Here's why rebirth is the central concept of Buddhism

Rebirth has always been a central teaching in the Buddhist tradition. The earliest records in the Pali Canon (MN 26; MN 36) indicate that the Buddha, prior to his awakening, searched for a happiness not subject to the vagaries of repeated birth, aging, illness, and death. One of the reasons he left his early teachers was because he recognized that their teachings led, not to the goal he sought, but to rebirth on a refined level. On the night of his awakening, two of the three knowledges leading to his release from suffering focused on the topic of rebirth.
The first showed his own many previous lives; the second, depicting the general pattern of beings dying and being reborn throughout the cosmos, showed the connection between rebirth and karma, or action.
When he did finally attain release from suffering, he recognized that he had achieved his goal because he had touched a dimension that not only was free from birth, but also had freed him from ever being reborn again. After he had attained release, his new-found freedom from rebirth was the first realization that occurred spontaneously to his mind. When teaching the path to awakening to others, he defined the four stages of awakening achieved by the path in terms of how many rebirths remained for those who reached them: up to seven for those reaching the first stage; one return to the human world for those reaching the second; rebirth followed by total liberation in the Pure Abodes for those reaching the third; and no rebirth for those reaching the fourth (AN 3:86). On occasion, when one of his disciples who had not reached full awakening passed away, he would comment on the disciple’s rebirth—as when An›thapi˚˜ika the householder, after his passing, appeared to the Buddha as a heavenly being (MN 143). When any of the Buddha’s fully awakened disciples passed away, he would state that one of the amazing features of their passing was that their consciousness could no longer be found in the cosmos. Rebirth, he said, happened to those who still had clinging, but not to those who didn’t (SN 44:9). And one of his own amazing attainments as Buddha, he said, was that after the end of this life, the world would see him no more (DN 1). When discussing more mundane topics, such as the rewards of generosity and virtue, he would cite the rewards they brought not only in this life but also in future ones. Even in cases where he was asked specifically to confine his discussion to the present life, he would end the discussion by referring to the rewards of these skillful actions after death (AN 5:34; AN 7:54).

1 Like

I belief Buddha-Dhamma is best understood when one takes things like becoming birth, decay, sickness, death literally and psychologically. Ofcourse it happens in real time too.

Sickness: the Buddha says in sutta’s that the mind developing on asava becomes sick.
It becomes delusional or sick at that moment. In a way we are all mental patients.

Ofcourse there is also the proces of becoming in real time. The Buddha saw the correspondance between becoming in real time and becoming after death. In that all comes together. Really it does.


When the Buddha himself explained birth, aging, and death in the context of these teachings, he did so with reference to birth on the macro scale—i.e., the birth, aging, and death of a person and not as psychological phenomenon for eg.

“Now which aging & death? Whatever aging, decrepitude, brokenness, graying, wrinkling, decline of life-force, weakening of the faculties of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called aging.

Whatever deceasing, passing away, breaking up, disappearance, dying, death, completion of time, breakup of the aggregates, casting off of the body, interruption in the life faculty of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called death.
“And which birth? Whatever birth, taking birth, descent, coming-to-be, coming-forth, appearance of aggregates, & acquisition of [sense] media of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called birth.” — SN 12:2

1 Like

We are physically born, since we were born, we experienced many sufferings such as the death of our parents, sickness of our love ones, unpleasant encounters with evil or unfriendly people, and so on.

Since we were physically born, we must grow old and eventually die. That physical death must come without exception. Will we suffer when we must part from our love ones and our proud possessions?

Since we are not enlightened person, it is not easy for us to disjoin ourselves from them especially when we love them so much.

If death is simply a psychological concept then we can stop it since it is mental. However, even if we do not think about death, physical death still comes to us without exception. We cannot stop physical death after we are born.

If we do not see the danger of physical birth, we will not have any dispassion to it. Therefore, we may have another one and the cycle will continue. Once we have another physical birth, we cannot escape another physical death - good or bad one.

We can easily say that there is no “I, me, mine, my”… However, when disaster comes to us, That “I, me, mine, my” will suffer a lot.

The only way to stop the cycle of physical birth and physical death is to stop that physical birth.


Thanks Freedom, i do not disagree. I agree.

I only belief that Buddha-Dhamma, especially on kamma and re-birth, can best be understood when one takes things like becoming, birth, decay, death literally AND psychologically . I have given reasons for this before.

For myself i have seen the beauty in taking things literally and psychologically. For myself all came together this way. For me it is not anymore…i must see this literally or psychologically. No, i have began to see it is both.

It really makes sense to see it this way that deva state, hell state, peta state, animal state, etc. can really in real time be experienced in this body of 6 feet. And i belief it are also certain spheres outside me in which re-birth might happen after death.

I also belief that if one, in a personal way, knows that there is no grasping anymore ofthoughts, emotions etc. than there is in real time no birth. Then you also know, re-birth is ended.

1 Like

I agree. Both of them are problem. However, if we get into the physical birth, we cannot escape its process. It is what DO is about. This is why an arahant declared “last birth”. As I understand, this “birth” here is about the physical one or the current one of the arahant. The mental arising and ceasing still happen with the living arahant, but he knows for sure that he will never get any new physical birth.


If death is simply a psychological concept then we can stop it since it is mental.

Yes, we can stop it. It is very possible to train the mind such the constructs of “self”, “me”, “death” etc. do not arise.

If you want to stop physical birth, you’ll have to convince beings everywhere to stop having children, because it’s that process that directly leads to physical birth.

