How does the mind go from
one body to another?
Think of it being like radio waves.
The radio waves,
which are not made up of words and music but energy at different
frequencies, are transmitted, travel through space,
are attracted to and picked up by the receiver from where
they are broadcast as words and music.
It is the same with the
At death, mental energy travels through space, is attracted
to and picked up by the fertilized egg.
As the embryo grows, it
centers itself in the brain from where it later “broadcasts”
itself as the new personality.
Is one always reborn as a human being?
No, there are several realms into which one can
Some people are reborn in heaven, some are
reborn in hell, some are reborn as hungry ghosts and so on.
Heaven is not a place but a state of existence where one has
a subtle body and where the mind experiences mainly pleasure.
Some religions strive very hard to be reborn in a heavenly
existence mistakenly believing it to be a permanent state.
But it is not.
Like all conditioned states, heaven is impermanent
and when one’s life span there is finished, one could well be
reborn again as a human.
Hell, likewise, is not a place but a
state of existence where one has a subtle body and where the
mind experiences mainly anxiety and distress.
Being a hungry
ghost, again, is a state of existence where the body is subtle
and where the mind is continually plagued by longing and
So heavenly beings experience mainly pleasure,
hell beings and ghosts experience mainly pain and human beings
experience usually a mixture of both.
So the main difference
between the human realm and other realms is the body type
and the quality of experience.
What decides where we will be reborn?
The most important factor, but not the only one,
influencing where we will be reborn and what sort of life we
shall have, is kamma.
The word kamma means ‘action’ and
refers to our intentional mental actions.
In other words, what
we are is determined very much by how we have thought and
acted in the past.
Likewise, how we think and act now will
influence how we will be in the future.
The gentle, loving type
of person tends to be reborn in a heaven realm or as a human
being who has a predominance of pleasant experiences.
anxious, worried or extremely cruel type of person tends to be
reborn in a hell realm or as a human being who has a
predominance of painful experiences.
The person who develops
obsessive craving, fierce longings, and burning ambitions that
can never be satisfied tends to be reborn as a hungry ghost or
as a human being frustrated by longing and wanting.
mental habits that are strongly developed in this life will continue in
the next life.
Most people, however, are reborn as human beings.
So we are not determined by our kamma.
We can change it.
Of course we can.
That is why one of the steps on the
Noble Eightfold Path is Perfect Effort.
It depends on our sincerity,
how much energy we exert and how strong the habit is.
But it is
true that some people simply go through life under the influence
of their past habits, without making an effort
the past life.
But in the present life, you neglect to strengthen
and develop such tendencies.
They would gradually weaken and
die out and perhaps be completely absent in the future life.
and kindness being weak in this case, there is a possibility that in
either this life or in the next life, a short temper, anger and cruelty
could grow and to change them and falling victim to these unpleasant
Such people will continue to suffer unless they change their
The longer the negative habits remain, the more
difficult they are to change.
The Buddhist understands this and
takes advantage of each and every opportunity to break mental
habits that have unpleasant results and to develop mental habits
that have a pleasant and happy result.
Meditation is one of the
techniques used to modify the habit patterns of the mind as does
speaking or refraining to speak, acting or refraining to act in certain
The whole of the Buddhist life is a training to purify and free
For example, if being patient and kind was a pronounced
part of your character in your last life, such tendencies will re-emerge
in the present life.
If they are strengthened and developed in the present
life, they will re-emerge even stronger and more pronounced in the future
This is based upon the simple and observable fact that long established
habits tend to be difficult to break.
Now, when you are patient and kind,
it tends to happen that you are not so easily ruffled by others, you don’t
hold grudges, people like you and thus your experiences tends to be
Now, let us take another example.
Let us say that you came
into life with a tendency to be patient
and kind due to your mental
habits in the last life.
But in the present life,
you neglect to strengthen and develop such tendencies.
They would gradually weaken and die out and
perhaps be completely absent in the future life.
Patience and kindness being weak in this case,
there is a possibility that in either this life or
in the next life, a short temper, anger and cruelty
could grow and develop, bringing
with them all the unpleasant experiences
that such attitudes create.
We will take one last example.
Let us say that due to your mental
habits in the last life, you came into the present
life with the tendency to be short-tempered and angry,
and you realize that such
habits only cause you unpleasantness and so you make an effort
to change them.
You replace them with positive emotions.
are able to eliminate them completely, which is possible if you
make an effort, you become free from the unpleasantness caused
by being short tempered and angry.
If you are only able to weaken
such tendencies, they would re-emerge in the next life where with
a bit more effort, they could be eliminated completely and you could
be free from their unpleasant effects.
You have talked a lot about rebirth
but is there any proof that we are
reborn when we die?
Not only is there scientific evidence to support the
Buddhist belief in rebirth, it is the only after-life theory that
has any evidence to support it.
There is not a scrap of evidence
to prove the existence of heaven and of course evidence of
annihilation at death must be lacking.
But during the last 30
years parapsychologists have been studying reports that some
people have vivid memories of their former lives.
in England, a 5 year-old girl said she could remember her
“other mother and father” and she talked vividly about what
sounded like the events in the life of another person.
Parapsychologists were called in and they asked her
hundreds of questions to which she gave answers.
spoke of living in a particular village in what appeared to be Spain,
she gave the name of the village, the name of the street she
lived in, her neighbors’ names and details about her everyday
She also fearfully spoke of how she had been struck
by a car and died of her injuries two days later.
details were checked, they were found to be accurate.
was a village in Spain with the name the five-year-old girl
There was a house of the type she had described
in the street she had named.
