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Some people debate whether there is any such things as a pervious life. But in Japan our frequent references to a person's "inborn" character and "natural-born" talents are an unconscious acknowledgment that an individual is the accumulation of the experiences and habits of his former lives.

Of course, we are not conscious decision makers at the moment we arrive int his world. It is only later that we come to assert ourselves. We grow up under the slow but subtle influence of the everyday behavior of our parents and others close to us. In time we go to school, where our teachers and friends help further solidify our views and way of thinking.

There is no such thing, in other words, as a self that is not influenced by others.

Whether a person's disposition is inherited or congenial, it is molded by the people--parents and others--with whom that person lives for twenty years. Slowly but surely the self, both body and mind, is unconsciously shaped by these surrounding influences. Buddhism makes an analogy with the way the fragrance of burning incense clings to our clothing.

Our habits and customs are the accumulation of our responses to all things we see, hear, and learn each day; in time, they merge to form what we call character. This is what the ancient Chinese Shu Ching (Book of Documents) means when it says that our habits form our character.

When we accept the premise that we are greatly influenced by our surroundings, we then naturally begin to wonder how many of our preference and decisions are really our own.

Nikkyo Niwano

Buddhism For Everyday Life

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