When past karma ripens in the present,
new karma is created by how one responds,
which affects the direction of past karma,
and creates the direction of future karma.
Children are born from four causes: repaying past kindness; repaying past wrongs; repaying past debts; claiming past debts. “Repaying past kindness” means that the child incurred a debt of gratitude to the parents in a previous lifetime. To repay it, he or she has come to be born in the parents’ household and will attend painstakingly to their needs throughout life. He will ensure that they are well provided for while alive and receive decent burials and oﬀerings after death. The child may even perform great public service, helping the country and the people, his name being remembered in history. Thus, when future generations honor him, they will extend their respect and admiration to his parents. Devoted children and virtuous grandchildren, nowadays, generally belong to this category.
“Repaying past wrongs” means that in a past lifetime, the parents committed some wrong toward their present children. Therefore, the children have come to be born in their household seeking retribution. Thus, when still young, the children will be unruly and when grown, they will create misfortune and calamities implicating their parents. In old age the parents will be left in want, while their treatment after death will not only dishonor them, the shame will extend to the ancestors as well. At times, when holding key government positions, the children may even engage in criminal acts, causing the family’s assets to be seized, the lineage exterminated and the graves of the ancestors dug up and desecrated. Thus, when future generations abuse and revile them, they will also hate and despise their parents.
“Repaying past debts” means that the child has come to be reborn in his parents’ household because, in a previous lifetime, he incurred a debt toward them. If it is a great debt, repayment can take the parents’ entire lifetime. If the debt is modest, repayment can cover part of the parents’ lifetime … Thus, for example, some children assist their parents in business, only to die suddenly as the enterprise becomes proﬁtable. “Claiming past debts” means that, in a past lifetime, the parents incurred some obligation toward their child, who has now been born in their household in order to claim payment. If the debt is small, the parents will merely have to spend money to feed and clothe him, attend to his health and education, ﬁnd him a spouse and train him to establish himself in the community. Once the debt is paid, the child will die suddenly. If the debt is sizeable, the child may sometimes deplete all of the parents’ assets before dying. [Every relationship is dynamic, subject to change with our attitudes and actions.]
Pure-Land Zen, Zen Pure Land: Letters from Patriarch Yin Kuang