Is Karma Fate, God’s Will Or Your Responsibility?

Poison Into MedicineSometimes in life we find ourselves in difficult or disappointing circumstances. But the laws of Karma are universal, and we get what we deserve, whether we recognise the causes or not, the effects speak for themselves.

We might feel sorry for ourselves, we may think it’s unfair, but we make the causes for the effects we experience day in, day out. Now you may be saying that it’s destiny, or coincidence, but that simply means you are delegating responsibility for your life to fate or a mystical figure whose existence can never be proven.

Why do we allow ourselves to be fooled? When we know the reason for events, we accept the situation and move on. When we don’t know (or remember) why something has happened, we waft it away with airy fairy excuses, like fate or God’s will.

I’ve been through the mill in the last year. Failed relationships, serious illness and deaths in the family. More than enough to make me feel, at times, enough is enough. But when I sit and think things through, at the bottom of every disaster, is a cause of my own making.

So I hold my hands up, I’m culpable, in part at the very least, and my chanting, prayer and meditation are the tools I am using to start to put things right. You might be thinking this doesn’t apply in your case, but you are wrong. Accept your own responsibility and start making the causes to get the effects you would like to see.

On The Limitation Of Changes

The Limitation Of ChangesMy Buddhist practice has changed the way I interact with everything and everyone in my own personal Universe.

The change is difficult to explain, and even more difficult to prove over the short term to others within that Universe.

Those difficulties are still further compounded by the fact that no matter how radical the change, nothing can change the past.

Like karma, my past was formed from the past causes I made. What I can do, is to try to make better causes now, and in the future. What I can not do, is influence the past.

That limitation is a very real sadness on this journey towards a happier and more enlightened future. But we must always look forward and not let our past get in the way of our path through the present into a brighter future.

Keeping It All In Proportion

Challenges NOT ProblemsWe are all aware of what we mean by problems and challenges, and we know that there is no difference, other than in our head. Problems are things we worry we cannot overcome, challenges are things we believe that we can. Having the confidence and determination to tackle things head on enables us to stay positive, to turn poison into medicine, to take on those challenges (we don’t do problems here) and ultimately to live a happy and fulfilled life. But if we let our mind magnify the challenge, our Fundamental Darkness takes control, and these obstacles grow and grow.

Overcoming Obstacles

This negative aspect is often referred to as the ‘three obstacles and four devils’ (in Japanese, sansho shima). Obstacles refer to things which appear to be outside of ourselves (but which ultimately have their origins in our lives) and the devils, or negative elements, are ‘internal’. What makes these obstacles and devils serious is that if we are influenced by them we may stop practising Buddhism. They confront us at a specific point in time – usually when we are about to grow in our lives and move forward. The fact that at a difficult moment we may think that we should stop practising is a sign that it is an attack of one of the three obstacles and four devils. From a positive point of view these hindrances enable us to see a weakness in our lives so that we can chant and become stronger in that area.

The first is the obstacle of earthly desires. Buddhism teaches that our earthly desires may be transformed into enlightenment. Second is the obstacle of karma, which includes the influence of those who are close to us such as a spouse, partner or children. Third is the obstacle of retribution, which means opposition from those with power over us, such as our superiors, parents or people in authority.

The devils come from within our own lives. We create our own negativity, our own doubt, uncertainty and confusion. The first devil arises from our earthly desires. It can include egoism, craving for personal fame and riches, laziness or being dominated by force of habit. It can also arise from the three poisons of greed, anger and stupidity.

Second is the devil of weakness that can arise in our own bodies, such as an illness which will hold us back and reduce our capacity. Third is the devil which manifests as the hindrance of death. Unless we are confident that death is not ‘the end’, but rather another phase in the cycle of life and death – then another person’s death can trigger a sense of doubt and can considerably weaken our will to practise Buddhism, even though Buddhism is intended to relieve us from the sufferings of birth and death.

Finally the fourth devil is known as the Devil King of the Sixth Heaven who, in Buddhist mythology, works to obstruct Buddhist practice and drain our life force. This is the manifestation of fundamental darkness inherent in life. And because of this can be seen as the most challenging aspect of negativity to conquer. When influential people persuade or threaten us to stop practising this could be said to be the workings of the Devil of the Sixth Heaven.

