I have often come across this - our past karma will bear its fruits in the present life or in the future one. So how does one identify the events is the because of past karma? Where is information about previous life stored? Is it recorded in the soul? Does soul have answers of all our questions? How do I access this information? Am I delusional? I wonder.


4 Answers 4


So how does one identify the events in the present life caused by karma of previous lives?

The Buddha was able to do so (able to see in detail the consequences of karma); but it's an unusual ability.

See Wikipedia's Enumerations of special knowledges, which includes,

  1. "Remember one's former abodes" (pubbe-nivāsanussati), that is, recalling ones own past lives;
  2. "Divine eye" (dibba-cakkhu), that is, knowing others' karmic destinations;

and which ends with,

The three knowledges are mentioned in numerous discourses including the Maha-Saccaka Sutta (MN 36) in which the Buddha describes obtaining each of these three knowledges on the first, second and third watches respectively of the night of his enlightenment. These forms of knowledge typically are listed as arising after the attainment of the fourth jhana.[11]

While such powers are considered to be indicative of spiritual progress, Buddhism cautions against their indulgence or exhibition since such could divert one from the true path of obtaining suffering's release.

Where is information about previous life stored?

I think that's not explained in the (relatively early) Tipiṭaka.

I think that maybe later schools of Buddhism introduced various theories, for example:

I think this subject causes much discussion and different opinions, perhaps because it's not clearly explained by the Buddha.

In his article titled Rebirth and the in-between state in early Buddhism, Bhikkhu Sujato wrote,

So right away we get a good sense for the soteri­olo­gical sig­ni­fic­ance of rebirth within Early Buddhism. But we have learned little of the mech­an­ics of it: How does it hap­pen? What makes it work? How do we ana­lyze the pro­cess in detail? We must admit that the Āgama Sut­tas do not offer us a detailed explan­a­tion of such mat­ters. But this itself has its own sig­ni­fic­ance: for the Āgama Sut­tas, the under­ly­ing basis of rebirth is not the issue. The issue is that rebirth is suf­fer­ing, and prac­tice is needed to find free­dom. A detailed ‘sci­entific’ under­stand­ing of rebirth is mar­ginal to the lib­er­at­ive teach­ings of the Āgama Sut­tas.

Is it recorded in the soul?

Actually, talk about a "soul" doesn't sound like conventional Buddhist doctrine.

Buddhist doctrine includes Anatta.

Here are a couple of quotes about Anatta.

  • Egolessness (Anattaa)

    There are three teachers in the world. The first teacher teaches the existence of an eternal ego-entity outlasting death: that is the Eternalist, as for example the Christian. The second teacher teaches a temporary ego-entity which becomes annihilated at death: that is the annihilationist, or materialist. The third teacher teaches neither an eternal, nor a temporary ego-entity: this is the Buddha.

  • Miln III.5.6: Soul

    The king asked: "Venerable Nagasena, is a soul to be found?"

    The elder replied: "According to ultimate reality, your majesty, a soul is not to be found."

    "You are clever, venerable Nagasena."

    Vedaguu: a "knower," permanent subject of experience, soul. Vedaguu is an interesting word, originally a brahmanical term related to mastery of the Vedas. The Buddha appropriated it to mean "one who has attained highest knowledge," i.e., synonymous with "arahant." However, as the PED notes: "A peculiar meaning of vedaguu is that of 'soul' (lit. attainer of wisdom) at Miln 54 & 71."

Buddhist doctrine teaches not to view, as permanent 'self', what's found in the present six consciousnesses (i.e. what we see, hear, taste, smell, touch, and think about).

If there is no ego-entity (self-entity) now, then "rebirth" becomes kind of moot.

And in this answer Yuttadhammo Bikkhu wrote,

The Buddha never, afaik, used a term that could be translated as "rebirth". In fact, the idea of anything being reborn goes against orthodox early Buddhist teachings. Throughout the Buddha's teachings, it is made clear that at the breakup of the body there is birth, not rebirth - as in birth of new things, not the return of anything old. etc.

Does soul have answers of all our questions?

