What is Karma?
Karma is a word to describe an invisible system of keeping balance in the universe. Basically, the law of karma states that whatever we put out into the universe, we get brought back to us. So in other words, if you do good unto others all through your life and make sure you take care of them, the universe will bring you favorable circumstances and conditions that take care of you.
Karma originally came from ancient Tibetan Buddhist texts that have continued to be passed down through the ages since before 500 B.C. However, not only Buddhists believe in karma now days. It is a universal law that is believed to be true by billions of people worldwide, of all races, religions and nationalities.
With the law of karma, you get back to yourself whatever you put out to the universe. It’s essentially the same thing as the Christian golden rule, which states “Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself.”
There is a lot of truth to this theory of the law of karma and many people, myself included, have found it to be true through experience. I have found that when I go out of my way to help people in need, I seem to be rewarded in some way or another by the natural laws of the universe. Good fortune suddenly befalls me from out of nowhere. However, when I refuse to help others and, even worse, when I cause harm to others, bad things eventually come back to me as a result of it.
This article will discuss the implications karma has on the after life, according to ancient Tibetan Buddhist beliefs.
Karma & The After Life
This is where the real meat of the article is, because this is the most relevant way our karma affects us. Our karma carries over with us after death. In fact, in just about every religion out there, you’ll find that they teach this truth. In any Catholic or Christian text, it is taught that those who do good go to heaven and those that do evil go to hell. Even in Muslim faith, the evil are punished and the good are rewarded.
The main difference between all of the other religions and Tibetan Buddhism is that there are more than two places you can go after dying, based on your karma. Some people aren’t necessarily good or evil. Some people are in somewhat of a ‘gray’ area, so how do you account for people like that in Christianity? Does someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus, yet who takes a bullet to save a small child still go to hell when he dies? That doesn’t quite seem fair to a lot of people out there. That’s where Tibetan Buddhism comes in.
In Tibetan Buddhism, there are six different planes of existence in samsara. The word samsara is Tibetan for ‘suffering.’ There are the six planes of suffering and then there is the plane of enlightenment, Universal Consciousness or nirvana — which ever you wish to call it. The only time you are not reincarnated, based on karma is if you have become fully conscious and enlightened in your past life and choose to ascend existence itself.
We’re all still in samsara, however, so the laws of karma still affect how we will be reincarnated after death. The following are the six different planes of cyclic existence, descriptions of what they are like to live in and what kind of karma it takes to be reborn into the specified plane of existence.
The Hell Realm
The hell realm is the lowest realm one can possibly be reincarnated in.
The hell realm in Tibetan Buddhism is quite more fierce and horrible than usually depicted by the christian religions of the world. There are nine cold hells and nine hot hells. Each of the cold hells progressively get colder and colder, the higher up each level you go, while the hot hells get hotter and hotter the lower you go. The cold realms are where evil people who are more ‘cold’ and uncaring and unsympathetic go, while evil people whose primary characteristic is anger go to the hotter hells. The worse the person’s karma is, the lower they go in the hot hells or the higher up the mountains they go in the cold hells.
In the hell realm, you constantly re-appear and die awful, terrible deaths over and over and never get a moment to rest. You are endlessly chased and pursued by frightening demons who endlessly rip out your insides, burn you, carve and eat your flesh, drink your blood and murder you over and over again. The second you die, you instantly re-appear somewhere else in the hell realm and have to experience it all over again.
In the cold hells, you are subjected to extreme freezing temperatures, frost bite, skin that tears and falls off your flesh and blisters. The demons in the cold hells are more focused on attacking you in ways that cause you to freeze.
In the hot hells, the ground you are standing on is constantly the temperature of burning coals or hotter. You can never stand in one place without burning severely and suffering immense pain. The demons in the hot hells primarily attack you with fire or sharp weapons they use to rend your flesh from your bones.
It is important to note that the demons in the hell realm are not ‘fallen angels’ like they are in christian beliefs. Instead, they are creations of your own mind that are projected into the reality around you, based off the horrible things you have done. Therefore, it is impossible to be reincarnated as this type of demon. They are as illusory as the monsters you have faced during nightmares — they seem real while you are dreaming, even though they are just creations of your mind.
Another difference between Tibetan Buddhism hell and Christian hell is that in Christian hell, you are there for all time and eternity. In Tibetan Buddhism hell, you are only there as long as it takes for you to burn up all of your bad karma that got you there in the first place.
The Hungry Ghost [Preta-Loka] Realm
The Hungry Ghost Realm is one step above the Hell Realm. This realm exists on the etheric plane around us in the human realm. Beings reincarnated in this realm can usually see us, but we can not see them.
