ‘Ego’, as opposed to matter, and that consciousness (viññāṇa) should not be taken as ‘spirit’ in opposition to matter. This point has to be particularly emphasized, because a wrong notion that consciousness is sort of Self or Soul that continues as a permanent substance through life, has persisted from the earliest time to the present day.” and he continues to explain this (with a discourse by the Buddha) on page 24, 25, etc.).

      On that same page he says: “When this physical body is no more capable of functioning, energies do not die with it, but continue to take some other shape or form, which we call another life. … Physical and mental energies which constitute the so-called being have within themselves the power to take a new form, and grow gradually and gather force to the full. … Similarly, a person who dies here and is reborn elsewhere is neither the same person, nor another (na ca so na nca anno). It is the continuity of the same series.”

      So basically, I’m using (in my article) the analogy of gold and how it is shaped into different things (“…is neither the same person, nor another…”) but it is still the same gold, its shape is just different to give a correlation of how that can apply to a sentient being as well.

      • Ananda Dhamma

        Hi Alan

        this is why I can’t agree that it is my consciousness which does not not die and takes some other shape or form, from the same book ‘The Buddha declared in unequivocal terms that consciousness depends on matter, sensation, perception and mental formations, and that it cannot exist independently from them. He says: ‘Consciousness may exist having matter as it means, matter as its object, matter as its support, and seeking delight it may grow, increase and develop; or consciousness may exist having sensation as it means… or perception as it means… or mental formation as it means, mental formation as its object, mental formation as its support, and seeking delight it may grow, increase and develop. ‘Were a man to say: I shall show the coming, the going, the passing away, the arising, the growth, the increase or the development of consciousness apart from matter, sensation, perception and mental formations, he would be speaking of something that does not exist.’ Will, volition, desire, thirst, are not the same as consciousness. This is the force which does not die with the body, but continues, manifesting itself in another form, producing re-existence which is called rebirth. If we are going to quote from What The Buddha Taught, by Walpola Rahula, then I think it is incorrect to suggest otherwise.

        • HI Ananda, I believe we are talking about the same thing, but the words are getting in the way 😉

          The word “consciousness” is the same as “viññāṇa”. Walpola himself even links the two in his glossary and index (go to page 147 in his book). Perhaps you could explain your interpretation of the word “conspicuousness”, without quoting the book, to help me understand where you are coming from?

          Some additional reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vijnana

          and also:

          http://sujato.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/vinna%E1%B9%87a-is-not-nibbana-really-it-just-isn%E2%80%99t/

          where Sujato explains a lot about this, to include:

          “As in Buddhism, viññāṇa is closely associated with rebirth. In the following passage, the phrase ekībhavati refers to the withdrawal of the sense at the time of death – which is interesting since in Buddhism the same term is used to mean samadhi. Viññāṇa has two meanings here: in the first use it refers to sense-consciousness (because others realize that the dying person no longer hears or responds). Later it refers to the conscious self that takes rebirth.”

          and

          “It is in the next lines of the verse, which are usually overlooked by the viññāṇa = Nibbana school, that the Buddha’s true position is stated. With the cessation ofviññāṇa all this comes to an end. The ‘infinite consciousness’ is merely the temporary escape from the oppression of materiality, but true liberation is the ending of all consciousness.”

          • Ananda Dhamma

            Hi Alan

            I know consciousness is viññãna, nowhere above have I said that it isn’t. I am saying that it is incorrect to quote the book and then conclude from that quote that it is consciousness that does not die but takes some other shape or form. Walpola Rahula does not say this, in his book from which you have quoted. It is will, volition, desire, thirst, that does not die with the body, not consciousness. Consciousness arises dependant on one of the six faculties, eye (optical)-ear (auditory)-tongue (gustatory)-body (tactile)-nose (olfactory)-mind (mental) and physical matter. It is perfectly ok to quote the book, as it is all explained quite clearly in the book. ‘The Buddha declared in unequivocal terms that consciousness depends on
            matter, sensation, perception and mental formations, and that it cannot exist independently from them.’ A zygote has none of these faculties and therefore there is no consciousness present at the start of life. Ergo the sentence above, which reads as follows ‘So another way I like to explain about what happens after you die, is that your consciousness (which is not your soul or self) is what does not die but takes some other shape or form’ is incorrect, apart from the bit in brackets.

