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(7/12) Evidence of reincarnation
November 16th, 2018 (November 17th, 2018)

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

(7/12) Evidence of reincarnation

(intro to the series at
Question 7, and its answer provided by the spam:
What real evidence do we have that reincarnation is true?

Why is there not consistent evidence for the notion of reincarnation? On what evidence is this idea based, aside from the writings of Buddha? While we have good philosophical reasons to believe in the existence of the soul, what philosophical reasoning brings us to the conclusion that reincarnation is true?

So the "straw man" logical fallacy continues! I already extensively addressed (in 6/12 of this series, that Buddhism does not teach 'reincarnation', but does teach 'rebirth', and that these are different: reincarnation assumes the preservation of some identity through change, rebirth only sees continuity from one (conventionally true but ultimately illusory) identity to the next…

I must admit that I find it hilarious when believers in Abrahamic religions ask for "real evidence" about reincarnation… given they themselves believe in reincarnation (one reincarnation to go to heaven, hell or purgatory… rather than repeated reincarnations… but nonetheless!) and provide no proof whatsoever susceptible of convincing scientists, atheists or even simply agnostics!
And Buddhism won't provide evidence for reincarnation, given that it rejects reincarnation, it rejects the idea of a permanent identity through change, of a soul! Identity is a bundle of stuff, and each part of it can evolve asynchronously… Each consciousness is an aggregate, not a single stream, and it can manifest itself through many activities, not just one. Consciousness at large is an aggregate on many consciousnesses (i.e. you can see consciously, hear consciously, but also do both at the same time and even enjoy the interaction between the two thanks to a third consciousness! And that's before discussing the 6 consciousnesses of early Buddhism vs. the 8 consciousnesses of later Buddhism).

Buddhism might admit that rebirth takes an appearance of reincarnation sometimes, to the untrained mind unable to see the subtle differences. That's the extent of it!

Yes, there are some schools of Buddhism which speak a lot more of 'reincarnation' than the others: Tibetan schools.
But the local dimension of this phenomenon should be enough to indicate that it's a local adaptation, a pedagogical trick adapted to specific circumstances, rather than 'what Buddhism teaches'. And the tulku system has been criticised, at times by tulkus themselves, for being more of a political / feudal system than a spiritual truth (the question however is more complex than it seems:
Even then, ultimately, Tibetan schools speak of rebirth taking an appearance of reincarnation, and they reject 'real' reincarnation: it's just a figure of speech, simple to follow (more so than the philosophical / psychological view on self-less-ness) when simplicity is valuable (e.g. to teach basic ethics / virtue).

"On what evidence is this idea based, aside from the writings of Buddha?"
"what philosophical reasoning brings us to the conclusion that reincarnation is true?"

Actually, rebirth and reincarnation are the basis of most Indian spiritual traditions, from Sikhism to Hinduism, via Buddhism and Jainism… so there's a lot "aside" Buddhism… and asking for philosophical reasoning is simply the logical fallacy of a call to ignorance ("I don't understand/know about this, so it's not true"): just go read, instead of basking in your ignorance!

Reasoning on rebirth has been provided in the 6/12 previous post of this series (op.cit.), and it's primarily a mental mechanism (of appropriation of the inherited environment and values and ideas which one is born into, as being "my environment, my values, my ideas" i.e. "my world"). The "karmic continuation" series was also pointed to, in that 6/12 post.

For a philosophical enquiry on reincarnation, I'll let the reader enquire into the other Indian religions, since reincarnation isn't rebirth and I teach about Buddhism! But let's be clear Indian philosophers are not just sheep: they don't agree —in between different religions!— for the sake of agreeing. Their evidence might be seen as 'anecdotal' or 'historical', yet they agree on it and have enough cases to continue agreeing on it…

But we can try to avoid the local / cultural nature of this… and point to scientific research actually! Scientific research which does provide much stronger evidence for rebirth / reincarnation than for the existence of the Abrahamic God!
The first scientific research of significant magnitude on the topic was led by Ian Pretyman Stevenson (1918–2007). He has written 300 papers and 14 books on reincarnation, including Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (1966) and European Cases of the Reincarnation Type (2003).
Further research has been conducted by Jim B. Tucker (who worked several years with Ian Stevenson), who notably wrote Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children’s Memories of Previous Lives (2005). Contrarily to Ian Stevenson who focused on Asian children, Jim Tucker has mostly focused on American children.
It has to be admitted that, for now, causal mechanisms are not well understood or described, there exists conjectures but no clear answer yet —reductionism might not explain rebirth / reincarnation, but science cannot be limited to reductionism (!
But that's simply not where the research is at: for now, the research is focused on accumulating proofs that there exists a mechanism, that it's not a mere illusion / story-telling. Once this is established, then and only then can the mechanism itself be analysed.
Many cases in the books cited above do offer compelling hints that there exists a mechanism (without any other explanation found (yet), which would respect Occam's razor criterion of being simpler than the assumption of 'actual' reincarnation).

For the avoidance of doubt, as per 6/12 (, I don't think the spammer's statement "while we have good philosophical reasons to believe in the existence of the soul" is true… and I've not seen any "real evidence" that it is, so the spammer fails his own test ;-)
I can see why it's convenient to believe in a soul, in order to separate oneself from the world, from the flesh and from anything we're not proud of (and can thus pretend not to have anything to do with), but selfish convenience isn't evidence. It can be selfishly convenient to lie, that doesn't make it a truth.

#Buddhism #Dharma