In comments to this question I saw a disagreement over the proper translation of various Pali words in suttas commonly translated with the english word rebirth or reborn.

According to Ajahn Sujato various Pali words are correctly translated as rebirth/reborn. However, another very detailed and extensive analysis by 'Element' on the linked website comes to the conclusion that none of the Pali words in the suttas are properly translated as rebirth or reborn. It appears implied that the english word 'rebirth' is synonymous with the idea of reincarnation as commonly understood by the non-Buddhist contemporary religions of India and Nepal in the time of the Buddha.

The question arises: if none of the Pali words in the suttas cited in the links above are suitably understood or translated as 'rebirth', then what Pali words in the suttas were used to describe the idea of reincarnation as commonly understood by the non-Buddhist contemporary religions of India and Nepal in the time of the Buddha?


1 Answer 1


One strong impression from the Pali suttas (due to the lack of discussion with Brahmins on the subject in the suttas) and the little I have read of the Vedas is the Vedas did not contain any systematic teachings on the subject of reincarnation.

The impression (from the little i have read) is the Vedas taught about two worlds, namely, this world & the other world, which i imagine was the heaven of Brahma. Otherwise, three worlds, here.

For example, I recall recently reading (somewhere) Sariputta & Moggallana were formerly disciples in a sect that believed in going to heaven with Brahma after death.

My vague recollection from chatsite banter, including by the Ven. Sujato himself, is systematic doctrines of reincarnation began forming in the later Upanishads; which 'reincarnation' aficionados, such as Sujato, who appear to go for refuge in non-Buddhist scholars, attempt to date prior to the Buddha; even though there is no account of any Upanishads in the suttas.

My recollection is the Ven. Yuttadhammo has posted on these matters, here and here.

  • There are references to the Upanisads in the suttas, they just aren't obvious. For example the discussion with Queen Mallika and King Pasenadi (SN 3.8) about the dearness of the self parallels BrU 2.4.5 where Yajnavalkya and his wife Maitreyi have a similar conversation. Another example is explained in depth by Dhivan Thomas Jones in his paper (which can be found on the Oxford Journal of Buddhist Studies Website) called "Upanisadic Upaniṣadic Echoes in the Alagaddūpama Sutta" jocbs.org/index.php/jocbs/article/view/226/289 Commented Jan 10 at 12:03
  • Hello Linda. There are no references to the Upanisads in the suttas.; apart from late suttas, such as DN 15, which has a belated definition of namarupa. What exactly in the the Alagaddūpama Sutta are you referring to? Why don't you post a new question on the forum about what you regard as Upanishad references in the the Alagaddūpama Sutta. Thanks Commented Jan 10 at 20:23
  • Hello Dhamma Dhatu. The question you asked about "what exactly in the Alagaddupama Sutta" I'm referring to is answered very clearly in the link I provided to Dhivan Thomas Jones' paper. Please do read it. Admittedly the references to the Upanisads are not obvious, but why would they be? The Buddha would have had no need to point out what he was referring to, to an audience familiar with them, and for those unfamiliar with the works discussed in higher circles in his day, pointing out the references would be, well, pointless. Commented May 10 at 0:35
  • Sorry Linda but I am not going to read a paper you claim an answer is in. It is appropriate and courteous you simply post what is relevant from the paper. Thanks Commented May 10 at 20:50
  • Sorry, Dhamma Dhatu, but I'm not able to do the work for you. I could not pack his very well-made argument into a comment here on stack echange. Commented May 11 at 19:30

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