I have some questions regarding this Buddhadhasa text saying there is no rebirth in Buddhism. Is rebirth not what enlightenment is supposed to bring an end to? Is there no rebirth because rebirth is actually to be understood in a moment-to-moment manner unrelated to the end of life (rebirth as pertaining to the condition of willing no more)? Then why does Goenkaji talk about "good fortune from a past life"? I thought I also heard him imply the rebirth of our consciousness in the context of suicide being a bad idea for this reason.

3 Answers 3


Buddhadhasa text saying there is no rebirth in Buddhism

The Buddhadasa text states 'birth' is the mental birth of the 'self' or 'I' thought and that there is no 'rebirth' because each time the conditioned 'I' thought is born it is a brand new 'I' rather than the same 'I' being reborn.

For example, is the 'I' you sense yourself to be today the same 'I' as when you were 4 years old?

Buddhadasa concluded there is on-going 'ego-birth' for unenlightened people but not 'rebirth'.

Is rebirth not what enlightenment is supposed to bring an end to?

The Pali scriptures state enlightenment brings about the end of the "I-conceit" (MN 22); the end of 'I-making' & 'my-making'.

The Pali scriptures (very end of MN 38) states 'birth' ends while the mind remains conscious, which supports Buddhadasa's view that 'birth' refers to the birth of the 'I' concept.

SN 22.81 also supports Buddhadasa's view.

Is there no rebirth because rebirth is actually to be understood in a moment-to-moment manner unrelated to the end of life (rebirth as pertaining to the condition of willing no more)?

According to Buddhadasa, yes.

Then why does Goenkaji talk about "good fortune from a past life"?

This is a common idea in cultural Buddhism & Hinduism, which also probably explains why Buddhism became extinct in India (since both doctrines became essentially the same).

I thought I also heard him imply the rebirth of our consciousness in the context of suicide being a bad idea for this reason.

Yes, this is also a common idea and possibly a beneficial idea, namely, to discourage people from committing suicide. However, there are no references in the Pali suttas I have read where the Buddha was pre-occupied with this concern.


The following discussion supports Buddhadasa's viewpoint:

DN 15 is the only discourse from thousands attributed to the Buddha, I am aware of, which makes an unclear inference that consciousness is 'reborn' (i.e., enters into a mother's belly).

Why DN 15 is unclear & considered by many scholars, including scholars that believe in reincarnation/rebirth, to be unauthentic is because it contradicts the many other reported discourses on the same subject.

In the many other discourses, such as MN 43, SN 22.79, MN 9, MN 148, MN 18, SN 12.2, SN 12.67, SN 22.56, SN 22.82, MN 38, SN 22.53, etc, it is written that:

  1. consciousness is (only) mental cognition (MN 43, SN 22.79);

  2. there are only six types of consciousness (SN 12.2; MN 9; MN 148);

  3. consciousness arises in dependence on sense organs & sense objects (MN 148, MN 18, MN 38);

  4. consciousness is caused by the mind-body (SN 12.67, SN 22.56, SN 22.82);

  5. for consciousness to arise without the body, feelings, perceptions & mental formations is impossible (MN 38; SN 22.53).

In summary, similar to DN 15, the idea the consciousness is reborn in the form of a 're-linking consciousness', 'stream of consciousness', 'mindstream', 'storehouse consciousness', etc, are all ideas created after the passing of the Buddha by different & various Buddhist schools. These terms about a 'rebirth consciousness' commonly used by Buddhists have no source in the original teachings.

The Pali scriptures actually state that "beings" ("sattā") or "men & women " (itthī vā puriso vā) are 'reborn'. To quote:

When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of the passing away [fall] & reappearance [rise] of beings (satta).

Here, student, some woman or man is a killer of living beings, murderous, bloody-handed, given to blows and violence, merciless to living beings. Due to having performed and completed such kammas, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he/she reappears in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, in hell.

In SN 5.10 & SN 23.2, a "satta" ('being') is described as a 'view' ('idea') about the totality of the five aggregates born from attachment & craving. To quote:

Why now do you assume 'a being'? Mara, have you grasped a view? This is a heap of sheer constructions: Here no being is found.

Just as, with an assemblage of parts, The word 'chariot' is used, So, when the aggregates are present, There's the convention 'a being'.

SN 5.10

'A being,' lord. 'A being,' it's said. To what extent is one said to be 'a being'?"

Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for form, feeling, perception, mental formations &/or consciousness, Radha: when one is caught up there, tied up there, one is said to be 'a being.'

SN 23.2

Therefore, based on the words attributed to the Buddha, what is 'reborn' appears more likely to be the 'self-view' or 'I-thought' based on all of the five aggregates rather than only consciousness being 'reborn'. In MN 38, the Buddha is reported to have heavily criticized & admonished a monk for holding the view that consciousness is reborn. To quote:

As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is just this consciousness that runs and wanders on, not another.

Which consciousness, Sāti, is that?

This speaker, this knower, lord, that is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & evil actions.

And to whom, worthless man, do you understand me to have taught the Dhamma like that? Haven't I, in many ways, said of dependently co-arisen consciousness, 'Apart from a requisite condition, there is no coming-into-play of consciousness'? But you, through your own poor grasp, not only slander us but also dig yourself up [by the root] and produce much demerit for yourself. That will lead to your long-term harm & suffering.

