Can one attain to stream entry without belief in rebirth?

I separate out from the slow, hot topic.

If one can attain to stream-entry without belief in rebirth, then would secular Buddhists be right in their attitude of no need to have faith in rebirth, at most agnostic about it is good enough. If can, then what sort of relationship should we have when talking with secular Buddhists? No need to bother correcting their wrong views?

Bonus question: at which stage would a person lastest would believe in rebirth and kamma, or know it to be true? Stream entry? Or really need to develop the recollection of past life supernormal power? Since the rebirth evidences I presented seemingly never got anyone who initially is a skeptic to be converted to believing in rebirth.

I am hoping for more text and if possible some data based discussion. This is not another opportunity for secular Buddhists to push for no literal rebirth as fact. Rebirth exist is taken for granted, what’s in doubt is whether such faith is required for stream entry. Especially appreciate monastic contribution.


The Canon talks about four conditions leading to a fruit (DN33§1.11(13), SN55.5/10/50), SN55.55-58). Sotapanna, etc.

"Sir, the factors of stream-entry are associating with good people, listening to the true teaching, proper attention, and practicing in line with the teaching.” (fragment of SN55.5).

Now the question is: who are does good people? I have come to the conclusion: ariya’s, the 8 persons.
the one on the Path to stream-entry (the dhammanusarin, saddhanusarin), the sotapanna, the one on the Path to sakadagami—arahant.

This is also very much debated. But there are people who insist that one has to meet nobles, people with high level of understanding and trust to realise a fruit oneself. This is because one needs someone which is not that doubting anymore. One who is able to really talk about dhamma in a way that is not only intellectual.

And what is the true Dhamma? Now it becomes complicated. Can we ever come to some agreement what is the true Dhamma? There are texts who describe when one has arrived at true Dhamma (MN9, SN12.27/28/49)

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The secular Buddhist are like people who abused the final-stage-medicine by skipping the steps in treatment so it becomes incredibly hard to cure them. Their many deluded view includes that they can “fake it until they make it”, and in this case, they fake the arahant level while they are not even a stream entry yet.

"No one can attain stream entry without a right view. Literal rebirth belongs to right view. So, sadly but true, no stream entry for secular Buddhist."

I declare the above statement and wait to see any secular Buddhist view who claims to have “no view” but still wants to dispute???

They are like people diagnosed with cancer but who refuse treatment and instead imitate talking and behaving like people that are completely healthy; they think that the act of imitating will make them eventually completely healthy.

It’s also extremely hard to convince a deluded secular Buddhist because they think they already know all the answers that need to be known and they response with crafted answers means only for arahant level.

In short,

  1. They doubt which one is the real Buddha’s teaching so they don’t agree on any suttas you point out.
  2. They deny logical arguments by twisting definition midway, their own definition of something even exist is actually in thin air. So no logical argument can get through their head.
  3. They deny even their own experience for any previous lives memory (if they even manage to have) by masking with their fake arahant level.
  4. They don’t believe in any evidence you give to them because they don’t even believe themselves, how can they believe other people?

Also, as suggested by Bhante @NgXinZhao for completeness, just pick one among many suttas: SN 22.101

Bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu does not dwell devoted to development, even though such a wish as this might arise in him: ‘Oh, that my mind might be liberated from the taints by nonclinging!’ yet his mind is not liberated from the taints by nonclinging. For what reason? It should be said: because of nondevelopment. Because of not developing what? Because of not developing the four establishments of mindfulness … the four right strivings … the four bases for spiritual power … the five spiritual faculties … the five powers … the seven factors of enlightenment … the Noble Eightfold Path.


Hi :star_struck:

Some points which made for me rebirth more acceptable and even very well possible:

  • our lives are a continuum of successive unconscious and conscious moments. They form one continuous stream, one life-stream. Our lives our surely not only represented by conscious moments. We are very much focused on conscious moments but our lives are even more unconcious. Like an iceberg. The conscious aspect of our lives resprensent only the top of this iceberg. Life is much deeper.

