What is the "Eternity of Life"?
Some religions teach that we live only one lifetime, and when we die, we go permanently to some beautiful hereafter such as Heaven or some horrific eternal torture chamber known as hell. Buddhism's view of eternal life, however, posits that one's life or essence has no real beginning or end. We live many lifetimes, repeating the cycle of birth and death. Like going to sleep at night, we refresh our bodies and wake up anew.
Buddhism explains that our lives possess an eternal and unchanging aspect. When we die, our life functions may stop, but the essence of our lives -- our eternal identity, with myriad causes engraved in it -- continues in a form that cannot be seen. Death then becomes the potential for life. Again, death is just like a rosebush in winter, which contains the potential for flowers (life) within and when the correct external circumstances are present, the roses will bloom (birth).
Everything we've done until this moment adds up to who we are. This is the law of cause and effect. For every cause, there must be an effect. This is karma. We make myriad causes every day through our thoughts, words and deeds, and for each cause we receive an effect.
Buddhism says that, in essence, this law of cause and effect is simultaneous. The moment a cause is created an effect is registered like a seed planted in the depths of life. In fact, this law is symbolized by the lotus flower, which seeds and blooms at the same time. While the effect is planted the same instant the cause is created, it may not appear instantly. When the correct external circumstances appear, the effect will then transform from potential to actual. Looked at another way, our karma is like a bank balance of latent effects we'll experience when our lives meet the right environmental conditions.
As we live our lives (making causes), effects reside within us, and when we die, those effects dictate the circumstances of our birth in the next life. When we are reborn, therefore, we still face the same problems or karma from causes we have made. This goes a long way to explaining why people are born under such different circumstances -- in other words, why people have different karma.
This principle suggests we can change our karma or destiny that we may have thought unchangeable. This is the great hope and promise offered by Buddhist practice. While in theory all we have to do is make the best causes to get the best effects, many times we feel we have little control over the causes we make. A prime example is when we get angry at and say something we don't really mean to people who are close to us. At such times, the condition of anger may seem more powerful than our general nature. When we practice Buddhism, however, we can establish Buddhahood as our basic condition of life and face our circumstances filled with wisdom and compassion.

What are the The Ten Worlds?
One way that Buddhism explains life is through a concept known as "the ten worlds." These are ten states or conditions of life that we experience within ourselves and are then manifested throughout all aspects of our lives. Each of us possesses the potential for all ten, and we shift from one to another at any moment, according to our interaction with the environment. That is, at each moment, one of the ten worlds is being manifested and the other nine are dormant. From lowest to highest, they are:
Hell -- This is a state of suffering and despair, in which we perceive we have no freedom of action. It is characterized by the impulse to destroy ourselves and everything around us.
Hunger -- Hunger is the state of being controlled by insatiable desire for money, power, status, or whatever. While desires are inherent in any of the ten worlds, in this state we are at the mercy of our cravings and cannot control them.
Animality -- In this state, we are ruled by instinct. We exhibit neither reason nor moral sense nor the ability to make long-range judgments. In the world of Animality, we operate by the law of the jungle, so to speak. We will not hesitate to take advantage of those weaker than ourselves and fawn on those who are stronger.
Anger -- In this next state, awareness of ego emerges, but it is a selfish, greedy, distorted ego, determined to best others at all costs and seeing everything as a potential threat to itself. In this state we value only ourselves and tend to hold others in contempt. We are strongly attached to the idea of our own superiority and cannot bear to admit that anyone exceeds us in anything.
Humanity (also called Tranquillity) -- This is a flat, passive state of life, from which we can easily shift into the lower four worlds. While we may generally behave in a humane fashion in this state, we are highly vulnerable to strong external influences.
Heaven (or Rapture) -- This is a state of intense joy stemming, for example, from the fulfillment of some desire, a sense of physical well-being, or inner contentment. Though intense, the joy experienced in this state is short-lived and also vulnerable to external influences.
The six states from Hell to Heaven are called the six paths or six lower worlds. They have in common the fact that their emergence or disappearance is governed by external circumstances. Take the example of a man obsessed by the desire to find someone to love him (Hunger). When he at last does meet that person, he feels ecstatic and fulfilled (Heaven). By and by, potential rivals appear on the scene, and he is seized by jealousy (Anger). Eventually, his possessiveness drives his loved one away. Crushed by despair (Hell), he feels life is no longer worth living. In this way, many of us spend time shuttling back and forth among the six paths without ever realizing we are being controlled by our reactions to the environment. Any happiness or satisfaction to be gained in these states depends totally upon circumstances and is therefore transient and subject to change.
In these six lower worlds, we base our entire happiness, indeed our whole identity, on externals.
The next two states, Learning and Realization, come about when we recognize that everything experienced in the six paths is impermanent, and we begin to seek some lasting truth. These two states plus the next two, Bodhisattva and Buddhahood, are together called the four noble worlds. Unlike the six paths, which are passive reactions to the environment, these four higher states are achieved through deliberate effort.
Learning -- In this state, we seek the truth through the teachings or experience of others.
Realization -- This state is similar to Learning, except that we seek the truth not through others' teachings but through our own direct perception of the world.
Learning and Realization are together called the "two vehicles." Having realized the impermanence of things, people in these states have won a measure of independence and are no longer prisoner to their own reactions as in the six paths. However, they often tend to be contemptuous of people in the six paths who have not yet reached this understanding. In addition, their search for truth is primarily self-oriented, so there is a great potential for egotism in these two states; and they may become satisfied with their progress without discovering the highest potential of human life in the ninth and tenth worlds.
Bodhisattva -- Bodhisattvas are those who aspire to achieve enlightenment and at the same time are equally determined to enable all other beings to do the same. Conscious of the bonds that link us to all others, in this state we realize that any happiness we alone enjoy is incomplete, and we devote ourselves to alleviating others' suffering. Those in this state find their greatest satisfaction in altruistic behavior.
The states from Hell to Bodhisattva are collectively termed "the nine worlds." This expression is often used in contrast to the tenth world, the enlightened state of Buddhahood.
Buddhahood -- Buddhahood is a dynamic state that is difficult to describe. We can partially describe it as a state of perfect freedom, in which we are enlightened to the ultimate truth of life. It is characterized by infinite compassion and boundless wisdom. In this state, we can resolve harmoniously what appear from the standpoint of the nine worlds to be insoluble contradictions. A Buddhist sutra describes the attributes of the Buddha's life as a true self, perfect freedom from karmic bonds throughout eternity, a life purified of illusion, and absolute happiness. Also, the state of Buddhahood is physically expressed in the Bodhisattva Way or actions of a Bodhisattva.

