I have been digging really deep into the philosophy of Buddha. What I have come to know is that Buddha has never talked about remembering past lives in any original text. If he has then please let me know.

Now, what he may have said is the idea of Dependent Origination, that surely many past actions/events were the cause of his birth.

The other thing what I have found is that rebirth in Buddhism is not reincarnation. Keep this in mind. It is the rebirth of consciousness in this life. We go through different perception of the self as long as we cling to desires. Also, sexual desires work vaguely here to change the perception of "I".

However, my question is Buddha has never talked about past life as in life about past bodies before physical birth, if he has then please let me know. (Also, I have found that Jataka tales is fabricated because it is post Canon.)

All the stories of remembrance of past life is fabricated as well, in my point of view, there is also a story where Buddha remembers past life after enlightenment, but it's wrong. He was just pointing out Dependent Origination.

Please let me clarify on this topic. Thank you.

  • I suppose your question is "am I right?" or "does anyone have objections?" – Andrei Volkov Dec 12 '19 at 12:23
  • I think you can read it as: Has buddha ever talked about past life, as in life about past bodies before physical birth? (My rephrasing) – user11699 Dec 12 '19 at 12:42
  • Past life on what scale? Is physical death the metric we are to live by? – user17404 Dec 12 '19 at 22:06
  • There could be a distinction between remembering of, and condsidering the fact of and whether remembered or notremembering of; and at that time & in that context it would have been generally considered: and, The Doctrine was re discontinuing the Cyclic things, of which the concept of the question is an inherent part; and sort of required for considering whether to continue or not there is somewhat implicit a Something to be re the concept to reference things to – M H Sep 27 '20 at 4:55

However, my question is Buddha has never talked about past life as in life about past bodies before physical birth, if he has then please let me know. (Also, I have found that Jataka tales is fabricated because it is post Canon.)

The Buddha did talk quite explicitly about physical rebirths before and after the physical death of the body. And it's mentioned not only in the Jataka, but in all the Nikayas. So, it'd be a mistake to interpret rebirth as only exclusively the momentary rebirth of consciousness in the same life.

  • Fact of the matter is, until one's attained enlightenment, there'll always be a sense of 'self' existing. Want some proof? as we speak right now, you're yet able to give up your house, your car, your wife, your bank account, correct? Why not? because there's still a sense of "I", "mine", and "myself" there. So to a run-of-the-mill, s/he can talk about non-self all they want, but when the rubber hits the road, there're still tons of 'self''s there. That's why we need Dhamma training. – santa100 Dec 12 '19 at 14:55

There's MN 36 for example which is translated like this:

When my mind had immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—I extended it toward recollection of past lives.
So evaṃ samāhite citte parisuddhe pariyodāte anaṅgaṇe vigatūpakkilese mudubhūte kammaniye ṭhite āneñjappatte pubbenivāsānussatiñāṇāya cittaṃ abhininnāmesiṃ.

I recollected my many kinds of past lives, with features and details.
So anekavihitaṃ pubbenivāsaṃ anussarāmi, seyyathidaṃ—ekampi jātiṃ … pe … iti sākāraṃ sauddesaṃ anekavihitaṃ pubbenivāsaṃ anussarāmi.

There are people who dispute or debate the meaning of pubbenivāsānussati.

Some people say it might refer to times or states within this lifetime when we identified as a self -- and maybe say that a better translation might be past "abodes" not past "lives".

I posted this question here a while back -- Is rebirth a delusional belief?

There are people, including on this site (and even quoting some modern-day monks), who agree with and promote the idea that "past lives" doesn't mean that (and that people who say otherwise are wrong).

More generally that might be one of the tenets of secular buddhism.

I think that's unorthodox though and that a majority of monks would say that, absolutely, the suttas and other texts are full of references to past lives -- and that people who say otherwise are sort of not accepting what the texts say.

I hope that, perhaps, being "agnostic" about the subject (of how to translate or understand that topic) is a way to avoid misunderstanding and misleading people. The whole topic seems to me to be potentially a form of identity view, which we are warned against, part of the "thicket of views" -- also attachment to a specific view etc.

Here was an answer that was willing to "understand figuratively not physically" -- the question was, How do we know that the suttas talk about past lives?

And here another answer that you might find helpful -- the question was, What's the value or harm of a literal belief in rebirth?