Therefore probably not: 'soul' doesn't have answers to all our questions.

The later schools of Buddhism do introduce ideas like Buddha-nature (however I don't know whether that corresponds at all to what you might want to call "soul", and I won't try to describe it here).

In the (earlier) Pali suttas, the Sabbasava Sutta warns that there are questions which should not be attended to:

This is how he attends inappropriately: 'Was I in the past? Was I not in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? Having been what, what was I in the past? Shall I be in the future? Shall I not be in the future? What shall I be in the future? How shall I be in the future? Having been what, what shall I be in the future?' Or else he is inwardly perplexed about the immediate present: 'Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? Where has this being come from? Where is it bound?'

As he attends inappropriately in this way, one of six kinds of view arises in him: The view I have a self arises in him as true & established, or the view I have no self... or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive self... or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive not-self... or the view It is precisely by means of not-self that I perceive self arises in him as true & established, or else he has a view like this: This very self of mine — the knower that is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & bad actions — is the self of mine that is constant, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and will stay just as it is for eternity. This is called a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. Bound by a fetter of views, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person is not freed from birth, aging, & death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. He is not freed, I tell you, from suffering & stress.

You asked in the OP, "Am I delusional?" Maybe this is an explanation: i.e. attending to questions about self-in-the-past and soul, is a recipe for becoming "inwardly perplexed" and "a fetter of views".

(The antidote, i.e. what should be attended to instead, is the four noble truths etc.)

See also The unanswered questions.


As we Buddhists believe there is no Soul. Karma is a universal force that is not yielded or governed by anyone but acts alone in its own right.

There is no personal Karma,Karma is an Universal entity that effects every living thing with the exception of an "Arahant(A one who has reached nirvana)" So when you do things that generate karma your future immediately changes.

As to Lord Buddha there is no Soul. The six receptors (eyes,ears,tongue,body,nose,mind) take in preferred forms of input (light,sound,taste,touch,smell,thoughts).Then the mind recognize them and start making thoughts and logic.

This process ends with death.

Lord Buddha said that a dying mind creates a copy of itself when it dies in the next place of birth of this being (Just like you backup your phone or computer).So this new mind will be what this being will recognize as itself.

so there is no soul, it is a backup process of a dying mind. all the memories and karmas get copied.

Please note this is a loose interpretation of a deep "Abhidhamma" teaching. So please refer a good "Abhidhamma" book for further understanding.

The confusion you are in is normal once you learn the right teachings you will get out of it.

  • 3
    "Lord Buddha said that a dying mind creates a copy of itself" -- Can you reference this statement, i.e. say where it comes from?
    – ChrisW
    Nov 21, 2015 at 17:53
  • I can give you some guidance to find it but i am sorry i do not remember the name. This is in "Tipitaka". There is a teaching on the last few steps of a mind that is about to die. Refer this word it might help (Javan / Jahan sitha). I heard this in a sermon and if you ask a Sri Lankan you will find it right away. @ChrisW
    – Theravada
    Nov 22, 2015 at 18:36
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    Thanks for the reference. There is a word "Javana Citta" described in the Abhidhamma (see e.g. this answer and these posts). And there's something called "maranasañña-javana" and "cuti-citta" (mentioned in section VI of this) ... but although these are Buddhist beliefs, I suppose I don't think of the Abhidhamma as something which the Lord Buddha said -- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abhidhamma_Pitaka#Origins
    – ChrisW
    Nov 22, 2015 at 19:08
  • We as Sri Lankan Buddhists believe Abhidhamma as a part of Theravada Buddhism. By the way if we accept it as a theory doesn't it fill in the blanks? I mean this is the only explanation I've ever found as an answer to the question "what happens to memories when we die". Now when i think of it this might be a great question to ask form our friends. By the way Abhidhamma may or may not be Lord Buddha's but no one has ever proven it wrong or misdirecting (Not even an arahant) @ChrisW
    – Theravada
    Nov 23, 2015 at 19:33

As of my understanding,

There is no such a thing called 'soul', which we take from this life to next life ans so forth. There is only continuous thought sequence.

