I am from a Buddhist family, in which my parents believe in Buddhism a lot (100%).

But after learning tech, science, and IT in the last five years, what I feel is the idea of rebirth is nothing more than an ancient Far Eastern religious belief, which is utterly impossible. For rebirth to be real, there would need to be:

  • The ability for consciousness or awareness to survive the death of the brain of the person concerned. This is an impossibility, since consciousness is an exceedingly complex function of the electrical and biochemical activity inside a living brain, and as far as we’re currently aware, only in the brain of certain higher mammals. The definition of death is when all electrical and biochemical activity in the brain ceases, and consequently everything which was ever held in that brain, vanishes. It doesn’t ‘go’ anywhere, it simply ceases to exist.

  • The ability for a person’s consciousness or awareness to exist both extra-corporeally and immaterially. There is no mechanism which allows for such a thing even when related to a living brain, let alone a dead one. For this to happen, several of the fundamental laws of science would need to be violated.

  • The ability for this extra-corporeal consciousness or awareness not only to survive the death of the brain in which it originated, and then continue in existence in an immaterial form for an undefined period, but then to somehow find its way into the brain of another person who might not even be born yet—we’re well into the realm of pure fantasy or science fiction here!

So what I want to know is: has rebirth been scientifically proven or is it true?

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  • The wrong path is the path that leads to long-term harm and suffering (of which the materialist worldview takes part in). Every and each instance of suffering in the world has the search for sensuality as its root cause. How could the path that leads to overcome the craving for sensuality be wrong? – Danilo May 4 at 17:41
  • Is Rebirth Scientifically Proven? -- It is neither proven nor disproven by science. Science therefore has nothing to say about the matter. – Robert Harvey May 4 at 17:54
  • this is an impossibility, since consciousness is an exceedingly complex function of the electrical and biochemical activity inside a living brain -- Is it, though? Have you identified proof of that? At least [one person](en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… has asserted that consciousness resides in electromagnetic waves; under the right conditions, those waves could definitely exist outside of the living brain. – Robert Harvey May 4 at 17:55

Reincarnation as you describe it, is scientifically unproven. It is also, speaking as a scientist and someone who has studied & researched Buddhism for almost 30 years now, IMHO irrelevant to the central teaching of Buddhism, which is experiential. Buddhism and science agree on many aspects of how the brain and the mind operate. The meditative practice and mental effects of Buddhism can be and have been scientifically quantified.

Many Buddhist schools also do not perceive reincarnation as the definition in your question, but rather as an allegory for the states of mind we go through as individuals every day. One Zen master wrote "we reincarnate ten thousand times every day" - that is, your mental state is not the same right now as when it was 5 seconds ago. This is viewing the realms of Samsara as states of mind: craving, desire, frustration, bliss, instinct, etc.

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    I find this answer extremely ironic in that you are saying the views above are irrelevant when in fact they are being used to say the path of Buddhist Dharma is wrong. The OP is describing the view of the Charvaka school which was a non-Buddhist ancient materialist school and the logical consequences thereof. – Yeshe Tenley May 4 at 11:21
  • I'm glad it amuses you, but at least it's factual. I don't see any reference to Charvaka in the OP's question, that conclusion seems to be of your own making and not what the OP asked, which is merely whether reincarnation is scientifically proven. Lack of evidence indicates improbability in science - it is not, as you state, a belief. – Codosaur May 4 at 12:00
  • See the last line of the OP's question where he says the Buddhist path is false. As for lack of evidence you have testimony from the Buddha as well as many others and moreover denying rebirth is incompatible with the doctrine of annata. – Yeshe Tenley May 4 at 12:04
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    And how does that in any way exclusively connect to Charvaka? Also, the OP states an "if" question in his last sentence. – Codosaur May 4 at 12:05
  • If you look at my answer you'll see quotes of the Charvaka view coming from Sutta. They are in complete accordance with the OP's stated views. – Yeshe Tenley May 4 at 12:06

What is rebirth?

When most people think of rebirth, they think the permanent consciousness that has existed from childhood will continue into another life. They think consciousness is self. However, the Buddha taught that consciousness is impermanent, constantly changing and is dependently originated.

This is found in MN 38:

Then he went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, the Blessed One said to him, "Is it true, Sāti, that this pernicious view has arisen in you — 'As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is just this consciousness that runs and wanders on, not another'?"

"Exactly so, lord. As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is just this consciousness that runs and wanders on, not another."

"Which consciousness, Sāti, is that?"

"This speaker, this knower, lord, that is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & evil actions."

