Take Hold of the New Year
I heard this story from a professor of mine this past year. It was a story about his grandmother, and I really found it appropriate to share here as we look hopefully and expectantly toward the new year.
There is a popular form of Chinese fortune telling called Bazi, which is astrology based on where and when someone was born. It is common in Hong Kong — this was especially true among the older generations — to seek an astrology reading that will map out their entire lives. The reading is presented as a kind of book of readings, to which they can refer as they age. When my professor was in his 20s, he took up this form of fortune telling as a hobby.
When he was practicing, he visited his grandmother, and she gave him her readings, written for her at a young age. She said, “You can have it. It is no longer any use for me.” Apparently, the fortune teller told her that she would die in her 80s, and at that time she was already past the predicted age and no longer had any readings left. She ultimately lived more than 100 years.
First of all, this is a good reminder to all of us, not to believe everything an astrologer or fortune teller might advise or predict for us. They could be very wrong! And even if the person is gifted and skilled, there is only so much that can be told by our stars. The rest is in our hands, and we are constantly shaping our future as we navigate our present moment.
In Mahayana Buddhism, there is the concept of merit, which one can amass by doing good deeds, by having wholesome words and thoughts, etc. This merit is supposed to positively affect this life and carry into next lives. My professor’s grandmother was always doing good, and they considered her to have accumulated a lot of merit, which may have contributed to her long and healthy life.
Merit is not an Early Buddhist concept, and while I do not completely buy into this idea (it gets too hokus pokus for me), I do agree that not everything is predestined. And for sure, through early teachings on kamma, Buddha was trying to motivate people to act for the moral and spiritual benefit of the individual and of society.
There are 3 principles in Early Buddhism that deal with morality:
1. Kamma-vāda – This says that our actions have consequences and places a lot of emphasis on moral responsibility.
2. Kiriya-vāda – This encourages us to do morally wholesome acts and refrain from morally unwholesome acts. This is in regards to bodily actions (killing, stealing, sexual conduct), verbal actions (false speech, malicious speech, harsh speech, and gossip) and mental actions (covetousness, ill will, and right view).
3. Viriya-vāda – This emphasizes human effort in the quest for a moral life.
We are free to act. However, when we start practicing, due to patterns/habits and conditionings, we face some limitations. Over time we become freer when we begin to attenuate these self-inflicted limitations through proper practice and insight.
There are so many things that no astrologer could possibly foresee. Like how we live our lives — everything we do has consequences. Furthermore, sometimes we are touched by a bit of Grace, and if we are very lucky we find a teacher further along the path than we are, one who can support us and help us on our journey.
Don’t believe everything you are told. And don’t worry about your next life. Whether rebirth exists or not, what is important is this life, alleviating suffering for yourself and others in this life, here and now. Take hold of your future . . . today.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!