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What makes a person believe in the idea of reincarnation? It can’t be “because the books/teachers say so”, given the Buddhist ideology of “come and see by yourself”

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    There are several explanations of or justification for belief here: Is rebirth a delusional belief? – ChrisW Jun 10 at 17:25
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    Also, please be aware that "Why objects of class X do act Y" is a hard question to answer objectively as it requires understanding the motivation of an undefined number of objects belonging to X, when even their membership in X is hard to ascertain with confidence. – Andrei Volkov Jun 10 at 18:14
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    This is not enough for a full answer, but keep in mind that some people consider rebirth as a tentative working hypothesis, not necessarily getting attached to the idea, "having it there". If you ask me, it is always useful to acknowledge one's own ignorance and limits, and to humbly say "I don't know, yet, and maybe I'll never know". Kind regards! – Brian Díaz Flores Jun 10 at 19:49
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    Because it's considered a "safe bet" approach (see the "Safe Bet" sutta for more details: accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.060.than.html – santa100 Jun 10 at 23:32
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    Good question. I don't see a straight answer here as yet, which is odd. I'd guess we believe (where we don't know) because rebirth is taught by so many accomplished masters, and because it makes sense of the world. – PeterJ Jun 11 at 11:55
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There is rebirth in Buddhism, for sure, but rebirth of what?

When we say "rebirth", we mean that something that we can peg onto as YOU, is born again after physical death. But what is YOU? The soul or self or the SAME consciousness that wanders on throughout this lifetime?

The Buddha taught that all phenomena is not self. The Buddha also taught that all conditioned and/or compounded things (including consciousness) is impermanent. It is not the SAME consciousness that wanders from childhood to old age. It changes. (See MN 38)

So, in Buddhism, there is no rebirth of the self or consciousness.

In fact, if a person injures his brain or experiences dementia or amnesia or coma, then his personality, his memories and even his consciousness could be impaired or non-existent for the remainder of his physical life. In this case, even in his lifetime, we cannot guarantee that he is totally present at every moment. Then, what more for the next lifetime?

So, if a soul or self or consciousness is not reborn, then what is reborn?

There is definitely rebirth in Buddhism, but what is reborn?

  1. Suffering. The continuity of suffering, regardless of physical death, is rebirth.
  2. The continuity of conditioned processes when the condition for them to exist continues, is also rebirth. For e.g. karmic cause and effect, and its relationship to an individual's perceived continued existence in this lifetime. Also, the physical and mental processes of the five aggregates, for e.g. the "stream" of consciousness (MN 38) and the thought "I am the thinker" (Snp 4.14). The continuity of conditioned processes doesn't necessarily end at the death of the physical body.

The Theravada perspective is that at every moment there is death and rebirth. In between, we have the continuity of conditioned processes, that bridges every moment. With the continuity of conditioned processes, we have the continuity of suffering, so long as ignorance is present.

When ignorance is permanently ended, craving is permanently ended and suffering is permanently ended. This permanent ending of ignorance is referred to as enlightenment in Buddhism.

In this answer, Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu wrote:

... the conclusion I make is that it's not that Buddhists believe in rebirth, it's that we don't believe in death - the latter being merely a concept referring to the change from one set of experiences to another. True death only occurs either at every moment or at the experience of nibbana.

Usually when people talk about rebirth, they imply that the SAME consciousness wanders on in this lifetime and onto the next lifetime. In the following quote from this answer, we read a nice explanation by Damith, of why this is not true.

Stream of consciousness OR Continuity of consciousness means individual consciousness which arises (uppada), exists (titi), ceases (bhanga) rapidly as an effect of many causes. It's just a stream, not a long lasting single one.

Think of a stream of water. When you look at a single point in the stream, you see many water droplets appear, exist, and disappear. Take a single droplet out of it which passed by(*) that point. If you consider the past, present, and future of that droplet, you'll see a stream. In reality, it's not the same droplet nor another droplet you see in the past, present, and future. Stream of consciousness is analogous to this example. Please try to understand it in that way.

