Two of the fundamental beliefs of
Buddhism are the principles of rebirth and karma. There now follows a brief introduction
to these topics taken from Geshe Kelsang's book, Eight Steps to Happiness:
"The mind is neither physical, nor a
by-product of purely physical processes, but a formless continuum that is a separate
entity from the body. When the body disintegrates at death, the mind does not cease.
Although our superficial conscious mind ceases, it does so by dissolving into a deeper
level of consciousness, call 'the very subtle mind'.
The continuum of our very subtle mind has
no beginning and no end, and it is this mind which, when completely purified, transforms
into the omniscient mind of a Buddha.
Every action we perform leaves an
imprint, or potential, on our very subtle mind, and each karmic potential eventually gives
rise to its own effect. Our mind is like a field, and performing actions is like sowing
seeds in that field. Positive or virtuous actions sow the seeds of future happiness, and
negative or non-virtuous actions sow the seeds of future suffering.
This definite relationship between
actions and their effects - virtue causing happiness and non-virtue causing suffering - is
known as the 'law of karma'. An understanding of the law of karma is the basis of Buddhist
After we die our very subtle mind leaves
our body and enters the intermediate state, or 'bardo' in Tibetan. In this subtle
dream-like state we experience many different visions that arise from the karmic
potentials that were activated at the time of our death. These visions may be pleasant or
terrifying depending on the karma that ripens. Once these karmic seeds have fully ripened
they impel us to take rebirth without choice.
It is important to understand that as
ordinary samsaric beings we do not choose our rebirth but are reborn solely in accordance
with our karma. If good karma ripens we are reborn in a fortunate state, either as a human
or a god, but if negative karma ripens we are reborn in a lower state, as an animal, a
hungry ghost, or a hell being.
It is as if we are blown to our future
lives by the winds of our karma, sometimes ending up in higher rebirths, sometimes in
This uninterrupted cycle of death and
rebirth without choice is called 'cyclic existence', or 'samsara' in Sanskrit. Samsara is
like a Ferris wheel, sometimes taking us up into the three fortunate realms, sometimes
down into the three lower realms.
The driving force of the wheel of samsara
is our contaminated actions motivated by delusions, and the hub of the wheel is
self-grasping ignorance. For as long as we remain on this wheel we shall experience an
unceasing cycle of suffering and dissatisfaction, and we shall have no opportunity to
experience pure, lasting happiness.
By practicing the Buddhist path to
liberation and enlightenment, however, we can destroy self-grasping, thereby liberating
ourself from the cycle of uncontrolled rebirth and attaining a state of perfect peace and
freedom. We shall then be in a position to help others to do the same."
Eight Steps to Happiness by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
Copyright the New Kadampa Tradition.
Not to be reproduced without permission.