Punarbhava Buddhism


Punarbhava (Sanskrit IAST; pāli: punabbhava) is a Buddhist term meaning rebirth.

Rebirth and transmigration of souls


In Hinduism, the Jivatman is incarnated in several bodies. Transmigration is the journey of a soul from life to life, with reincarnation in another human body or metempsychosis in a human or animal or vegetable body or other.


As for Buddhism, it teaches impermanence: all conditioned phenomena are ephemeral (anicca). This leads it to reject the concept of âtman, to maintain that each thing is "without self" (anatta).

Transmigration without a transmigrating thing: rebirth then appears as a difficult process to understand, so that several interpretations diverge. Buddhism speaks of Punarbhava (Sanskrit, pāli: punabbhava), which is translated as "rebirth".

"There is," says Matthieu Ricard, "perpetuation of a function, not of a concrete entity... Nothing is reborn, there are simply repercussions of acts, words and thoughts that modify the parameters of this wave that is consciousness. "

Nichiren Buddhism

Without excluding the principle of reincarnation, most schools of Nichiren Buddhism rather speak of a "rebirth when the circumstances are right" according to the karma of the deceased person, in accordance with the concept of conditioned coproduction. There is indeed a continuity - death does not mean that the conditioning ceases.

Samsara thus forms a cycle of lives that follow one another according to the law of causality. Thus, their practitioners do not refer to the Christian conception of an immortal soul that would be the same after death until resurrection or life after life until Buddhahood because such a conception of the soul would only be "the attachment to an 'individual self' or to a 'permanent self'."

The translators of Nichiren's writings have used the term soul, however, it is sometimes used figuratively as "the essential nature of a text" and sometimes in the sense of the deep nature (nyoze sho),

the immaterial and impalpable aspect, such as the character of a person who forms with his or her physical body (nyoze so, the visible and palpable appearance) his or her entity as a living being (nyoze tai), in reference to the first three of the ten factors common to all life listed in the chapter "Opportune Means" of Kumarajiva's Lotus Sūtra.

Teachings of Hinayāna Buddhism

The most complete teaching on the origin of suffering, the origin of dukkha, is conditioned coproduction, which raises the question of rebirth. But the three characteristics then raise the question of what is reborn, a question that has been answered in many ways.

The "bond of rebirth" or reunion

According to the Theravadin analytical study offered in the large volume that is the Paṭṭhāna, at death a reunion (paṭisandi) occurs, which may be called the "rebirth bond."

This is a consciousness that has as its object the last karma, which results from it, and which continues thereafter in a "subconscious" stream - a sequence of "consciousnesses" bearing the same characteristics - , until a perception "collides" with this stream.

According to this analysis, the consciousness at the moment of death therefore totally conditions the birth. This view at least has the merit of proposing a clear answer to the question of what is reborn: among the constituents of what is perceived as a person, it is the state of mind at the time of death that totally conditions the future birth.

Pudgalavādin School

For the two so-called pudgalavādin, or "personalist," schools, the individual is not similar to the traditional five aggregates of attachment, but neither is it different; it is neither permanent nor ephemeral (anitya). This individual passes from one life to the next, but at the time of death he passes through an "intermediate state.

Teachings of Mahāyāna Buddhism


According to Madhyamika Buddhism, the process of becoming, conditioned coproduction, is indeed the ultimate truth or reality, but this reality, understood by others as "beyond appearances", is, according to this conception, only emptiness. Nothing is ever produced, and phenomena are only illusion:

"It is conditioned production that it is said to be emptiness"
(Nāgārjuna, trans. G.Bugault)


The ālayavijñāna is the "fundamental consciousness", the receptacle of karmic traces.

Bardo (in Tibet)

Bardo refers to one of the intermediate states between death and rebirth, as described in the Bardo Thödol, the "Tibetan Book of the Dead".

Rebirth and metaphysics

While different schools of Buddhism have offered different interpretations of rebirth, answering questions such as "if there is no soul, then what is reborn?", this questioning, so formulated, is at the limit of Buddhist philosophy.

Buddhist philosophy is indeed practical: all teaching is only a means, and words cannot cover the ultimate reality. Asking the wrong questions inevitably leads to getting bogged down in an insoluble imbroglio, rather than practicing the path to liberation.

Thus, the brahmājālasutta, the fishing net sutra, offers a list of views, opinions in which their holders are trapped like fish in the fisherman's net.

Back to blog