Sunday, March 27, 2011

What is the purpose of life?

What is the purpose of life?
This story was submitted by a reader.
“Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn't do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker's family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker's transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker's Death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, 'I know why.'

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation.

He said, 'People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life - - like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?' The six-year-old continued, 'Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long.' “
This story, as simple as it looks, is very profound.  Many people spend endless time and effort in searching for the meaning of life, for its purpose. But, who really knows the purpose of life? Shakyamuni Buddha said that people would spend all their time debating and discussing those questions that lead nowhere. Actually, so did Socrates which is why Socrates avoided them altogether as well.

The Buddha added, "all this radical preoccupation on these questions, which they could not prove anyway,  was like a man shot by a poison arrow who — rather than have it removed as it’s killing him and time is of the essence — first demands to know what type of arrow it was, what poison was used, who shot it, why did they shoot it, how much force did they use, where did they come from  and all sorts of other interesting but useless questions to the main need of saving his life."
He further explained, "Look, you’re confronted with suffering in the human realm. That’s the fact in front of you. You know it. It’s real. Incarnation after incarnation you’re faced with this fact until you can attain enlightenment and escape, which is control of the process. This you know. This is in front of you. This is what’s real.” Simply stated, don’t waste your time in those questions, but focus on how to live this life!
Going back to our story, if a dog was the teacher, then you would learn things like:

When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.

Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.

Take naps.

Stretch before rising.

Run, romp, and play daily.

Thrive on attention and let people touch you.

Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.

On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.

On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.

When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

Be loyal.

Never pretend to be something you're not.

If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.

When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.
The art of living is to live simply, to love generously, to care deeply, to speak kindly and finally,

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The purpose of repentance

The purpose of repentance
Dennis Estrada

Serious practitioners of Mahayana Buddhism come to the temple twice a month and bow 108 times as we chant 108 different Buddha’s name. But do we really understand the real meaning of repentance? Why repent?

The practice of Buddhist repentance is very unique because we are not asking for divine forgiveness. It is the clear recognition of our own unskillful actions done intentionally or unmindfully through our body, speech and mind. These are the result of our lack of compassion and wisdom, originating from our attachments, aversions and delusions. We should never forget that we are the masters of our own destiny and responsible of all our actions, big and small.

After recognizing our misgivings, we make the resolution to be as mindful as we can, so as to never repeat them under any circumstances. In this sense, repentance is about forgiving oneself through expressing regret, and to start fresh, absolving oneself of unhealthy guilt while renewing determination to further avoid evil, do good and purify the mind with greater diligence. Living with a heart full of guilt and regret, which are negative emotions will never let you see things with wisdom and equanimity.

Traditionally, the practice of repentance is done through chanting relevant sutra verses and bowing before a Buddha image, which represents the presence of the Buddha bearing witness to our sincerity. However, if one has done wrong to someone, the correct thing to do is to apologize to him or her personally. If not, the practice of repentance before the Buddha would be rendered a hollow practice lacking in sincerity. Even if the other party is unlikely to forgive us, we should do our part in seeking forgiveness - this is also the practice of humility. Actual remedial action of making up for any physical or psychological damage caused to others is also important - or repentance would literally be merely saying "sorry".

Repentance should ideally be practiced at the end of each day. We should sit down and meditate as we try to recall the best we can, any misgivings we have done in the day. For repentance to be more effective, misdeeds should be recalled as specifically as possible, instead of vaguely generalizing. Doing this practice daily reduces our repetitive mistakes as it increases our mindfulness the next day. Repentance should also be practiced immediately in the moment, without procrastination, when we realize we have just made a mistake. If one's pride is too strong, one should still make a point to repent later, as soon as possible.

The stronger our sincerity is, the more powerful our repentance becomes. It is important to understand that repentance does not erases our negative karma, but it can dissolve its future effects, much like the addition of abundant pure water onto salt, which dissolves the otherwise unbearable saltiness we have to taste.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mindfulness and happiness

“A very smart monk wanted to be promoted to the rank of teacher. Feeling proud of his past accomplishments, the monk went to visit the temple Abbot. It was raining that day, so when he arrived; he took off his shoes and left them, along with his umbrella, at the front of the door.

The temple Abbot, knowing the character of this monk asked, "Tell me, when you removed your shoes, did you place them to the left or the right of your umbrella?"

Of course, the young monk didn't remember. When he heard that question, he realized that he still had a lot to learn. Why wasn't he paying attention to his shoes as he removed them? What was he thinking about? Why wasn't he being attentive in that moment? As far as he had traveled on the path, he still had farther to go."

Mindfulness or paying attention to all that we do, is not just about where you leave your shoes or your umbrella, it is a tool that can be used to lessen the suffering and loss that we bring into the lives of others by carelessness. We all know that accidents, problems, and catastrophes can ensue when we don't focus on what we are doing in the present moment. The Buddha said that our speech is one of the great sources of negative karma, since many times, we talk without thinking and hurt other in the process.

Even in something as trivial as a phone call, mindfulness can make a difference. Even in the distance, the other person can tell if you are interested in the conversation or tell how important you are in that moment. Can you recall that in your personal life?

Believe it or not, our ultimate goal is our never ending quest for happiness. On a subconscious level, we are continuously bargaining about what makes us happy: money, job, position, relationships, and power. We are led to believe that happiness is dependent on possessions, from outside of ourselves.

Unfortunately, we live in an instant gratification, fast food society. We don’t have time; we don’t make time to enjoy life. We make our jobs and money priority number one. Remember, we work to make money and used it is a tool to live a better life, not the other way around.

When you practice mindfulness, when you pay attention to whatever you do, you live a richer life. The food taste better, the flower smell better and the time spent with your loved ones is priceless. Because you live in the here and now, you accept yourself; you accept others and realize that happiness is a state of mind.
And we all want to be happy, right?


