Karma (from Sanskrit: action, work) is the force that drives SamsÄra, the cycle of suffering and rebirth for each being. Good, skillful (PÄli: kusala) and bad, unskillful (PÄli: akusala) actions produce "seeds" in the mind which come to fruition either in this life or in a subsequent rebirth. The avoidance of unwholesome actions and the cultivation of positive actions is called ÅÄ«la (from Sanskrit: ethical conduct).
In Buddhism, Karma specifically refers to those actions (of body, speech, and mind) that spring from mental intent (cetana), and which bring about a consequence (or fruit, phala) or result (vipÄka).
Every time a person acts there is some quality of intention at the base
of the mind and it is that quality rather than the outward appearance
of the action that determines its effect.
In Theravada Buddhism there can be no divine salvation or forgiveness for one's Karma,
since it is a purely impersonal process that is a part of the make up
of the universe. Some Mahayana traditions however hold different views.
For example, the texts of certain Sutras (such as the Lotus Sutra, the Angulimaliya Sutra and the Nirvana Sutra)
claim that reciting or merely hearing their texts can expunge great
swathes of negative Karma. In like fashion, some forms of Buddhism
(e.g. East-Asian tantric Buddhism) regard the recitation of mantras as
a means for cutting off previous negative karma. Similarly, the Japanese Pure Land teacher Genshin taught that Buddha Amitabha has the power to destroy the Karma that would otherwise bind one in Saá¹sÄra.
Rebirth refers to a process whereby beings go through a succession
of lifetimes as one of many possible forms of sentient life, each
running from conception to death. It is important to note, however, that Buddhism rejects concepts of a permanent self or an unchanging, eternal soul, as it is called in Christianity or even Hinduism. As there ultimately is no such thing as a self (anatta)
according to Buddhism, rebirth in subsequent existences must rather be
understood as the continuation of a dynamic, ever-changing process of
"dependent arising" (PratÄ«tyasamutpÄda) determined by the laws of cause and effect (Karma) rather than that of one being, "jumping" from one existence to the next.
Each rebirth takes place within one of five realms, according to Theravadins, or six according to other schools. These are further subdivided into 31 planes of existence:
- Naraka beings: those who live in one of many Narakas (Hells)
- Animals: sharing some space with humans, but considered another type of life
- Preta: sometimes sharing some space with humans, but invisible to most people; an important variety is the hungry ghost
- Human beings: one of the realms of rebirth in which attaining Nirvana is possible
variously translated as lowly deities, demons, titans, antigods; not
recognized by Theravada (Mahavihara) tradition as a separate realm.
- Devas including Brahmas: variously translated as gods, deities, spirits, angels, or left untranslated
Rebirths in some of the higher heavens, known as the ÅuddhÄvÄsa Worlds (Pure Abodes), can be attained only by anÄgÄmis (non-returners). Rebirths in the arupa-dhatu (formless realms) can be attained only by those who can meditate on the arupa-jhÄnas.
According to East Asian and Tibetan Buddhism
, there is an intermediate state
) between one life and the next. The orthodox Theravada commentorial position rejects this; however there are passages in the Samyutta Nikaya
of the Pali Canon
(the collection of texts on which the Theravada tradition is based),
that seem to lend support to the idea that the Buddha taught of an
intermediate stage between one life and the next.