Is it possible to maintain certain skeptical doubts about literal reincarnation and continue to work towards stream-entry, assuming one's practice is sincere and vigilant?

  • Reincarnation is NOT Rebirth. The many links that I've provided are about re-birth, as opposed to reincarnation. Reincarnation implies all of us were here before, in a prior life. There is no transmigration or reincarnation of an enduring, unchanging soul. Nothing substantial is transferred from one life to the next, only the good and bad karmic effects in the form of thought energy. Reincarnation can be taken as Christian equivalent of Buddhist Re-Birth. Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 3:49

6 Answers 6


Is it possible to maintain certain skeptical doubts about literal reincarnation and continue to work towards stream-entry, assuming one's practice is sincere and vigilant?*

Yes it's possible.

Skeptical doubt about the (whole) Dharma, about Buddhism (in general), is a hindrance (I think it would hinder "continuing to work").

The fact that you do continue, sincerely, suggests a certain absence of doubt.

I'm not sure what you mean by "maintaining" a doubt. "Reincarnation" might be a topic where you'd find it more useful to be agnostic (i.e. "I don't know, I'm not sure, I don't understand, let's put that topic aside for now") rather than either believing or disbelieving. It's apparently a topic on which different people disagree (though you'll often find people try to emphasize that the dharma is "birth" or "rebirth" and not "reincarnation"); leaving that aside, perhaps there are other (perhaps, even, more important) topics that it's good to ascertain.

The topic (of rebirth) might become clearer as you understand other aspects of dharma.

There's even the Kalama Sutta, which suggests that "doubt", at least initially, about doctrines you find doubtful, is proper:

It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; etc.

To be honest I fear that "reincarnation" is a topic which puts many Westerners off Buddhism. All they know about it is, "Oh, Buddhism: that's something to do with reincarnation, isn't it? Well I don't believe in reincarnation, so I'm not interested in Buddhism." I think that's a mistake, though. Obviously a disbelief in reincarnation does prevent (some) people learning more/anything about Buddhism, but I think that isn't necessary so.

To "cross the stream" I suggest it makes sense to concentrate not (or not only) on what you doubt (e.g. "reincarnation").

  • I need to review Kalma sutra and revert to you. Looks like it doesn't ask us to doubt dhamma accordingly a trustworthy source. However, I need to back it up so I'll read the sutra first 🙂 Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 23:16
  • 1
    The Cūlahatthipadopama Sutta, although speaking of the Tathagata, is pretty neat if understood more broadly. That is, that we must be careful and avoid taking something as true after seeing only some footprints of it, without seeing it.
    – user382
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 0:12

Is it possible to maintain certain skeptical doubts about literal reincarnation and continue to work towards stream-entry, assuming one's practice is sincere and vigilant.

However, to sincerely & vigilantly work towards stream-entry, it is preferable to have the absolute conviction there is no 'reincarnation' (i.e., life after the termination of life) at all because the basic realisations of stream-entry are:

(i) there is no real self (to continue when life ends); and

(ii) all that is subject to arising is subject to cessation.

About 'vigilance', the Buddha's final words were:

Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with vigilance!

Maha-Parinibbana Sutta

The fetter of doubt (vicikicchā) in respect to the teachings (which must be broken for stream-entry) is not related to any perceived (interpreted) teachings about reincarnation. Instead, it is related to the noble or transcendent (lokuttara) teachings, such as the Four Noble Truths & the Three Characteristics of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness & not-self (which are not about reincarnation).

The Teachings or True Dhamma is described as follows:

The Dhamma is visible in the here-&-now, timeless (immediately effective), inviting verification (inspection), pertinent, to be realized (verified) by the wise for themselves.

Sanditthika Sutta: Visible Here-&-Now

If the Pali scriptures are read, there will be no account of stream-entry found based on teachings about reincarnation. Accounts of stream-entry are as follows:

The Blessed One discoursed to him a graduated sermon. He spoke on the subjects of generosity, virtue, the heavens (mental states of happiness), on the evil consequences, the vanity and the depravity of sensual pleasures, and on the advantages of renunciation.

When the Blessed One perceived that the mind of Upāli, the householder, was prepared, pliant, free from hindrances, elevated and lucid, then he revealed to him that exalted doctrine of the Buddhas, viz. Suffering, its Arising, its Ceasing and the Path.

Just as a clean cloth, free from stain, would take the dye perfectly, even so, to Upāli, the householder, whilst seated in that place, there arose (in him) the spotless, stainless vision of Truth. He knew: Whatsoever has causally arisen must inevitably pass utterly away.’

Then Upāli, the householder, having thus, in the Dispensation of the Exalted One seen the Truth; attained to the Truth; comprehended the Truth, penetrated the Truth, overcome doubt; cast off uncertainty and gained full confidence without dependence on another.

