Reincarnation, from DeepDharma’s perspective, is a metaphor. As explained by the Buddha, Nagarjuna, and various other Buddhist sages and philosophers (as well, we might add, by various Western philosophers), the Self is a construct that has no intrinsic characteristics or self-supported “reality.” It is a construct assembled out of sense impressions and karmic seeds, from moment to moment. From a Two Truths ( See “Two Truths by Susan Kahn” under “Commentaries” ) perspective, the conception of the Self is conventionally real in that it helps us navigation through life, but it is no more real than any other tangible or intangible object. Ultimately, the Self is empty, just like all other phenomena.

Given this, that the Self is empty just like everything else, how could there be anything that continues “from life to life”? There can’t be such a thing or such a continuation. Reincarnation, then, is best thought of as another description of the dependently-arising object that is reassembled from moment to moment from sense inputs received and karmic seeds retained. Alternatively, perhaps there is no need to think about any concept of reincarnation at all – it is easily discarded if it is not helpful in one’s practice. And to end suffering, fundamentally it is unnecessary.

Reincarnation requires there to be a permanent Self, making permanent changes, in form and place. From an impermanence perspective, from an emptiness perspective, that’s simply not possible.

A Hindu View of Reincarnation

In her book, On Hinduism, renowned Hindu authority and University of Chicago Professor, Wendy Doniger, writes:

Most scholars of Hinduism and Buddhism tread lightly upon the karma [as retribution or punishment in future lives for past deeds] theory for reasons of inter-cultural tact (or raging relativism, depending upon your point of view): some (including myself) go farther, and grant the theory some degree of useful wisdom, at the very least as a powerful metaphor. But a more critical stance is taken by scholars such as [renowned Berkeley professor] Robert P. Goldman, who has characterized reincarnation as “nonsense”. He asks, “What is going on here? What could possibly induce intelligent and well-educated people to take this nonsense seriously?”