Please note: Today there are organized and unaffiliated but self-described “secular” and “rationalist” Buddhists who do not believe in the traditional Buddhist metaphysical doctrines of karma and rebirth (some of the individuals so identified share and exhibit the passions of the ‘new atheists’). On ocassion one even finds the argument that the Buddha himself did not teach such doctrines (or that these were late accretions of the ‘superstitious’ sort)! Others are merely agnostic, yet no less disinclined to believe in karma and rebirth. I have not included literature from this alleged class of Buddhists. Two aptly titled works that best exemplify this endeavor to reductively reconstruct Buddhism on purely rationalist and scientific premises, shorn of religious “hocus pocus” or supernaturalist metaphysics and thus arguably closer to secular humanism than conventional or traditional religion, are Stephen Batchelor’s enormously influential book, Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening (1997), and the philosopher Owen Flanagan’s volume, The Bodhisattva’s Brain: Buddhism Naturalized (2011).
- Gethin, Rupert. The Foundations of Buddhism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
- Harvey, Peter. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Important background material:
- Bhikkhu, Thanissaro. The Truth of Rebirth: And Why It Matters for Buddhist Practice (2013). Available: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/truth_of_rebirth.html
- Neufeldt, Ronald W., ed. Karma and Rebirth: Post-Classical Developments. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1986.
- O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger, ed. Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1980.
- Phillips, Stephen. Yoga, Karma, and Rebirth: A Brief History and Philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.
Important discussions of rebirth throughout both of these books (see indices):
- Collins, Steven. Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravāda Buddhism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
- Harvey, Peter. The Selfless Mind—Personality, Consciousness and Nirvāna in Early Buddhism. London: Curzon Press, 1995.
Essential for understanding rebirth from the perspective of Tibetan Buddhism:
- Lati Rinbochay and Jeffrey Hopkins. Death, Intermediate State and Rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism. New York: Snow Lion, 1979.
- Sogyal, Rinpoche (Patrick Gaffney and Andrew Harvey, eds.). The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002 ed.
- Thondup, Tulku. Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth: A Tibetan Buddhist Guidebook. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2005.
- Thubten Zopa, Rinpoche, and Kathleen McDonald. Wholesome Fear: Transforming Your Anxiety about Impermanence and Death. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2010.
- Wilson, Martin. Rebirth and the Western Buddhist. London: Wisdom Publications, 2nd ed., 1987.
- Becker, Carl B. Breaking the Circle: Death and the Afterlife in Buddhism. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993.
- Boisvert, M. “Death as a Meditation Subject in Theravada Buddhism,” Buddhist Studies Review 13, 1996, No. 1: 37-54.
- Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche. Life in Relation to Death. Junction City, CA: Padma Publ., 2nd ed., 2000.
- Evans-Wentz, W.Y., ed. The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 3rd ed., 1960.
- Freemantle, Francesca. Luminous Emptiness: Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2001.
- Jayatilleke, K.N. Survival and Karma in Buddhist Perspective. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 1969. Available online: http://www.bps.lk/olib/wh/wh141.pdf
- Kapleau, Philip. The Wheel of Death. London: George, Allen and Unwin, 1972.
- Kapleau, Philip. The Zen of Living and Dying: A Practical and Spiritual Guide. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1997.
- Langer, Rita. Buddhist Rituals of Death and Rebirth: Contemporary Sri Lankan Practice and Origins. New York: Routledge, 2007.
- Mullin, Glenn H. Death and Dying: The Tibetan Tradition. Boston, MA: Arkana, 1986.
For my earlier compilation on “death and dying” (sans the topic of rebirth) more broadly, please see here.