What do you think of reincarnation tradition in vajrayana?

Is there any different between rebirth and reincarnation ?

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I have heard people argue that ‘reincarnation’ implies a soul, whereas ‘rebirth’ does not. And therefore the use of the term ‘reincarnation’ is incorrect in Buddhism, and refers to the Hindu concept. I quite strongly disagree with that, due to two points:

  1. Tibetan Buddhism has a long established use of the English term ‘reincarnation’, and they are not referring to a soul.

  2. I see no justification for this view in the definition of the English terms, since they are basically synonyms. Let’s see the Oxford Dictionary of English:

Rebirth: the process of being reincarnated or born again: the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

Reincarnation: the rebirth of a soul in another body.

My opinion is that neither word refers specifically to the Buddhist or Hindu concept, but that both refer to the process which is explained in both Buddhism and Hinduism; and that the term (whichever English word is chosen to represent it) is to be understood in context, by studying the extended definition of the term within the respective tradition. Just as karma is one word with two quite different specialised meanings in the two traditions.


The word reincarnate implies a body:

invested with bodily and especially human nature and form

In spanish the term is clearly related to the meat of the body.

Rebirth refers to each moment and to mental processes, each new desire drives to a new rebirth. This happens right now and it applies even if there is no body like the one we have right now.

Reincarnation usually ‘forgets’ about the other 30 planes of existence. It is mostly relate to this plane and this form of existence.

Rebirth may imply a reincarnation, but it is a lot more open than that and gives us the opportunity to observe this moment and how we are creating it right now based in desire and supported by previews kamma. Reincarnation creates a waiting period to the next time there is a body in this form, which may be a really long time.

I am by no means an expert in Tibetan buddhism, but in several talks texts I have encountered that one does feel that it is related to at least a form of a soul, an essence of some sort, but I can’t remember the terms I have heard. I do not know if this is a misinterpretation on my part or if this has some actual background in Mahayana theory.

With this in mind, we don’t hear the Dalai Lama reincarnating in a Deva Realm, he always comes back here. Which supports the concept of reincarnation associated to this body and this realm.

I agree, there is a difference in the terms and they most be understood in context accordingly.

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As I understand it ,
the Dalai Lama
reincarnating back
to this world due to his " vow " .

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The term “reincarnation” seems to refer to a process by which some one entity that is first incarnated in one body is later incarnated in another body. That doesn’t seem to capture any process the Buddha described. The resistance to the use of this term in reference to early Buddhist teachings is often based on teachings such as this one:



What do you think of
Buddha disciples
Whom ended his life in
this world without
attaining arahant state
and take birth with
a new body in a Deva realm ?

Reincarnate or rebirth ?
The words maybe different
but the happenings is the same !

The point is that reincarnation is usually used to refer to this body, not those Deva realms. If they are used to refer to such states then as you say, it is correct to say that the happenings are the same.

But, this only applies if you are talking about rebirth as a substitute of reincarnation, it does not work the other way around.

  • I can say: I had a rebirth in a new body or I reincarnated in a new body.

  • A new desire creates rebirth right here and now, it does not create reincarnation right here and now.

Sounds true, as I said before, I don’t know much about this Mahayana proposal. My point here is only the fact that his reincarnations are mentioned only in regards to this world, at least I have not heard of him ‘reincarnating’ in the other realms since his first appearance in this form. Same as the other similar figures used in Tibet such as the Tolkus. Maybe they do go there sometimes, but this events are not mentioned.

What then is rebirth
here and now ?

Not mention in the EBTs,
but in their texts do mentioned .

It is described as part of the Dependent Coarising (Paṭic­ca­samup­pāda­).


“And what, bhikkhus, is dependent origination? With ignorance as condition, volitional formations come to be; with volitional formations as condition, consciousness; with consciousness as condition, name-and-form; with name-and-form as condition, the six sense bases; with the six sense bases as condition, contact; with contact as condition, feeling; with feeling as condition, craving; with craving as condition, clinging; with clinging as condition, existence; with existence as condition, birth; with birth as condition, aging-and-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair come to be. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering. This, bhikkhus, is called dependent origination.

