The Problem With Reincarnation

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In this post, I’d like to consider seriously the issue of reincarnation. Or perhaps I should say, the problem with reincarnation. Though I practice Buddhism, I don’t actually believe in reincarnation. I suspect that my saying this will irk many of my Buddhist friends, who rightly consider the tenet of reincarnation central to Buddhism, as well as the indifference of anyone who doesn’t believe in reincarnation and therefore has little interest in an essay that points out the problems with a theory they already discount. Though I therefore risk having an audience of no one, I think the discussion will be an interesting one, because the real question at the heart of reincarnation is one of identity.

According to Wikipedia the percentage of people who believe in reincarnation ranges from 12 to 44% depending on the country being surveyed (in the U.S. it’s 20%). And, I freely admit, such a belief may not be wrong: psychiatrist Ian Stevenson has conducted more than 2,500 case studies over a period of 40 years of children who supposedly remembered past lives. He methodically documented each child’s statements and then identified the deceased person the child identified with, and verified the facts of the deceased person’s life that matched the child’s memory. He also matched birthmarks and birth defects to wounds and scars on the deceased, verified by medical records such as autopsy photographs. While skeptics have argued his reports provide only anecdotal evidence, his data does seem to demand explanation.

The problem with reincarnation as that explanation, however, is twofold: 1) we have, as of yet, no way to verify it prospectively in an objective manner, 2) we have no mechanism to explain how reincarnation might occur. Though reincarnation is indeed a central tenet of all sects of Buddhism, no sect of Buddhism posits the existence of a non-corporeal “soul”—an eternal, unchanging version of ourselves that’s capable of living independently of a brain and a body. Rather, in Buddhism, the self is viewed as something that has no “absolute” existence, as something that changes constantly from moment to moment, as well as something that’s capable of existing only within the confines of a physical brain.

Yet something of us, Buddhism argues, continues from life to life, something that makes us uniquely us. The sect of Buddhism I practice argues this “something” is our karma: the sum of all the effects we ourselves have created within our lives (like unexploded mousetraps that will be triggered at some point in the future) as a result of all the things we’ve ever thought, said, and done—not just in the past of our current life, but in all the pasts of all our previous lives.

And here is where I have a third problem with the Buddhist notion of reincarnation: how does the sum of all the effects I myself have created in the past add up to “me”? I can accept that all the things I’ve ever thought, said, and done (at least in this lifetime) have indeed, in some sense, created the person I am now. But do all my thoughts, words, and actions create my core essence—or arise from it?

Which leads me to ask what I think, in one sense, is a more interesting question than the question of reincarnation: namely, what is my core essence? The sense of self I feel and have always felt has seemed constant throughout my life, which is why I feel as if I even have a core essence. But a moment’s reflection reveals that what’s really remained constant is the feeling of the sense of self itself, not the content of that sense. Am I even remotely the same person I was at five? At fifteen? Last week? A moment ago? In one sense, obviously yes. Something links the “me” that I am right now to the “me” that I was at five (and not, for example, to my wife as she was at five). But what is that something? My memory? I’ve long ago forgotten most of what happened to me at five. I remember being five, but not the entirety of even one day from that year (in fact, I don’t remember the entirety of even one day from last week). If any content in my life remains constant, it’s not due to my remembering it, to my consciously holding it fast in my working memory so as not to forget it and thus myself. It’s because some things remain constant without my having to remember them or even think about them: essentially, my habits (which, are by definition, unconscious) and my beliefs (which, though they must be expressed in language, needn’t be consciously apprehended to influence behavior). Given what we now know about the enormous size and power of the unconscious—about just how much of “us” lies beneath the surface of our conscious minds—we have to admit that the defining core of who we are may in fact be located mostly, if not entirely, beneath our awareness (our conscious minds being mostly spectators and interpreters of our unconscious selves).

But what does even this mean? That our unconscious beliefs and habits define who we are? Does our conscious awareness, the values we’re able to articulate to ourselves, have nothing to do with our identity? And what about our memories of who we’ve been? Without those, would not some essential part of the self be lost?

