I’m sure we will have our own understanding of what rebirth is, and so far, this is mine.
First and foremost, rebirth is not reincarnation. They may sound quite close, and I think that’s where the confusion begins. Reincarnation, simply, is believed to happen when someone’s soul passes from one host to another.
Rebirth, it is believed, is the continual karmic energy passing from one sentient life to another. Whether it’s a sentient life in the form of an ant, an orangutan, a peacock or a human, the karmic continuum keeps going until one is released from samsara. Which, as we know, only happens once one achieves enlightenment, or the great awakening. It can have a very small bit of essence from a previous life, but rarely is that the case.
I believe rebirth is much more than that though. This “I” or “me” we refer to as ourselves is constantly being reborn. For instance, grab a photo of yourself from when you were 5. Is that you? No, really, is it you? The same person sitting in front of the computer screen reading this? Grab a photo of yourself when you were 10, is this you? Of course, the nucleus of “you” is there, you are sharing the same body as those younger versions of you, but is it really you?
I look back at many rebirths I’ve had, for one, I am now a father. Things changed, and after a (re)birth I became something different. One time, this body was a graphic designer, but now this body installs cable into people’s homes. This body used to love playing like a child, but as this body aged those things became less of an interest. Who knows what will happen next, I do know that constant change is happening, and as I type, I am being reborn.
There is also the way some rebirths are tested, specifically in the Tibetan traditions. Many tulkus and lamas continue to come back, not as a reincarnate, but reborn in a new body. It is believed though, the essence of the previous birth is still there. When monks are sent to find a rebirth, the have tests they give to make sure those that are believed to be a rebirth truly are. The tests are usually done with objects from the rebirths previous birth, such as vajras, walking sticks, malas, etc.
I would love to hear your take on rebirth and reincarnation, especially if I’m wrong. If you have some clarification on something skewed here, feel free to comment.
Rebirth from Wikipedia
Rebirth in Buddhism is the doctrine that the evolving consciousness or stream of consciousness upon death, becomes one of the contributing causes for the arising of a new aggregation. The consciousness in the new person is neither identical to nor entirely different from that in the deceased but the two form a causal continuum or stream.
Reincarnation from Wikipedia
Reincarnation is believed to occur when the soul or spirit, after the death of the body, comes back to Earth in a newborn body. This phenomenon is also known as transmigration of the soul.