Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Real Meaning of Karma

Karma - By Sarah Litvinoff UKE 1995

Even people who know very little about Buddhism tend to have heard of karma, a word that has entered the language, and is used even when the concept isn't fully understood. In essence the theory is as simple as the translation of this Sanskrit word: 'action,' though its simplicity is also extremely profound. Buddhism teaches that every word, thought and deed is engraved in our lives. These are causes that will one day lead to noticeable effects. At one level this is something most of us are aware of: the cigarettes we smoke today will have an impact on our health at some time - we don't know when or necessarily how (whether it'll be heart problems, respiratory illness or cancer), but effects there will be. Similarly, the half-hour of exercise we've just completed has no immediate effect, but we know that if we exercise consistently, over time the result will be changed shape and increased fitness.

Buddhism goes further, stating that our lives are shaped in just the same way, by everything we do in the course of each day' and that even our personalities, our looks and our circumstances can be explained by the karma we have accumulated over countless previous lifetimes. As Daisaku Ikeda says:

The late Arnold Toynbee interestingly compared the human karmic situation to a banking account in which entries are always being made in the debit and credit columns to alter the balance, which is the fate of the individual life at any given moment. Buddhists believe that what Dr Toynbee called the karma balance sheet continues in effect after death and into coming lives.

Buddhism also teaches that, as with a bank account, changing our karma is within our control. Just as cutting down on expenses and making the effort to pay in more money can put our account into healthy credit, so making positive changes in our lives, in our interaction with other people, and in our relationship to the world in general, creates ‘good’ karma which can change our destinies. Nichiren Daishonin, in his treatise ‘The Opening of the Eyes,’ quotes from the Contemplation on the Mind Ground Sutra which makes this point strongly, ‘If you want to understand the causes that existed in the past, look at the results as they are manifested in the present. And if you want to understand what results will be manifested in eh future, look at the causes that exist in the present’.

Daisaku Ikeda explains it like so:
Most people in the West accept the idea that effort (causes) produces rewards (effects). In short, the Buddhist law of causes and effect seems to agree with what human beings everywhere experience in actual practice; and although actual karmic links are often very difficult to demonstrate, awareness of a degree of connection between his actions and their outcomes can inspire man to strive to be and do better.

Importantly he makes the point that the potential to change our karma is enormously increased by our Buddhist practice. Think, for example, of a water pipe. If it is not used for a long time, it will rust and the water which first runs through it will become turbid. In this example the turbid water is compared to the unhappy life condition of the human beings which is bound by negative karma. However as you continue chanting to the Gohonzon everyday with strong faith, sending clean water into the water pipe, that is your life, you will eventually change your karma fundamentally without fail just as the water becomes clear. (Buddhism in Action).

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