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edited August 2005 in Buddhism Basics
Hello everyone

I am struggling witht the definition of reincarnation and rebirth. What is the difference, if any?

Also, how can the fact that everyone is reborn, either into a human body or insect/animal, be explained? On some levels it makes sense, on others, it just seems insane.

So all animals and insects have souls, same as humans, and we could be an insect in the next life?

I find it easy to believe in humans returning as humans - in fact - I do believe it. But how can I understand us coming back as animals or insects (or plants)?

Can anyone give me an explanation, something I can understand or try to understand?

I don't think I have been very clear, but hopefully someone will know what I am trying to find out.



  • SimonthepilgrimSimonthepilgrim Veteran
    edited August 2005

    You will surely get lots of wise replies and explanations. If you are anything like me (and we are both human, so there must be some similarities) you will be little the wiser at the end!

    I am convinced that the greatest obstacle that we Westerners encounter is our notion of "soul" as some distinct 'part' of ourselves. The idea that there is some personal essence, which has my name on it and which is separate from my body, memories, experiences, actions, etc. is so deeply entrenched in our mythology that we can't see round it.

    There are times, particularly when I practise focused awareness of the world as it is, when the idea of 'soul', of an 'I' that exists independently, seems like a vast joke, a distraction. And, in those moments, the whole jolly round of dependent co-arising, including birth and death, seems as flimsy as tissue paper. And, if both birth and death become emptied of apparent meaning, rebirth is just as empty.

    But that's just where I've got to. I am sure there is much more to see.
  • feefee
    edited August 2005
    Thanks Simon

    Funnily enough, I don't really have a problem with the soul - I've always believed that I am a spiritual being having a physical experience - rather than a pysical being having spiritual experiences. On some level, I know I am more than the vehicle I am using to get around this world, and that the "I" doesn't exist as who I am now (if you know what I mean). I know it is all energy and energy cannot die.

    But, I find it difficult to understand how my soul, my essence, can be reincarnated into say, a snail. Surely the consciousness of my soul now is higher than that of a snail - if they have any consciousness at all - and does dharma (right word?) mean that I can jump back and forth from a lower consciousness to a higher and back again. Or am I wrong in thinking that my soul is better than that of a snail?

    BUT..........surely if I am aware of the Buddha and striving towards enlightenment, I am of a higher consciousness. Snails certainly don't meditate (or do they - lol).
  • ajani_mgoajani_mgo Veteran
    edited August 2005
    OK~ Here comes an Eastern mind... Get this, in Buddhism, there IS NO SOUL. The soul is defined as something pernament, non-changing, that can move from one body to another. I have heard that most Buddhists avoid the term 'reincarnation' as it relates to the moving of souls. They, including this material I, thinks that "rebirth" is a better word.

    So how does it work? This rebirth... Let's see... In Tibetan they claim the existence of the intermediate state called the bardo, that is released when you die and goes into a new body. Yet it's said it's ever-changing, something that I think is much like a soul,so I reject that theory, yet its the best theory i can get still, so I am forced to accept it. Any Tibetan Buddhists care to elaborate? I do know how it survives, how it works, but just can't grasp the ever-changing part.

    About the extra life, let's just say I believe in aliens for that. And plants have no life. I remember a bit of this...

    What you do in your life, the feelings you feel, die along. For example, if you are constantly living like an animal, fking all up, you will be one.
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited August 2005
    Some reading material: Rebirth vs. Reincarnation thread Lecture, part II deals with Kamma and Rebirth The Round of Rebirth Question of King Milinda, deals with this question using similies.

    A difficult question every single time I hear it. Unfortunatly, I cannot answer you question very well I'm afraid. I do not understand rebirth 100% myself, however, I can make a few points to clarify things:

    First, in Buddhist thought there is no soul that is reborn. Our kamma (actions of body, speech, and mind) are causes. These causes produce an effect (rebirth). This cause and effect process of becoming is called samsara.

    We are continuously reborn in this cycle of existence(

    The end to this cycle is found by uprooting our avijja (ignorance). Ignorance is what begins the cycle again and again. Through our ignorance (not knowing) we have mental fabrication which intern gives rise to consciousness...etc ( See part III for Dependent Origination)

    It is not our consciouness that is reborn either. Consciousness is a conditioned process based on having a mind and body. No mind or body, no consciouness.

    As to what exactly is reborn, whether energy, motion, thoughts....whatever, I cannot say. It appears that this is in the realm of quantum physics since this 'becoming,' as the Buddha called it, is so subtle. It's nothing as grossly observable as atoms, and yet it is also not a permanent soul. Whatever it is, however it works, the Buddha said it exists. He advises us that even if we don't completely understand it, we should still have faith it is a real phenomenon.

