Can reincarnation be scientifically proven?


Hi Viveka,

I thank you for your kind words of clarification regarding this board and the suttacentral website. I am new here and Appreciate so much that you provide such an amazing source of the EBTs. Thank you as well for your reminder on wholesome speach, it is so easy to get stuck in opinions and be carried away in discussions.



I thought most Buddhists, and the early texts, were in agreement that those who look to Buddhism as a tool for getting a better house, or a better job, or for getting lucky in love, or for avoiding sickness and disease, or for promoting longevity have the wrong idea about it. Since future lives, if they exist, are just further extensions of worldly life, then looking to Buddhism as a way of winning better future lives and protecting oneself from bad future lives seems like an extension of the same wrong idea.

The Buddha recommended cutting off both fantasizing about the future and dwelling in the past, while grasping at nothing in the present.


Yet, as you know, there are many suttas which deal with how to become rich, famous and beautiful in the next life. Good reason to doubt their authenticity.


Not really.

The Buddha personalized his teachings for different temperaments. Generally, he taught renunciation to renunciants, and higher rebirths to the laity. But every path taught by the Buddha eventually leads to the same destination.


Just sticking to traditional theravada here: The point-of-no-return is sotapatti, correct? Or do you consider the birth as a rich person or a deva a point-of-no-return? If you do, it would be nice to see a sutta foundation for this view.

Going on, what is of only value in the Buddha’s system is the path leading to end of births, or at least to that point-of-no-return, right? A little bit of joy, no matter if it lasts a second or a billion years is in itself worthless.

Conclusion: If the Buddha had taught ‘higher rebirths’ below sotapatti to laypeople, he really would have taught something utterly worthless (by the system’s own standards), a plastic consolation trophy for the basement.


No, but it could lead there.

Point being, the Buddha didn’t try to force everyone to become renunciants in a single lifetime; attempting to do this would be impractical.

There are countless people—leaders, celebrities, and others—who indulge in sensual pleasures. These individuals, when they’re older, and truly realize that they must die someday, may see the appeal of a higher rebirth, and thus would be willing to uptake the practices leading there.

Moreover, the teachings on higher rebirths provide a stepping stone to the more “advanced teachings.” For example, it wouldn’t make sense to insist that someone with no interest in math, or only a rudimentary understanding of algebra, learn vector calculus. Like math, the Dhamma is a gradual training.


I don’t understand your position here. Is the above (“being born rich can be a stepping stone…”) your personal opinion? Or do you believe this is what the suttas say? Or is it an expression of faith in the infallibility of the Buddha?


I need to challenge this minor ‘dogma’, only because I don’t think that I do believe in something. :thinking::face_with_raised_eyebrow::neutral_face:


That’s not what I said.

The teachings on higher rebirths provide a stepping stone for anyone with an open mind.

That’s what the suttas clearly suggest.

“Just as the great ocean, monks, gradually inclines, gradually slopes, gradually slants, certainly does not fall away abruptly, so, monks, in this Dhamma and Discipline there is a gradual training, a gradual performance, a gradual practice, it certainly does not have an abrupt penetration of knowledge.”
—Ud 5.5


What is it that you doubt here ?
That these suttas were spoken by the Buddha or that it is not true ?


I’m not sure that’s quite correct. There’s a passage somewhere that says the dhamma is for those who feel. And we also see that the Buddha recommends people not kill. And not just because killing harms the killer, but because it is unwanted by the victim. The Buddha is more than willing to admit that pleasure is preferable to pain, and that heaven is better than hell. So out of compassion for those who do not seek to escape the cycle of rebirths, he offers the opportunity to make the cycle less painful, for a time.


One interpretation would be that the Buddha knew that some people were too ignorant to follow the buddhist path so he told them to be ethical so that they could reduce at least some of their suffering, in this life and future lives. The Buddha was interested in the end of dukkha, but for those who aren’t aiming for its final end, he figured some amelioration was still useful.


