(Photo above by Carlos Pérez Adsuar Antón / Pexels)
Society tends to focus on our past deeds. School grades determine future educational opportunities. A résumé presents potential employers with a snapshot of our work experience. Payment history determines our credit score and, therefore, our borrowing and purchasing power. In many ways, our past can either enhance or limit our present opportunities.
It can be said, though, that our own overemphasis on our past can influence our happiness even more strongly than how others see us. For example, we might allow past failures to lead us to believe that we are destined to fail at everything.
For this reason, Buddhism consistently places importance on our intent and actions in the present, which shape our future. It stresses living with the forward-looking spirit of “From this moment on!”
Buddhism consistently places importance on our intent and actions in the present, which shape our future. It stresses living with the forward-looking spirit of “From this moment on!”
Different ways of understanding Karma
While the traditional Buddhism view focuses on the importance of the present moment, it also recognizes that our present circumstances are a result of our karma—the sum of the effects of all the actions we have taken (causes made) in this and countless past lifetimes.
Based on the general view of cause and effect, to override negative past karma, we would need to consistently engage in good thoughts, speech and actions while refraining from making further bad causes. Only by doing this over countless lifetimes into the future would we eventually be freed from bad karma and attain enlightenment.
Having to wait lifetimes for results, however, is not a satisfying option and can lead to passive acceptance of our circumstances.
What karma actually is and how it works
The 13th-century Buddhist reformer Nichiren Daishonin saw this traditional interpretation of karma as superficial and disempowering. He believed that, although our past karma might inform the present, each moment of life also contains unimaginable potential.
This belief is supported by the Lotus Sutra and the principle of “three thousand realms in a single moment of life,” revealed by the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai based on his analysis of the Buddhist sutras.
This means that each moment of life contains the power of the entire universe and permeates the entire universe. And the most sublime potential within all life and the universe—the world of Buddhahood—exists within us and can emerge at any moment.
This means that each moment of life contains the power of the entire universe and permeates the entire universe.
Nichiren taught that chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with a powerful determination to accomplish our goals, unlocks the tremendous potential inherent in our lives.
The Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda explains:
To put all our energy into the present moment, with great hope for the future—that is the mark of a person who is wise in the way of living. … No matter how adverse your present circumstances may be, even if it seems you have been defeated, it’s important that you stand up with strong resolve to turn your situation around and demonstrate the limitless transformative potential of the Mystic Law [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo].
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 2, pp. 231–32
Our karma, weaknesses and society’s view of our potential do not define us. Actually, from the Buddhist perspective, everything has meaning, and nothing is futile. Our Buddhist practice enables us to use every situation to move our lives forward.
From the moment we make a new determination, chant strongly and take action to transform our lives and reach out to encourage others, we are creating the most beautiful future.