    So, the Buddha denied both eternalism (permanent soul), as well as nihlism (absolutely nothingness after death). What he taught was in the middle. (

    Beyond that I am unsure what more can be said. I hope that this helps you more than it confuses you. :)
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited August 2005
    Rebirth itself is difficult to tackle because it deals with so many foreign ideas. It combines:

    punabbhava (rebirth or again existence),

    kamma (Intentional acts that result in states of being and birth),

    asava (Mental effluent, pollutant, or fermentation. Four qualities — sensuality, views, becoming, and ignorance — that "flow out" of the mind and create the flood of the round of death and rebirth),

    samyojana (Fetter that binds the mind to the cycle of rebirth which are: self-identification views (sakkaya-ditthi), uncertainty (vicikiccha), grasping at precepts and practices (silabbata-paramasa); sensual passion (kama-raga), resistance (vyapada); passion for form (rupa-raga), passion for formless phenomena (arupa-raga), conceit (mana), restlessness (uddhacca), and unawareness (avijja)),

    samsara (the round of death and rebirth),

    vatta (The cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. This denotes both the death and rebirth of living beings and the death and rebirth of defilement (kilesa) within the mind), and

    paticca-samuppada (Dependent co-arising; dependent origination).

    To understand rebirth you must first understand all of the processes and conditions which lead one to this continued existence.

    Paticca-samuppada and

    You're saying, "WTF?" :wtf:

    It can become a very daunting task to 'understand' such a simple idea as rebirth.

    This could be you after trying---> :hair:

    Good luck figuring it out. :thumbsup:
  • ajani_mgoajani_mgo Veteran
    edited August 2005
    OK~ Let's just say it this way~ I believe most of us here believes that the Universe is Uncaused, although this is not important to Buddhism. Let's just say that rebirth is Caused, but other than that works the same way as Uncaused. Meaning we have got a reasons to be reborn, but you are just reborn. Sorry if I'm complicating things, brothers and sisters.
  • feefee
    edited August 2005

    That little picture is definitely me, Elohim.

    I am very confused. Today is a particularly tough day for understanding anything - not sure why, but nothing seems to make any sense.
  • PalzangPalzang Veteran
    edited August 2005
    Let's start off by looking at the difference between "rebirth" and "reincarnation". The way I have been taught is that ordinary sentient beings experience rebirth over and over again throughout all six realms of cyclic existence. In other words, rebirth occurs as the result of karma accumulated in precious lives. After death, consciousness is blown on the winds of karma to take rebirth in a new form. We have no control over this process and are essentially unaware of it. Reincarnation, on the other hand, is a conscious process of taking a new birth in a form and in a place where one can be of benefit to sentient beings. This is the way a bodhisattva takes birth.

    But what is it that is reborn? Here's the tricky part. This is where it gets slippery, as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to say. Ajani is right on when he said there is no soul in Buddhism. Lord Buddha taught the principle of anatman , or no permanent, unchanging nature. There is, in other words, no "I" in the sense of a permanent, unchanging being that moves from life to life. When I die, Palzang will cease to exist forever. My elements will come apart, my mind processes will cease, my memories will no longer exist, and "I" will no longer exist except in the memories of other living sentient beings. But yet we say that I will take rebirth. How does one resolve that seeming paradox?

    Well, one way I like to think of it goes something like this: we build up karma throughout this life as well as throughout previous lives. When karma is created by our actions, Lord Buddha taught that both the cause and the effect arise simultaneously. In fact, you can't separate cause and effect. But with our deluded dualistic minds, we are unable to see that they arise simultaneously. Sometimes an effect may not manifest until lifetimes later, even though in reality it arose simultaneously with its cause. So, when we see a child or someone young who comes down with cancer, we scratch our heads and say, how could this innocent child have deserved this? What did they do? Well, first of all, it's not about "deserving" anything. It's about cause and effect. It just so happens that in this case the effect manifested in the child whereas the cause may have been produced originally in an adult form in a previous life. Does that make sense? That's why it is said there are no victims in Buddhism. Nothing happens for no reason. There is always a reason for whatever happens to you. And it's not a judgment thing. Just simple cause and effect.

