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One of the lessons Buddhism teaches is that everything is impermanent. Our thoughts, our feelings, our emotions, our bodies, our life. Everything. We are surrounded by death. We are mortals. There is an end to this.

However, Buddhism also has the concept of rebirth. Karma follows you not just in this life but in your next. It's also said that the Buddha gained the ability to recall his previous lives. This to me implies some sort of a soul (for lack of a better word), condition, or consciousness that is not impermanent. After you die you get reborn. There is an "you" that transcends the current (impermanent) existence.

I guess, my question is, is there some sort of a soul, consciousness, or a condition, that is not impermanent? When one reaches enlightenment (nirvana) and stops the cycle of rebirths, what happens to them?

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One of the lessons Buddhism teaches is that everything is impermanent. Our thoughts, our feelings, our emotions, our bodies, our life. Everything. We are surrounded by death. We are mortals. There is an end to this.

However, Buddhism also has the concept of rebirth.

Actually think about it, rebirth is there due to impermanence. For if one dies and there's no rebirth, then death itself is permanent, which breaks impermanence! Now the point about kamma, sure it follows you from this life to the next, but it constantly changes depending on one's volitional actions. So a crude analogy is your physical self. Is Pips the 3 year-old boy the same exact Mr. Pips the 93 year-old man? Not really. Although there seems to be a "permanent-something" Pips from 3 to 93, that's only an illusion for everything change (impermanence): every single physical cell on Pips body grows, age, and got replaced. Every feeling, perception, volition, cognition change and get replaced from moment to moment. The perception of "permanence" is an illusion just like one sees a movie in the cinema with all its seemingly alive people and animals while in fact they're just a bunch of still frames appearing sequentially one after another.

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"Rebirth" is a moral teaching in Buddhism; about destiny due to action (karma).

"Impermanence" is a transcendent teaching in Buddhism.

"Rebirth" and "impermanence" are not intended to "fit" together.

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    Would it be possible to elaborate a bit on you answer? – Pips Feb 13 at 17:17
  • The purpose on kamma teaching is to guide your moral behaviour. Whether things are impermanent or permanent doesn't change this. Kind regards – Dhammadhatu Feb 14 at 5:18
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There is no difference in manner or extent between how rebirth happens in this very life from moment to moment and what happens from life to life. So ask yourself, how does rebirth in this very life that happens from moment to moment fit with the fact that everything is impermanent?

It is precisely because we are impermanent beings that we are reborn from moment to moment. Like you say we are surrounded by death! Indeed! We die and are reborn in every moment of this very life! How could something be any more impermanent!

So how does rebirth from life to life change the picture?? It doesn’t. In exactly the same way that we are impermanent and thus reborn from moment to moment... in just that way and for just the same reasons... we are reborn from life to life.

In summary, if you have no problem with understanding how impermanence fits with the true rebirth of beings from moment to moment you should have no problem with the true rebirth of beings from life to life. If it does perplex you, then you have most likely fallen to the extremes of eternalism or annihilationism. The Buddha did not teach these extremes, but rather taught the truth of the Middle Way.

Hope this helps!

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  • Could you elaborate on the "If it does perplex you, then you have most likely fallen to the extremes of eternalism or annihilationism" phrase? It might help me understand the meaning of the rebirth moment to moment and life to life which I kind of understand as "our current form is impermanent" but we get reborn in a new form. How are "our" and "we" impermanent? – Pips Feb 13 at 17:26
  • Hi Pips, I have been pondering how to elaborate that might be helpful, but the best I have come up with since I do not know your mind is to suggest you test my assertion yourself. Do you think you have a handle on how we are reborn every moment in this very life? How we are utterly impermanent beings? If so and you think you have a handle on it... does it perplex you that the same thing happens from life to life in the exact same way and to the exact same extent? – Yeshe Tenley Feb 25 at 14:18
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Dīgha Nikāya 1, the Brahmajālasutta, discusses theories of a self in great detail. Studying DN1, we realize that there are indeed very many theories of a self. For example:

DN1:1.30.1: There are some ascetics and brahmins who are eternalists, who assert that the self and the cosmos are eternal on four grounds. (etc.)

Regarding these theories, the Buddha indicates that all such the theories arise out of repeated contact with sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches or thoughts. Such theories are traps for those who crave the continued existence of these contacts.

The escape is to relinquish the craving, allowing the impermanence, letting go of continued existence and rebirth.

Regarding the Realized One after death, the Buddha said quite simply:

DN1:3.73.7: But when his body breaks up, after life has ended, gods and humans will see him no more.”

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    jīvitapariyādānā does not mean "death". Buddhas do not "die". – Dhammadhatu Feb 13 at 4:59
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Rebirth doesn't fit impermanence and anatta. It is the accepting of a psychological 'I', and the consequences of such a view of self.

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