(*) Note: "passed by" - This phrasal verb can be only used when we talk in conventional truth. The reader may think that rūpa (form/matter) can move in space which is not a true in ultimate reality. Neither any nāma (name) nor rūpa can move. What happens is the arose rūpa existed and ceased then and there. After that new rūpa arise nearby. This is called "Deshāntarotpatti".

I'm not saying that there is no YOU (self) at all. There is a YOU, but it's not a permanent YOU. It's changing from moment to moment, depending on conditions, and compounded by different mental and physical processes.

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    Thank you for this answer. I was confused for years - now I think I begin to understand :-D – Witek Aug 7 at 8:00
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Real Buddhists don't believe in things. Because buddhism or its concepts are not to believe as buddhism is not a religion. Followers can experiment and make sure the concepts / ideology are true. Ofcourse there are things which only buddha can see eg: universe, to know some one is arhanth or not, etc.

So real buddhist don't believe in reincarnation, but it doesn't mean Buddhism does't accept reincarnation. It's proven to them with ñāṇa. If you want to experience it you can meditate and develop your mind to see your previous lives. Or else, theoretically you can understand it by learning Pratītyasamutpāda.

To answer the question of Why do Buddhist believe in reincarnation: It's because it's true. That's the truth of the world. Everything happens in according to the Pratītyasamutpāda, and everything has a cause. We see the results. Buddhist understand the cause and stop the cause and as a result they attain Nivana.

Update:

Personal experience of a women can be found in this link. Watch from 1:40 minute from there it's English. At 14th mins she explains about previous life story.

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    Who ever down vote this, could you please explain the reason. Just down voting an answer doesn't make any sense for the community. – Isuru Jun 11 at 7:17
  • I think there's a user on this site who doesn't "believe in reincarnation" (i.e. believe that reincarnation is "true"), and who will tend to downvote any answer which says otherwise. – ChrisW Jun 11 at 17:00
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I gather it isn't strictly a binary decision.

It's tempting to say, "if it isn't A then it must be B", but maybe A and B are both true, or maybe neither are.

There are some problems with not believing:

  • The books/teachers say so
  • It would seem to be "annihilationism" -- which the suttas explicitly identify as a wrong view
  • It may be associated with immoral behaviour (e.g. of the "nothing matters" or "no future" variety)

There may be some problems with believing, too:

  • E.g. that it's a "mundane" doctrine rather than super-mundane
  • It may be associated with self-views
  • It has historically lead to questions like, "if it's not the 'self' that's incarnated, then what is, and via what medium?" -- so metaphysical (and not necessarily useful or practical) questions

I once thought that this answer was one of the clearer answers I had read -- and fairly easy to accept.

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Buddha rejected both eternalism and nihilism. He taught dependent origination. What Buddhism teaches is the Dependent Origination based on birth. Re-birth cause suffering hence it is an important part of Four Noble Truth is based on the re-birth idea.

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People who believe in "Reincarnation" are sort of missing the point of Buddhism. It is all about living your best life now. If you start worrying about what happens in the next life then you are going to be living this life for all the wrong reasons. Especially as you will never know the results.

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I don't know what Buddhists personally believe but I know what the sammasambuddha Gautama believed.

He did not believe in the popular media portrayal of reincarnation as in "rebirth only as a human over and over again".

He instead posits five destinations (nibbana is not included):

"Sariputta, there are these five destinations. What are the five? Hell, the animal realm, the realm of ghosts, human beings and devas" (MN 12)

He had actually debunked the popular media portrayal of reincarnation in the Pansu suttas stating that the vast majority of humans after death go to hell, the animal realm, or the realm of ghosts after death instead of being reborn as a human or deva.

Birth as a human is extremely rare and usually more pleasant than other existences.

