Karma, Rebirth, Heaven and Hell

For many Buddhist seekers in the West, doubt, particularly about kamma (karma), rebirth, and the various planes of existence (heavenly and hell realms. etc) mentioned in the texts, is one of the biggest hindrances standing between them and the benefits of practice.

As someone who was once a hard-lined atheist, I was skeptical about these notions as well, but I’ve since come to learn that the seemingly irrational parts of Buddhism don’t really matter much, and can be easily interpreted in a simple yet accurate way.

Kamma is a way to describe the causes and effects that naturally arise from our volitional activities. Each action results in an immediate (macro) or subtle (micro) reaction that effects our experience within our environments.

Rebirth is the recycling of our elemental aggregates (khandhas) into a new life form. There’s nothing supernatural about this process, and no souls or anything magical are being passed. This is very much aligns with the law of conservation of energy.

And the heavenly and hell realms described in the texts aren’t like those proclaimed by the Abrahmic scriptures. “Heaven” and “hell” in Buddhism are temporary states—the conditions of which are the byproduct of its inhabitants, similar to pleasant or hostile conditions that are created by the inhabitants of a country.

Is Buddhism Violent?

TL;DR: No, it’s not.

Violence committed by a handful of “monks” in Burma cannot be used as an example of “Buddhist violence.” Most Buddhists see these acts in the same way most Christians see members of the Westboro Baptist Church. Their behavior alone invalidates them from being Buddhist, just as worshiping the devil would invalidate someone from being a Christian or a Muslim.

Imagine if a group of “atheists” went out and announced, “We accept Jesus as our Lord and savior!” while still claiming to be atheist. Would it then make sense to conclude that atheism is a Christian philosophy? Of course not. Anyone can claim to be anything, but if their actions are not in tune with the philosophy they supposedly adhere to, those people cannot be used as a representation of that philosophy.

The canonical Buddhist texts take a very clear and strong stance against any form of violence or hatred. Additionally, you won’t find any discourses in the texts that condone violence or hatred. If a person intentionally and repeatedly inflicts harm on other sentient beings, that person cannot rightfully call themselves a Buddhist.

“Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal. There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.”
Dhp I 5-6

Dharma Basics

The Buddha summarized his teachings very succinctly in the 22nd sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya: “One thing and one thing only do I teach, suffering and how to end suffering.” [1]

This is expanded upon by the Four Noble Truths, which—in essence—state: 1) dissatisfaction exists, 2) it exists because we cling, 3) therefore we should stop clinging, 4) following the Eightfold Path can mitigate our clinging and dissatisfaction. [2].

And the Eightfold Path [3], in short, is:

  • Right View: accept reality
  • Right Intention: strive toward frugality and goodwill
  • Right Speech: avoid deceptive, harmful, and idle speech
  • Right Action: avoid killing, stealing, etc
  • Right Livelihood: pursue careers that don’t harm others
  • Right Effort: act with diligence
  • Right Mindfulness: value the moment
  • Right Concentration: meditate

And that’s pretty much it.

[1] The Snake Simile (MN 22)
[2] Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion (SN 56.11)
[3] Eightfold Path for the Householder

Buddhist Resources






Samyutta Nikaya


The Buddhist “bible” is called the Tipitaka. It’s a massive collection of texts that were first compiled by the Fourth Buddhist Council in 29 BCE. It’s divided into 5 nikayas (volumes). One of my favorite nikayas is the Samutta Nikaya, the 3rd volume, pictured here. As you can likely tell from the thickness of this book, the Buddha had a lot more to say than the handful of inspirational quotes floating around on social media.