Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rebirth is not the same as reincarnation (Part 1 of 2)

Question : (Unedited)
My question is a somewhat complex one, or at least so it seems to me; I would like to know precisely how the Buddhist idea of rebirth differs from the idea of reincarnation.  I understand that the latter involves the transmigration of a soul from one physical body to the next and that rebirth is supposedly different because it involves no such transmigration because Buddhists do not believe in a soul.  I've heard it explained that rebirth is more of just a realization of how each being finds it cause in the previous being, like the handing of a flame from a dying candle to a new one, yet time and time again, I hear Buddhists speaking of being someone else in a past life.  How can this be?  Wouldn't it to be more accurate to say not that I WAS such and such person before this life, but rather that I simply received the kamma of that person?  Even the Buddha speaks of past lives, and we say that he was Vesantara and the others Jataka Heroes.  If there is no soul or essence (because there is no eternal self/ego) which survives death, then how is it that we are our predecessors and successors?  And if we are not them, how can kamma be just as it punishes and rewards us for the actions of others?

My comment:
Hi J.,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.  I must congratulate you that you have got the idea of rebirth correctly.  So I need not elaborate.  This phenomenon of rebirth is a very unique one.  We can say the consciousness is like an electric current.  This current lights up different bulbs.  This current is not the same at any one moment, it travels or in a flux.  As for the bulbs, it is quite obvious that they are different bulbs.  However the light that the different bulbs emit is neither the same nor different.  The Buddha expressed the rebirth process as "neither exactly the same nor totally different" ("Na ca so, na ca anno", in Pali) (Pronounce: "Nar cha so, nar cha un-yo").

The very fact that we cannot remember our past lives is an indication that we were not them.  But the fact that we are here, brings question as to wherefrom we came.  We may argue or analyze by using our intellectual capacity till the cows come home; still we will never be satisfied.  It is believed that if one practises Buddhist meditation diligently, one may ultimately find realization through the power of the mind.

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