This is a constant process that repeats itself as long as there is ignorance, as long as there is no awakening.

Interesting, do you have a reference to this? I mean the Dalai Lama going to the Deva worlds to teach, or any other teacher. It would be interesting to read about it.

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" With becoming (bhava)
as condition, Birth ( jati ) ".

So, birth here refer to next life !
Not this very life !
Which is similar to reincarnation .

This is a constant process, happens at every moment many times and it is not related to the next life. It is Dependent Coarising and has happened innumerable times since I started to reply to your message. Over and over again.

Here you can find a very long and clear explanation about it: http://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/Writings/DependentCo-arising.pdf

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‘Reincarnation’ is metaphysical, i.e., when the body dies the soul takes a new body, regardless of the quality of kamma. For example, in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna to not be concerned about dying from fighting in a war because the soul cannot be destroyed & will be reincarnated.

As Arjuna stood in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, he was overcome with feelings of weakness and confusion as he faced the prospect of potentially killing his own half-brothers, uncles, friends and teachers. At this moment, Lord Krishna, who was his companion in the battlefield, sought to allay his fears by teaching him about the distinction between the physical body (which is impermanent) and the soul or aatman (which is permanent).

The Nature of the Soul (Aatman) - Lord Krishna Speaks to Arjuna


‘Rebirth’ is ethical/kammic, i.e., rebirth according to kamma (actions) & clinging (attachment).

With the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, I saw beings passing away and reappearing, inferior and superior, fair and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate. I understood how beings pass on according to their actions thus: ‘These worthy beings who were ill conducted in body, speech and mind, revilers of noble ones, wrong in their views, giving effect to wrong view in their actions, on the dissolution of the body, after death, have reappeared in a state of deprivation, in a bad destination, in perdition, even in hell; but these worthy beings who were well conducted in body, speech and mind, not revilers of noble ones, right in their views, giving effect to right view in their actions, on the dissolution of the body, after death, have reappeared in a good destination, even in the heavenly world.’ MN 4

And what is the diversity in kamma? There is kamma to be experienced in hell, kamma to be experienced in the realm of common animals, kamma to be experienced in the realm of the hungry shades, kamma to be experienced in the human world, kamma to be experienced in the world of the devas. This is called the diversity in kamma. AN 6.63

When one lays down this body and takes up a new body, then I say one is blameworthy. MN 144



“Incarnation” is the Latin-based English coinage. The Germanic English word is “enfleshment” (literally, to take on “carnal” or “fleshly” robes, if you will). Re-incarnation means this happening again, having happened before.

Rebirth means being born again, however one wants to frame “birth” and “born”.

The Pāli and Chinese (and I assume the Ghāndārī), as far as I know, do not observe this conceptual separation between reincarnation and rebirth.

If you wanted to get rid of the Latin (since, for English speakers, the Norman elements in the language pose the greatest difficulty, as one cannot easily grasp the meaning of “incarnate” without general knowledge of English etymology), than would could render it “reënfleshment” (re-enfleshment if the umlaut strikes one as an eyesore), or perhaps more radically, “umbenfleshment”, but “umb-” is a very rarely used English prefix today. All the same, sticking with Germanic roots in English often makes it much easier for “Average Joes” (who always vote men they want to drink with into political office, one assumes) to understand, and we are all “Average Joes” with respect to one body of knowledge or another.

There is far less ambiguity when someone reads “re-enfleshment” than when someone reads “reincarnation”, if they are unfamiliar with reincarnation on the whole.

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The point is that whether it is enfleshment that is being redone or incarnation that is being redone, neither one seems to describe the process the Buddha describes. There is no inner person that used to wear one body or robe of flesh and then comes to inhabit a new body or robe of flesh. The mental factors that arise in the future being are just as much conditioned as the physical factors.