  • in our minds there is will accumulated. Buddha used concepts as tanha, asava, anusaya to express this. It represents energy. This energy is not destroyed at death. This is not possible. We are like a big battery, charged, :smiley: and death cannot be the sudden death of this battery. But one must see this deeper than consciousness.

This potential energy becomes at the moment of death a dynamic energy. It must go somewhere.
Based on this dynamics after death there arises a first and new moment of vinnana. This is because the mental domain is present. This energy in the mental domain manifest as vinnana. Ofcourse this is not really yet a very strong consciousness. It must grow.
As long as this will-potential is present, this charged battery, and is not undone, not cooled, not un-charged (dispassionate) there is a cause for the continuation of the dynamic flow we call our lives.

So, Buddha taught that asava, tanha, and anusaya must end, to end rebirth, because otherwise we are still a loaded battery at death, and based on that energy load there will arise a new moment of vinnana after death.

So, Now EVERYBODY beliefs in rebirth :blush:

Charged Battery Green :blush:


Who is “we” here? Real Buddhists vs. fake ones? Monastics vs lay people?

If I may simplify: Preaching and pressuring doesn’t work well on the “western” mindset. It just appears dogmatic and is a turn-off for most people who are then not even interested in listening to the dogmatic sources.

Personally, I would respect it most if the traditionalist said: “This is my conviction. I take rebirth to be literal, and I base this conviction on xyz. I am in line with the vast majority of traditional teachers.”

If beyond that someone says (and it’s really not important who it is): “What I’m saying is not merely conviction - it’s the truth. You are ignorant and narrow-minded if you don’t see that” - then, sorry, this disqualifies that person for me and I stop listening immediately.

Regarding your original question: Among the many problems is the verification of the alleged stream-enterer. Ultimately stream-entry needs the validation of an arahant (with special gifts). So experimentally we would need such a secular Buddhist who is also highly developed in the non-rebirth-related aspects of Buddhist practice (the sannas, jhanas, etc), who then gets validation from such a rare arahant. If we don’t have access to such an arahant who is beyond doubt (is there anyone currently like the great Maha Boowa?), then isn’t it a mostly theoretical question if non-rebirth-believers can attain stream-entry?


Believer in rebirth here. I think the question is a bit back the front- positive belief in rebirth as a REQUIREMENT seems to go well beyond “verifiable by the wise for themselves” and so would contradict at least a lot of the flavour of the teaching as something that is to be taken not on faith but on results. Positive beliefs about things which one has no experience of seems actually a lot like wrong view to me, so I have no problem at all with a person being agnostic about rebirth.

HOWEVER - I suspect that what is far more common in people professing “secular” Buddhism is actually an annihilationist belief disguised as agnosticism, and I think that does constitute a wrong view to be uprooted.

As for belief in rebirth being a requirement for right view I have never seen any statement to that effect in the suttas, and indeed as I said there is plenty of advise to not take the doctrine as dogma and find out for yourself… Also plenty of Arhants in the theregatha announcing that they have remembered living before as part of thier awakening experience so verification is a ways away for most of us.

So to summarise it seems to me that genuinely agnostic secular Buddhists are probably closer to stream entry than traditionalists who insist on believing as fact something they have never experienced- but I suspect that there are not too many genuine agnostics and probably fewer dogmatic traditionalists than the heat of Internet forum argument implies.

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Actually after a moment’s reflection I think I have seen rebirth in descriptions of right view, repeatedly! lol. I guess what I meant was that I think that formulae is more about having a “mundane level” moral outlook and recognising that good is good and bad is bad etc, and that the secular buddhists are actually right if they claim that that formula isn’t actually describing the “higher truth”.

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I think this is a wise insight.

As one data point - watching my own reaction - I started reading these threads on rebirth as an agnostic with the desire to believe in rebirth. I saw my lack of belief as a doubt that should be treated as a hindrance. The more I read the more I find myself no longer wanting to believe in rebirth. And it’s not due to anything said by the secular Buddhists. It’s the emotional tone presented by the believers in rebirth.

For many of us in the West we’ve seen real-world impacts of Christian fundamentalism - on women and their bodily autonomy, on the LGBTQ+ community, on members of other religions, on political discourse. So no matter how a communication is intended, if it feels like religious fundamentalism it is going to polarize us in the opposite direction.

