On Karma and Buddha Nature

by Jeanny Chen – a member of SGI-USA

(This is a presentation delivered at the first SGIPy National WD and YWD Conference in October, 2002. My trip to Paraguay was approved and permitted by Sensei and the SGI-Japan Headquarters. During my six-day stay I dialogued with the SGIPy members, and had the most incredible experience in my 13 years of practice. This presentation shares my understanding about our practice in general. Some information has already appeared in various essays.)

All my essays are aimed at the goal of sharing my personal experiences and understanding of a narrow area of this great Buddhist practice. They are not intended to replace any of the study materials. Please read them as a reference only. For a profound and thorough understanding of this Buddhism, I would strongly urge you to study the Gosho, Sensei’s guidance and all SGI published materials, if at all possible. Thank you!
As SGI members, we have heard so much about Buddha nature. But it seems so abstract that a lot of us don’t really know what it is. One member told me that she thought Buddha nature was a flying object that was hard to locate. Another member thought it was like a gigantic screen of mist that the magician used as camouflage to perform his magic. I am a practical person. I also find it hard to understand an abstract concept that is invisible to the eye. How many of you know what Buddha nature is?

In order to help you understand this commonly-used term, instead of explaining the term itself, I am going to use an example to demonstrate the characteristics of Buddha nature. Hopefully, the illustration will paint a vivid picture that will allow you to grasp the concept and identify your own Buddha nature. When we understand what Buddha nature is and recognize that we have it within our lives, we can then employ it to work wonders for us.
But before I elaborate on the characteristics of Buddha nature, I would like to talk about karma first. Understanding karma will help us understand Buddha nature.
Every person we encounter, everything that happens to us and the various conditions that surround our lives are the exact manifestations of our karma. Our parents, relatives, friends, co-workers, fellow SGI members, neighbors, ex-boyfriends… etc. all play different roles in our lives or our karma. Where we were born, where we live, where we work and what incidents occurred at certain points in time are also the manifestation of our karma. Put it this way: our entire life story describes exactly what our karma is.
Let me read what Nichiren Daishonin quotes from the Parinirvana Sutra in his writing “Letter From Sado”:
“Good man, because people committed countless offenses and accumulated much evil karma in the past, they must expect to suffer retribution for everything they have done. They may be despised, cursed with an ugly appearance, be poorly clad and poorly fed, seek wealth in vain, be born to an impoverished and lowly family or one with erroneous views, or be persecuted by their sovereign. It is due to the blessings obtained by protecting the Law that they can diminish in this lifetime their suffering and retribution.”
— The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 304
According to this writing, our bad karma was created by what we thought, said and did in the past. Thus, based on the law of simultaneity of cause and effect, we wrote the script of the drama of our own karma. And we will carry it with us lifetime after lifetime, unless we change it through our practice of the Mystic Law.
The same writing makes it clear that we have done similar things to people in previous lives, so all the effects are coming back to us in this life. For example, people who are now being physically abused by their spouses must have been the abusers of their spouses or of other people in their previous lives. People who win the lottery this life must have rendered monetary contributions to others in their previous lives.
The Daishonin also says that the most serious cause that we have committed was our past slander of the Mystic Law.
On the surface, we suffer because we were born in a poor country or family, born incapable or born physically handicapped… We live on one adversity after another. We can’t find our ideal soul mate. Our children bring us headaches and trouble. Most women never feel pretty enough or sexy enough…etc. Gentlemen don’t express much of their feelings. I don’t know if they are also troubled by such superficial matters as the color, the curve, the length and the thickness of their hair. (Editor’s note – We’re troubled plenty by superficial matters! We’re always worried about how we can attract the ladies…) Anyways, there are simply hundreds of things that could make our lives so difficult!
The true aspect of all those superficial phenomena, however, is that they are our very own karma. We need those people and that environment to play their respective roles in the drama of our lives in order to bring our karma into view.
If our karma had not been played out, we would have been unable to change it. Even if we could switch the entire cast, the new players would still act according to what we wrote in the script of our karma. Our lives would still be the same.
For example, let’s say I have bad karma in marriage. I am married to Jose, who loves to flirt and fool around with other ladies. I am very upset about his conduct. Now, forget about Jose. Let another man Humberto be my husband. He would still behave exactly the same. Both of them have no other choice. Anyone who plays the role as my husband has to act according to the script I wrote for my own life. The script of my life says that I will marry a man who flirts with other ladies, no matter how charming I am. I am the director who directs my husband to behave that way.
