What is Rebirth? How does reincarnation work?

Buddhists believe that we’re on a path of constant transformation. The person reading this line now is not the same that read the title of the article. This is why there’s a famous Buddhist saying that states that “no man bathes twice in the same river”.

According to this line of thinking we as conscious beings are in a sense immortal, and this is because we’re not limited to time. We’re given a material body in order to go through life cycles that guarantee our path to enlightenment.

If we don’t reach this goal in one lifetime, we rebirth as many times as necessary.

The Immaterial body

According to Buddhism, the concept of the material body is ruled by larger immaterial force. It is made up of atoms that are animated by the force that permeates all living or non living things, a force we have yet to understand. This is why, with awakening, the “I” begins to dissipate.

The idea of a perishable material body is extremely important to the evolution of the principles of Buddhism. Acknowledging the impermanence of things is of extreme importance in the learning process of what to value and care for.

It is also important to deal with death, ours and of the ones we love, because it is a certainty. There is a due date to everything that is material, including our physical bodies. We’re encouraged not to avoid the topic, rather we should welcome it as a natural progression.

Difference between rebirth and reincarnation

There are some religions throughout the world that believe in reincarnation, which would be the same core idea of rebirth. However, Buddhists pledge that there is a minor difference. In reincarnation, the same spirit goes from occupying one body to occupying another. For Buddhists the being that goes from one body to another is not the same, since he has passed through some transformation in its last existence.

In the Buddhist way of seeing, the being that rebirths is not the same as the being that has died before. This is in perfect accordance with the belief that the people we are now are products of what we were sometime before.

Rebirth, is it possible?

First of all, Buddhism is not built on dogmas, so we’re allowed to question (and from a philosophical view, even are expected to do so). It’s usually difficult to believe because we have no memories of past lives. At least, this is the prevailing belief in most of the western world, we are not encouraged to believe so. 

Dr. Ian Stevenson did a lot of research on the topic and produced some papers and books on it. He did it from a scientific perspective. And he’s not the only one. There are many physicists and medical doctors studying this possibility due to some insanely similar cases they’ve come across.

To tell a western story, and there are many, there is one of an American boy who had clear memories of his plane being hit during the war and falling in the ocean in flames. His family did a thorough search, because the boy kept repeating the story. They were struggling to believe that it could be a case of memory from the past life. But after a long search it appeared that the boy described the plane, his mates, and his previous family perfectly. It’s an amazing story. 

The same way Buddhism invites us not to believe in it without questioning. I would like to ask you not to allow your disbelief in rebirth become a dogma. Question it. Don’t just look for proof that it exists, but also that it doesn’t.

Think about Mozart composing a concert at the age of five, Champollion translating Rosetta Stone from ancient Egyptian without ever studying it, or James Houston, the pilot I mentioned above explaining complex details of flying a plane. Think about the fact that there’s something more than genetics out there.

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t quite been able to convince myself it can’t be possible. For me, it has to be, or many things would not have any meaning at all.