Buddhists Go to Heaven --
had the good fortune of speaking about Buddhist afterlife
to a number of Christians. One of the things that prompted
me to investigate Buddhist afterlife was giving a talk at
Central Juvenile Hall. A Catholic girl said I was going to
hell, because I didn't believe in God and Jesus Christ.
After some reflection I had to agree with her... If I were
a Christian, and thought like a Buddhist, I probably would
go to Christian hell.
do Buddhists even go to Christian heaven or hell in the first
place? Or do Buddhists have their own afterlife, complete
with heaven and hell?
question arose in my mind... If a good Catholic married a
good Buddhist and they lived happily ever after, when they
died were they going to the same place? Most Catholics I have
asked... answer, "Of course, there is only one place
you can go."
thought to myself... not so fast... where did all the Buddhists,
Hindus and goddess worshippers go before Christ came to the
world? Was the Christian heaven already in place even before
Christ was born? Have all the pre-Christians ended up in Christian
train of thought prompted me to investigate Buddhist afterlife.
Buddhist contribution to afterlife, it turns out is Nirvana.
Nirvana is the end of suffering while you're alive, and the
end of rebirth after you die. The Buddha said all forms of
life are unsatisfactory because of birth, sickness, and old
age; eventually you will end up suffering if your alive.
so what happens to a Buddhist if he doesn't reach Nirvana
in his or her lifetime; where does he or she go?
Buddha borrowed from the Brahmanic tradition: the concept
of karma had been established in India by the time of the
Buddha, and heavens and hells were part of the cosmology as
well. The Buddha used these concepts to explain Rebirth, and
life after death.
I brought these ideas up in a conversation with a Catholic
friend, and he said in an amusing way, "Maybe a skillful
Buddhist will go to heaven, and a really skillful Buddhist
will go to Nirvana." As it turns out, he hit the nail
right on the head.
do go to heaven if their practice is skillful, and to hell
if it's unskilful. But, never to Christian heaven or hell.
How many heavens and hells do Buddhists have? ...A lot!
There was a book published in 1997 called... Buddhist
Cosmology, Philosophy and Origins, by Akira Sadakata,
Kosei Publications. It goes into a very detailed explanation
of the various heavens and hells. I've found as many as 33
heavens and 33 hells listed as possible destinations, but
I'm going to simplify it, and talk about the six realms of
has a best heaven. Everything is just the way you want it
to be. In this heaven, there is no reason to change anything.
You are ultimately happy. The problem is that it's not permanent,
as is everything in Buddhism. One day in the heaven realm
is equal to 400 human years, and your stay is four thousand
heaven years, so you will be there a really long time.
But, one day the karma that put you in this heaven will be
used up. You are only in heaven as long as your Karma account
has merit in it. You can only draw from your Karma account
while in heaven, because there in no way to make a deposit.
You can't practice generosity or compassion, and you're not
striving to gain wisdom. When the karma that put you in heaven
is used up... you're reborn... And that would probably make
a lot of folks really unhappy. Who wants to leave a perfect
second heaven realm, which is a lower one, is where things
are almost perfect. I call this the Donald Trump heaven. It
could be better, if only you owned one more building or house.
You see, there is still some desire associated with this heaven
realm, and so it can't ever be perfect.
next realm is the human realm, where all of us find ourselves
in this lifetime. This is the best place for us to be, because
this is the only place we can become enlightened. We cannot
become enlightened in heaven, things are too nice, and we
have no reason to strive. We cannot become enlightened in
hell, because things are so bad, all we do is suffer.
In this human rebirth, we have enough happiness and joy to
keep us from taking our own lives, and we experience anxiety
and fear to keep us striving. We cannot relax too long in
any one mental state as a human, because all things are in
a constant state of flux.
next lower realm, is the animal realm. The animal realm is
marked by wanting to have sex, wanting to have food, wanting
to have sleep, and being totally confused. Those are the four
characteristics found in the animal realm. So you can see,
we are not likely to become enlightened as an animal.
A Zen question-- Does a dog have Buddha nature?-- comes to
mind. Yes, a dog does have the potential to become
enlightened, but only as a human.
animals be reborn as humans beings? Yes, if they come into
contact with the Dharma, see a Buddhist temple, or smell incense
burning. The contact can plant a Dharma seed which takes root
when they're reborn as humans. They can achieve their full
potential and become enlightened, but only as a human being.
So, it's up to all of us to help our pets be reborn in the
next realm is called the hungry ghost realm. The hungry ghost
is often pictured as a giant creature, with a large stomach
and a pinhole for a mouth. It can never end it's hunger no
matter how much it eats, it never finds satisfaction.
the hell realm, the worst place, you find the most suffering.
Your are given little hell bodies when you enter. Then, one
day you might be walking through a forest, when all the leaves
on a tree turn into razor blades and fall, cutting you into
a million pieces. You cry out in pain, and your hell body
resurrects, so you can be killed over and over again.
only way to get out of the hell realm is to burn through the
karma that put you there. Suffering is the only act of purification
in hell, and much suffering is necessary before the next rebirth.
do Buddhists go to heaven? ...Yes they do!... Do Buddhists
go to hell? ...Yes they do!... Do Buddhists go to Christian
heaven or hell? ...No they don't!!!
the Buddhist model of afterlife, there are specific practices
necessary to achieve rebirth in heaven, and more important,
there are specific practices necessary to attain Nirvana.
Buddha did not leave afterlife up to chance. Just because
a person says he's a Buddhist does not ensure rebirth in heaven
or Nirvana. The Buddhist path to afterlife is a labor of intensive
practice that requires personal responsibility.
no surprise that we are going to die, but how many people
think about their next lifetime? If you're a Buddhist it's
important to look at life as a continuum, as a process of
birth and death, a constant state of becoming, and a chance
To explain rebirth, I like the analogy of going to an airport
with a suitcase. I put the suitcase on a conveyor belt so
it can be loaded into the luggage compartment of the airplane.
But, I am not getting on the plane, just the suitcase. The
suitcase contains my karmic energy. When the karmic energy
gets to its new destination, my next lifetime picks up the
suitcase. But, I didn't get on the plane, because my ticket
had expired... It's not really me that picks up the suitcase...
It's because of me that there is suitcase is pick up.
suitcase may be almost empty of good karma because of a past life of unskillful
activity. It may have only one set of clothes and no shoes...
But, I'm not predestined to be poor and homeless. Through
acts of kindness and generosity, I can start filling the suitcase
with good karma.
I can turn rags into riches through good thoughts, good speech,
and good actions. I'm in charge, and my life is what I make
all is said and done? For a Buddhist heaven is not the real
answer, just an option.
Nirvana is the answer to suffering and rebirth!
Practice everyday... There is very little time left. Think
about death often, it will give your life urgency. Exercise
and good health allow you to die in the slowest way possible.
May you see nirvana in this very lifetime.