          • Thanks Ananda. I’m a busy at work right now, but I’ll reply back soon 🙂

          • Thanks for your patience. The newest version of this article is now live.

          • Karl (United Kingdom)

            Hi Ananda

            Its been some time since you and Alan Peto debated …

            I’m not a smart fellow but do have a new and developing interest in Buddhism/Meditation etc etc..so I did my best to try and grasp what you both were discussing.

            Can I pose just a very simple thought/concept to you, and ask for you to share your thoughts. Please understand, I am not a scholar or expert or even that knowlegeable about anything nevermind the deep academic/philosophical arguments ref. buddhism.

            —————-

            Anyway,

            QUESTION: [Please bear with me …it’s a long continuing question in three parts]

            PART A – Is it reasonable/acceptable/possible etc …for me to consider or view ‘conciousness’ (as you described it before – i.e. IS NOT the ‘SOUL’/part that continues after earthly death due to Buddha’s criteria ref. it being dependant upon one/more of the 6 faculties) akin to an ‘AERIAL’ or ‘WIFI RECEIVER’ of sorts?

            *Note:This being say the impermanent, physical component of the EARTHLY SELF.

            And assuming for arguments sake the answer is an ‘eyebrow raising’ YES,

            PART B – Would it be further reasonable/acceptable/possible etc …for me to consider or view ‘Will, Volition, Desire, Thirst’ etc (as you referred to/quoted as being the ‘energy’ (or essence) – i.e. that IS the ‘SOUL’/part that does continue after death) akin to a ‘PORTABLE HARD DRIVE’ of sorts?

            *Note:This being say the non-physical, invisible, undetectable, permanent, mobile component so to speak of the HEAVENLY SELF.

            And again, assuming for arguments sake the answer is another ‘eyebrow raising’ YES,

            PART C – Is it reasonable/acceptable/possible etc …for me to consider or view both components to be housed in the ‘BRAIN’ during my earthly existence?

            —————– End of question.

            Ok, I hope you were able to follow that. It was a little long winded but having read it I trust you saw it as a simple question/thought (atleast to help create in my minds eye a simple easy to understand concept of what you and Alan Peto were debating).

            I would really welcome your enlightened thoughts.

            Thankyou

            p.s. You’ll see I’ve posed the same question/thought to both of you in the hope I can have two perspectives. Thanks again!

          • Karl (United Kingdom)

            Hi Alan

            Its been some time since you and Ananda Dhamma debated …

            I’m not a smart fellow but do have a new and developing interest in Buddhism/Meditation etc etc..so I did my best to try and grasp what you both were discussing.

            Can I pose just a very simple thought/concept to you, and ask for you to share your thoughts. Please understand, I am not a scholar or expert or even that knowlegeable about anything nevermind the deep academic/philosophical arguments ref. buddhism.

            —————-

            Anyway,

            QUESTION: [Please bear with me …it’s a long continuing question in three parts]

            PART A – Is it reasonable/acceptable/possible etc …for me to consider or view ‘conciousness’ (as you described it before – i.e. IS NOT the ‘SOUL’/part that continues after earthly death due to Buddha’s criteria ref. it being dependant upon one/more of the 6 faculties) akin to an ‘AERIAL’ or ‘WIFI RECEIVER’ of sorts?

            *Note:This being say the impermanent, physical component of the EARTHLY SELF.

            And assuming for arguments sake the answer is an ‘eyebrow raising’ YES,

            PART B – Would it be further reasonable/acceptable/possible etc …for me to consider or view ‘Will, Volition, Desire, Thirst’ etc (as you referred to/quoted as being the ‘energy’ (or essence) – i.e. that IS the ‘SOUL’/part that does continue after death) akin to a ‘PORTABLE HARD DRIVE’ of sorts?

            *Note:This being say the non-physical, invisible, undetectable, permanent, mobile component so to speak of the HEAVENLY SELF.

            And again, assuming for arguments sake the answer is another ‘eyebrow raising’ YES,

            PART C – Is it reasonable/acceptable/possible etc …for me to consider or view both components to be housed in the ‘BRAIN’ during my earthly existence?