    So let's go back to death and rebirth. When one dies, there still remains a backlog, if you will, of unresolved karmic debt, of karmic effects that have arisen but have not yet manifested because the conditions necessary for them to be manifested have not as yet been encountered. For example, if you are a male who abuses women, the Buddha taught that you have created the causes for being abused as a woman at a future time. So if you're a man in this life, that effect can't be manifested because you're not a woman in this life. It can only manifest in a life where you're a woman. So the collective weight of all this karmic debt is what pushes us into a new birth. It's not actually "us" that is reborn then. It's not old Palzang who will be reborn, but the collective weight of my karmic debt that I have accumulated will cause a new being to take birth in samsara. It's me and not me. There's a karmic connection between the two lives, but no "soul" or anything like that that stays the same and moves between lives.

    I hope that made some sense and that it'll help clear up this complex question a little. I'm not saying I understand it perfectly either. Just the way I look at it based on what I have been taught.

  • feefee
    edited August 2005
    Thanks Palzang - that does make it a little easier to understand...BUT...Buddhism obviously believes in a soul if a Bodisattva can choose which life to reincarnate into (I suppose HH Dalai Lama is one of these and the Panchen Lama?)

    So who is to say that a normal sentient being isn't reincarnated rather than reborn?

    I agree that there will be no Fee in my next life, or was in my past ones, but surely the consciousness of whatever is holding the karma is the soul? Surely it can't all just dissolve because then there would be no karma either...if you know what I mean.
    Isn't the soul an impermanent thing anyway? No I don't suppose it is now that I have written that down (duh)

    But there must be SOMETHING that passes from life to life with the karma attached or how does that work?
    Have I made myself more confused?
  • edited August 2005
    Palzang wrote:
    There is, in other words, no "I" in the sense of a permanent, unchanging being that moves from life to life. When I die, Palzang will cease to exist forever. My elements will come apart, my mind processes will cease, my memories will no longer exist, and "I" will no longer exist except in the memories of other living sentient beings.

    It seems to me that that is the only way it could happen if rebirth happens. But what about people having past life memories, if memories are destroyed when the brain dies (I belive they are and you seem to agree)?
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited August 2005
    Quantum Buddhism -- the Science of the Subtle Mind by Elohim

    If I may, I would like to compare rebirth with quantum mechanics. Here is a paragraph I would like to use to begin with:

    "Quantum non-locality was experimentally proven in the 1980’s in Paris in a series of experiments conducted by Alain Aspect and his colleagues. These experiments measured the polarization of two twin photons... one photon being “up” and the other “down” as they traveled in different directions. Aspect’s experiments dealt with beams of correlated photons (pairs of one up and one down photon), and these experiments showed that as the angle of measurement changed for measuring the first group of photons, the statistical probability of the second group of photons going through the filter at a different angle was changed."

    If you do not quite understand what this means, it basically says that in experiments certain particles affected the course of other particles instantaneously, through space. How? Why? Was there a soul or consciousness involved here?

    Well, it doesn't appear to be. It's more like cause and affect on the subtlest of scales so that it may be observable in certain situations, while the process itself is not actually seen or measured. The only way we have proof of its existence are from the lab results on the end product.

    The quantum world does not act in the same ways as the observable world. The assumptions we have about matter and how the universe works do not seem to apply on this sub-atomic level. Some new ideas that arose out of quantum mechanics are:

    Mind and Matter are inseparable

    The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics was first described and presented by Niels Bohr in Italy in 1927. (We should all know Mr. Bohr, he was a very important man back in the day. *Hint - Manhattan project*) Bohr suggested that quantum particles exist as waves which might be anywhere until the wave function is collapsed. As long as nobody looks, each quantum particle is equally distributed in a series of overlapping probability waves, in a superposition of states. This doesn't make 'rebirth' seem so improbable now, does it? It might actually be a part of the laws of the universe that science can only barely discern through observations.....

    John Cramer's transactional interpretation of quantum physics suggests that "handshakes" take place between quantum particles in different points in time and space. In Cramer's interpretation, a particle here and now on Earth instantaneously communicates with particles light-years away in time and space, as one particle sends an "offer" wave and another responds with a "confirmation" wave. This is the closest scientific theory correlating with 'rebirth' as I have ever seen. It is basically saying flat out: A. communicates with B. instantaneously through time and space. So at death you (A.) communicate with the next life (B.) instantaneously through time and space. Anywhere at all, as long as their is a connection between the two points (which I suggest may be the process of kamma), these two exchange something subtle. What is this exchange? Rebirth I would imagine, and yet it is happening all the time! Can you imagine the possibilities? This goes to show the how and the why when the Buddha said every action of body, speech, AND mind are extremely important, and should be watched with all of our mindfulness. Even our thoughts can interact with the material world, because at the sub-atomic level, thought and matter are the same thing. Intentions do in fact matter: Samyutta Nikaya XII.38 Cetana Sutta

