This is the start of a new year. Traditionally, it is a time for reflecting on how our life is going, of taking stock, and of establishing our intentions for the coming year. We view the New Year as a symbolic fresh start for our life – an opportunity to reboot. People set intentions for their lives going forward from here. Resolutions are made regarding family, work, diet and exercise. We take the opportunity for a new start – letting go of the past and looking toward the future.
The idea of newness is important and helpful for leading a skilful life. We should actually view every moment as a fresh start. We celebrate newness once a year, but really we should actualize it in each moment as best we can. Each moment is really is new, and it will influence and condition the moments that follow it.
Our practice at our center has clear Buddhist roots, but the religion of Buddhism is not imposed on anyone. People that practice here come from and remain in a variety of religious traditions – or none at all. Even though that is the case, I believe there are many concepts from Buddhism that are very helpful for anyone walking this sort of path – the adoption of which does not necessarily mean identifying yourself as an adherent of the Buddhist religion.
One of the ideas in traditional Buddhism that is helpful, and relevant to our topic of newness, is Kamma. Kamma literally means action, and it basically states that every intentional action results in some consequence. Every intentional mental, oral, or bodily act, will produce some effect in our future conscious experience. Now, you do not have to accept any metaphysical explanation for this in order to benefit from the pragmatic implications of the doctrine of Kamma. Instead of considering it a metaphysical theory, we can see it as a pragmatic recognition of the conditioned nature of experience. When we intentionally harbor thoughts of hatred and ill-will, for example, we are increasing the likelihood that future moments of consciousness will also be filled with ill-will, planting the seeds for future mental suffering, and of course, the ill-will that we are harboring may get reflected back on us by others.
What makes this acknowledgment of kammic causality so helpful, is its pragmatism. It reminds us that there is no point in worrying about kammic seeds that were planted in the past. Whatever thoughts, words, or actions, that took place in the past will bear some sort of fruit eventually, and we will have to experience that fruit – there is no point in getting agitated about it, all we can do is be present for the fruit when it arises. So this doctrine encourages the nonjudgmental awareness of our experience that is central to mindfulness practice.
You may perceive this as fatalistic, but to see it this way is to only see one side of the coin. While what is being experienced now has been determined by prior causes and conditions, it is my engagement with this moment that will determine the quality of future moments. So, it underscores the creative potential in each moment. The intentionality we bring to each moment shapes our experience not only of the present, but also of subsequent moments. The doctrine of kamma underscores the creative urgency of each moment. Each moment is a new start to the rest of our lives. When we are mindful of our intention in this moment, and how we are engaging with what is being experienced in this moment, we are exercising our responsibility for the unfolding of our life going forward from moment to moment.
One of the most important intentions we can cultivate is the intention to be awake, to have mindfulness, to have self-awareness. When our mind is awake, our thought, actions, and speech will naturally be right. We get into trouble with our speech and actions when we lose ourselves. So maybe we can use this start of the New Year as an opportunity to reestablish our moment-to-moment intention to be awake, to be mindful.