The Difference between Rebirth and Reincarnation

What happens after death?

The answer depends on our view about: what constitutes one’s life before death?

According to Buddhism, one’s life is the integration (or oneness) of body and mind. 

According to Hinduism , one’s life is the integration (or oneness) of body and soul.

Accepting that a person’s life is expressed by body & mind - leads to the Buddhist concept of Rebirth

while accepting that a person’s life is expressed by body & soul - leads to the Hindu -Tibetan concept of Reincarnation.

Why Buddhism denies the concept of “soul”?

We are familiar with what “body” or “mind” means, but the concept of “soul” is rather vague; it is often suggested that “soul” is like a “spirit” (given to the individual at birth).  Or that “soul” is what one had in a previous life and gets reincarnated again in this life.

There are serious problems with this concept, but most importantly - for Buddhism - is the question: how can the concept of soul help in changing one’s destiny or suffering?  We cannot change (or replace) a soul by another one.  This means that if someone has a ‘troubled soul’, then their destiny becomes fixed at that state.  On the other hand, one can make a change in  one’s mind of motivation and actions (karma).  Karma can be transformed and changed, but “soul” is fixed and cannot be changed.

In a discussion about this subject, D. Ikeda explains that :

        ”Buddhism does not accept the immortality of soul or the idea that the body

        is a vessel for the soul, and that after death, the soul departs from the body,

        and moves to another body”.(Ikeda/Tehranian:Global Civilisation, p.120).

The concept of reincarnation (implying that the same soul taking different body at each lifetime) - matches the Hindu discriminatory belief in the caste system, which teaches that one’s birth in a certain class of society is a repetition of a previous existence of the same social/spiritual class:

        “If taken literally, the reincarnation myth can lead to the legitimisation of rigid caste systems

        and gross social injustice”, an observation P.Ikeda agrees with. (Global Civilisation, p.120).

Where did the idea of reincarnation of a “permanent soul” come from? 

Most Buddhist schools consider the concept of reincarnation as an expression of a futile desire for the wish of immortality of the ego-self:

        The function that leads us to believe in a permanent self is called the

         [Mano] consciousness...operating in the name of self-preservation and expansion.

        It seems to correspond to the Western idea of the ego.”

                                                                                        (Ikeda :Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and death, p.156.

The concept of reincarnation does not fit within the Buddhist Law of Impermanence, which teaches that one’s current self is transient.  Reincarnation is a concept, which leads its believer to become heavily influenced by speculations about past life, and confines one to unverifiable stories about previous existence. 

Reincarnation is a Hindu-Tibetan belief in the transmigration of the soul of a person after death to another body. 

Rebirth, is the Buddhist belief in the continuity of Krama of a person (which is the storehouse of desires and tendencies) - to a new fresh life at Rebirth.


Author: Safwan Darshams

What happens after death?

Western and Buddhist views on Conception

The Concept of Krama in Nichiren Buddhism

Frequently Asked Questions