The Question of Rebirth
Life belongs to death, death belongs to life. When ‘I’ am here, then death is not. When death is here, then “I” am not. Some will say that is a fact. Other will say that is a belief.
Here are five possibilities upon the ending of this movement.
A single life has become extinct
Rebirth in various realms
Reincarnation of the soul
Heaven, hell or purgatory
Many people believe there is only one life. Many believe in rebirth, reincarnation, heaven, hell or purgatory or rebecoming. Rebecoming refers to unresolved past issues and force that arise in somewhat similar ways in the future. Some Buddhists take an agnostic position towards any kind of life after death. Believers in rebirth adopt the general position that upon the dissolution of mind/body the stream of conscious keeps evolving as a causal factor in bringing about the arising of another formation of mind/body, if there is enough karmic force for the fresh arising.
Buddhists believe that it is neither the same consciousness nor a different consciousness between one life and another regarding the “stream of consciousness.”
The Buddha taught the end of the rebirth of egotism and the forces that support the feeding of the ego, whether boosting oneself up, putting oneself down or swinging between the two extremes whether about oneself or another. He occasionally does show much concern about the end of this life and what happens to us after we die. His priority is immediate awakening to the deathless through seeing the emptiness and pointlessness of clinging.
The Buddha spoke of re-becoming rather than rebirth. The forces of life keep re-becoming like waves emerging and dissolving according to the winds and the movements under the ocean. Re-becoming of dependent arising confirms the non-selfhood, the impersonal element, of it all. While making regular reference to rebecoming, the Buddha has adopted a provisional view on interpretations of life after death.
Once again, Dharma practitioners simply do not have to concern themselves with beliefs in one life or more due to a minefield of views that none can prove. Many secular atheists, as well as atheist religions like Buddhism and Taoism, believe we have only one life. Views differ about one life or many lives within Buddhism. Readers might think that belief in rebirth is a pivotal issue throughout Buddhism. It is not. The biggest exception is the Tibetan Mahayana tradition. Many senior and deeply respected Buddhist teachers, East and West, show little interest or concern about speculating about what happens to us when we die. What happens to us while we live matters far more.
Gradually, the West reaches a greater maturity of view to ease itself out of a response to life that regards ourselves as children of God who will take us into His loving arms forever if we only believe in Him, and punish us in hell forever if we do not. The religious view of one true self abiding in eternity in some form after death or the scientific view of one self and extinction afterwards bear no relationship to the Buddha’s teachings on dependent arising. Scientific and religious views reveal extremes of the mind, not in accordance with the middle way.
No evidence shows the self has one life, let alone numerous lifetimes. There is no evidence to show the self has anything at all, or is anything whatsoever. To believe the self has one life or many lives misses the whole point of understanding the nature of dependent arising.
Some described the self as having body, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, consciousness. If so, said the Buddha in the Discourse on Causation (MN45), then when the body (or part of the body), feelings, perceptions thought and consciousness disappears, then one would say “My self has disappeared.” That does not happen. Yet to proclaim a separate self would need a description outside the five categories that make up a person. The self cannot be found as any kind of entity.