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On emptiness or Shunyata

 “According to the Mahayana teaching, beings and things have no intrinsic existence in themselves. All phenomena come into being because of conditions created by other phenomena. Thus, they have no existence of their own and are empty of a permanent self. There is neither reality not not-reality; only relativity.
Form and appearance create the world of myriad things, but the myriad things have identity only in relation to each other. Beyond identity, Shunyata is an absolute reality that is all things and beings, unmanifested.”
Understanding and internalizing the concept of Shunyata or emptiness is a necessary to attain enlightenment. Well this is the deal…you see a car, and you call it a car...but what is really a car? That thing that we call a car is an amalgamation of many different parts, it is made out of rubber, plastic, metal, glass, fluids, and then there are other parts, an engine, wiper motors, electronic parts, electrical cables, seats, cushions…just like a human being…but what are we? How about ourselves? This thing that we call man or woman is a compilation of flesh, bone, sinew, blood, collagen, vessels, lymph, hair…that’s what we really are!  If you want to go even further, we are just a composition of molecules mainly Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Nitrogen rearranged in different sequences, add a mind, and that is what we call a man. Confused yet?
The bottom line is, things don’t exist on their own, and they are co-dependent to another thing. That is the reality!
That is the importance of understanding the concept of emptiness. Nothing has and identity on themseselves.  You cannot say, I am a man or a woman and that’s it! We are part of this universe and our components are in a constant recycling mode. Today I am a man, in the future; I can become part of the soil or even pages from a book!
As wild as this idea seems to be, is important to understand the concept of emptiness, all phenomena’s, and all actions are empty of themselves, because they depend on something else to exist. Just like you came from your parents and your parents from your parents. Once you acquire the wisdom to understand the concept of emptiness, you will be able to understand reality because you know everything is interdependent, everything is connected.  We learn not to judge, not to be attached to anything. We now see all our actions have consequences and you realize things just don’t happen because, they happen because there is a cause, and then there will be an effect; that is what we call Karma.
Now you are probably still wondering, what is a human being then?
Welcome to the Five Aggregates!
According to Buddhism, a human being is a combination of five aggregates (skhandhas), namely body or form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations or thought process, and consciousness, which is the fundamental factor of the previous three. Basically, we are mind and matter, and according to Buddhism, apart from mind and matter, there is no such thing as an immortal soul, an unchanging “thing” separate from these five aggregates. 
Thus the combination of the five aggregates is called a being which may assume as many names as its types, shapes, and forms. According to Buddha Dharma, a human is a moral being with both positive and negative potentials.  We make choices concerning which of these potentials we choose to nourish thereby becoming a part of exactly who each one of us is, in terms of characteristics, personality traits, and disposition.  It is the potential of each human to gain wisdom and enlightenment. 
 Buddhism teaches that each one of us is the architect of our own fate, and we will reap what we sow, isn’t that wonderful? In other words, we do have choices, but beware the choices

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Blind man builds cars, sheds, birdhouses

MOORESVILLE, NC (WBTV) - Jan 21, 2011. Impossible has never been a word in Ronnie Presnell's vocabulary. Back in 1998, a car crash left Ronnie without any eyesight, but you don't need eyes to be amazing.
Everything he did before the crash, he does today. He builds cars, he builds birdhouses, and most recently, he builds a 10x12 storage shed for a buddy of his who's down on his luck.
Ronnie never stopped doing the things that make him happy. That's why he's never gotten too down about the tragedy that took his vision.

Resiliency is a big buzzword nowadays but 2500 years ago the Buddha understood the human condition very well. He realized that every human being goes through different stages in life; we are born, we age, can get sick and eventually die.  No one can escape that, no one can change that! Human life is very frail and also at the mercy of uncertainty like accidents, weather and natural disasters.
The Buddha recognized  that under these conditions and under the uncertainty of the future, in order to be happy, we have to learn to be resilient and make the best of what we have.We have to learn to live in the present since the past is gone and the future is a mere speculation.  We have to learn to live in the here and now.
When somebody goes through a significant emotional event like the above story, after the initial shock, we have two choices. You can choose to be a victim of the circumstances and do nothing  or bounce back and learn to realize your full potential. Only then you can exploit the skills and abilities that you have but  never used before.
Don’t you find amazing that a blind man can build cars, a shed and birdhouses while normal people with full functional limbs and eyes feel that they can't do anything at all? It's a matter of attitude; it's all in your mind. Let's not forget that happiness and resiliency is our choice. We choose to be happy or sad. We choose to overcome obstacles, or get crippled by them.
Stephen Hawking is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, whose scientific books and public appearances have made him an academic celebrity. He has neuro-muscular dystrophy, a condition that has progressed over the years and has left him almost completely paralyzed. Even at this stage of paralysis, he still makes great contributions to the scientific world. Please read his introduction to the Steven Hawkins Universe TV series:
“Hello. My name is Stephen Hawking. Physicist, Cosmologist and something of a dreamer.  Although I cannot move and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free.”
That is true freedom!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Your Precious Human Life