Many Buddhists would argue the sense that we even have a self is an illusion, that despite our feeling that a unique something lies at the core of what we are, such a something doesn’t, in fact, exist. And though I can’t answer any of the questions above, I find myself sympathetic to this point of view. I suspect the only thing constant about us is our sense that something about us remains constant, and that who we are is comprised both of stable parts (personality, beliefs, attitudes, and so on) and unstable parts (retrievable memories, moods, interests, and so on)—and that to change any one of them (whether in the realm of the conscious or unconscious) is to change who we are in proportion to their relative stability (changing a belief, for example—like a belief in God—would represent a major change; changing a mood, on the other hand, merely a minor one).

Certainly those of us who’ve gone through major upheaval in our lives or experienced an abrupt and enormous leap in maturity at some point often pause to look back and imagine ourselves as a fundamentally different person from who we once were. But perhaps our inclination to label ourselves as “changed” only when we notice a large enough difference between who we are and who we used to be ignores the truth that we’re never not changing. Our lives are in constant motion, and to imagine that we could take a snapshot of them at any one point in time and somehow capture that which represents our essential selves strikes me as arguing that an actual snapshot of a flowing river represents its one true shape. So when people tell me they believe in reincarnation, the first question that comes to my mind isn’t about what evidence they think argues for the possibility. Rather, it’s this: just exactly what do they think gets reincarnated?

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  • Wow! I expect to see an enormous # of comments on this subject.

    I want to add one thing—energy in the universe is not lost. If life is energy, then where does it go when we die? Is one’s soul energy? What constitutes the soul? I do not believe in reincarnation, but I don’t “not” believe either.

    I’m anxious to see all the comments.

    Thank you for your thought-provoking letters.


  • Alex, your third question points to something pretty significant, I think. The great majority of people, Buddhists included, aren’t really that interested in metaphysics. I doubt that a belief in reincarnation is very often motivated primarily as a means of explanation. The motivation is more personal, and not so different to that for an immortal incorporeal soul: fear of death for oneself, and denial of the reality of the death of loved ones.

    And the trouble is in this respect that reincarnation, at least as generally conceived, doesn’t buy anyone what they really want. There’s not enough of the ‘self’ purportedly transported between lives to satisfy either the fear or the denial.

    It’s fairly obvious that reincarnation doesn’t have much going for it logically or empirically, that is, it’s unlikely that someone without a pre-existing desire for its occurrence would come up with it as a reasonable explanation for what we know about ourselves. I suspect though that it’s also on motivational thin ice.

    As an aside, I often wonder with these things what on earth is wrong with plain old ignorance? I have no idea what consciousness is (hence what I am). It’d be nice to know, but I can’t pretend that any explanation I’ve yet come across (and I’ve read a reasonable amount of philosophy and neuroscience) is anything other that transparent straw-clutching. All the explanations are uncertain, vague, and riddled with holes. Why cling to one? What’s the hurry?

  • Just continue practicing awareness … it will become clear.
    Keep well,
    Much Metta

  • Well, here’s another Buddhist who doesn’t believe in reincarnation because, like you, I can’t figure out what would be reincarnated. Some modern scholars think that the teachings of the Buddha as they were originally written down did not include the notion of reincarnation—that the references to “rebirth” as it’s usually translated from the Pali Canon were later additions by Hindu-influenced monks. Another view is that “rebirth” was part of the Buddha’s original teachings but, by rebirth, he was referring to moment-to-moment rebirth into ever-shifting identities, and that the references to remembering “past lives” during his long sit under the Bodhi Tree is to be interpreted in that vein.

    The reason it seems reasonable to me that the Buddha’s teachings didn’t originally include reincarnation is that as far as I can tell (and I’m not a Buddhist scholar, just a practitioner) the notion of reincarnation conflicts with his teachings on “anatta” or “not self.” You’ve done an excellent job of explaining this concept (without using the term). I think of what I refer to as my “self” as an ever-changing flow of identities based on causes and conditions in my life. My favorite statement of “not self” comes from the Buddhist eco-philosopher, Joanna Macy: “I am a flow through of matter, energy, and information.”