  • I will read what you have posted. But the thing is, if Buddha has talked about past life, as in past incarnation in another body, then his idea of impermanence contradicts to his own words. As far as I know, Buddha also himself have not answered whether he will exist after death. He should have said he will not exist again (as he is free from cycle) but the question remain unanswered. Or he should have said he will exist again as he existed in past life, where he said,' i had such name..belonged to such clan.' Maybe, it is where the theory of Buddha collides, and many theory exists. ItsUnknown – user17389 Dec 12 '19 at 14:16
  • I will read what you have posted. Do that, yes. But the thing is Yes that's about the same question that I asked. As far as I know, Buddha also himself have not answered whether he will exist after death. I remember a sutta where he says, something like, "But you couldn't even identify what the Tathagata is now." – ChrisW Dec 12 '19 at 14:23
  • I have come to one conclusion. Yes, there is impermanence. Nothing transmigrates. When a new physical body is born, there will be birth of new 'I' which is impermanent, cycles through states, can be born in any 6 realm (the state of psychology). Apart from that, Buddha has talked about past lives like, 'There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance' which in fact he is pointing out Dependent Origination. He exists because his past lives exist. He is reflecting all the cause of his birth and now he finally have found the fault of ignorance.(continue below) – user17389 Dec 12 '19 at 15:17
  • Also, in “Timsa Sutta: Thirty” (SN 15.13) , Buddha has said, “From an inconceivable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. What do you think, monks? Which is greater, the blood you have shed from having your heads cut off while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time, or the water in the four great oceans?" It means that there have been millions of death in past, for you to be born. Again Dependent Origination. (continue below) – user17389 Dec 12 '19 at 15:18
  • 1
    "Nothing transmigrates" sounds like "Annihilationism" -- so I'm not sure that's orthodox. :-) – ChrisW Dec 12 '19 at 16:00

In the discourses, is always clear when the Buddha is using similes and when he is not. Thus, I don't see any reason to believe that he was refering to rebirth, other realms and the inhabitants these realms as similes.

I can remember a few suttas which elucidate rebirth as a literal death followed by a literal birth.

So Ven. Sāriputta—when there was still more to be done, having established Dhanañjānin the brahman in the inferior Brahmā world — got up from his seat and left. Then, not long after Ven. Sāriputta’s departure, Dhanañjānin the brahman died and reappeared in the Brahmā world. MN 97


Then Ven. Sāriputta and Ven. Ānanda, having given this instruction to Anāthapiṇḍika the householder, got up from their seats and left. Then, not long after they left, Anāthapiṇḍika the householder died and reappeared in the Tusita heaven. Then Anāthapiṇḍika the deva’s son, in the far extreme of the night, his extreme radiance lighting up the entirety of Jeta’s Grove, went to the Blessed One


Then when the night had past, The Blessed One addressed the monks: “Last night, monks, a certain deva’s son in the far extreme of the night, his extreme radiance lighting up the entirety of Jeta’s Grove, came to me


When this was said, Ven. Ānanda said to the Blessed One, “Lord, that must have been Anāthapiṇḍika the deva’s son [...]”. “Very good, Ānanda. Very good, to the extent that you have deduced what can be arrived at through logic. That was Anāthapiṇḍika the deva’s son, and no one else.” MN 143

It's not easy to find a being which has not been a relative of yours

Near Sāvatthī. There the Blessed One said: “From an inconceivable beginning comes the wandering-on. A beginning point is not discernible, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. A being who has not been your mother at one time in the past is not easy to find.… A being who has not been your father.… your brother.… your sister.… your son.… your daughter at one time in the past is not easy to find. SN 15:14–19

Buddha revelead one of his past lives as a chariot maker

“[...] Now, monks, the thought may occur to you that the chariot maker on that occasion was someone else, but it shouldn’t be seen in that way. I myself was the chariot maker on that occasion. AN 3:15

And what is wrong view?

And what is wrong view? ‘There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no contemplatives or brahmans who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.’ This is wrong view. MN 117

  • Died and reappeared means the death of one state of mind and the rebirth of another state of mind. Dhananjanin died and reappeared in that high vibration world as in higher state of mind again. Also, Tusita heaven is the highest heaven of mind. "very good ananda... arrived at through LOGIC" I was myself Chariot maker means the one who drives the "raath" it is a metaphor that he was the cause of something in the past. "what is wrong view?..no next world" Yes there is next world. As soon as you get rebirth in new psyche, your reality changes. New door will open. You can be PM from tea maker. – user17389 Dec 14 '19 at 5:19
  • There is absolutely nothing which suggest these texts were meant to be metaphors. Quite the opposite. Both, Anāthapiṇḍika and Dhanañjānin became "diseased, in pain, severely ill", that's why they were unble to visit the monks, so they sent messengers asking the monks to visit them instead and afterwards they died. How could this be referring to psyche? And these suttas are only a few examples, there are much more throughout the canon. – Danilo Dec 14 '19 at 13:33
  • There is no such story in Access to Insight. If there is then please let me know. It is the other wrong translation you are reading about such death and appearing. Here it says, "with good conduct of body, speech, & mind, who did not revile noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in a good destination." which means with good action, you will achieve good state of mind. You can rebirth again in good reality (psyche). You need to understand this. – user17389 Dec 14 '19 at 14:31
  • All suttas I quoted can be found in the Access to Insight. If you'll categorically take anything which isn't in agreement with your preconceived views as wrong, then why are you asking to "let you know"? – Danilo Dec 14 '19 at 15:09
  • Because there is not. See here My views on rebirth is not wrong. Rebirth is not reincarnation in Buddhism. – user17389 Dec 14 '19 at 15:30

Buddha has nothing to do with it, if he existed. I don't believe in any sort of god or anything supernatural, but I still have memories of earlier lives, usually traumatic death moments, and encounters on the other side. I don't regard them as reality. It's just normal fiction.

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