Everything is within the swirl of the cycle of rebirth

Many people question the existence of next life or reincarnation. In fact, we see it, and experience it in our daily lives without noticing it.

Below is an excerpt from Master Hsing Yun’s Wheel of 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.

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