"And to whom, worthless man, do you understand me to have taught the Dhamma like that? Haven't I, in many ways, said of dependently co-arisen consciousness, 'Apart from a requisite condition, there is no coming-into-play of consciousness'? But you, through your own poor grasp, not only slander us but also dig yourself up [by the root] and produce much demerit for yourself. That will lead to your long-term harm & suffering."

The rest of the sutta explains the dependent arising of consciousness and other things.

(Re)birth of what?

So, the Buddha did indeed teach that it is the mental idea of the self that is (re)born, and not any specific individual identity.

It is individuality that is (re)born, not the individual. Please also see this answer.

This is also in line with the teaching of sabbe dhamma anatta - all phenomena is not self.

From SN 12.20:

“When, bhikkhus, a noble disciple has clearly seen with correct wisdom as it really is this dependent origination and these dependently arisen phenomena, it is impossible that he will run back into the past, thinking: ‘Did I exist in the past? Did I not exist in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? Having been what, what did I become in the past?’ Or that he will run forward into the future, thinking: ‘Will I exist in the future? Will I not exist in the future? What will I be in the future? How will I be in the future? Having been what, what will I become in the future?’ Or that he will now be inwardly confused about the present thus: ‘Do I exist? Do I not exist? What am I? How am I? This being—where has it come from, and where will it go?’

Eternalism and annihilationism

In other suttas, we see that the belief in a specific self identity as having existed in the past and will exist in the future, is the view of eternalism.

On the other hand, thinking that there is no self at all (AN 6.38), or that a specific self identity will be destroyed in the future at death or some other point in time, is the view of annihilationism.

The Buddha taught the middle (SN 12.17), which is dependent origination.

If you step into a flowing river then step out then later step in again, would you be stepping into the same river twice? It may appear so, but in reality, the molecules, flow speed, temperature, pressure etc. of the river would have changed. So, it's not the exact same river.

Similarly, the mental idea of the self keeps changing throughout one's life, and even throughout a single day. Also consciousness, the mind, the body, is also changing. The mind changes more rapidly than the body (SN 12.61).

Let's say a certain individual named George exists with his own personality, likes and dislikes, opinions etc. One day his brain becomes damaged or perhaps deteriorated due to Alzheimer's disease. So, has the individual George who has existed before, now become destroyed? No. It's just that the dependently originated self has now changed.

Delineating the birth, continuity and death of a certain individual named George, is in fact the view of eternalism and annihilationism. In reality, what or who George is, has changed throughout his life. When he damaged his brain, has he disappeared? When he died, has he disappeared? Well, there was no single permanent entity called George that had existed. He always changed, just like the river.

The ever-changing dependently originated identity of George is like a kind of rebirth of the mental idea of self and the rebirth of individuality, that occurs from moment to moment as long as the mind-body phenomena operates.

Some even say that heaven, hell, animal births etc. are all allegorical and representative of different mental states.

Buddhism and neuroscience

I would in fact argue that Buddhism is very close to modern neuroscience.

The idea here is that there is the mind and there is the body. Both are separate from each other, yet are mutually dependent on one another.

If you drink alcohol, the body affects the mind. If you are depressed and this triggers diseases, the mind affects the body. They are mutually dependent.

The mind is not in the body. It's like software or information. The body is like hardware. Just like how you can transfer a message from one phone to another, the mind can send ideas to others.

The individual or specific self identity is also just a mental idea. It is ever-changing and is dependently originated based on conditions. It arises from the mind-body phenomena.

The idea that a specific individual must behave well, so that he will be reborn in good lives in future, is a teaching for beginners in Buddhism. The goal is to reduce or eliminate suffering in the distant future.

For advanced students of Buddhism, the teaching is "all phenomena is not self" (sabbe dhamma anatta). The goal is to reduce or eliminate suffering in the here-and-now.

  • This is a great answer. The only thing I'd criticize is the line, "the Buddha did indeed teach that it is the mental idea of the self that is (re)born." I don't think this is true. That is, I don't think the Buddha ever explicitly said nor implicitly intended people to understand that it is "the mental idea of the self" that is reborn. Rather, I think he explicitly stated that rebirth conventionally exists, that the fruits of karma conventionally exist, that people conventionally are born, grow old, die, and are reborn and that they are also reborn from moment to moment. – Yeshe Tenley May 4 at 16:21
  • I know this might seem like a nitpicking difference, but much like whether 're' is important or not - and I would say it is - I think this nitpicking difference is also important. – Yeshe Tenley May 4 at 16:22
  • @YesheTenley The birth of the mental idea of the self is in the becoming (bhava) and birth (jati) nidanas of dependent origination. So, it is explicit. – ruben2020 May 4 at 16:28

If it was proven then science would be buddhist. There might be evidences that point to that, but no concrete studied proof - science is base on facts and examination trough the scientific method.

