Isn’t controlling your future rebirth contradiction of Dhamma?

Buddha said

Bhikkhus, form is nonself. For if, bhikkhus, form were self, this form would not lead to affliction, and it would be possible to have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus; let my form not be thus.’ But because form is nonself, form leads to affliction, and it is not possible to have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus; let my form not be thus.’

Yet someone can control their rebirth. I read once Bhikkhu Sujato saying AN is later texts. But it’s common mental power faith in early groups. And as seen by real rebirth stories. The mind keeps remembering what he previously focused on. You read about children that remembered they where monks, later becoming monk again. So the mind state at the moment of death is important.

He sets his mind on this, fixes his mind on this, and develops this state of mind. That aspiration of his, resolved on what is inferior, not developed higher, leads to rebirth there.

If you read the above. It contradicts what Buddha said. For me then.

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I’m no expert, but those two passages aren’t necessarily contradictory.

If you have the time, I highly recommend listening to Bhikkhu Bodhi’s lecture series on MN120 which also deals with rebirth aspirations.

If not, the gist is that an aspiration can tip the scales when multiple good destinations are kammically possible. From Bhikkhu Bodhi’s explanations, I gather that it doesn’t mean you can control your rebirth. An aspiration is a mental action which has consequences. Some of which may lead to a specific rebirth destination. But that doesn’t contradict Anattalakkhaṇasutta, does it?

It just means there are actions that can influence future rebirth. Which naturally leads to a particular kind of body. But still, you can’t tell your body not to age, sicken or die. Nor can you choose the specifics of your body now or in the future.


But can’t someone go to a plastic surgeon and say “let my form be thus, let it not be thus”?

The way I understand the Anattalakkhaṇasutta is that there is no control outside the causal relationships that govern nature.

For example, we know that kidneys filter the blood. So someone with kidney failure can be put on dialysis and they will not die.

But for someone with kidney failure, they cannot say “let my body survive without filtering the blood”, this is stepping outside causality into magical thinking.

Going further, access to the dialysis machine also rests on multiple other causes that are impermanent. The machinery relies on global supply chains to be made, these may break down. The machinery relies on an entire infrastructure to deliver electricity, which is vulnerable. Access to medical care can be lost, you might not be aware that your kidneys are having issues, etc.

Kamma is part of the causality that governs nature. So making good kamma + aspiration can influence one’s rebirth. But thinking “I’ll act in an evil way and then compel kamma to give me a good rebirth anway” is like thinking “let my body survive without filtering the blood”.

Like, it’s not obvious that certain acts will lead to good results in future lives. However, once you have a Buddha explain how the laws of kamma work, then you can “control” (or at least heavily influence) your future rebirth because you now have the knowledge and the means to do so.

To me, this is not different from the way medical knowledge allows us to extend and save lives that we normally wouldn’t be able to.


I mean, it’s even simpler than this - as the suttas say many times, a strong man can outstretch or withdraw his hand if unhindered. But he can’t if, say, his arm is tied behind his back.

You can do things with your body, but it is ultimately not in your control in an ultimate sense.


Even the wish to move one’s arm in the first place is just a result of causes and conditions :mindblown:

It would be incredibly practical to have direct control over one’s inner life.

Don’t feel motivated to finish a work project? Simply have your self change your desires so you want to finish the work…

Feeling sleepy? Simply remove that feeling from your conscious experience…


Thanks for the replies. I’m thinking more like changing consciousness. Which probably when Buddha said about consciousness he meant awareness of the body. But it seems then consciousness we have control over it. It’s only getting out of samsara it’s invisible to the realm of Māra. Because take for example the next verse.

It occurs to him: ‘Oh, with the breakup of the body, after death, may I be reborn in companionship with affluent khattiyas, affluent brahmins, or affluent householders!’

This mostly is done in sutta at the time of death or when giving alms.

That’s why in this sutta Buddha says(The second I shared above)

“Here, someone gives a gift to an ascetic or a brahmin: food and drink; clothing and vehicles; garlands, scents, and unguents; bedding, dwellings, and lighting. Whatever he gives, he expects something in return.

Don’t forget the sutta also Buddha explain couples can be reborn the same place if they have same virtues