Most people have heard of the Buddhist idea of Karma, but very few people know the Buddhism view of the afterlife. Does Buddhism believe in an afterlife? What is Buddhism reincarnation like? How does it work? Can I really come back as a cow or a blade of grass?
The afterlife in Buddhism is a part of the cycle of life, the Wheel of Existence. You will be born an infinite number of times until you achieve the state known as Nirvana. Once that is achieved you will be fully enlightened; at this point some Buddhists believe you can choose to be reborn and help others on their journey while others believe that the cycle ends and since there is no permanent soul or self any further existence ends.
Achieving Nirvana is the end goal in the Buddhism view of the afterlife and that begins by understand that Karma is more than a form of payback currency. Most people miscategorize karma believing that when they do good that good things will come to them in this life, and that when they do bad things that somehow they’ll be made to pay for it in this life. Karma is more than that; it is a system of intentional action that affects the type of rebirth you experience. Living well and rightly, focusing on the good actions set out in the Eightfold Path will result in a better rebirth. Bad actions will result in a worse rebirth. In your rebirth you could come back as a person, an animal, a ghost, a demi-god or even a god. The Eightfold Path involves correctly understanding the nature of the universe, the world and all life. It also includes understanding that life is full of suffering and you must understand what causes it, understand what you must do to end it, and understand that it will end. You also want to avoid sins of speech such as lying, sins of action such as murder or assault, and sins of livelihood such as business practices that harm others. You also want to live trying to correct negativity, trying to be aware of your thoughts and feelings and how they can affect the way you interact with the outside world.
So what happens in Buddhism afterlife? Once Nirvana is achieved and the cycle of Samsara ended, then you are freed from death and rebirth. But what happens? The meaning of Nirvana translates as ‘to extinguish’, but no one quite understands exactly what happens. In the state of Nirvana there is no consensus on how it ‘feels’. Our minds struggle to maintain control of our universe and its outcomes but in achieving Nirvana we extinguish our conscious mind and the self ceases to be. Instead the Buddha explained it as a place where there is no more attachment to the external, where the nature of the self-mind has been abandoned. But anything more than that will simply have to be experienced by those who have achieved the state of Nirvana.
Different sects of Buddhism will have different takes on the small details of the Buddhist afterlife, and to learn how to achieve Nirvana. Which path you take is entirely up to you, all of them will lead to the same destination.