Each of us creates our own karma. Our past thoughts, speech and behavior have shaped our present reality, and our actions (and thoughts and speech) in the present will in turn affect our future. The Buddhist doctrine of karma is not fatalistic. Karma is viewed not only as a means to explain the present but also as the potential force through which to influence our future.
Good karma, then, means actions born from good intentions, kindness and compassion. Conversely, bad karma refers to actions induced by greed, anger and foolishness (or the holding of mistaken views). Some Buddhist treatises divide the causes of bad karma into ten acts: the three physical acts of killing, stealing and sexual misconduct; the four verbal acts of lying, flattery (or idle and irresponsible speech), defamation and duplicity; and the three mental acts of greed, anger and foolishness.
Buddhism teaches that the chain of cause and effect exists eternally; this accounts for the influence of karma amassed in prior lifetimes. The influence of such karma resides within the depths of our lives and, when activated by the moment-to-moment realities of this lifetime, shapes our lives according to its dictates. Some karmic effects may appear in this lifetime while others may remain dormant. "Fixed karma" produces a fixed result at a specific time, whereas the result of "unfixed karma," of course, is neither fixed nor set to appear at a predetermined time.
Some karma is so heavy, so profoundly imprinted in the depths of people's lives, that it cannot easily he altered. For instance, suppose someone deliberately makes another person extremely unhappy or even causes that person's death; whether the guilty party escapes apparent accountability or is arrested and dealt with according to judicial procedures, either way, that person has created heavy negative karma. According to the strict law of causality, this negative karma will surely lead to karmic suffering far beyond one's ordinary powers to eradicate it. Such grave karma usually exerts its influence at death, and the most influential karma at the time of death will determine one's basic life-condition in the next lifetime.
The influence of particular karma will be extinguished after its energy is unleashed in one's life. This is similar to a plant seed that sprouts and grows to blossom as a flower or bear fruit. After fulfilling its function, the same seed will never repeat the process.
Bad karma can be erased only after it "blossoms" in the form of our suffering. According to pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, the influence of severely bad karma, created through numerous actions, could only be erased through several lifetimes; and one could attain Buddhahood only by accumulating good causes in lifetime after lifetime. But the Lotus Sutra teaches that the principal cause for attaining Buddhahood is the Buddha nature inherent in each individual life, and that faith in the Lotus Sutra opens the way to that attainment.
It is not required that we undergo lifetime after lifetime of austerities. Through our diligent practice of faith in the Lotus Sutra, we can instantly tap our innate Buddhahood and extricate ourselves from the effects of our bad karma in this lifetime. Moreover, the transformation of an individual's life-condition can evoke a similar transformation in others. As this process ripples outward, similar transformations become possible throughout entire societies, all humankind and even into the natural world.
By changing our genes, can we change our karma? This, too, is a difficult question. While it may be possible to overcome a particular illness by genetic alteration, thereby technically solving our problem, this will not, according to Buddhism, change the influence of our karma. Without changing our life-condition on the deepest level, we are destined to experience the anguish resulting from whatever causes we have made in the past.
In keeping with Buddhism's regard for the sacredness of life, we must demonstrate extreme caution in applying technologies capable of manipulating life itself. If genetic therapy can provide solutions for certain problems, it should be considered as an option, but first it must be carefully and seriously examined. All possible precautions must be taken to prevent therapy from degenerating into the genetic manipulation of people for non-therapeutic ends.
With regard to genetic "defects," distinguishing the normal from the pathological is not easy. Many who suffer from genetically transmitted defects or severe illnesses consider their lives happy and worth living. In defining quality of life, we must not draw boundaries and designate everything beyond those boundaries as unlivable. Instead we must do everything in our power to build a broad-minded society in which people with disabilities do not have to consider themselves handicapped and can realize their full potential.
No one would dispute that humanity has benefited greatly from the discoveries of medical science. For example, thanks to modern medicine, fetuses come successfully to term that until recently would have certainly miscarried. Also, prenatal tests allow us to monitor the very early stages of fetal development and identify a growing number of congenital and hereditary disorders.
Recent technological progress, however, which has been made at a dizzying speed, raises ethical questions. For example, if a congenital deformity is detected, the decision whether to carry the fetus to term is often left to the parents. Providing equipment for prenatal testing is important, but we must also create a social system that can support and advise parents in such situations.
Medicine treats the relatively superficial causes of life's miseries. Ultimately, causes of health problems lie far beyond the realm of medicine, in the area identified by Buddhism as karma. Buddhism pursues these profound, ultimate causes so that a secure and happy future can be assured.
In other words, while medical science pursues health, Buddhism seeks the purpose for which people are born into this world, thus enabling them to lead lives of the highest possible value.
The Lotus Sutra defines this world as the place where "living beings enjoy themselves at ease." To be born on this earth and to enjoy every instant of living until the last possible moment—this is the purpose of practicing Buddhism.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Middleway Press.
©1988, ©2003. www.middlewaypress.org
Unlocking The Mysteries Of Birth & Death
by Daisaku Ikeda.
This is both a work of popular philosophy and a book of compelling, compassionate inspiration for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike that fosters a greater understanding of Nichiren Buddhism
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Daisaku Ikeda is president of the Soka Gakkai International. In 1968, Mr. Ikeda founded the first of many nonsectarian schools --kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools as well as Soka University in Japan. In May 2001, Soka University of America, a four-year liberal arts college, opened its doors in Aliso Viejo, California. He received the United Nations Peace Award in 1983. He is the author of numerous books, which have been translated into dozens of languages, including The Way of Youth and For the Sake of Peace.