You’re right, thanks for correcting my misreading.


Even if you’re an absolute skeptic like Sanjaya Belatthiputta or some the Greek skeptics, you still have the belief that acatalepsia is a good thing or is something to strive for. To put it another way, you still believe that you don’t believe anything. That’s the paradox of global skepticism.


@Kai Perhaps these observations will be helpful:
I don’t think any science has shown that the amount of lives on earth is increasing, decreasing or staying the same. (I am dubious that this could actually be counted, calculated, or perceived.) There are more human lives, at this time, then have been previously; and many species rendered extinct due to human influences; and much unknown and sometimes very small life. But the total quantity of lives on Earth alone is unknown, and maybe unknowable.

:slight_smile: I think it is orthodox and it is my belief, that there are no such things as souls, thus whatever might be splitting (if anything does) is not any indestructible basic unit.

I also am of the opinion that it seems in this vast universe (which may not itself be singular), that it is likely life occurs on other spheres than just our Earth. And the totality of lives in existence, then seems incalculable and unobservable. {Slightly edited to avoid confusion based on original ungainly grammar.}

“How does this actually fit in with impermanence?” Souls are neither permanent nor impermanent, if they do not exist.


I think the underlying assumption of this question if I were to elicit it is that human beings aren’t reborn as animals etc.


@Mat … . Thanks but I got that.

I am also aware there is a small debate among some who believe in “souls” as to whether they were created all at once (so there would be a limited dimishing supply, in a one life universe) or whether souls are created as needed. If “souls” were permanent, eternity means heaven, hell, or non ending rebirth. If they were non permanent, karma breaks down (and a Creator would be just amusing Itself.) But if souls as a unit is merely an illusion, perhaps one can make a significant difference with spirital practice in this life.


Definition of acatalepsy . 1 : an ancient Skeptic doctrine that human knowledge amounts only to probability and never to certainty. 2 : real or apparent impossibility of arriving at certain knowledge or full comprehension

First, Javier thank you for teaching me. And you are indeed a learned man. I can only attest to the fact that I rigorously inspect my thoughts in an effort to exclude any sort of random believes, and do my best to function on a platform of cause and effect, not because I believe that it is right but because I witness it efficacy on a daily basis

My lack of belief is not a belief but knowledge of cause and effect which exists without requisite belief. But as a Skeptic who appreciates knowledge, I am open to revisions of my skeptical attitude. Tell me where I have gone astray, and maybe…I will believe you.

PS Do you believe or is there evidence which points to German folk being more skeptical than average? :face_with_raised_eyebrow::wink::blush:
Also wondering if i is possible to be a Skeptical Epistemologist?


It just depends on what “knowledge” is and what is its foundation (if any), this has been debated by philosophers for thousands of years and nobody can really agree. On one extreme, there are radical and global skeptics, who doubt everything (even meta-propositions such as “everything should be doubted” or “knowledge is impossible”). On the other extreme there are those who are dogmatists who cling to certain ideas without even attempting to give rational arguments (basically, fideism).

Anyways, I can’t really pretend to be an expert in epistemology and there’s no way I can disentagle that tangle in a forum post. So i’ll just say that if you’re interested in the problem, get a good book on epistemology. You can also start here: Epistemology (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

For a particularly “Early Buddhist” look at this, there is nothing better than Jayatilleke’s “Early Buddhist theory of knowledge”

PS Do you believe or is there evidence which points to German folk being more skeptical than average? :face_with_raised_eyebrow::wink::blush:

I don’t see why that would be true, at least historically (there are many theologians, mystics and religious leaders from Germany).

Also wondering if i is possible to be a Skeptical Epistemologist?

Of course, skepticism is one kind of epistemic stance


I very much like your perspective, that if there is a kind of rebirth it doesn’t need to be in human form, there are many of lifeforms out there.
Thank you also for your other insights.:sunflower: