Doctrines and rituals

Even before the rise of Buddhism, people in ancient India believed in the rebirth (Skt. samsara) of a kind of soul or of the ‘self’. The self of every being is locked in an eternal cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. After death it leaves its old body and is reborn in a new one. What kind of body this is, depends on the karma that the being generated in the life before. The notion of rebirth was adopted by Buddhism, with the difference that the Buddhist teaching (dharma) rejects the idea of an eternal, unchanging self in favour of the concept of non-self.


«The king said: ‘Where there is no transmigration, Nagasena, can there be rebirth?’»

«Yes, there can.»

«But how can that be? Give me an illustration.»

«Suppose a man, O king, were to light a lamp from another lamp, can it be said that the one transmigrates from, or not, the other?»

«Certainly not.»

«Just so, great king, is rebirth without transmigration.»1

The Questions of King Milinda, III 5.6


1 The Questions of King Milinda, translated by T. W. Rhys Davids, Oxford University Press 1890, p. 111.