you Buddhists believe in rebirth as an animal in the next life?
Are you going to be a dog or a cow in the future? Does the soul
transmigrate into the body of another person or some animal? What
is the difference between transmigration and reincarnation? Is
it the same as rebirth? Is karma the same as fate? These and a
hundred similar questions are often put to me.
A gross misunderstanding
of about Buddhism exists today, especially in the notion of reincarnation.
The common misunderstanding is that a person has led countless
previous lives, usually as an animal, but somehow in this life
he is born as a human being and in the next life he will be reborn
as an animal, depending on the kind of life he has lived.
arises because people usually do not know-how to read the sutras
or sacred writings. It is said that the Buddha left 84,000 teachings;
the symbolic figure represents the diverse backgrounds characteristics,
tastes, etc. of the people. The Buddha taught according to the
mental and spiritual capacity of each individual. For the simple
village folks living during the time of the Buddha, the doctrine
of reincarnation was a powerful moral lesson. Fear of birth into
the animal world must have frightened many people from acting
like animals in this life. If we take this teaching literally
today we are confused because we cannot understand it rationally.
our problem. A parable, when taken literally, does not make sense
to the modern mind. Therefore we must learn to differentiate the
parables and myths from actuality. However, if we learn to go
beyond or transcend the parables and myths, we will be able to
understand the truth.
say "If such is the case why not speak directly so that we
will be able to come to an immediate grasp of the truth?"
This statement is understandable, but truth is often inexpressible.
[Ed comment: we as human beings are limited in understanding "Buddha
Knowledge". We cannot speak TRUTH, only words ABOUT Truth]
Thus, writers and teachers have often resorted to the language
of the imagination to lead the reader from a lower to a higher
truth. The doctrine of reincarnation is often understood in this
Reincarnation is Not
is not a simple physical birth of a person; for instance, John
being reborn as a cat in the next life. In this case John possesses
an immortal soul which transforms to the form of a cat after his
death. This cycle is repeated over and over again. Or if he is
lucky, he will be reborn as a human being. This notion of the
transmigration of the soul definitely does not exist in Buddhism.
a Sanskrit word from the root "Kri" to do or to make
and simply means "action." It
operates in the universe as the continuous chain reaction of cause
and effect. It is not only confined to causation in the physical
sense but also it has moral implications. "A good cause,
a good effect; a bad cause a bad effect" is a common saying.
In this sense karma is a moral law.
beings are constantly giving off physical and spiritual forces
in all directions. In physics we learn that no energy is ever
lost; only that it changes form. This is the common law of conservation
of energy. Similarly, spiritual and mental action is never lost.
It is transformed. Thus Karma is the law of the conservation of
thoughts, and words, man is releasing spiritual energy to the
universe and he is in turn affected by influences coming in his
direction. Man is therefore the sender and receiver of all these
influences. The entire circumstances surrounding him is his karma.
action-influence he sends out and at the same time, receives,
he is changing. This changing personality and the world he lives
in, constitute the totality of his karma.
not be confused with fate. Fate is the notion that man's life
is preplanned for him by some external power, and he has no control
over his destiny. Karma on the other hand, can be changed. Because
man is a conscious being he can be aware of his karma and thus
strive to change the course of events. In the Dhammapada we find
the following words, "All that we are is a result of what
we have thought, it is founded on our thoughts and made up of
What we are,
then, is entirely dependent on what we think. Therefore, the nobility
of man's character is dependent on his"good" thoughts,
actions, and words. At the same time, if he embraces degrading
thoughts, those thoughts invariably influence him into negative
words and actions.
Buddhism teaches the existence of the ten realms of being. At
the top is Buddha and the scale descends as follows: Bodhisattva
(an enlightened being destined to be a Buddha, but purposely remaining
on earth to teach others), Pratyeka Buddha (a Buddha for himself),
Sravka (direct disciple of Buddha), heavenly beings (superhuman
[angels?]), human beings, Asura (fighting spirits), beasts, Preta
(hungry ghosts), and depraved men (hellish beings).
these ten realms may be viewed as unfixed, nonobjective worlds,
as mental and spiritual states of mind. These states of mind are
created by men's thoughts, actions, and words. In other words,
psychological states. These ten realms are "mutually immanent
and mutually inclusive, each one having in it the remaining nine
realms." For example, the realm of human beings has all the
other nine states (from hell to Buddhahood). Man is at the same
time capable of real selfishness, creating his own hell, or is
truly compassionate, reflecting the compassion of Amida Buddha.
Buddhas too have the other nine realms in their minds, for how
can a Buddha possibly save those in hell if he himself does not
identify with their suffering and guide them to enlightenment.
We can learn
a valuable lesson from the teaching of reincarnation.
In what realm
do you now live? If you are hungry for power, love, and self-recognition,
you live in the Preta world, or hungry ghosts. If you are motivated
only by thirsts of the human organism, you are existing in the
world of the beast.
then your motives and intentions. Remember that man is characteristically
placed at the midpoint of the ten stages; he can either lower
himself abruptly or gradually into hell or through discipline,
cultivation and the awakening of faith rise to the Enlightened
state of the Buddha.