In the Buddhist worldview, nothing is apart from the cycle of rebirth, including the physical laws of the universe.....
Wheel of Rebirth
When we talk about rebirth, some people laugh at the idea. They consider such a belief passé and obsolete in the technologically advanced 21st Century. Others may think that the question of rebirth belongs strictly in the arena of religion. After all, the issue of what happens after death seems remote from everyday living. Some may say, “I don’t even know about living, why ask about dying?” To such people the question of what happens after death is not a pressing concern. However, if we were to ask this question on a battlefield, where people are face to face with death, we would be more earnest in our approach to this very serious question. By looking at the issue more closely, we can potentially open the door to a more complex understanding of the possibilities that life entails.
In the Buddhist worldview, nothing is apart from the cycle of rebirth, including the physical laws of the universe. For example, the cycle of rebirth leads us to arise in the various high or low realms of existence. The life and death of an individual human being is also part of the cycle of rebirth. However, changes in the natural world are also manifestations of rebirth, such as the cycle of the four seasons, time moving from the past to the present and then the future, and the cycle of day and night. When we change direction or move from place to place, this is spatial rebirth.
In short, everything around us is the result of rebirth. The wind blows and gathers the clouds; clouds turn into rain, which falls to the ground. The rain evaporates into the sky and becomes clouds again. This continuous process of the water cycle is a form of rebirth. When an automobile burns gasoline, it generates energy and produces carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is absorbed by plants. When the plants die, they decompose and become natural oil deposits many years later. This is another form of rebirth. A light can be turned on, off, and on again. This is rebirth, too.
The wheel of rebirth is not only found in changes in the universe, it is also evident in the many changes that one experiences during one’s lifetime, from the time one is born until one dies. According to scientific research, there is not one single cell in the human body that remains for more than seven years. In other words, our body is totally renewed every seven years. The cellular structure, perception, and cognition of all living creatures, from simple organisms to advanced humans, are constantly moving, changing, living, and dying. We experience these constant changes in the body as birth, old age, sickness, and death, and in the mind as our thoughts arise, abide, change and cease—these changes are also part of the wheel of rebirth.
The wheel of rebirth also functions within a family. Once, we were only the children of our parents, but later we may have become the parents of children. The changes in our economic welfare and the ups and downs of our emotions are also examples of the cycle of rebirth.
Of all the above examples of rebirth, the one that we must thoroughly understand in Buddhism is the wheel of rebirth within the six realms of existence. Buddhism teaches the possibility of rebirth not just as humans and animals, but also as ghosts, who have died with strong cravings or demons with lots of anger. There are also numerous hells and heavens in which beings can be reborn. Because of karma, the force generated by sentient beings’ actions and thoughts, the cycle of cause and effect in a beginningless and endless stream of life are formed, giving rise to the manifestation of six variant life forms: heavenly beings, asuras, humans, ghosts, animals, and hell beings. In Buddhism, this is referred to as the “wheel of rebirth within the six realms of existence.”, In Inspiration to Pledge the Bodhicitta, Master Shengan said, “All beings and I since countless kalpas have been trapped in the cycle of rebirth and cannot be liberated. Heaven and earth, here and there, we live in many forms, rising and falling.”
Negating the existence of rebirth does not disprove others’ beliefs, but only narrows the scope of their own lives. If there were no rebirth, there would be no past lives and, moreover, no future lives. Without future lives, existence would be short and without hope, and the outlook on life would be forlorn and uncertain. When faced with major setbacks, some people encourage themselves by saying, “Everything is going to be all right. Just wait and see how I will be doing in ten years.” Even death row inmates facing execution stick out their chests and declare, “In twenty years, I will be back.” The doctrine of rebirth provides our existence with flexibility, such that our unfulfilled wishes may someday reach fruition and that there will always be the next train of life for us to board.
Rebirth, however, is not just a religious theory; it is not simply an escape or a psychological crutch for dealing with the cruel certainty of death. It is a spiritual science that explains our existence from the past into the future. We should develop a thorough understanding of rebirth, not because we are expected to do so in Buddhism, but because this understanding can help us examine our life intelligently.
