reincarnationDo you feel that death is curtains, or that there is life after death? When it comes to rebirth, or life continuing after the death of this body, it seems very well worth keeping an open mind, for what is there to lose?

Lights out?

An old friend of mine in his late fifties is approaching death from stage 4 cancer, and on a long walk looking out over a panoramic coastline recently he told me that he wants to know for sure that death is not the end. He believes that very much sometimes, but other times doubts intrude and he wonders if consciousness is just a by-product of chemicals, like he was taught in school and so many people assume. “I still can’t really wrap my head around death and all we are taught. I wish I could be secure in knowing that we go on in some way that is better and more helpful but most of the time it is just “lights out” no matter what, because we won’t remember this life anyway, you know, like the “waking from a dream” analogy. I am tired of worrying about it even though Geshe Kelsang always says not to.”

My friend LOVES life. He is full of life. He does not want to die – he dug his heels into the sand when we were having our picnic and waved his fists in a mocked childish tantrum: “I don’t want to leave!!! Don’t make me!!!!” He wrote me in an email: “Sigh. I am tired of death. I wish I could wrap my head around it but it is so elusive.” His love of life and other people is infectious. The thoughts I shared with him are that, whatever happens, his deep gratitude and love for others are going to stand him in good stead, and that as far as I’m concerned he’ll always have people around him to love, it is his nature, even if they are not the same people whom he is so concerned about leaving in the lurch now. This article is really for him and others in “two minds.”

Do you believe in life after death?

birds flying from one nest to the next, rebirthChances are you already do have an at least occasional sneaking suspicion that there is something that continues after our body has perished – varying statistics overall show that a high percentage of people do believe this. Many friends who don’t ostensibly believe in rebirth have still asked me to pray for a loved one when they die, so what is that about? Overall, as reported by Greeley and Hout, the proportion of Americans who believe in life after death rose from 77 percent in 1973 to 82 percent in 1998. Many people believe in heaven and hell, and what are those if not a future life? Buddhists believe that we can take rebirth in heavenly or hellish realms, but that even that is not the end. These rebirths are as impermanent as this one and, like a bird leaving one nest to fly to another, we will die from there and take rebirth again. We will continue to take uncontrolled rebirth and die again until we have destroyed its causes, which are ignorance and contaminated karma, which together project one hallucinatory episode of life after another.

More things in heaven and earth…

There is one Shakespearean quote that I’ve always loved:

O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

animal and human embryosHow can we explain away the many and diverse cultures’ belief in future lives, and the vivid imaginings, dreams and waking experiences that people the world over have shared of certain things that we cannot find in this human world — the existence of spirits or ghosts for instance? Just because we cannot see our future lives now, or remember our past lives, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I don’t know about you, but I cannot even remember being born, though I am pretty sure I was. My memory of my entire childhood is sketchy for that matter. Like Horatio, we’d be well advised to keep an open mind, accepting that, however rational we may think we are, we are simply not in a position to see absolutely everything that exists.

I also love Voltaire’s words on the subject:

“It is not more surprising to be born twice than once.”

Being born once is no less weird than being born lots of times. Dying once is no less weird than dying lots of times.

Body and mind

beautiful butterflyWe take rebirth because the body and mind are different natures – our body is physical, whereas the definition of our mind is:

Something whose nature is empty like space, always lacking form, shape and color, and whose function is to perceive or understand objects. ~ How to Understand the Mind, p. 6

Our body has a limited shelf life. Our mind, a formless continnuum of awareness, is beginningless and endless. Do the math.

My teacher says:

Through understanding the nature and function of the mind correctly, we can understand that our mind is completely different from our body, and this proves that after our death, although our body will cease, the mind will not. ~ How to Understand the Mind, p. 6

From one point of view, we can say that we seem to take one rebirth after another – from another point of view, each life is just a new dream arising from our root mind, each body just an imputation, projection, or even thought (albeit relatively persistent) of that mind. The body does not have any power to create anything by itself. It is of a different order or dimension altogether to the mind, and nowhere near as important. More on this and Buddha’s other reasons for rebirth here.

Please leave all your comments, experiences, questions, objections, etc on this article to help with further market research; there is so much to discuss and share on this subject.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

21 thoughts on “Rebirth?”

  1. So meaningful to reflect on. Every day! May Frank’s virtuous actions ripen right now and may he be led directly to the pure
    Land of the Dakinis. Passing on VajraYogini day is most auspicious! Love to you and all who loved him – sounds like that’s many!!