How I thinks these Karma works on our lives is this. Once we did a thing which cause to a Karma, immediately it generates it's fruits which we will experience either this life or in future. It's like Newton's third law. If we did something, there are counter forces which generated.

Let's say I offered a flower to the Blessed one. First I think I should do this and then I do it. this action has a power which generates a counter power as well. Our thought sequence will experience this counter power in someway. All the incidents, situations to experience this counter power will done by the world/universe.

What lord Buddha said about this is, We as normal people can't think how this happens with our normal minds. But we can think that it happens (like if we did a good thing, a good thing will happen to us. If we did a bad thing a bad thing will happen to us. like wise).

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    If we have a something called 'soul' which remains all the time and comes with us for all our lives, then Buddha's word of saying that everything is Anitta' will be false. and hence whole foundation of Buddhism will be scattered. Oct 1, 2015 at 6:34
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    We don't know if there is a soul or not! After all, this is all belief, at least ours...
    – draks ...
    Oct 1, 2015 at 11:00
  • 4
    We are all talking about things according to Buddhism here. So according to Buddhism, there is no soul. Oct 1, 2015 at 11:14
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    Hey @draks... we know there is no soul because we are Buddhists! If you have any doubts about Lord Buddha's teaching what are you doing in Buddhism SE?
    – Theravada
    Nov 21, 2015 at 16:52
  • 3
    @Theravada, please don't be offensive to other members. If someone has doubts about Buddha-Dharma, they are very welcomed on this site, to ask and clarify their doubts.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Nov 21, 2015 at 18:23

From what I understand, the concept of soul does not exist in Buddhist teachings.

It helps to define it properly in English:

  1. Self (there is a self)

  2. No self (there is no self)

  3. Non-self / Not-self

    Excerpt below quoted from Strategies of Self & Not-self:

Tonight I'd like to talk more about why the Buddha refused to get involved in the issue of whether there is or is not a self. This will involve discussing in more detail two of the points I made last night.

The first point is that the Buddha's teaching was strategic, aimed at leading to a specific goal: total freedom in the minds of his listeners. The second point is that, as part of this larger strategy, the Buddha had strategic reasons for putting questions of the existence or non-existence of the self aside.

Part of his teaching strategy was to divide questions into four types, based on how they should be best approached for the purpose of putting an end to suffering and stress [§9]. The first type includes those that deserve a categorical answer: in other words, a straight "yes" or "no," "this" or "that," with no exceptions. The second type includes questions that deserve an analytical answer, in which the Buddha would reanalyze the question before answering it. The third type includes questions that deserve a counter-question. In other words, he would question the questioner before answering the original question. And the fourth type includes questions that deserve to be put aside as useless — or even harmful — in the quest to put an end to suffering. And, as I said, the questions, "Is there a self? Is there no self?" are ones he put aside.

Here's the passage where the Buddha explains why:

"Then Vacchagotta the wanderer went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings and courtesies, he sat down to one side. As he was sitting there he asked the Blessed One, 'Now then, master Gotama, is there a self?' When this was said, the Blessed One was silent. 'Then is there no self?' The second time the Blessed One was silent. Then Vacchagotta the wanderer got up from his seat and left.

"Then not long after Vacchagotta the wanderer had left, Venerable Ānanda said to the Blessed One, 'Why, Lord, did the Blessed One not answer when asked a question by Vacchagotta the wanderer?'"

And here's the Buddha's response: "Ānanda, if I, being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self were to answer that there is a self, that would be conforming with those brahmans and contemplatives who are exponents of eternalism [the view that there is an eternal, unchanging soul]. If I, being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is no self were to answer that there is no self, that would be conforming with those brahmans and contemplatives who are exponents of annihilationism [the view that death is the annihilation of the self]. If I, being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self were to answer that there is a self, would that be in keeping with the arising of knowledge that all phenomena are not-self?"

And Venerable Ānanda said, "No, Lord."

Then the Buddha said, "And if I, being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is no self, were to answer that there is no self, the bewildered Vacchagotta would become even more bewildered: 'Does the self that I used to have now not exist?'"

— SN 44.10


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