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How To Understand The Wheel of Life: Karma and Rebirth According to Religions

Updated on April 11, 2013

All sages, being the great teachers of the world, concerned themselves with educating the people in matters of the spirit, God, or in Eastern terms Heaven. Understanding the divine justice of God and the divine laws that govern our existence is fundamental to grasping all matters of the spirit. The laws of karma and rebirth are one way to gain insight into the meaning of our existence.

The sages gave clear evidence concerning the laws of karma. Sakyamuni Buddha said, “At the end of one’s life while the body is still warm, all the good and evil deeds of one’s whole life will appear instantly.” From the Surangama Sutra.

In the Cow Sura, in the Koran, Muhammad said,

“And guard yourselves against a day in which ye will be brought back to Allah. Then every soul will be paid in full that which it hath earned and they will not be wronged.”

In the Holy Bible, it is said in Proverbs 22:8, “He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity, and the rod of his anger shall fail.” Hosea 8:7: “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind, it hath no stalk: the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up”

In the I Ching or Book of Change, it is said, “The family that accumulates goodness is sure to have superabundant happiness, and the family that accumulates evil is sure to have superabundant misery.”

Lao Tze said in the Tao Teh Ching, “Those bold in daring to do, leads to kill. Those bold in daring not leads to life. Of these two, either may benefit or harm. Some things are detested by Heaven, but who knows why? Even a sage is baffled by it. The Way of Heaven does not contend, yet skillfully overcomes. Rewarding without words, coming without call. Leisurely, yet skillfully designs. The net of Heaven is so vast, loose in meshes, yet losing nothing.” TaoTeh Ching, Chapter 73, F.S Huang Translation.

Karma and Rebirth in Taoism:

Taoism has many mystical transmissions. The Tai-Shang GanYin Pien is a famous mystic transmission by Tai Shang Lao Chun. This tractate illustrates the Taoist view of karma. “There are no special doors for calamity and happiness (in men’s lot): they come as men themselves call them. Their recompenses follow good and evil as the shadow follows the substance.

Accordingly, in heaven and earth there are spirits that take account of men’s transgressions, and, according to the lightness or gravity of their offenses, take away from their term of life. When that term is curtailed, men become poor and reduced, and meet with many sorrows and afflictions. All (other) men hate them; punishments and calamities attend them; good luck and occasions for felicitation shun them; evil stars send down misfortunes on them. When their term of life is exhausted they die.”

There also are the Spirit-rulers in the three pairs of the Thai stars of the Northern Bushel over men’s heads, which record their acts of guilt and wickedness, and take away (from their term of life) a period of twelve years or of a hundred days.

There also are the three Spirits of the recumbent body which reside within a man’s person. As each Kang-Shan day comes round, they forthwith ascend to the court of Heaven, and report men’s deeds of guilt and transgression. On the last day of the moon, the spirit of the earth does the same.

In the case of every man’s transgressions, when they are great, twelve years are taken from his term of life; when they are small a hundred days. Transgressions, great and small, are seen in several hundred things. He who wishes to seek for long life must first avoid these.”

Karma and Rebirth In Kontzeism:

Reincarnation is a fact firmly believed by the followers of Kontzeism, Taoism, and Buddhism. The I Ching (The Book of Change), the Great Appendix, Section One, Chapter Four illustrates the Kontzeist viewpoint of life after death: “The I (I Ching) was made in accordance with the principle of heaven and earth, and therefore it can embrace the truth of the universe. Looking up, observes the phenomena of the heaven, and, looking down, examines the geography of the earth—thus a sage knows the causes of darkness and light. He traces things to their beginning, and follows them to their end; Thus he knows what can be said about death and life. Essence and Chi form body, and the wandering soul transforms its existence—thus he knows the characteristics of ghosts and spirits.”

Karma and Rebirth According to Buddhism:

The Buddhist view of the ‘Six Planes of Existence’ can be found in the Ting Chung- hu, or Records of the Transmigration in Five Planes of Existence1:

“When the Bodhisattva obtained the Deva-eyes, he observed sentient beings transmigrating in five planes of existence. As soon as they died in heaven, they would be reborn in the human world; as soon as they died in the human world, they would be reborn in heaven. As soon as they died in heaven, they would be reborn in the plane of the hungry ghost; as soon as they died in the plane of the hungry ghost, they would be reborn in heaven again. As soon as they died in heaven, they would be reborn in the plane of animals; as soon as they died in the plane of animals, they would be reborn in heaven. As soon as they died in heaven, they might still be reborn in heaven, as the beings might remain in planes of hell, hungry ghosts, etc.

