No self and reincarnation

Good day everyone...I encountered this very interesting doctrine about "no self," so I need a help on how to explain this to others as it would seem to contradict with the doctrine of reincarnation. Reincarnation would sound to me like there is self that is existing that would reincarnate. Thank you so much for your assistance.

bhantekirti2019's picture

RE: No self and reincarnation

"No self" or "Anatta" in Pali is one of the three universal characteristics of existence. According to the nature of impermanency, there is a constant change within us. In Theravada Buddhism, the word "rebirth" is used instead of reincarnation. It is a process of becoming. I really like the explanation of Bhikkhu Yuttadhammo, a Canadian monk who says, There isn't in fact any such thing as rebirth, in ultimate reality. Nothing is truly reborn, ever. Every experience that is made up of the five aggregates arises and ceases without remainder. That is true death. Rebirth is a concept used to describe the change between one artificial framework of experiences (e.g. a human life) to another. The ultimate reality is that the mind simply arises and ceases at the last moment of life and then a new mind arises at the first moment of rebirth based on the last one, very similar to as has been occurring throughout one's life, except this time there is no old physical phenomena for it to be based on, so it is based solely on one's final state of mind in the last life.

Due to this impermanent and not self nature, the concept of reincarnation is contradictory according to Theravada Buddhism. In literal meaning, reincarnation is to born again as the same person.

Alejandro Cardeinte's picture

Erasing karmic debt, possible?

Our professor admits that this is one of the doctrines difficult to understand for the beginners. As an article says, "This is not easy to understand, and cannot be fully understood with intellect alone. For this reason, many schools of Buddhism emphasize a meditation practice that enables an intimate realization of the illusion of self, leading ultimately to liberation from that illusion."

In connection to what you have shared, our professor clarifies that Buddhism teaches anatta (no self or no soul) and rebirth just takes place due to karmic energy not because soul that reincarnate. Anyway, since there is no concept of forgiveness in Buddhism, we understand that bad karma is to result in a more unhappy and evil rebirth. But is there any possible ways erase karmic debt (past wrong actions)?


Buddhism teaches that karma is impersonal, like a punch-card machine. Whatever is on the card you slip in, you reap. You can't pray mother Mary who may, if you pray her enough, convince her son to forgive your sins.
Hinduism teaches that there are essentially three types of karma:
- that may be completely eradicated through prayer, rituals, charity, austerity.
- that may be eradicated only in part
- that cannot be eradicated
Tibetan Buddhism offers even prayers or rituals to court the favor of deities (or deified masters like Padma Sambhava).
Again, these deities are subject to the eternal law and cannot simply will your karma out of existence, although -IF you have affinities- they can guide and inspire you to do what's best to accelerate the process of purification.
Other schools -such as CHAN- offer the "transfer of merits" to those asking for assistance.
You may have many traffic tickets that are yours only to pay: nobody can interfere as it's your past karma...BUT a friend can make you a gift: transference of merit.
There are Buddhist temples that advertise rituals, ceremonies etc that -when you join- are supposed to clear "lifetimes" or even "eons" of karma: we should take these assurances with a grain of salt.
The PURE LAND schools preach that if one adheres to their precepts, one may be reborn at death in the pure land to expiate in a conducive and positive environment whatever karma remains under the guidance of Buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Alejandro Cardeinte's picture


Thanks for sharing your thoughts about karma. It's very interesting..Will repentance free me from my bad karma? I wonder if there is a concept of repentance in Buddhism. Like you feel very sorry for something bad you have done and that followed by non-repetition of the sin as you promise to never do it again. Does that cancel the sin? We know that there are people who have done wrong but show no repentance but there are people who have done wrong but are really feeling sorry for their mistakes and wants to correct or improved themselves.


The Tibetan tradition suggests to approach the path like this:
refuge in the three jewels
regret over past misconduct
repayment (in some form) of harm caused
resolve to never incur misconduct again

repayment may take all sorts of forms given the circumstances, EG rituals and prayers directed to benefit named or unnamed karmic creditors, that is beings you unjustly hurt in this life or in another.
One may donate to charity in the name of karmic creditors etc.


Phung Nguyen's picture

No self

Hi everyone,

Please allow me to chip in and thanks for this kindness

1- I really think the word "no self" has been over used and caused much confuse. I read somewhere that this term should be changed to non-self. We just borrow the word self to express or illustrate some scenarios in conventional world such as to talk about "this entity" is not "that one".
We do not accept the term "self" because no phenomenon, entity exists on/by/with its own substance/self substance as per the doctrine of dependent origination, thus, they are all "empty". Anything that can be defined or described by words is conditioned,co-dependent on other (others), empty including time.
2- If there is no self, we may ask what will be transmitted from one life to the others in samsara? Well, I would like to recommend you to read doctrine of bardo in Tibet tradition. I am searching for this one as well. However, in the other literature, it is the store consciousness that creates the continuity.

Hope what I am saying here will help and please correct me if you see the unfit as I am very new to Buddhisms actually.

with much mehta

Chieu Khai Thanh

Alejandro Cardeinte's picture

no atta

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This is a good additional insight to ponder. Anyway, I will have to look closely the difference between "no self" and "non-self." My understanding about annata is simply no self or no soul. A teaching that simply says humans has no permanent, underlying material that can be referred to as soul in contrast to the Hindu idea of existence of soul that transmigrate or reincarnate.

Wong Fook Ming's picture

Reincarnation if there is self , Liberation if there is no self

Our existence or all existence are like an instant flux. Its a momentariness. A moment ago you and me are totally different entities, or the whole universe are totally different. As our cells died and new cells are born, the thoughts and feelings are different, the environment and the universe are different.
So, what is the 'self'?. It is the grasping of permanent entity.
But if there is no permanent entity, the mind understand the insight of no permanent self. Once this insight is developed, there is no grasping of permanent entity, including time.

If time is understood as perception which is not a permanent entity, then one will be liberated. Beyond time, beyond reincarnation. Because reincarnation is assumed when time is believed to be a real entity/phenomena.

Correct me if I'm wrong.

Alejandro Cardeinte's picture

Thank you so much

Thank you so much for your insights. I appreciate you taking the time to share these very useful ideas. Worth pondering.. The title alone just blow me away..."Reincarnation if there is self, Liberation if there is no self.."


Due to impermanence, there is ‘no self’.

Just like water straight from a polluted river, one might get ill if they consume from it. However, if the contaminated water goes through a treatment centre to be filtered, processed and placed in a clean container, then the chances of one getting ill after consumption is low. Question arises as is this still the same water? Therefore, just like the water, ‘self’ depends on the conditions one is in. Rebirth or reincarnation, they are both just different ways of saying the previous life has ceased and a new life begins. There is mostly no guarantee of any memory of previous lives; except for very few cases such as if one is an enlightened being.

One ought to stop clinging on to the ‘self’ because it does not help to accelerate liberation. This is a chance for everyone to start fresh. It is up to one to make full use of this life.

Alejandro Cardeinte's picture

Beneficial insights

Beneficial insights. Thank you so much. At first glance the doctrine of "no self" is like a denial of our reality. Your contribution clarifies that.


I find the example of the candle (wax, wick, burning) used to light another candle (wax, wick, burning) and thus passing on that something that travels from rebirth to rebirth purging karma.
It is not that there is "no self": it is that the "self" is not as important as let believe.
Rebirth is not a "brain transplant" kind of thing, whereby you die but "your self" wakes up tomorrow as Elvis Presley.