There is rebirth of character,
but no transmigration of self.
Thy thought-forms reappear,
But there is no egoentity transferred.
The stanza uttered by a teacher
is reborn in the scholar who repeats the words.
Thy self to which though cleavest is a constant change.
Years ago thou wast a small babe;
Then, thou wast a boy;
Then a youth, and now, thou art a man.
Is there an identity of the babe and the man?
There is an identity in a certain sense only.
Indeed there is more identity between the flames
of the first watch and the third watch,
even though the lamp might have been extinguished
during the second watch.
Hmmm. Interesting. If the Skakyamuni Buddha actually spoke these words, then query whether he did believe in rebirth in the sense in which the concept is ordinarily understood in Buddhism. The Buddha used the image of a flame being passed from one candle to another and then to another, before proceeding to question - and doubt - whether the flame on the final candle was that of the first candle. Huston Smith, that great authority on the world's religions, refers to this process as one in which "influence [is] transmitted by chain recation but without a perduring substance". Another metaphor used by the Buddha to describe this process of "influence", in which one human life has consequences - often far-reaching ones - for others, is that of the bells. Each life is a note sounded in an open room, causing similar instruments to vibrate with the same sound ... all the way down the "corridors of time" ... until at last the note is swallowed up in one universal harmony.
Thus, any "rebirth" is entirely in the form of influence ... or, perhaps, enduring character. (As an aside, we all know that the influence - for "better" or for "worse" - of a person lives on after their death, whether in the actual lives of other persons or otherwise [eg in the so-called "race mind" or the "collective unconscious"].)
Anyway, the historical Buddha was never one for metaphysical speculation. If asked about the matter of rebirth, I am sure he would have said something like this, “Does it really matter? The important thing is this present life now? How are you reincarnating now?”
I am also reminded of the words of Dhyana Master Hakuin (see The Cloud Men of Yamato): "How wondrous! How wondrous! There is no birth-and-death from which one has to escape, nor is there any supreme knowledge after which one has to strive."
Believe nothing because a so-called wise person said it.
As I see it, the really important thing is this … have you been reincarnated today? Each day, and every minute of the day, and from moment to moment, we are being reincarnated in a different form. The practice of Mindfulness keeps us aware of this fact, and enables us to watch, with bare detachment and choiceless awareness, our body, mind and its contents “transmigrate” from one moment to the next.