I assume you are referring to the concept and tradition of tulku, i.e. the idea that lineage masters can give hints to where the next berth will take place and therefore they can be found to be educated since young age to carry on as the lineage master.

It is a rather recent phenomena and as far as I have concerned was an institution created without the concern of making it something linked or based in EBTs.

Wikipedia has an article on the topic:

OK put aside reincarnation ,
in 12 D. O.
Does Birth (jati)
implying birth of next life or
Each birth of ( some things )
in this very life ?
When we understand " aging "
it does includes the
meaning of " sickness " right ?

And the psychological
rebirth without including sickness
as part of it doesn’t explain the
process of D. O. ?

The topic title is with regards
to Vajrayana tradition , not
only etymology or EBTs , right ?

Best wishes


I have not researched the Non-Returner thoroughly. For me, this is a very difficult question because it seems there are ‘reincarnation’ suttas, such as AN 3.15, AN 9.20, MN 81, MN 50, MN 123 & MN 143, which are in the style of later texts such as the Jataka, Apadana & Buddhāpadāna, where a same person goes from life-to-life. These suttas are different to SN 22.79, for example.

Bhikkhus, in the past there was a king named Pacetana. Then King Pacetana addressed a chariotmaker … It may be, bhikkhus, that you think: ‘On that occasion the chariotmaker was someone else.’ But you should not think in such a way. On that occasion, I myself was the chariotmaker. AN 3.15

For me, Jataka is reincarnation because of the same self but also kammic rebirth.

For me, I think the Mahayana idea of Bodhisattva choosing to reincarnate to save all sentient beings is very similar to Theravada Jataka and was probably influenced by Jataka.


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It may be a rebirth in this or what we would call a next life. We are very attached to the perception that a new body is a new life, but this moment is a new life. It is true that more things change with a new body like my family, general looks, gender maybe, the place where I live and so on. But this is a new life, and during this lifetime I have had several lives. I used to be a child, then a student, then a boyfriend, then an angry person, then a student again and so on.

Sickness is a different aspect and not part of DO, everything that comes to be will end, it may or may not get sick. Ageing is not sickness, it is just a normal process.

Correct, we may have deviated from the original topic a bit. But any Buddhist tradition should be subject to be reviewed by the EBT, after all, this are the foundations upon which this new traditions are built, without the EBT what we call Vajrayana would not know about this called Buddhism, they would just be a new tradition in the world.

The Buddha speaks in a way that we could say he is talking about reincarnation, such is the case when he talks about past lives of a person. But we should remember that this is not the same concept as in other religions. And as someone pointed out, there is no separate word in Pali for reincarnation or rebirth, which makes sense.

I usually just explain this from the rebirth process. Rebirth is a process in which a new experience is created and we sustain this so called life, sometimes this new experience may include a new body, if the one we have ceases to exist. It may be a new existence in a different plane where there is no body. When the body changes we call it reincarnation.

In Vajrayana we also have the Bardo which seems to forget about rebirth, at least for a while. In this proposal you die and then you are waiting for a next life with a body, everybody goes through this process and this is where the other plains of existence are (apparently) forgotten and the process of rebirth is somehow stopped. In this case, rebirth and reincarnation become two separate concepts, which does not occur in any other school that I know of. This does not seem to be in accordance to the EBT and even without it, I don’t see much sense in such proposal as we become too attached to this form of existence.

Best regards.

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Thank you Felipe

The point that I was making is I have actually not read many suttas where the Buddha talks about the past lives of a person, apart from the suttas I posted.

There are thousands of suttas but only a relative tiny amount I have read that talk about past lives of a person.

Most of the suttas about kamma & ‘re-birth’ talk directly about re-birth due to kamma, such as bad kamma causing re-birth in hell & good kamma causing re-birth in heaven.

As MN 60, MN 117, etc, state, this kamma & rebirth teachings have the specific purpose of having people engage in moral & skilful behaviours (rather than explain an ontological reality of metaphysical reincarnation).

Regards :seedling:

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