Let’s look at another example. Suppose I was born to a very poor family with 10 siblings. My parents were uneducated. They could barely make a living throughout their lives. Under such circumstances, they failed to provide a good shelter for their children. They were too busy and too worried to even show their love towards the children. This is how my childhood karma says I will live my childhood. I can only be born to this kind of couple, so that I will live my childhood in poverty and without love. Even if another couple became my parents, they would provide me with the same bad living conditions.
Likewise, if we have only good karma in our lives, the drama of our karma would need a cast that manages their lives nicely in order to provide us with happy and comfortable environments and lives.
Of course, the people in our lives have their own karma. Only those whose karma is being poor can play the roles of the poor couple, as in our previous example. But they are not to blame for our lives and our destiny. We don’t even have to forgive them. We are totally responsible for whatever we have to go through.
Because we accept responsibility for our own lives, we can freely turn it around without depending on other people’s changes or other people’s actions. And we don’t have to carry bitter feelings of being ill-fated, mistreated, and born lowly and trapped, because we asked for it in the first place, and now we can change our destiny by ourselves through practicing Nichiren Buddhism.
The second president of the SGI, Josei Toda, explains that we were all present at the Ceremony of the Air when Shakyamuni Buddha entrusted us, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, with spreading the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day of the Law. We were already Bodhisattvas at the time. We should be able to be born into good environments to enjoy happy lives.
But, out of our compassion for all human beings, we voluntarily relinquished the reward due us and took that mission. We thus deliberately made bad causes and carried with us the bad karma to be born in the saha world, into an environment with the conditions that we chose of our own volition. Therefore, we were born with our respective karmas to suffer. That suffering becomes the impetus for us to seek out the solution. Under such circumstances, we were willing to embrace our suffering and practice the Mystic Law.
Thanks to Nichiren Daishonin, President Ikeda and the SGI organization, we have the Gohonzon and can follow the correct teaching. Through our diligent practice day in and day out, we polish our lives, activate our wisdom and strong life force from our innate Buddhahood. As a result, we can overcome our difficulties, change our karma, show actual proof, build credibility and deepen our faith. Thus, we become capable of proving the greatness of the Mystic Law and spreading it.
Now it is clear why we say that our suffering is our mission. It is the noble mission we took on. It is also the purpose and meaning of our lives. In other words, we use our lives to suffer. The ultimate purpose of our suffering is to spread the Mystic Law and bring happiness to others. How admirable!
In this case, we know that suffering is not the major event of our lives. It is only the prerequisite of our noble mission. Once we realize the true reason behind our suffering, we are done with the suffering part. Then, we can claim to our Gohonzon and our own lives that from now on, we don’t have to suffer any more. We can move on to our main mission, spreading Nichiren Buddhism.
With such a realization, we have mentally set ourselves free from our karma.
Is my explanation about karma clear enough? Are you still being hypnotized by the words ‘true aspect’, ‘phenomena’ and ‘drama of our karma’? No? Great!
So, if our husbands are not successful in their careers and don’t bring enough money home, from now on, are we going to blame them, complain to them, fight with them, bother them to death and leave no peace at home? Of course not!
Instead, we should embrace the situation as our karma and take total responsibility. This way, with peace of mind we can focus on changing our karma.
Then, we can discuss with our husbands their ideal career goals and chant for the goals as our own. If both partners practice this Buddhism, when the husband joins forces with the wife to chant and take action for those goals, the results will come faster and greater. However, since most husbands are the main income resource for the household, they are tied up with their current jobs. It is up to the wives to decide how much extra effort that they want to devote towards changing their family’s financial karma.
I hope this does not become the excuse for Men’s Division members to shirk their own responsibilities. A married couple shares each other’s karma, good and bad.
From now on you are the master of your karma instead of its slave. Congratulations! Your status has changed.
Now, let’s get back to:
Buddha Nature
Nichiren Buddhism teaches that we all have Buddha nature inherent in our lives. Even if we cannot perceive it, at least with our common sense we can tell that it is good stuff. Since it is said that we already have ownership of it, it doesn’t hurt and doesn’t cost us a penny to bring some value out of it, right? We should at least give ourselves a chance to try it out.
