Rebirth and choice

In the light of dependent origination beginning with jarāmarana, the body breaks up at death and there is rebirth (jati). In the suttas, does a consciousness choose a life or is it a mechanism of bhavakamma? Can a consciousness choose a family which will help move towards awakening or further rebirths with craving? There are many accounts of people, particularly very young children, who tell of their memories of previous lives and how they chose their birth families. How do we reconcile these accounts with the suttas?


It is the kamma that drives the transmigration.
But there is a little chance of choice when the person is a merited one with required qualties. The Buddha explains how one can make a wish to be reborn in different realms in the sutta. Actually this is how the birth of sankhāra occurs (MN 120).

People reborn as a result of their past deeds (purāna kamma).

And what, bhikkhus, is old kamma? The eye is old kamma, to be seen as generated and fashioned by volition, as something to be felt. The ear is old kamma … The mind is old kamma, to be seen as generated and fashioned by volition, as something to be felt. This is called old kamma (SN 35.146).
This mechanism is backed by this sutta, that explains every sentient being have to obey the order of kamma.

When one gives birth to hatred for an individual, one should direct one’s thoughts to the fact of his being the product of his actions: ‘This venerable one is the doer of his actions, heir to his actions, born of his actions (kammayoni), related by his actions, and has his actions as his arbitrator. Whatever action he does, for good or for evil, to that will he fall heir.’ Thus the hatred for that individual should be subdued (AN 5.161).

There are many other suttas explain the same. However, kamma is not the only thing that influences the beings, believing likewise is pubbekatahetuvāda which has denied by the Budhha.

Everything this individual experiences—pleasurable, painful, or neutral—is because of past deeds.
But the Buddha teaches dependent origination (AN3.61).


Thank you; I wasn’t aware of that sutta. It inspires me to further establish faith, ethics. learning, generosity and wisdom.


AN 4.55 may also be relevant:

Householders, if both husband and wife wish to see one another not only in this present life but also in future lives, they should have the same faith, the same virtuous behavior, the same generosity, and the same wisdom. Then they will see one another not only in this present life but also in future lives.


AN 8.35 may be the most relevant to your question, though:

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. He sees affluent khattiyas, affluent brahmins, or affluent householders enjoying themselves furnished and endowed with the five objects of sensual pleasure. 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!’ 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. With the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in companionship with affluent khattiyas, affluent brahmins, or affluent householders—and that is for one who is virtuous, I say, not for one who is immoral. The heart’s wish of one who is virtuous succeeds because of his purity.

It then lists another seven similar kinds of rebirth due to giving.


A little off-topic from the OP question, maybe but my favorite part of MN120 is this:

Furthermore, take a mendicant who has faith, ethics, learning, generosity, and wisdom. They think: ‘If only I might realize the undefiled freedom of heart and freedom by wisdom in this very life, and live having realized it with my own insight due to the ending of defilements.’ They realize the undefiled freedom of heart and freedom by wisdom in this very life. And they live having realized it with their own insight due to the ending of defilements. And, mendicants, that mendicant is not reborn anywhere.”

It’s last in the list. But apparently the Buddha said it as the finale of teaching rebirth by choice.


Quite inspiring!

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The kind of consciousness you are talking about is not what Buddha referred to as viññāṇa but comes from somewhere else, the kind of consciousness you are talking about is not a reality and was not explained in such way by the Buddha. ‘Consciousness’ is not a good translation for viññāṇa.

I was referring to the translation “consciousness” from DN 15, i.e.:

“If consciousness were not conceived in the mother’s womb, would name and form coagulate there?”

Perhaps you could elaborate on what you mean.

The translation says ‘consciousness’. You read that and think ‘it must be the thing that chooses’ because you think of consciousness like that and think that such consciousness actually is real and other things but its not what viññāṇa actually refers to. So whatever it is that is ‘conceived’ there is not such ‘consciousness’. Viññāṇa basically means perception and still its not going to be exactly the kind of perception the scientists or dictionary definition talks about but something else, but thats at least something to try and help you to hone in on what the actual reality behind viññāṇa is.

SuttaCentral The Longer Discourse on the Ending of Craving

This is the only way of choice explained in a sutta. So mentioning this cannot be off topic.

The way the question was asked reflex a belief of intermediate state. I learned most people in the suttacentral community beleive that there is an intermediate state. I do not think there is even a single bit of possibility to believe likewise according to EBTs.
So I am not gong to dump my ideas here about intermediate state. Without an intermediate state a being cannot have a chance to selsect his family or where he is going to be reborn at all. Whole process of death and rebirth driven by kamma.

Anyone who is interested can read this thread:


AN4.171:6.1: Mendicants, there are four kinds of reincarnation.
AN4.171:6.2: What four?
AN4.171:6.3: There is a reincarnation where one’s own intention is effective, not that of others.
AN4.171:6.4: There is a reincarnation where the intention of others is effective, not one’s own.
AN4.171:6.5: There is a reincarnation where both one’s own and others’ intentions are effective.
AN4.171:6.6: There is a reincarnation where neither one’s own nor others’ intentions are effective.

I find it interesting that the word “reincarnation” is used here. Is this a different Pali word than “rebirth”?

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:thinking: I’ve been using the two interchangeably in my own understanding, but they are indeed different words. Rebirth is jātī. Reincarnation is attabhāvapaṭilābhā. I personally haven’t found a significant distinction between rebirth of a desire or of a sentient being. They both involve continued existence and are relinquished for non-return. (If that view is incorrect, perhaps one of the Venerables might advise.)

Indeed, AN4.171 touches on the key distinctions for non-return by illuminating the reincarnation where intentions are not effective.

BTW, thanks for inspiring me to look at AN4.171, AN4.170 and MN64 for my next week’s sutta study. :pray: