The other day, someone asked me if I am a Buddhist. The reason I was asked is because Wesak Day is just around the corner.
I am a Buddhist by birth. To be more exact, I was born into the Chinese Mahayana Buddhist family who also practices some Taoist rites which is quite common in Malaysia. Later in my life, I got a bit confused with religion and did some self study on Buddhism as well as on Christianity and Islam. I figured and arrived at the conclusion that Buddhism fits me the most. I admire the intellectual and logical approach that the Buddha encouraged, one that is not based on superstitions, hearsay, blind faith, emotions and that sort. The logic and rational way of the Buddha, the Middle Path, self-reliance and the idea that one is responsible for their own actions and fate and not relying on external force and blame fate, all appealed very much to me. And I thought that the Buddha said explicitly of the non-existence of the soul and a supreme being/creator all made a lot of sense to me.
However, I cannot consider myself a true Buddhist as I do not believe (yet) one key concept of Buddhism and that is the concept of Re-Birth.
I believe that this life is all we have and we make the most out of this life, not only for ourselves but also for other people and our environment. The purpose of my being on earth and doing good is so that I create good karmas which I hope will benefit myself in this life and other people, especially people I love. For me, my karmas, whether good or bad, are created and reciprocated in this life alone. My karma will die with me. BUT, the effect of my karma will last longer than me and will outlive me. It does not, however, has any effect on me after I die.
For example, if I am an evil polluter of the environment, destroying the environment for profit, I am creating bad karmas. This bad karma has many consequences and in many dimensions. However, for me personally, I could get caught and get fined/jailed, I could be ridiculed and hated by people, or I could get lucky and nothing happens to me while I enjoy the money that I have milked out of the environment. If I die, that’s it for me. Nothing affects me anymore.
However, my bad karma will continue to outlive me. The environment can become so bad, other people may die. My family may get sued or get hated by people and thus making the life of my family members hell, etc.
The same is true for good karmas that I have created. My good deeds may not have been rewarded in this life and if I die, that’s it. I won’t get anything out of the good deeds that I have done since there is no such rebirth for me to get the benefit of my good deeds in this life. However, my good deeds may have made other people’s life better, made my family members better loved etc. My good deeds will outlive me but once I die, my karma has no effect on me personally.
So one is tempted to ask, if there is no such thing as karma and rebirth, why is it that some people are born rich and some are born poor? Why is it that some people are born healthy and some are born sick etc? How does one account for this?
To my mind right now, this is just pure chance and there need not be an explanation for it, the same as there need not be an explanation on how the universe began. There is no need for a reason. It just happened! Why can’t things just happen? The fact that we humans need an explanation for everything is a human weakness. I am not saying that this is bad. No, in fact this human trait is admirable but not all things need to have an explanation of how it began because there simply is none. Because this idea could not be comprehended, humans create the idea of a Creator and because there is really no answers to many questions that we have, we created the idea of Faith. With the Creator and Faith, we believe we have found our answers, but is this really so or is this simply an illusion and a delusion for us to give peace to our heart?
The Buddha has spoken, according to the records, on Karma and this was recorded in the Culakammavibhanga Sutta. I still have problem believing in him there.
Given that I cannot yet believe in this idea, I cannot also believe in reincarnation and rebirth and these being the tenets of Buddhism, how can I call myself a Buddhist?