    I should add that I’ve learned that reincarnation is very comforting to people. I found this out the hard way from responding honestly to many people’s email inquiries to me about reincarnation and then receiving angry replies back when I tell them I don’t believe in it (even though I was asked for my opinion). So I’m interested to hear what your thoughtful essay produces by way of feedback, Alex!

  • We (“I”) are not in a linearity; we are not static, in the sense of “owning” an “I.” We are partaking in the “swirl” that we see in the photos from NASA into the beyond of the past into which we have already incorporated ourselves, thinking that there is a now that we inhabit. Forget about it. We gone! What a pleasant surprise! Swirling, twirling. Join in the dance!!

  • Alex, you are right that @ the heart of the question of re-incarnation: man seeks to answer the fundamental question of identity. But I think the context of identity is quite different from the one you mention. It is not that of you as an “individual physical entity” because it is a no-brainer that physical existence is limited in time and any notion of physical re-incarnation cannot be explored by “me” the limited individual because I am the part of the system and therefore will never have the complete information about the system as a whole and therefore for the missing pieces my mind will always fill in gaps based on my notions of what the whole system may be. So, yes we will NEVER be able to verify re-incarnation under this definition & therefore NEVER be able to conclusively explain how it happens.

    The question of reincarnation I believe is tied to the identity of that common thread called “life/awareness” that exists @ different levels of manifestation across the spectrum of living beings. So the question is does this life/awareness ever cease to exist or does it just change forms and re-manifest (aka reincarnate)? Now if you ask this question, the answer to reincarnation can be one of two depending on how much depth you want to examine it at: a) a big fat ‘YES’ OR b) the question is invalid. Here is how -> The closest understanding of life force/awareness is energy, so is energy reincarnated? Being a man of science, you would agree @ a certain level yes. But then on closer examination within the context of energy does reincarnation matter, the answer would be no because the question itself is invalid; at that level preservation of identity means nothing…and therefore this whole thought process including the question becomes invalid.

  • Hello everyone, this morning I woke up with one thing in my mind, just I “am” in the way that I “think,” but what is the real core of me? And today’s issue, is this core immortal?

    Although I have no definite answer (thanks god) probably an only self doesn´t exist—it’s an illusion and all of us are in a way one thing which can repeat (DNA?)

  • I think there is a continuance of energy that is released either via decomposition (like a compost) or fire. I don’t know specifically where that energy goes but I think it probably disperses and becomes part of many living things. To me there is a sense of recycling rather than reincarnation, and yes that can be reassuring at times.

  • The thing that would be reincarnated is the feeler of feelings, the senser of sensations, the hearer of sounds, the seer of images. What is that? It is an empty receptacle that gets filled with things, but a receptacle nonetheless.

    Intuitively, we all implicitly believe that this receptacle exists, because we fear for our own futures. If we will not be the ones who experience our futures—who feel the pleasure and pain they entail—then there would be no reason for us to be any more concerned about those futures than we are about the futures of other people.

    (Granted, we may be wrong to fear for our futures; evolution may have designed us to fear them, even though we will not be in them, b/c it is trying to keep the genes going.)

    One particularly alluring thought in the realm of reincarnation is the possibility that we are all, ultimately, the same underlying consciousness. We think that it is possible for a person to be extended in time—to feel one thing in one moment, another thing in another moment. But then why can’t a person be extended in space—to feel one thing in one place, while simultaneously feeling one thing in another. Just a thought. Space and time are mysteriously related in relativity, so there may be something along this line of thinking. It is very weird to believe that there are X number of souls in the universe—maybe there is just one single soul, and we (I) am it. And by “I” I mean to refer to what you are speaking of when you say “I,” just as what I am speaking of when I say “I.” It may be the same thing, the same receptacle, with no memory link across space (just as there sometimes is no memory link across time—such as when you forget some period of your past, but you are still the same person as then, we would say).

    This is a particularly scary thought. I hope it is not true. I hope reincarnation is not true, because if you tally up all of the suffering that exists in the world, it is a scary amount, and it would be not be good news to hear that each individual’s journey through the various forms of that suffering never ends. Much better would be this, then you’re done, rest in peace. Let’s cross our fingers!

