Bhikkhu Anālayo: Rebirth in Early Buddhism

In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, host Daniel Aitken speaks with Bhikkhu Anālayo, prolific writer and scholar of early Buddhist thought, and author of Rebirth in Early Buddhism and Current Research, recently published by Wisdom. As part of a special live event, Daniel is joined by Professor Charles Hallisey of Harvard Divinity School as they speak with Venerable Anālayo on the topic of rebirth and its particular significance to early Buddhist doctrine. In this rich conversation, Venerable Anālayo suggests ways we might think through ideas such as past-life recollection and whether it is useful to consider rebirth as something that can be proven or verified. With Professor Hallisey, Venerable Anālayo considers the historical reception of rebirth in both monastic and lay communities across traditions, as well as fascinating case studies in which people claim to have memory of their former lives. Lastly, Venerable Anālayo discusses whether belief in rebirth doctrine is necessary for full awakening according to early Buddhist doctrine.

REBIRTH IN EARLY BUDDHISM AND CURRENT RESEARCH

German professor and Buddhist monk Bhikkhu Anālayo illuminates a spectrum of views on rebirth, from ancient scriptures to contemporary research.

In four chapters, Rebirth in Early Buddhism and Current Research guides readers through

  • the presentation of rebirth in the earliest Buddhist sources and the way it relates to core doctrine,

  • the debates about rebirth throughout Buddhist history and up to modern times, including the role of confirmation bias in the evaluation of evidence,

  • the current research on rebirth, including near-death experiences, past-life regression, and childhood recollection of previous lives,

  • and an examination of a particular case of xenoglossy, the ability to speak languages one has not been taught. As a very young boy, the Sri Lankan Dhammaruwan would chant Pāli-language scriptures that he had not apparently learned in his present life.

Rebirth in Early Buddhism and Current Research brings together the many strands of the debate on rebirth in one place, making it both comprehensive and compact. It is not a polemic but an interrogation of the evidence, inviting readers to draw their own conclusions.

“Bhikkhu Anālayo offers a detailed study of the much-debated Buddhist doctrine of rebirth and a survey of relevant evidence. He also investigates the Pāli chantings of Dhammaruwan, who at a very young age would spontaneously chant ancient and complex Buddhist suttas. I first met Dhammaruwan when he was seven years old, when my teacher, Anagarika Munindraji, and I visited him and his family in Sri Lanka. Rebirth in Early Buddhism and Current Research illuminates a complex topic with great clarity and understanding.” —Joseph Goldstein, author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

“From his unique perspective as an academic scholar and a monastic, Bhikkhu Anālayo provides a thorough explanation of the early Buddhist doctrine of rebirth and the debates about it in ancient India and early imperial China, as well as a judicious analysis of various phenomena that some people have taken to be evidence for rebirth. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in these fascinating topics.” —Evan Thompson, author of Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy

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Bhikkhu Anālayo is a bhikkhu (Buddhist monk), scholar, and meditation teacher. He was born in Germany in 1962 and went forth in 1995 in Sri Lanka. He is best known for his comparative studies of early Buddhist texts as preserved by the various early Buddhist traditions.