What does it mean that "I" am reborn?

I’m sorry to post yet another topic about rebirth and kamma—a Westerner struggling with rebirth, how derivative!—but I haven’t found anything asking this particular version of this question. If it has been asked on here, let me know.

I’m struggling with what it means that “I” am reborn. At the risk of being simplistic it’s my understanding that the EBTs generally teach:

  1. I am defined as a particular conjunction of 5 aggregates: my body; the physical sensations arising from my bodily senses contacting the world; the mental faculty that perceives (organizes, sorts, and labels) senses; the faculty of mental construction (Sankhara); and ability to be aware of self as perceiver (consciousness).
  2. the mental constructions formed by the third aggregate, Sankhara, are kamma;
  3. Kamma develops/fructifies, which conditions future existences and fuels the cycle of rebirth.

Taking this all to be true, I see how this supports continued birth, as in the continuing the samsaric wheel. But “I” am not reborn. It’s not my body or my memories. At most, it’s the product of one of five aggregates. But I’m an aggregate of all five.

So, rebirth happens, but I’m not reborn. I am not reborn; I condition other future existences, as other have conditioned me.

What am I missing?

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I think you’ve more or less got it. However, in your post you said that

So, rebirth happens, but I’m not reborn. I am not reborn; I condition other future existences, as other have conditioned me.

This may be in tension with the EBTs, which seem to state that there is no “I” even in the present—not only is it the case that there is no entity persisting between lives, but there is no entity persisting from moment to moment in the present life. This is perhaps illustrated by the statement in SN 22.11 that

Mendicants, form of the past and future is not-self, let alone the present [repeated for the other four aggregates]


Usually it is said that rebirth is caused by 2 things.
Karma and klesha.

Klesha specifically refer to the delusion of “I” And “Mine”, which then produce tanha. Tanha (craving) then propel the being into new existence (bhava).

So maybe the thing you miss is how klesha condition rebirth.

Note that even though I said " Propel", usually it is argued that there is no transference happen. No consciousness that fly from here to there.

The future being is not the same, but also not different, from previous being.

It is normal to struggle with this. The issue of “what actually happened in rebirth” And “how is the being reborn the same or different with previous one” And “how karma is inherited”.
Are issues that already debated and theorized since 2500 years ago since Buddha’s parinibbana.

Buddhist tradition answer this by various explanation. You can try reading some text.
For example:
Salistamba Sutra (Rice Seedling Sutra)
Milinda Panha (Question of King Milinda)

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Hi. The suttas extensively refer to the arising of ‘self-identity’ or ‘self-view’. Unless your mind is enlightened, your mind currently has ‘self-view’. This self-view propels samsara, as written in the suttas, such as in SN 22.99.

Imagine you were born into a poor family but as an adult you did good kamma, worked hard and became a millionaire. Your mind thinks back to the past as follows: “My life was so hard when I was young. It was horrible. I was so unhappy. But today I am happy”.

The above shows the ‘self-identity’ or ‘self-view’ from youth has continued into adulthood.

Therefore, it seems to same occurs in/with samsara. The unenlightened self-view continues on. That seems why when we read the suttas, they refer to the same person being ‘reborn’.

Take some woman or man who kills living creatures. They’re violent, bloody-handed, a hardened killer, merciless to living beings. 5.2Because of undertaking such deeds, when their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell. 5.3If they’re not reborn in a place of loss, but return to the human realm, then wherever they’re reborn they’re short-lived. 5.4For killing living creatures is the path leading to a short lifespan

MN 135

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Maybe the stream of consciousness? DN 28:

7.13 They understand a person’s stream of consciousness, unbroken on both sides, established in both this world and the next.

Purisassa ca viññāṇasotaṁ pajānāti, ubhayato abbocchinnaṁ idha loke patiṭṭhitañca paraloke patiṭṭhitañca.

As I understand it, for kamma to operate it requires one ‘stream of consciousness’ to be separate from every other ‘stream of consciousness’, so it is just a ‘stream of consciousness’ that we call a ‘person’.

Hey @EddyP, thanks for responding.

It’s funny you bring this no-self position up, because this was the understanding I had settled on a few months ago: that the term “rebirth” was a teaching tool: “yes, the life 100 years in the future isn’t ‘you,’ but neither is the life an hour from now!”