  • One interesting conclusion by saying that the self is an empty receptacle is that you get all of the benefits of a no-self view. The self has no content, so even if it is not “nothing,” it might as well be nothing. It has no qualities—rather, it is that which observes qualities, i.e., phenomena.

  • As you predicted, Alex, this is developing into an interesting discussion. 🙂

    As far as I can see, the issue of reincarnation has no bearing on my desire and effort to live every moment as mindfully as possible. On the other hand, I can understand that it may serve to many as an additional—and very strong—motivational factor … i.e., be good or you will be reborn as a lower human, rat or worse.

    My perspective is that there is no hard information for me to decide … so I must live without a decision on that matter. Doesn’t Buddhism teach us to live with uncertainty, among others? 🙂

    Note: I have one terminological comment, Alex: Being a translator by trade, I am sensitive to shades of meaning, and your use of the term sect in connection with Buddhism does not quite agree with me. You see, sect has mostly negative connotations/flavor to it. Even Wikipedia, under the article for “Sect,” links you to “Schools” of Buddhism. But, naturally, what’s in a name, isn’t it?

    Ondrej: Hmmm. I hadn’t considered that the word “sect” had negative connotations.


  • Thought-provoking. When Henry David Thoreau was asked right before he died if he believed in the “hereafter,” he replied, “One world at a time.” I believe, like a lot of others, that religions evolved to relieve fear of death anxiety. I like the Iris Dement song, “Let the mystery be.”

  • “The problem with reincarnation as that explanation, however, is twofold: 1) we have, as of yet, no way to verify it prospectively in an objective manner, 2) we have no mechanism to explain how reincarnation might occur.”

    This is, indeed, the nub of the problem. At the same time, we also know that explanations of every era are limited by the terms of that era. It was difficult to imagine—much less take seriously—that the sun didn’t revolve around the earth before a suitable explanation was offered (and accepted). Ditto that eclipses were not some sort of black magic or god’s wrath. Ditto a host of other seemingly logical explanations of things. Our scientific “discoveries” lag far behind our narratives.

    Knowledge and intuition seem to engage in a dance through time, with intuition opening doors to speculation and experimentation that eventually expand knowledge—or seem to, at any rate. I have no doubt that whatever “truth” we discover about reincarnation will differ from the way people have described it up until that point. We’ll be able to see why the people of our time explained it the way we did, but it will fit with what we come to believe (think we know) only metaphorically. Usually, these jumps in explanatory power seem to involve a radical shift in perspective.

    Have you read Scott Adams’s God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment by any chance? I recommend it for anyone who might want to imagine thinking about reincarnation (and other aspects of life) from a different perspective. It’s fun and quite short.

    rdp: I like this comment very much. I agree that what we can envision as true at any one point in history is powerfully influenced by the time in which we live, which is another reason I’m willing to be convinced by evidence that reincarnation might be real. I haven’t read that book but will check it out.


  • Does the “core essence” necessarily have to be something we’re “aware” of?? I don’t know whether I really believe in reincarnation, but it seems logical to me that there is a lot that happens outside of what we know/feel/perceive.

  • What a great question, Alex: Precisely what gets reincarnated? Is it like in the film “Groundhog Day”—that the very last moment on this earth is the “you” that gets picked up, to continue its tumble through life here on earth?

    As Toni quotes from Joanna Macy: “I am a flow through of matter, energy, and information,” which is an argument for non-locality, which physics seems to confirm.

    I like the pre-Socratic Xeno’s take that one cannot step into the same river twice, and his runner’s paradox, i.e, one will never arrive “there” … life is simply a constant striving, and surely we are not even a unity (like the “runner”)—parts of us exceed others, then fall behind.

    All told, the parts that compose an “I” are probably like runners in a relay race, passing off the baton as different mile-markers are reached, slowing down or speeding up as we pass certain “singularities.”

  • A good book to read is Many Lives, Many Masters, explaining an MD’s theory of reincarnation with anecdotes.

    Enjoyable read!

    Matt: I’ve read it. A very enjoyable read, but also, as you point out, entirely anecdotal.


  • I DO believe in reincarnation, have since I was very young, and was completely convinced at age 20 when I found historical and physical evidence of one of my former selves/incarnations (from 80 years before)—the search of which had occupied my dreams since my earliest memories.

