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Understanding Karma's relationship to Reincarnation in Buddhism...let me know if I'm on the right

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posted on Jun, 8 2005 @ 03:16 AM
This question is mainly directed to any Buddhists out there, but if anyone else has some insight, feel free to share.

While conversing with a Buddhist monk of the Nichiren order we wove our way around to the topic of Reincarnation. I asked him if what I - I being the operative word - did in this life effected me in the next or if what I did in this life effected the karma of the world.

I will clarify a bit - the reason I asked this question is that I was/am under the assumption that because there is no self in Buddhism, when I die, I will not be reincarnated, but my energy (if you will) will be. I was having problems understanding how if there was no self then how can my karma effect me in my next life? He went on to explain it to me using this metaphor:

What Western society views as one's self is like a wave in the ocean. That wave moves across the ocean's surface until it meets the shore. Upon meeting the shore it crashes and is dispersed into many small fragments of the original wave. Those fragments sink into the sand and eventually drain back into the ocean where many other waves are and will be made and will follow the same cyclical pattern.

Using this metaphor I developed another:

Instead of starting out with an ocean we will start out with a box of marbles. These marbles are of many various colors. If I reach my hand into the box and pull out a handfull this will represent what Western society percieves as one's self - let's call it Bob. Within that handful of marbles (Bob) I have several green, blue, red, yellow, and purple ones. I then drop this handful of marbles back into the box. I then pick up another handful - let's call it Sara - which contains many new marbles of varying colors, yet I have randomly selected a few of the green marbles that were in the other handful.

Note: I understand that some of the terms I am using are not Buddhist friendly words; I am just trying to convey an idea as clearly as possible - don't get hung up on minor technicalities.

Assuming that these metaphors represent the Buddhist belief fairly accurately, I then want to make sure that I understand how karma relates to this reincarnation paradigm.

Using the marble metaphor for clarity, am I correct in concluding that the karma accumulated by the green marbles in the first handful, when dropped back into the box and then scooped up again, will carry their portion of the karma accumulated from that first handful and will be added to the karma that the other individual marbles have collected from their previous handfuls?

- OR -

If when I pick up the second handful will it be the same as the the first? In essence, the first handful I pick up is Bob - then when I drop them back into the box (Bob dies) and I pick up another handful, will I pick up Bob again (transmigration) - his karma continuing in this manner?

I would appreciate any insight or teachings anyone might have on this idea. You can either respond in this thread or e-mail me directly at

[edit on 8-6-2005 by Howard the Dolphin]

posted on Jul, 11 2005 @ 07:46 AM

Right then. First things first - the premise of "the self".

It'd be more accurate if we say that "there is no notion of a permanent self within Buddhism" - not really that there is no self, per se. Rather, we should try not to become attached to the notion of a permanent "I", or "me", as such is an illusion. There is no permanent "me", because "me" is a constantly changing concept that's completely dependent upon other factors.

It can help to look at it like this:

Each individual is made up of five factors that are subject to change. Buddha referred to these as the five khandas. These are:

Material form (the body and its constituents)
Feeling (pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral)
Perception (the operation of the senses)
Mental formations (thoughts but also decision-making)
Consciousness (our sense of being alive)

From this is becomes clear that we're not simply one idea of "self", but rather different facets to one idea, each interdependent, and each impermanent. Thus, there is no permanent "self". Are you then still you, when you reincarnate?

Not...really. Well..yes, in as much as...the bit of you that does reincarnate still carries the same "karmic grooves" as before; all that happens is either they get smoothed out, or added to over time. But not really, because, as stated before, there really isn't any permanent sense of "you".

Now - because I know my limits when I'm understanding this stuff myself...let alone explaining it to someone else....I'm going to end here with a few links that would do the job infinitely better than I'm able!

About "no self"

Bhagavad-Gita; interesting info here, too (though not strictly Buddhist in nature)

Links relating to Buddhism, karma and reincarnation

Lecture on various key Buddhist concepts

What is reincarnation?

Essential source of Buddhist teachings

Happy reading! (though I'm sorry I can't personally add more to this - the experts do it so much better than I!)

posted on Jul, 21 2005 @ 03:18 PM
I think you are correct in understanding that Buddhism does not really have a doctrine of reincarnation (in the way Hinduism does for example) because the notion of a fixed, permanent self, soul, ego, whatever you want to call it, does not in fact exist.

The goal for a Buddhist is to purge themselves of this illusion of the permanent self, and along with it the baggage the goes with it, such as attatchment, greed, envy, etc.

One's karma effects how well one is able to see through the illusion. Imagine one's "soul" as being a little whirlpool that gets created in a river. The whirlpool itself is a kind of nothingness, but we perceive the little whirlpool as being something more and real. In a life, our conduct and thoughts affect the way we perceive the reality of this whirlpool. In a life lived with right thoughts, right actions, etc. (from the 8 noble truths) we begin to realize and experience more and more the immateriality of this whirlpool, this self.

However, it usually takes many life times to come to this realization. When we live selfishly and greedily, we continue to allow the same illusory whirlpool to form over and over. This is what is called samsara.

This is at least the way I have come to understand the relation between karma and rebirth.

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