Tag Archives: karma

What I’ve come to understand of karma

“Monks, these four types of kamma have been directly realized, verified, & made known by me. Which four? There is kamma that is dark with dark result. There is kamma that is bright with bright result. There is kamma that is dark & bright with dark & bright result. There is kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma.

“And what is kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma? Right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is called kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma.”

~ from the Ariyamagga ( or Noble Path) Sutta

“Now what, monks, is old kamma? The eye is to be seen as old kamma, fabricated & willed, capable of being felt. The ear… The nose… The tongue… The body… The intellect is to be seen as old kamma, fabricated & willed, capable of being felt. This is called old kamma.

“And what is new kamma? Whatever kamma one does now with the body, with speech, or with the intellect: This is called new kamma.

“And what is the cessation of kamma? Whoever touches the release that comes from the cessation of bodily kamma, verbal kamma, & mental kamma: This is called the cessation of kamma.

And what is the path of practice leading to the cessation of kamma? Just this noble eightfold path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is called the path of practice leading to the cessation of kamma.

~ From the Kamma (Karma) Sutta

Many of the Western lay Buddhists I’ve come in contact with over the internet have taken an agnostic or atheistic approach to the central doctrines of karma and rebirth in Buddhism, labeling them “mystical” or “supernatural” and therefore often discarding them almost completely. I’ve never been able to do this as rebirth (or probably better, re-becoming) and karma are found countless times throughout the sutras, in both the Pali and Mahayana cannons.

After trying to wrap my mind around how these two doctrines work, if they work, what that means, if they can be proven etc.. I just gave up on them both for awhile. But after reading through The Wings to Awakening, I stumbled on the excerpt up at the top, and suddenly things started to make sense.

However, I didn’t really have a desire to understand karma on a metaphysical level. Instead what I’m interested in is how it affects me in the here and now, and what I should be doing about it. I figure the more profound insights will happen as they happen, all in due time and when I’m able to take up a formal meditation practice once again.

So what I’ve come up with is more of a practical survey on karma, one that will keep me “mindful” (*puke* – I hate that word!) of karma as I continue to create it. It seems to me that karma is simply that which binds one to samsara, to re-becoming. We do this through our identification with the skandas, and living in ingnorance of impermance, and the dukkha that surrounds us.

The odd thing about samsara though, is that it appears to provide a cure to itself in the form of itself. This is why we reach out for it, crave more of it, and cling to it. Our constant wandering about this world, running from one experience to the next in order to scratch the itch is probably best explained by comparison to a drug addict. The best cure for an addict is rehab, and this is where Buddhist practice hits us right in the gut.

Ending karma is the work of ending the mental conditions we’ve come to associate with everything. Often I see discussions about non-attachment to money, or power, or fame, or worldly possessions. These are all no doubt valuable endevours. But they also fall short of that ultimate mark. What about your attachment to your skin? Your view of the thing you’re looking at right now as a “computer screen”? This is why renunciation doesn’t solve all of your problems. Even a monk in retreat still has to deal with the issue of “trees”, “fart”, “feet” “wet” “ground”. These are the type of attachments that ultimately create our most incredible dukkha, the dukkha that keeps us bound to the conventional world.

I write this post not as a “what karma is” type of post. This isn’t instructional. This is simply a statement of where it is that I’ve been focusing my thoughts around Zen at. I’m simply not interested in what the ultimate answers to the karma and rebirth questions are. At this point in time, I’m more concerned about how they play out in real life, in my day-to-day struggle to maintain a Buddhist practice. Understanding deeply the process of rebirth and how I was an ocelot in a previous life isn’t going to get me very far, at least not at this point. But understanding that it is these mental fetters that keep me stuck in the conditional world, now that is something I can work with.

Cheers.

 

 

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The path of least resistance

Scott River, CA

It’s always about what’s easy. Simple.

The path of least resistance allows us to glide, duck, and doge our way through life.

Never touching those things that are most important.

It’s easy talking to a stranger online. It’s easy to rip apart their beliefs or way of thinking.

It’s more difficult to touch deeply the ones we love.

Being cruel, distant, shut off. These things are easy.

They require no thought, no attention.

They are easy because the path leads outward toward others, but never inward towards ourselves.

Inside is the resistance. Obstacles.

Roadblocks waiting to be tore up.

Tear them up! Be brave! Breathe deeply! A voice calls out.

But it calls to us from the resistance, the loud static noise of our inner-selves. It’s noisy there.

Go have a cookie. A beer. Go watch TV. Forget about your worries. Rebuke him! Another voice calls out.

