The process of reincarnation in Buddhism links to the afterlife belief of Buddhists. That is to say, one cannot talk about reincarnation without death. Therefore, this process involves the cycle of death and rebirth. On the same note, the goal of Buddhism is to attain liberation from this cycle. This is what Buddhists refer to as nirvana. And, to attain this point, one must be free from all desires. However, to be free, one must understand how reincarnation takes place.
In Buddhism, when one dies, either he attains liberation or he comes back in another form through rebirth. This process takes about forty-nine days. Or, it can take place almost immediately after death. And, it involves three stages referred to as “Bardos”. It is at the end of this process that one is reborn or goes into nirvana. And, this is what the process of reincarnation implies.
The process of reincarnation is existent in other practices such as Hinduism. However, the Buddha taught this in relation to his Anatman doctrine. And, this teaches that individuals possess no eternal souls. Moreover, reincarnation depends on a number of factors. Most importantly, Buddhists believe that the law of Karma greatly influences rebirth.
So to fully understand the concept of reincarnation in Buddhism, let us go through these subheadings:
- What Is Reincarnation?
- How Reincarnation Takes Place
- The Facts About Reincarnation
The Buddha during his time did not say much about afterlife and reincarnation. He believes that it is more important to live a better life in the present. That is to say, a life that will positively impact us and everyone around us. However, he still explained the concept of birth and rebirth to his followers. Thus:
What Is Reincarnation?
In general sense, reincarnation is the belief that when a being dies, an aspect of his being comes back in a new life. Moreover, it takes up a new form or bodily appearance. You can also refer to reincarnation as rebirth or transmigration.
Many religious teachings in India talk about the concept of reincarnation. For example, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. However, the basic teachings of these religious practices may differ. That is to say, the concept of what reincarnates and how reincarnation takes place differs. In addition, what leads to liberation also is different within these traditions.
As a result, it is possible that the concept of reincarnation grew independently in the regions that taught about it. Or, on the other hand, it could still have spread through cultural contacts. However it is, the details differ by traditions.
This is evident in the Buddha’s doctrine of Anatman (no soul doctrine). That is to say, while other practices may believe in the existence of individual eternal souls, Buddhism does not teach such. Instead, they teach otherwise.
As a result, we are going to focus on the concept of reincarnation according to the Buddha. Thus:
Reincarnation In Buddhism
Buddhists explains the concept of rebirth as the endless cycle of samsara. This means a cycle of continuous birth, death, and rebirth. As a matter of fact, every human is trapped in this cycle. And, this continues until one attains nirvana. This is a form of liberation. And, it occurs only after extinguishing all desires.
This is so because Buddhists believe that desires cause suffering. More so, rebirth is painful and does not satisfy. As a result, the goal of Buddhism is to escape from this cycle of samsara.
In addition, Buddhists believe that one cannot only be reborn as a human being. Instead, the rebirth can be in one of the six realms of existence. You can as well refer to these realms (Gati) as Bhavachakra. Hence, the six realms include:
- Heavenly realm or god realm (Deva)
- Demigod realm (Asura)
- Human realm (Manusya)
- Animal realm (Tiryak)
- Hungry ghost realm (Preta)
- Hell realm (Naraka)
When a being dies, he can be reborn in any of these realms. As a result, the realm of rebirth is dependent on Karma. That is the actions of the being in the life he just concluded. Therefore, when one does good in his previous life, he is reborn in a higher realm of existence. This can be the god realm or demigod realm. Consequently, one can say that good karma (Kushala) favored him.
On the other hand, one can be reborn in a lower realm of existence. For example, the Animal realm, Hungry ghost realm, or hell realm. This happens when bad karma (Akushala) determines the realm of rebirth.
The No Soul Doctrine
This Anatman or no soul doctrine of Buddhists raises questions about their concept of rebirth. For example, if there is no soul, then what is it that becomes reborn. Well, most Buddhists believe in the existence of Vijnana. This is the evolving consciousness of a person. And, this exists in a continuous series. As a result, the basis of rebirth in Buddhism lies the fundamental understanding of this process.
To clarify, this consciousness consists of emotions, desires, habits, and feelings. These come together to form a single unit. This unit is what makes us feel that we possess an enduring soul. However, even while this unit can transit, it remains false. That is to say, it is this consciousness that undergoes rebirth. Consequently, it moves from body to body until the individual achieves nirvana.
The end of this process of rebirth involves letting go of this false consciousness. As a result, the feelings, memories, and others dissolve into nothing. Hence, there would be nothing to transfer to another body. And, this is the point of nirvana where reincarnation ends. More so, pains and sufferings also end.
How Reincarnation Takes Place
After the physical death of a being, comes rebirth or nirvana. However, there is a period of time between the time a being dies and the time of his possible rebirth. This period of time is the interim or intermediate state. It is the time that the consciousness of the being waits to be reborn into a new body.
As a result, the Buddhists of Tibetan tradition believes that this period can last up to 49 days. It all depends on how fast the consciousness was able to locate a new body. Moreover, it is karma that influences this search for a new body. And, determines into which realm of existence the rebirth occurs.
Most while trying to explain this interim state, Buddhists broke it down into 3 stages. And, these stages is what they call Bardos. Consequently, at the end stage of the Bardos, comes rebirth. Or, on the other hand, the being attains nirvana.
