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Transforming Your Karma

Karma can be both positive and negative, however, most people tend to think about karma as something only negative and seem to refer to some fixed “fate” or “destiny,” which is not what karma is about.

Sometimes life feels like a spiral. We make the same mistakes over and over and get ourselves into the same bad relationships. We can hear ourselves asking, “Why has this disastrous situation happened to me? What did I do to deserve it?” Why does it feel like we’re stuck repeating the same patterns? When we ask ourselves questions like this, the Buddhist principle of karma can help us understand what we can do to break out of the repetitive patterns that might cause ourselves and others suffering.

Positive and Negative

Originally the Sanskrit word “karma” (or “karman”) meant “action” or “act.” In time, it came to imply deeds or results. It is important to recognize that karma can be both positive and negative, and it is certainly good karma to have been born a human being. In everyday speech, however, most people tend to think about karma as something only negative, as a kind of spiritual payback or justice for misdeeds, like when a customer who was rude to the barista leaves the coffee shop to find a parking ticket on their windshield.

When this expression is misused, it can seem to refer to some fixed “fate” or “destiny,” which is not what karma is about in Nichiren Buddhism. Rather than being the judgment of some external force, Nichiren Buddhism clarifies the importance of an individual's free will. If we are responsible for creating our personal karma, then we are also able to change it. We have the ability to change aspects of our karma that cause suffering to ourselves and others and to create the best kind of karma that will spread happiness and joy.

Buddhism teaches that humans create karma through our thoughts, words, and deeds. Karma is not created by the cause and effect at work in, for instance, the movements of the Earth’s tectonic plates. There is no conscious will in such movements, so natural disasters such as earthquakes are not caused by karma but by impersonal natural events. It would be wrong to say that people suffer the effects of hurricanes, earthquakes, or wildfires because of karma.

Not Looking Backwards

So why, then, do bad things happen to us? Maybe that’s the wrong question. What we should ask is, “This has happened to me, so what am I going to do about it?” Rather than looking backwards, for the causes of the effect, we should ourselves become the cause that creates the desired effect.

Our challenge then is not to think of our karma as something that will hold us back. Rather we should use it as a springboard for a happy future. All of those bad relationships with the same type of person, all of those similar experiences at jobs that didn’t work out, those are our karmic tendencies, but they are not our nature and they are not some kind of punishment. Transform your trauma, and that transformation will give you a new appreciation of life and new paths to follow, and it will become an inspiration to others who are suffering the same way. This is how we can transform our karma into the mission for the happiness of others. We start to consider that we actually created the current situation in order to be able to show the power of Buddhism to transform it. This attitude expresses the principle known as “voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma.”

Whatever our karma, the message we are given in Nichiren Buddhism is that chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the new cause which enables us to lessen and change the karma we have created in the past. Our prayers for the happiness of ourselves and others, transforming the world around us into a place of harmony, dignity and respect, are the best cause for our future karma and our future happiness.

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