            —————– End of question.

            Ok, I hope you were able to follow that. It was a little long winded but having read it I trust you saw it as a simple question/thought (atleast to help create in my minds eye a simple easy to understand concept of what you and Ananda Dhamma were debating).

            I would really welcome your enlightened thoughts.

            Thankyou

            p.s. You’ll see I’ve posed the same question/thought to both of you in the hope I can have two perspectives. Thanks again!

          • Hey Karl, nice to hear form you and for your questions. If I didn’t fully understand your questions in my answers, please let me know. Most of the discussion me and Ananda were having was referring to “Store Consciousness”, which I’ll talk about in a second.

            Part A: I like your analogies, and will answer them that way as well. Yes, consciousness is dependent on the different faculties. It may be more than just a wifi receiver, but of many different inputs of a computer such as webcam (eye), microphone (audio), cpu (mind/mental), etc.

            Correct, it is not a “soul”. A major teaching of Buddhism is “non-self”…so understanding what is ‘consciousness’ helps to separate yourself from the perception of ‘you’.

            Part B: This is that store consciousness (alaya vijnana) me and Ananda were talking about. Ananda was coming from a Theravada Buddhism perspective, which often does not talk about this. Whereas I was coming from a Mahayana Buddhism perspective, which does talk about this. However, a Theravada scholar (of which we were also talking about) does say how it is part of Theravada (and you will find teachers who talk about it). I know have a link to that article in my article to show it can be an accepted teaching in Theravada.

            To answer your question, I’m not sure I would use the analogy of a portable hard drive. Maybe it could, I don’t now. I would perhaps…in a computer analogy…refer to it more as “writing code” for a computer program. With any software, there is often “bugs” (bad code) in it. These bugs can crop up from time to time (unwholesome karma) to make things difficult, even if YOU are using this software for the first time. That doesn’t mean it can impact you…you have the ability to write “new code” that can either mitigate (reduce the impact) or find a “workaround” for that bad code. Even if any of this negative karma comes into a new life, you have still have control by creating wholesome karma (new code). And that’s refreshing.
            So this storehouse consciousness is not the previous “person” [soul] being reincarnated….because there is “no self” in Buddhism, so what exactly would be ‘reborn’?! It’s just the seeds of karma. Energy? Vibes? I’m not enlightened enough to be able to describe what it is…or if that would even make a difference! 🙂
            Part C: Interesting. Yes, I would say so (I’m open for others to chime in!)…even though you have all these sensory organs, it is your mind that houses them. However looking more broadly, you could also see the ‘energy’ of actions, karma, etc. (seeds) that impact others. All related to the mind? Quite so, which is why meditation and knowledge are so important in Buddhism.
            I’m kind of working within the framework of your questions and angle here…so hopefully that helped and I didn’t botch the answers in translation! 🙂

          • Karl (United Kingdom)

            Hi Alan and thanks for sharing your thoughts and viewpoint; esp as you kept your reply commensurate with my humble analogies etc.

            Quick 2 part question comes to mind:

            I hope I can put this as I mean to and so you understand (smile).

            Q. If there is ‘no self’. Meaning, ‘Alan’ is only ‘Alan’ for this lifetime, and that is the only Alan/unique you live your life seeing/believing is the ‘me myself I’ so to speak. And that which most humans/non-buddhists commonly regard as having a constituent ‘unseen’ eternal part often called the ‘soul’ …

            Part A. Why would a Buddhist desire Nirvana ..I mean why would it matter, why would anyone be motivated to either improve upon past or create new good karma (energy code/seeds etc) if it only that and absolutely no echo/essence of ‘Alan’ (his me, myself, I) that goes on after this life? In other words, why would ANY human being be concerned if they (well not they, as there’s no self), rather this crop of seeds went onto to Nirvana or be used as software code in say a spider?

            Hmmm, not sure if I’ve put that so it can be understood (sorry).

            Part 2. It has been often reported that some (many over the years I believe) claim through deep state hypnosis etc they recall previous life events that arguably they could not have known about?

            I’m desperately trying to keep my mind open and better understand, so forgive any confusion or badly put questions.

