When we die, what exactly gets reborn in the next life? There is no permanent self (no atta), so an impermanent self must be reborn somehow. Through what medium does this self pass into the next conscious form? If some are able to achieve attainments necessary to see past lives, there must therefore be information on past lives stored either in what is transmitted from life to life, or stored somewhere else. How should we understand these inquiries on the basis of the suttas?
I don’t think the suttas say much about it! Causal chains project information forward. They do no project ‘objects’ forwards. If when the cause is impermanent and the effect it gave rise to was impermanent, it’s pointless to speak of a being who is moved forward, through a causal chain.
Maybe this will be of interest
Driven by the impetus of craving (SN 44.9), consciousness arises immediately due to cause and effect, through the medium of consciousness:
“following the death consciousness, there arises the first citta of the next life which springs up with the newly formed physical organism as its basis. The first citta of the new life continues the stream of consciousness which has passed out of the deceased body. The stream of consciousness is not a single entity, but a process, and the process continues. When the stream of cittas passes on to the next life it carries the storage of impressions along with it.”—“Rebirth”, Bikkhu Bodhi
TV transmitting station antenna (to) electromagnetic waves (to) home antenna (to) electrical impulses in wires (to) image on screen! No person was projected forward. Its only an image. An illusion of a person- only 2d…
Nagasena’s answer support the information-only transmission analogy:
‘Do you recollect, great king, having learnt, when you were a boy, some verse or other from your teacher?’
‘Yes, I recollect that.’
‘Well then, did that verse transmigrate from your teacher?’
‘Just so, great king, is rebirth without transmigration.’
‘Very good, Nāgasena!’
What kind of information might be transmitted from one life to the next?
The same that rupa transmits to consciousness to contact to feeling, labelling and intention!
Forgive me for the brief comment on what could be so much more…This might not be appropriate to the question, but please tell me if I’m on the right track!
The Buddha painstakingly and patiently took every practice known including deep meditations, asceticism, controlling the body and mind and took them as far as they could go. He was able to reach profound levels of stillness and unification of his body and mind, found them lacking and in then looked further.
It was after recalling his childhood experience of what is known as the first Jhana, the Buddha questioned why he was afraid of joy. Could non-sensual joy be the way? This led to cultivating a purification of his mind and seeing the nature of dukkha, how it arises and where it leads. It was through this process that he was to fully realize dependent origination, the 12 links of how dukkha arises and where it leads. The cornerstone is Ignorance, not having knowledge of the way thing are. Remove the cornerstone of ignorance and the rest falls away. The ignorance he saw through was that craving and clinging were the source of dukkha as well as a misunderstanding of sankhara, consciousness, namarupa, the sense spheres, being etc. all the way to rebirth.
The last piece of the puzzle for him: His mind was crystal clear with no defilements whatsoever or craving for anything whatsoever and he was able to see his previous rebirths, the lives of countless beings being reborn and how he had cultivated a path out of all of it (The Three Knowledges). Since all craving had been eradicated in him never to arise again, there would be nothing to carry over, no craving to continue on. That’s why he said that there is no atman, a thing to be reborn, as craving isn’t a thing or a soul. That’s why he said that there wasn’t annihilation, but rather craving carries on after the body breaks up at death. That’s also why he denied the existence of a permanent self but never said that there wasn’t anything there! That’s why he was able to live the rest of his life with peace, joy and equipoise regardless of circumstances. Had he not gone all the way, craving would have persisted as action with intention (karma) and carried over into another existence; another body, not the same consciousness.
The difference is that there are physical senses to collect physical objects and sounds as well as is a physical brain with synapses and neurotransmitters to store memories but in death there is not a physical thing.
For me, I have implicit trust in the Buddha and feel that if he thought we needed to know, he would have told us. Perhaps when I attain the The Three Knowledges I too will know everything I need to know.
sometimes it’s easier to explore this issue in reverse terms of individuation.
You and the world you see, both arise at each instant for your self. Then it should be a flow of trends to support that perceived continuity. Similar when we go to sleep; we and the world vanish for ourselves, and the next morning all arise again.
These are difficult questions and they fall under the 4 unthinkable things that the Buddha said if anyone who tries to think about them will go mad or get frustrated: The scope of the Buddhas …The scope of one in absorption …The results of deeds (kamma)…and Speculation about the world. (AN4.77 SuttaCentral).
According to SN56.33: A “being” gets reborn in the next life. SN23.2 SuttaCentral defines a being. Ignorance, old kamma, and elements tag along with a being to the next life in my opinion.
…sentient beings roaming and transmigrating, hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving. Sometimes they go from this world to the other world, and sometimes they come from the other world to this world. (SN56.33 SuttaCentral)
“Contact, reverends, is one end. The origin of contact is the second end. The cessation of contact is the middle. And craving is the seamstress…
“The past, reverends, is one end. The future is the second end. The present is the middle. And craving is the seamstress …
“Name, reverends, is one end. Form is the second end. Consciousness is the middle. And craving is the seamstress …
…for craving weaves one to rebirth in this or that state of existence. That’s how a mendicant directly knows what should be directly known and completely understands what should be completely understood. Knowing and understanding thus they make an end of suffering in this very life.” MN136 SuttaCentral