Rebirth Question

I’ve recently started looking into Buddhism and I have a question concerning rebirth. I’ve noticed several Buddhist authors that refer to Dr. Ian Stevenson’s research as “proof” of rebirth. However, he comments that the vast majority of his cases involve several years of time between lives. In the Buddhist material I’ve seen it says, depending on the school, that rebirth either happens immediately or after 49 days. If Dr. Stevenson’s research shows years, how do Buddhists reconcile their “proof” with what is normally taught in Buddhism with regard to the time between lives?

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Whether rebirth happens immediately or after 49 days, there’d be no contradiction with Dr. Stevenson’s work. The human realm is only one among the six realms of existence (hell, animal, afflicted spirits, asuras, and deva). Due to such vastly diverse combinatorics of kamma we’ve been generating, the possibility of someone gets reborn into a different plane of existence for several years in between his/her human rebirths is a certainty.


According to the suttas, there is a very short bardo. But this is not accepted in traditional Theravada due to the risk of misinterpreting a self to exist. There were fights between buddhist sects at the beginning and Theravada decided to deny this part not to risk misinterpretation.

So there is no way to reconcile buddhist view of rebirth with Dr. Ian Stevenson research, other than the person spending time in some other life form. Dr. Ian Stevenson also has a case where somebody supposedly lived in 2 bodies at the same time, witch is a technical impossibility.

I, as a Buddhist, do not take Ian Stevenson research too seriously. Memory is infamously unreliable and eye-witness is one of the least important kind of evidence in a trial. Weather we are speaking about this life or other life memory, it still is unreliable. So while knowing an old language might be proof that person existed before, I would not take his recount of his previous life too seriously.

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@santa100 I agree, but that wouldn’t reconcile with the Buddhist teaching that rebirth happens in a relatively short period of time, i.e., immediately up to 49 days (in our time).

@dxm_dxm Thanks. That seems like a more wholesome and realistic approach to take.

[quote=“dxm_dxm, post:3, topic:5744”]
According to the suttas, there is a very short bardo.
[/quote]Out of curiosity, where in the suttas do you find this?

Why assume that rebirth happens in linear time?

Sorry, could you elaborate on what doesn’t reconcile? As mentioned, whether rebirth happens immediately, or over a short period is not a problem due to the possibility of the person being reborn into a “non-human” realm before s/he’ll get reborn back into the human realm.

[quote=“santa100, post:8, topic:5744”]
As mentioned, whether rebirth happens immediately, or over a short period is not a problem due to the possibility of the person being reborn into a “non-human” realm before s/he’ll get reborn back into the human realm.
[/quote]I think what was being suggested was that during the “waiting period” (?) suggested by Dr. Ian Stevenson, or during the bardo of death allegedly attested to in the suttas mentioned by @dxm_dxm, no rebirth takes place at all. For a while. Then (re-)birth occurs. If I am reading correctly.

@santa100 @anon98845439 I accept the possibility of what both of you have written. Where I’m having a problem is that it doesn’t seem to adequately explain how others can say that rebirth happens immediately, or after 49 human days, and then say time is non-linear, or other things happened in the afterlife between the death and rebirth in the human realm. That is to say, if, for example, a person believes person A (a person who person B believes to be rebirthed from) died on March 1st, 1989, if person B was born three human years later, then that goes against the Buddhist teaching (at least by some schools, e.g., Tibetan is 49 days) that the rebirth has to happen 49 days later by our accounting of time.

So, no matter what happened on the other side, or for how long it happened, it has to be resolved within 49 human days in order for the Buddhist claim regarding the time between lives in this time to be accurate.

[quote=“Dubitator314, post:10, topic:5744”]
Tibetan is 49 days
[/quote]This is scholastic elaboration IMO. There are also people who, on account of scholastic elaboration, believe that all devāḥ possess only two (clinging/clung to) aggregates, rather than the five of normal beings.

I would never suggest that you dismiss the Tibetan claim based on what I said. But personally, whenever I see something so specific and scholastic as “The bardo of death last exactly 49 days” I would go searching for its source, and I believe you will find it in the Tibetan Book of the Dead (if I am not misinformed), which isn’t even a sūtra by Mahāyāna reckoning. So how much you choose to believe it is up to you.

I don’t recall ever reading in the suttas this period of 49 days. I don’t think it is there. Science tells us that timespace is relative, conditioned both by relative speed and gravity. Time on Jupiter would be different than time on Earth due to the difference in gravitational pull, if I have understood this correctly. I doubt whatever exists in the interval is subject to timespace or gravity, and so I think it might manifest anywhere in timespace depending on kamma. I may be wrong, of course.

I think that 49-day thing is strictly a belief from the Tibetan source, not from the Pali Canon source. Anyway, even without resorting to timespace relativity, on the conventional timeline, beings on different realms have vastly different life spans, some are directly observable: ie. humans have significantly longer lifespan than say, cats, or dogs; cats or dogs, in turn, have much longer lifespan than insects, etc. And we haven’t even taken into account that while being reborn into a non-human realm (the period in between the 2 human births), that person doesn’t get to live out the entire life-span of his non-human existence, just like countless examples of people who don’t get to live until old age.

The suttas don’t specify any time period, so this is not an issue. In fact some suttas speak of the relativity of time, that it flows at different rates in different dimensions. This very advanced concept is, so far as I know, found first in the Buddhist texts.

A bigger issue with Stevenson’s work is that there has so far been shown no clear correlation between what people do in the past and the results in this life; i.e. the law of kamma. However there is not yet enough work in the field to be able to draw any conclusions from this, other than to say that it has no been established by studies.


Hi Bhante,

This is interesting. Do you recollect which suttas are these?

Thank you

Ha ha, now I’m busted. Can’t I just make a vague assertion without people asking for pesky so-called “evidence”. Umm, let me think.

It’s in the Payasi Sutta, DN 23. And I think it’s found elsewhere, too, but I can’t recall at the moment.


I would add to this the sutta where one asks the Buddha by what is consciousness sustained after one body has been layed down but the next one was not picked and he answers that it is sustained by craving.

I would also add the fact that there are 5 times of non-returners, one of them said to attainin nibbana in this bardo state.

Besides the Pāyāsisutta, there is:


But these cover only the lifespans of devas in the six kāmaloka heavens. The Abhidhamma’s Vibhaṅga, extends it to the rūpa and arūpa brahmās up to those in Nevasaññānāsaññāyatana, Vb18