No rebirth - what happens next?

Hello everyone, I have a question, please. I know that some of you don’t believe in rebirth. I am genuinly interested in what YOU think happens after (your) death. How was your journey to be at this point?

I don’t want to discuss “right” or “wrong”, I’m just interested in your views / ideas.
Do you believe in Khamma but not in Rebirth? Or not in both?

I read something here and that brought this question up in my mind. I hope you don’t mind me asking…

Thank you very much and may your journey be happy and fruitful :slightly_smiling_face:
With much metta
Alex :dog2:


You can find more secular Buddhists at reddit, r/secularbuddhism. Just becareful not to push rebirth to them or you might get banned from that sub.

Personally I think Heidegger has it about as close to right as thus far things have come. His death as horizon in Being and Time basically states that if someone seeks an authentic life s/he will have to deal with finitude. Obviously he thinks accepting finitude is the authentic mode of being and so coming to terms with death as the extent of our horizon is emancipatory.

In other words, it’s a complete waste of your time to either believe in, or speculate on “what happens to you” after “your death.” It’s going to happen and you better worry about the condition and choices of yourself in the here and now. So, your religious perspective is completely meaningless to someone who is focussed on living an authentic life per the “existential” perspective developed in Heidegger.

I am influenced by Luce Irigaray’s reading of Heidegger’s death as horizon, so we have feminist issues with it, but I think realistically this is “the” secular reading of “death.”

Thank you @Meggers for your reply. I would have never thought of Heidegger. Most probably because I grew up in Germany but that is exactly what interests me. Influences and conclusions. Have a great day :dog2:

Thank you @NgXinZhao but answers on here will be more than sufficient. I try not to push anything on people. Everyone has the right to live their own life, hopefully without harming another being. :lady_beetle:

Hi Alex,

I came to conclusion that rebirth could not be real after an extensive investigation of the various Buddhist beliefs on this score (recorded in my book Karma and Rebirth Reconsidered). I found Thomas Metzinger very influential. As I finished his book, The Ego Tunnel, I realised that my lingering doubts about the supernatural had simply evaporated. And I felt liberated from a burden. I no longer believe any explanation of anything that invokes the supernatural. The supernatural is not real. Meaning that I no longer find karma and rebirth interesting.

This was partly because I found so many different and conflicting Buddhist explanations of rebirth, and also because I didn’t find any of them compelling. No existing Buddhist explanation of rebirth, for example, successfully explains how there can be continuity in the absence of any persistent entities.

I also no longer buy into the fantasy of a just world. Karma is not materially different from or better than any other religious just world theory. I don’t like that justice in all these theories is a post-mortem affair. Justice has to be timely and it has to be seen to be done. Karma negates both of these criteria.

Moreover, an account of the evolution of morality, such as outlined by Frans de Waal’s The Bonobo and the Atheist, seems much more compelling that any of the many Buddhist and non-Buddhist theories of karma.

The whole idea of an afterlife is predicated on notions that we know must be wrong: like ontological dualism. There’s just no way of accounting for life after death given what we know about how the universe works. Ergo, there is no life after death. Or if there is, no one has yet come up with any evidence of it. It would help if all the religions talked about the same afterlife, but even Buddhists cannot agree on one story! And it was only worse in the past when Buddhism

I would say, for example, that minds are always embodied. And that the death of the body wipes out the mind, memories, and personality.

What happens next?

Your body is gradually broken up and recycled. And that’s it. There is no “life after death” because this would contradict too many other things that we know must be true about the universe. Every death is effectively a parinirvāṇa.

I’m quite aware that religious Buddhists find this view objectionable (as they find many of my views objectionable). And I’m sensitive to their concerns. I have no intention of downplaying the traditional importance of karma and rebirth to Buddhism. To the extent that we know anything at all about “early Buddhism” (which is minimal in my view), karma and rebirth are central and inseparable.

I’m fully aware that without karma and rebirth, traditional Buddhism, doesn’t really make sense.
But facts are facts. Iron Age people were not best-placed to describe reality. I think this is especially true of people whose principal search for knowledge of reality involves completely cutting yourself off from reality.

That said, my research on the Heart Sutra alerted me to some real phenomena that people experience, notably the cessation of sensory experience. I may have over-emphasised this, but only because I’m working on source texts that can only be understood by privileging cessation. My goal is to get some insight into the minds of the authors. To do that I have to internalise their belief, while retaining my sanity. Conversations with meditators indicate some other things are definitely going on and important, but you don’t find those in a Prajñāpāramitā text. Funnily enough, I relied almost entirely on my knowledge of Pāli, particularly how Sue Hamilton saw the Pāli texts, in explaining Prajñāpāramitā. I think Prajñāpāramitā is more closely related to certain strands of Pāli Buddhism than it is to any version of Madhyamaka.

I have no doubt that some people are able to achieve cessation and that this changes them in very positive ways. So while I don’t believe in karma and rebirth, I do believe in bodhi. So I figure I’m still some kind of Buddhist. McMahan would probably call me a “Buddhist Modernist”. Which is fair enough.

But I’ve also come to see the knowledge gained by Buddhists as unrelated to “reality” or the “nature of reality”. I still can’t tell you when Buddhists started talking in such terms, but I feel quite strongly that this is a wrong view. Reality is described to 12 decimal places by science. What Buddhists learn in meditation is far more limited and related to sensory experience and the nature of sensory experience.

Most of the metaphysical conclusions that Buddhists promote (like karma and rebirth) are simply not supported by a coherent epistemology. No one has ever been able to explain why or how meditation—withdrawing attention from sensory experience—would give anyone access to “reality”. Worse, it’s clear that many Buddhists see the absence of sensory experience as reality. This explains the basis of Madhyamaka metaphysics for example. But none of it has anything to do with reality.

After I die, I will rapidly be forgotten, my body with be recycled by bacteria and fungi, and… that’s it. I find this thought galvanizes me to work on my writing on a good day. My best shot at “life after death” is publishing something that makes people think and talk. My latest article on the Heart Sutra was published yesterday in Buddhist Studies Review. I hope people find it stimulating.

I’m not proselytizing. I don’t expect anyone to agree. I’m just answering the question as asked (and because almost no one ever asks).



8 posts were split to a new topic: Evidence for Rebirth

At the risk of sounding like a bull sh#t session participant, I can’t help but wonder if there is something like what it is to be a fundamental particle and that what it is like to be a human being is what it is like to be an electron that is quantumly smeared throughout the neurons and synapses of the brain. After death, maybe it leaps to a similar brain, or maybe not. Maybe over time there is a chance it will. That’s the best guess I have to explain why the is something like to be a human being. That said, I think there are several suttas where the Buddha explicitly says things that by implication mean he does not declare there is rebirth or even what happens to the Buddha after death.

When the Buddha says he does not declare whether or not the jiva is the body or something else, this would have been understood by the audience at the time to mean he does not declare if we are reborn or not. In that thought world, the jiva was the thing that was reborn if anything was reborn. The Buddha is very explicit why he says this:

I would also add that beliefs are kamma. To hold these speculative beliefs, is to hold yourself back from liberation. You should not be attached to there being rebirth or not being rebirth.

Yes, I know there are suttas in the cannon that contradict this. That contradiction should give someone pause to consider the validity of those suttas.

So, to wrap it up, I suspect rebirth is possible, but the Buddha would rather you not be dogmatic. Dogmatic beliefs are a honey trap of kamma.

PS. I later changed thought to thought world.

What I find interesting about these meandering discussions is that the contemporary religious view is notably physicalist.

The traditional Western view of consciousness - obtained through belief in anamnesis - is that it is unique, quite separate from the natural world and makes the mysteriousness and magic of it. The modern Western ‘secular’ view of consciousness is that it is of a piece of nature and must conform to any or whatever of the dominant empirical “ontologies” - evolution, universal consciousness, etc. - that we are consistently reduced to.

Nietzsche’s acute analyses and uncanny insights still so often prove correct - religious thought consistently demonstrates itself to be a closed system. And, also, less stated but equally demonstrated, that science itself is grounded in religious thought.

How does science ground itself in religious thought?

You’re welcome to read up on it yourself, since the intersection between science and religion is now a huge research field, but here’s a brief article from, IMO, a not very good CDN magazine that attempts to make academia “pop.”

I think saying science is grounded in religious thought may be misleading, at least based on this article. Both are inspired by curiosity, wonder, and mystery. I think that both employed rudimentary induction, and sometimes deduction, but that science developed induction and deduction into the scientific method and formal logic up to set and number theory.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that religion does not tentatively accept its findings. That is why religious people often fear science will upset their apple cart. Faith does not stand up to evidence well and is not as reliable when making predictions such as is this airplane likely to get me to my destination in one piece and how much fuel will it take to make the flight.

With regard to religion being a guide to how to act, I think that requires ignorance of religions that practiced human or animal sacrifice, burned heretics at the stake, and justified and started religious wars.

As I said, you’re welcome to read up on it if you like.

A post was merged into an existing topic: Secularism must lead to hedonism?

Interesting, I’m not a Buddhist but why would you suggest hedonism for those interested to pursue natural ends and natural motivations?

What are the natural ends and natural motivations?

Well they could be hypothesized, like what you are doing.

7 posts were merged into an existing topic: Secularism must lead to hedonism?

I know the texts talk about the here and now too, for example in the Kalama Sutta, but from a practical use of time, wouldn’t ocean-surfing, going on year-long ocean cruises or snow-skiing or some other activity you might enjoy be a better use of a limited time in only one life?

This doesn’t seem to me to follow at all. It seems like my best bet to have a happy life is to be content with little and to be kind to others.


Hi @Jayarava
Wow!! Thank you very much for taking your time to answer my question so thorough. At the moment I am just blown away from reading it through. I need certainly a bit longer to take that in.

This is exactly what I was hoping for. Honesty and food for thought. @Meggers and you were kind enough to share this (with me). As I said I am not interested in arguing and picking things apart but I am certainly taking my time to digest your thoughts.

Funny that, I just read something yesterday at my clients place: “Eastern Religions want to empty their minds in meditation, we want to fill the mind with the empowering words of God during meditation”

Have a wonderful day :butterfly: