Question: If each of us do not have a soul or spirit, how do we undergo rebirth? We know that the body is just a form, so there must be something within that takes rebirth? Is there at least a base energy that takes rebirth? If not, how do we bring our karma and such to the next life?
Answer: Physically and mentally (psychically), we do not exist as fixed entities. We exist instead, as continuums of change. A continuum is a series of things that are (at least) slightly different from each other, that exist between two moments. The Buddha taught that we are but ‘heaps’ of the five aggregates of forms, feelings, perceptions, intentions (mental formations) and consciousnesses. However these bundles are not static. If they are fixed, it would be impossible to grow, feel, perceive, change our minds or even be aware of anything, much more to have changes in these processes.
Instead, these are continuums of changing bundles of causally conditioned forms, feelings, perceptions, intentions and consciousnesses, that are not totally the same or totally different from one moment to the next, from one life to the next, as we are constantly shaped and reshaped by our changing karma and attitudes. What undergoes rebirth are the mental aggregates (not the material aggregate of form), as a continuum, which nevertheless changes from moment to moment.
For example, take a river with water flowing. We do not say there is a ‘base’ river flowing, as the water flows on and on, with no enduring ‘base’ water or even ‘base’ river banks or ‘base’ riverbed – because the water, banks and bed changes. The changing water is easy to observe, though we still habitually label it all collectively as ‘the river’, even assigning a fixed name to it.
The changing river banks and bed (due to erosion) are harder to observe as their changes are sure yet subtle. They are not exactly the same or different from one moment to the next, as the way they are in the present moment is conditioned by the way they were in the previous moment. Likewise, the way they will be in a future moment is conditioned by the way they are in the present moment. There is as if a continuity, but in terms of change, as a carrier of changing-ness. This is what gets mistaken as the ‘soul’ when not observed deeply, for we are ‘rivers of change’ too.
The Body Candle & The Mind Flame
Why The ‘Same’ River Is A ‘Different’ River
Why There Are No Souls