I have proofs of rebirth and spirits but it's from my point of view.


"So what I want to know is Is Rebirth Scientifically Proven or is it true?"

No, there is no scientific consensus that rebirth is true. Yes, rebirth is conventionally true. Yes, the Buddha taught conventional rebirth and the consequences thereof. Yes, there have been testaments of people recalling their past lives. Yes, it is something you could put to the test via following the Buddha's path to see if it results in knowledge of past lives as he proclaimed. Yes, it is possible to understand rebirth through reason and logic. If one does so one will find that the view that you are espousing here is contradicted by the doctrine of annata and emptiness. As Ruben explains here:

Believing that physical death is a special moment that fundamentally changes the process of birth (of the mental idea of the self) that happens from moment to moment is the same as believing that something ultimately existed and has ceased to exist (i.e. annihilationism).

What you are describing are the views of the Charvaka school of ancient Indian materialism with a "scientific" subtext. However, there is very little "scientific" about these views. In other words, your views are not science, but rather the artifice of naive scientific materialism which ironically is contradicted by our best physical theories. If you'd like references on that last point I'd be happy to provide them. Scientific materialism is not science, but rather a form of scientism.

You state that rebirth is utterly impossible yet provide no evidence - scientific or otherwise - to uphold this belief. Based upon this false belief you are drawing the conclusion that the Buddhist path of Dharma is false. It is quite an extraordinary testament to the danger of your school of tenets.

There is no other world other than this;
There is no heaven and no hell;
The realm of Shiva and like regions,
are fabricated by stupid imposters.

— Sarvasiddhanta Samgraha, Verse 8

And here is the Buddha describing these views:

“There are, bhikkhus, some recluses and brahmins who are annihilationists and who on seven grounds proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and extermination of an existent being. And owing to what, with reference to what, do these honourable recluses and brahmins proclaim their views?

“Herein, bhikkhus, a certain recluse or a brahmin asserts the following doctrine and view: ‘The self, good sir, has material form; it is composed of the four primary elements and originates from father and mother. Since this self, good sir, is annihilated and destroyed with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death, at this point the self is completely annihilated.’ In this way some proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and extermination of an existent being.

And here are the views of Ajita Kesakambali who was an ancient Charvaka teacher as described in sutta:

"When this was said, Ajita Kesakambalin said to me, 'Great king, 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 brahmans or contemplatives who, faring rightly and practicing rightly, proclaim this world and the next after having directly known and realized it for themselves. A person is a composite of four primary elements. At death, the earth (in the body) returns to and merges with the (external) earth-substance. The fire returns to and merges with the external fire-substance. The liquid returns to and merges with the external liquid-substance. The wind returns to and merges with the external wind-substance. The sense-faculties scatter into space. Four men, with the bier as the fifth, carry the corpse. Its eulogies are sounded only as far as the charnel ground. The bones turn pigeon-colored. The offerings end in ashes. Generosity is taught by idiots. The words of those who speak of existence after death are false, empty chatter. With the break-up of the body, the wise and the foolish alike are annihilated, destroyed. They do not exist after death.'

"Thus, when asked about a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now, Ajita Kesakambalin answered with annihilation. Just as if a person, when asked about a mango, were to answer with a breadfruit; or, when asked about a breadfruit, were to answer with a mango. In the same way, when asked about a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now, Ajita Kesakambalin answered with annihilation. The thought occurred to me: 'How can anyone like me think of disparaging a brahman or contemplative living in his realm?' Yet I neither delighted in Ajita Kesakambalin's words nor did I protest against them. Neither delighting nor protesting, I was dissatisfied. Without expressing dissatisfaction, without accepting his teaching, without adopting it, I got up from my seat and left.

These views are very dangerous. They are not in accordance with Buddhism and those espousing them while also claiming to be following the Buddhist path are confused and treading a dangerous precipice. Further, the views associated here are contradicted by the doctrine of annata and thus fail inclusion within the four dharma seals.

  • It would be helpful, in my opinion, if your answer addressed the OP’s question. – arturovm May 4 at 13:31
  • @arturovm I've edited to answer more succinctly in the beginning. Hope this addresses your comment. – Yeshe Tenley May 4 at 13:48

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