Upali Sutta

The Pali scriptures, particularly MN 117, state any teaching that infers reincarnation is only a teaching that supports the practise of morality but not liberation; that such a teaching is polluted (by asava; defilements), is not 'noble' & results in attachment/acquisition (upadhi), as follows:

And what is right view? Right view, I tell you, is of two sorts: There is right view with effluents (asava), siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions [of becoming; upadhi]; there is right view that is noble, without effluents, transcendent (lokuttara), a factor of the path.

Stream-entry is a 'noble' attainment therefore can only be attained by following the noble transcendent (lokuttara) teachings, as follows:

Thus you should train yourselves: 'We will listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent (lokuttara), connected with emptiness (sunnata) — are being recited. We will lend ear, will set our hearts on knowing them, will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.' That's how you should train yourselves.

Ani Sutta


To start the practice of Vipassana you do to believe in the teaching of rebirth if you subscribe to another line of thought:

(1) Nigrodha, you may think,
    ‘The recluse Gotama says this to win disciples.’ This is not so.
        Let whoever is your teacher remain as your teacher.
(2) You may think,
    ‘The recluse Gotama says this to make us fall from our rules.’ This is not so.
        Let your rules remain as your rules.
(3) You may think,
    ‘The recluse Gotama says this to make us fall from our livelihood.’ This is not so.
       Let your livelihood remain as your livelihood.
(4) You may think,
    ‘The recluse Gotama says this to make us do unwholesome things and follow unwholesome teachings.’ This is not so.
       Let what you consider unwholesome continue to be so considered.
(5) You may think,
    The recluse Gotama says this to separate us from wholesome things and wholesome teachings.’ This is not so.
        Let what you consider wholesome continue to be so considered.
—I do not speak for any of these reasons.

Udumbarika Sihanada Sutta

Your belief can be conditioned by contemporary thinking, other religions beliefs or maybe you logical deduction. Holding on to these beliefs generate caving and aversion hence misery so as you practice let go of them and let the right view develop in your mind based on understanding. Every moment rebirth is happening where mind and matter disintegrates and reforms, were taking a new body at death is only a special case or rebirth. Until you understand this these are also view so do not get too attached to it. The Dhamma is Universal hence you do not have even categorise this as Buddha Dhamma, X school dhamma, Y lineage dhamma, Z teacher's dhamma, this view of dhamma, that view of dhamma, this view of reality, that view of reality, this view of truth or that view of truth, this school of thought, that school of thought in which case the efficacy of the universal teaching is lost as it becomes sectarian.1 As the working of Dhamma is Universal regardless of whether you believe in it or not it happens. A person who believe in gravity or and on who does not will, be equally hurt when you fall and hit the ground. The same is true if you label yourself physicist, X_ist, Y_ist or what not.

As iterated before, through you can start without the doubt about rebirth. To progress in the 8 Fold Noble Path, you will have to straighten you view:

And what, bhikshus, is wrong view? (It is the view) that ‘there is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or evil actions. There is no this world, no next world; there is no mother, no father, there are no beings that are reborn, there are no brahmins and recluses who, living rightly and practising rightly, having directly known and realized for themselves this world and the hereafter, proclaim them.’

Maha Cattarīsaka Sutta

This does not imply that you cannot practice Vipassana if you hold this view but to progress you have to straighten you view. Also you cannot be completely skeptical about the teaching as then you will not practice in earnest.

The Noble 8 Fold Path being the path to walk to get to stream entry, if you hold on to this view then you cannot reach this goal, though at the start this is not necessary. Even this in stages where faith will be inspired through leaned understanding or wisdom, logical understanding and experientially understanding.


Words like Hindu-dharma, Buddhist-dharma or Jain-dharma, were never used in our ancient literature. Other sects came much later, but even when these three were there, nobody used these words.


What do these universal characteristics have to do with Hinduism? What have they to do with Buddhism, or Christianity, Islam, Jainism or Sikhism? Fire burns; ice cools. This is a universal law of nature. If fire does not burn itself and others, it cannot be fire. If it is fire, then its characteristic must be to burn itself and to burn others. The dharma of the sun is to give light and heat. If it does not give light and heat, it cannot be the sun. The dharma of the moon is to give a soft, cool light. This is the dharma, the nature of the moon. If it does not do that, it is not the moon.


