Rebirth is a Buddhist belief that refers to the idea that some part of our spiritual existence is reborn after we die. This cycle of death and rebirth is called samsara. Unlike reincarnation, which is the belief that a permanent soul passes from body to body, rebirth embraces the idea that only a life’s karmic merit (rather than a soul) is passed on through this cycle—a continuous flowing of consciousness that is free, ever-changing, and loosely connected. Insight on this cycle can be gained through practice and focus, with a goal of finding enlightenment or nirvana, a state of inner peace and wisdom.
Karma has become a popular term in the West, often connected with somewhat naive or deterministic ideas of rebirth and reincarnation or equated with views of morality and guilt. Chögyam Trungpa unpacks this intriguing but misunderstood topic.
In a now famous conversation between Carl Sagan and the Dalai Lama, Sagan, a scientist and renowned skeptic, asks, “Your Holiness, what if we were to prove, scientifically, that there is no such thing as reincarnation?” To Sagan’s great astonishment, the Dalai Lama replied without hesitation...
In my years of Buddhist training before becoming a Buddhist teacher, none of my teachers have ever asked me to believe in rebirth. In fact, none of my Zen and Theravada teachers in America or Asia gave any prominence to the idea – if they mentioned it at all. - Gil Fronsdal