We are the creators of our own reality

Feb 5, 2020

There seem to be two generally accepted ways of thinking about how or why we get born: if we have a theistic religion, we believe that God created us; if we’re materialists we believe that our parents made us.

Well, Buddha’s got a different view: effectively, he says we created ourselves. Of course, he doesn’t actually put it in those words, but it’s a very tasty way to say it.

What a surprise! But how can this be so?

Obviously, “create” here doesn’t mean that we waved a magic wand and poof! here we are. It’s an evolutionary thing for the Buddha. He says that our mind, our consciousness, the essence of who we are, is not physical (he doesn’t use the word “soul” or “spirit”), does not come from a creator, and isn’t made by our parents. It’s a beginningless continuity of mental moments that goes back and back before this birth and on and on after we die.

And, crucially, every micro-second of what we think, feel, do, and say leaves imprints or tendencies or seeds in this consciousness that necessarily ripen in the future as our own experiences. And whatever we experience now is necessarily the fruit of what we put planted in the past.

This is actually the meaning of the law of “karma”. It’s not punishment or reward because there’s no one up there pulling the strings. We are the boss, in other words: we set ourselves up in the past for our own present reality: all the happiness and all the suffering.

This life of ours is our garden: all the flowers and all the weeds right in front of us now are the fruits of the seeds we planted in the past. Every negative karma necessarily ripens as suffering and every good karma necessarily ripens as happiness. Again, remember, this is not punishment or reward, which implies someone judging: there is no concept like that in Buddhism.

Karma “ripens” in four ways: the realm of existence we get born into (human, animal, etc.), our tendencies, our experiences in relation to others, and even our environment.

It’s not a complicated concept, it’s just that we so utterly believe that we’re the product of someone’s handiwork or that we come into this world programmed with our parents’ tendencies – “I didn’t ask to get born, did I?” or “It’s not my fault!” – that it takes time to process.

For the Buddha, this approach of karma and reincarnation is a natural law, like gravity or botany or any of the other natural laws that we take for granted. It’s just how it is. He didn’t make it up, he’s not speculating, and he’s certainly not asking us to believe it.

Buddha – who was a regular guy who through his own hard inner work became an enlightened being – saw this to be so from his own direct experience. He has laid out the steps that he followed for anyone who wants the same result: we take it as our working hypothesis and slowly, with practice, get to experience and verify it for ourselves.

The consequences of this? The eradication from our being of our fears, limitations, low-self esteem and the rest of our neuroses – which, thank goodness, are not at the core of our being – and the development to perfection of our own natural goodness. This is the meaning of “buddha”.

When used to interpret our lives, the experiential implications of this view are profound: accountability, fearlessness, no victim mentality, no blame, and the courage to change, one step at a time.

And not only that: when we know this for ourselves it brings incredible compassion for others. We’re all suffering, and causing suffering for ourselves and others, for the same reasons.

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s this nice analogy in Buddhism: “A bird needs two wings: wisdom and compassion”. When we’ve put ourselves together – the wisdom wing – then we can truly help others.

We’re all in the same boat, and if I don’t help, who will?


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