Translated by Andrew Yang
It is true what ordinary people care about the most is themselves and their own destiny. Some think their life is dreadful and blame it on fate. Others assume that everything in their life is determined by destiny, and thus they need to do nothing but accept what happens. Of course, most people fall in between these two extremes.
Buddhism believes that all connections and relations that happen in our lives, be they joy or sorrow, success or failure, all embody the principle of karma and dependent origination. Whatever one’s social status, nobody gets special treatment beyond the law of causality. Not a religious precept, causality is a yardstick in our mind to measure our destiny day in and day out.
Our destiny is not predestined. If one does enough good in time, his otherwise evil fate could be seriously altered. The Karma over Three Lives Sutra has this to say, “To know the karma from one’s past life, see its effect on this life. To know its effect on one’s next life, see what he does in this life.” This means that what one experiences in this life, whether favourable or adverse, is shaped by his actions in past lives. And how one behaves and acts today determines his future lives. Hence, one’s destiny, constantly changing with the karma being accrued, is not subject to a lord. The lord of one’s fate is in fact none but himself.
According to Morality: A Historical Account, two scholars, born on the same day, at the same time and same place, both earned, on the same day, the highest academic degree equivalent to a PhD. And later, they held the same official post, one in Ezhou and the other in Huangzhou. It was mutually agreed that in future, they would update each other about their ups and downs, so they could verify whether they indeed had the same fate.
After a few years, the official stationed in Huangzhou passed away. Upon learning the sad news, the official in Ezhou went to mourn, saying beside his coffin, “Buddy, you and I were born on the same day, at the same time and same place, and we had the same job, but how come you have died before me? Isn’t one’s life supposed to be preordained? And why have you and I shared the same fame, same fortune, and same fate until now? If you know in the other world, do please let me know”.
In a dream that very night, the Huangzhou colleague gave his take, “You and I had the same karma from our previous lives, so we should have had the same fate in this life, except that I lived in extravagance and decadence, consuming all the congenial karma from my previous lives while not doing more good to cultivate more of it. That’s why I am dead. As to you, you have been frugal and disciplined, and so you are still alive. It’s important to know that the food, clothing, wealth and fortune one enjoys are all set by karma from previous lives. For example, if someone has a thousand dollars and spends one dollar a day, that money lasts three years. If he spends ten dollars a day, then it lasts one hundred days. And if he squanders, it runs out even faster. Buddy, since you often help the poor including young scholars, and set free animals in captivity, your lifespan gets extended. In this way, although we were born at the same time, on the same day and in the same place, our lifespans and fortunes are distinctly different. I advise you to caution your fellow human beings with this story. If so, hopefully, my own evil karma may be reduced with the merit from this dream. Please keep it well in mind!”
One must leave room when enjoying life and not be lavish and wasteful. Ksitigarbha Sutra says, “With pernicious evils, do not assume they are minor and not a sin, for they do show up in minute ways when life ends. Father, son and others in the family all have their own distinct paths, and even if they do meet in another life, they are not able to trade karma with each other.” No sentient being lives outside the law of causality. Lust and extravagance being two typical sources of evil, they are what human beings crave for, but extravagance is close to greed just as lust is tantamount to killing. Indeed, they lead to carnage and other depravity.
The karma from one’s past conduct, given the right condition, becomes a cause for further reimbursement. Accordingly, if we are to have peace and happiness, we must better our own behaviour in order to turn curse into blessing, because all fortune and misfortune lie in our own hands.
Only you who can create your destiny and change your destiny.