    Now the craziest one, which also relates to Buddhism, is the Holographic theory. I cannot even begin to describe this one, but physicist David Bohm and neurophysiologist Karl Pribram proposed that the universe may be like a giant hologram, containing both matter and consciousness as a single field. In other words, everything IS one. This model suggests that the objective world "out there" is a vast ocean of waves and frequencies which appears solid to us only because our brains convert that enfolded hologram into an unfolded sense of material we can perceive with our senses. This can be compared to the Dhammapada's first two verses:

    "All mental phenomena have mind as their forerunner; they have mind as their chief; they are mind-made. If one speaks or acts with an evil mind, 'dukkha' follows him just as the wheel follows the hoofprint of the ox that draws the cart.

    All mental phenomena have mind as their forerunner; they have mind as their chief; they are mind-made. If one speaks or acts with a pure mind, happiness (sukha) follows him like a shadow that never leaves him."

    (My quantum interpretations of these verses is that phenomena unfolds from the enfolded cause of volitional thought.)

    Now, much of this is completely just theory at this point. There have been experiments that have shown that many of these ideas are possible, but not flat out proof is available. Technology is not yet advanced enough at this point to carry out such experiments and record the observations. I hope, however, that this sneak peak into some quantum theories can help put rebirth into a language you will better understand and, more importantly, 'believe in'. Most people in the modern world will take 'science' over what some guy in India said 2500 years ago, even if they are exactly the same. ;)


    *Edit* Sorry for the insane amount of spelling errors. I hope I corrected them all. :)
  • ajani_mgoajani_mgo Veteran
    edited August 2005
    I know that quantum physics is currently bein gused to explain many things that look unexplainable... Like rebirth and life... I wish I have had a better understanding of the subject, as much as I have read it though.
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited August 2005
    Well, on the other forum eveyone said that my interpretations of quantum mechanics is garbage, and based on quackery. :) I still think it's an interesting idea though. I'm no physicist so I can't argue too much. I just know what I read.
  • edited August 2005
    Elohim wrote:
    Well, on the other forum eveyone said that my interpretations of quantum mechanics is garbage, and based on quackery. :) I still think it's an interesting idea though. I'm no physicist so I can't argue too much. I just know what I read.
    I tend to be very skeptical of attempts to use quantum physics to talk about spiritual matters. I could go as far as to say that is all shows that the world is stranger and harder to grasp than we thought it was, but that about as far as I'm willing to go with that . . .
  • the answer is simple. the revelations arising from buddhist awareness are on-going through out all human existence. the buddha could not have known everything because he was limited by his senses, and thus had a limited awareness about existence because during his life-time, he did not have access to the technology we have. he was still able to realize many magnificent revelations because of his expanded awareness.

    it is amazing that he described rebirth as our ultimate destiny. because of his expanded awareness, he could see that all things live and die, and that we are not "i", but a collection of interconnected parts, like the rose bush. today's scientific breakthroughs have proven him to be absolutely right. he didn't know exactly how it happened because technology didnt allow him to see this, but he still knew it happened from using his intuition.

    there is no soul, and this is made clear in buddhism. this is correct. the belief in a soul is a symptom of our attachment to life and desires. we are part of a cycle, like a petal in a rose bush, the cells that make up the rose bush, and the atoms and subsequent energy. to fight our existence, and cling to it unnecessarily is counter intuitive to our predicament as beings in this existence we live.

    you say this is not so simple now. why? if your mind was clear of all this wrong thought, and you were told there is no life after death, would it seem logical? you are not "you". you are part of the universe. when you die, does the universe die too. when all humans die, will all life in the universe cease to exist? there will always be existence - at least hopefully. i would not like to imagine complete non-existence - nothing, and never anything in the past or the future or ever, just nothing and never anything - not you, not me, or your greatest grandchildren. to understand rebirth, you must first understand there is no "i", there is only existence( the universe) and "you" are just a part of it, like the rose bush and its subsequent parts. the buddha also taught that almost all of these questions can be answered through intuition and common sense, just so long as the mind is clear.
  • So all animals and insects have souls, same as humans, and we could be an insect in the next life?
    But I thought the Buddha said "no souls"
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    this thread is 7 years old.
    Perhaps you could begin a new one, @karmaisfemale? (what made you choose that name, btw....?)
    Many of the contributing members are no longer regular visitors.....
This discussion has been closed.