Let’s talk about Buddhism reincarnation. So what is reincarnation? What happens to us after death? What is the point of view of reincarnation in Buddhism?
According to Buddha, rebirth will take place at the end of this life. Each of us have lived many lives in the past and may continue to live many more lives in the future. It is just like the turning of a wheel which goes round and round.
Similarly, reincarnation means the rebirth to the next life after the end of this life.
Pasts karma conditions the present birth. The present is the offspring of the past, and becomes in turn the parent of the future.
To understand the true meaning of reincarnation, first we must understand “What is karma?”
During the time of Buddha, in the city of Shravasti, the king once asked a monk, “in my country, under my monarch rule, how is it that my citizens are all different?
Some are born in poverty and suffering, while others are born rich and famous?
Why are some blessed and others cursed from their birth?” Indeed, if we take a look at our own surroundings, it is not difficult to find people around us who live totally different lives.
Some are born in the homes of millionaires and enjoy all the luxuries of life, while some have to live in poverty and suffer extreme hardships.
Some are born naturally beautiful and have many admirers, while some will just have to be content with the face they were born with and the body they have, no matter how out of shape it may be.
Some are born strong and healthy, while others are weak, plagued by sickness or even crippled. This is clearly shows the different fates that people can have.
The wise monk did not answer the king directly but instead he asked; “Oh great king, why do the fruits taste differently? Some are sweet, some are sour, some soft, some hard…
” The King thought for a while and answered; “Well, it is due to the different kind of seeds and the different conditions the seeds experienced”.
The monk said, “Precisely, that is the point. Just like plants have their different kind of results due to the different kind of seeds, men also have different fates because of their different karma”.
And so in this story, the monk explained to the king and also to us that each individual has his or her own karma which leads to different kinds of lives.
So..what is karma?
Simply put, karma is the law of cause and effect. That is, the cause produces an effect and the effect in turn explains the cause.
It is as simple as the fact that planting an acorn will produce an oak tree, and when we see an oak tree, we deduce that it came from an acorn.
Similarly, if a person did many good deeds in his lifetime and accumulated merits, then he will live a life of luxury and comfort in the future. His gain may be in this lifetime of in the next..
On the other hand, if a person performed many bad deeds all his life, then he will end up in misery, suffering and unfavorable conditions in the future.
The effects of karma can exist in many different forms and can be found everywhere.
Here are a few more examples:
There is a saying, “As we sow, also shall we reap”, which means that whatever we plant, we will get the fruit of that particular seed.
What will we get if we plant a watermelon seed? Will we get a banana, a grape, or a watermelon?
Of course we expect a watermelon. If not, it would make the life of farmers very difficult and unpredictable because they would not know what they would get after planting the seeds.
In school, our teacher taught us that 1+1=2; the addition of one to one is the cause and the result of two is the effect.
Our physics teacher taught us that Newton’s law states. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. When water reaches 32 degrees F, it will freeze. Action is the cause and reaction is the effect.
Our Physical Education teacher taught us to exercise regularly because it can keep us fit. But if we smoke heavily, we will damage our lungs. Smoking is the cause and damaging the lungs is the effect..
If we were to adopt an arrogant attitude, always insisting that we are right and others are wrong, then we will start to lose even our closest friends.
However, if we learn to be kind and humble, treating others with sincerity and respect, we will easily make friends and gain support.
All these samples clearly show the existence of karma in its many forms and its effect on every one of us.
Let us look deeper into karma by dividing it into two parts, namely short and long term karma; wholesome karma and unwholesome karma:
- Short and long term karma:
Karma takes different periods of time to produce its effect. A peach tree may take three or more years to produce its first fruits, while tomatoes may take only a few weeks.
Some people experience the effect of their past doings in this lifetime while some do not experience it until a future life.
It is like when we have a pile of work to do, we might not be able to finish it all today, so it might take several days before we can finish the whole work.
So it is the same here, if we were to do evil in our previous lives, it might take several lives for us to eliminate this cause.
The same thing applies to those merits or good deeds that we may have accumulated.
That is why there are cases of good people who live terrible lives because they are paying the debts of their past karma.
2. Wholesome and unwholesome karma:
Wholesome karma means good karma. Unwholesome karma means bad karma.Wholesome karma produces good effects while unwholesome karma produces bad retribution.
