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Dharma and Disciples

Rebirth vs. Reincarnation

   Although these terms are often used interchangeably, there is a significant conceptual difference between the two. On the whole, Buddhists believe in rebirth while Hindus, Jains, and some Christians believe in reincarnation. Strictly speaking, reincarnation means the assumption of another body by a permanent, eternal self (the Hindu notion of atman or the Christian notion of soul). Most Buddhists do not believe in a permanent self (anatman or anatta, without enduring self) but believe human consciousness (the "I" or self) dissolves at death and that only a subtle mindstream remains. The mindstream carries with it karmic imprints from prior lives (but not memories and emotions associated with prior lives, unless the person is a highly developed spiritual practitioner, in which case reincarnation is possible) and it is this subtle mindstream that conjoins with a new life-form after death. Thus, rebirth does not mean an identifiable human being assuming a new human body. Moreover, in Buddhism, rebirth is not always accomplished in human form. Depending on karmic circumstances, a human being can be reborn as an animal or as a being in any of the upper or lower realms.

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