According to Buddhist philosophy, there are two Pramanas or means of valid knowledge: Pratyaksha or sensory perception and Anumana or inference. (This is in contrast to most Hindus who believe in three or more Pramanas.) My question is, what are the traditional Buddhist arguments for the existence of rebirth?

Now at least ordinary humans don't observe rebirth directly, so I assume that these arguments will rely on Anumana. I've seen Hindu arguments that use Anumana to prove the existence of rebirth, but those arguments are about establishing the existence of the Atma or soul, which Buddhists reject. So I assume that traditional Buddhist works have a different Anumana-based argument than the one Hindus use.

4 Answers 4


I am replacing my previous answer.

If my understanding is right, in the school of Advaita Vedanta in Hinduism, idol worship is seen as a step for elementary practitioners, before they are able to reach the advanced stage where they realize that their Self is that invisible Ultimate Truth.

This is similar to rebirth in Buddhism. Rebirth-of-self belief is a tool to help elementary practitioners.

This answer quotes suttas mentioned in this other answer. Please read that answer.

For those who have not yet overcome self-view (sakkāya-diṭṭhi, the first of the ten fetters), denying rebirth-of-self view is annihilationism and leads to hedonism, just as it was with Charvaka (Ajita Kesakambali - mentioned in DN 2).

For those who have not yet overcome self-view, it makes sense to adopt the right view with effluents, siding with merit, as defined in MN 117. This includes belief in rebirth, heaven and hell, as well as believing that one is the heir of one's kamma according to AN 5.57. This will result in avoiding misconduct.

Based on MN 38 and SN 22.85, there is no rebirth of a continually existing consciousness, which is what people usually think of, when they talk about "rebirth". Also, the Buddha famously taught that "all phenomena is not self" (Dhp 279, and this answer).

MN 38 also explains that consciousness arises dependent on the six sense media. There is no consciousness that exists apart from it.

Based on AN 6.61 and SN 44.9 quoted in this answer, rebirth refers to the cessation of the old mental individual identity and the arising of the new mental individual identity, from one mind-moment to the next mind-moment. The mind-moments cease and arise along with contact. So, this happens when one contact ceases and a new one arises. Craving is what sustains the continuity from one mental individual identity to the next.

The Buddha placed the greatest emphasis on sensory perception as means of obtaining the knowledge of the truth.

“And what, bhikkhus, is The All? The eye and forms, the ear and sounds, the nose and odours, the tongue and tastes, the body and tactile objects, the mind and mental phenomena. This is called The All.

“If anyone, bhikkhus, should speak thus: ‘Having rejected this all, I shall make known another all’ — that would be a mere empty boast on his part. If he were questioned he would not be able to reply and, further, he would meet with vexation. For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, that would not be within his domain.”
SN 35.23

But in suttas, I think have also seen him using anumana (or inference), although I can't find it at the moment. That would make a good question.


So far as I know, the reasons or arguments include:

  • It's Buddha-vacana, i.e. it's understood that the Buddha said so
  • It's widespread traditional normal belief, which even pre-dates Buddhism (Buddhism isn't the only religion)
  • There are historical events or witnesses (e.g. of young children who display knowledge which they could only have acquired in a previous life), e.g. associated with the recognition of Tulkus:

    In order to accept reincarnation or the reality of Tulkus, we need to accept the existence of past and future lives.

  • And there are logical arguments such as (from the same reference):

    Generally, Buddhists believe that there is no beginning to birth and that once we achieve liberation from the cycle of existence by overcoming our karma and destructive emotions, we will not be reborn under the sway of these conditions. Therefore, Buddhists believe that there is an end to being reborn as a result of karma and destructive emotions, but most Buddhist philosophical schools do not accept that the mind-stream comes to an end. To reject past and future rebirth would contradict the Buddhist concept of the ground, path and result, which must be explained on the basis of the disciplined or undisciplined mind. If we accept this argument, logically, we would also have to accept that the world and its inhabitants come about without causes and conditions. Therefore, as long as you are a Buddhist, it is necessary to accept past and future rebirth.

    For those who remember their past lives, rebirth is a clear experience. However, most ordinary beings forget their past lives as they go through the process of death, intermediate state and rebirth. As past and future rebirths are slightly obscure to them, we need to use evidence-based logic to prove past and future rebirths to them.

    There are many different logical arguments given in the words of the Buddha and subsequent commentaries to prove the existence of past and future lives. In brief, they come down to four points: the logic that things are preceded by things of a similar type, the logic that things are preceded by a substantial cause, the logic that the mind has gained familiarity with things in the past, and the logic of having gained experience of things in the past.

    Ultimately all these arguments are based on the idea that the nature of the mind, its clarity and awareness, must have clarity and awareness as its substantial cause. It cannot have any other entity such as an inanimate object as its substantial cause. This is self-evident. Through logical analysis we infer that a new stream of clarity and awareness cannot come about without causes or from unrelated causes. While we observe that mind cannot be produced in a laboratory, we also infer that nothing can eliminate the continuity of subtle clarity and awareness.

I don't understand these arguments well enough to argue them myself: I could only quote them. If you want to question one of these arguments, try posting that as a new question tagged .