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it, I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
H.H. the XIV Dalai Lama
What is a precious human life?
The term ‘precious human life’ actually comes from the Hinayana Buddhist tradition. A precious human life, however, is something very special – something different. The Buddhist masters say it is almost impossible to attain and once you have it you should not waste it because it is unlikely to come around again. Basically, a precious human life is where you attain a human body that is endowed with all the free and favorable conditions. These conditions include:
  • Living in a country where you are free to practice spirituality
  • Having all the human sense faculties
  • To be born where spiritual teachings have been taught
  • To be interested in those teachings
Simply put, a precious human life is a life where you are interested in changing your mind and your situation. Many people go their whole human life never realizing that happiness lies right in their own mind. They pursue money and fame and nice cars and when they grow old they realize they still aren’t happy. How sad.
The Buddha used this illustration in a teaching . A blind turtle lives in the bottom of the ocean and every 100 years he comes up for air. If that turtle was to rise for air and by chance put his head through a bucket that was floating on the surface it would be extremely rare. Attaining a precious human rebirth is even rarer than that.
So now the question is… Are you wasting your precious human life? Will you be happy in your old age because you have lived a full and meaningful life or will you be looking back bitter with regret? Remember the law of cause and effect … depending on how you live your life now; it is how you are going to live your next life.
How to easily waste your precious human life
In our society, we worry sick about money. We also associate money with happiness. The never ending quest to be financially secure will crush your chances of making something useful of your life. Imagine the horror of growing old and looking back and realizing you spent the better part of your life worrying about something that really was pointless. I think it would be quite difficult to bear.
Of course, you have to go to work, you have to pay the bills, you have to feed yourself. It is not the work I am talking about here. What I am referring to is the WORRY. The constant consuming mental habit of worrying about the future. It is pointless. And it leads me on to number two. Then not just you have to worry about money, but also in how to produce money.
Almost as bad as spending your life worrying about money is working a daily job that you hate. I can’t think of anything worse!
The big question we need to ask ourselves is: is a job a means of earning money or should it be more than that? Should it be something we are passionate about or interested in? For me it is the latter. I would rather earn $10 an hour working in a job I loved than $500 an hour in a job I hate, a job which continually corrupts my character.
Spending your life concerned only for your own welfare
It sometimes really amazes me how people can go through an entire lifetime of 80-90 years and be only concerned with themselves. I have seen it in a few of my relatives and it is really quite interesting to watch – their family dislikes them, they have no friends and they are on death’s door and yet they continue to look after only their own interests.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has a wonderful saying:
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
I think he is right. A lifetime spent working for the benefit of others is a lifetime well spent. People who work in charity or nursing or healthcare sleep very well at night and I am convinced they will be much more at ease when old age comes and death is near.
So, sit down for a minute and reflect, are you wasting your precious human life?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How to be a Buddha

There is a simple way to become a Buddha: When you refrain from unwholesome actions, are not attached to birth and death, and are compassionate toward all sentient beings, respectful to seniors and kind to juniors, not excluding or desiring anything, with no designing thoughts or worries, you will be called a Buddha. Do not seek anything else.
-Eidei Dogen, "Birth and Death"
We all go through life seeking  and wanting…a good marriage, a good career, a good partner, money, power   and when you  finally  get the internal cue that there  is something  out there, something more that this life you are living, you start again seeking ,  searching and wanting…
The truth is that in order to find what we are looking for, you need to stop looking outside.
What? You mean enlightenment can’t be find, bought or ordered through
No, there road to enlightenment is very straightforward and simple. What if I tell you all you need is morality, meditation and wisdom.
Morality to do the right thing, meditation to provide you with mindfulness and wisdom to be compassionate with yourself and all the sentient beings in the universe...
Sure, that is so easy, even a child can do it…
True, even a child can do it, would you do it?
That is the question…would you do it…would you have the guts, the patience and the wisdom to shed all the greed, anger and ignorance that is part of our lives?
In Buddhism, you gain while you loose. When you shed your ignorance, you gain wisdom, when you shed your anger, you learn the meaning of true love.
Once you shed all the greed, ignorance and hatred, we reach Nirvana. Nirvana is the state of mind where you don’t desire anything because when you reach understanding of the nature of things, you realize you have everything you need  and you are never alone because you are one with the universe; yes, is that good!
Reaching Nirvana is like the analogy of the onion. The onion is you; the layers are your defilements, your ignorance and your attachments… When you peel all those layers, there will be work involved and even tears, but eventually the onion will disappear and you will have a core. That core can be stripped too in other layers and then you will have nothing left which is Nirvana. Nirvana actually means “extinction” from desire, and when you liberate yourself from desire, you attain everlasting happiness and liberation from this world, Samsara.
Remember, everything you need to become a Buddha, is within yourself. Don’t seek outside. Peel your layers of ignorance, anger and hatred and you will reach the bliss of Nirvana.
Dennis Estrada

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A reason, a season or a lifetime... karma and rebirth

“People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.  When you figure out which it is, you know exactly what to do.
When someone is in your life for a REASON, it is usually to meet a need you have expressed outwardly or inwardly.  They have come to assist you through a difficulty, to provide you with guidance and support, to aid you physically, emotionally, or spiritually.  They may seem like a godsend, and they are.  They are there for the reason you need them to be.  Then, without any wrong doing on your part or at an inconvenient time, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end.  Sometimes they die.  Sometimes they walk away.  Sometimes they act up or out and force you to take a stand.  What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done.  The prayer you sent up has been answered and it is now time to move on. “
A reason, a season or a lifetime. Fragment from Essay by Jean Dominque Martin.
I guess we had all come across this essay in different ways; in postcards, chain e-mail and websites. The words are so beautiful and when you read them, you believe them wholeheartedly...
From my Buddhist background, it does make a lot of sense and is the perfect showcase for karma and rebirth.
People come into your life for a reason…if you remember a couple of weeks ago; I mentioned the principle of interconnectivity… everything in this universe is interconnected, and as long as we are in this world, Samsara. We are bound to find each other more than once...
How do you explain the times  when you just meet somebody,  and you already feel like you know that person, or maybe that you love that person or you feel you don like that person, even before you even talk to them? It is fascinating. I truly believe that love at first sight is people who had been lovers in the past and now find themselves again in this lifetime.
On the same token, you realize that many times in your life, people come in the right moment and for a reason, isn’t? That is when Karma, the law of cause and effect comes crashing in…the past seed of your actions sprout and catches up with you. Sometimes is good, sometimes is bad, and sometimes is neutral.  The people that in the past we had angered or hurt come back into our present bringing us exactly a taste of our own medicine…
Please understand, karma is not punishment, it is just simply reaping the product of your past actions and behavior. The law of cause and effect has no judge, no jury or trial to condemn you. It is just like when you take ball and throw it up in the air, if you are not careful, it is going to come back and hit you on the head.
When you understand karma, you realize that you alone is your own judge. It is you that realize the wrong you had committed repent and makes amends. That is wisdom.
So for example, when people come into your life and criticize you, they are telling you of your forthcomings. Yes it is very hard to know we are not perfect. But if you listen to the lesson well, you realize how much we need to improve and become grateful to them. As we open our eyes to this life, we realize that we are continuously in a learning environment until you finally, become awakened and can see life as it is…
So when people come into your life. It is truly for a reason…they may be here to teach you, but don’t forget that as the coin has two sides, you are also in that people’s life for a reason…
So open your eyes….teach them well…
Dennis Estrada