            Final thought: if (I mean IF) this is the only existence/life that each of us can ever enjoy a ‘me, myself, I’ …I feel its much more loving and compassionate to let all those unique ‘earthly beings live in hope or belief that there’s something beautiful and heavenly beyond understanding for us all after this life …and all we have to do in this life is live well, with good virtue, love, humility, caring for all things!

            I hope you are able to share your thoughts/views and arguments for and against again Alan.

            Be well friend and thankyou sincerely.

          • Hi Karl,

            May I recommend a few of my articles that can better explain most of your questions than a short comment reply! 🙂

            Nirvana: http://www.alanpeto.com/buddhism/understanding-nirvana/

            Karma: http://www.alanpeto.com/buddhism/understanding-karma/

            Enlightenment (to include talking about ‘non-self’): http://www.alanpeto.com/buddhism/understanding-enlightenment/

            Part A: Nirvana is often thought of something that happens “after” you die, or “achieve”, but Nirvana is your “natural state”. So basically, you can “realize” or “discover” Nirvana…it is always there (we as humans have so many attachments, greed, etc.,). So why care? If you are a person who loves misery and suffering…then do nothing! 🙂 If you want to be at peace, truly enjoy life, realize what life is about, and truly “live”…then that is the goal. Buddhism is often associated with religion, but all it really is about is understanding “life”. It’s about living in the moment…the here and now. Pretty deep 😉

            Part 2: I have a whole article that could explain better: http://www.alanpeto.com/buddhism/understanding-reincarnation-rebirth/
            On a more deeper level to Part 2 answer, look at it this way: Buddhism is a path…and you take it one step at a time. As you practice, learn, etc., you begin to see how everything is connected, and how time/space doesn’t really matter as we perceive it. So things like attachment to yourself and things and greed are replaced with a more universal understanding and connection. Think of it like if you are a “having fun” teenager and you don’t have many responsibilities, but in your late 20’s you have a kid and your life changes. No longer can you be reckless…now you have someone’s future in your hands. With Buddhism, you begin to love/care about everything because you see the connections. Not like a “hippie peace and love thing”, but a solid mature understanding. It’s nothing “out there”, but basic “life”…but for humans, we are often not seeing it (here is an example: go outside and see how many people are walking around with their heads down looking at their smartphones…they aren’t experiencing or even seeing real life…).
            Going back to your question…I can’t answer about past lives. The Buddha used to explain about his “past lives” to help others learn about Buddhism/the teachings. I believe they were (what we call in Buddhism) “skillful means”. Which means it is a way to explain complex teachings in a way that is understandable and can be applied. However throughout history such skillful means teachings get swept up into “fact” or “religious level truth” in Buddhism, and can miss the point. Yet even when that happens…the teachings are there and the point gets across (and it’s ok if those starting out look at Buddhism more in the “religious” sense…humans need that).
            Tibetans look very much to past lives as well (there is plenty written about this), and a great example is the Dalai Lama line…where they believe they are reborn into a new body (there are often searches and everything) and given tests, etc.

            Bottom line…I think “previous lives” is interesting, but has no impact to anyone understanding Buddhism. You can ignore it completely and still progress (check out my reincarnation/rebirth article for more).

          • Karl (United Kingdom)

            Hi again Alan

            I trust you are safe and well..

            Thanks for such a enlightened reply …you have given me much to reflect upon. I intend to spend this weekend in thought and contemplation about all the ideas you’ve shared.

            Many thanks for taking the time to help improve my undersranding!

            Kind regards, K

          • deathdealer

            Honestly, this was a very entertaining read and full of information. In that I thank you Alan. Karl’s question elicit a very real and crucial understanding of what is and what will. In that sense, there is therefore no motivation, as any ‘one’ that lives after your ‘ Alan’ is he or she himself, and has nothing to do with you( in that sense).
            Ultimately there is too many vague and unanswered questions that Buddhism cannot answer to, as well as created many seemingly ‘deep’ concepts that is or rather, ‘hard’ for normal people to grasp. The reason is I think of it as a rabbit hole, I can for sure write something as complicated and very deep, very spirtual like what the concepts in Buddhism teach, but ultimately, it answers nothing ( in a way).