Whatever form they take, the Daishonin advises us to take these obstacles and devils as confirmation that we are properly practising the true Law through which ordinary people become Buddhas. They offer us insight into aspects of our human revolution, ways to strengthen our lives and assurance that we are on the verge of achieving this, so long as we are neither influenced nor frightened by them. Human revolution includes experiencing this process and transforming some aspect of ourselves. It indicates the real experience of finding we have to confront something. It also includes our need to gain the inner conviction that we can win over the obstacle in question.

In Buddhism, the term ‘fundamental darkness’ is used to describe the ignorance and delusion inherent in human life. This is the ignorance of the fact that we all have the state of Buddhahood in our lives, at all times, latent and ready to be revealed. The aim of our great struggle for kosen-rufu, our movement of human revolution, is to transform that innate darkness into light. Our goal is to vanquish the destructive tendencies within human life that give rise to mutual distrust and hate, violence and fear. The three obstacles and four devils become an indispensable means for doing this. That is why we should rejoice when they appear.

Just Think About It

AngerNo matter the situation, make sure that the last thing you say is not something, you or the person you say it to, will regret for the rest of your lives.

We’ve all been there, a disagreement or a heated moment, where we’ve said something we later regretted. Imagine if that were the last conversation we ever had with that person, it could leave a shadow hanging over us forever.

In terms of karma, it’s never going to be in the plus column either, is it?

So whatever you may be feeling, however the situation will be left, you can always find something positive, kind or caring with which to end the conversation.

What’s the worst that can happen? It may be the last chance you ever have to say it, so have the Wisdom, Courage and Compassion to make it constructive.


On Taking Responsibility

On Taking ResponsibilitySometimes we find ourselves in difficult or disappointing circumstances, and might believe that they are not of our making. The laws of Karma are universal, we get what we deserve, so whether we recognise the causes or not, the effects speak for themselves.

We might feel sorry for ourselves, we may think it’s unfair, but we make the causes for the effects we experience day in, day out.

Now you may be saying that it’s destiny, fate, or coincidence, but that simply means you are delegating responsibility for your life to chance or a mystical figure whose existence can never be proven.

Why do we allow ourselves to be fooled? When we know the reason for events, we accept the situation and move on. When we don’t know, or remember why something has happened, we waft it away with airy fairy excuses, like fate or God’s will.

I’ve been through the mill at various times in life. Failed relationships, jobs losses, illness and  even death in the family. More than enough to make me feel, at times, that enough is enough. But when I sit and think things through, at the bottom of every disaster, there is, at least in part, a cause of my own making.

So I have to be the first to hold my hand up, I’m culpable, in part at the very least, and my chanting, prayer and meditation are the tools I use to put things right.

You might be sitting there thinking this doesn’t apply in your case, but you are wrong. You are where you are at this very second, as a result of all the decisions and actions you have taken up to this moment. Accept your responsibility and start making your own causes to get the effects you would like to see. If you don’t, you have nobody else to blame if things refuse to improve.

The Road Not Taken

The Road Not TakenAt times it is all too easy to be led by your heart, hoping that the happiness you gain will offset the unhappiness of others. On the other hand, the unhappiness you may cause to others could easily put a dark cloud over your own feelings, not just for the immediate future, but for eternity.

In the end, the final decision may not even be in the individuals own hands, making it doubly difficult. We are all keen to having our destiny under our own control, so relinquishing it to someone else just adds to the feelings of angst.

My gut feeling, and my Buddhist teaching tell me that, in general, we should sacrifice our own feelings so that others do not have to, but time will tell how it is resolved.

Mulling it all over and over in my mind, knowing that whichever way things turn out, we will never know whether it was for the best, reminded me of the poem by Robert Frost.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Who Knows What The Future Holds?

Smart TechnologyWith technology becoming smarter, at an ever increasing rate, it is difficult to see where it will take us in the coming decade or two. Who would have imagined, even thirty years ago, that we could all carry a smartphone, a device that can connect us with almost every other person in almost any other place, anywhere on the planet?

In Buddhist terms, the causes we make today, will shape our future life and lives, as Sensei points out:

What will the future be like? No one knows the answer to that question. All we know is that the effects that will appear in the future are all contained in the causes that are made in the present.

The important thing, therefore, is that we stand up and take action to achieve great objectives without allowing ourselves to be distracted or discouraged by immediate difficulties.

Be aware of your own responsibilities. You create all the causes for the effects you see in your own life. Make strides to ensure that those causes will produce the effects you desire.

On Being Grateful

On Being GratefulWe all have the ability to feel sorry for ourselves. Sometimes it seems we have problem after problem, and think the world is against us.