The story of Kisa Gotami and the Mustard Seed

Kisa Gotami lived in the time of the Buddha Shakyamuni at Savatthi in a poor household where she was called Gotami. She was so lean that they called her Gotami the Lean (Kisa). When she married, her new family scorned her, but when a son was born she was honored. 
When her son was of an age to run to all kinds of places, he one day fell and died. She was very sad. She thought about the scorn she had received and knew that without her son, she would be thrown out of the household. So in her sorrow she took the dead body on her hip and roamed the town, going from door to door asking for medicine. But people mocked her and asked her: of what use is medicine? She was so deeply lost in her sorrow that she did not understand what they meant. 
Then a certain wise man told her ‘Good woman, go to the Buddha, the Enlightened One, and ask Him for medicine for your child.'
So when the Master was teaching nearby, she went where he was staying and said: 'Oh Lord, give me medicine for my child.'
And the Master, beholding her destiny, replied: 'Go to town, and beg a mustard seed in a house where no man has died.' 
She did so and at the very first house asked: 'I would like a mustard seed as medicine for my child. If in this house no one has died, please give me a mustard seed.' The answer was: 'Who knows how many people have died here'.  'Then what use is such a mustard seed?' she said and went on to the next house, and the next, never getting what she asked. 
Her sorrow had subsided a bit, and she came back to her right mind. She thought: 'All over this town it must be like this. The Buddha must have known this and in his wisdom made me see.'
She rejoiced and buried the body out in a field and sang this verse:
This is no law for village or town,
No law for any single family.
Through all the world of devas and men
this law holds good:
All is Impermanent.
Content with her insight, she went back to the Buddha and he said: 'Have you found your mustard seed, Gotami?'
 She said: 'Done is the business of the mustard seed. Please teach me!.
 Gotami was later on ordained as a nun.
This is a good story that shows us how ignorance brings suffering in our lives and after getting wisdom, we can gain happiness.
But why is important to understand death? Because we all want to be happy, but in order to be happy, we need to understand that death is also part of life. If not, we are going to live a life of suffering, always fearful of the moment of death and if is not ours, from our loved ones. If you know death is coming, don’t run away, since you will never be able to escape, on the contrary, don’t waste time and prepare for it. Have your affairs in order and live a moral life.
This knowledge, when understood and applied, can help us make sense of this present lifetime. We learn to live the here and now because tomorrow, what is tomorrow?  

Understanding karma, death, and rebirth

Dharma talk by Dennis Estrada

Why is important to understand death? Because we all want to be happy, but in order to be happy, we need to understand that death is also part of life. If not, we are going to live a live of suffering, always fearful of the moment of death and if is not ours, from our loved ones. Today’s talk is going to be just an introduction on the basic concepts of karma, death, and rebirth. This knowledge, when understood and applied, can help us make sense of this present lifetime and make the best out of it.