            For me, and many people, all these religions are good. Ultimately we want to ask ourselves one question: Which is real? if we believe in Buddhism, we can theoretically do nothing and wait, or try to achieve the higher ‘form’ reach Nirvana etc, ending Rebirth(which even Buddhists differ their views), or in the Hindu case, Reincarnation. But what if we only have one life? ONE LIFE.

            Think of religions as insurance, if nothing else, if it is what will guarantee your way into ETERNAL heaven, why would you want to risk ‘gambling’ on a religion that ‘deep’ but yet totally answers very little in life, with extreme distance from science and facts, as well as totally cannot explain the existence of a universe reasonably and well?

            Thanks for reading.

          • Karl (United Kingdom)

            Deathdealer hi, thanks for sharing your thoughts.If I’m totally frank/honest I gotta say (rightly or wrongly) much if not all what you said resonates with me (if I understood correctly).

            I think you are correct when you say ALL Religions are ‘good’ atleast in principle ….but for me (can’t speak for anyone else) I WANT, NEED and am SEARCHING for that one (if it is only one) religion or path or knowledge that gives me ..ME a insurance (promise) of a afterlife/existence etc.

            Without such a insurance really what motivationmotivation ..or real peace, joy or contentment do I have in this life given we humans live for just 70/80/90yrs …a breath in Earths time and not long atall.

            I think humans …need to believe they are greater than just the here and now. To live this life I for one need to believe some part of me with my memories etc etc carries on/exists in some form or another after my body has passed away.

            Saying (I) should do X and Y to get to Nirvana, but once I’m there there’s no (I), or in the case of my not getting to Nirvana and returning to live life again as a spider or rat or king or beggar etc etc, with absolutely no recognition or knowlege of my former (I)…just doesn’t compute with me.

            Hope you or anyone else takes any offence.

            Peace to ALL!

          • Vonnie A

            Hi Karl you wrote if there was even ONE path of religion that can give you assurance of Eternal Life…
            Here is one please consider it in light of ETERNITY!

            For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

            For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
            That Son being Jesus Christ. Taken from John 3:16 the Bible

          • Thanks for your feedback! Both you and @karlunitedkingdom:disqus have had some great questions.

            Buddhism actually answers all questions, but most people are not ready to hear them which is normal human behavior (for example, when I was in the 1st grade I thought that I knew EVERYTHING…but it wasn’t until I kept going through school that I learnt more and more. If I stopped at 1st grade, I’d be stuck in the same spot. Buddhism is like that, it is about individual progress not just ‘faith’ that something told to you is truthful…although the initial portion of Buddhism does have ‘faith’…as in faith that these are correct teachings…yet it is heavily reinforced that you should verify everything being taught…no blind faith here!).

            Often Buddhism is assumed to be very confusing and “deep”, as you pointed out. That is one of the primary reasons I am working on these articles…to make it more understandable. I may not always succeed, but working on that. The problem we often have in the West, is Buddhism has been mainly centered in Asia…so translations, acceptance, community, etc., are all very lacking…I haven’t yet found an English song or chant in Buddhism…but Christian (a religion that started in Arabia with no English equivalent) spread and we of course have MANY English songs, communities, etc. However, Buddhism is not a typical “religion” (i.e., we do not have a god/gods), and it is entirely about “life” and how to truly live. So, there is nothing to believe in Buddhism…because “Buddhism” isn’t a thing and doesn’t exist…but a label that is applied to how life truly is without illusions. Have you ever seen the movie the Wizard of Oz? Much like that…the Wizard was just someone behind a curtain…and then everyone became “enlightened” (just like in Buddhism) that they discovered the truth. Buddhism simply reveals the truth about life. Nothing more, nothing less.

            There is no reincarnation in Buddhism (unfortunately, this article didn’t help you with that concept…I will take a look again to see if I can reinforce that / make it clearer for other readers)…reincarnation is a popular misconception among westerners because it is easier for them to associate and understand (and in no small part reinforced by the tiny Tibetan Buddhism branch), and rebirth is not widely understood…thus often intermixed and confused by non-Buddhists.

