Home Discussion Forum What has caused the misperception that Buddhism supports reincarnation?

What has caused the misperception that Buddhism supports reincarnation?

The basic teaching of Buddhism is no self and the buddha developed the concept of ‘rebirth’ as a direct contrast to the concept of reincarnation (which maintains a self). Why, then, is reincarnation associated with Buddhism? Is it because of some of the reincarnation elements that have been incorporated into Tibetan Buddhism from the local religions?
Love Shepherd – many, like you, misperceive some of buddhism’s basic teachings. Buddhism’s concept of rebirth was developed to counter the concept of reincarnation. See the following: “Although these terms are often used interchangeably, there is a significant conceptual difference between the two” – http://www.lioncity.net/buddhism/index.php?showtopic=32877
http://www.zencomp.com/greatwisdom/ebud/ebdha001.htm –
Q: Does Buddhism teach reincarnation?
A: Reincarnation is not a teaching of the Buddha. In Buddhism the teaching is of rebirth, not of reincarnation.
Q: What is the difference between reincarnation and rebirth?
A: The reincarnation idea is to believe in a soul or a being, separate from the body. At the death of the physical body, this soul is said to move into another state and then enter a womb to be born again.
Rebirth is different and can be explained in this way. Take away the notion of a soul or a being living inside the body; take away all ideas of self existing either inside or outside the body. Also take away notions of past, present and future; in fact take away all notions of time. Now, without reference to time and self, there can be no before or after, no beginning or ending, no birth or death, no coming or going. Yet there is life! Rebirth is the experience of life in the moment, without birth, ….
http://www.answers.com/topic/rebirth-buddhism: From an interior perspective, a person who remembers or imagines a past life is likely to think of it as representing a continuity of existence between lifespans … This perspective is objectionable from the point of view of Buddhist philosophy on two counts. First, because it seems to postulate an enduring, self-existing entity that exists separate from the elements of mind and body, contrary to the Buddhist philosophical position of anātman. Second, because it overlooks the characterization of this process as one of constant change, both within and between lives, in which the newly-arising life is conditioned by but in no respect identical to the predecedent life. … Nonetheless, the Buddha is represented using language reflecting the interior perspective in stories about his past …This can be regarded as a concession to the needs of conventional speech.
It’s important to understand that the difference between the rebirth and reincarnation concepts is not some ‘scholarly fine point’; it’s the base of Buddha’s teachings! He taught rebirth as a clear remedy to the problems of reincarnation. Anyone who has studied and practiced Buddhism knows this. Why is there a misperception? Is it because most don’t get their information from basic practice?


  1. I am not sure you are right about this. One of the things that the Buddha was able to do when he reached enlightenment was to remember all of his past lives. Self or no self, there is something about you that continues into the next life until you reach enlightenment and can escape the cycle. And Buddhism was developed in India where a good part of the population believed in reincarnation. Why would it need to go to Tibet first?
    This from one of the websites you posted:
    Most Buddhists do not believe in a permanent self (anatman or anatta, without enduring self) but believe human consciousness (the “I” or self) dissolves at death and that only a subtle mindstream remains. The mindstream carries with it karmic imprints from prior lives (but not memories and emotions associated with prior lives, unless the person is a highly developed spiritual practitioner, in which case reincarnation is possible) and it is this subtle mindstream that conjoins with a new life-form after death.
    There is something, a mindstream or whatever, that continues after our death, is affected by karma and continues until we reach Nirvana. If you want to call that rebirth, fine, but it is not hugely different from reincarnation as is thought of by many people. Most of us are not scholars who focus on the finer points of words.

  2. Reincarnation and rebirth is the same thing, i feel. As it both has to do with the soul. The soul leaves the body and goes into a new body and takes a rebirth. But i think, reincarnation has something to do with the birth of the sages and highly self realised souls. But don;t get confused by it. It’s basically the same thing.


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