The story of Kisa Gotami and the Mustard Seed

Kisa Gotami lived in the time of the Buddha Shakyamuni at Savatthi in a poor household where she was called Gotami. She was so lean that they called her Gotami the Lean (Kisa). When she married, her new family scorned her, but when a son was born she was honored. 
When her son was of an age to run to all kinds of places, he one day fell and died. She was very sad. She thought about the scorn she had received and knew that without her son, she would be thrown out of the household. So in her sorrow she took the dead body on her hip and roamed the town, going from door to door asking for medicine. But people mocked her and asked her: of what use is medicine? She was so deeply lost in her sorrow that she did not understand what they meant. 
Then a certain wise man told her ‘Good woman, go to the Buddha, the Enlightened One, and ask Him for medicine for your child.'
So when the Master was teaching nearby, she went where he was staying and said: 'Oh Lord, give me medicine for my child.' And the Master, beholding her destiny, replied: 'Go to town, and beg a mustard seed in a house where no man has died.'  She did so and at the very first house asked: 'I would like a mustard seed as medicine for my child. If in this house no one has died, please give me a mustard seed.' The answer was: 'Who knows how many people have died here'.  'Then what use is such a mustard seed?' she said and went on to the next house, and the next, never getting what she asked. 
Her sorrow had subsided a bit, and she came back to her right mind. She thought: 'All over this town it must be like this. The Buddha must have known this and in his wisdom made me see.' She rejoiced and buried the body out in a field and sang this verse:
This is no law for village or town,
No law for any single family.
Through all the world of devas and men
this law holds good: All is Impermanent.
Content with her insight, she went back to the Buddha and he said: 'Have you found your mustard seed, Gotami?' She said: 'Done is the business of the mustard seed. Please teach me. Gotami was later on ordained as a nun.
This is a good story that shows us how ignorance brings suffering in our lives and after getting wisdom, we can gain happiness. But before we move along about the topic of death, we need to understand what is Karma?
Karma is an impersonal, natural law that operates in accordance with our actions. It is a law in itself and does not have any lawgiver. Karma operates in its own field without the intervention of an external, independent, ruling agent. Karma can be put in the simple language of the child: do good and good will come to you, now, and hereafter. Do bad and bad will come to you, now, and hereafter. In the language of the harvest, karma can be explained in this way: if you sow good seeds, you will reap a good harvest. If you sow bad seeds, you will reap a bad harvest. In the language of science, karma is called the law of cause and effect: every cause has an effect.
In the Dhammapada, which means “the path of the teaching" A  Highly recommended book,  consists of 423 sayings of the Buddha, grouped into 26 categories. The Buddha explained karma in this manner: the mind is the chief (forerunner) of all good and bad states. If you speak or act with a good or bad mind, then happiness or unhappiness follows you just like your shadow which never leaves you. In its ultimate sense, karma means both good and bad, mental action or what we call volition. 'Karma is volition,' says the Buddha. Thus karma is not an entity but a process, action, energy and force.
The bottom line is…Karma is our own doings reacting on ourselves. The pain and happiness man experiences are the result of his own deeds, words and thoughts reacting on themselves. Our deeds, words and thoughts produce our prosperity and failure, our happiness and misery. In other words, we are responsible for our own karma. This is very hard on some people who don’t want to take responsibility for their actions and who always blame others for their problems. So if you wake up in the morning saying it is going to be a bad day, guess what? You will have a bad day.
Which bring us to a very important point…you have complete control of your actions. Every action is preceded by a thought. From getting up in the morning, what you wear, what we eat. We control our own action but sometimes, we are too lazy to admit it or to afraid to take responsibility for your actions, so we always make excuses.
Understanding this concept of karma, we realize that there is no hidden agent directing or administering rewards and punishments, Buddhists do not rely on prayer to some supernatural forces to influence karmic results. (Like praying to win the lottery).  According to the Buddha, karma is neither predestination nor some sort of determinism imposed on us by some mysterious, unknown powers or forces to which we must helplessly submit ourselves.
Buddhists believe that man will reap what he has sown; we are the result of what we were, and we will be the result of what we are. This simply means that karma is not complete determinism. The Buddha pointed out that if everything is determined, then there would be no free will and no moral or spiritual life. We would merely be the slaves of our past. On the other hand, if everything is undetermined, then there can be no cultivation of moral and spiritual growth. Therefore, the Buddha accepted neither strict determinism nor strict undeterminism.
The good news is…we can change our karma!
The story of the Sami 
Once there was a little sami who studied Buddhism with a very wise Teacher. He was a very good student. He was respectful, sincere, and obedient. He learned very quickly. The Teacher was so wise that he could foretell the future. The Teacher knew from the beginning that his little student could not live very long. One day he counted and realized that the little student had only seven days left to live. He felt very sad.
The Teacher called the little sami to him. He said, "Hey, little sami, you haven’t seen your mother for a long time. think you need a vacation. You run on home and visit your mother, and come back eight days from now." He did this so at least the little sami could die in his own parents’ home. When the little sami left, the Teacher was very sorry. He thought he would never see his little student again.
Eight days later, who should show up but the little sami! His Teacher was delighted, but he was also puzzled, because the little student looked wonderful. He didn’t look like someone who had been about to die.
Finally, the Teacher decided to find out what had happened. He told the boy, "Son, I have foretold the future many times, and I have never been wrong. I sent you home because you were doomed to die within seven days. But the seven days have already passed. Not only are you still alive, but you look great. The image of death has left you. How did you do it?"
The little sami was thunderstruck. He didn’t have any idea how to answer his Teacher, so the Teacher entered the settled state of meditation. Before long, he understood.
"Son, on the way home, did you save some ants?"
"Yes, Teacher, on the way home I saw a whole bunch of ants trapped by some water. They were about to drown, so I got a piece of wood and rescued them."
"That’s it, then. Your kind heart has earned you a long life. The wise men of old said, ‘Saving one life earns more merit than building a pagoda of seven stories.’ You have saved hundreds of lives, so you will live a very long time now.
"You have earned a good future, but you still have to keep working to save living creatures. You must spread the message of the Buddha. Teach all people to be merciful. Tell everyone not to kill living creatures. Let animals live in peace."
The little sami never forgot his teacher’s words. He worked very hard and became a great monk. He lived for a long, long time.
By performing good deeds, living a moral life and earning merits, we can change our karma.
 Misconceptions regarding Karma
- the belief that all is the result of creation by a Supreme Ruler. If our lives are destined by faith, and a person becomes a murderer or a thief, then this person would not be held responsible for his evil action, because it was his destiny.