The majority of humans will waste their existence and go to hell, the animal realm, or the realm of ghosts after death including many people perceived as good people.

I personally believe in the Buddhist concept of rebirth because it makes the most sense to me out of any other explanations of the afterlife and also somewhat matches into personal observations.

Gautama the sammasambuddha was the greatest teacher ever in history in my opinion with over 10,000 suttas, many debates and detailed explanations.

But Right View is part of the Eightfold Path and viewed as the forerunner:

"And what is the right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions? 'There is what is given, what is offered, what is sacrificed. There are fruits & results of good & bad actions. There is this world & the next world. There is mother & father. There are spontaneously reborn beings; there are contemplatives & brahmans who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.' This is the right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions." (MN 117)

I don't blame people for doubting during this time-period seems like there aren't any real arahants skilled interacting with people that exist.

If uncertain then practice metta (loving-kindness):

“Bhikkhus, whatever grounds there are for making merit productive of a future birth, all these do not equal a sixteenth part of the mind-release of loving-kindness. The mind-release of loving-kindness surpasses them and shines forth, bright and brilliant." (Iti 27)

But the real purpose of Buddhism is to achieve arahantship or enlightnment here and now, to finally be able to enjoy this moment.

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I will try to answer with the help of philosopher Kapil. Kapila denied the theory that there was a being who created the universe. In his view a created thing really exists beforehand in its cause just as the clay serves to form a pot, or the threads go to form a piece of cloth. 10. This is the first ground on which Kapila rejected the theory that the universe was created by a being. 11. But there are other grounds which he advanced in support of his point of view. 12. The non-existent cannot be the subject of an activity : There is no new creation. The product is really nothing else than the material of, which it is composed : the product exists before its coming into being in the shape of its material of which it is composed. Only a definite product can be produced from such material ; and only a specific material can yield a specific result. 13. What then is the source of the empirical universe ? 14. Kapila said the empirical universe consists of things evolved (Vyakta) and things that are not evolved (Avyakta). 15. Individual things (Vyakta Vastu) cannot be the source of unevolved things (Avyakta Vastu). 16. Individual things are all limited in magnitude and this is incompatible with the nature of the source of the universe. 17. All individual things are analogous, one to another and, therefore, no one can be regarded as the final source of the other. Moreover, as they all come into being from a source, they cannot constitute that source. Further, argued Kapila, an effect must differ from its cause, though it must consist of the cause. That being so, the universe cannot itself be the final cause. It must be the product of some ultimate cause. 19. When asked why the unevolved cannot be perceived, why does it not show movement which would make it perceivable, Kapila replied : 20. " It may be due to various causes. It may be that its fine nature makes, it imperceptible, just as other things of whose existence there is no doubt, cannot be perceived ; or because of their too great a distance or proximity ; or through the intervention of a third object, or through admixture with similar matter ; or through the presence of some more powerful sensation, or the blindness or other defect of the senses or the mind of the observer." 21. When asked : "What then is the source of the universe ? What makes the difference between the evolved and unevolved part of the universe ? 22. Kapila's reply was: 'Things that have evolved have a cause and the things that have not evolved have also a cause. But the source of both is uncaused and independent.' 23. " The things that have evolved are many in number and limited in space and name. The source is one, eternal and all-pervasive. The things evolved have activities and parts : the source is imminent in all, but has neither activities nor parts." 24. Kapila argued that the process of develop-ment of the unevolved is through the activities of three constituents of which it is made up, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. These are called three Gunas. 25. The first of the constituents, or factors, corresponds to what we call as light in nature, which reveals, which causes pleasure to men ; the second is that impels and moves, what produces activity ; the third is what is heavy and puts under restraint, what produces the state of indifference or inactivity. 26. The three constituents act essentially in close relation, they overpower and support one another and intermingle with one another. They are like the constituents of a lamp, the flame, the oil and wick. 27. When the three Gunas are in perfect balance, none overpowering the other, the universe appears static (Achetan) and ceases to evolve. When the three Gunas are not in balance, one overpowers the other, the universe becomes dynamic (sachetan) and evolution begins. 29. Asked why the Gunas become unbalanced, the answer which Kapila gave was this disturbance in the balance of the three Gunas was due to the presence of Dukha (suffering). 30. Such were the tenets of Kapila's philosophy. 31. Of all the philosophers the Buddha was greatly impressed by the doctrines of Kapila. 32. He was the only philosopher whose teachings appeared to the Buddha to be based on logic and facts. 33. But he did not accept everything which Kapila taught. Only three things did the Buddha accept from Kapila. 34. He accepted that reality must rest on proof. Thinking must be based on rationalism. 35. He accepted that there was no logical or factual basis for the presumption that God exists or that he created the universe. 36. He accepted that there was Dukha (suffering) in the world. 37. The rest of Kapila's teachings he just bypassed as being irrelevant for his purpose. Buddha do believe in rebirth that's why he found the way to unbinding. Unbinding of what ? Unbinding of Vyakta from Avyakta and merging to their relative source. Then there is nothing you can call as self. That's Nirvana.

