Karma and Rebirth
Rebirth and Cosmology
A. Samsara ("wandering on" or "that which
turns around forever") is the word used to refer to the unending cycle of
births and rebirths. There is no beginning to this cycle. Time is measured in
kappas or kalpas, immeasurable eons A kappa is the unit to measure the coming
and going of world-systems. The Buddha is said to have remember ninety-one kappas
ago. Within the present universe there are other world-systems with other beings
going through countless rebirths. How long is a kappa? If there were a seven mile
high mountain of solid granite, and once a century it was stroked with a piece
of fine cloth, it would be worn away before a kappa had passed. Still, more kappas
have passed than there are grains of sand on the banks of the river Ganges.
The cycle of births does not just involve humans. If it did, the human population
explosion would be hard to explain! There are animal births and many other realms
C. The different realms of rebirth are:
1. Humans. This is considered
a fortunate birth. In fact, it is the only birth in which one can achieve enlightenment.
2. Animals. Animals as low as insects are counted among possible rebirths.
Plants are not counted. An animal birth is considered unfortunate, due to the
vast extent of animal suffering.
3. Petas. These are among the beings that
are not normally visible. They have bodies made of subtle matter and are on earth
due to prior attachments. "Hungry ghosts" are in this category. This
is an obviously undesirable birth.
4. Hell-beings. There are various hells:
hells where beings are tormented by being burned and eaten alive repeatedly, hells
where everything appears repulsive to the senses. Each hell is appropriate to
individuals past actions. None is eternal. All inhabitants of a hell will eventually
achieve a human birth again. Still, a birth in hell is an unfortunate affair.
Asuras (Titans). God-like but power-hungry beings. While more powerful than human
beings (they are virtually gods), this is nevertheless considered to be an unfortunate
6. Devas (gods). Gods live in various heavens: the sense-desire heavens
(Mara lives in the highest of these); pure form, and formless. The top heavens
correspond to the states of consciousness produced in meditation (jhana). Life-spans
increase the higher you go -up to 84,000 kappas for the subtlest form of consciousness
D. Details of the level of rebirth:
1. The Formless Realm: four
types of purely mental rebirth.
2. The Pure Form Realm: five "pure abodes."
Brahma is here.
3. The Sense-Desire Realm: six heavens in which dwell devas,
Indra, bodhisattvas, below which are humans, asuras, animals, petas, and hell-beings.
The Questions of a Creator God and the Origins of Human Life.
1. There is no
beginning, and no need for a creator God. The closest is Brahma, who has regarded
himself as a creator deity, but he is in error. Brahma is regarded as a real and
glorious being, he is inferior to the Buddha in wisdom.
2. There is no true
creation story, but the closest to it are stories of how at the beginning of a
new world system, recently departed gods become physical beings out a desire for
the physical bounty that's available. They then develop sexuality and become proud
of their appearance. The environment initially is rich in food, but they exploit
it out of greed resulting in scarcity. They then form a social contract to protect
"private property," provide for law, and punish wrongdoers. This is
a sort Buddhist "fall" resulting from greed and pride.
F. The Implications
of the Rebirth Perspective
1. Samsara serves no purposed and was not designed.
It just is. All unenlightened people will be reborn, whether they like it or not.
The only sensible thing to do is to strive for Nibbana and Arhantship or Buddhahood.
The heavenly births are not tantamount to salvation.
2. Within a round of rebirths,
all beings are a part of the same cycle of lives. We've all been hungry ghosts,
animals, and gods in the past and are likely to be in the future. The form of
suffering you witness in other humans and animals was once experienced by you.
Whoever you now meet was at one time a close relative or friend. Thus, lovingkindness
toward them is appropriate.
3. Compassion and non-violence to all beings is
urged, but the more complex a being is the worse it is to kill it. So, killing
a human is far more serious than killing a fly.
4. A human birth is special.
In lower realms, there is much suffering and little freedom. Higher realms feed
complacency. The human realm is the middle realm with just enough suffering for
motivation and enough freedom to be able to act so as to end suffering.
A. Karma is a natural law, comparable to a law of physics. It is not
divinely created or operated.
B. A person's actions mold her consciousness
and will have physical effects both in this life and the next.
it's intentional actions that matter.
D. Actions produces seeds which can come
to fruition in this life, or in several lifetimes.
E. Karma is not fatalistic.
Karma does not determine one's present intentions. Freedom of the will is important.
Good actions are called kusala (skilful) which means they produce an uplifting
mental state in the doer. Actions that produce harm to oneself or others are akusala
or unskilful - motivated by greed, hatred, and delusion.
G. Auspicious Actions
and "Merit": some actions like listening to sermons or giving to monks
grants one merit (good karma). In some traditions, one can also get good merit
indirectly by empathizing with those who perform auspicious actions. Some traditions
also permit the transferring of merit.
III. Belief in Rebirth and Karma
The Buddha's wager (compare Pascal): If you believe in karma/rebirth and act on
those principles by living a moral life, following the eightfold path, you stand
to gain immensely if right, but you lose nothing if you are wrong.
is some anecdotal evidence that rebirth would certainly explain.
C. Karma and
Rebirth are important to Buddhism, but they are not the most crucial. The most
important are the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha referred to two types of wisdom
- an ordinary wisdom that leads to good rebirths and an insight which enables
one to direct perceive the Four Noble Truths.