As soon as they died in the realm of desire, they would be reborn in the realm of form or formlessness. As soon as they died in the realm of form or formlessness, they would be reborn in the realm of desire, etc., etc. And as with heaven and its counterparts, and with desire and its counterparts, so it is with the living hell and the black rope hell, the gathering hell and the avici hell; with the boiling urine hell, the coal pit hell, the burning woods hell, and Mahapadma hell. So it is with womb and egg, egg and womb.

Upon seeing this, the Bodhisattva generated the mind of great compassion, ‘I am not able to help sentient beings; they may enjoy worldly happiness, but when the happiness is over, they take on suffering. I could benefit them with the eternal happiness of the Buddhahood and Nirvana, but how can I accomplish this? I must be perseverant so that I may obtain real nature of all dharma. Then with the aid of the other paramitas, I shall be able to help sentient beings. This is the Energetic Perseverance Paramita of the Bodhisattva.”

The concept of rebirth is based upon the teachings of the sages. To the followers of Lao Tze, Kon Tze and Sakyamuni Buddha, reincarnation is an indisputable truth. To Muslims and Christians, this truth would appear to be more obscure.

According to Buddhism, all sentient beings within the Triple World transmigrate within the ‘Six Divisions of the Wheel of Rebirth.’ Human beings cannot exclude themselves from this circulation.


Due to ignorance, delusion, and the false concept of ego, man violates his conscience and produces evil actions. According to the ‘Law of Causation’, where there is cause, there is an effect. Therefore, delusion and action are the cause, suffering (birth, old age, illness, and death) is the effect. The power of karma controls all souls; there is no release from it on the wheel of existence.

The Six Divisions of Karma:

God or Heaven endowed us with a pure soul. When the soul loses the way home, it cannot go back to the Origin, so it wanders without end. The Sutra of Observing the Field of Heart states: “All sentient beings transmigrate in the six divisions of karma, like the turning wheel.”

Through ignorance and committing sins, one will always remain involved in one of the ‘Six Great Divisions of Karma’, also called ‘The Six Inductions to the Soul.’ The Lotus Sutra states, “The six divisions are the places where the life and the death of sentient beings are inducted.” Sentient beings are inducted to the SixDivisions following the powerful pull of their karma.

The Six Great Divisions of Karma:

Heavenly Beings, Human Beings, Asuras, Animals, Hungry Ghosts and Hell Beings. These are also referred to as the Six Realms within the Triple World. Life’s object is to find a way out of this never-ending cycle of life and death. Bodhidharma said, “Life and death are serious matters. If people do not seek a way for deliverance, they will always fall into the transmigration of life and death.”

There are people who do not believe in the justice of God and believe life’s occurrences are purely chance. From the Ting Chung-Hu Sutra, Abbot Yin Kwang of Pu To Mountain said, “Mortals are unaware of the conditions of pre-existence since, in life, the virtuous man suffers while the wicked man receives blessings. Therefore, morals hold that the law of rewards and punishments is not strictly enforced. In contrast, those who are acquainted with the power of knowing previous transmissions are convinced that the said laws have indeed been enforced without the slightest deviation. Therefore, Mu Chang-Ah, who died a natural death, was not fortunate, whilst Yang Chi-Sheng, who died a violent death, was fortunate; for these cases have developed respectively according to the cause and effects of their previous existence. Rewards vary in different ways and cannot be judged only on the basis of the present life.

The Buddhist sutra mentioned three kinds of rewards: rewards in the existing life, rewards in the next life, and rewards in a distant life. Rewards in the existing life mean that one suffers or receives blessings as a result of the evil or virtue of his present existence; these are known by mortals.

Rewards in the next life mean that evil or merits done in the present may lead to sufferings or blessings in the future; these are unknown to ordinary people, but known to God, ghosts, and fairies. Rewards in a distant life means that merits or evil done in the present life are to be rewarded with blessings or sufferings in the 3rd, 4th, or nth future existence. Heavenly fairies can foresee the blessings or sufferings rewarded within the 3rd, 4th. or 1,000th future existence; Sravakas, with dharma eyes, can foresee the rewards in the 50 thousandth, 69 thousandth, up to the 80 thousandth future existence. But as for those rewarded in the indefinite future, only the Tathagata with Buddha eyes can see those.”

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