I. The Value of Understanding Rebirth
What value does understanding rebirth bring to our lives? When we understand rebirth, we know that our existence has continuity; life is no longer limited to a short span of a hundred years or so. With rebirth, life is unlimited in hope and possibilities. Within the cycle of rebirth, death is the beginning of another existence. Birth and death, death and birth, existence continues uninterrupted and the possibilities are endless. Just as when an oil lamp is nearly exhausted, its flame can be used to light another lamp. Rebirth is like this: when one of our “lamps” is all used up, we begin anew, as one by one our lamps are able to dispel the darkness.
As we go through the cycle of rebirth within the six realms of existence, our bodies can take on many forms. While the forms are different, the flame of life is inextinguishable and the lamp of wisdom never stops burning. Rebirth allows our lives to be like the ever-changing universe: we have existed from the beginning until now, persisting for ten thousand kalpas, yet always renewed.
Because of rebirth we are able to pass down our experience and wisdom—our history and heritage—to the next generation. If we do not pass on our cultural heritage, our efforts will be useless. Unless we pass down this heritage, our history will be very limited.
It is said that everyone is equal under the law, but there are still some people who manage to receive favorable treatment. In contrast, Buddhism teaches us that the cycle of rebirth treats everyone equally. Whether one is a noble or a commoner, everyone is subject to the cycle of rebirth. Time is the most objective judge. Birth, old age, sickness, and death are the most impartial jury. Neither King Yama nor God has control over karmic effects or rebirth, for these are determined by each individual being’s past deeds. When the conditions are right, the karma we have stored up manifests as different types of painful or pleasant karmic effects. That is why the sutras say, “Millions of kalpas may pass, but karma does not vanish. When conditions ripen, one must bear the consequences of one’s actions.”
The circumstances of our rebirth, whether we are intelligent or stupid, rich or poor, are all products of our past deeds. Consider the case of child prodigies, whose talents can exceed those of university professors and experts—such talent is not a product of this lifetime; it is the culmination of learning from previous lifetimes. The doctrine of rebirth means that we are free from the hands of a divine power, for it is our own karma that controls rebirth. We are our own masters. From this perspective, every being is free and equal, and our happiness and fortune are the products of our own doing, just as misery and tragedy are. A creator cannot protect us from the consequences of our wrongdoing, but no god can take away our merit, either. With karma and rebirth, there is no such thing as luck. We are the creators of our own destiny.
Human life is like a turning wheel, forever moving forward, life after life, so that our life is always fresh. However, our unwholesome karma is also like a turning wheel, in that it will come back around again. Only if we repent and reform will our unwholesome karma eventually be eliminated. In this way, rebirth can give us limitless hope. Although the cold winter may be long, the warm spring will come one day.
Rebirth is not a matter of rhetorical debate, or a question of whether we believe it or not. Even if we stubbornly refuse to believe in rebirth, if we examine all the phenomena in society, nature, the universe, and even between you and me, everything is within the swirl of the cycle of rebirth. Therefore, the wise approach is to understand rebirth, free ourselves from rebirth, and ultimately transcend rebirth by transforming the wheel of rebirth into the Dharma wheel of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. That is the wise approach.
II. Some Questions Regarding the Subject of Rebirth
The Buddhist doctrine of rebirth is both profound and of far-reaching importance. However, ordinary people still have many questions regarding its existence and significance. Some of the most common questions about rebirth are listed below:
1. Is rebirth beneficial?Some people find anguish in the thought of being reborn again. To them, it is best if death is the final chapter of their lives. Buddhism does not believe that death is the finale, but is, in fact, the beginning of another life. Our present lifetime is one of our many lifetimes, and we must learn to treasure each lifetime so that we do not waste it. With rebirth, our lives do not just end with this one, and we have the chance to again build a better future. Without rebirth, death is the ultimate end. Would it not be tragic if we go to our graves with our hopes and dreams unfulfilled? How can life without rebirth be considered desirable?
The above is quoted from the original article...
The Value of Understanding Rebirth | Some Questions Regarding the Subject of Rebirth | Evidence of Rebirth | How Can We Transcend Rebirth?