i came across the teachings of Buddhadasa, he seemed to preach that rebirth is just a state of mind cycled throughout the days; greed, lust, peace, etc. That makes sense. But did he talk about what happen after break up of body or conventional death? Am i missing something? so if that is true, then eventually everyone will reach Nirvana at the end if we wait long enough (because according to him, there cant be cycles of state of mind if there is no rebirth)? Did he present new idea of of rebirth or I still have a lot more to read from Buddhadasa? I can't seem to find his ideas of literal rebirth. Thanks.

  • 1
    Have you read his essay? It's "Anatta and Rebirth" by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. It's in PDF.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 0:30
  • @truth seeker, you might want to check again because nowhere did he said that momentary rebirth is the sole exclusive mode of rebirth. In other words, momentary rebirth is an just an aid to better one's vipassana. I've never come across any claim of his that rejects the traditional interpretation of physical rebirth. But if you find any, feel free to share and then we can discuss.
    – santa100
    Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 2:00

2 Answers 2


Buddhadasa taught "literal rebirth" is something mental, in the here-&-now. Since the Pali word "jati" ("birth") literally refers to something mental, why would the superstitious speculative idea occur that an imaginary "physical rebirth" is "literal"?

The word 'birth' ('jati') refers to the production of 'beings' (per SN 12.2). Suttas such as SN 23.2, SN 5.10 & MN 98 say 'beings' ('satta') are merely 'views' & 'verbal designations' born of 'strong clinging'. Therefore, 'jati' or 'birth' is something 'mental', in both original Buddhism and in modern Hindu India.

As for he answers to your questions, they can be found in the book by Buddhadasa called Two Kinds of Language.

Now, going a little higher, we come to the word "birth" (jati). In everyday language, the word "birth" refers to physically coming into the world from the mother's womb. A person is the born physically only once. Having been born, one lives in the world until one dies and enters the coffin. Physical birth happens to each of us only once. This birth from the mother's womb is what is meant by "birth" in everyday language.

Now let's consider the word "death". Death in everyday language means that event which necessitates putting something in a coffin and cremating or burying it. But in Dhamma language, the word "death" refers to the [traumatic; sorrowful; suffering] cessation of the idea mentioned just a moment ago, the idea of "I" or "me". The [traumatic; sorrowful; suffering] ceasing of this idea is what is meant by "death'' in Dhamma language.

About the later-day corruption of 'jati' into something 'physical', Buddhadasa said:

People language is used by the ordinary people who don't understand Dhamma very well and by those worldly people who are so dense that they are blind to everything but material things.

Such worldly people are so dense & blind they label as 'materialists' those who don't subscribe to superstitions of 'physical rebirth', which is illogical & contradictory, given it is they, who believe in 'material physical rebirth', who are obviously 'materialists'.

In summary:

  1. 'Literal rebirth' is something 'mental'.

  2. Believers in 'physical rebirth' are logically 'materialists'.

  3. Buddhadasa appeared to say there is only one life.

As for the term 'kaya', found in the translated sutta phrase: 'break-up of the body', it does not necessarily mean 'physical body'. 'Kaya' literally means 'group' or 'collection'. MN 44, for example, says the 'sak-kaya' is the five aggregates. Since the quality of the five aggregates are changing from moment to moment, particularly in the common worldly 'person', obviously the phrase 'break-up of the kaya' may not refer to the termination of life.

For example, as soon as I log off Buddhism Stack Exchange, obviously the aggregates answering this question (such as the sankhara aggregate thinking with the thought content of this question; and the visual consciousness of the sense object Buddhism Stack Exchange) will end.


Reading Anattā and Rebirth by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, it ends with,

We can conclude by saying that if you understand anattā correctly and truly, then you will discover for yourself that there is no rebirth and no reincarnation. The matter is finished.

Previous fragments of the talk included:

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."


One group of people believes that there is self, there is atman, there is a soul which is born as this person. Once the body dies, this thing doesn't die. It goes to a new birth. Most people believe this, they take it as the basis of their beliefs. The Upanishad texts believed this. In Buddhism, however, there isn't such a thing. Buddhism does not believe there is a self or soul which is born and then dies. Thus, the rebirth of this or that person doesn't occur, because that person doesn't exist here in the first place. This is called "physical rebirth." It is something that should not be spoken of as "rebirth."

That seems to me similar to what Ven. Yuttadhammo posted on this site, about birth and rebirth, starting with:

The entire premise of your question is faulty, unfortunately. The Buddha never, afaik, used a term that could be translated as "rebirth". In fact, the idea of anything being reborn goes against orthodox early Buddhist teachings. Throughout the Buddha's teachings, it is made clear that at the breakup of the body there is birth, not rebirth - as in birth of new things, not the return of anything old.

Perhaps there are two other question that are more interesting:

  • What is anatta?
  • What about karma and sila?

... and, from Buddhadasa Bhikkhu's talk:

  • Whether or not there is rebirth is not the fundamental question, because once one is born here and now, there is dukkha like this and it must be quenched like this. Even if you are born again, dukkha is like this and must be quenched in the same way.

I'm not sure, I doubt whether, everyone accepts this kind of answer -- perhaps it's good, perhaps it's one-sided, anyway it is what Buddhadasa Bhikkhu seems to have been teaching which is what you were asking about.

But for example here is an answer from someone who interprets many suttas as referring to rebirth; and the essay The Truth of Rebirth -- And Why it Matters for Buddhist Practice which includes statements like,

The phrase "next world" in this passage refers to life after death.

... and ...

One reason the Buddha recommended conviction in rebirth as a useful working hypothesis is that, as we have noted, he had to teach that skillful human action was powerful and reliable enough to put an end to suffering; and his teaching on the consequences of skillful and unskillful action would be incomplete — and therefore indefensible — without reference to rebirth.

... and describes the topic as "An Ancient Controversy".

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