    I also have very clear memories of two other lives, and shadowy memories of a fourth. I am sure there were others.

    I am not interested in convincing anyone else of this. It simply “is” for me—and has been a great blessing in many ways, by affirming that there is a greater continuum of “life,” one that goes beyond the range of my current body. This has greatly informed my thinking and approach to this lifetime, e.g., I have always believed in karma, and lived accordingly.

  • I don’t like the term reincarnation. I prefer rebirth. But if you don’t recognise rebirth, how do you recognise karma unless you are saying it happens only in this lifetime. And then we have a chicken and egg question. Why is someone born disabled unless it is an effect from past life and I appreciate it could be a thing of tremendous value. My understanding as a Buddhist is also that we have to learn from whatever circumstances we are born into, but is that it? All that learning and that’s it?

  • @Ondrej CZ
    Why would being born as a rat be specifically bad?

  • @Et

    Well, I mentioned rats because it is easy to consider them inferior to us. I was thinking of adding the dung beetle too. 🙂 And as far as I know Buddhism considers them inferior to us.

    I hasten to add that have no problem with most animals, and I have even played with pet rats, so it was not intended as a slight of any sort. But I like to think that our brains make our lives and thinking richer than those of less brainy animals.

    As for reincarnation, I simply don’t know, and I believe that this question is so far outside my intellectual capabilities that I will hardly get any wiser … in this lifetime 😉 If there is endless rebirth, fine. If there is not, it can’t shake the fact that Buddhist practices, approach to life, and thought system are what I use to get my bearings in life, and based on that I consider myself a Buddhist.

    And I refuse to judge the notion of rebirth on grounds of lack of evidence or its apparent incompatibility with current scientific knowledge. It is hardly one hundred years ago that was scientifically proven that aircraft heavier than air will never fly, and before that venerable academics discarded the existence of meteorites because there simply aren’t any stones in the sky, in the first place.

  • Anita,

    I agree, it simply “is” for all who have the information/evidence firsthand, as I too have…and a dear friend, whose story is told in Here & Hereafter: Consciousness and the Journey of My Soul. This program originally aired on PBS and the DVD is posted on my web site in case anyone wants to watch it for free. Just click Play to view.

    Giselle M. Massi

  • The atma is reborn.

    I have seen almost instantaneous pick up of classical music and dance—and self care at an early age—in my kid sister. I learned by sweat and rote, she *knew* the beats so it was like practicing, almost effortless. She died too early, at 19.

    This may be anecdotal, single-instance based, but I do not have the erudition to state otherwise.

  • I just read this blog today (Thursday)—I’ve been having computer problems. The title intrigued me, because I’ve had trouble believing it also. Our kind of Buddhism also believes that we choose who we want to be when were born in this lifetime. I’ve often said in a humorous way that if I ever meet the person I was in a previous life I’d punch him in the head. My emotional challenges have been strong.

    I will read the blog a few times so I completely understand it.

  • There is an easy answer to this reincarnation stuff using modern day metaphysical notions. It is called, in modern day metaphysics, “Eternalism.” Eternalism says that all times exist equally, like Einstein said with special relativity. All times equally exist and are all equally real.

    You have spatial parts (right leg and left leg, or top half of body and bottom half of body), and likewise you have temporal parts. There is the temporal you who existed when born in *this* life, and you have a temporal part when you turned 25 years old in *this* life.

    Obviously the you when you were born is not the same you as when you were, or are, 25. But these are qualitative identities (like your hair has the qualitative identity of being black-haired and obtain the qualitative identity of being blond when you dye your hair). But the person, or “thing,” that has these qualitative identities is numerically the same. You’re numerical identity is the same, even though your qualitative identity changed.

    Likewise, your temporal parts change, but they belong to numerically the same thing. In other words, your qualitative identity is a temporal part, and these change, but they belong to the same numerical object. So this life you are living, as John Doe, is a temporal part. Your next life, as Jane Doe, is also a temporal part. But they are temporal parts of something that is numerically identical. Thus, reincarnation is perfectly intelligible.

