We cannot understand the teaching concerning rebirth unless we have first understood how the Law of Karma works. Rebirth depends on karma. If we think good thoughts and do only good acts in this life, we not only get good results here and now, but we also get a better rebirth when our life in this world is finished.
A person’s karma, good or bad, is actually that person and it is the karma that is reborn in some other life, either in a heaven or a hell, or again in this world. In some cases, a person with extremely bad karma might be reborn as an animal. Let us imagine a man so cruel and bloodthirsty that he is like a tiger in all his thought and action. It is quite possible that such a person might be reborn as a tiger. Or to imagine another case – a person whose habits make him seem very much like a pig. How could we expect such a person to be reborn as a heavenly being, or even as a good, normal, decent human being?
All of us know the ancient saying: “Straws show which way the wind is blowing.” It is the same with our own lives. Our habits show what kind of people we really are. Those whose habits in this life show that they are very closely akin to pigs, will probably be reborn in the animal world – as pigs. Everything connected with rebirth depends on karma.
There is more than one kind of rebirth, and one variety is a sort of rebirth here and now in this life. When a bad person changes and becomes good, that is a type of rebirth. The same is true of a good person who changes and becomes evil. But, as a rule, when we speak of rebirth, we are thinking of what happens to us when we die. If we want to know what kind of life we shall have when we die and leave this world, we need only look at our present lives. If we are lazy and do not study the Buddha’s teachings, and do not follow the Five Precepts and the Eightfold Noble Path, then we cannot expect a good and happy rebirth into a world better than this one. On the other hand, those who study the Dharma and live the Dharma, who are kind and unselfish, such persons can expect a happy rebirth into a heaven-world or some other good rebirth.
Our lives move very swiftly. Now we are boys and girls, still going to school. But, almost before we know what has happened, we find we are grown-ups and soon we are old. Not many persons live to age one hundred, but, even if we do live to that age, there comes the time when we must leave this life. Therefore, it is very important for each of us to be very careful about all we think and do. Our thoughts and actions are our karma, good or bad, and it is our karma that is reborn.
Any boy or girl who begins to lead a good Buddhist life in childhood and continues to be a good Buddhist all through his or her life, need never worry about rebirth. But the really important thing to do is to make an early start. If we create only good karma in our lives, we do not have to wait until we die to receive benefits. We shall surely obtain happiness in this life as well as in the life to come.
SONG OF THE PILGRIM
No sentient life in all the worlds,
Will ever cease to be;
Unending all as thou and I,
Though forms change constantly.
The life imprisoned in the earth,
May bloom as lovely flower;
So all evolve a fairer birth,
When law brings forth the hour.
On through the endless aeons of time,
Through forms from stone to man,
All beings to perfection climb;
Such is the faultless plan.
Perfected men the Masters are,
And we shall also climb
To starry height in worlds afar
And know the Truth Sublime.
Remembering always “That thou art,”
The path will lighter grow;
The Buddha seed within our heart
Will guide to those who know.