Attending to our Karma

Samyaksambuddha

“Buddhism, particularly in its Tibetan form, often contains ritual ceremonies, or pujas, directed toward various Buddha-figures or fierce protectors in order to help dispel obstacles and accomplish constructive purposes. Performing these ceremonies provides conducive circumstances for negative potentials to ripen in trivial rather than major obstacles, and positive potentials to ripen sooner rather than later. If we have built up overwhelmingly negative potentials, however, these ceremonies are ineffective in averting difficulties. Therefore, propitiating gods, spirits, protectors or even Buddhas is never a substitute for attending to our karma – avoiding destructive conduct and acting in a constructive manner. Buddhism is not a spiritual path of protector-worship, or even Buddha-worship. The safe direction of the Buddhist path is working to become a Buddha ourselves.”

[From Taking the Kalachakra Initiation by Alexander Berzin]

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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.

Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind Toward Dharma

Illuminated Mind

Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind Toward Dharma

1) Precious Human Life
2) Death and Impermanence
3) Karma (Cause and Effect)
4) Suffering (Unsatisfactory Nature of Samsara)

PRECIOUS HUMAN LIFE
In Buddhist terms, a “precious human life” signifies specific freedoms and endowments, such as a reflective mind (the ability to reason, contemplate, analyze, etc.), having all the human sense faculties, having access to Dharma teachings (living in a time and place where the teachings are available), and cultivating an interest in those teachings.

DEATH AND IMPERMANENCE
Death is certain. All beings who are born will experience death. We may try to put it out of our minds, trivialize it, or exaggerate it, yet you and everyone you have ever known will die. Honestly embracing this reality can transform your perspective of life itself.

KARMA
Karma means “action”. Actions arise due to causes, and actions give rise to their attendant effects. This applies to deeds, but also to speech, and thoughts – what Buddhists call “body, speech, and mind” (i.e. what you do, what you say, and what you think). Actions of the body, speech, and mind can be skillful (positive), unskillful (negative), or indifferent (neutral). The motivation and intent behind ones actions is an important factor. With wisdom we can discern between skillful and unskillful actions, cultivating the former, and diminishing the latter.

SUFFERING
Life is pervaded with many types of suffering. There are obvious examples (such as physical pain, sickness, mental anguish and so forth) which are all referred to as “suffering of suffering”. These are apparent to everyone.

There are also more subtle forms of suffering. For example, things that bring you happiness. This may seem counter-intuitive, yet consider for a moment anything that you take great pleasure in – money, sex, status. It could be anything really, even people or other beings – like a loved one, a family member, friends, or a pet. Let’s say it is a loved one (a partner, spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend). This more subtle form of suffering is due to the nature of impermanence. This means that any pleasure or happiness you might feel in regards to your loved one is ultimately tinged by the fact that nothing remains, nothing endures and there are no guarantees. Your partner might change or you might change. There might be infidelity, irreconcilable differences, breaking up, divorce, death, etc. These types of things happen all the time. This is called “suffering of change”. What this means is that anything in which you find great pleasure or happiness in, anything you hold onto, grasp after, cling to, will ultimately cause suffering because it changes, ceases or passes away.

There is also another type of suffering that is even more subtle than this. It is called “all pervasive suffering”. This third type of suffering means that all experiences within conditioned existence – whether painful, pleasurable, or neutral – are ultimately pervaded by suffering due to ignorance, attachment, and aversion.

From a Buddhist perspective this whole cycle happens again and again and again. Over and over since beginningless time our mindstreams experience birth, life, death, and rebirth. Once reborn, we again face old age, sickness, and death, as well as all the other types and forms of suffering. This recurring cycle is called samsara. It is often depicted as a wheel, spinning round and round unceasingly. Liberation, in a Buddhist sense, means liberation from suffering.

For further information, consider investigating the Four Noble Truths.

DEDICATION
I offer this writing to my venerable Dharma teachers, known and unknown, for the kindness they have shown me and countless others. All mistakes and errors are my own. I also offer this to those who are interested in Buddhadharma, yet may not know where to begin to navigate this wonderful Path.

May all beings be free from suffering, and the causes of suffering.

A humble householder striving in the Way.

Brick by Brick

Bricks

Sometimes you have to build a house, brick-by-brick, and then take it down, brick-by-brick, and then build another, brick-by-brick, and then take that down, brick-by-brick. Sometimes this work might seem pointless and redundant, and you might think to yourself, “Why am I spending all this time in labor when I could be having fun, or sitting in meditation all day”? Yet if you persist, this house building, this labor and effort, can itself become your meditation practice, and a gateway to the Bodhi-Mind.

What did Marpa do when Milarepa requested he teach him the Dharma?

To my reckoning, part of the tantric method (e.g. in Vajrayana) is to transform our everyday experiences into modes that lead toward liberation and enlightenment. At the tantric level this includes things like our passions and emotions (anger, lust, greed, etc.), yet it also includes other aspects of our lives, like work. Rather than setting up a dichotomy of “spiritual” and “mundane”, and imagining these to be in conflict (e.g. meditation vs. work), the tantrika embraces all in a non-dualistic way. Everything is potentially a vehicle that can lead towards liberation and enlightenment.

MilarepaIn the case of Milarepa, before he went in search of the Dharma he used “black magic” in revenge against wrongs that were committed against his family. When compassion began to grow in his heart/mind, and he realized what he had done (the story goes, he killed an entire village with his magic), he decided to find a Dharma teacher. This turned out to be Marpa. It was Marpa who told Milarepa to build a tower, and then take it down, and then another, and another, and another (4 times in all, each time frustrating further, and giving contradictory instructions and promises). But it was this labor that was exactly the kind of preparation Milarepa needed. He later become one of the most beloved Buddhist saints, an extraordinary contemplative. A glimpse of his Bodhi-Mind was captured in his Songs of Milarepa. Worth a gander, if you haven’t read them.