            So, Buddhists aren’t concerned with if you are or are not interested in Buddhism. You’ll just get a smile 🙂 Because it is recognized that not everyone is ready for it…and that’s ok. Even the historical Buddha famously turned away someone from his teachings and had him stay with their own religion. Buddhism still keeps that same practice…not to be exclusive, but because there is no need to convert anyone and they should do what is best for them. If you believe there is an eternal heaven, I would be a devil’s advocate here and apply your same statement about “what is real”. I have yet to see a picture of heaven! 😉 Not saying there is not, of course, but for arguments sake…everything in Buddhism can be verified by anyone…yes, even rebirth, karma, etc. but often is perceived as only can be verified ‘after you die’, which is incorrect.

            So, you are right. If you feel Buddhism is a gamble, then stay with a faith that you feel comfortable with. No Buddhist would ever feel any hurt feelings over that…we only want you to be happy and well 🙂 Buddhism is a long term commitment, though. For example just because I picked up and read a medical book doesn’t mean I am a Doctor…it takes many years and experience to be a surgeon! Buddhism is much the same way as anything…commitment, understanding, etc. I absolutely agree that It is much easier with other religions where you can be instantly accepted into eternal bliss with pretty much no effort or work at all. Yet going back to your point/concern, it is true…what if I “achieve” nothing in this life with all this effort put in (take a look at some Buddhist monks who devote their whole lives to Buddhism)…good point! I could tell you that karmic influences are beneficial…but people may chalk that up to a gamble also. But once again, everything in Buddhism is about “right now”, not after you die (a major difference). So the deeds I do…if they don’t benefit “me”, who really cares? It helped someone (who thus has wholesome karmic seeds planted in them, and maybe it benefits someone else and so forth). Sometimes this takes many years, or heck generations, to realize. But who cares if I don’t see it? Eventually that karmic fruit blooms and someone benefits. For example, attachment to the concept of self, greed, etc., is a limiting factor for humans and all of us are on various levels when it comes to that.

            However, it is strongly encouraged you practice whatever faith you’d like! 🙂 Buddhism exists regardless of anyone believing in it, or even any Buddhists…because it’s just life. In-fact, there are many Christian-Buddhists, Jewish-Buddhists, Muslim-Buddhists, etc. Many have actually found a deeper reinforcement and understanding of their individual faiths through the practice of Buddhism. And that is something that makes the Buddha smile 🙂
            Oh and Karl, there is no getting to Nirvana…it exists right now. It’s not a destination, but something that exists every second inside you…but is kept pushed down by our human nature (it is not a “heaven”, but life as it truly is right now…not in some distant plane or place).
            Best wishes to you both! Good discussion.

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  • Adi k

    Rebirth does not happen. What it implies l. at death , with disintegration of body all enrgy are released & get mixed in Universal energy & it rains again on earth like it impermeate all.

    • Hi Adi. Rebirth and Reincarnation are not the same thing. I encourage you to read the article.

      • Adi k

        Hi Alan, you are correct, what I meant was Reincarnation, rebirth happens continuously. What I am trying to say is nothing happens (sort of of anything) when you die. what ever enrgies you have( Anology that when you are alive, cellular & chemical activities working fine, energy is concentrated in space(read your body)) when you die it is released & get mixed with eveything & become part of evey thing like God. pl forgive me for my poor understanding & language.

  • Mrzyphl Moon

    Your interpretation of Karma is westernized bunk. “Karma” to
    Buddhists is a trap. It’s failing to see the illusory nature of the
    world, and by indulging desires one becomes wound up in the “trap of
    karma” and continually reincarnates into self-visualized versions of a
    world which actually has no meaning.

    The Buddhist seeks, by achieving enlightenment, to escape from this
    trap, from desire, and to see the world as the illusion that it
    is.

    • Thank you for your feedback. Reincarnation (a concept in Hinduism) doesn’t exist in Buddhism, only rebirth. In Buddhism, there is nobody (nonself: anatta) to be reincarnated (self is an illusion as much as the world is an illusion). A fuller explanation of karma can be found here (much of what you said you will find is all there): http://www.alanpeto.com/buddhism/understanding-karma/

  • UnBorn

    What is even more interesting is that our multimedia information age is revealing to us that the Earth is indeed a Flat plane and Modern Astronomy is a sham. This implies more credence to the philosophies of these ancient sages who taught Flat Earth with Mount Meru at the center.