Yet another misconception about karma is that it operates only for certain people according to their faiths. But the fate of a man in his next life does not in the least depend on what particular religion he chooses. Whatever may be his religion, man's fate depends entirely on his deeds by body, speech and thought. It does not matter what religious label he himself holds, he is bound to be happy world in his next life so long as he does good deeds and leads an unblemished life. He is bound to be born to lead a wretched life if he commits evil and harbors wicked thoughts in his mind. Therefore, Buddhists do not proclaim that they are the only blessed people who can go to heaven after their death. Whatever the religion he professes, man's karmic thought alone determines his own destiny both in this life and in the next.
According to Buddhism karma explains the inequalities that exist among mankind. It explains why some people have better lives, why some bad people i.e. gangsters have money and wealth while good people seem to have all kind of misfortunes. It also explains prodigies like Mozart, Rembrandt, or Einstein.
These inequalities are due not only to heredity, environment and nature but also to karma or the results of our own actions. Indeed karma is one of the factors which are responsible for the success and the failure of our life. Since karma is an invisible force, we cannot see it working with our physical eyes.
How karma works
This part is very important, to understand how karma works, we can compare it to seeds: the seeds of karma are stored in the subconscious mind in the same way as the leaves, flowers, fruits and trunk of a tree are stored in its seed. Under favorable conditions in our life, the fruits of karma will be produced just as with moisture and light, the leaves and trunk of a tree will sprout from its tiny seed. This can happen in this life or in the next.
The working of karma can also be compared to a bank account: a person who is virtuous, charitable and benevolent in his present life is like a person who is adding to his good karma. This accrued good karma can be used by him to ensure a trouble-free life. But he must replace what he takes or else one day his account will be exhausted and he will be bankrupt. Then whom will he be able to blame for his miserable state? He can blame neither others nor fate. He alone is responsible. Thus a good Buddhist cannot be an escapist. He has to face life as it is and not run away from it. The karmic force cannot be controlled by inactivity. Vigorous activity for good is indispensable for one's own happiness. Escapism is the resort of the weak, and an escapist cannot escape the effects of the karmic law.
The Buddha says, 'There is no place to hide in order to escape from karmic results.' (Dhammapada 127). 
Our Own Experience To understand the law of karma is to realize that we ourselves are responsible for our own happiness and our own misery. We are the architects of our karma. Buddhism explains that man has every possibility to mould his own karma and thereby influence the direction of his life. On the other hand, a man is not a complete prisoner of his own actions; he is not a slave of his karma. Nor is man a mere machine that automatically releases instinctive forces that enslave him. Nor is man a mere product of nature.
Man has within himself the strength and the ability to change his karma. His mind is mightier than his karma and so the law of karma can be made to serve him. Man does not have to give up his hope and effort in order to surrender himself to his own karmic force. To off-set the reaction of his bad karma that he has accumulated previously, he has to do more meritorious deeds and to purify his mind rather than by praying, worshipping, performing rites or torturing his physical body in order to overcome his karmic effects. This is what we call the practice. Therefore, man can overcome the effect of his evil deeds if he acts wisely by leading noble life.
However, ignorance of the nature of the good and bad effect of the karma is not an excuse to justify or avoid the karmic results if they were committed intentionally. A small child or an ignorant man may commit many evil deeds. Since they commit such deeds with intention to harm or injure, it is difficult to say that they are free from the karmic results. If that child touches a burning iron-rod the heat element does not spare the child without burning his fingers.
The karmic energy also works exactly in the same manner. Karmic energy is unbiased; it is like energy of gravity. The radical transformations in the characters of Angulimala and Asoka illustrate man's potential to gain control over his karmic force.
Angulimala was a highway robber who murdered more than a thousand of his fellow men. Can we judge him by his external actions? For within his lifetime, he became an Arahant and thus redeemed his past misdeeds. Asoka, the Indian Emperor, killed thousands and thousands to fight his wars and to expand his empire. Yet after winning a certain the battle, he completely reformed himself and changed his career to become one of the most influential rulers of India.
Also, we can find cases of people from poor, obscure family backgrounds who rise to fame and popularity as film actors or actresses or beauty queens. Time and occasion are other factors that influence the working of karma. In the time of famine or during the time of war, all people without exception are forced to suffer the same fate.  This is called collective karma. Here the unfavorable conditions open up possibilities for evil karma to operate. The favorable conditions, on the other hand, will prevent the operation of bad karma.
Effort or intelligence is perhaps the most important of all the factors that affect the working of karma. Without effort, both worldly and spiritual progress is impossible. If a person makes no effort to cure himself of a disease or to save himself from his difficulties, or to strive with diligence for his progress, then his evil karma will find a suitable opportunity to produce its due effects. However, if he endeavors to surmount his difficulties, his good karma will come to help him.
The time factor is another important aspect of the karmic energy for people to experience the good and bad effects. People experience certain karmic effects only within this lifetime while certain karmic effects become effective immediately hereafter the next birth. And certain other karmic effects follow the doers as long as they remain in this wheel of existence until they stop their rebirth after attaining Nirvana. The main reason for this difference is owing to mental impulsion of the people at the time when a thought arises in the mind to do good or bad.
 Impartial Energy Those who do not believe that there is an energy known as karma should understand that this karmic energy is not a by-product of any particular religion although Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism acknowledge and explain the nature of this energy. This is an existing universal law which has no religious label. All those who violate this law, have to face the consequences irrespective of their religious beliefs, and those who live in accordance with this law experience peace and happiness in their life. Therefore, this karmic law is unbiased to each and every person, whether they believe it or not; whether, they have a religion or not. It is like any other existing universal law. Please remember that karma is not the exclusive property of Buddhism.
Like the waves of the ocean that flow into one another, one unit of consciousness flows into another and this merging of one thought consciousness into another is called the working of karma. In short, every living being, according to Buddhism, is an electricity current of life that operates on the automatic switch of karma. Karma being a form of energy is not found anywhere in this fleeting consciousness or body. Just as mangoes are not stored anywhere in the mango tree but, dependent on certain conditions, they spring into being, so does karma. Karma is like wind or fire. It is not stored up anywhere in the Universe but comes into being under certain conditions.