    Think of a line. You can cut up this line into many different parts. Think of the line as all the lives you are going to live and have lived. It is your numerical identity, it is the “self” or the “I.” But your “Self” or “I” has different parts. These different parts are the “temporal parts.” The line has many different parts and all these parts are part of the whole line.

  • Hi Alex,
    I appreciate your brutally honest statement that you do not believe in reincarnation, as it certainly provoked me into a response I would otherwise not have made. I think it is healthy to be absolutely honest about our doubts or beliefs, as long as we remain open to scrutiny and the ability to consider another’s point of view.

    I actually do believe in reincarnation, but the important question then is, what do I mean by reincarnation? There are certainly a number of seemingly superficial interpretations of the term out there, and I feel that these can be dismissed without much trouble. However, to my mind there still remain enough reasons for us to at least consider that it may be a possibility.

    Before I mention those reasons, I should first define what I mean by reincarnation. First of all, it is not the re-birth of “me.” I say this because what is “me” is largely defined by the circumstances and characteristics of what I was born into, including my physical and even my spiritual characteristics. “I” would be free of any of the general characteristics of what was “me” before. The only exception to this would be a causal (i.e., karmic) link.

    Secondly, reincarnation, I believe, is probably outside of our normal conception of temporal/spatial existence. It strikes me as too profound a concept to be so easily defined. I like the image that Jesse Livermore describes: “The thing that would be reincarnated is the feeler of feelings, the senser of sensations, the hearer of sounds, the seer of images. What is that? It is an empty receptacle that gets filled with things, but a receptacle nonetheless.” None of us can speak with any certainty about this issue, but what we do know, is that every minute, babies are born into this world, consciousnesses open to be influenced, developed, matured. These consciousnesses may not have come from anywhere, as it were, but they are (to a large extent) empty vessels, and I do not think it too fanciful an idea, that “I” might become, yet again, one of those receptacles.

  • Elias….I agree…I really like those two quotes as well!

  • I agree with Stephen on the whole, but think that perhaps what carries over is an “imprint” of energy which “reflects” in a sense rather than “contains” all the emotions, traumas, various qualities of our personalities as we were on earth. So, in a way its “shape” or “form” is designed according to the contents. So if and when we are re-born, the essential qualities of our experience/karma on earth becomes the new being.

    I was watching the Yesterday channel on TV the other night—a series of programs, wall to wall, on haunted houses which included hundreds of examples of weird and wonderful phenomena, with a lot of detail given, and a lot of eye-witness accounts.

    I have never seen a “ghost,” and have always queried what exactly it is, but I thought, having watched this treat of an evening, these accounts are very convincing and certainly seem authentic and not delusional either. My up-to-date take on this is that we live in the midst of parallel universes which are forever dipping in and out of each other.

    If it is true that time (and place) are illusions, then all time is in fact within eternity, is eternal and this why we are encouraged by spiritual gurus etc, to live “in the now,” because living in the “now” is in fact living “outside of time.” Buddhist meditation seeks to transcend the mind, dualism, time, to approach this “space.”

    This is a bit deep for some I realize. However, my present curiosity about these sorts of things apparitions/reincarnation—all of that, is that these are examples of experiences whereby we step out of our usual awareness into a reality that is far beyond our understanding—but which physics may one day help us see more clearly.

    I find the idea of reincarnation a fascinating one but seek to remain open as to the truth.

  • The clothes wear no emperor.

  • In your book, you mention that what lives on is the good or bad things we’ve done. I agree. I’ve been thinking that way for a while.

  • […] a previous post, The Problem With Reincarnation, I wrote: “The sense of self I feel and have always felt has seemed constant throughout my […]

  • I am a practicing Buddhist of the same persuasion as the author. In a way, I think re-birth is the best definition. The most convincing empirical evidence that re-birth is real is that fact that people born into this world seem to experience radically different destinies. Some are become rich, some are not. Some suffer terribly and other don’t. Some are beautiful some are not. Some are compassionate and caring others are sociopaths. All other phenomena in the universe follow physical laws; why should life be an exception?

    Sam: I’m afraid I don’t see the examples you gave as good evidence that re-birth occurs.