What Is The Mutual Possession of the Ten Worlds?

The ten worlds were originally thought of as distinct physical realms into which beings were born as a result of accumulated karma. For example, human beings were born in the world of Humanity, animals in the world of Animality and gods in the world of Heaven. In Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism, the ten worlds are instead viewed as conditions of life that all people have the potential to experience. At any moment, one of the ten will be manifest and the other nine dormant, but there is always the potential for change.
This principle is further expressed as the mutual possession of the ten worlds -- the concept that each of the ten worlds possesses all ten within itself. For example, a person now in the state of Hell may, at the next moment, either remain in Hell or manifest any of the other nine states. The vital implication of this principle is that all people, in whatever state of life, have the ever-present potential to manifest Buddhahood. And equally important is that Buddhahood is found within the reality of our lives in the other nine worlds, not somewhere separate.
In the course of a day, we experience different states from moment to moment in response to our interaction with the environment. The sight of another's suffering may call forth the compassionate world of Bodhisattva, and the loss of a loved one will plunge us into Hell. However, all of us have one or more worlds around which our life-activities usually center and to which we tend to revert when external stimuli subside. This is one's basic life-tendency, and it has been established by each individual through prior actions. Some people's lives revolve around the three evil paths, some move back and forth among the six lower worlds, and some are primarily motivated by the desire to seek the truth that characterizes the two vehicles. The purpose of Buddhist practice is to elevate the basic life-tendency and eventually establish Buddhahood as one's fundamental state.
Establishing Buddhahood as our basic life-tendency does not mean we rid ourselves of the other nine worlds. All these states are integral and necessary aspects of life. Without experiencing the sufferings of Hell ourselves, we could never feel true compassion for others. Without the instinctive desires represented by Hunger and Animality, we would forget to eat, sleep and reproduce ourselves, and soon become extinct. Even if we establish Buddhahood as our fundamental life-tendency, we will still continue to experience the joys and sorrows of the nine worlds. However, they will not control us, and we will not define ourselves in terms of them. Based on the life-tendency of Buddhahood, our nine worlds will be harmonized and function to benefit both ourselves and those around us.

What Is The Oneness of Life and Its Environment?

