Buddhist doctrine of rebirth should be distinguished from the
theory of reincarnation which implies the transmigration of a
soul and its invariable material rebirth. Buddhism denies the
existence of an unchanging or eternal soul created by a God or
emanating from a Divine Essence (Paramatma).
If the immortal soul, which is supposed to be the essence of man,
is eternal, there cannot be either a rise or a fall. Besides one
cannot understand why "different souls are so variously constituted
at the outset."
prove the existence of endless felicity in an eternal heaven and
unending torments in an eternal hell, an immortal soul is absolutely
necessary. Otherwise, what is it that is punished in hell or rewarded
should be said," writes Bertrand Russell, "that the
old distinction between soul and body has evaporated quite as
much because 'matter' has lost its solidity as mind has lost its
spirituality. Psychology is just beginning to be scientific. In
the present state of psychology belief in immortality can at any
rate claim no support from science."
do agree with Russell when he says "there is obviously some
reason in which I am the same person as I was yesterday, and,
to take an even more obvious example if I simultaneously see a
man and hear him speaking, there is some sense in which the 'I'
that sees is the same as the 'I' that hears."
recently scientists believed in an indivisible and indestructible
atom. "For sufficient reasons physicists have reduced this
atom to a series of events. For equally good reasons psychologists
find that mind has not the identity of a single continuing thing
but is a series of occurrences bound together by certain intimate
relations. The question of immortality, therefore, has become
the question whether these intimate relations exist between occurrences
connected with a living body and other occurrence which take place
after that body is dead."
C.E.M. Joad says in "The Meaning of Life," matter has
since disintegrated under our very eyes. It is no longer solid;
it is no longer enduring; it is no longer determined by compulsive
causal laws; and more important than all, it is no longer known.
so-called atoms, it seems, are both "divisible and destructible."
The electrons and protons that compose atoms "can meet and
annihilate one another while their persistence, such as it is,
is rather that of a wave lacking fixed boundaries, and in process
of continual change both as regards shape and position than that
of a thing."
Berkeley who showed that this so-called atom is a metaphysical
fiction held that there exists a spiritual substance called the
for instance, looked into consciousness and perceived that there
was nothing except fleeting mental states and concluded that the
supposed "permanent ego" is non-existent.
are some philosophers," he says, "who imagine we are
every moment conscious of what we call 'ourself,' that we feel
its existence and its continuance in existence and so we are certain,
both of its perfect identity and simplicity. For my part, when
I enter most intimately into what I call 'myself' I always stumble
on some particular perception or other of heat or cold,
light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never catch
myself... and never can observe anything but the perception...
nor do I conceive what is further requisite to make me a perfect
says, "All consciousness is time existence; and a conscious
state is not a state that endures without changing. It is a change
without ceasing, when change ceases it ceases; it is itself nothing
with this question of soul Prof. James says "The soul-theory
is a complete superfluity, so far as accounting for the actually
verified facts of conscious experience goes. So far no one can
be compelled to subscribe to it for definite scientific reasons."
In concluding his interesting chapter on the soul he says: "And
in this book the provisional solution which we have reached must
be the final word: the thoughts themselves are the thinkers."
a distinguished psychologist, states: "No one has ever touched
a soul or has seen one in a test tube or has in any way come into
relationship with it as he has with the other objects of his daily
experience. Nevertheless to doubt its existence is to become a
heretic and once might possibly even had led to the loss of one's
head. Even today a man holding a public position dare not question
Buddha anticipated these facts some 2500 years ago.
to Buddhism mind is nothing but a complex compound of fleeting
mental states. One unit of consciousness consists of three phases
arising or genesis (uppada) static or development
(thiti), and cessation or dissolution (bhanga).
Immediately after the cessation stage of a thought moment there
occurs the genesis stage of the subsequent thought-moment. Each
momentary consciousness of this ever-changing life-process, on
passing away, transmits its whole energy, all the indelibly recorded
impressions to its successor. Every fresh consciousness consists
of the potentialities of its predecessors together with something
more. There is therefore, a continuous flow of consciousness like
a stream without any interruption. The subsequent thought moment
is neither absolutely the same as its predecessor since
that which goes to make it up is not identical nor entirely
another being the same continuity of kamma energy. Here
there is no identical being but there is an identity in process.
moment there is birth, every moment there is death. The arising
of one thought-moment means the passing away of another thought-moment
and vice versa. In the course of one life-time there is momentary
rebirth without a soul.
must not be understood that a consciousness is chopped up in bits
and joined together like a train or a chain. But, on the contrary,
"it persistently flows on like a river receiving from the
tributary streams of sense constant accretions to its flood, and
ever dispensing to the world without the thought-stuff it has
gathered by the way."
It has birth for its source and death for its mouth. The rapidity
of the flow is such that hardly is there any standard whereby
it can be measured even approximately. However, it pleases the
commentators to say that the time duration of one thought-moment
is even less than one-billionth part of the time occupied by a
flash of lightning.
we find a juxtaposition of such fleeting mental states of consciousness
opposed to a superposition of such states as some appear to believe.
No state once gone ever recurs nor is identical with what goes
before. But we worldlings, veiled by the web of illusion, mistake
this apparent continuity to be something eternal and go to the
extent of introducing an unchanging soul, an atta, the
supposed doer and receptacle of all actions to this ever-changing
so-called being is like a flash of lightning that is resolved
into a succession of sparks that follow upon one another with
such rapidity that the human retina cannot perceive them separately,
nor can the uninstructed conceive of such succession of separate
As the wheel of a cart rests on the ground at one point, so does
the being live only for one thought-moment. It is always in the
present, and is ever slipping into the irrevocable past. What
we shall become is determined by this present thought-moment.
there is no soul, what is it that is reborn, one might ask.
there is nothing to be reborn.
life ceases the kammic energy re-materializes itself in another
form. As Bhikkhu Silacara says: "Unseen it passes whithersoever
the conditions appropriate to its visible manifestation are present.
Here showing itself as a tiny gnat or worm, there making its presence
known in the dazzling magnificence of a Deva or an Archangel's
existence. When one mode of its manifestation ceases it merely
passes on, and where suitable circumstances offer, reveals itself
afresh in another name or form."
is the arising of the psycho-physical phenomena. Death is merely
the temporary end of a temporary phenomenon.
as the arising of a physical state is conditioned by a preceding
state as its cause, so the appearance of psycho-physical phenomena
is conditioned by cause anterior to its birth. As the process
of one life-span is possible without a permanent entity passing
from one thought-moment to another, so a series of life-processes
is possible without an immortal soul to transmigrate from one
existence to another.
does not totally deny the existence of a personality in an empirical
sense. It only attempts to show that it does not exist in an ultimate
sense. The Buddhist philosophical term for an individual is santana,
i.e., a flux or a continuity. It includes the mental and physical
elements as well. The kammic force of each individual binds the
elements together. This uninterrupted flux or continuity of psycho-physical
phenomenon, which is conditioned by kamma, and not limited only
to the present life, but having its source in the beginningless
past and its continuation in the future is the Buddhist
substitute for the permanent ego or the immortal soul of other