But we can all take a step back and look at our situation compared to others, and be honest enough to see that there are other people in much worse circumstances.

In Buddhist terms, the effects in our lives are the product of the causes we make along our way, it’s called Karma. Whilst it is difficult sometimes, to reconcile ourselves with the fact that we have, in some way caused our own problems, it is important to remember that we are not being punished.

So when you have had enough of your troubles, and are ready to throw in the towel, just take time to look around and realise that there is always someone worse off somewhere.

Be grateful for what you have, and concentrate on making causes for the effects you need to improve the situation. To do anything else is to lack Courage and Wisdom and that doesn’t help anyone, least of all yourself.

The Oneness of Life and Its Environment

A Candle In The DarknessIt is rather remarkable how the apparent darkness of life can be lifted by Buddhist Practice, even after what can feel like a lifetime of wandering in the wilderness. When we change, everything around us changes too. When we embrace dedicated Practice, there is nothing out there that can defeat us.

Everything comes from within, even defeat comes from within ourselves. When we are resolute, when we decide to win, we will win. This is not an egotistical view, it is based purely on the fact that, ultimately we can control our own karma and with that control we take control of our surroundings. This is called The Oneness of Life and its Environment and importantly, nothing that has gone before affects what will be in the future if we make the changes in ourselves.

Historically, human societies worked in co-operation with and felt a profound physical and spiritual connection with their natural environment. Arguably, the by-product of scientific advance has been the loss of this reverence, for example, the creation of industrial cities at the expense of vast tracts of land. This has led to an increasing need to dominate and exploit natural phenomena for profit.

These days we know that the environment has an immense effect on people, for example, turn on the television and we may well find a programme trying to unravel whether our path in life is shaped through ‘nurture’ (one’s upbringing) or through ‘nature’ (genetic inheritance). Plus the lack of green space in our cities has been blamed for the rise in asthma-related illnesses in children.

However, whilst our environment can influence us either positively or negatively, it also works the other way round: we can influence and change our environment. This is because human beings and their environment are inextricably connected. In his writings Nichiren Daishonin likens human beings to the body and the environment to a shadow cast by the body and stated that when the body bends the shadow bends too. We may already see this theory at work through, for example, a person whose extraordinary presence can ‘light up a room’ when they enter it!

Nichiren Buddhism, however, goes beyond this superficial level. The ‘shadow’ is cast out far beyond human life, it also encompasses the natural environment, space and the entire cosmos. This belief is rooted in an incredibly profound theory known as the oneness of life and its environment (Japanese. esho funi), which firmly places human life as an integral part of the vast physical universe. However, it is not merely a passive statement that we are all ‘part of nature’, rather it should be used as an active tool to overcome problems in our own life and the world.

At a fundamental level there is no separation between our internal life and our immediate circumstances. Therefore, the causes we make through our thought, word and action manifest in our external surroundings. Once we acknowledge that we shape our environment, both constructively and destructively, we become more confident to tackle issues, that cause us suffering.

This is further clarified by examining the doctrine of three realms: the realm of the self, the realm of living beings (society) and the realm of the land (natural environment).

Realm of the Self

Life consists of the five components: form, perception, conception, volition and consciousness. Form is the physical aspect: i.e. male or female, tall or short. It also includes our five sense organs, eyes, ears, tongue, nose and skin. The other four components are the mental aspects of an individual life. Perception is the function of receiving information through the senses. Conception is the function of analysing the received information and forming a coherent mental picture. Volition is the desire to take action based on this information. Consciousness unites all these thought processes.

One of the immediate benefits of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is that our perception changes and our sense organs become purified. Thus we begin to see ourselves and our environment in a different light. This may result in us no longer seeing our circumstances as hellish or in our perceiving that we have the power to change them in a positive way.

Realm of Living Beings (Society)

This indicates the collective body of individuals who interact with one another. Each individual is born into a social environment with its own unique set of cultural or hereditary rules. A person is a product of this and equally contributes to and modifies it.

This also encompasses other life forms. For example, walking through a forest we can encounter a large amount of life forms, from birds above our heads to tiny organisms in the ground beneath our feet, all occupying their own unique environment and cycle of existence. Yet each one is joined to us and each other by a thread of life. SGI President Daisaku Ikeda explains:

Nature is one vast organic movement directed by a single life-force and operated by means of a single gigantic nervous system, a majestic and harmonious order in which countless living organisms coexist and cooperate, but also devour each other to keep the system alive.

