What is Karma?

“Karma” has almost become a swear word in pop culture. It is assumed to be this linear equation of when you do something bad, something bad happens to you or when something bad is happening to you then it is a result of your past negative actions. I guess this definition works until a person finds themselves suffering a deep struggle for no apparent reason. They feel powerless and this leads to depression, suicidal tendencies or anger and blaming our environment or God depending on our values and philosophy of life (of lack thereof).

Varying religious or philosophical schools of thought tend to explain this onset of suffering in varying ways, some of which I’ve heard/read over the years:

  • Bad things happen to everyone at some point. It just varies, depending on some kind of a law of averages
  • Bad things are a result of one’s sins
  • Lack of belief in God or violating of religious laws leads to God punishing you

All of these views don’t shed light on how to have power over the situation other than wait for things to somehow get better or “this too shall pass”.

From a Buddhist point of view, Karma is not a description of our current reality. Instead, ‘karma’ describes our tendencies. When we have difficult, heavy karma, it indicates the tendencies that we find the hardest to act against or change. When we have karma that has been carried across generations, it is tendencies that have been carried across generations e.g. via genetics, imprinting in our subconscious and by learning from observing those around us.

Remember how seeing your parents over family holidays can leave you feeling drained and negative at times? It’s almost like the ugly you thought you had transformed rears its head in your family’s proximity. This is because of our interrelated tendencies how they know how to push our buttons because their tendencies are intricately linked with ours!

President Ikeda wrote:

“Because those around us know us so well, pretense won’t work.”

Indigo Magazine Mar 2019, page 35

When we change our karma, we are changing our tendencies, this leads us to transforming our suffering. Anyone who’s ever tried to change their fundamental tendencies knows how hard this is. Plus how to know which tendencies are worth keeping or letting go?

In my experience with life and my practice, I find that it is not about changing who we are, losing who we are and becoming someone else. It is instead about being able to express our unique tendencies to contribute to happiness of oneself and others. Aligning to a lofty life purpose of kosen rufu enables me to do this.

“Why were we born? What is the purpose of our lives? It is the role of religion to provide ultimate answers to these ultimate questions.

Nichiren Buddhism is a compass giving us direction to navigate our way on the great ocean of life. It is a life philosophy that aims for the realisation of happiness for oneself and others. It reveals the way to attain a boundless life state of eternity, joy, true self, and purity. It teaches that we can achieve a peaceful and harmonious society through the ideal of “establishing the correct teaching for the peace of the land.” It asserts that we can tap potential as vast as the universe based on the principle of “three thousand realms in a single moment of life.” And it explains that all people are equal and can shine in their own unique way based on the principle of “cherry, plum, peach, and damson” (cf. OTT, 200)

The wisdom of Nichiren Buddhism enables us to endlessly deepen and enrich our lives. “

From the study at the General Director’s lecture

SGI President Ikeda has observed:

“We all have our own karma or destiny. But when we look it square in the face and grasp its true significance, then any hardship can help us lead richer and more profound lives. And our actions in battling our destiny set an example for and inspire countless others.

In other words, when we change our karma into mission, we transform our destiny from playing a negative role to a positive one. Anyone who changes their karma into their mission is a person who has “voluntarily assumed the appropriate karma.” Therefore, those who keep advancing, while regarding everything as part of their mission, proceed toward the goal of transforming their destiny.”


Translated from Japanese. Daisaku Ikeda, Gosho no Sekai (The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings), vol. 2 (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbun-sha, 2004), pp. 324–25.

For me, this has meant recognising that in contrast with my teenage years of deep depression and wanting to end my life, I want to live a life of joy, contributing to others’ happiness, enabling others to find meaning in their lives and have power to create tremendous growth from adversity. This is a never-ending journey of kosen rufu. I find that when I do this, my life attracts what I have always craved for myself – meaningful human connection.

However, instead of discarding people and connections while waiting for a handful of deep and meaningful friendships, I can take responsibility of making this happen. Life doesn’t have to wait for me to win the elusive lottery ticket. I found that, I was carrying the diamond in my pocket all along and found how to locate it myself instead of waiting for someone else to retrieve it for me.

Where is your inner diamond? How do you find it in your lives? In spite of your great progress, do you still feel stuck in some situations in your lives? Are there areas where you still aren’t able to breakthrough and see results of your power? How do you decide where to invest your inner diamond?

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