The question of destiny or karma has greatly preoccupied philosophers in both the West and the East. One Western theory is that when we are born our lives are like a sheet of paper on which nothing is written. Each life then develops as a result of its surroundings and the forces acting on it - parents, friends, society, the dominant culture, and so on.
Buddhism, however, teaches the eternity of life; that we have lived countless lives already. This means that we are not born as blank pages, but pages on which countless impressions have already been made. According to Buddhism, life is forever existing in the cosmos; sometimes it is manifest and sometimes latent. Just as when we sleep and then awaken; our conscious mind awakens and our body feels refreshed. Between the sleeping and awakening, our consciousness carries on in a sub-conscious state. Similarly one's life continues eternally in alternating states of life and death. Death is as much a part of living as sleep is part of the process of living.
Karma is thus the accumulation of effects from the good and bad causes that we bring with us from our former lives, as well as from the good and bad causes we have made in this lifetime, which shapes our future. Karma is a Sanskrit word that means 'action'. Karma is created by actions - our thoughts, words and deeds - and manifests itself in our appearance, behavior, attitudes, good and bad fortune, where we are born or live - in short, everything about us. It is all the positive and negative influences or causes that make up our complete reality in this world.
Unlike some other philosophies though, Buddhism does not consider one's karma or destiny to be fixed; since our minds change from moment to moment, even the habitual and destructive tendencies we all possess to varying degrees can be altered. In other words, Buddhism teaches that individuals have within themselves the potential to change their own karma.
All that we do in one lifetime affects the negative and positive balance of our karma. For example, if we are born poor in this lifetime and spend our life giving to others whatever we can give, we are making causes to change the negative karma of being poor. On the other hand, if we spend our life envying or hating or even stealing from others, we are adding to our negative balance of karma.
Buddhism teaches we have all amassed karma throughout countless lives and that we not only experience the effects of this karma now, but we continue to recreate it. However, the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin teaches that there is an area of our life that is more profound than our karma - our Buddhahood or Buddha nature. The purpose of our Buddhist practice is to reveal this area and to allow its pure life force to purify our lives and change our karma at the deepest level.
As SGI President Daisaku Ikeda explains, "It is the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin that enables the pure life force of the Buddha state, which has existed within us since time without beginning, to well forth in unceasing currents”. It changes all the tragic causes and effects that lie between and unveils the pure causes and effects which exist from the beginningless past towards the present and the future. This is liberation from the heavy shackles of destiny we have carried from the past. This is the establishment of free individuals in the truest sense of the term."