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, the individual is a oneness of body and mind. 

According to Hinduism , the individual is a oneness of body and soul.

The view of the oneness of body & mind - leads to the Buddhist concept of Rebirth. 

The view of the oneness of body & soul - leads to the Hindu-Tibetan concept of Reincarnation.

Why Buddhism denies the concept of “soul”?

The Buddhist Law of Impermanence rejects the view of fixed or unchanging mental or physical state. The concept of “soul” implies something spiritually fixed.  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 -  while one cannot create own soul - one can create own actions - and thus one creates own Karma.  Karma is the mental energy, driven by our motivations and tendencies, which we are able to change through dedicated actions of transformation.. 

In a  discussion about this subject, Buddhist philosopher Daisaku 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 D.Ikeda agrees with. (Global Civilisation, p.120).

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

Most Buddhist schools consider the concept of reincarnation as a human 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.

Reincarnation is a concept, which leads its believer to become heavily influenced by speculations about past life of a person who vanished forever, and confines one to unverifiable stories about previous existence. 

Buddhism teaches that upon death, the body and consciousness of past person disintegrate and vanish forever, however, the tendencies behind past actions - or Karma - do not vanish. In the field of death, with no body to operate - Karma becomes ‘frozen’, as mere potential energy of past motivations and tendencies. Upon matching conditions of parents-to-be, this potential energy of karma gets attracted at conception, becoming the energy of subconsciousness of the newborn. 

Reincarnation is a Hindu-Tibetan belief in the transmigration of the soul of a person after death to another body, implying maintaining the same identity.

Rebirth, is the Buddhist belief in the continuity of Karmic tendencies of past actions - to a new fresh life at Rebirth, implying freedom from past identity..


Author: Safwan Darshams

What happens after death?

Western and Buddhist views on Conception

The Concept of Karma in Nichiren Buddhism

Frequently Asked Questions