To be clear, it is not the belief in rebirth that is polarizing. I know many monastics who believe in rebirth that speak compellingly to me. It’s the communication style of these threads that I believe is counter-productive.


For me the thing that led to a belief in rebirth was philosophy, the more I thought about it the more it was difficult to see how a material configuration could ever explain subjectivity, intensionality and intentionality, as observed by Liebniz and in our own time by Chalmers.

On the other hand it was difficult to explain how an immortal soul would interact with the material realm, why it should be “created” at conception, live one vanishingly brief life and then suffer or enjoy an eternal reward or punishment in some non-material afterlife.

One of the immense appeals of Buddhism for me is it’s claim to resolve this mind body problem by a “middle way” that makes use of conditionality or interdependence to show how phenomena ground each other without recourse to enduring substances that cause these philosophical conundrums.

Thus I think that rebirth is a neat picture that nicely embodies the metaphysical commitments of early Buddhism and makes sense of several conceptual problems that I (and many others) have had with materialist monism and substance dualism as explanations.

This philosophical elegance and power gives me confidence in the Buddhas teachings and relieves me of having to “slice and dice” the EBT material to “cleanse” it of “cultural baggage”.

All that said, I must say that I think that the Secular Buddhists are absolutely right to point out the passages where the Buddha criticizes those who are forever worrying about what they will be in the future or what they where in the past or who they are now, these worries are absolutely wrong view, and in fact are the first fetter to overcome on the Buddhist path.

Short of achieving arhanthood none of us are going to remember anyting about this life in the next one anyway so functionally I am not sure how much of a difference a positive belief in rebirth makes to the practice of living an ethical life and purifying the mind and I don’t really understand the animus against the “secular” buddhists on this point.

To me the main achievement of Secular Buddhism is that it helps to introduce to many “westerners” many of the ideas and techniques of Buddhism to people who might otherwise be profoundly hostile to anything “religious”. This undoubtedly allows some people who might otherwise not ever have done to, for example, move beyond their Stephen Bachelor or Robert Wright books and actually read the EBT’s which can only be a good thing.

I myself arrived at the EBT’s by way of D.T Suzuki and other authors and will forever be grateful to them for helping me find the path, even though I may have a different perspective on it than them.

In my opinion when it comes to Buddhism, may a thousand flowers bloom!


not only stream entry the secularist could end their present suffering too

if one can cease craving with nothing leftover they could reduce suffering completely even though they don’t believe in rebirth and kamma

I think arahant still experiences suffering but their aversion is annihilated so their suffering is somewhat limited we could refer to angulimala sutta where he attained arahantship and got his head strucked by stone and Buddha said “bear it angulimala” the arahant needs to bear that suffering in the head

so arahant is no superman they are just normal human it’s just they see the phenomena as they are without being attracted or repelled by them being equanimous they are stable being stable they are freed

now for those who think the secularist couldn’t end suffering completely because they couldn’t end craving completely they atleast need to answer what kind of craving a secularist couldn’t end

I personally think a secularist could end all kind of cravings thus make an end to suffering

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We can’t have it both ways can we? Christian Fundamentalism is a “western” phenomenon that is very successful on the “western” mindset isn’t it? Sure, it doesn’t work for you (or me) - those people with a minority subset of the “western” mindset, but that dogmatic style really does seem to work for many of my contemporaries and it is incredibly successful and far reaching on “western” society.


That’s a good clarification. A consistent policy of monastics on rebirth could actually instill a conviction in a good number of westernized Buddhists. On the other hand, such a front could keep non-rebirth-believers outside. Which raises the question: Is Buddhist orthodoxy interested in debate, or rather in confirmation?

My concern would be that by excluding too many debaters the Buddhist circle becomes very small and sect-like, stale, and rigid. But I could even understand if, for example a majority of monastics, would actually welcome that.

So what some above (including me) have characterized as a “western” mindset is actually an anti-religious-dogma mindset, which doesn’t fully characterize the West but, I think we can agree, is in westernized societies much more common than in other ones.

