A well known book ‘Anyone Can Go to Heaven, Just be Good‘ published in Malaysia, suggests exactly what it’s title suggests. According to Buddhism, what happens after you die depends on how you have lived your life. Live in a good, bright and wholesome way, and you will rise ‘up’ to heavenly realms. Do bad and you will gain a lower rebirth, either in the human, animal, ghost or hell realms.
While many westerners like the idea of meditation and enlightenment, any talk on past/future lives is a sticky point. The fact is that you don’t know. And anything else is speculation.
But speculate we will.
Personally I’d be happier (now) if death of the body is complete and final. I didn’t ask to be born, and now I don’t want to die. Not a process I am keen to perpetuate.
Remember though that the Buddha did teach that rebirth is real. And that being reborn over and over in the different realms (Samsara) is not something to aspire to. Enlightenment takes you out of this system. Unfortunately for Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and others, that does not mean extinction (God is Not
Now finally, according to the news, the Vatican is agreeing.
“Atheists should be seen as good if they are good people,” said the new Pope, in a display of logic that is simply splendid. This is a big shift for the Catholic Church; to consider that a person is good or bad depending on their actions, rather than the religious club they belong to.
Suttas report similar sentiments in the Buddha’s time where the Brahmin priests considered themselves pure and holy due to their birth lineage. The Buddha was something of a revolutionary of the time for teaching that it is your own behaviour that is important, not your belief, bloodline or rituals performed.
“Even Atheists,” are redeemed, the Pope continued, removing any moral necessity to look after your behaviour. [article] Karma on the other hand, says you will inherit consequences from your actions. A life well lived will lead to a favourable birth, just as ghee in a pot thrown in a pond and cracked open, will float to the surface. A life lived badly is like a pot of stones – after it cracks on the pond bottom, the stones stay there. There is no God in control of it all, it is a natural mechanism.
The Pope picks up on Not Killing as an area of common ground between Buddhists and Catholics. Both religions prohibit killing. He does not mention that in Buddhism this includes animals also, animals that in Christianity have been put on Earth for the use by mankind (well … our world would not work without them!). He also did not mention that while we have this clause of not killing in common, Buddhists seemingly break the Commandment not to bow to graven idols. Maybe breaking this commandment wipes out our merit for being kind to living animals?
That is the trouble with ‘Commandments’. You have been told. Whereas with a precept, we can adopt the behaviour through seeing its benefit. We try not to kill animals not because we have been told, but because we see the benefit of practising compassion for all beings. And if we have spent time not following the precept, we can always renew our commitment. 2500 years ago lay people used to go to the forest to practise with the monks, and take the precepts just for the day. These were never meant to be lifelong vows or commandments.
The new Pope also had a message for Buddhists in particular. We should work together…
… “on the basis of the genuine patrimony of our religious traditions, to create a climate of peace to love, defend and promote human life.” and to “unmask the threats to human life and to awaken the ethical consciousness of our respective followers.” [article]
In this the Vatican is following the zeitgeist of our times, which just so happens to agree with Buddhist principles. And he is to be applauded for this, for bringing the Catholic church up to date by denouncing sectarianism.
But we should remember that religion is not just about ethics and morality. There are deeper underlying goals to be attained.