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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.

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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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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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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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. – follower 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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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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