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It’s a learning journey to be sure to learn how to not sound dogmatic. There’s a certain difference between Buddhism vs Christianity I feel.

The Bible is mostly very open to various interpretations. As well as Christianity being mostly in conflict with many sciences, not just literally, but also historically. And their Pope and various ministers are not enlightened, so they are prone to making mistakes.

Whereas we believe that the Buddha is an enlightened one. He is the knower of the world, he presented the Dhamma in a very clear term. Although given the Jhana wars, the dry insight movement, Mahayana etc, one could say that there’s a certain degree of ambiguity in the Dhamma as well.

Just using the Nikayas, they are thicker than the Bible, and usually framed in direct teachings, not so much stories which needs to be interpreted.

There are certain fundamental basics that all the traditions agree upon. Rebirth being one of them. There’s also the advice of Buddha to ask his disciples to clarify Brahmajāla Sutta: The All-embracing Net of Views ( the dhamma if they are wrongly understood by others.

So perhaps best not to frame it in terms of dogmatic, what’s the opposite? Relativism? Then there cannot be a truth to be known? That’s like seeping in fake dhamma into the real dhamma and making it harder for later generations to discern the truth.

I see it as more of there’s a clear label of right vs wrong view. Rebirth belief is right view, not believing in this and next world, in beings spontaneously reborn is wrong view. AN 3.117: Vipattisampadāsutta—Bhikkhu Sujato ( There’s no mention of mundane or not in this sutta.

In many professions, one cannot tolerate any false information. If a certain physical theorem doesn’t have firm theoretical basis, haven’t predicted things which fits the experiments better than the current model, etc, physicist regard them as crackpots. In engineering, there’s also no tolerance in any suggestion of: what if we ignore gravity when building this or that? Is there an attack on these professions as dogmatic?

So too, rebirth is fundamental to the Dhamma.


Maybe. I’m a mix of East and West by birth and culture and I maybe don’t see it quite like that. But maybe I’d stretch to saying that, as always, these mindsets are waxing and waning in different populations.

I guess there has to be some boundaries to what is considered “Buddhist”. But then again, even traditionally, it’s a very broad church indeed. For example, I was a big fan of Trungpa teachings (I still harbour much appreciation despite everything :person_shrugging: ). He was decidedly “Buddhist”. But while we started out with attractive teachings like “Crazy Wisdom”, we ended up with all the shenanigans that followed from that sort of thinking.

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Are you sure? Maybe it is a detail, but I belief in MN2 this not called wrong view but a wrong kind of attention. One attends to the wrong questions. Questioning identity. When one starts a quest for (true) identity one ends up attached to answers because one is very much influences yet by conceiving and conceit. Conceiving and conceit will be the main means to come to some answer.
This is a wrong approach with a wrong result based on wrong means, MN2 says, i belief.

One has to give attention to: this is suffering, this is the cause, this is the end and this is Path. Then, also identity will be solved. One will also get answers but does not get stuck in views.

Worries about rebirth, next realms etc. do not have to be bad and are, i belief, not the same as sakkaya ditthi’s. The main focus of Buddha-Dhamma is not getting high rebirth but for many rebirth goes on.

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In my limited understanding, belief in rebirth is necessary for mundane right view. It is mundane right view because in kamma loka, there are reasons to believe in rebirth, and there are reasons to believe that death is the end. To believe in rebirth is to be inline with what the Buddha taught and have a coherent understanding of the teachings.

We also know that people from other sects can attain the Jhanas and psychic powers, which is beyond the range of kamma loka, but they are not Buddhists. So what is it that makes the noble sangha distinguishable from advanced practitioners from other sects?

The fetter of skeptical doubt which is uprooted by a stream enterer involves certainty that the lord Buddha is the supreme teacher. On the other hand, upon his awakening, the Buddha with his divine eye saw people with little dust in their eyes that can be taught, so it could be that his linage or the noble sangha has been determined from the outset of his awakening. Taking into consideration that there can be only one sammasambuddha in a solar system, his linage is equally determined by cosmic conditions that are not conducive to the arising of paccekabuddha.

