There are six realms in Buddhism (mostly Tibetan Buddhism) into which one may be reborn. These are the realms of
- gods (through pride)
- demi-gods (through jealousy)
- humans (through lust)
- animals (through ignorance)
- hungry ghosts (through greed)
- hell-denizens (through hatred)
As you can see, rebirth is not a good thing. Westerners often mistake rebirth to be a positive notion. This partly has to do with shared terminology with Hinduism and Jainism (religions existent at the same time and place as Buddhism), and partly to the lack of any concept that is similar to it in Western cultures.
To be clear,
- the goal of Buddhism is to end rebirth (reincarnation) and
- enlightenment is the state in which all future rebirths have been extinguished.
Reincarnation or rebirth, contrary to popular Western belief, is a negative term in Buddhism. The goal of Buddhism is to end reincarnation, not perpetuate it.
How this misconception arose is various. It could have been from a generalisation from another Eastern religion – Hinduism – in which it sees rebirth as a positive term, where being reborn means to improve to higher states of being until Oneness with God, or moksha. In contrast Buddhism does not aim for oneness but “release”.
To be “reborn” in English also seems to suggest to return anew. This image can be seen in the term “Born-Again Christian”. Whereas no such concept exists at all in Buddhism.
a small death
The goal of Buddhism whether Theravada or Mahayana is to end suffering. By doing so one ends rebirth or reincarnation.
Yet in Mahayana Buddhism the ideals of a the Bodhisattva is to delay one’s entry into Nirvana and return or reborn to help save all others.
In this sense Mahayana Buddhism is active and Theravada is passive.
As a Buddhist this is an important question. It is a question which ultimately will determine how you approach the way you live.