Thus, the Bardos includes:
The Chikai Bardo
This is the first stage of the Bardos. It marks the true death of the being. As a result, the consciousness of the dead being leaves behind the old body at this stage. This can take place a few hours after the death of the being. Or, it takes up to four days to occur.
An important feature of this stage is the basic experience of clear white light. That is to say, the being’s consciousness at the time of death will experience a bright white light. Every being will certainly experience this light even for a short time.
What influences the length of time this light appears is the spiritual development of the being. Hence, when one is closer to nirvana, he experiences the light for longer time. This is because he is of a highly developed spirit. In addition, the being will move beyond the light. And, experience reality in a clearer form.
However, a being on the negative side of karma will experience the light shorter. And, will fall into a lesser level of reality. Above all, these experiences occur in the consciousness that will be reborn.
The Chonyid Bardo
This is the second stage of the Bardos process. And, this stage has a predominant feature of hallucinations. These visions come through the influence of karma. This means that what the being sees is a manifestation of his actions in the past life.
This stage of the Bardos differs with the spiritual development of the beings. That is, when a being possesses a highly developed spirit, he will see things rather clearly. But, beings of lower spiritual development will even feel that they are still within their bodies.
These hallucinations may involve visions of deities. As a result, the being might either envision a peaceful deity. Or, on the contrary, a wrathful deity. However, these visions are not real. Instead, they are all just an embodiment of feelings.
Above all, good karma will favor some beings. And, they will be ready to go into nirvana. These individuals are more likely to experience this stage in a more steadfast manner. That is to say, without fear or giving in. Most importantly, the most spiritually developed beings can actually escape this stage entirely. And, consequently, go straight into the heavenly realm.
However, most beings are not likely to go into nirvana. As a result, they go through the next stage.
The Sidpa Bardo
This is the point of rebirth for the beings who are not able to attain liberation or nirvana. And, this is the last stage of the reincarnation process. Here the being should be able to find a new body. Subsequently, take up the body and comes back to life.
Moreover, with respect to karma, the rebirth can be in any of the realms of existence. That is to say, it all depends on the being’s actions in the previous life. Good deeds lead to rebirth in higher realms. While bad deeds lead rebirth in lower realms.
The last thoughts of a being just before he dies can also influence his experience of reincarnation. It can also affect the condition of the beings rebirth. Therefore, the individual should try to stay as aware as he could before he finally loses his consciousness.
The Facts About Reincarnation
Here are other facts that will help you to understand better the concept of reincarnation in Buddhism.
No Eternal Part Of A Being Survives After Death
Buddhists Believes that there is no permanent self. Therefore, rebirth in Buddhism does not involve the coming back of any element that forms the self. This is the main message of the Buddha’s anatman doctrine. The perception of a true self is an illusion of the mind.
Most of all, we suffer because we hold on to the concept of an eternal self. As a result, worry, anxiety, desires, and emotions set in. All these causes dissatisfaction. Thereby, taking us away from peace and happiness.
However, when one lets go of this false idea of self, happiness and satisfaction will take over. Therefore, reincarnation in Buddhism is not that of the soul. Instead, what reincarnates is a continuous flow of consciousness. And, this forms from the coming together of memories, sensations, and other external factors.
The Law Of Cause And Effect Controls Reincarnation
The Cause and effect in Buddhism is the Karma and Vipaka. Most people may misunderstand this as fate. But, far from that, karma simply is action and vipaka is the result of the action. So, for every deliberate action one takes in this life, he must account for it.
The realm of rebirth is an effect of one’s actions in his past life. That is to say when positive karma follows one his rebirth occurs in a higher realm. But, if negative karma follows him, he becomes reborn in a lower realm.
This cycle continues until one accounts for all his actions. Then, nothing will be left to be reborn. At this point, the individual goes into nirvana. And, there comes the end of suffering and rebirth.
Meditation Can Make Things Clearer
Meditation will help you to appreciate the present moment. It will help you understand that the only thing that matters is what you do now. Moreover, you will see for yourself that the idea of an eternal self is just but the mind’s illusion.
This is the reason the Buddha did not have much to say about the origin of man and afterlife. The most important thing is that you are here now. And, meditation is a practice that will help you live in the present. It clears your mind so you can things the way they are.
It Is Possible To Recall Events In The Previous Life
Buddhists believe that one can remember his past life. This is possible through deep meditation. Or, through a hypnotic process called past life regression.
Some Buddhist monks are believed to be aware of their previous life. That is to say, they have experienced the suppressed memories of their past lives. As a result, the concept of reincarnation is now clearer to them. This is because they have a living experience.
Reincarnation or “rebirth” is a concept in Buddhism that eludes so many people. However, on this page, we detailed the key points of this concept. The idea of reincarnation can be found in other religions. Especially, those that have roots in India. But, Buddhism has a view of reincarnation very different from that of other religions. This is because the Buddha taught about the doctrine of no soul or transcendental ego. While, on the other hand, other religions believe in the existence of a soul.
This is the point the belief in reincarnation among various religions deviates. That is to say, each proposes a different element they believe that reincarnates. And, as well points a differing path to liberation.
Summarily, the Buddha encouraged a life of the present moment. And, this is what matters the most in Buddhism. Therefore, focus on meditation and the path to nirvana.