That voice is clear. It has a smell. A taste. Pleasure over pain.

Satisfying results. The voice is appeased.

The path of least resistance.

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Earth Day Post: Blue Dharma

Today is Earth Day. Now, I know that the Buddha never lectured on water conservation, solar energy, or global climate change. But he did talk at length about compassion. He did speak of karma.

What we need  is more awareness of the far-reaching effects of our actions. Armed with this information, we are then able to make choices in our lives that lead to more skillful outcomes. We can live more compassionately, and create a more compassionate world. Earth Day is a great day to take a moment to contemplate the inter-connectedness of life on this planet.

One thing that connects all of us is water. The Earth is covered in it. Every species depends on some form of it. Nations have built themselves upon proximity to this natural resource. It is used in holy rituals throughout many (if not all) of the world’s religions. And just as it brings us together, it can cause a great divide. It comes in bottles and hurricanes, hail and hot springs. But of the potable variety, we are running out.

Pilchuck River near Darrington, WA

I could go on and on about how precious it is. How we need to manage our water usage better. How many people will die this year because they couldn’t get clean drinking water. How your life style and mine are ruining this planet. How a vegetarian lifestyle requires 60% less water consumption than one that is meat-based. How in the next 50 years, we’ll see nations go to war over not oil, but water. How you should do x, y, and z to help change things.

Instead, I’m going to leave you with some facts*. If you really take the time to let these facts soak in, you’ll know what to do. If you actually care about cultivating compassion, you’ll know what to do, and what types of companies/projects to consider supporting in the future. Though, I will jump on my soapbox for a minute, and ask you to please, please, please, NEVER BUY BOTTLED WATER. It is one of the most wasteful and irresponsible choices you could make as a consumer.

By 2025, 1.8 Billion people will live where water is scarce.

On average, 2 Billion gallons of water are used every day to irrigate golf courses in the U.S. In Florida, 3,000 gallons of water are used to water the grass for each golf game played.

U.S. swimming pools loose 150 billion gallons to evaporation every year.

Only 2.5% of the world’s water is fresh. About 2/3 of that is frozen. Most of the rest is in aquifers that we’re draining much more quickly than the natural recharge rate.

The Great Lakes contain roughly 22% of the world’s fresh surface water.

2/3 of our water is used to grow food.

Americans use about 100 gallons of water at home each day. Millions of the world’s poorest make due with less than 5.

46% of people on earth do not have water piped into their homes. Women in these developing countries walk an average of 3.7 miles to get water.

The Tibetan Plateau is sometimes called the Third Pole because of all the frozen water it holds. It supplies fresh water to nearly a 1/3 of the world’s population. The glaciers there are melting.

One out of eight people in the world lack access to clean water.

3.3 million people die from water-related illness each year.

The weight of China’s Three Gorges Reservoir will tilt the earth’s axis by nearly an inch.

The longest water tunnel, which supplies New York City, leaks up to 35 million gallons a day.

Dam projects have displaced up to 80 million people worldwide.

Fish caught downstream from sewage treatment plants in five U.S. cities contained traces of pharmaceuticals like Dilitiazem, Norfluoxetine, and Carbamazepine as well as other toiletries.

The following is a list of items, with how many gallons of water it takes to produce each item (from scratch to your shopping cart/mouth)

2,900 – One pair of blue jeans

1,857 – One pound of beef

766 – One cotton T-shirt

84 – One pound of apples

20 – One glass of beer

37 – One cup of coffee

816,600 = gallons used during the lifetime of a typical cow destined for human consumption

Cheers.

             *most of these were pulled from the February 2010 special edition of National Geographic

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Atheism vs(?) Buddhism

Over on Sweep the Dust, John asks “Can Buddhism be completely atheistic?” I replied in the comments there, but I’d like to elaborate a bit here as well.

Atheism is tricky to pin down now ‘a days. There is the “extreme” atheism that denies the existence of anything supernatural whatsoever, including karma and rebirth. And then there are those that identify as atheists simply because they don’t believe in god/gods. Either one is fine by me. I can embrace the atheistic idea of no deities, but I choose not to define myself by what I don’t believe in.

I believe Buddhism to be largely apatheistic in its approach to deities. It doesn’t really matter if god/gods do exist, because they obviously don’t care about ending our suffering. It falls upon us to end the cycle of samsara (though we may call upon the bodhisattvas to aid us).

But as for “complete” atheism, no, I don’t think it’s really compatible with what the Buddha taught. The Buddha spoke for kalpas upon kalpas about karma and rebirth. It’s kind of hard to deny this, isn’t it?

