When we talk about reincarnation, there is a notion of an eternal entity, a soul that would enter the body at one point, and leave it at death. A soul is embodied and disembodied.
That is not the buddhist point of view, even if some Buddhists use it, because a lot of people are seduced by that idea.
The ascetic Vacchagotta, obsessed by the notion of a soul, kept asking Buddha: “Does the soul exist or not?” Buddha remained silent. One day, after the ascetic had left, Ananda asked Buddha: “Why not give him a more explicit answer?” Buddha said: “If I tell him that something goes on after death, Vacchagotta will fall into an eternalistic heresy; if I tell him that there’s nothing after death, he will fall into a nihilistic heresy.”
For those who want to seize, it is difficult to be satisfied with Buddha’s answer.
Buddhism is not knowledge; it is to face reality as it is, by ourselves, and slowly let ourselves be submerged by it. Selfish people want to know what happens after death…
On that subject, Nagarjuna compares our life to a fire: when the logs burn, an ungraspable flame dances over them. He compares it to the soul. When the logs have become ashes and the causes and conditions are no longer there, the flame dies. Nagarjuna insists, however, on the fact that reality is much more than that image.
That is why Buddha refuses to answer those selfish questions; rather, he encourages us to say yes to life, unconditionally. “If I know that my soul continues to live after death, then I will practise…” That is a petty way of thinking! Buddha never said anything about what goes on before birth or after death.
When asked if they want to commit to the Way, some people say: “It depends… I have to think about it, I have to see if there really is something to gain…” That’s exactly what we must not do.
We are constantly solicited by the universe; the buddhist practice is to say yes to those requests, without knowing what we will get in return, without knowing if it will be difficult or easy.
Why don’t we trust the practice and give ourselves up to the universe, without any ulterior motive?
The universe has always taken on constantly changing forms; every being resonates in all the others and all the others resonate in each and every one of them… In this reality, life is consumed by life. The buddhist practice is to welcome that reality, to give oursleves up to that reality.
There is rebirth, because the various components of a being – physical and psychological – are reused for other beings. If you don’t follow your pulsions of greed and aversion, when you die, you will leave behind a situation where hatred and greed will have decreased. If, on the other hand, you let yourself be carried away by your selfish pulsions, the seeds you will have planted will grow in people’s hearts after your death.
When you’re born, you inherit a karma which you can amplify or pacify all through your life. Your attitude, whatever it is, is written in mankind’s history – and even beyond.
Thinking about what will become of you after your death is not relevant. What is critical is the vow to put others first: what room do I make for others in my life, in my heart? Do I say yes to existence? Do I give unconditionally? Do others benefit from my actions? Am I in unity with the others?
Since the dawn of times, the three poisons have been at work. I have two choices: generate more violence, more hatred, more greed, more stupidity, or devote my life to lightening mankind’s karma by purifying my own karma of greed, violence, and ignorance.
Saying yes to all beings is to give meaning to our life.