  • I know about my previous birth. I was born more than one hundred years ago. My name was Kamta Prasad Sinha who later was known as Sarkar Sahab the 4th Spiritual Guru of Radhasoami Faith. This was revealed to me about 15 years back by my Guru of previous birth. This can be taken as an empirical evidence of rebirth and reincarnation.

  • Reincarnation (in the rebirth sense) is a logical explanation based within our observable reality as far as I can observe. Think of it this way: you were born, you were dead before you were born, you will die. This opens the door to the origin of a separate experience that is not your next life; it is a completely random new life.
    This new life may be the life of a bacteria, it may last seconds, it may take a trillion lives to be human again. The new life may be located in any part of the universe.

    In this theory, because of the vast multitudes of potential new lives karma cannot exist. In the first billion unconscious lives any good or bad karma would be depleted. Karma is an airy-fairy concept attempting to introduce morality into the teachings.

    Morality is impossible to determine; good and bad karma is therefore a delusion that would ultimately require a higher judge to designate. In atheistic Buddhism no such higher judge exists. The universe acting as a judge is beyond the comprehension of man—therefore good and bad would also beyond the comprehension of man.

    Personally I believe in predetermination as the most logical explanation versus free will or random chance. I feel that free will is an illusion created by the complexity of everything around us. Everything that is observable has a cause, therefore there is no morality, no good or bad. Everything is what is and nothing can change that. There may even be a cause for the rebirth cycle; however the rebirth cycle is purely hypothetical. Maybe the next life experience will not be random, maybe it will be determined by a pattern.

  • Everything is maya including previous, present and future content of our lives. Only the Supreme Being who provides the backdrop or sky to the content of our lives is REAL. Therefore actually the preoccupation with ideas of reincarnation is a “red herring.” Ramana Maharshi speaks about repeatedly focusing on the phrase I AM in order to realize enlightenment. The reality that this will bring you will be the only Reality and it is found in the PRESENT, not in the past nor the future. Life and Death are two sides of the same coin. The Eternal Now can only be discovered through stepping beyond the intellect. All argument via intellect leads us to false conclusions.

  • Good comments, Dianne.

  • The concept of reincarnation is not being interpreted properly. The Buddha said nothing is permanent. Reincarnation is verifiable; just look around you. This was the point he was making. I’m being concise here.

    Buddha also said that he does not have all the answers, and that he could be wrong. Our understanding of existence and the self will progress.

    There is no “you.” You are not independent of the universe. Call it reincarnation if you want, but new life will come out of the universe, and you will be a part of it always, like a cell that makes up our bodies. This is almost worse than eternal nothingness, since it means we will be that starving African, that prey eaten alive by a lion. It also means we will be great things too. Each cell has to exist individually for the universe to exist holistically, so they all must play their part, however small, so what you do in this life will effect everything else around you, whih is why you must try to do your best, and avoid hurting others; but they will be you, and you will be it.

  • (continued)

    This is why when you see somebody in distress, it is best to help them, not because of some universal judgment system that gives you points on a tally, but because you know that pain will be felt in the future by the universe, and it must be limited because you are a part of this universe. Morality is simple. Whatever helps the universe thrive is the only right that exists. Death and pain are unavoidable, but if it can be avoided, it should. Do not inflict pain on others, because you are part of this existence, and you will feel it too in another form.

  • You all, and myself included, are just plain ignorant when it comes to true knowledge. Man has only opinions; sometimes true opinion, which equals truth. But, as the wisest of man once stated: “Only God knows, and he that realizes this is closest to God.” There is a reason for everything; find that reason and you will be satisfied in your curiosity. Are we to follow our instincts? Is not being curious a humanly trade? To know is our life’s quest. Mankind carries forth the correct opinions of our past wise men and women; that is what reincarnation is all about, I think. If we do not like someone’s else opinions, then we must find our own. But opinions they will remain, for God (the creator of this universe) only knows, as stated already. Let your imagination run wild, and perhaps one of your thoughts will hit the mark, but you will never know for certain, because only God knows. And what God knows He wants us humans to guess at. Be forewarned that God likes to amuse himself, one way or another. So be careful how you live your life; this one or any other to come, as, apparently, there is nothing to be done about what you have already done in the past; this life or others that you may have lived before. Apparently there are rewards to be had for those lucky ones that come closest to God. So the task is to seek out and learn what God is like, in order for you to imitate his very essence and being, and get that reward. Perhaps for those of us that are still around here, we have not come close enough to God, and therefore are still playing the game of “seek and be like.”