    1. Thank you Lesly. All being well, Vajrayogini whisked him and David Bowie up in the same batch … well, everything is mere appearance, so anything is possible.

  2. Life are three days… The day we are born, the day we live and the day our body dies… What’s important is to live a virtues life as an investment to future lives… Love 💕 j.

  3. For those interested about the embryos, see (A=Cat, B=Cow, C=Horse, D=Human.) As the article mentions, the limb buds (embryonic hands and feet) are one clue. The enormous size of the cephalic region (head) on the human is also a defining characteristic. Our brains our big!

    I’m writing primarily, however, to say hi, introduce myself, and, as requested, put in my $0.02 about rebirth and the continuity of consciousness. So, hi Luna, and thank you for all your insights and blogging! I happened across your blog a couple months ago thanks to a friend, and I love hearing your personal experience with Geshela’s teachings. I’m a student of Geshela’s in Brooklyn, NY, at the Vajradhara Meditation Center (, and also a neuroscientist by training.

    The continuity of consciousness is a topic that I struggle with a lot. Not only was I indoctrinated like any modern American into the pseudo-scientific view that the brain creates the mind – a view that actually stems from an outdated materialist philosophy couched in scientific determinism – but I climbed the ivory tower of science set on understanding the brain. This has left me with the strong impression that the mind is simply a product of the brain.

    Except … that it just doesn’t fit with my experience of my mind. And when you get down to it, there is no scientific evidence that the brain produces the mind, nor does that hypothesis make much sense, philosophically speaking. So I keep investigating, while at the same time knowing that I will never have logical proof for the continuity of consciousness, as such deep, hidden truths cannot be revealed through dualistic logical reasoning.

    Which leads me, finally, to question why I care. Why do I care whether my consciousness continues or not? I can appreciate that if I accept continuity of consciousness and karma, I could derive great motivation to practice due to fear of lower realm rebirth. But if I knew it was lights out, wouldn’t striving to attain enlightenment before I die still be the most worthwhile pursuit? It’s only the best, most blissed out state one can imagine, after all. Not to mention the only state that accords with the true nature of reality, emptiness, which is intellectually very clearly correct to me. (I’m still striving for a direct realization, of course, but I’m already certain that the reasoning and conclusion is correct.)

    So while I’m still investigating this all, and exactly what I think makes the most sense, most of the time I just see my desire to know whether lights out or continuity of consciousness is true as an aspect of my self-grasping at my I. My I wants to equate continuity of consciousness with continuity of self – which clearly isn’t true given that the self is empty too – because I’m scared of losing my self! Yet whether one takes the lights out view or the continuity of consciousness view, the self will not remain, so I’m left feeling like my desire to know such a thing is itself not a worthwhile pursuit, it’s just self-grasping rearing its ugly head again.

    Does that make any sense?

    1. Yes, it does. Since you wrote this comment, and i neglected to reply to it in a timely way (sorry :-() i’ve written more on the subject under the section past and future lives:

      I think i’ve addressed your points above in these new articles — if not, please leave another comment and i promise to get back to it more quickly this time …

  4. Namaste Luna,
    I have not visited yours, or any other blogs, for a long time. Just to let you know I am back into this viewing of others’ thoughts through blogs and yours is the first I went to…. and, as it turned out, was just what I needed!
    My friend of fifteen years, a dog we called Milie, passed from this life on the morning of 6th March 2014. She, or rather her continuum, is now safely beyond the circles of samsara as on her death I immediately did Powa and so too did my friend who you may know as Cosmic Loti. I now do the Heartfelt Prayer for the required 49 days for Millie’s Continuum to give a boast on the Path towards enlightenment in a pure land.
    Thank you as always for your well received words of Wisdom.
    Thanks from Jon x

  5. ‘ Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defense of peace must be constructed. ‘ UNESCO Charter of Human Rights

  6. This is my favorite line that you wrote in this fantastic article. “We will continue to take uncontrolled rebirth and die again until we have destroyed its causes, which are ignorance and contaminated karma, which together project one hallucinatory episode of life after another.”

    Geshela tells us everything we need to know, and I’m glad you are here sharing his wisdom with us. 😀

    Thank you.

    1. We are all hallucinating all the time due to self-grasping ignorance — sometimes we agree on what we are seeing, and that is conventional reality 🙂

  7. I could not tell which embryo belonged to each animal. Will you please let me know which is the human? This is a great topic and gives much to contemplate, thank you.

Leave a Reply