The Four Reliances


Guidelines for learning the Dharma:

1) Rely on the Dharma, rather than on the person teaching the Dharma.

2) Rely on the meaning or point (artha), rather than on the literal words.

3) Rely on sutras (texts) that are definitive (nitartha), rather than those that are provisional (neyartha) and require further interpretation.

4) Rely on gnosis (jñana ), rather than on discursive, everyday awareness (vijñana ).


Karma, Part 1

Endless Knot

“Kamma should be known. The cause by which kamma comes into play should be known. The diversity in kamma should be known. The result of kamma should be known. The cessation of kamma should be known. The path of practice for the cessation of kamma should be known.”

[From the Nibbedhika Sutta – Penetrative Insight. AN 6.63]

Despite its popularity as a term in contemporary language and conversation, our understating of karma is often misinformed, or lacking profundity.

There is the thought “If you squash a bug, in your next life you will be reborn as a bug and get squashed.”

There is the thought “My life sucks; it is full of obstacles and disappointments. I must have some really bad karma.”

There is the thought “Those evil guys will get what’s coming to them. Karma’s a bitch.”

From a Buddhist perspective karma is more nuanced, complex, and intricate than what is typically being expressed in the above examples. Additionally, karma is not an intelligent being, like some Lawgiver in the sky who is tallying up all of our good and bad behaviors in a cosmic account ledger, and deciding upon our death if we will go to the good place or the bad place. Karma is not about retribution, punishment, or vindication. Karma is not about guilt and the possibility of salvation. These are ideas that have been grafted onto the concept of karma held in some societies, especially stemming from (but not limited to) Western cultural influence, traditions, and worldviews.

The past is over, and the future is uncertain. What we have to work with is the present. It is ALWAYS the present. Ten days ago it was the present for me then. If I am around tomorrow, “tomorrow” will be “today”, and it will be the present. This is the way our consciousness works–moment to moment, each moment being a moment of now. Even if we are reflecting on the past, or contemplating the future, we are doing so now, not some other time. This is obvious, yet we somehow often miss it.

Karma, in a Buddhist sense, refers to action, its causes, conditions, and results. Karma is indubitably linked to our intentions. Buddhist ethics is rooted in this understanding of karma, which in turn is rooted in the understanding of the interdependence of all things (Skt. Pratītyasamutpāda).

In future posts I hope to expand upon these ideas, and unpack them a bit for further exploration.

Diversity in the Dharma

“There is a Tibetan saying that just as every valley has its own language so every teacher has his own doctrine. This is an exaggeration on both counts, but it does indicate the diversity to be found within Buddhism and the important role of a teacher in mediating a received tradition and adapting it to the needs, the personal transformation, of the pupil. This diversity prevents, or strongly hinders, generalization about Buddhism as a whole. Nevertheless it is a diversity which Mahayana Buddhists have rather gloried in, seen not as a scandal but as something to be proud of, indicating a richness and multifaceted ability to aid the spiritual quest of all sentient, and not just human, beings.”


“From earliest times in Buddhism there was a strong tendency to portray the Doctrine not as a series of tenets to be accepted or rejected, but rather as a medicine for curing quite specific spiritual ills. Mahayanists in particular see adaptation, and perhaps even syncretism, as a virtue in the Dharma, enabling the teachings to be adapted to the needs of hearers, and thereby indicating the wisdom and compassion of the Omniscient Buddha.”

[From Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, 2nd edition by Paul Williams. 2009]