I’m particularly surprised that people so often assume vipāka is always the result of action only in a past life. I ask them: ‘What about things you’ve done in this life? Aren’t they going to have some effect as well?’ It’s bizarre – especially since our everyday world keeps suggesting very strongly that the choices we make in this life matter a lot: choosing to leave that country; choosing to cheat in that exam; choosing to make that donation; choosing to marry that person…
Common sense shows that the actions we take in this life continually have a variety of effects, and we seem able to have freedom of choice.
Our life is pre-conditioned. But, according to the Buddhist understanding of things, what words I choose to say and your reactions to them are up to us as we are now. The world is definitely pre-conditioned but what we do with it here in the present moment is entirely up to us. Choices can be made, and those choices make a difference. That’s why karma, actions, our efforts, make a difference. That’s how orientation is given to our life, and how we are able to steer our actions, our lives and our understanding towards that which is wholesome, that which is liberating. It is not a fixed deterministic universe.
The model that the Buddha described to Moḷiya Sīvaka has been formalized and expanded and is now known as ‘The Five Niyāmas’ or ‘Laws of Nature’.
So when we are considering who is pulling the strings, the Buddhist answer would be: ‘Wrong question’. ‘Who?’ is the wrong question. It’s not a matter of who but rather of understanding how these different forces, these different laws that contribute to our experience, operate and function in relationship to each other. In addition, it’s an issue of recognizing that karma, action, personal choices, form just a tiny proportion of the whole array. But they are the ones that get our attention, because they’re the ones that are most varied or unpredictable, and because we love to personalize things and that’s what sells the tabloids.
This reflection by Ajahn Amaro is from Who Is Pulling the Strings? Chapter: What Laws Govern Life and the Universe?