I have found out that Buddhahood is an incredible channel for us to use to communicate with another person without the person’s presence, contacting them through our minds when we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Many people encounter problems communicating with their loved ones, their associates at work or their fellow SGI members… etc. If we have found no other opportunity or possibility to smooth out our relationships with others, this is the ultimate way out!
How do we communicate with another person’s Buddhahood? As a pragmatic person, I have figured out a straightforward and concrete way to make sure that I reach my purpose. I would like to share it with you:
From the very beginning of our daimoku, we imagine there’s a door in the front of the other person’s chest, and one in our own. We open up the door for that person and open up ours as well. The action signifies that we are opening up both of our Buddhahoods. Thus we have positioned both sides in the world of Buddhahood.
Then, we start to chant daimoku. At the same time, we pour out our heart’s goodwill to communicate with that person in our mind. No matter how ugly or difficult the relationship, through this amazing approach, our message will be well received. If we are absolutely sincere and serious about our prayer, the other person will respond in reality.
Why open up Buddha nature? How does it work? Just like some people have active, positive and aggressive natures, and other people’s natures are negative, domineering, and abusive, Buddhas have their nature too. Among the characteristics of Buddha nature are wisdom, life force, compassion and happiness.
Buddha Wisdom
Buddha’s immense wisdom sees the true aspect of all phenomena. People whose life state is in Buddhahood understand how karma functions in their lives. They are not deceived by the superficiality of any situation. In other words, they know that any situation happens to them because they themselves have made their karma that way. Their karma is the ‘real aspect’ or the ‘underlying truth’ of their suffering. With that wisdom, they know that they should work on changing their karma instead of focusing on suffering from the terrible things that happen to them.
They certainly are wise enough to know how to communicate based on the truth, nothing but underlying truth. They know how to manage damage control, how to interact perfectly, and what to say to reach the win/win result.
Buddha’s Life Force
When people emerge their Buddha nature, their strong life force won’t be defeated by any circumstance. Again, because they understand karma, no matter how bad the situation, they have no worries and no negative concerns. Their wisdom gives them a clear mind about the truth of all problems they encounter. Also, they know how to eradicate their karma. Thus, they are strong, upbeat and courageous. When two such positive minds talk, their optimistic energy can only spark a constructive outcome.
Buddha’s Compassion
Compassion is the lifeblood and trademark of Buddhas. They respect and embrace all beings as they are and for what they are, regardless of their status. Thus, both ways of any communication are original, genuine and straightforward without being distorted, abated or blocked. Messages will be sent compassionately and humbly at one end. They will be warmly acknowledged, equally treated and thoughtfully responded to by the other person. How can anything not turn out to be harmonious and satisfactory this way?
Buddha’s Absolute Happiness
With the wisdom to see the underlying truth of all phenomena, with the undefeatable life force to overcome any challenge and with the compassion to create nothing but good causes, Buddhas enjoy absolute happiness under all circumstances. They take everything as a blessing because they can always change poison into medicine. Nothing could ever upset or irritate them in such a high life condition. In other words, whatever you say is perfectly fine. Thus, is it a surprise that the dialogue between two forever-happy people comes to a happy ending?
Prayers offered from the bottom of our hearts in the world of Buddha reach every corner, move the most obstinate and work wonders, be it a relationship, health, job hunting or promotion issue. It is the ultimate dialogue we conduct with Gohonzon, the universe, ourselves, family members, friends, co-workers, future employers, future soul mate, ex-husband, ex-girlfriend… etc.
A heartbroken elderly mother had been mistreated by her son and daughter-in-law. She was devastated. She depended on their assistance in areas of her daily life. What she asked from them – especially from her son – was fair and clear communication. She was unable to get it. Her son only listened to his wife’s twisted, one-sided stories, putting her on the spot. After learning about dialogue in the world of Buddha, she engaged in a sincere daimoku campaign. She put all three of them in the world of Buddha. She apologized for the inconvenience she had placed on them. She appreciated their filial caring and prayed for the daughter-in-law’s happiness. She specifically chanted for her son’s wisdom to see the truth.
Within a week, her son’s attitude changed totally. Within one month, the daughter-in-law became sweet and thoughtful. The elderly woman was overjoyed; she had found her happiness again.
Throughout the episode, no outsider had to risk becoming entangled in their domestic affairs. Not a single person became offended. It was a seamless victory, achieved through heart-to-heart dialogue, via daimoku, at the state of Buddhahood.
