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Rebirth in Buddhism

Buddhism teaches that beings are reborn after they die. Some schools of Buddhism don’t concern themselves with the idea of rebirth, and some modern analysts argue that the Buddha taught it simply because it was the accepted belief in the India of his time.

Most Buddhists, however, see Rebirth as central to the Buddhist teachings.

Rebirth refers to a person’s consciousness taking one body after another under the power of ignorance and contaminated actions. While we are alive, our body and consciousness (mind) are linked, but at the time of death they separate. Each has its own continuum. The body becomes a corpse, and the consciousness continues on to take another body.

This process of rebirth under the control of ignorance and contaminated actions is cyclic existence, the cycle of constantly recurring problems that we experience. In cyclic existence, sentient beings take rebirth in any of the six realms. Some of these life forms - hell realm, hungry ghosts realm, and animals realm - experience more suffering than happiness. Other life forms - human realm, Demi-gods and gods realms - are considered relatively happy births. Beings repeatedly take rebirth in all of these life forms until they free themselves from ignorance and attain liberation - Nirvana.

What connects one life with the next?

This is not a soul, self, or real personality, but subtle levels of consciousness. That’s why there is a teaching in Buddhism of selflessness - there is no solid, independent, findable thing that can be identified.

At the time of death all the sense sensations cease. The only thing left is extremely subtle, mental consciousness. This extremely subtle mind bears the imprints of our actions (karma). After death, the continuity of the subtle mind, which is neither static nor an independent entity, leaves one body, enters the intermediate state (bardo), and then takes rebirth in another body at the moment of conception, the gross sense consciousness and the gross mental consciousness reappear, and the person again sees, hears, thinks, and so forth.

How rebirth takes place

There are two ways in which someone can take rebirth after death: rebirth under the sway of karma and destructive emotions and rebirth through the power of compassion and prayer.

Regarding the first, due to ignorance negative and positive karma are created and their imprints remain on the consciousness. These are reactivated through craving and grasping, propelling us into the next life. We then take rebirth involuntarily in higher or lower realms. This is the way ordinary beings circle incessantly through existence like the turning of a wheel.

On the other hand, superior Bodhisattvas, who have attained the path of seeing, are not reborn through the force of their karma and destructive emotions, but due to the power of their compassion for sentient beings and based on their prayers to benefit others. They are able to choose their place and time of birth as well as their future parents. Such a rebirth, which is solely for the benefit of others, is rebirth through the force of compassion and prayer.

Meditation on subtle levels of consciousness:

1. Concentrate on your breathing.

2. First you will experience gross sensations (air is entering your nostrils).

3. After continues meditation you will start to feel all the subtle sensations, that you would never notice before.

4. Move your attention to another part of your body.

What is the evidence for rebirth?

Nothing inspires more debate amongst Buddhists, than the notion of rebirth. There’s no doubt the Buddha believed in rebirth (not in reincarnation, which implies a soul).

Reincarnation is the concept where the mind or spirit is reborn after the physical body has died. The mind can be reborn as a new human being or into various other states, depending on the causes created by the previous life.

Reincarnation is not the same as rebirth. Reincarnation tends to involve a belief in the soul (atman) reincarnating (typically a Hindu belief), while rebirth considers the aggregates of consciousness, energy or mind stream (as it’s expressed in Buddhism).

In many parts of the “East” it’s just accepted as fact; meanwhile, in the “west” Buddhist teachings on rebirth are often described as a “metaphor”, a skillful means designed to simplify teachings.

The best known evidence is the work of Ian Stevenson, who spent fifteen years collecting data from over 4500 people who spontaneously recalled past lives.

Most science is built around the notions of proof. However, where there is an absence of proof (for example, “does God exist” or “are we reborn?”), it is not correct for scientists to say it doesn’t exist. They can, properly, say, they don’t believe it, or do believe it based on their own beliefs or experience, but they cannot say absolutely, by evidence, that God or rebirth don’t exist.

In absence of absolute evidence of rebirth we must then consider the preponderance of evidence — which anecdotally points to the existence of rebirth.

What Does Science Say?

The scientists have routinely been presented with evidence to at least partially support the notion of rebirth. Reincarnation or rebirth serve as the only conceivable explanation for children as young as three years of age, having detailed knowledge of their past lives, where they stayed, what they did, even how they dies. Other evidence of reincarnation includes xenoglossy, or ability to speak in a language with a person has never learnt and existence of matching scars and birthmarks.

The next incarnation of the Dalai Lama

The person who reincarnates has sole legitimate authority over where and how he or she takes rebirth and how that reincarnation is to be recognized. It is a reality that no one else can force the person concerned, or manipulate him or her. It is particularly inappropriate for Chinese communists, who explicitly reject even the idea of past and future lives, let alone the concept of reincarnate Tulkus, to meddle in the system of reincarnation and especially the reincarnations of the Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas. Such brazen meddling contradicts their own political ideology and reveals their double standards.

From the Dalai Lama official website


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