Karma - Cause and Effect

Karma - Cause and Effect

"As we accumulate karma from both positive and negative causes, we will receive the effects of it as it manifests through the law of cause and effect. Positive causes lead to positive effects and negative causes lead to negative effects."

“Orh Bee Good!”

Sounds familiar? A playground phrase that most of us might recall from our childhood, which could be our first understanding of the term "Karma". When we see villains in shows or movies falling to their demise, the concept of karma as "just punishment" will likely spring to mind as it is commonly linked to the context of one encountering unfortunate scenarios. However, the concept of karma is not solely associated with negative connotations. What then, does Buddhism teach about the term “Karma"?

Starting with the origin and definition - The word “Karma” is a transliteration of the Sanskrit word, Karman. It refers to all actions based on thoughts, words, and deeds. Karma is the cause of both positive and negative effects in our life.

Our founder Nichiren Daishonin states the following:

“Both the blackness of the crow and the whiteness of the heron actually derive from the deep stains of their karma from the past.”

The reason why crows are black and herons are white is due to the Karma from their past lifetimes. Similarly, individuals like us may be born in different environments, leading to diverse life circumstances. While some of us have the fortune to be blessed with abundant resources from birth, others might be facing financial hardships. There are those who enjoy a lifetime of robust health, while others confront illnesses from the very beginning of their existence. These disparities in our lives are attributed to the fact that we all have different karmas.

In the Shinjikan Sutra, it states:

“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 the future, look at the causes that exist in the present.”

Karma transcends our three existences of the past, present and future - which is to say, karma is accumulated from the causes we lay in both our past and current lifetimes. As we accumulate karma from both positive and negative causes, we will receive the effects of it as it manifests through the law of cause and effect. Positive causes lead to positive effects and negative causes lead to negative effects. Situations that happen to us in our daily lives - good or bad, are the manifestations of said karma.

The following article from Reverend Shokun Takahashi also shares deeper insights on this topic:

Three Karmas of the Body, Mouth and Mind

Human karma is divided into three kinds:

  1. Physical karma - Results from activities of the body.
  2. Verbal karma - Derives from actions of the mouth.
  3. Mental karma - Arises from activities of the mind or will.

On the Buddhist path, these three types of actions should correspond with each other. We are taught it is important that our thoughts, words and deeds should be consistent, rather than allowing them to be separate or contradictory.

Common Karma and Individual Karma

Common karma refers to karma which people share and shoulder in common. For example, cases where all people share causes and effects, such as social development or a case where an entire society is faced with a disaster, these would be called instances of common karma.

In contrast, individual karma refers to the karma of an individual person. For example, a mother cannot take the place of a child who is suffering from illness. Individual karma refers to personal pleasures and sufferings.

Thus, while karma is a personal matter, it simultaneously possesses social and historical capabilities.

Jigo Jitoku

This refers to when a person receives retribution for the deeds he has committed.

A sutra states:

“It is not likely that a person's deeds will be erased. They will return without fail for the culprit to receive. If a foolish man commits a crime, he will suffer for it in his next life”.

It is further stated in the Hokku Sutra:

“A man will be tainted by his evil deeds while a man who commits no evil will remain pure. Through their own deeds, people will be pure or impure”.

In short, because the effects of one's actions will return to oneself, we must ultimately take responsibility for our own actions. Even if we are influenced by the actions of others, the significance of Jigo Jitoku is lost if we think that our future will be determined by the actions of the other person. The fundamental concept of karma is that we are responsible for our own actions.

Karma and Destiny

There are theories that the destiny of man is coincidental, or predetermined.

We cannot determine or choose our parents or country of birth. Further, each of us is born with different abilities and appearances. The causes that give rise to such differentiation are the deeds which each of us had committed before we were born and which Buddhism calls karma’.

This view of karma is different from the theory of destiny or fate. The reason is that karma is the causal actions through which we receive our resulting fortune. Likewise, we are able to freely change our future lives through our causal actions in this lifetime. For this reason, the view of karma is totally different, from the theory of destiny which expounds that life is just coincidental.

Path to the Transformation of Karma

Although we all face various restrictions in our present lives due to karma created from past existences, Buddhism explains that even though we are in the middle of karmic retribution, we can determine our future's fortune by our own volition. The Daishonin expounds the path to karmic change in the Letter from Sado:

"It is impossible to fathom one's karma...It is solely so that I may expiate in this lifetime my past heavy slanders and be freed from the three evil paths in the next". (MWND, vol. I, pp. 37-38)

Thus, through the benefits of embracing the Dai-Gohonzon, we can change our evil karma from past lifetimes and construct happy lives, both in this existence and the life to come.

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