  • I'm puzzled about why you post e.g. the doctrine of Kapila and Adisankara as being "Buddhist" doctrine. Is it because, are they referenced in The Buddha and His Dhamma, by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, i.e. do people consider these doctrines/philosophers to be a part of Navayana? – ChrisW Sep 20 at 8:00
  • When path is lost there is arise need to show it again. For that you have to go back to earliest findings. One needs the references of past philosophies. Buddha on way to his journey always listen to what others have to say like Kapila, Arada and Udraka. Path of relieving of suffering is univarsal, it's not sectarian. In buddhism there were many sects like Mahayana, Hinyana, sarvastivadin, sanghika, ajivikas. Which sect you belong and called Buddhism. I am not interested in sects but truth. – Nikhil Date Sep 20 at 8:22
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A person may believe in the idea of reincarnation for many reasons, such as:

  1. They lust for life & they fear death. The suttas say, for the unenlightened, "death is suffering".

  2. They are unable to take refuge in the Dhamma as taught by the Buddha, namely, the Dhamma is “come and see by yourself” ("sanditthiko akaliko ehipassiko opanayiko paccattam vedittabbo vinnuhiti").

  3. They misinterpret Dependent Origination and the Noble Truths according to their defiled lusts, as explained in SN 46.55 . It does matter how many times Dependent Origination and the Noble Truths are explained to them with clear references from the scriptures, their lust for reincarnation & rejection of impermanence cannot be abated.

  4. Due to the above realities, there are (later) teachings placed into the Buddhist scriptures that literally teach reincarnation for those people who are unable to abandon self-view or upadhi (MN 117). These teachings raise donations for monks & are supposed to nurture morality (MN 117). However, many people are so sinful they start to claim it is not "me" that is reincarnated; thus they negate all moral responsibility for their own deeds. Heretically, they start to teach the opposite of what the Buddha taught, which was "beings are the heirs to their actions".

  5. In summary, Buddhism is something that has became degenerate; that narcissists that promote sexual promiscuity preach a Protestant-style "reincarnation without morality". Such is their lust for sensuality. There is a sutta that clearly states those that lust for sensuality fear death.

  6. The suttas (eg MN 26; Dhp 174) say the majority of people are unable to realise the Truth.

  7. In conclusion, reincarnation is believed by "thick" people the Buddha called "puthujjana".

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St. Augustine said, "Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe." This is the reason why Right View is the first path of the Eightfold Path: to have an idea of what reality is and to believe in it is helpful for attaining direct knowledge of it. Sages have the ability to remember their past lives: this is one of the psychic abilities. While it is true that you must gain insight for yourself, there is no reason to disbelieve the teachings of those who have gone beyond birth and death.

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