Nirvana and Karma
As the Buddhists use it, the term karma applies to the many worlds that have passed away and the many more that are yet to come. They believe in the law of cause and effect: Positive actions build up merit; negative ones detract. Buddhists try to live the good life and believe that good karma causes a person to be reborn in a form that is more enlightened and, therefore, allows for greater progress toward the ultimate goal. According to Buddhism, the ultimate goal is to be released from the law of karma altogether — to attain nirvana.
There is considerable confusion over what “nirvana” means. Nirvana means “to extinguish.” It represents perfect bliss. Followers of Buddha who achieve nirvana are said to have extinguished or conquered their desires. This means that they can avoid the cycle of rebirth.
Nirvana, or ridding yourself of the delusion of ego or freeing yourself the claims of the mundane world is the aim of a Buddhist's religious practice. Compare this to the approach of Hinduism, where the goal is to achieve the atman/Brahman identity. Buddhists teach the concept of anatman, no self. For them, all that exists is the Brahman, the universal soul, and understanding the Brahman brings enlightenment. Those who successfully achieve enlightenment overcome the round of rebirths, thus achieving the final goal.
The teachings of the Buddha were first transmitted orally from one monk or nun to another. They were eventually written down on palm leaf manuscripts in Sri Lanka to create the Dhammapada. Written in Pali, the Indian dialect that the Buddha spoke, and known as the Pali canon, it records the conversations of the Buddha. The book is a wonderful spiritual testimony, one of the very few religious masterpieces in the world. It has been used in Sri Lanka for centuries as a manual for novices; it is said that every monk can recite it from memory. It is also popular in both Theravada and Mahayana traditions, which will be discussed later.
Other written works also contain records of conversations the Buddha had when he was teaching. Three such works were gathered into a Tripitaka or “Three Baskets,” so called because the palm-leaf manuscripts were kept in three woven baskets. The Three Baskets are: Sutta Pitaka, the basket of discourse, attributed to the Buddha; Vinaya Pitaka, the basket of discipline, containing the regulations for monastic life; and Abhidhamma Pitaka, the basket of special doctrine, containing what might be called further knowledge (not entirely attributed to the Buddha, but highly venerated).