Just as each person has unique feature, he or she also has unique causes and effects and an individual set of debts incurred in past lives. Some people have such heavy debts that they cannot repay them in one lifetime. Their debts (their karmic hindrances) keep getting higher and deeper with each passing day. Debts are slapped on top of debts until they can never extricate themselves.
Why is this? In previous lives they were loan sharks; they lend money to people at exorbitant interest rates. In their insatiable greed, they thought they were getting a bargain, but in fact they were taking a loss. Their karmic hindrances became heavier and heavier until they finally became stuck. Some owe the debt of being a father or a mother; others owe the debt of being a husband or a wife; others owe the debt of being a son or a daughter. There is a Chinese phrase, “the debt of being parents in the account-book of human relations.” Our fate in this lifetime is determined by various causes and conditions. Ordinary people do not realize that everything is a result of cause and effect and that there is no escape from fixed karma. Sometimes they refuse to acknowledge their debts and pay up. Such unreasonable behavior leads to all sorts of problems in this world: You have your problems, and I have mine. Each person has his or her own set of causes and effects involving a mixture of good and bad deeds.
Once a while, we may encounter Buddhism and understand a little bit of its principles. One day we may understand, but the next day we become muddled again. The day after that we try to understand again, but the following day we are confused again. There is an equal balance of wisdom and delusion. On days of wisdom, we want to cultivate; on confused days, we don’t. Most of the time we are confused, and we spend very little time cultivating. The fruits of our cultivation are far too few to make up for the merit we lose. Our wisdom diminishes and our delusion increases day by day. Driven by ignorance, we do many foolish things. Our confused thoughts lead to confused actions. The greed, anger, and delusion in our minds cause us to commit acts of killing, stealing, and lust. These confused accounts can never be straightened out.
As a result there is disharmony within families: fathers can’t get along with their sons, mothers can’t get along with their daughters, husbands and wives don’t get along and brothers and sisters are in disharmony. However, instead of acknowledging the problems and accepting responsibility, each person feels wronged. Actually, all of this is the law of cause and effect at work. Everything in the present is an effect resulting from causes planted in the past. So what is there to feel resentful about? There is a proverb:
One who understands fate will not stand beside a crumbling wall.
He neither complains to heaven nor blames other people.
His subordinates learn from him, and his superiors know him.
First of all, we should understand cause and effect. We should plant pure causes and stop planting confused ones. We should advance upon the Way and retreat from what is not the Way. We should not confuse good and evil, right and wrong. If we can distinguish black from white and false from true, then we have the chance to return to the source and recover the pure, bright essence of our wonderful, true and inherent nature.
A talk given on June 16,1980