What is more, it was found that a 23-year-old woman living
in the house has been killed in a car accident five years before.
Now how is it possible for a five year- old girl living in England
and who had never been to Spain to know all these details?
And of course, this is not the only case of this type.
Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia’s Department of
Psychology has described dozens of cases of this type in his
He is an accredited scientist whose 25 year study of
remember former lives is very strong evidence
for the Buddhist teaching of rebirth.
Some people might say that
the supposed ability to remember
former lives is the work of devils.
You simply cannot dismiss everything that doesn’t
fit into your belief as being the work of devils.
cold, hard facts are produced to support an idea,
you must use rational and logical arguments if you wish
to counter them —not irrational and superstitious talk about devils.
You say that talk about devils
is superstition but isn’t talk about
rebirth a bit superstitious also?
The dictionary defines ‘superstition’ as ‘a belief
which is not based on reason or fact but on an association
of ideas, as in magic’.
If you can show me a careful study
of the existence of devils written by a scientist I will concede
that belief in devils is not superstition.
But I have never heard
of any research into devils; scientists simply wouldn’t bother
to study such things, so I say there is no evidence for the
existence of devils.
But as we have just seen, there is evidence
which seems to suggest that rebirth does take place.
So if belief
in rebirth is based on at least some facts, it cannot be a superstition.
Well, have there been any scientists
who believe in rebirth?
Yes. Thomas Huxley, who was responsible for having
science introduced into the 19th century British school system
and who was the first scientist to defend Darwin’s theories,
believed that reincarnation was a very plausible idea.
famous book ‘Evolution and Ethics and other Essays’, he says:
In the doctrine of transmigration, whatever its origin, Brahmanical
and Buddhist speculation found, ready to hand, the means of
constructing a plausible vindication of the ways of the Cosmos to
Yet this plea of justification is not less plausible than others;
and none but very hasty thinkers will reject it on the ground of
Like the doctrine of evolution itself, that of
transmigration has its roots in the world of reality; and it may
claim such support as the great argument from analogy is
capable of supplying.
Then, Professor Gustaf Stromberg, the famous Swedish astronomer,
physicist and friend of Einstein also found the idea of rebirth appealing.
Opinions differ whether human souls can be reincarnated on the earth
In 1936 a very interesting case was thoroughly investigated and
reported by the government authorities in India.
A girl (Shanti Devi from Delhi)
could accurately describe her previous life (at Muttra, five hundred miles from Delhi)
which ended about a year before her “second birth.”
She gave the name of her
husband and child and described her home and life history.
The investigating commission brought her to her former relatives,
who verified all her statements.
Among the people of India reincarnations
are regarded as commonplace; the astonishing thing for them in this
case was the great number of facts the girl remembered.
This and similar
cases can be regarded as additional evidence for
the theory of the
indestructibility of memory.
Professor Julian Huxley, the distinguished British scientist who was
Director General of UNESCO believed that rebirth was quite in harmony
with scientific thinking.
There is nothing against a permanently surviving spirit-individuality
being in some way given off at death, as a definite wireless message
is given off by a sending apparatus working in a particular way.
But it must be remembered that the wireless message only becomes
a message again when it comes in contact with a new, material
structure — the receiver.
So with our possible spirit-emanation.
It… would never think or feel unless again ‘embodied’ in some way.
Our personalities are so based on body that it is really impossible to
think of survival which would be in any true sense personal without
a body of sorts…
I can think of something being given off which
would bear the same relation to men and women as a wireless
message to the transmitting apparatus; but in that case ‘the dead’
would, so far as one can see, be nothing but disturbances of different
patterns wandering through the universe until… they… came back to
actuality of consciousness by making contact with something which
could work as a receiving apparatus for mind.
Even very practical
and down-to-earth people like the American industrialist Henry Ford
found the idea or rebirth acceptable.
Ford was attracted to the idea
of rebirth because, unlike the theistic idea or the materialistic idea,
rebirth gives you a second chance to develop yourself.
says: I adopted the theory of Reincarnation when I was twenty-six.
Religion offered nothing to the point.. Even work could not give me
Work is fume if we
cannot utilize the experience we collect in one life in the next.
When I discovered Reincarnation it was as if I had found a universal plan.
I realized that there was a chance to work out my ideas.
no longer limited.
I was no longer a slave to the hands of the clock… Genius is experience.
Some seem to think that it is a gift
or talent, but it is the fruit of long experience in many lives.
are older souls than others, and so they know more…
of Reincarnation put my mind at ease…
If you preserve a record of
this conversation, write it so that it puts men’s minds at ease.
I would like to communicate to others the calmness that the long
view of life gives to us
So the Buddhist teachings of rebirth does have some scientific
evidence to support it.
It is logically consistent and it goes a long
way to answering questions that theistic and the materialistic
theories fail to do.
But it is also very comforting.
What can be
worse than a theory of life that gives you no second chance,
no opportunity to amend the mistakes you have made in this
life and no time to further develop the skills and abilities you
have nurtured in this life.
But according to the Buddha, if you
fail to attain Nirvana in this life, you will have the opportunity
to try again next time.
If you have made mistakes in this life,
you will be able to correct yourself in the next life.
truly be able to learn from your mistakes.
Things you were
unable to do or achieve in this life may well become possible
in the next life. What a wonderful teaching!