teaches that when a person dies they are reborn and that
this process of death and rebirth will continue until
Nirvana is attained. This raises
the question : "What is the person?" Most religions
believe that the core of the person, the real person,
is the soul, a non-material and eternal entity that survives
in the afterlife. Buddhism on the other hand says that
the person is made up of thoughts, feelings and perceptions
interacting with the body in a dynamic and constantly
changing way. At death this stream of mental energy is
re-established in a new body. Thus Buddhism is able to
explain the continuity of the individual without recourse
to the belief in an "eternal soul", an idea
which contradicts the universal truth of impermanence.
Different Buddhist traditions explain
the process of rebirth differently. Some say that rebirth
takes place immediately, others that it takes 49 days.
Some say that there is an intermediate state (antarabhava)
and others that there is not. All agree however that the
circumstances into which one is reborn is conditioned
by the sum total of the kamma created in the previous
of the Buddhist doctrine of rebirth say that if there
is no soul, only a changing stream of mental energy,
then there could be no identity and thus to talk of
a person being reborn or experiencing the results of
good or bad actions done in the past, is meaningless.
However this criticism fails to understand the phenomenon
of identity in change. Even within a single life we
can notice a person change, sometimes quite dramatically,
and yet still be able to recognise them as the same
person. This is possible because different aspects of
the person changes at different velocities. For example,
the complexion and amount of wrinkles on a person's
face may change with age while the general shape of
the face changes little. Again, a person may change
their beliefs while holding them with the same intensity
as they held their former ones or perhaps retain the
same beliefs but in a more moderate way than before.
To use a simile - the Ganges River is changing every
moment and over the centuries its width, its course,
the quantity and quality of the water it contains have
all changed and yet it can still be recognised as the
same river. Thus the idea of a dynamic personality does
not contradict the idea of identity.
critics claim that rebirth was not a part of the Buddha's
original teachings or that the Buddha copied the idea
of rebirth from the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation.
Both these claims are contradicted by the evidence.
The doctrine of rebirth is an integral part of the earliest
records of the Buddha's teachings as preserved in the
Pali Tipitaka and there is no evidence that it is a
later interpolation. An examination of pre-Buddhist
Hindu literature shows that the idea of reincarnation
or rebirth was not widely accepted. It is not mentioned
in either the Vedas or the Brahmana Sutras. Several
Upansads teach it while others condemn it as heresy.
So the idea was apparently current before the Buddha
but it was not widely accepted and it was certainly
not a part of orthodox Hinduism, something that only
happened much later, probably as a result of Buddhist
Gunaratna, Rebirth Explained. Kandy, 1980;
K.N. Jayatilleke, Survival and Karma in the Buddhist
Perspective. Kandy, 1980.