In conclusion, the ideas of people such as Goenka, which are also held by the majority of Buddhists, seem to have next to no basis in the original Pali scriptures. Where as the ideas of Buddhadasa at least seem to conform with a diligent (rather than superficial) examination of the original Pali scriptures. Further, the ideas of Buddhadasa can also be verified by meditative insight (where as the ideas of Goenka cannot), which conforms again with MN 38, which states:

Good, monks. You have been guided by me in this Dhamma which is to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the observant for themselves.

  • Thank you. So can this "self-view" or "I-thought" ever be reborn into a new body? What I am asking is: did the Buddha see his "past lives", or is this also popular belief?
    – AlexiaL
    Oct 16, 2016 at 9:39
  • 2
    This would be another question for the forum & is again the various different answers expected are dependent on interpretation of the language of the scriptures. Please note, however, that the literal term: "past lives" does not exist in the scriptures. The term is literally "past homes" or "past dwellings" (pubbe nivasa). Regards. Oct 16, 2016 at 10:48

I didn't read the whole thing but this part of the text that I'm basing my answer on

Now we come to the third question which they will ask: When there is no attā, then what is reborn? What or who is reborn? Forgive us for being forced to use crude language, but this question is absurd and crazy.4 In Buddhism, there is no point in asking such a thing. There is no place for it in Buddhism. If you ask what will be reborn next, that's the craziest, most insane question. If right here, right now, there is no soul, person, self, or attā, how could there be some "who" or "someone" that goes and gets reborn? So there is no way one can ask "who will be reborn?"Therefore, the rebirth of the same person does not occur. But the birth of different things is happening all the time. It happens often and continuously, but there is no rebirth. There is no such thing, in reality, as rebirth or reincarnation. That there is one person, one "I" or "you," getting reborn is what reincarnation is all about. If all is anattā, there is nothing to get reborn. There is birth, birth, birth, of course. This is obvious. There is birth happening all the time, but it is never the same person being born a second time. Every birth is new. So there is birth, endlessly, constantly, but we will not call it "rebirth" or "reincarnation."

Normally to distinguish between Hindu ideas and Buddhist ideas of afterlife we use reincarnation and rebirth as different terms.

Reincarnation is often used to describe a soul (self) being born again in another life like Hindus and other faiths believe.

Rebirth is used as a word in Buddhism to describe the aggregates constantly changing and coming together to continue existence. There is no self involved in this process.

This quote sounds like he's talking about the term rebirth:

But the birth of different things is happening all the time

But then he insists that the term rebirth involves a self.

In the text it appears that he has decided to use both terms "rebirth" and "reincarnation" to describe a process with a self and the term "birth" to describe a process without a self. His conclusion sounds controversial but he has just chosen to use words differently to most sources.

  • Thank you! That clarifies things. Is it normally considered that consciousness is transferred to some extent after life ends, i.e. that it is "my" somewhat same consciousness that will experience "my" following lives (seeing as how the Buddha could eventually recall his past lives, they must have happened to some level of "him" or his consciousness)? I hope this question is not too long for the comments, otherwise I will repost it as another question.
    – AlexiaL
    Oct 15, 2016 at 21:20
  • As far as I've seen it is common but not universal to consider all aggregates except form as transferring to some extent. There is an idea called the "mindstream" which exists in some schools en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindstream
    – Hugh
    Oct 15, 2016 at 21:49
  • 1
    Buddhadasa has said "birth" (jati) refers to the mental birth of the self idea & there is no "re-birth" because each self idea is a new self idea arising from a new sense contact. It is not the same self idea that is "re"-born therefore there is no "rebirth". Instead, there is only "birth" occurring over & over again for unenlightened beings or minds. For example, the self or "I" my mind took itself to be when it was 4 years old is obviously not the same self or "I" my mind took itself to be when it was 14 years, 24 years old, etc. Buddhadasa is referring to a conditioned impermanent self. Oct 16, 2016 at 6:11

In my understanding rebirth is a continuation of the process of causality of actions in the way that the aggregates are generated to reap the results of the past actions. This generative process of aggregates continues until one reaches the state of an arahant when his actions are not influenced by greed, hate or delusion and do generate new kamma so no new aggregates to experience the result.

Like it is said in MN 135

"Master Gotama, what is the reason, what is the cause, why baseness & excellence are seen among human beings, among the human race? For short-lived & long-lived people are to be seen, sickly & healthy, ugly & beautiful, uninfluential & influential, poor & rich, low-born & high-born, stupid & discerning people are to be seen. So what is the reason, what is the cause, why baseness & excellence are seen among human beings, among the human race?"

Why is a person born ugly? Or handicapped? This is the result of actions to be reaped by this new set of aggregates that has been generated.

Student, beings are owners of kamma, heir to kamma, born of kamma, related through kamma, and have kamma as their arbitrator. Kamma is what creates distinctions among beings in terms of coarseness & refinement."

This is an impersonal process thats why there is no 'I', aggregates arise and are destroyed and arise again and are destroyed and so on and they are chained, or linked by actions. So past lifes would be past aggregates that commited action that resulted in new aggregates.

The 'I' part is a construction of the mind, a story that we use to give meaning to things but is meaningless. The story that links out memories is somehow part of the I. Someone who lost his memories has no longer the same I that was conditioned by them.

To cling is to give meaning to things, we sometimes give excessive meaning to trivial things and we suffer because someone said something trivial.

So no meaning to the seen, heard..., just seen, heard .. equals freedom from I.

"Then, Bāhiya, you should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bāhiya, there is no you in connection with that. When there is no you in connection with that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress."[2]



As an example about consciousness transfer that is in the pali canon is the transfer of a flame from a candle to another candle. Is it the same flame? This was not said by Buddha but by an arahant that answered a kings question.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .