Karma: we create our own reality

Jul 12, 2019

According to Buddha we’re not created by anyone else, either a superior being or our parents. Instead, we’re the product of our own past. This is the broad meaning of the law of karma, the law of cause and effect.

Everything we think, do and say leaves imprints or seeds in our minds, our consciousness – which, for Buddha, is necessarily not physical – that just naturally ripen in the future in that consciousness as our experiences. It’s a natural law that runs the universe. It simply occurs.

Our consciousness is like a river of mental moments that goes back and back and will continue after death, just naturally, programmed by everything we think and do and say. This, of course, implies reincarnation.

Parents, DNA, genes, etc., all play a role, but they’re secondary. Our own past actions are the main thing. Buddha is saying basically that we are the creators of ourselves.

Just naturally, happiness ripens in the future as a result of virtue and suffering ripens as a result of negativity. In the same way that when our doctor advises us to eat well we know she’s not “rewarding” us with good health in the future – good health is a natural consequence; so too when the Buddha advises us to practice love and kindness, to not lie or kill, etc., the happiness that just naturally ripens in the future is not a “reward” – happiness is a natural consequence of goodness. We ourselves cause it.

Buddha is not a creator; he has observed from his own direct experience the reality of karma. He’s not asking us to believe him; it’s up to us to take it on board as our working hypothesis and eventually find the truth of it for ourselves. We’re the boss, not Buddha.

Karma is a Sanskrit word that is translated as “action”. It’s also, more fundamentally, translated as intention, will, volition, because the mental action is the starting point. As Lama Zopa Rinpoche puts it, “Everything exists on the tip of the wish, the intention”.

There are four ways in which our actions from the past ripen in the present. Or indeed, there are four ways in which our present actions leave seeds in the mind that will ripen in the future.

The first one is the type of rebirth we’re born into. If we could remember how hard we must have worked in past lives at morality and goodness in the context, no doubt, of a spiritual practice in order to simply have this human birth that we have now, with all its advantages, it would blow our minds!

The second way our past karma ripens in the present life is in terms of our tendencies, our personality, our characteristics. We come into this life fully programmed: being good at football, compassion, lying, depression – whatever it is we’re good is simply because we have done it before. They’re habits.

The third way our karma ripens is all of our experiences in relation to others: we’ve got powerful history with each other, starting with our parents. However anyone in this life sees us, treats us, whether kind or unkind, is the fruit of our own actions in relation to these very sentient beings. Karma is personal!

And the fourth way karma ripens is the very way the physical world impacts upon us: food harms or nourishes us, we live in ugly and beautiful environment: all the natural fruit of our past actions.

The experiential implications of this natural law? Pretty simple: We’re the boss. Using this view as the basis of our way of life brings huge accountability. It’s so empowering. Just naturally, there’s less victim mentality, less hopelessness, and less guilt and blame.

And then, of course, more compassion for others because we realize we’re all in the same boat. How can I not help?

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