I think the Buddha addressed skeptics when he states that it takes a noble version of right view to correctly see how karma and rebirth work. So for us, it takes practice, and a little faith. Yes, faith. It takes a bit of faith that yes, we walking a path that results in liberation. It takes a bit of faith to plop down on that zafu for the first time. It takes a bit of faith that the Buddha and the teachers that followed him knew what it was they were talking about. It takes a bith of faith to put into practice the teaching of the Lotus Sutra before you see any real change. It takes a bit of faith to get us on our path (and sometimes to keep us going) because we aren’t fully enlightened. We are unable to see reality as it truly is. But we work towards it, strive towards it.

Now, before you start quoting the Kalama sutra, hold on. First, he was speaking to a particular group of people about a particular set of circumstances. Much of what he said there rings true today and should be applied to one’s teaching. However, no where did he say that one shouldn’t trust wise teachers, or that one shouldn’t trust in (what later became) the sutras. Remember the 3 jewels? It takes trust and faith to walk this Buddhist path. If not, how on earth did first you come to practice Buddhism? You had to have a little faith and trust before you started practicing. You had no direct experience beforehand.

If one wishes to remain skeptical towards karma and rebirth, I think that is healthy. It isn’t taking something on blind faith, it is remaining skeptical while working through it in your practice. Though I think a strong disbelief in either is a form of aversion and craving/attachment. It seems like a thick wall to put up in front of you and your practice. Some may say that Buddhism requires no belief in karma and rebirth. That may be true. Your average practitioner doesn’t have to believe in either. But if we are to believe what the Buddha had to say, and that what he achieved was real, then we also should accept that when we get to that point, we won’t need to believe in either, we will be able to discern it for ourselves.

Karma and rebirth are still tricky for me, as I’ve posted before. But thanks to some helpful dharma bums here on the interwebs, I’ve read a little more, and things are starting to almost make sense for me. I suppose I’ll just not worry too much about it, and focus on what set me on this path in the first place; becoming more mindful, attaining a “quieter” mind, breaking habits, and living more compassionately.

Cheers.

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It is what it is …… and that’s okay

Awhile back, during one of our Buddhist meetings, someone went off on a tangent about how she hates it when people say “It is what it is”, and how fatalistic and negative it is, that there is no hope in a statement like that. Immediately my mind went into “WTF?” mode, but decided to bite my tongue being the new guy and all.

I’ve been mulling on this for a bit, and think that she was far from the truth. It seems to me that “It is what it is” is at the heart of Buddhism. Recognizing that phenomenon occur whether we like it or not is part of the practice. There will be a point in my life when I will step on a piece of broken glass. There is no changing that, there is no changing the pain I will feel. However, Buddhism teaches that we can be free from the suffering that can occur because of this empty phenomenon of pain. When the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile hit, we say that it was due to karma. But a correct (right view) understanding of karma shows us that it wasn’t because the Haitians were Nazis in their former life, it was that things were set into motion and then the earthquake happened (also, I’m pretty sure some plate tectonics had some influence there). Once the earthquake happens, it is what it is. It happened. Now (this may sound harsh) deal with it. It is how we choose to deal with phenomenon that determine how/if we suffer. Suffering is always optional. Of course, it’s hard to see that suffering is optional when your family was just crushed by a building. But to me, that’s part of the allure of Buddhism. It does offer hope and a way to escape the suffering we face everyday, regardless of how tragic our situation might be.

But I think the first step in lessening and eliminating suffering is recognizing things and situations for what they are. Essentially, It is what it is. True liberation comes from freeing ourselves of the suffering that occurs when we fail to realize this.

Cheers.

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On Karma and Rebirth

I promised a post on my thoughts on Karma and Rebirth. Here you go:

Yup. There are some ideas that aren’t reconciling with each other in my head. Karma and Rebirth are clashing, and I can’t seem to wrap my head around them. But maybe it doesn’t matter much. Maybe it isn’t something I need to spend much time worrying about. Although they are central concepts to Buddhism, trying to figure them out fully isn’t going to help me right here, right now. It’s just going to make my mind look like this Jackson Pollock painting.

After the next couple of books that I read (review copies that I’ve received), I’ll be diving into The Wings to Awakening, so maybe that will help shed some light. And if not, maybe it will just take some time. If anyone out there has some recommended reading, it would be much appreciated. Also, feel free to leave your thoughts regarding karma and rebirth in the comments section here.

Cheers.

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