"On the other hand, superior Bodhisattvas, who have attained the path of seeing, are not reborn through the force of their karma and destructive emotions, but due to the power of their compassion for sentient beings and based on their prayers to benefit others. They are able to choose their place and time of birth as well as their future parents".

-- Reincarnation by The Dalai Lama

So Superior Bodhisattvas can choose where to take rebirth, but the rest of us can't. So, what chooses where the rest of us get to take rebirth?

How does "the force of karma" determine where the mind stream goes after physical death?

In the case of the Bodhisattvas, is it their mind stream that makes the choice? And when they make this choice, do they choose from available alternatives and just pick what suits them best or do they have the power to create their ideal rebirth?

2 Answers 2


This question is very similar to another: Does Mahayana Buddhism discourage attaining enlightenment under the Gautama Buddha Sasana? In my answer to that question I explained how the bodhisatva who post-pones enlightenment developed.

How does "the force of karma" determine where the mind stream goes after a physical death?

Many different answers have been proposed and adopted by Buddhists of different schools at different times to try to account for how karma determines where the mind stream goes after death. But no one really knows. We say that this is what happens, but a satisfactory explanation of the process is entirely lacking. We sometimes use analogies to try to explain, but they don't really tell us anything about the reality of this process.

The bodhisatva choosing their rebirth is simply an article of faith.


An analogy given to me was to imagine a person who for most of their life is a big game hunter. Perhaps hunting deer. The person grew up hunting deer with their father and grandfather perhaps. The person was around hunters all their life and surrounded themselves with similar people. Hunting deer occupied the thoughts for a very large percentage of their life. The thought of shooting and killing deer and the actual action of doing it was a well worn habit. So much so that the person self-identified as a hunter of deer first and foremost and became very attached to this description.

At the moment of death, perhaps with such a well worn habit of mind, the thought of hunting deer occupied it. The persons mind was uncontrollably habituated to the thought of killing deer and so at the moment of death they found themselves occupied with this thought. What kind of life do you think this person attained after death?

Now what about a person who dedicates all their life to helping others through compassion? Who occupies their mind with boundless compassion? Who is no longer slave to destructive emotions? Who has a disciplined mind trained through years of meditation focused on helping others? I think this is the thrust of the answer...

I would also add that according to my tradition (Gelug branch of Tibetan Buddhism) the mind stream never ends. That is, the Buddha does not cease to exist upon reaching enlightenment and then entering Parinirvana.

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