Brief Introduction for Beginners
Extracts from the internet and books. (May blessings and appreciation go to the authors of these articles)
We like to share some extracts of good write ups for the benefits of our younger generations who may wish to understand more about the causes of Rebirth.
What is Rebirth 轮回?
One question that is often asked is, "What happens to us after death?" According to the Buddhists, rebirth takes place at the end of each life. Buddhists regard rebirth as a fact. There is evidence that each person has lived many lives in the past and will continue to lives more in the future.
Some evidences of Rebirth that have taken place
Rebirth is a reality although one may not be aware of it. The existence of past lives has been confirmed by those who have developed their minds through meditation. Meditators who have attained powers of concentration have been able to recall their previous lives in great detail. The Buddha also saw beings dying in one state of existence and being reborn in another, according to their karmic actions. Thus it was from personal experience that the Buddha taught His followers the truth of rebirth.
The following are cases of people who have been able to recollect their experiences of previous lives. Their description of places and persons of the past were confirmed after thorough investigations.
The best known example is the case of Bridey Murphy. Mrs. Ruth Simmons of the United States recollected a previous life in Ireland, more than 100 years ago. She said she has 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 in the present life, Mrs. Simmons had never been outside America.
Another example is in England, a woman called Mrs. Naomi Henry recollected two previous lives. In the first instance, she recalled her life as an Irishwoman living in a village called Greehalgh in the seventeenth century. Research into her case was carried out and this revealed that such a village did exist then. In the second instance, she remembered that in one of her previous lives, she was a Englishwoman who became a nurse to several children in an English town called Downham in 1902. A search into the official records kept in Downham proved that such a woman did exist.
Professor Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia, USA, has researched and published his finding on over twenty cases of rebirth. These cases which have been well documented and verified are from various countries including France, Italy, India, Sri Lanka and Burma.
What is “Rebirth in the Six Realms” 六道轮回?
Buddhism teaches that birth, death and rebirth are part of the continuing process of change. This is similar to the continuous process of growth, decay and replacement of cells in one’s body.
At the moment of death, when this life is over, and the body can no longer survive, the mind is separated from the body. At that time, the craving for lives causes one to seek a new existence, and the karma done previously determine the place of one’s rebirth.
There are six realms in which one may be reborn after death. They are the realms of gods (deva), the demigods (Asura), human beings, animals, hungry ghosts and the hells
The six realms of existence include three relatively happier stages or platforms and three relatively miserable stages or platforms. The realms of the gods, the demigods and human beings are considered more happiness and less suffering stages or platforms. The realms of animals, hungry ghosts and the hells are considered relatively miserable because the living beings in these platforms suffer more from fear, hunger, thirst, heat, cold and pain.
In general, wholesome actions like good conduct, charity or alms giving and mental development, are the cause of rebirth in the happy realms of gods, demigods and human beings. On the other hand, unwholesome actions like immoral conduct, miserliness and cruelty cause rebirth in the unhappy realms of animals, hungry ghosts and the hells.
One need not wait until one is reborn to imagine what existence in other realms is like. For instance, when one is intensely happy or totally at peace with oneself, one experience a state similar to that of the gods. When one follows one’s baser instinct and is totally preoccupied with eating, sleeping and
sex lust, one’s existence is like that of the animals. Then again, when one is overwhelmed by fear and pain or is tortured and killed in this life, one experience suffering like that of the hells.
In general, in the unhappy realms, the suffering of living beings is so intense and their ignorance so great that they are unable to recognise the Truth and follow the path to attain freedom. Alternatively, living beings in the realms of the gods and demigods experience so much happiness and have so many distractions that they do not think of rebirth until it is too late.
Of all the six realms, the realm of human beings is considered the most desirable. In the realm of human beings, the conditions for attaining Nirvana are better.
In the realm of human beings, however, people experience both happiness and suffering, and are intelligent enough to recognise the Truth and follow the path to attain freedom from the cycle of birth and death. Therefore, one is indeed fortunate to be born as a human being, and should remember that the principal cause of birth into this realm is your good deeds and karmic actions from past lives.
What causes the Cycle of Birth and Death ?
The Buddha pointed out that when one is reborn, whether as human beings, as an animal, or as a deva (god), none of these states of existence is permanent and none of them lasts forever. Eventually, rebirth will again take place.
The realm into which one is reborn and one’s conditions of rebirth are determined by one’s past and present actions. This is the law of karma at work.
Because of the force of their karma, people are born and reborn endlessly, in one realm of existence or in another. It is only when one follows the Noble Eightfold path taught by the Buddha and eventually attains Nirvana that one finally becomes free from this ceaseless cycle of birth and death.
People who understand karma and rebirth see life in a better perspective. It gives them courage to continue doing good wholesome deeds and enhance their current good conduct.
Dependent Causes and Rebirth
All karmic events arise from causes and conditions. Just as the flame of an oil lamp depends upon the wick and the oil for its existence, similarly rebirth and suffering will occur depending on one’s tainted actions (karma) and mindsets.
The mind is considered pure if it is free from ignorance, craving and clinging. Ignorance is failing to see thing as they really are. Out of ignorance, people crave for pleasant experiences and they cling to them. They fail to understand that pleasant experiences such as wealth, friendship, youth and even life, are impermanent. All these will eventually slip through their fingers like fine sand.
As a result of an impure mind, people commit unwholesome acts in order to obtain the things they crave for and soon become used to doing unwholesome acts as a habit and soon become part of their accepted behaviours.
Example: If some people find that they can obtain what they want by dishonest means on one occasion, they may be tempted to do it again on future occasions. Eventually, dishonesty becomes a habit. However, if people find that they can succeed by hard work. As a result, they are encouraged to work hard at each task and hard work becomes a habit for them.
At death, an impure mind with its habitual actions becomes the cause of a person’s rebirth just as the seed which is supplied with soil, moisture, air and sunlight, is the cause of a sprout. So long as people’s minds are not freed from ignorance, craving and clinging, they will continue to act in their accustomed behaviours, and consequently, their actions will cause them to be reborn.
Rebirth is actually suffering because human feelings conditioned by ignorance, craving and clinging will never be satisfied. Even the pleasant experience which people crave for and cling to, are impermanent. Consequently, people experience the suffering of loss, ageing, death, sorrow and grief.
To end rebirth and suffering, people need to recondition and purify their minds from ignorance, craving and clinging. When they have freed their minds of impurities, consequential action (karma) will not take place. Hence, rebirth and suffering will also cease and freedom from the cycle of birth and death is achieved.