This is the realm people who possessed both the characteristics of being extremely greedy and stingy as well as never being able to be satisfied are reborn into. These are the people who are never happy with what they have in life. They constantly want more and more and will do anything and hurt anyone to get it.
In the Hungry Ghost Realm, beings are born in deformed, twisted bodies that have tiny throats, tiny mouths and huge nasty pot bellies with tiny little shrunken and emaciated arms and legs. It is extremely difficult and painful for them to move about. They are always starving with the most insatiable appetites one could imagine and they are constantly on the hunt for food. Whenever they happen to even find a crumb of food they can fit through their tiny pin-sized throats, it explodes into fire in their throats, burning them from the inside out.
Eventually, when the negative karma of greed and insatiability that brought them into this realm runs out, their Hungry Ghost body dies and they are reincarnated into a hire realm of rebirth.
This is the realm people who commit suicide are said to be reborn into, if they do not possess enough negative karma for the Hell Realm.
The Animal Realm
Souls who exhibited blind ignorance in their previous lives possess the right kind of karma to be born into the Animal Realm.
These are people who were ignorant in areas such as politics and spirituality, always just accepting the first thing they were ever told to be the truth. They never really cared much to seek truth in their previous lives and they were more concerned about just how they would keep themselves satisfied. These ignorant people don’t like to think deeply about things and simply act on primitive instincts such as hunger, fear, desire for sex, etc. The more ignorant the person was, the least favorable type of animal they are born as. For example, someone who was just mildly ignorant, may be reborn as a silver back gorilla, while someone who was disgustingly ignorant is likely to be reborn as a cockroach or a sewer rat.
The Animal Realm isn’t usually as harsh as the Hell and Hungry Ghost realms, but it is certainly a cold, uncaring world for animals. In the Animal Realm, you are always on your toes running from predators or searching for your next meal and struggling to survive.
Even for those privileged enough to be born as a pet, their owners may sometimes abuse them or forget to feed or water them and this causes great suffering for the animal.
The Human Realm
The Human Realm is said to be the most favorable realm to be reborn in, because it is the only realm in which we can find enlightenment. In the lower realms such as the hell, hungry ghost and animal realms, we are too busy suffering or are in too much pain or ignorance to find enlightenment. In the higher realms, we are too busy distracted by pleasurable activities to find enlightenment. The human realm provides just the right balance between pleasure and pain to create the perfect soil for finding enlightenment.
It takes a perfect blend of all of the types of karma associated with the other five realms in order to be reborn in the human realm. We all worked very hard for this opportunity, so let’s not mess it up for ourselves.
While humans are capable of enjoying a good amount of pleasure throughout their lifetimes, we are also exposed to all of the negative emotions that are felt in the other realms such as anger, greed, ignorant desire and jealousy.
A life in the human realm is no easy task for most, beings.
The Jealous God [Asura] Realm
This is the realm just short of the God Realm, which is the highest of all six of the realms of existence. The beings who are reborn in this realm, possess high amounts of good karma from their past lives, but were still overwhelmingly jealous.
Jealous Gods (or Asura) exist in the same physical space as the Gods, similar to how animals exist in the same realm as humans. They are constantly waging war against the Gods, because they are jealous of them and they want their power. Asura are very powerful, but nowhere near as powerful as the actual Gods. While the Gods power comes from their own minds and will, the Asura must rely on technology to give them power. Nonetheless, the Asura are extremely intelligent beings capable of making technology that give them powers that are almost equal to those of the God’s.
These Demi-Gods live naturally long and usually pleasure filled life spans lasting around 1,000 years in length.
The God Realm
The God Realm, or the Deva-Loka, is the highest of all of the six realms of existence. In the God Realm, beings can live up to as long as an eon, before they die and are reborn in a lower realm. In this realm, the Gods are subject to overwhelming states of pleasure and bliss. All of their senses are heightened and every pleasurable sensation is multiplied by a thousand to them.
Upon being born in this realm, each God is given their own world. In these worlds, they can create and experience anything their heart desires. It has been described as being like an extremely long lucid dream.
The only hardship one must face in this real
m is the nuisance of the Asura who are extremely jealous of the Gods and who periodically launch attacks against them, to overthrow them. It is extremely hard to kill a God, however, so the Asura usually prove to be no more of a nuissance to the gods than mosquitoes are to us.In order to be reborn in this realm, one must have accumulated extremely high amounts of good karma over the course of many life times. It is very difficult to earn enough good karma in one life time to be reborn into this realm.