There are three different goals for Buddhists. The first goal is to go to heaven. The second goal is for peace of mind here and now. And the last, and highest goal, is to attain nirvana. Let’s look at each of these goals.
The Goal of Heaven
The Buddha said:
The first assurance he has won is this: “If there is another world, and if there is the fruit and result of good and bad deeds, it is possible that with the breakup of the body, after death, I will be reborn in a good destination, in a heavenly world” (AN 3.65 Bodhi).
It might seem strange to some people, but Buddhism also teaches the way to get to heaven. The Buddha was clear, “evil-doers go to hell; the good go to heaven” (Dhp 126 Radhakrishnan).
The way to heaven is the path of doing good deeds with a pure motive. This result is based on the law of karma, that what a person sows they will reap. Even the Christian Bible agrees with the Buddha, “A man reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7 NIV). And remember the Buddha lived 500 years before the birth of Christianity.
But Buddhism is different than Christianity. There is no forgiveness, only retribution. In Buddhism, the murderer doesn’t get to go to heaven by simply saying a little prayer. Karma requires the penalty to be paid by spending time in hell. You do the crime, you do the time.
But Buddhism is not completely unreasonable. In Christianity, everyone is born a sinner and is headed for everlasting hell. It doesn’t matter how good or bad you are. It doesn’t matter how many good deeds you have done. Everybody gets the same penalty – everlasting hell. Ridiculous!
With Buddhism, you reap the appropriate penalty or reward depending upon whether or not your thoughts, words, and deeds were good or bad. And heaven and hell are temporary. They are not everlasting. There are longer sentences for those people who did worse things. The penalty, in other words, matches the crime.
But for those who do good, the rewards also match the goodness done. Heaven is longer and better for the person doing the most good in thought, word, and deed. And this takes into consideration one’s motives. Unselfishly promoting the good of others is the path to heaven.
The Goal of Peace of Mind
The Buddha said:
The second assurance he has won is this: “If there is no other world, and there is no fruit and result of good and bad deeds, still right here, in this very life, I maintain myself in happiness, without enmity and ill will, free of trouble” (AN 3.65 Bodhi).
There is now solid scientific evidence to back up the Buddha’s claim that his path of practice leads to peace of mind. Just look in the psychology section of your local bookstore. There you will find book after book about how mindfulness will help you find psychological health, peace, and wellness.
What some people may not realize is that all this teaching about mindfulness originates in Buddhism. Psychologists have purposely removed the overt Buddhist labels, but under the hood it is Buddhism.
I can only add my own testimony. Buddhism has done more for me in the last decade of my life than Christianity ever did. Buddhism has made me calmer, nicer, and wiser. My meditation practice has truly transformed my heart and life, as well as given me peace of mind.
The Goal of Nirvana
The Buddha said:
Some enter the womb; evil-doers go to hell; the good go to heaven; those free from worldly desires attain nirvana (Dhp 126 Radhakrishnan).
The other two goals are fine, but they can be found in other religions. Only Buddhism can offer you the path to “attain nirvana.” Nirvana means to “blow out” the fires of attraction, aversion, and delusion. It is these three fires that bind on to conditioned existence. Nirvana frees one from conditioned existence.
In order to attain nirvana, you need more than morality and meditation, you need wisdom. In Buddhism, wisdom is insight into the true nature of reality. It is the discernment that allows one to see past the illusions of permanence, self, and happiness in a realm of captivity and lostness.
So nirvana requires the full implementation of the Noble Eightfold Path. As the Dhammapada states, “Of all the paths the Eightfold Path is the best…. This is the only path; there is none other for the purification of insight” (273-274 Buddharakkhita). Only in Buddhism can you d=find the escape from samsara, the captivity of repeated rebirths.
As Buddhists, we must meet people where they are. Some have the goal of a better rebirth. Others just want a little peace of mind in the here and now. But others, who see the dangers of samsara, strive for nirvana.
Guide each person on their path, according to their needs and goals. Love them but don’t push them. If they are ready, they will seek. If they are not seeking, then they are not ready. Do good but be silent.