Considering the ability to go beyond kamma loka by other sects through meditative practices, it means that the third knowledge (āsavakkhaya) is reserved to the noble sangha. While remembering past lives is not accessible to ordinary people, it neither assures nobility nor makes solid knowledge of rebirth a sufficient condition for awakening.

Based on the above, it is the kamma of aligning ones views with what the Buddha taught that increases the chance of being taught, not how justified a certain belief or lack of is. Kamma is still in operation even for awakened people, and we know of Arahants who have been killed due to their past kamma. Even a Buddha can be injured.


I cant really answer the question itself, but I will share my brief contemplation.
“How belief in rebirth is conducive to dharma practice?”

1. Avoiding annihilationism and materialism
What is the first natural thought that arise if people believe that this life is the only one, there is no life before this, and there is no life after death?
To live a good life.
But what is a good life? Well people will get married and have family. They will work to get money. And then when they have money, they will buy things to satisfy their desire.
Some people will even do crime to get money. “It is alright as long as I don’t get caught”.
And then because desire is endless, they will repeat this cycle again and again. And because samsara is by nature unsatisfactory and satisfaction by nature is diminishing, people will seek greater pleasure, and so they will work harder to satisfy their ever increasing desire. Until finally they become old and run out of energy and then question their life “What did I do? What is the meaning of all of this”

When I briefly describe this phenomena in original thread. Another person said that doing something again and again expecting something different is insanity, and so he reject my argument, assuming that people can realize the truth. But we can see the world right now, the world is insane and billions of people are doing exactly this. Even buddhists are still doing this at some level.

Believing in rebirth helps us in not getting attached to this current life. This body, the wealth and money, the family and relatives and friends, our current entertainment and hobbies. These will all gone, at death we will be reborn and acquire new ones. This is the early steps in dealing with attachment.

2. Preventing suicide
The above scenario is for people that have everything go well in life. What about people who don’t?
If someone is so cornered by suffering and think that death will end everything, he might choose suicide.
Also, some people may realize that sensual desire is unsatisfactory. These people, lacking information about jhana pleasure, or information about escaping samsara, what will they do? They feel that life is empty, meaningless, bland, boring, hopeless. They might do suicide. I think there is real life example of this.

3. Preventing hatred to universe
I am sure that I am not the only one who sometimes think that the world is unfair. Why is that person can become filthy rich, but I am not. Why is that one born in rich and high family, but I am not? Why that person is famous, talented, beautiful, charismatic etc, but I am not?

And there are people that become atheist because religions answer with “God’s will, God’s secret, God’s plan, don’t question it.”

If there is no rebirth and kamma, it means that everything that happen to us is due to massive game of chance/ coincidence. There is no reason why I am born in rich family, I just happen to be born there. Lucky me. There is no reason I am so ugly. It is just happen, unlucky me. There is no reason or cause for this happening.

This train of thought will lead to thinking that the world is unfair. There will be hatred to everything. Hatred is hindrance. People comparing their life with others, and think that they are miserable, they have unhappy life. Some will even think that this life is hopeless, lets suicide.

Instead, the right view and right thinking about rebirth and kamma can prevent this. Thinking that this is the life I have, because of my past deeds. I deserve this, It cant be changed, now lets work with what I have for future rebirth and liberation.

(Not saying that rebirth and kamma cannot result in wrong view, or fatalism, or any other wrong things)

This is not stream entry level, this is waaay below it at beginner level.
There is desire and hatred at very coarse level. Desire and hatred is hindrance, right?
So at this level, belief about rebirth is conducive to dharma.


Good point. “Western” is probably not a useful, nor accurate, word. Maybe a better term would have been “non-Buddhist countries”? There’s a certain challenge to reaching adults who weren’t raised in a given religion. And to reach adults who have rejected the religion of their upbringing seems to also require a thought about tactics.

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Yes. I’d love to see a thorough survey conducted for something like this to see if there is in fact any correlation between tactics used and success of teaching. From personal experience I have seen a variety of tactics work (and not work) for a variety of people, but I can’t discern any pattern at all. Fascinating stuff!

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