When most people think of Buddhism, they tend to imagine things like Asians in robes with cleanly shaven heads who chant in old monasteries and live in seclusion from the world. People unfamiliar with the actual teachings of Buddhism might look at these images and assume that Buddhism is about denying themselves the things they enjoy in life; that it is stuck in the past and irrelevant to the present day and age. This is not true.
The name Buddhism means ‘path to awakening,’ but awaken to what? – awaken to the realization that we are the creators of our lives, are responsible for everything in them, and by extension, can make our lives whatever we want them to be.
This can seem like a bold claim if we consider absolutely everything that has occurred in our lives, from the moment we were born onwards, including our birth. The Teachings, as they explain how we create our lives, are not things to be taken on faith. We are not obligated or expected to believe that we are the creators of our lives, but in order to test out that premise, we do need to allow for the possibility that we don’t know all there is to know about ourselves and what life and death are all about. This requires honesty with ourselves and a sense of adventure to test out whether the Teachings are true or not by applying them to our lives.
People can sometimes get angry if they are told that the life situations in which they felt like victims were set up through their own actions. It seems absurd, like the victim is being blamed. This isn’t so. The actual point being made is that, because we create our own lives, we are not fated to endure what does not make us happy. It offers the possibility of total freedom.
Buddhism teaches that our existence did not begin with birth into this life, but that we have actually lived countless previous lives, and in those lives, we set up everything we ever encountered in this life through the choices we made. Today, we are simultaneously encountering the effects of our past actions, as well as enacting the cause of our future events and circumstances. This pattern of action-reaction is called karma, which is another way of saying
memory. Karma, then, is not the result of a vengeful deity judging us as good or bad. It is just part of the natural law that operates in life to construct memories, which are then replayed, one memory overlapping another to fuse a condition of karma, or result, from living in a habitual way.