Realm of the Land (Natural Environment)

This is the place or land where people live and carry out their day-to-day activities. The state of the land is a reflection of the state of life of the people living on it. As Nichiren Daishonin points out:

“…if the minds of living beings are impure, their land is also impure, but if their minds are pure, so is their land. There are not two lands, pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds.”

What can we do?

Once we fully grasp the implications of the oneness of life and its environment we realise that in order to create a truly harmonious, peaceful world we must learn how to respect the inherent dignity and greatness of life. This includes not only the beauty and majesty of nature but also of other human beings. The process starts in the realm of the self. As we develop respect for our own life we also establish respect for others. However this process is not one way. Indeed, it is the very act of striving to respect others that at the same time develops our own inner confidence. Learning to respect ourselves and others creates a change in our fundamental life-condition.

It doesn’t mean that in order to achieve this kind of attitude we have to physically cut ourselves off from modern society and retreat to a forest to contemplate or worship nature! Transforming deep-rooted tendencies which have caused us to disrespect ourselves or others is not a matter of will power or finding a way to control our mind. As we continue to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo we naturally begin to be in harmony with the universal life force or thread of life that connects us to all living beings. The principle of the ten worlds becomes clearer when we understand this connection.

Through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo we can alter the core condition of our lives. Thus our negative perception of our situation can change to a positive one, the starting point for us to make an actual change in our situation or environment. We gradually move towards a life where our Buddha nature, a state where we feel hopeful, stronger and more confident, is increasingly dominant. Thus we develop the qualities of courage, compassion and wisdom and we can start to overcome our negative and destructive tendencies, which previously we may not even have been able to see.

Nichiren Daishonin also teaches that when we transform ourselves at a profound level we not only resolve our immediate problems, but also make a powerful cause to change issues in the global environment. In other words, when people change, society changes. This may sound like a slow and ineffectual process, especially when we are confronted with an increasing amount of global catastrophes both natural and man-made. It could be argued that urgent action is needed to resolve these, rather than working on our own self awareness. But attempts to solve issues, like global warming for example, often illustrate how unclear we are about our own contribution to these problems. It is easy to feel powerless or even apathetic about what is happening in a world seemingly beyond our control.

Yet we can easily see the impact our own negativity, anger or greed has on our environment, for example, after a bad day at work we could succumb to an attack of road rage and then, arriving home full of anger, take it out on our nearest and dearest. It’s just a small jump to see the collective results of greed, anger and ignorance on an international or global level. War, famine and environmental destruction are examples of man-made catastrophes in the realm of living beings (society), which have had a devastating effect on the natural environment (realm of the land).

Making the concept of oneness of self and environment a core principle in our life gives us courage and hope because as we chant and see our own potential to overcome negativity, we realise that we have the power to alter the progress of our society. As we become more hopeful, so our desire to change things around us grows and a ripple of positive thoughts and actions, starting from us, spreads out to other people in our immediate environment and further still, eventually affecting all humanity. This means that the collective causes made by human beings start to reflect a more positive life-state, one in which the dignity of all life is more important than satisfying a never-ending demand for profit. In this scenario societies will learn how to develop a harmonious relationship with the natural world, taking only what they need to survive.

As President Ikeda concludes:

“At the core of the human spirit, there is a potential love for other human beings and for nature. There is also an irresistible urge to challenge the riddles of life and the universe, an impulse to search for the aesthetic beauty and scientific truth. Love, the longing for beauty, the thirst for religion, the yearning for truth: these are all eminently human energies, and through the expression and manifestation of these energies great changes are brought about in the human environment.”

Why Look Elsewhere?

HappinessYesterday evening, we went to the cinema to watch Hector and the Search for Happiness, a funny, but thought provoking film starring Simon Pegg.

Hector is a psychiatrist, working in London, his girlfriend Clara works in the marketing department of a pharmaceutical company, both are successful, but Hector isn’t happy. So he decides to take time out and conduct his own study into what makes people happy.

He travels to China, to Africa and finally to the US in search of an answer to his question, having amusing adventures along the way, only to find that his own happiness was back at home, starring him straight in the face.

As Sensei says about karma and our own happiness …

There is no need to go seeking greener fields. Dig right where you are, for there lies a seam of untold riches. Our Karma fits us like a glove, and no matter what the situation we are trying to change, we are always in exactly the right place to make the causes that will, given time, effect that change.

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