Read the following interview with Thich Nhat Hanh.
The followings are excerpts regarding Reincarnation and Rituals.
Q: Do you have to believe in reincarnation to be a Buddhist?
A: Reincarnation means there is a soul that goes out of your body and enters another body. That is a very popular, very wrong notion of continuation in Buddhism. If you think that there is a soul, a self, that inhabits a body, and that goes out when the body disintegrates and takes another form, that is not Buddhism.
When you look into a person, you see five skandhas, or elements: form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. There is no soul, no self, outside of these five, so when the five elements go to dissolution, the karma, the actions, that you have performed in your lifetime is your continuation. What you have done and thought is still there as energy. You don’t need a soul, or a self, in order to continue.
It’s like a cloud. Even when the cloud is not there, it continues always as snow or rain. The cloud does not need to have a soul in order to continue. There’s no beginning and no end. You don’t need to wait until the total dissolution of this body to continue—you continue in every moment. Suppose I transmit my energy to hundreds of people; then they continue me. If you look at them and you see me, well, you have seen me. If you think that I am only this (body) [points to himself], then you have not seen me. But when you see me in my speech and my actions, you see that they continue me. When you look at my disciples, my students, my books, and my friends, you see my continuation. I will never die. There is a dissolution of this body, but that does not mean my death. I continue, always.
That is true of all of us. You are more than just this body because the five skandhas are always producing energy. That is called karma or action. But there is no actor—you don’t need an actor. Action is good enough. This can be understood in terms of quantum physics. Mass and energy, and force and matter—they are not two separate things. They are the same.
Q: Can a ceremony make someone a Buddhist?
A: No, it’s not by ceremony that you become a Buddhist. It is by committing to practice. Buddhists get caught in a lot of rituals and ceremonies, but the Buddha does not like that. In the sutras, specifically in the teaching given by the Buddha right after his enlightenment, he said that we should be free from rituals. You do not get enlightenment or liberation just because you perform rituals, but people have made Buddhism heavily ritualistic. We are not nice to the Buddha.
Q: What do you think makes someone a Buddhist?
A: A person may not be called a Buddhist, but he can be more Buddhist than a person who is. Buddhism is made of mindfulness, concentration, and insight. If you have these things, you are a Buddhist. If you don’t, you aren’t a Buddhist. When you look at a person and you see that she is mindful, she is compassionate, she is understanding, and she has insight, then you know that she is a Buddhist. But even if she’s a nun and she does not have these energies and qualities, she has only the appearance of a Buddhist, not the content of a Buddhist.
I really feel that Thay's teachings are authentic Buddha's teachings. And I also agree with Thay that reincarnation and too much rituals are two examples of the deluded Buddhism. I know that Tibetan Buddhism teaches that the subtle consciousness leaves the body upon so-called death. And surprisingly, I also know that even Thay's one disciple (a Dharma teacher) stated, "the Buddha said that when we leave this body, we take with us the consequences of our actions." As Thay mentioned, that is the deluded Buddhism. The body and consciousness inter-are. Consciousness is always with the body, so can't leave the body. Consciousness can't exist alone apart from the body. That is the authentic Buddha's teaching.
As for rituals, I entirely agree to the Buddha's words, "We should be free from rituals." And I entirely agree to Thay's words, "It’s not by ceremony that you become a Buddhist. It is by committing to practice. ... You do not get enlightenment or liberation just because you perform rituals." Thay's words of "Buddhism is made of mindfulness, concentration, and insight" is simple but very persuasive.