It’s an often asked question: how much free will do we have, if karma rules our lives?
I usually answer: Karma rules our circumstances, our potential, our habits. Karma does not rule what we do with all that today. What we do today: thoughts, emotions, insights, words and deeds creates new karma.
Let’s back up a bit. I said ‘karma rules our circumstances, our potential, our habits‘.
Usually when people talk about karma, they talk about circumstance. It was my karma to be born poor (or rich). It was my karma to have freckles. It was his karma to be beaten as a child. etc.
What is less often focused on is talent and habits. These are called ‘skandhas’ in Buddhism – or at least some of the skandhas rule talent and habits. In other words: what we learned in past lives, what we focused on, what we dreamed of, what we trained at. All that affects what our talents and habits are in this life. Of course a major part of our habits now has to do with what we do in THIS life. Whether we practiced something for hours or gave up after 15 minutes, influences how well we know how to do something.
As I said: Karma does not rule what we do with all that today. What we do today: thoughts, emotions, insights, words and deeds creates new karma.
How we respond to our circumstances now, deal with our talents now, apply our gifts, share of ourselves – that is also karma. Whether we help that kid that gets beaten up by his dad. Whether we use our options to alleviate a bit of the sorrow in this world. That’s our freedom: how we respond to what life throws our way. And more actively: what atmosphere we help create in our day to day lives.
A version of this post appears in my book Essays on Karma.