According to Buddhist teachings, is it possible to continue to reborn and suffer for all eternity?

Suppose if a being never attained any merit, never was able to work through its old karma. Would it be possible for that being to never escape suffering?

I have heard some people say:

No, nobody can be reborn and suffer forever. For an extremely long time, maybe, but not forever.

I mean, forever is really an astounding concept. Even if you take billions of trillions of gazillions of births it's still nothing compared to forever.

If it's not possible to be reborn forever, then it implies that all beings are eventually destined for Enlightenment. Some may have an insanely long way to go, but if they're not gonna be reborn forever, then they have to eventually attain Enlightenment?

Do some beings continue to be reborn and suffer forever, or are all beings destined to attain Enlightenment eventually?

I prefer answers that give sources and all that. But some nice reasoning is also welcome.

  • The Buddha didn't gave an answer to "how many beings will be escape", all, or... so how could someone here give an answer of use for what can be done? It's total irrelevant for ones practice but catches one in papanca and such questions had been layed aside by the Sublime Buddha and told to do likewise, good householder.
    – user11235
    Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 13:42

5 Answers 5


First, if I may, I will correct one misunderstanding: Enlightenment = free from rebirth =/= not no MORE rebirth...

Enlightenment means one will not be bounded on the wheel of destiny--rather one will be able to help others freely. Thus, do not equate Enlightenment with totally never being born. It's beyond born and unborn.

To answer your question: The latter is correct: all beings are destined to attain Enlightenment eventually. The Mahayana sutras state how people will all be saved at some time or another, specifically Maitreya Buddha who, when he returns, will deliver "billions" of beings at a time through the universe. (Surangama Sutra)

Here is more info on this Buddha:

Maitreya Bodhisattva is the future buddha of this world who currently resides in the Tushita Heaven. A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts relates the following information about him:

"A bodhisattva predicted to succeed Shakyamuni as a future Buddha. Also called Ajita, meaning 'invincible.' Some accounts view him as a historical personage who preceded the Buddha in death. He is said to have been reborn in the Tushita Heaven where he is now expounding the Law to the heavenly beings there. It is said that he will reappear in this world 5.670 million years after Shakyamuni's death, attain Buddhahood, and save the people in Shakyamuni's stead. For this reason he is also sometimes called Miroku Buddha. Belief in Miroku prevailed in India around the beginning of the first century A.D., and spread to China and Japan. In the fourth century, a monk named Maitreya (c. 270-350) became famous as a scholar of the Consciousness-Only school, and was later identified with this bodhisattva." (pp. 266-7)

Maitreya Bodhisattva is the only bodhisattva who is revered by both Theravadin and Mahayana Buddhists (aside from Siddhartha Gautama and his past lives as a bodhisattva). His coming is predicted in the Pali Canon as well as in the Mahayana Sutras.

Although no one falls on the end of the "forever" spectrum--nonetheless, there are certainly people are closer on the spectrum towards "forever" than others, having lived a very impetuous existence with little consideration for spiritual cultivation or making merit (e.g. chanting a Buddha's name).


Many people are interested in living forever (eg Christians) because such people do not think living is suffering. Instead, they wish to spend forever with their loved ones. That is why they are not queuing up to practise Buddhism.

My impression is Buddhists are similar, in that they wish to believe in reincarnation so they can live more lives. That is why most Buddhists are not practising the path, hardcore, but preaching that Buddhists must believe in reincarnation, rebirth, whatever.

Also, Buddhism does not state making merit ends suffering (SN 12.51) so what is its relevance?

Also, Buddhism does not state all beings are destined for enlightenment (AN 10.95).

Imo, the questions are an extreme & pointless misrepresentation of Buddhism. If the questioner truly believe they were suffering, they would be a monk urgently putting out the suffering, like as if their hair was on fire.


A person with achieved enlightenment will end the birthing cycle and go to nirwana. It is the greatest achievement of a Buddhist. Lord Buddha has told until there is no beginning or an end to the birthing cycle of all beings. So it is wise to go to nirwana and end the tormented cycle of sansara.


From the viewpoint of most (if not all) Buddhist schools, you have been being reborn since beginningless time- all the way through repeated universes as they come and go in their own cycles.

You will continue to do so.

The point is, you may be fed up of the suffering that you continue to experience. Enlightenment (or Nirvana) is a permanent (as in forever) and irreversible step out of the suffering.

In some Mahayana schools, this does not mean an end to the continuum of consciousness though. It's not really 'rebirth' as you think of it, as being free from the idea of 'self' frees you from having to plod around as a single being. Once enlightened a Buddha is able to be reborn (or merely manifest) simultaneously in multiple (no limits) places across the universe.


SN 22.99 - Gaddula Sutta: The Leash


Supreme Buddha’s answer to your question in found in the Gaddula Sutta. So it is more or less eternity as He says, “Unimaginable, Bhikkhus, is a beginning to the round of births [and deaths]. For beings obstructed by ignorance and fettered by craving, migrating and going the round of births, a starting point is not evident.” Only if you could realize the Dhamma of a Supreme Buddha, you will escape this eternity. But you know what, it is so rare is it to find a Supreme Buddha! Do you have any idea what an aeon (world cycle / kappa) is? It is equivalent to eternity. Only by a simile you will get an idea of it. The Buddha offers a vivid simile to suggest the eon's duration.

Anamatagga-samyutta — The unimaginable beginnings of samsara. In Samyutta ii, Chapter XV, the Buddha used the parables of the hill and mustard-seed for comparison:

• Suppose there was a solid mass, of rock or hill, one yojana (eight miles) wide, one yojana across and one yojana high and every hundred years, a man was to stroke it once with a piece of silk. That mass of rock would be worn away and ended sooner than would an aeon.

• Suppose there was a city of iron walls, one yojana in length, one yojana in width, one yojana high and filled with mustard-seeds to the brim. There-from a man was to take out every hundred years a mustard-seed. That great pile of mustard-seed would be emptied and ended sooner than would an aeon.

In the last 91 Kalpa (Aeons) only 7 Buddha’s have come. At the time of the next Buddha, the average lifespan of a human is going to be eighty thousand years. (In the present day it is around 60 -80 years). What are our chances of being born during that time, when we could never meet any of the past Buddhas and are still in this samsara?

  • 1
    We can meet the Buddha in the suttas. In the Gaddula Sutta, samsara was described as: ""He keeps running around and circling around that very form... that very feeling... that very perception... those very fabrications... that very consciousness". Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 9:10
  • If you would read my post again, you will see that I pointed out the urgency. Now you know the danger of this Samsara. You and I would have committed suicide a countless number of times in our previous births. This shows the urgency and importance of becoming a Sotha-Aapanna – to get into the stream – the Noble Eight-fold Path. Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 9:42

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