Some Thoughts on Rebirth

I’m a member of a couple of different internet forums on which subjects pertaining to the practice of Buddhism are discussed, often debated, and occasionally argued about. It is interesting to watch the most heated of these conversations and realize how little input I really care to have on them, but tonight I’m going to write a little about one such discussion.

One of these forums has a particular thread that is essentially a huge debate on the matter of rebirth. Some people refer to this as reincarnation (like Hinduism), but there are subtle differences to it that make it a very different thing when you really dig into it [a subject for another post, perhaps]. The thread in question has over four-thousand posts, which seems like a lot to me considering how much the idea of rebirth seems like a “core” subject in Buddhism, and lets face it, you don’t see 4000+ posts on a single thread unless there is a disagreement.

I haven’t read each post in the thread, and wouldn’t even if I felt I had the time to invest in doing so. Studying Buddhism, I’ve learned that there are a number of different viewpoints ranging from the downright secular to the outlandishly mystic and I’ve chosen to stay out of arguments that can serve no purpose but to strengthen my own attachments to views. I see those who hold all these different views as spiritual brothers and sisters and see no reason or value in arguing.

I do have views, don’t get me wrong. I have read a number of Suttas (possibly more than 300, although I imagine such a count barely scratches the surface of the total material available), not counting the various Mahayana texts I’ve also picked up along the way. Most of these are purported to have been originally uttered by the Buddha himself. If one takes it on some measure of faith that the translators aren’t idiots, the original texts aren’t terribly corrupted, and the originator can be known, a reader can extrapolate certain views from the texts.

Is rebirth a literal truth? I can’t say that for certain. I am no Arahant, nor have I seen into past lives by means of the power of meditation. The Suttas suggest to me that the Buddha recalled his past lives and could discern the next existence (if applicable) of those who passed on from this world. I take it on faith that these are not fabricated events just as much as a Christian must have faith that Jesus was the son of God and not a just a random charismatic with a god-complex. I do, however, take things from a fairly literal angle in most cases.

This means I tend to not read between the lines too much nor do I re-interpret something very well when the words spoken (or printed, in this case) are not particularly ambiguous in and of themselves. I’ve never really been good with comprehending sarcasm either, but I digress…

So while I choose to not make a huge arguement about it, I do take the Suttas at their word and make the presumption that, unless the streams of craving, delusion, hatred, etc. are completely interrupted, severed and ended permanently, one may indeed in some capacity face numerous lifetimes imbued with varying degrees of happiness and suffering, completely unsatisfactory and transient.

As much as I wish I knew for certain what happened at the dissolution of the body, for now I simply have to go with what resonates with me the most and acknowledge that I do not have direct personal knowledge either way. The teachings I have absorbed and applied to my life (with even limited success) have yielded a much calmer, more satisfying life for me here and now. I don’t need to have a firm determination that rebirth is meant literally, figuratively, both literally and figuratively, or neither literally nor figuratively, and neither do the writers of those thousands of posts on the forum.

May you be well, may you be free from dispute and disharmony, may you be at peace, my friends. I will write again soon.



  1. yes, I agree that it makes more practical sense to concentrate on the development of morality, concentration and wisdom in our day to day life then worrying and arguing endlessly about rebirth – we just don’t know and that is ok. Namaste

  2. Dennis Beyer · · Reply

    I’d like to compliment you on the level of maturity your view carries, I have relatives that have been on this earth for more than twice the time that either of us has been alive that are not able to share your view. What I speak of is not jumping into an argument that serves no purpose other than to have everyone feel more strongly about their own views. I made a decision a few years ago that if my opinion differs from a friend or relative’s so much that all it causes is arguments, I don’t speak of (sometimes outright refuse) to discuss it with them. I tell them that I love/like them too much to risk our good standing relationship to argue about it with them and change the subject. There’s a bit difference between a spirited debate, given the amount of time we have known each other I’d guess we’ve had at least one, and one of these arguments (which to my memory we have never had). I totally agree the 4000+ post is probably just such an argument and you are very wise to not join in it.

    1. Denny,

      I have realized just now that I’m very fortunate to have surrounded myself with like-minded people, not in that we all place our faith in the same system of practice, but that we can be equally mature (as you put it) about such matters. I greatly appreciate this, I assure you.

      We all need to get together again sometime. You ought to PM me or Michelle a good time and perhaps we do some sort of movie night or something. It has been a while (January?).

      Take care, my friend.

  3. Dennis Beyer · · Reply

    I agree, we always says we should get together more often and then life gets in the way and suddenly it’s been months again. Life’s pretty full through early September with school starting and all, I’m sure you know all about that 😉 We’ll be in touch when that settles down and set something up.

    1. Whatever works for you, Denny, will be just fine for me. 🙂

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