Humans like nearly all other species have their genetic base as a mixture 50:50 from the genes of their father and from the genes of their mother. Each generation represents a new combination of genes from the gene pool of the species. The genetic basis determines to a large amount who we are.

Does this fact contradict the rebirth of individuals?

  • Are you defining rebirth as "rebirth of the same genes"? Are two identical twins the same person, or, two different people? As for "who we are", isn't that defined by kamma and/or by dependent origination? Doesn't non-self (anatta) imply that "I am not my genes"? When you say "the rebirth of individuals", where is that phrase (and especially the term, "individuals") defined?
    – ChrisW
    Oct 11, 2014 at 20:53
  • Question 1: I do not define rebirth as rebirth of the same genes. I define rebirth as rebirth of the same person. But genes determine the scope of a person's potential. Question 2: I consider two twins not identical, even in case they are monozygotic. Because each of both develops different I consider them two different persons. Question 3: The question "Who we are?" refers to a person's characteristics: How he/she introduces and describes him/herself. Would you please post your final questions as a separate question. Thank you
    – Jo Wehler
    Oct 11, 2014 at 21:20
  • @jowehler, I suggest you ask following additional questions: "How is the notion of person or individual treated in Buddhism?" (pudgala) and "what is reborn?" (nama-rupa).
    – Andriy Volkov
    Oct 12, 2014 at 3:50

2 Answers 2


This goes back to an argument that was very popular in 19th century: "is person's character inborn or is it a result of upbringing?"...

What is meant by "rebirth" in Buddhism is rebirth of the state of mind. In modern terms we could say that the living brain is only a carrier. So where does our state of mind come from?

Once as I meditated, I realized that some of my typical thoughts came back from my childhood, from my parent's dysfunctional family situation. And the roots of that situation can be traced to my father's childhood, and probably beyond, to his father's life.

Not all of it is passed down the family lines either. Today at least some of my thoughts came from news I read online about the situation in Ukraine. Do you understand? Our state of mind at any moment consists of elements each of which came down a chain of interactions that can be traced back to beginningless times!

Our state of mind is not "one thing", not an entity, there is no "I". The boundary between inner and outer is a fiction; there is an infinite sea of interacting mental and physical factors.

So why call it rebirth then? Because of appropriation. We appropriate a combination of traits as "I", "me", "mine". My country, my family, my childhood, my education, my believe, my values, my principles, my pride etc. Appropriation of these causes rebirth and suffering.

  • You define "rebirth := rebirth of state of mind". I think that's not common use of the concept of rebirth. Your concept of rebirth sounds like remembering a thought or reactivating an emotion or having the same thought like some other or having empathy towards others or feel like others felt before.
    – Jo Wehler
    Oct 11, 2014 at 18:00
  • I believe that is the common use, at least in Mahayana.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Oct 11, 2014 at 20:37
  • 1
    Mahayana is a wide sphere ... Could you please name a reference. Thank you.
    – Jo Wehler
    Oct 11, 2014 at 21:05
  • This is self-evident. Rebirth is not rebirth of body, right? Rebirth is not rebirth of soul, because in Buddhism there is no such entity as "soul" (or atman). Rebirth is not rebirth of "I", because in Buddhism there is none. Then what is reborn? The mind itself is not an entity, it does not have essence -- it is an ability to cognize. So the only thing that remains is the state of mind.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Oct 12, 2014 at 0:10
  • Andrei, we have a misunderstanding: I asked for a quote concerning your statement about Mahayana. I did not ask for a chain of indirect reasoning. I would appreciate an explicit reference to a Mahayana text. On the other hand, referrring to Theravada we have the Maha-sihanada Sutta (MN12). Here Buddha clearly names aspects and particulars of the past lives of a Tathagata like clan, appearance, nutriment, experience of pleasure and pain, life-term. In my opinion, these characteristics are not restricted to mind states.
    – Jo Wehler
    Oct 12, 2014 at 6:32

I was kind of confused and bewildered by the question but I think I understand what your getting at. I'm sure you know that genes don't have minds to perform karmic intentions. What genes a being is recombined with upon rebirth depends on the previous morality of the being (according to the teachings of the Buddha). Of course on another level, what genes a being gets depends on mother and father's genes:

One person is born with genes that give them a body that stays fit no matter what they eat while another person gets an unfit body even though they exercise and eat all the right foods. The Buddha 's teaching here is more at the level of answering the question as to why one person seems naturally rewarded by the genes they were born with while the other seems cursed. So, if we are cursed in this life it is because of bad karma(bad moral action) we made in a past life and if we are blessed it is because of good karma(good moral action) we performed in a past life according to Buddhism.-hope this helps :)

  • Of course different people are born with different dispositions for diseases rooted in their genes. But if a person suffers a genetic defect, then I consider it an inhuman behaviour to blame the person for a bad moral action in her past live. Are you sure that such a causal connection exists?
    – Jo Wehler
    Oct 12, 2014 at 20:26
  • 1
    No one blames anyone, that is just how reality works in Buddhismville.
    – Lowbrow
    Oct 13, 2014 at 15:53

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