  • UnBorn

    The assumption that “it is the same me even then” is false;
    because it is one person who has died and quite another who
    is born. – Shantideva

    • Where did you see that in the article?

      • UnBorn

        I was just commenting on the article with a quote.

  • Swedish Otaku

    You’re contradicting yourself and it’s very unclear what you mean by many words.
    You claim that Buddha taught rebirth and karma. I read almost every single word of this article but it’s still not clear what he said it was. It doesn’t make sense if Buddha taught things that made sense and then said “oh and btw this magical thing that I can’t possibly confirm is also real”. It really bothers me as I wanna see Buddha as very wise and someone who stands for truth… I just hope it’s a misunderstanding.

    • What magical thing did he say? I would like to assist with your question, but not clear on what part in the article was misunderstood.

      • Mark

        I didn’t misunderstand. The language used is very vague and contradicting. I don’t wanna read it all again to find it but if you read it it’s easy to see how it’s not clear. Maybe there are part of Buddhism that deal with super natural stuff or such things are literal rebirth and karma, but the core does not have this. And the person who wrote this isn’t doing a good job at clearing things up.

        • Thanks for the reply Mark. I actually am the author of this article, which is why I was trying to find out what was confusing so I could either clean up that portion of the article, or engage in dialogue with you. I am always receptive to feedback, and have cleaned up articles in the past based on dialogue with others. Unfortunately, I am still unclear with what specifically you are unclear about. You mentioned the “super natural stuff”, yet I attempted to explain that does not exist several times in the article. Hope to hear back from you either in comments here, or feel free to email me: http://www.alanpeto.com/contact/

  • Raj Warnakulasuriya

    Alan,
    You know very little about Buddhism, I gather from your article, little knowledge is dangerous, A supreme science like Buddhism is not for fools especially when try to teach to others who wish to learn the truth, please stop writing what you think is Buddhism, better you learn to practice Dhamma so you will understand what I am trying to say. There are so many good websites here eg. Bikkhu Bodhi’s if you are serious to learn. They are the real Scholars one can learn from.

    • Justin Dang

      I second that. Teaching false dharma can lead to extremely bad karma as it leads so many people to the wrong path due to misinterpretation of Buddha’s teaching

      • What specifically?

        • Justin Dang

          You are very knowledgeable indeed. There are 2 things I must disagree with you regarding rebirth and Pureland. The only reason why Buddha appear in this world is to stop the cycle of rebirth in the six realms. Read yourself the Earth Store Sultra where Buddha have a sermon in Heaven. In Amida Sultra and infinite Life Sultra Buddha earnestly and repeatedly instruct his students to vow to be reborn to Amida Pureland. Buddha pour out his heart in these Sultra so that all sentient being can be released from the suffering of rebirth. There are many stories and evidence of rebirth to Pureland from old great teachers to modern day.To say Pureland only exist in your min is to discredit Buddha’s purpose of coming to Earth. Sorry my terminology is very bad and lack of knowledge to explain effectively.

          • Thank you for your reply Justin! I now understand your concern. I have updated my article to more clearly reflect that is my opinion, and some reasoning behind it. My goal was to create a complete article on Pure Land and link to it from this article, however, I have not been able to complete that yet. Please continue your faith and practice! Namo Amitabha.

    • What specifically did you find incorrect?

  • Adi k

    Hi, Alan ,i am not knowledgeable but had spent considerably time ,thinking over rebirth & reincarnation.It was always a confusing & conflicting. Bhgavd gita concepts are bit different but they are also similar. Later on I stated reading ,(recently) buddhist article. I love truth, for example newton’s law & electricity( they are real & true). What I can say after reading your article that common popular saying ” your karma goes with you after physical death is correct”. of course there is no reincarnation. Had it been been Rama . krishna, jesus, budhdha might have come back, sure they are not going to come back, we are enjoying fruits of their karma from alayvignna, as after their dead their karmas has mixed up with whole universe.

    • Thanks for your comments Adi. Let me know if you have any questions!

