Impermanence and Buddhist thought on Reincarnation

Vipassana and the yogic meditation Antar Mouna (Inner Silence) train us to know that it arises, it exists for a while, and then it disappears. This applies to everything ~ to our thoughts, our emotions, our experiences, our bodies, our consciousness even.

Note : The following piece is not conclusive. I am open to being contradicted. It is simply my present (and changeable) understanding of the ideas.



Buddhist views on reincarnation.

Whether it is a Hindu view or a Gnostic or Hermetic view, or the shamanic view, and so on, generally it is regarded that the soul is a sort of individual unit (jiva-atman to the Hindus ~ the individual partaking of the universal soul)  travelling through different experiences in different lifetimes, thus accumulating merit/wisdom/gnosis so as to eventually become self-realised and escape the cycle of birth~ death ~rebirth, or the all-devouring Ouroboros, etc.


Ideas on reincarnation would naturally have to be closely bound up with the ideas each philosophy has on the nature of soul. And  these differ quite significantly.  After all what is a soul? There is a quite a variation of opinions.  For some there are dual souls, for example. For some there are immortal souls which return on death to the eternal Tao. For some there are transmigrating souls which seem to carry, even if consciously forgotten, the lessons from earlier times, thus gradually maturing. This is a big area, but I just wanted to touch on the essential Buddhist view, which is different precisely because of the Buddhist view on the soul. For Buddhists nothing is permanent. Include Zen practitioners in this. There is nothing that persists. This is the theory of anatta (no soul/ not-self) or anicca (impermanence). There is no fixed essence which could create any aspect of permanent self






Therefore essentially ~ even though certain strands of Buddhism interpret this differently, for example the Tibetans, who are much more animistic and inclined towards the individual soul ~ according to pure Buddhist teaching there is no soul to migrate. At best what moves on is an accumulation of inclinations. It is an evolving stream of what might or might not be called consciousness that can be one of the  contributing qualities to the coming together of the skandhas of next life. The skandhas are the ”masses” or ”piles” of qualities which clump or aggregate to form the concept of ”being”.


 I heard this idea of what moves on described well as being the energy transferred from one snooker ball to the next when a ball is hit in a game of pool. It is the energy potential that is transferred. For the Buddhist there is nothing existing beyond an arising thought-form, which changes to the next arising thought-form, which though conditioned by the former is actually existing independently now, a new moment. And thus, at death, the thought-form existing at that moment, may indeed condition or engender the circumstances for the creation of the next (reborn) thought-form, but they are essentially independent, though carrying some imprint or atmosphere from the earlier. A candle lit from a previous candle, displays the universal qualities of candle light, but is not the same candle.





This is quite different from other approaches to reincarnation, and I find it interesting because it fundamentally does away with any idea of ”gathering” or accumulation of virtue or merit, which at its essence is strangely a materialistic drive. A romantic and noble materialism, doubtless, but still a desire to accumulate. This denial of the individual soul migrating with its quirks and lessons is not pessimistic because it also leaves open the possibility, indeed the necessity, for an ”in the moment” awakening. Since we won’t be carrying with us any baggage, neither our Porsches nor our cleverness, our wisdom nor our goodness, then we should wake up Now, rather than in some unspecified future lifetime when our soul will have possibly  grown up. We have the ingredients now, just as the next candle lit from the imprint of this flame will have the ingredients then, just as all former candles have had the capacity eternally. And this capacity ~ according to the Buddhists ~ is the possibility of realising that all arises from the emptiness (Void/Shoonya) and returns in every moment to the Shoonya, and that connection between thought-forms is illusory and when we drop this ignorance of the illusion we are liberated.


Why the candle will be relit may be due to desire or craving. This may be the essence of the possible surviving imprint that reincarnates. I am not especially a Buddhist, although I like their teachings very much. There is a part of me that finds all the cutting away to seem too harsh; it seems anti-poetic somehow to accept that there is no God, no soul, no essence. But I remain open to this very possibility. And  I am really just exploring the ideas here in order to help myself to clarify them, because they are not that easy to grasp. Certainly the linear model of advancing reincarnation is possibly more attractive, but who knows which if any is true. I will add on when I find anything else that explains the Buddhist position more clearly to myself.


This is a nice piece on this website exploring this area.~







Generally just Being. Nothing in particular, no claims to fame. I like gardening and the sea, nature, art in all forms from poetry to films and everything in between, and being in the company of my family.

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