Why Was I Born? – Modern Koans

Posted by in Modern Koans, Writings


According to Buddhism, I am not an eternal being or spirit. But, due to my past life karma I am born again. I was wondering what was the cause of my first life. Rebirth takes place due to karma. So if I had no karma before my first life, why was I born?


This isn’t an answer, but an opinion and a framework to consider.

First, self is impermanent, just like all other observable phenomenon. As you said it arises from causes and conditions. So when you talk about you as self, the answer to how you were created is a simple biological one. Your parents procreated and there you are. This self has a beginning, a middle and an end.

Second, Buddha weighed in on the eternal being point with the concept of Anatman (contradicting the Vedic idea of Atman – the ultimate “self” or God). He said that we are not self.

This leaves a peculiar opening. If we are not self (and there are some semantic ambiguities in that statement) then what are “we”?

Your question, in my opinion, conflates your impermanent self with the subject of karma. I offer this framework to consider the answer to your question.

Consciousness & Karma

Buddhism looks to the skandhas as an explanation for how consciousness arises.

  1. form – there is a dividing of the world into objects
  2. sensation – there is a sensory experience of an object
  3. perception – mental processes register the sensation
  4. mental formations – concepts and ideas form and are manipulated (here is where karma comes into play)
  5. consciousness – cognition

If we are not self, what develops consciousness? Upon what does karma act?

One opinion that I’ll offer is that the development of life in the universe is the unfolding of skandhas. Confining your search to a human form is too small a view.

The earliest life forms that had the capacity of perspective (i.e. myself looking upon the world) are a good place to start in answering your question.

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I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Modern Koans is an ongoing series that recognizes that good questions are often more important than their answers.

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man. ― G.K. Chesterton

Dialectic Two Step, Modern Koans, Verse Us, Say What?, and Minute Meditations all copyright Andrew Furst

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Andrew Furst
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Andrew Furst

Author of two books, Poet, Meditation Teacher, Buddhist blogger, backup guitarist for his teenage boys, lucky husband and technologist
Andrew Furst
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