  • Raj Warnakulasuriya

    Alan Peto, get rid of your ego….. Dhamma lesson for you. Also as I told you earlier, Budhist teaching should not be done by fly by night teachers… so please stick to some other topic like gardening or cookery, coz you are hurting a lot of genuine Buddhist followers giving wrong information to them. You have no idea what is rebirth/ re incarnation, or especially Buddhism. At least learn what ‘Thilakane’ is, the real meaning not your version. I did tell you if you are serious to learn Buddhism please start reading Teravada Buddhism ( see website : bodhimonastery.org ) this is good for all new learners as well who are trying to learn Buddhism. This monk is an American who spent most of his life in Sr Lanka learning Budhism and did direct translation from Pali canon to English so he is a competent Buddhist teacher.
    Please Alan Peto from now on stop trying to teach Buddhism to others especially if you are a true devotee of Buddha. Thank you, My you learn Buddhism properly and follow Dhamma and attain Nibbhana.

    • Hi Raj. Unfortunately, despite my asking, you still have not specified what you found to be incorrect.

      As a Theravadin for many years, I am familiar with Theravada teachings, however this is not a “Theravada only” website (perhaps you do not like the Mahayana parts of the article? I don’t know since you did not specify.). I am not a teacher, which is clearly specified in my ‘about’ page, and this is my personal site. However, you will find well respected Theravada teachers, such as Walpola Rahula, quoted in my article. I hope you are not disputing what he said?

      I am familiar with Bhikkhu Bodhi. Here is a great quote from him about rebirth:

      “So, in the Buddhist worldview, this shore is samsara, the cycle of rebirth driven by ignorance, craving, and karma; and the far shore is Nirvana, the birth less and deathless. Whereas samsara is the realm of suffering and commotion, Nirvana is the state of supreme bliss and peace. The task the Buddha sets before us is to move from this present shore of samsara to the far shore of Nirvana; and what takes us across from the near shore to the far shore is the Buddhist path. That is why the Buddha compares his teaching to a raft: it enables us to cross the stream and reach the far shore.”

      And I encourage you to read what Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote on rebirth here: http://budsas.org/ebud/ebdha058.htm

      Thank you for visiting, and I wish you continued peace and growth in your studies of Buddhism.

  • Hi Mark. Sorry to hear that. I said in the article that reincarnation is *not* part of Buddhism, and rebirth is not the same as reincarnation. I’ll re-read what I wrote, but I don’t recall myself saying rebirth was supernatural, and wish I knew what you found unspecific so I could make it more specific. As you can imagine, it is hard to write something that every single person will understand or agree with. I do talk about a few different concepts, but that is mainly because so many different schools and opinions are out there to give a rounded article. You can scientifically prove rebirth (remember, it is not “reincarnation”). Here is perhaps a way you can ‘prove’ rebirth scientifically or in reason: your feelings, thoughts, opinions, arise and also are extinguished. You can feel happy one moment, and sad the next, or neutral. Rebirth is a constant string moment by moment, and we experience it all the time. The problem is, this is both a simple concept, and also complex due to many other things that need to be understood. If you are focusing on a “soul” being “reborn”, that is not Buddhism at all and is instead Hinduism. The two are not the same thing. There is no permanent soul (or entity) that transmigrates from one life to another in Buddhism. Thanks for replying back Mark.

    • Mark

      Well that’s good then, but then using the word “rebirth” is just stupid. It’s highly metaphorical. People already have a meaning to the word and it’s not what you describe. And then when you say scientifically prove rebirth? It’s gibberish. Yeah sure we can scientifically prove change of emotion, but we don’t have to… everyone know this.

      I wish I had the power to read it all again and write down everything I have a problem with it to get it explained, I appreciate that you’re willing to help me. But I don’t see it being worth when there is so much vagueness and metaphors and so on.

      But what you’re saying is that in Buddhism they use the word rebirth to mean different state of minds and rebirth is a metaphor to this change.

      I find that stupid.

      • Thanks Mark. I can understand you don’t have the power to re-read the article for me to help with whatever was confusing (I work a full time job, so writing articles and replying to comments takes time out of my day as well). So I appreciate your replies…I’ll try and take a look at the article again and figure out what you found confusing. As a final note, “Rebirth” wasn’t a term I coined, and it is perhaps the best “translation” from the original texts. As you can imagine a 1:1 translation of a word or term does not translate well back to English (and vice versa). Take care and be well.