I have been unable to find the word anumāna in the Pali suttas but found it in the later-day Milindapañha, as follows:

He who, himself set free in that bless’d state In which the Upadhis have ceased to be, —Lusts, sin, and Karma—has brought safe ashore, Saved from the sea of woe, great multitudes— Only by inference can it be known That he, the best of men, existed once. Mil 6.4 1

In AN 2.25 there is the word nītattha (inferred meaning), which I have been unable to find elsewhere in the Pali suttas (although the prefix 'nita' is often used unfavourably, such as 'led' by ignorance or 'led' to hell).

The Dhamma of the Buddha is explicitly defined in the Pali suttas as follows:

The Dhamma is well-expounded by the Blessed One, to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the wise for themselves.' AN 4.92

Monks, in this Teaching that is so well proclaimed by me and is plain, open, explicit and free of patchwork... MN 22

I have set forth the Dhamma without making any distinction of esoteric and exoteric doctrine; there is nothing, Ananda, with regard to the teachings that the Tathagata holds to the last with the closed fist of a teacher who keeps some things back. DN 16

The metaphysical ideas about reincarnation or rebirth, such as Jataka Stories, relinking consciousness (paṭisandhi-viññāṇa), 3-lifetime dependent origination, etc, were obviously brought into Buddhism at a time after the Buddha's passing, probably during to era of King Ashoka, who was zealous in growing the religion socially, Since the core essence of Buddhism does not appeal to common people, a religion would have to be created to make Buddhism appealing, which ultimately resulted in the demise of Buddhism in India (per common scholarly opinion) because Buddhism became virtually indistinguishable from Hinduism.

Buddhism's distinctiveness diminished with the rise of Hindu sects. Though Mahayana writers were quite critical of Hinduism, the devotional cults of Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism likely seemed quite similar to laity, and the developing Tantrism of both religions were also similar. Buddhist ideas, and even the Buddha himself, were absorbed and adapted into orthodox Hindu thought,while the differences between the two systems of thought were emphasized. Wikipedia

If you are Indian, you must know the word 'jati', which is the central term used in Pali Buddhism, does not mean physical birth or childbirth. It means self or social identity or caste:

Jāti (in Devanagari: जाति, Bengali: জাতি, Telugu:జాతి, Kannada:ಜಾತಿ, Malayalam: ജാതി, Tamil:ஜாதி, literally "birth") is a group of clans, tribes, communities and sub-communities, and religions in India. Each jāti typically has an association with a traditional job function or tribe. Religious beliefs (e.g. Sri Vaishnavism or Veera Shaivism) or linguistic groupings may define some jatis. A person's surname typically reflects a community (jati) association: thus Gandhi = perfume seller, Dhobi = washerman, Srivastava = military scribe, etc. Wikipedia

In summary, the numerous words in the Pali scriptures, commonly universally translated as "rebirth", simply refer to the re-arising of 'self-view' (see discussion here); just as the words 'pubbe nivasa', which is wrongly translated as 'past lives', really mean 'past adherences', namely, when in the past the mind ignorantly clung to the five aggregates as 'self'.

Thus, when the Buddha recollected his "past lives" or "past adherences" (properly translated as "past abodes" or "past dwellings", literally "former homes"), he recollected each time the mind in the past ignorantly gave "birth" ('jati') to the idea of 'self', as explicitly explained in the Khajjaniya Sutta, Haliddakani Sutta and elsewhere.

153. Through many a birth in samsara have I wandered in vain, seeking the builder of this house. Repeated birth is indeed suffering!

154. O house-builder, you are seen! You will not build this house again. For your rafters are broken and your ridgepole shattered. My mind has reached the Unconditioned; I have attained the destruction of craving.

First Words of the Buddha: Dhammapada 153

In his discussions with Brahmans (MN 95; DN 13), monks (MN 38) and even lay people (AN 3.65), the Buddha often condemned the idea of blind faith or unsubstantiated beliefs.

  • 2
    The topic you're discussing is well-answered in the Acela Sutta. I think your primary concern here is with the use of the English term "rebirth" rather than other terms like "re-arising of the self" or "reappearance of the self". MN36 (trans. Thanissaro) calls it "the passing away & reappearance of beings". So, your concern here is not with the technical or philosophical interpretation of the sutta teachings or Pali terms, but rather with the semantics of the English terms used in the translation.
    – ruben2020
    Sep 3, 2017 at 5:55
  • @ruben2020 (edit: rephrasing my comment) — so are you saying that Buddhism core beliefs do not include past lives and literal rebirth? And this is just a misconception? (perhaps originated or augmented by translation artifacts) 🤔🤔🤔
    – superiggy
    Dec 2, 2017 at 16:25

There appear no valid Buddhist arguments for "rebirth". Generally, all Buddhist arguments for "rebirth" revolve around misinterpretations of literal sutta teachings and mistranslations of literal Pali words.

For example, the sutta doctrine of dependent origination in the suttas is visible in the here & now (MN 38) and refers to the "birth" ("jati") of "beings" ("satta"). Suttas such as SN 23.2 & SN 5.10 literally explain a "satta" ("being") is merely a view or mental concept. Therefore, the traditional cultural & current Australian worldly Buddhist arguments that dependent origination explains "rebirth" appear literally wrong & heretical.

Similarly, the most common Pali words translated as "rebirth", namely, the words related to "upapanna", have no literal etymological root of the word "birth" ("jan"). These words have the etymological root of "pad", meaning "to go; to walk". Thus the suttas often teach unwholesome kamma leads/go to hell & wholesome kamma leads/go to heaven. Hell & heaven are described as mental states, such as in SN 35.135.

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