Other workings of karma: have you ever wondered, why after a meeting a total stranger, you feel like you had known that person all your life? Or when lovers describe love at first sight? How about people that you just met and they don’t like you?  All products of karmic debts.
As we mentioned already, death is part of life, we are all born with the death certificate in our hands and nobody can change that, then why is when we see death coming, we all try to run away like headless chickens?
To Buddhism, however, death is not the end of life, it is merely the end of the body we inhabit in this life, but our consciousness will still remain and seek out through the need of attachment, attachment to a new body and new life. Where they will be born is a result of the past and the accumulation of positive and negative action, and the resultant karma.
This would lead to the person to be reborn in one of 6 realms which are; heaven, human beings, Asura, hungry ghost, animal and hell.  Realms, according to the severity of ones karmic actions, Buddhists believe however, none of these places are permanent and one does not remain in any place indefinitely. So we can say that in Buddhism, life does not end, merely goes on in other forms that are the result of accumulated karma. Buddhism is a belief that emphasizes the impermanence of lives, including all those beyond the present life.  With this in mind we should not fear death as it will lead to rebirth. But what many fear is to cease to be existent and losing ones identity and foothold in the world.  We are so afraid of what is going to happen with my money, my loved ones, my position.
To clarify again, we don’t believe in a permanent heaven or hell. If we do, how are we going to change and improve?
Buddhist customs during death: Through Buddhist doctrine we are told that the final moment of our consciousness is paramount, the most important moment of all.  If the ill person is in hospital and the diagnosis is grim that the person cannot possibly survived, the family should call in the Buddhist priest to pray for the loved one so that at the final moment, the right state of mind has been generated within the person and they can find their way into a higher state of rebirth as they leave the present lives.
The nurses and family members are not supposed to touch the corpse, having to wait 3-8 hours after breathing ceases before touching the body for any preparation after the death. We Buddhists believe that the spirit of a person will linger on for sometime and can be affected by what happened to the corpse. It is important that the body is treated gently and with respect and that the priest can help the spirit continues its journey calmly to higher states, not causing the spirit to becoming angry and confused and may be more likely to be reborn into the lower realms.
Before the person goes to his next rebirth, they go to the Bardo, a Tibetan word that means “Gap”. The intermediate existence between death and rebirth -- a stage varying from hours to forty-nine days, after which the Karmic body from previous lives will certainly be reborn.
In the Mahayana Buddhism, especially, Vietnamese tradition we pray for the dead for 49 days after passing away, 49 being the estimated time it takes for the spirit to be reborn again into a new life. Some spirits are reborn 3 days, 21 days, 49 days or 100 days after death and in some cases even 7 years.
 Buddhists believe that when a person dies, rebirth will take place somewhere else according to his good or bad actions. As long as the person possesses the craving for existence, he must experience rebirth. Only the people who have gone beyond all passions will have no more rebirths and so after their death, they will attain their final goal Nibbana.
Buddhists are not very particular regarding the burial or cremation of a dead body. In many Buddhist countries, cremation is customary. For hygienic and economic reasons, it is advisable to cremate. Today, the population in the world is increasing and if we continue to have dead bodies occupying valuable land, then one day all remaining available land will be occupied by the dead and the living will have no place to live.
Buddhists do not believe that one day someone will come and awaken the departed person’s spirits from their graveyards or the ashes from their urns and decide who should go to heaven and who should go to hell. The consciousness or mental energy of the departed person has no connection with the body left behind or his skeleton or his ashes. Many people believe that if the deceased is not given a proper burial or if a sanctified tombstone is not placed on the grave, then the soul of the deceased will wander to the four corners of the world and weep and wail and sometimes even return to disturb the relatives. Such a belief cannot be found anywhere in Buddhism.
Rebirth: Unsatisfied desire for existence and sensual pleasures is the cause of rebirth.
The belief in rebirth forms a fundamental tenet of Buddhism. However, the belief in rebirth is not confined to Buddhist; it is also found in other countries, in other religions, and even among free thinkers. Pythagoras could remember his previous birth. Plato could remember a number of his previous lives.
According to Plato, man can be reborn only up to ten times. Plato also believed in the possibility of rebirth in the animal kingdom. Among the ancient people in Egypt and China, a common belief was that only well-known personalities like emperors and kings have rebirths. In 1788, a well-known philosopher, Kant, criticized eternal punishment. Kant also believed in the possibility of rebirth in other celestial bodies. Schopenhauer (1788-1860), another great philosopher, said that where the will to live existed there must be of necessity life. The will to live manifests itself successively in ever new forms. The
Buddha explained this 'will to exist' as the craving for existence.
It is possible but not very easy for us to actually verify our past lives. The nature of mind is such that it does not allow most people the recollection of their previous lives. Our minds are overpowered by the five hindrances: sensual desire, ill-will, sloth, restlessness and doubt. Because of these hindrances, our vision is earth-bound and hence we cannot visualize rebirths.
Just as a mirror does not reflect an image when it is covered with dirt, so the mind does not allow most people the recollection of previous lives. We cannot see the stars during daytime, not because they are not there in the sky, but because they are outshone by the sunlight. Similarly, we cannot remember our past lives because our mind at present is always over-burdened with many thoughts in the present, day-to-day events and mundane circumstances.
The Buddha doctrine of rebirth should be differentiated from the teachings of transmigration and reincarnation of other religions. Buddhism denies the existence of a permanent, god-created soul or an unchanging entity that transmigrates from one life to another. What we ordinarily mean by death is the cessation of the body's vital functions. When the physical body loses its vitality it can no longer support the current of consciousness, the mental side of the process. But as long as there is a clinging to life, a desire to go on existing, the current of consciousness does not come to a stop with the body's loss of life. Rather, when death takes place, when the body dies away, the mental current, driven by the thirst for more existence, will spring up again with the support of a new physical body, one which has just come into being through the meeting of sperm and egg. Thus, rebirth takes place immediately after death. The steam of memory may be interrupted and the sense of identity transferred to the new situation, but the entire accumulation of experience and disposition has been transmitted to the newborn being, and the cycle of becoming begins to revolve for still another term. For Buddhism, therefore, death does not spell either the entrance to eternal life or complete annihilation. It is, rather, the portal to a new rebirth which will be followed by more growth, decay, and then till another death.