We can easily say that there is no “I, me, mine, my”… However, when disaster comes to us, That “I, me, mine, my” will suffer a lot.

When disaster comes to a non-arahant, they generate “I, me, mine, etc”. When disaster comes to an arahant, they do not generate “I, me, mine, etc”.

Indeed we can say there is no “I, me” etc. but we need to train the mind to truly believe it, and blow out the asavas and the root of the process that leads to “I am”. It’s not easy, but it’s the heart of the buddhist practice- the striving to quench the self.

Even if you can stop this construction of self, you cannot stop your physical death. It must happen and you must part from your love ones and your possessions.

You do not need to convince everybody to do so. Not saying that you cannot do so. However, you can stop yourself from taking a new birth if you have wisdom, and you will be free from the cycle of birth and death.

Without understanding cessation, we cannot get rid of “I, me, my”.


Reading closely, notice how Gotama used the word “called”.

He says X, Y, and Z are called aging. He doesn’t say that they are aging, because the concept of aging is dependently originated and lacks self/essence. There is a difference between what something is called and what something is. Fortunately Gotama only points out what things are called, he doesn’t say what exists because he knows “This exists” is one extreme and “this doesn’t exist” is another extreme.

Gotama is not wrong. Indeed, in the minds of humans in Gotama’s society X, Y, and Z are conventionally called and referred to as aging & death. That’s mere abstraction, a process humans engage in painfully because it aids in craving. We humans love to look upon forms, change, and dhammas and give them names, characterize them, crave them. When one enters deep samhadi, these processes cease and are blown out.

In the suttas Gotama is very careful with words. He describes things/dhammas as they are called by others, in his society, without saying whether those things actually exist or not.

This is very subtle and very easy to miss.

Oke, but how does he/she know for sure he/she does not get any new physical birth?

When we reached cessation, that means when we have nothing left that can be called “I, me, my, mine, myself”.

We take new birth because of our cravings for existence. Because of cravings for existence, we cannot get rid of “I, me,my, mine, myself” since they are our existence.


I do not understand. Can you give more explanation?

This is not easy to explain. It is for us to realize ourselves. However, I will try my best with my limited understanding.

The “I, me, my, mine, myself” are representation of ourselves. They indicate our existence. Wihout them, we do not exist as an individual since nobody can identify us and we cannot identify ourselves with anybody.

My possessions represents “I” in them. When there is “my”, there is “I” and vice versa. That individual is in its possessions.

By craving, we attached to our possessions. We cling to what we called “I, my”;therefore, we want to continue with that “I, my”.

Since we still cling to many “I, my”, when we no longer have them by some reason, we will want to come back to them.

Here are some simple examples:

When we have an unfinished business, and that is our favorite one, we normally want to come back to finish it. Why? Because that is my favorite business.

When we want to maintain our luxury life style, but we are short of money and no longer be able to maintain that life style. We will need to go somewhere to make more money so we can come back to that life style. Why? Because I do not want to lose my luxury life style.

That person owned me a large sum of money; therefore, I come to take it back. Why? Because that is my money.

I borrowed some money from that person, so I come to give it back. Why? because that is my debt and I want to be a better person.

I have a good idea and I want to implement it, so I come to that world to do so. Why? Because that is my good idea that I want to implement it in that world.

And many more…

It is easy to say that there is no “I, me, my, mine, myself”, but without reaching cessation, we cannot get rid of “I, me, my, mine, myself”.

Thanks @freedom, i am sorry, i overlooked this topic.

We often say there is no rebirth for the arahant and Tathagata and we also see this as the goal. But in MN72 the Buddha says in discussion with Vacchagotta:

“But Master Gotama, when a mendicant’s mind is freed like this, where are they reborn?”
“‘They’re reborn’ doesn’t apply, Vaccha.”
“Well then, are they not reborn?”
“‘They’re not reborn’ doesn’t apply, Vaccha.”
“Well then, are they both reborn and not reborn?”
“‘They’re both reborn and not reborn’ doesn’t apply, Vaccha.”
“Well then, are they neither reborn nor not reborn?”
“‘They’re neither reborn nor not reborn’ doesn’t apply, Vaccha.”

Why do we talk about the end of rebirth while this apparantly also does not apply for the mind which is freed?

As I have said, when we reached cessation that is when there is nothing we can say “I, me, mine, my, myself” internally and externally then there is no way we can refer to “I, me”. That is when we reached Arahantship. Since we cannot refer to “I, me”, we cannot say " I will reborn" or " I will not reborn" or “I will and I will not” or “I neither… nor…”. They all refer to “I”. Moreover, an arahant has nothing to cling to, so he will not come back to any existence. In orther words, he will not come back to any “I, my”. He is free from rebirth.

However, if we have not reached arahantship, we are not free from rebirth. The comeback to the “I, my” by clinging is “rebirth”. By ignorance, we keep comeback life after life for a very long time.

We cannot escape rebirth if we do not understand it.

“Mendicants, transmigration has no known beginning. No first point is found of sentient beings roaming and transmigrating, hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving. What do you think? Which is more: the flow of tears you’ve shed while roaming and transmigrating for such a very long time—weeping and wailing from being united with the unloved and separated from the loved—or the water in the four oceans?” (SN15.3)

Alas, this world has fallen into trouble, in that it is born, ages, and dies, it passes away and is reborn, yet it does not understand the escape from this suffering headed by aging-and-death. When now will an escape be discerned from this suffering headed by aging-and-death?’ (SN12.4)