Some people believe in rebirth after this life because (for them) it seems that the suttas claim literal rebirth.

And it somewhat makes sense because in some passages it'd be harder to believe in "just" mental birth, especially here:

"With the break-up of the body, re-appeared in..." (difficult here ro believe that body means the "body" of the 5 aggregates)

& here:

"Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering. “Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there; that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination.

SN 56.11

Elsewhere I read that birth (jati) means birth in a particular realm (mind dwelling), which is caused by a sense of "I", and this in turn is caused by craving & the underlying asavas, but even if this is true (& per the sutta it arguably is), Why have samvega (sense of urgency that death may strike) without believe in literal rebirth

Why not live a normal life? This may sound provocative, but it really should not. Surely one can reply "because suffering", but most people living their live imperfectly okay, with some suffering here & there, but still find meaning & go through live with all its ups & downs.

With warm wishes.

  • Good question. If we don't believe in any kind of rebirth then, for the reasons you give, I'm not sure why we should feel any urgency, Indeed, I struggle to see the point of the practice if death wipes the slate clean. But does it? is this not just a speculative view among a subset of Buddhists? .
    – user14119
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 11:08
  • Some traditions don't even have a universal teaching that is sure about this (re)-birth thing. Personally, I like Buddhasas down-to-earth "empirical" approach, which is also backed up with some suttas, but then surprisingly contradicted by other suttas. Dhammadhatu's approach too seems very solid because like Buddhadasa's, it's backed up, although we still must be crirical of personal bias (& of English Text interpretations)
    – Val
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 11:18
  • Yes - there's a lot of interpretation going on. .
    – user14119
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 11:20
  • @Val, I've yet to see any teacher from any Buddhist tradition who says outright that rebirth exclusively solely means momentary mental rebirth. If any, some teacher only add momentary rebirth as an extra interpretation in addition to the traditional physical rebirth explicitly spelled out by the Buddha. But if you're able to find any teacher who claims the opposite, we're all ears!
    – santa100
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 14:02
  • 1
    @Val, but as already asked, you have to provide sources to prove they only exclusively teach momentary mental rebirth and reject physical rebirth. If no outright rejection, you cannot automatically assume they reject the traditional teaching of physical rebirth.
    – santa100
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 14:45

4 Answers 4


Why have samvega (sense of urgency that death may strike) without believe in literal rebirth?

You could argue it both ways. Why have sense of urgency if you will be reborn? On the other hand - Why have sense of urgency if you're not going anywhere?

Dharma is called "Safe Bet". Whether there is literal rebirth or not, Liberation is deathless. Whether there is literal rebirth or not, dying without Liberation is scary - because either you may go to some strange inhuman worlds, or you disappear forever.

Hence the sense of urgency to attain Liberation.

  • To answer your first paragraph: It's about certainty. Humans don't know where they will end up, so they choose to be moral & hope for a reward in the afterlife. If I am not going anywhere (suppose this is the materialistic view that with the death of our body, there is no more conscioussness), we can reflect on our death to value it/our time/the people around more, but I hardly see any urgency to specifically attain nibbana. Dying without liberation is not necessarily scary. It's not event that disturb us but our thinking about it. There are unenlightened people who died in equanimity & peace
    – Val
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 13:12
  • Exactly. And the Safe Bet gives that certainty.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 13:13
  • I edited my comment. The part about "events" in my comment I find to be crucial. If we don't believe in rebirth, we just have our ordinary life (not meant condescendingly) with our everyday hassles, which includes the goods, the bads & the neutrals. If we do believe in rebirth, nibbana now makes sense because we won't be born again in this samsaric world due to us having reached the unconditioned. I might go of a tangent but it's about the existential angst you could say. Why is samvega then important? Why be dilligent if there is no rebirth?
    – Val
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 13:20
  • I have spoken :)
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 17:23

A question like this calls for a certain amount of philosophizing, so forgive me if I reach past traditional teachings for a moment.

It seems to me that people tend to approach the question of karma and rebirth from too solipsistic a perspective, thinking of it only in terms of the individual (egoic) self. I understand the motivation behind that: if I feel misery I tend to think of it as my misery, and so I tend to seek out my salvation. It's a natural association in the mind.

But karma strikes me as transpersonal: as something that moves through the egoic self, not something affixed to the egoic self. I mean, if we look at someone we might characterize as cruel — be it an abusive spouse or a brutal dictator — what we mean by 'cruelty' is that this person has attachments that drive him/her to inflict misery on others. That cruelty pervades the space around h'er, spreading outward, and finds resonances with the people and things it encounters. One can say the same about any strong attachment. It isn't merely a question of misalignment with reality that an attachment implies, but also a question of how that misalignment reflects back on the reality it is misaligned with. Like throwing a stone into a pond, an attachment sends ripples out in waves long after it has disappeared from sight.

The upshot is that we do not merely create 'mind dwellings' for ourselves. We create mind dwellings and impose them on the world around us, implicitly demanding that everyone and everything around us share them. Someone who is angry and resentful creates asura loka and tries to draw others into it; someone who is fearful or depressed creates peta loka and tries to draw others into that; someone who behaves as an animal does creates... You get the idea. And when we create these mental realms and draw others into them, we create a resonance (an echo of those mental attachments) that extends beyond our reach in time and place. In effect, we recreate our egoic selves — our attachments, our cravings, our miseries — in others by imposing our mental realms on the world around us, and drawing those others into it.

In this sense, it isn't 'us' who reincarnate, it is these mental realms (egoic states) that reincarnate, reforming themselves in others because of the resonances we leave in our wake.

The dharma, then, becomes a tool for countering this karmic process. We release attachments so that we do not echo them outward into the world; we seek higher states to help absorb what dukkha is presented to us by the world. We do not pass on karma to others — neither making it on our own nor allowing it to pass through us — and so our egoic selves pass on into oblivion.


According to Buddhist cosmology (which is based on Hindu cosmology) rebirth as a human is special. It is only as a human you can contemplate "why not live a normal life", as the human realm is the only one on the wheel of rebirth from which buddhahood is attainable:

  • Rebirth as a Deva means you're too ecstatic to contemplate Nirvana
  • Rebirth as an Asura means you're too angry to contemplate Nirvana
  • Rebirth as an animal means you don't have the mental capacity to contemplate Nirvana
  • Rebirth as a Preta means you're too frustrated to contemplate Nirvana
  • Rebirth as a Naraka means you're too tortured to contemplate Nirvana

Only for human rebirth does Buddhism assert that one is reborn in this realm with vastly different physical endowments and moral natures because of a being's past karma. A rebirth in this realm is considered as fortunate because it offers an opportunity to attain nirvana and end the Saṃsāra cycle.


It is urgent because suffering is here and now, suffering is real.
You question is like saying " why should I feel urgency to jump out of a fire?" jump now! don't even count on death....

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