    You may think that life is but a joke; think carefully, and don’t let yourself be flattered and fooled by life’s, apparent, pleasures, as all that glitters is not gold, and in fact, it may not even be real at all. I mean nothing we sense may be real; it’s just a sort of “Hollywood” stage.

  • There is also this to think about. If you are reincarnated, they say that your next iteration of yourself will be decided by karma. I kind of find that assertion to be crazy.
    Let’s say for instance, that something in this life caused me to commit murder many times. Let’s say I killed by 10 people. In real life I have a kind soul. But let’s say I killed 10 people. Not because I have a twisted soul but because the body I was reincarnated into had a defect in the brain causing me to not have a conscious and to be a psycopath. Is it my souls fault and something that I should be punished for in the next life according to karma, or would karma recognize that it wasn’t my souls fault.

    While most religion is a bit hokey and something I would never waste time with, I am partial to Buddhism and would tend to practice it way before I would ever consider any other religion, there is still some issues with it that I just can’t reconcile and the idea of karma punishing you in the next life is one of them.

  • I used to believe in it, then, after considerable amounts of introspection and reflection, I realize now I was utterly delusional. We had a beginning, we all remember bits and pieces of that, why would anyone think we do not have an end? Energy isn’t lost in the universe has nothing whatsoever to do with it. The processes that creates it in your body stops creating it. That’s all there is to it.

    Now I look at some of these comments like “keep meditating, it will become clear…yay everything” in a totally different way now. I see it as the imaginative mind inventing something to fill a gap in understanding that refuses the obvious truth (we end) with something that cannot be understood by all but the most pios (delusional) people.

    It is remarkably easy for people to become deluded. People see and talk to imaginary people when they are awake. Some of my own dreams are so incredible I can’t believe my own mind invented them and “drew” on the backs of my eyelids in such amazing detail. Even cats dream, and our brains are much larger.

    We are animals, and the same rules apply to us as to any other animal in the world. Weakness is rewarded by predation. Consequences of prior actions, or inactions, apply in a linear way from the past to the present. We may well be more than animals, but we are at least that much. What is amazing to me is that although I have actually known this at some level most of my life, I was able to ignore it for so long.

  • i believe in reincarnation. till date reincarnation was one of the answers of “why good people suffer”. the answer was simple “they did something wrong in their past life”. simple as that.. but if you go in the deeper realm of it, you will catch some of the loopholes.

    for example, in my life, currently i am 28 years old. and mind you that all of these 28 years were full of terrible sufferings and deep deep sorrows. i never liked my own life. but yes till date i have never done anything wrong with anyone.

    i promise that i always remain at my best in terms of morality, no matter how much sever conditions are. infact i helped numerous persons in my life. including friends who at later proved to be worse than enemies.

    well today i cry before god. i do not know what wrong i have done in my past life, since i can not recall the memories of my past lives. and thus i can never get the answer that what was my terrible sin which is leading me to such a disastrous life. to be true now this “past life” issue has become such a pain for me. i have even cried before god, and each time i cry before god, the tears come in my eyes from deep deep down inside from my heart. i cry whole whole heartedly before god, that god if i have really done some sin in my past life, then please god please punish my physically. broke my legs or do something terribly, but please god please do not strip every single joy of my life.

    even after crying from whole heart, he never answered me. i am ready to suffer from the sin physically, and that too terribly so that every single sin gets wiped away from me. but i am not ready to give every single pleasure of my life and live a life which is full of misery and terrible pain.

  • the only thing that makes sense to me is to live and then be judged at death. And I believe I will be judged by a merciful Judge, who is one with Jesus. He lived as like each of us and was tempted. He lives through His Holy Spirit (no other spirit, although these exist too)….to guide me and I will not be coming back… it’s finished… Les