This is a wonderful technique of India. Unfortunately, our country lost it because we lost the real meaning of the word dharma. Now these crutches, these scaffoldings of Hindu-dharma, Buddhist-dharma, Jain-dharma and Muslim-dharma have become predominant for us. When we say Hindu-dharma, then Hindu is predominant for us. Poor Dharma recedes behind the curtain into the darkness. Dharma has no value, because Hindu is more important. When we say Muslim-dharma, Muslim is important. When we say Buddhist-dharma, Buddhist is important; Jain-dharma, Jain is important. It's as if Dharma is not an entity of its own. But what a great entity Dharma is! It is the law of nature, the eternal truth; and we are missing it when we give prominence to these false scaffoldings, crutches. We are forgetting the real essence of Dharma.


When someone starts giving importance to Hindu-dharma, he never gives importance to Dharma. Hindu-dharma and all the rites, rituals, ceremonies and appearances become more important for this person. He performs them and feels that he is a very Dharmic person. Similarly, if one gives importance to Muslim-dharma, Sikh-dharma, or Buddhist-dharma, one feels that he is a very Dharmic person.


Dharma is nothing but a pure science, a super-science of mind and matter: the interaction of mind and matter, the cross-currents and the under-currents happening deep inside every moment. Things are happening inside every moment, but we remain extroverted, giving importance to things outside.


Dharma and Sectarianism by S.N. Goenka, The Gracious Flow of Dharma by S.N. Goenka


I don't find Buddhism to be a faith based practice, so skepticism really diesn't figgure in. Quite the contrary, the greater part of the practice tends to deal with letting go of preconcieved ideas and opening your mind the the possibility of seeing things as they really are.

Preconceptions, blind the mind to truley understanding anything that can not be likened to something that we already know (or think we know).

If you're skeptikal, that may well be the best case senerio. People who are NOT skeptical, are burdened by their preconceptions (not based on experience) of what it is exactly that they claim to believe.

To progress, you need to throw out every single idea about everything you ever thought you knew about anything.


No. The definition of a Sotapatti stream winner is about Lokotthara/Arya Samma Ditti.

You can read and explore further about this in

Samyutta Nikaya - Ditthi Samyutta - Sotapatti Waggo (which are translated here)

  1. All the sutta here explain how people give rise all these doubts through and with the help of Pancha Upadhanakkandha;
  2. Go on to explain their impermanance, hence sorrow, and thus not suitable to assume as me, mine our my soul;.
  3. Followed by explaining who is a Sotapanna.

You might also notice how simple it is to be sotapanna if you strictly adhere to right view (get rid of Sakkaaya Ditti as a first step).


If I am to use the very same words that you used, but to convey the opposite of what you said…. It is NOT possible to maintain certain skeptical doubts about literal reincarnation and continue to work towards stream-entry, even if assuming one's practice is sincere and vigilant. Re-birth is not a concept. It is the truth. So I hope that I will be able to shed some light on Re-birth as only in this acceptance will you be able to go forth towards Stream Entry.

Without knowing about the Buddha’s world view (31 realms of existence and the suffering in the four lower realms) you will not comprehend the “sansaric suffering” as most suffering is incurred when one is born in any of the four lowest realms. To have faith in the Buddha’s world view, one needs to spend some time examining the evidence for it.

Please check out the work of the late Professor Ian Stevenson at the University of Virginia who conducted over 20 years of research on the authenticity of rebirth accounts. Professor Jim Tucker continued on this and you will find several books on rebirth by these two professors. Ex. “Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation” by Ian Stevenson. Also read “Rebirth as Doctrine and Experience” by Francis Story (2003); first edition 1975). THIS video discusses their work.

In “Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of a World War II Fighter Pilot”, Bruce and Andrea Leininger detail the story of their son’s recount of a past life. HERE is a ABC News report on the story. HERE you will find another story of the rebirth of a Civil War General. . HERE is a three-year old chanting Buddhist suttas . Can a three-year old memorize such complex suttas? Check out the lives of other child prodigies. HERE is a list of child prodigies from Wikipedia.

There are many cases of people remembering past lives when hypnotized. Then there are Out-of-Body Experiences and Near-Death Experiences that you could read about on internet. A living being, upon exhausting the kammic energy for one existence, grabs hold of another strong kammic potential for the next existence. If the energy of that kammic potential is large, the being may be reborn many times in that existence until that kammic energy is exhausted. It is important to remember that in Paticca Samuppada, it is “upadana paccaya bhavo“, i.e., grasping or craving (upadana) that leads to existence (bhava). When the kammic energy for your “bhava” has run out by the time your death occurs, then a new “bhava” will be grasped at the death moment. In accepting rebirth, and in contemplating on it, when one begins to clearly see why it is not fruitful to stay in “this world” of 31 realms, he/she has understood the true nature, the three characteristics anicca, dukkha, anatta, of “this world”. Almost all of us have mis-understood and mis-interpreted the meaning of these three words - anicca, dukkha, anatta. That is why the True Path is hidden to all of us.

You must log in to answer this question.

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