Now, let’s check to see if we have the above mentioned characteristics of a Buddha within our lives.
In “The Opening of the Eyes” (WND p 279) Nichiren Daishonin refers to what the Contemplation on the Mind Ground Sutra says: “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.”
This quote urges us to be wise in what we do now in order to live our ideal life in the future. It is based on this same teaching that Buddha wisdom can perceive past, present and future. Now that we understand karma, we already have the same wisdom to see the three existences of our lives too!
In my humble opinion, as practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism, once we understand the true aspect of karma, we have the wisdom and compassion to embrace all occurrences and all people that appear in our environment. We don’t need to place blame on other people anymore. Because we now know how to turn around our situation through this Buddhism, we are motivated to muster a strong life force with which to face our difficulties head on. Employing wisdom, compassion and life force into our daily lives, we certainly will be able to enjoy the state of life that is absolutely happy no matter what! See, we possess the characteristics of Buddha nature!
By now, can you see your Buddha nature in your lives? This is just the beginning. From this point on, our diligent practice of Nichiren Buddhism will open up our immense Buddha capacity to its utmost extent! We will live so that life itself is a joy, as President Ikeda points out in his “Lectures on the ‘Expedient Means’ and ‘Life Span’ Chapters of the Lotus Sutra”, p 152:
“What does the wisdom of the true aspect of all phenomena add to our lives? It gives us the power to skillfully use everything that happens to create value. Many things occur in the course of life. There are sufferings and joys, tailwind and headwinds. All such phenomena provide opportunities for us to make the true aspect of the world of Buddhahood in our lives shine; we can use everything that happens to expand our happiness. This is what it means to lead a life illuminated by the wisdom of the true aspect of all phenomena.”
Our wisdom is powerful only when accompanied by the correct action. Well, we understand karma. But how do we eradicate karma so that we can move on to a brand new life? We may work through two channels: through our Buddhist practice and through working in the real world.
Let’s talk about eradicating karma through Buddhist practice:

We set goals of how we wish to change our karma and chant for the goals. If we suffer from financial karma, we set a goal to become rich! If we suffer from the karma of illness, we set a goal to become as strong as a bull! And if our relationship is a pain in the neck, we set a goal to become women of irresistible charisma, wisdom and virtue who could enjoy their sweetheart’s love more and more each day!
But besides chanting for the goal, we have to take action to make the goal come true. I set the goal for my husband to love me more and more each day over ten years ago. Since then he has been working very hard and non-stop to keep my goal a reality. It is the smartest goal I have ever set for my life. But, I don’t just chant and do nothing. I work hard to make myself deserve his infinite love.
We introduce this Buddhism to as many people as possible, to fulfill our mission. This way, we are showing that we have moved to our true mission and that we are too busy to suffer any more. Shakubuku is one of the most effective ways to eradicate karma and to bring us fortune.
We chant to eradicate our karma. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo puts us on the right track and in perfect rhythm with the universe. According to what the Daishonin writes in “On Prolonging One’s Life Span”: “Sincere repentance will eradiate even fixed karma, to say nothing of karma that is unfixed.” (WND p 954) I would like to use the person in the previous example, whose parents are very poor and has 10 siblings, as an example to illustrate how we can pray to eradicate karma: 
    I apologize to Gohonzon for my past slander of the Mystic Law, and now I am going to help spread and protect the Mystic Law.
    I apologize to Gohonzon for the bad causes I have created in the past. I vow to Gohonzon that because now I practice this Buddhism, I will create only good causes, and no more bad causes.
    I apologize to my parents that because of my bad karma, they had to suffer their lives in poverty and anxiety in order for me to experience my bad karma.
    I appreciate my parents because they used their lives to suffer in order to manifest my bad karma. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to eradicate it. I also appreciate their tremendous hard work in raising my 10 siblings and praise all the good virtues they have.
    I promise to Gohonzon and myself that I am going to practice this Buddhism very earnestly so that I can eradicate my bad karma. In this case, my parents and I will not have to suffer from poverty anymore.
    I reassure Gohonzon that now that I am awakened to my true identity as a Bodhisattva of the Earth, I will definitely carry out my true mission to help others without having to use my own suffering as an impetus. In this case, I don’t have to suffer anymore.