Buddhists do not maintain that the present life is the only life between two eternities of misery and happiness; nor do they believe angels will carry them to heaven and leave them there for all eternity. They believe that this present life is only one of the indefinite numbers of states of being and that this earthly life is but one episode among many others. They believe that all beings will be reborn somewhere for a limited period of time as long as their good and bad Karma remains in the subconscious mind in the form of mental energy. The interpretation of the subconscious mind in the Buddhist context should not be confused with that given by modern psychologists since the concepts are not exactly synonymous.
 What is the cause of rebirth? The Buddha taught that ignorance produces desires. Unsatisfied desire is the cause of rebirth. When all unsatisfied desire is extinguished, then rebirth ceases. To stop rebirth is to extinguish all desires. To extinguish desire, it is necessary to destroy ignorance. When ignorance is destroyed, the worthlessness of every such rebirth is perceived, as well as the paramount need to adopt a course of life by which the desire for such repeated births can be abolished. Ignorance also begets the illusive and illogical idea that there is only one existence for man, and the other illusion that this one life is followed by states of eternal pleasure or torment.
Just like in the story we heard about Kisa Gotami, the Buddha taught that ignorance can be dispelled and sorrow removed by realization of the Four Noble Truths, and not through any other source. To disperse all ignorance, one must persevere in the practice of an all-embracing altruism in conduct, intelligence and wisdom. One must also destroy all desire for the lower, personal pleasures and selfish desire. How does rebirth take place? When this physical body is no more capable of functioning, energies do not die with it, but continue to take some other shape or form, which we call another life. The karmic force manifesting itself in the form of a human being can also manifest itself in the form of an animal. This can happen if man has no chance to develop his positive karmic forces. This force, called craving, desire, volition, thirst to live, does not end with the non-functioning of the body but continues to manifest itself in another form, producing re-existence which is called rebirth. Today, there are people in various countries who have spontaneously developed memory of their past births. The experiences of these people have been well-documented in newspapers and periodicals. Some of these people never accepted that there was such a thing as rebirth until memory fragments of their previous lives came to them. Much of the information they revealed about their past lives has been investigated and found to be valid.
Through hypnotism, some people have managed to reveal information of previous lives. Certain hypnotic states that penetrate into the subconscious mind make the recalling of past lives possible. Rebirth or becoming again and again is a natural occurrence not created by any particular religion or god. Belief in rebirth or disbelief does not make any difference to the process of rebirth or avoiding rebirth. Rebirth takes place as long as craving for existence and craving for sensual pleasures or attachment exist in the mind. Those strong mental forces prevail in each and every living being in this universe. Those who hope and pray that they be not born again must understand that their wishes will not materialize until they make earnest efforts to eradicate their craving and attachment. Having seen and experienced the uncertainty and unsatisfactorness of life under worldly conditions, wise people try to rid themselves of these repeated births and deaths by following the correct path.
Those who cannot reduce their craving and attachment must be prepared to face all unsatisfactory and uncertain situations associated with rebirth and becoming again and again.
Is Rebirth Simultaneous? Another difficult thing to understand about rebirth is whether the occurrence of rebirth is simultaneous or not. This is a controversial issue even amongst prominent Buddhist Scholars. For some, rebirth (which happens at the moment of conception) takes place immediately after the death of a being without any intermediate state. At the same time, some others believe that a person, after his death, would evolve into a spirit form for a certain number of days before rebirth takes place. Another interpretation regarding the same belief is that it is not the spirit, but the deceased person's consciousness or mental energy remaining in space, supported by his own mental energies of craving and attachment. However, sooner or later rebirth must take place. The spirits , who are beings born in spirit forms, are unfortunate living beings and their lives in the spirit form is not permanent. It is also a form of rebirth which is temporary.
Another concept that many people cannot understand is that in the process of rebirth a man can be reborn as an animal and an animal can be reborn as a man. The animal nature of the man's mind and the animal way of life adopted by him can condition him to be born as an animal. The condition and behavior of the mind is responsible for the next existence. On the other hand, a person who is born in animal form, owing to certain mental abuses during a previous birth, could be reborn as a human being, if that animal has not committed any serious evil acts. It is a well-known fact that some animals are very intelligent and understanding. This is a clear evidence to prove that they are tending towards the human life. A person who is born as an animal can again be born as a human being when the bad karma which conditioned his birth as an animal is expended and the good karma which was stored becomes dominant.
The Danger of Selfish Desire Craving is a fire which burns in all beings: every activity is motivated by desire. They range from the simple physical desire of animals to the complex and often artificially stimulated desires of the civilized man. To satisfy desire, animals prey upon one another, and human beings fight, kill, cheat, lie and perform various forms of unwholesome deeds. Craving is a powerful mental force present in all forms of life, and is the chief cause of the ills in life. It is this craving that leads to repeated births in the cycle of existence. Once we have realized the cause of suffering, we are in the position to put an end to suffering.
So, how do we put an end to suffering? Eliminate it at its root by the removal of craving in the mind. This is the Third Noble Truth. The state where craving ceases is known as Nibbana. The word Nibbana is composed of 'ni' and 'vana', meaning the departure from or end of craving. This is a state which is free from suffering and rounds of rebirth. This is a state which is not subjected to the laws of birth, decay and death. This state is so sublime that no human language can express it. Nibbana is Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed. If there were not this Unborn, this Unoriginated, this Uncreated, this Unformed, then escape from the conditioned world is not possible.
Nibbana is beyond logic and reasoning. We may engage in highly speculative discussions regarding Nibbana or ultimate reality, but this is not the way to really understand it. To understand and realize the truth of Nibbana, it is necessary for us to walk the Eightfold Path, and to train and purify ourselves with diligence and patience. Through spiritual development and maturity, we will be able to realize the Third Noble Truth. The Noble Eightfold Path is the Fourth Noble Truth which leads to Nibbana. It is a way of life consisting of eight factors. By walking on this Path, it will be possible for us to see an end to suffering.
Because Buddhism is a logical and consistent teaching embracing every aspect of life, this noble Path also serves as the finest possible code for leading a happy life. Its practice brings benefits to oneself and other, and it is not a Path to be practiced by those who call themselves Buddhists alone, but by each and every understanding person, irrespective of his religious beliefs.