But @sujato’s masterful essay contrasting Early Buddhism and Theravada caused me to reconsider this. He suggested that there is a “me”—a particular dependent system of five aggregates—it just isn’t an atman: an unchanging, divine soul:

So while you’re right that I have no unchanging soul, and I am not to cling to the continuation of this particular conglomerate, it still is “me” in a way that those conditioned 100 years from now by my present actions are not.

Maybe the answer is that even the five aggregates that are me aren’t the same from moment to moment because they change constantly, so the differences among “me now,” “me +50 years,” “my grandson,” and “future person I’ll never meet” are a spectrum, rather than a definite me/not me?

Anyway, these are just thoughts. Thanks again!

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We might refer to the current set of aggregates as “me”, though SN5.10 reminds us that this is just a convention or view, like the collection of parts called a “chariot”.

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Whatever the resolution to the philosophical conundrum, the early Buddhist texts clearly have the Buddha saying things like “before I was such and such, in a previous life, I was called this and ate that and lived there” and clearly claiming to remember an innumerable number of such past lives, connected to each other by memory the way our childhood or last job is connected to us by memory and they clearly state on innumerable occasions that such and such a follower, now that they have died here, have been reborn there in such and such a condition etc etc.

It is this situation, of repeatedly having to suffer and die and lose loved ones and teeth and drowning in your own mucus and vomiting up your own insides, again and again without beginning or end, that the Buddha teaches an escape from.

How it makes sense philosophically is notoriously difficult, and thinking about it like a problem you have to solve intellectually is like, according to the suttas, thinking about the fletcher that made the arrow that is stuck in you before accepting medicine for your arrow wound.



I’m not sure sure about that, the Buddha does also seem to say that we shouldn’t identify with the aggregates.

And what’s not-self should be truly seen with right understanding like this: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’ (emphasis mine)

As it has been said before, there is certainly a “person”, a “me” as an empirical reality. But what is not there is a “metaphysical” or substantial self, or soul.

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The “I” / “self” is the illusion, manifestation, discrimination which exist……the born.

Because of ignorance / delusion of the above, one cannot escape the cycle of birth and death……suffering.

The escape from the above……the unborn……freedom from birth and death.

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I think I agree with you, to a point.

“I” have no metaphysical component, at least separate from physical existence as a whole. So, if rebirth exists, it must be a physical process; if not, what could it be, since there’s no metaphysical or ontological “whatness” to a person?

The Buddha, then, must be understood as teaching that “I” am reborn in the physical world in an empirical sense. But this seems to circle back to the original question. “I” exist in the physical realm, and “I” can be defined as an ever-changing composition of five aggregates–a consciousness, a body, and three main faculties arising from the interaction of these. And according to Buddha, “I” continue to exist after my body dies because of the frucitification of my karma while “I” existed. But doesn’t this, then, mean that “I” am anyone impacted by my karma? This seems anomalous; my bad karma impacts my partner’s life, but he isn’t “me” in any conventional sense.

While others might be causally affected by your actions, there will only be one stream of consciousness which arises in dependence upon your kamma. This seems to be the thought underlying the statement in DN 28 that ‘a person’s stream of consciousness’ is ‘unbroken on both sides’.

I think the suttas challenge the assumption of a “me”, eg the Bahiya Sutta (“no you there”) SN5.10 (a being is just a convention), SN22. 95 (a lump of foam), the inclusion of self-view and conceit as fetters, and so on.


I’ve actually watched a Dhamma talk on this earlier. I understand it like this that everything we do, our actions are imprinted on our stream of consciousness. I picture it as a sticky ball rolling downhill picking all the stuff on the ground without end. This is from our past and present actions from countless lifetimes. Basically, each lifetime the mind collects (lack of better words) more stuff, and we experience the result-consequence or benefit. There isn’t an I as in a soul but just, I assume, awareness. I wrote it down the best I understood it but I’m new to this too. I read a lot from this site and Accesstoinsight. The latter mentioned practicing Dhamma starts with generosity, so I’ve been starting with that (and right speech) and meditation until the theology makes more sense in relation to my practice.

I’m actually new on this forum but since I was thinking about this earlier, I’d thought I would comment.


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Thanks for creating this topic as the implications of rebirth have mystified me for so long, perhaps as it should. And pardon me for the oversimplified analogy, but in some ways I find it easiest to understand as digital streams of data which stream content to our individual conscious devices, carrying packets of information which describe the content as it manifests in or as personality traits. I am sure this could also integrate with dependent origination, but I don’t want to become a bore with extending my analogy to fit my theory. But there you go. That’s a thing. Right?

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