Now, let’s talk about eradicating karma through working in the real world:
What we think, say and do becomes the substance of our life. If we keep on doing the same thing as before, our lives will be forever the same. In fact, our lives will get worse as we grow older.
Therefore, if we want to live a different life, we have to do things differently, or do something extra. I personally really dislike suffering, therefore, if I have to choose, I will do both to change my life once and for all!
When we chant for the goal to change our job karma, we mean to advance in our job and increase our income. The Buddhist Gods will protect us and provide us with the right opportunity. Our wisdom will emerge and we get better ideas with which to fulfill this goal. Our life force will be strong so that we can endure the process to breakthrough.
Here comes the hard part. We are already tied up with everyday work. In order to do something extra, we might have to sacrifice our sleep and leisure time. Please don’t dislike me because I say this. Every move creates new causes in our lives. A good cause produces good effects; a bad cause, bad effects; no cause, no effects. Therefore, we have to be very diligent, active, earnest, positive and hard working. There’s no time to worry, to complain or to feel sad.
For example, if we want to get out of poverty, we need to increase our skill in making money. We obtain more education or learn from all kinds of resources. We can work on more than one job. We spend more time on and work harder at our job to become more skillful and to get promotions. We also try to stop unnecessary spending. Of course we can set a goal to marry a millionaire. Then we will instantly become rich without going through all the effort! But the opportunity is limited to the single persons and maybe only for the pretty or handsome ones.
Unless we have the penetrating ichinen to work persistently and make a change, we will soon go back to our routine before we see any change. We have to plunge into an all-out effort to totally turn around our life. We should not give up and just run away from the problem. Otherwise, 10 years or 20 years from now, we will still be suffering from the same thing and living the same old sorrowful life.
It might take five to ten years before we see the solid result. But, if we don’t ever do it, it will never happen, even after lifetimes. Our karma will stay with us forever. We get to make the decision.
Do you feel restless and breathless after hearing all the heavy-duty words? Since I came a long way, this is a rare opportunity for me. I have to show off my ‘strength’. One of my district members says that I am very strict and serious. All it takes is one sentence from me for her to feel that she has to follow through for the rest of her life. Another member commented that she often dreamed of me telling her to chant more and work harder. Even her non-member husband dreamed that I told him to set his career goal and stick to the goal! I hope I don’t become your nightmare from now on. Please remember my smiling face!
The whole country is suffering from all kinds of problems. Her people suffer too. You may wonder where the way out is. As the practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism, we have Gohonzon and infinite fortune. We know how to set goals and to chant for them. We have the protection, wisdom and life force to fight against vicious karma.
Although the job market is so bad, there are still hundreds of thousands of jobs that need to be filled. Our determination is that as long as there is still one opportunity available, we should be the one who gets the job. That’s the best opportunity for us to show our strength as Buddhists.
Yes, the economy is so bad. But there are plenty of people who are still doing very well financially. We should determine to be among those people who are successful and can show actual proof. This is the best opportunity for us to exert ourselves to prove the validity of this great Buddhism!
The lives of the practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism withstand any hardship because the benefits of Gohonzon are expansive, infinite and know no bounds! Buddhism is to win or to lose. We definitely have the power to claim victory in every aspect of our lives!
A country’s karma affects the lives of her citizens. In the meantime, her citizens’ individual karma combined becomes the country’s karma. If the country is prosperous, her people must be enjoying the benefits. If most people in a country are happy and rich, the country can’t be in a bad shape. When most of the citizens have transformed their karma, the entire nation’s karma will change. This is the Buddhist principle of oneness of life and its environment.
I grew up in Taiwan. Thirty, forty years ago, Taiwan was poor and undeveloped. Life there was not easy at all. People in Taiwan worked together with the government to elevate their education level, diligently focus on production and engage in exporting business… Ten years was long enough to turn around her situation. As a result, Taiwan became a rich and developed country. Her people were able to enjoy their lives.
We are not trying to be materialistic. But, we cannot ignore the reality that material can benefit our lives.
This Buddhist practice is powerful but not magic. It can help manifest amazing results only when accompanied by our strong determination and untiring actions. There’s absolutely no shortcut. We have to take persistent and painstaking actions to make things happen. Even though there is the law of simultaneity of cause and effect, we cannot expect good effect to fall on us prior to making good cause. Cause must precede effect. If we are not happy with our country’s karma, the change starts from our personal karma. Each and every one of us can contribute to make a difference!