An unrighteous person performs three parts of unwholesome or bad karma daily. The mouth speaking filthy words, the eyes looking at evil deeds, and the body constantly committing sins.
We should realize that unwholesome karma is mainly due to the ignorance of those who are unable to differentiate between right and wrong, good and evil.
This is because people act according to their desires and not their Conscience. Unwholesome karma will befall those who act according to their own desires.
If a person does not believe in life after death, Heaven or hell, and thinks that there is no Law to judge his or her actions and deeds, then they would be free to do whatever they like.
So these are dangerous people, not only to themselves, but also to the people around them.
For example, if a person is un-filial, the result will be that people despise them and the generation after him will do the same thing to him. So all these are the effects of retribution.
There is a story which describes more clearly on short and long term karma, and wholesome and unwholesome karma.
It goes like this;
There was once a hunter who lived near a forest. Being a hunter, he caught and killed many birds and animals.
When he died, the king of the afterlife was angry and sentenced him to three cycles of reincarnation as a form of punishment for killing so many innocent living creatures.
The first life:
Born in poverty and struck by lightning in his mid-life. Reason: killing of animals, even though it caused them great pain and suffering.
The second life:
To be born blind. Reason: did not see the consequences of killing animals.
For when a mother bird is being caught and killed, what will happen to her small baby birds? They would also meet a cruel end.
The third life;
To be born without either arms or legs. Reason: The misuse of hands and legs for killing purposes, instead of using them to do good for the benefit of society.
After sentence was made, the man entered into his first reincarnation. Upon his birth, his mother died.
When he reached the age of three, his father died of an illness. He was left with his uncle who looked after him until the age of six.
He was later sent to work as a shepherd. Since then, at his tender age he would have to look after the cows, no matter how hot the summer or how cold the winter.
sometimes he would just murmur and ask himself, “Why is Heaven so unfair to me?”, but who was there to pity him? As the years passed by, although he was still young, he was very responsible, thrifty, and hardworking.
His master admired his character and frequently praised him.
The village in which the shepherd lived was very near to a small town. But in order to travel to the town, the villagers would have to cross a small river.
During the rainy seasons, the river would flood and the villagers had to risk their lives to get across. This greatly distressed the young shepherd but he was just too young to help.
As he grew older, he learned to swim in the river and became an expert swimmer. With this skill, he saved dozens of people and gained the admiration of many.
When he reached the age of 18, he approached his master and suggested that he build bridge between the two places for the convenience and safety of the villagers.
Especially in the last several years, the death rate had been alarming. Since his master was one of the richest and most generous people in the village, the young shepherd thought it would be most appropriate for his master to initiate the plan to build the bridge.
His master paused to think for a while and replied, “This is a good idea but the expense would definitely be sky-high”. “No problem!” , answered the young man, ” I am willing to donate all the money that i saved”.
Deeply touched by his sincerity and his willingness to do good for society, his master hesitated no more and agreed to build the bridge, but with one condition; that the young man be fully in charge of the project and make all the necessary plans.
From then on, the young man proceeded with his work and personally supervised all the work being carried out.
During the first third phase of the project, while helping the workers to smash up the rocks, a piece of debris accidentally pierced one of the young man’s eyes and blinded him in that eye.
At the second third phase, he accidentally slipped down from the bridge and broke his arm.
It eventually became infected and the doctors said that his arm could not be saved and had to be amputated. Thus he became partially blind and had only one arm.
Despite these misfortunes, he was not discouraged and braved all obstacles to carry on his work. Finally the project was completed.
During the opening ceremony for the new bridge, the villagers warmly invited the rich man, whom they thought was the one who had proposed and financed the building the bridge, to cut the ribbon as a form of appreciation.
But the rich man smiled and said, “The building of this bridge was actually initiated by the young man and the expenses were mostly paid for by his saving.
So he should be the one to have the honor of cutting the ribbon.”
When the villagers realized this, they warmly invited the young man to cut the ribbon. At this time there was a high ranking official from the Imperial Palace who came to witness this ceremony and saw the crowds cheering and thronging at the bridge.
Suddenly the sky turned black and there was a sudden flash of lightning which directly struck the young man! His body was totally charred, but was still standing.