The principle of the oneness of life and its environment describes the inseparable relationship of the individual and the environment. People generally have a tendency to regard the environment as something separate from themselves, and from the viewpoint of that which we can observe, we are justified in drawing this distinction. However, from the viewpoint of ultimate reality, the individual and the environment are one and inseparable. Life manifests itself in both a living subject and an objective environment.
"Life" indicates a subjective "self" that experiences the karmic effects of past actions. The environment is the objective realm where the karmic effects of life take shape. Environment here does not mean one overall context in which all beings live. Each living being has his or her own unique environment in which the effects of karma appear. The effects of one's karma, both good and bad, manifest themselves both in one's self and in the environment, because these are two integral phases of the same entity.
Since both life and its environment are one, whichever of the ten worlds an individual manifests internally will be mirrored in his or her environment. For example, a person in the state of Hell will perceive the environment to be hellish, while a person in the world of Animality will perceive the same environment as a jungle where only the strong survive. This idea has important implications. First, as already mentioned, we need not seek enlightenment in a particular place. Wherever we are, under whatever circumstances, we can bring forth our innate Buddhahood through the Buddhist practice, thus transforming our experience of our environment into the Buddha's land. This is an act of freedom whereby we liberate ourselves from control by circumstances. For example, if we sufficiently elevate our condition of life, we will not be crushed by adversity but can command the strength and wisdom to use it constructively for our own development.
Moreover, as we accumulate good karma through Buddhist practice, the effects of the karma will become apparent not only in ourselves but also in our environment, in the form of improved material circumstances, greater respect from others, and so forth.
From this standpoint, one's environment stretches out to encompass the whole dimension of space. Our enlightenment is therefore not confined to ourselves but exerts an influence on our families, communities, nations, and ultimately all humanity. The principle of the oneness of life and its environment is the rationale for asserting that the Buddhist practice of individuals will work a transformation in society. Buddhism expands the entire reality of life and shows the way to live a winning life -- the most fulfilled existence.

How are we responsible for our own karma? And can we change it?
The question of destiny or karma has greatly preoccupied philosophers in both the West and the East. One Western theory is that when we are born our lives are like a sheet of paper on which nothing is written. Each life then develops as a result of its surroundings and the forces acting on it - parents, friends, society, the dominant culture, and so on.
Buddhism, however, teaches the eternity of life; that we have lived countless lives already. This means that we are not born as blank pages, but pages on which countless impressions have already been made. According to Buddhism, life is forever existing in the cosmos; sometimes it is manifest and sometimes latent. Just as when we sleep and then awaken; our conscious mind awakens and our body feels refreshed. Between the sleeping and awakening, our consciousness carries on in a sub-conscious state. Similarly one's life continues eternally in alternating states of life and death. Death is as much a part of living as sleep is part of the process of living.
Karma is thus the accumulation of effects from the good and bad causes that we bring with us from our former lives, as well as from the good and bad causes we have made in this lifetime, which shapes our future. Karma is a Sanskrit word that means 'action'. Karma is created by actions - our thoughts, words and deeds - and manifests itself in our appearance, behavior, attitudes, good and bad fortune, where we are born or live - in short, everything about us. It is all the positive and negative influences or causes that make up our complete reality in this world.
Unlike some other philosophies though, Buddhism does not consider one's karma or destiny to be fixed; since our minds change from moment to moment, even the habitual and destructive tendencies we all possess to varying degrees can be altered. In other words, Buddhism teaches that individuals have within themselves the potential to change their own karma.
All that we do in one lifetime affects the negative and positive balance of our karma. For example, if we are born poor in this lifetime and spend our life giving to others whatever we can give, we are making causes to change the negative karma of being poor. On the other hand, if we spend our life envying or hating or even stealing from others, we are adding to our negative balance of karma.
Buddhism teaches we have all amassed karma throughout countless lives and that we not only experience the effects of this karma now, but we continue to recreate it. However, the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin teaches that there is an area of our life that is more profound than our karma - our Buddhahood or Buddha nature. The purpose of our Buddhist practice is to reveal this area and to allow its pure life force to purify our lives and change our karma at the deepest level.
As SGI President Daisaku Ikeda explains: "It is the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin that enables the pure life force of the Buddha state, which has existed within us since time without beginning, to well forth in unceasing currents. It changes all the tragic causes and effects that lie between and unveils the pure causes and effects which exist from the beginningless past towards the present and the future. This is liberation from the heavy shackles of destiny we have carried from the past. This is the establishment of free individuals in the truest sense of the term."