What Does “Changing Karma Into Mission” mean?
"The past is the past; the future is the future. Look to the future and keep moving forward, telling yourself, 'Everything starts from today—it starts from now, this minute, this moment!'”
We encounter various kinds of sufferings and hardships in life. Some of these things clearly originate from actions and decisions we have made in this life. But we might not be able to find any apparent cause for other challenges that arise in our lives, leading us to wonder, Why is this happening to me?
From the Buddhist perspective, such hardships result from causes we created in past lifetimes. The Sanskrit word karma originally means “action.” In other words, for every action we take, we generate an effect. Buddhism teaches that our karma determines the circumstance of our birth, individual nature and various situations, while determining differences among all living beings and their environments.
Based on the general view of karma in Buddhism, in order for people to rid themselves of bad karma, they had to erase or cancel out negative causes from past lifetimes with good causes. This was an impossible feat for most people, given that one would have to avoid making any additional negative causes along the way. Thus, changing one’s karma would require lifetimes of austere practice.
Nichiren Buddhism, however, doesn’t emphasize this general view of karma. It instead expounds a hopeful teaching that is based on the concept of changing karma in this lifetime.
While we cannot change where we were born, certain physical or personality traits, the family we’re born into and so on, through the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we can change our tendency to suffer from karma.
The Lotus Sutra states that “the host of sins, like frost or dew, can be wiped out by the sun of wisdom” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 390). Regarding this statement, Nichiren Daishonin explains: “The ‘host of sins’ are karmic impediments that come from the six sense organs, and these are like frost or dew. Thus, although they exist, they can be wiped out by the sun of wisdom. The ‘sun of wisdom’ is Nam-myoho-rengekyo” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 205).
In essence, by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for ourselves and for others, the world of Buddhahood emerges like the sun rising up in our lives, enabling us to create the greatest value out of even the most painful of karmic sufferings. This is what it means to change karma into mission.
The concept of karma taught in Nichiren Buddhism, in other words, exists not to weigh us down or cause us to worry, thinking: My karma is so heavy. It’s so hard to change it. Rather, Nichiren teaches that each person has infinite potential, and shows how to realize the immense power we have to fulfill our own unique and noble mission. He explains that our sufferings ultimately arise from slander of the Lotus Sutra, which teaches the absolute dignity of each person’s life. To slander the Lotus Sutra means to fail to recognize the dignity of our own life as well as the lives of others; it means to deny that one’s life and the lives of others are precious embodiments of the Mystic Law.
In order to change karma arising from slander of the Lotus Sutra and the Mystic Law, we each must make the most fundamental good cause, which is to protect and spread the Law for the sake of people’s happiness, awakening them to the inherent dignity of their lives.
Ultimately, changing karma comes down to an inner transformation in each person. This process is called human revolution, which entails engaging in our own internal battle to bring forth wisdom, courage and life force to face all our sufferings and challenges. When we challenge and win over our deep negative tendencies, we become inspiring examples to all those around us.
SGI President Ikeda says: “Everything that happens in our lives has meaning. Moreover, the way of life of practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism is to find and discover meaning in all things . . . This is not just a matter of outlook. Changing the world starts by changing our fundamental state of mind. This is a key Buddhist principle. A powerful determination to transform even negative karma into mission can dramatically transform the real world. By changing our inner state of mind, we can change any suffering or hardship into a source of joy, regarding it as a means for forging and developing our lives. To turn even sorrow into a source of creativity—that is the way of life of practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism” (The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 2, p. 88).
Buddhism teaches that we’re responsible for everything in our life. From one perspective, this idea may seem daunting. But this is actually one of the most liberating ideas, because it means that we have the power and freedom to change it all. Faith in Nichiren Buddhism enables us to change our karma into our mission, savor greater joy and happiness no matter our situation, and achieve a state of unsurpassed freedom.
SGI President Ikeda’s Guidance
The past is the past; the future is the future. Look to the future and keep moving forward, telling yourself, “Everything starts from today—it starts from now, this minute, this moment!” This is the essence of Nichiren Buddhism . . .
Don’t allow your immediate situation to make you lose hope or panic. Though you may do something you regret, have problems or make mistakes, the future is long . . .
People who get poor grades, who are bullied, who are betrayed by their friends, who fail, who have to deal with such problems as illness or poverty, are more likely to understand others’ feelings and have deep insights into life. The important thing, therefore, is not to be defeated. If you can do that, whatever suffering you have had to endure will definitely contribute in a positive way to your growth in the future. (You Were Born to Win, pp. 17–18)