Everyone was stunned and soon there was a commotion.
People started to shout out questions like, “Why does lightning suddenly strike in such fine weather?”
“This young man did not do anything wrong, why was he struck by lightning?”
“Why does such a good person end up dying such a horrible death? The lightning cannot even differentiate between good and bad.”
At that moment, the official walked up to the body and wrote on its hand, “Being good only gets one struck by lightning.”
After this the body collapsed. From then on, the villagers became doubtful about karma and reincarnation, and thought, “Why must one be good when even Heaven cannot tell good from bad?”
When the official returned to the Imperial Court, he was told that a prince had been born to the king, but the baby kept crying and could not be comforted.
The official went to see the baby prince and surprisingly the baby stopped crying when he saw the official.
The official went closer to the prince and was shocked to see that on the prince’s hand, these words were written: “Being good only gets one struck by lightning.” Thus the official realized the prince was actually the young man’s reincarnation.
When this news spread to the village, the people then realized the truth of karma and reincarnation.
From the above story, we realize that we are the doers of our own karma and we must hold on to our Conscience when doing anything.
Buddha once said, “According to the seed that is sown, so is the fruit ye reap there from. Doers of good will gather good, doers of evil will reap evil.
Sown is the seed and then shall he taste the fruit thereof.” So the next time we are angry because someone insulted us, let us think back and ask; “Have we ever insulted another, too?” We can then tell ourselves this;
“Since this is the result of unwholesome karma I have accumulated, I shall accept all my misfortunes, without bearing grudges against anyone.”
Now let’s get to the topic about Buddhism reincarnation.
So what is reincarnation? Have you wondered what will happen to us after we passed away?
According to Buddha, rebirth will take place at the end of this life. Each of us have lived many lives in the past and may continue to live many more lives in the future.
It is just like the turning of a wheel which goes round and round.
Similarly, reincarnation means the rebirth to the next life after the end of this life. Past karma conditions the present birth. The present is the offspring of the past, and becomes in turn the parent of the future.
Some people do not believe in reincarnation because they do not understand it. Many think that our life is just like that of a light bulb. Upon death nothing is left. But if we were to consider carefully, the bulb will emit light only if there is electricity running through it. At the end of the bulb’s “life”, it will not light up anymore.
But what happens to the electricity? Does it disappear too? Obviously not, we all know that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but can only be transformed from one form to another. The important thing is that this example is also similar to our situation.
When we die, only the body will decay and be buried, while our soul is like that of energy which leaves our body and proceeds to the next cycle of life.
This is known as reincarnation.
To say that karma and reincarnation do not exist simply because we cannot perceive it through our five senses is as illogical as to conclude that the light does not exist because the blind cannot see it.
Recounting previous lives:
In recent years, evidence had been collected and documented to prove that rebirth is a fact.
There have been cases of people who are able to recall their experience of past lives. Their descriptions of places and persons of the past were verified after thorough investigations.
There is such a case involving a Mrs.Ruth Simmons of the United States. She recalled a previous life in Ireland more than a hundred years ago.
She said that she had been Bridey Murphy in the year 1789 and gave full details of Bridey’s life.
The details were later checked and found to be quite accurate, although Mrs. Simmons had never been outside America.
In another case an English woman recollected two previous lives. In first instance, she recalled her life as an Irish woman living in a village called Greenhalgh in the seventeenth century.
Research into her case was carried out and revealed that such a village did exist.
In the second instance, she remembered herself as an English woman who became a nurse to several children in a town called Downham in 1902. A search into the official records kept in Downham proved that such a woman did exist.
Practice goodness and do not do evil:
We must be very careful and discreet in all our actions. We should avoid evil and practice only good from now on.
There are four basic rules for preventing evil thoughts:
- See no evil.
- Hear no evil.
- Speak no evil.
- Do no evil.
They are simple rules, but they can be hard to abide by. The secret is to listen carefully to our Conscience and not be overcome by our desires. As we practice these four rules, our desires will eventually disappear and we will be spiritually serene.
Now that we understand Karma and reincarnation we can see life from a better perspective. We understand that every action we perform will have its effect now or in the future.
This knowledge gives us hope and confidence, and strengthens our beliefs to continue to do good to others and to forgive other’s mistakes.
Extend reading: Delusion and Karma