Do I have to believe in rebirth to be a Buddhist?

Many Western Buddhist teachers will tell you that there’s no problem if you don’t believe in rebirth. For the majority of Westerners, it’s very difficult to imagine that there was a life before this one and that there could be a life after this one. But, a teacher might add, if you can keep an open mind about it and conduct your life according to the Buddhist teachings in a way that will prepare you just in case you are reborn, well—you’ve got nothing to lose, except bad habits!

That said, most people can appreciate the many ways we “die” and are “reborn” from moment to moment. We change our minds, our emotions shift; our views and perspectives morph all the time. Each time we buy into a train of thought or a line of thinking or a notion, we are reborn in the world of that notion, in the world of that thought. And we eventually pass away out of the realm of that thought into another one.

By extrapolating from those “rebirths,” some people may begin to see how consciousness is a constant arising and falling away, a continuum of births and deaths. It becomes a lot easier to consider the Buddha’s teachings on karmic conditioning when you can see how everything arises and passes away.

So even if it’s hard to buy into the notion of rebirth in the macrocosmic sense, we may be able to fathom it in the microcosmic world of our day-to-day lives. Many Buddhists also find that simply considering their lives in the context of rebirth, without necessarily believing in it, is a meaningful way to see their individual selves as embedded in a larger narrative.


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