Anna had decided to visit her daughter Carla, for a few days. Upon reaching there, she discovered that Jane, Carla’s mother-in-law was bedridden and was scheduled to have surgery on her right leg. This was to be a third, in a series of several surgeries that she was required to undergo, and it had been a very stressful time for Carla. Anna felt sorry for her daughter and developed deep resentment towards Jane, whose constant state of illness was putting so much pressure and strain upon her poor daughter.
Feeling upset and angry, she returned to her home, distressed about her child’s plight. Two days later, Anna
slipped and fell in her bathroom, fracturing the bones in her right leg. Upon medical investigation, it was discovered that she would need the exact same surgery that Jane was scheduled to have when she was visiting her daughter. This was Karma’s boomerang effect. This incident brings to light many interesting aspects about how Karma works in our lives.
Causation is the first aspect.
Your thoughts, words and actions are powerful forces. Once you unleash them, they come back to you like a returning boomerang, bringing back exactly what you send out. Anna had resented and trivialised the suffering of Jane. She had sent out angry thoughts towards her for causing her daughter so much trouble. These thoughts brought back a similar quantum of suffering to Anna. This illustrates the causation effect of karma. Your past thoughts, speech and actions create future consequences. Karma’s objective is NOT to punish you, as many people wrongly interpret, but to maintain balance and equality in the universe.
Intentionality is the second aspect. Even though Anna pretended to be polite with Jane while she was staying with Carla, her deep intention wasn’t so good. She had hoped that Jane would stop being such a burden on her daughter. Many unkind and vicious thoughts had arisen in her mind and she had done nothing to stop them. We often believe that no one knows our deepest, darkest thoughts, but the keepers of Karma are always listening. They hear and watch everything that we think, say and do. The law of karma is only interested in your hidden intentions, not your outward expressions or pretences. After her fall, Anna felt so helpless and alone as there was no one to look after her. What she had wished for Jane, was now happening to her.
Law of Attraction is the third aspect. Whatever experiences you need to have in order to learn and purify your consciousness, Karma will bring to you. This is the law of attraction aspect and it is indicated here by the sudden fall that Anna had after returning from Carla’s home, injuring her leg. She is now scheduled to undergo the exact same surgery that Jane was to have. This demonstrates that whatever experiences you encounter in the present time, whether good or bad, are merely consequences of your past thoughts and deeds.
Attunement is Karma’s fourth aspect. Anna was so blinded by her attachment to her daughter, that it made her insensitive to Jane’s pain. This blatant rejection of another’s suffering indicates a lack of empathy and a deep intolerance for others. The only way she can develop the capacity for empathy is by going through a similar experience of suffering. This represents the attunement aspect of karma.
How Karma works
The attitude and intention with which we respond to our present circumstances determines what we will encounter in the future. If Anna reacts angrily, becoming even more enraged, cursing and blaming Jane for passing on her accident proneness or sickness to her, she will only increase her suffering. But if instead, she realises her error, and seeks forgiveness at the soul level for being so uncaring and selfish in her attitude, she can neutralise some of the bad karma she has created. By reacting to difficulties and pain with anger and hostility, we increase both our present and future suffering. However, if we respond to adversity with a sense of humility, patience, acceptance, tolerance and a learning attitude, we can fast track our suffering, even mitigate it.
Effect of Family Karma
Our Family karma also has a bearing upon our total burden of karma. If Carla’s ancestors have had a history of being selfish and entitled, those influences will bring into her life experiences where she may be required to serve others so that she can develop an attitude of service and become more oriented towards others. This will provide her the opportunity to redeem some amount of her family’s karmic burden. In this case, Carla has the opportunity to serve her mother-in-law, Jane. As we can see, this opportunity is entangled with the selfish resistance from her mother, Anna, giving us a clue about the narcissistic family karma involved.
If Carla is able to offer her service willfully to Jane, she will neutralise some of her personal and family karma, relieving her children and future generations from the transgenerational impact of this suffering to some degree. The purpose of our human incarnation is not to suffer, but to transform our suffering into the search for peace. We are born to move towards purity, perfection and liberation, and the karma we perform plays a central role in enabling or disrupting this process. Whether it’s your relationships, work, finances, or spiritual search that you are experiencing difficulties in, or feeling stuck with, the 7 Karma Codes can bring you great relief, providing you answers to questions that seem so complex and remain unresolved.
In the words of Mohanji, Global Spiritual leader, this book is “Absolutely compelling. It can help you gain a firm grip on your life. Treat it as a friend you can trust, a guide who can point you in the right direction and a reliable companion who will stand by your side through all your highs and lows of life. The 7 Karma Codes can help you know yourself better and live a more peaceful life.” How different desires design your karma Karma’s key aim is the unification of all beings. Desire, on the other hand, creates the illusion of separation. Desires can be of three kinds. When we are moved by a beggar on the street because his hunger reminds us of a time when we were in need and someone helped us, we may feel the desire to buy him some food. This is a pure desire. It is uplifting and expanding. It is sattvic in nature and it builds good karma. If however, we ignore the beggar, feeling nothing because we are in a rush to meet our friends for lunch, and we are excited about trying out a new cuisine at a fancy restaurant, our desire is driven by selfish desire. This is Rajasic desire.
If you enjoy the food, you will want to repeat the experience and may think of coming back with your husband for another meal. Through this example, we can appreciate how desires create attraction or repulsion. If our experience is pleasant, as in this case, it will increase the craving for that thing. Now let’s imagine what might happen if the husband refuses to visit this restaurant, saying that he doesn’t enjoy this cuisine. You will be disappointed and may even end up having an argument or fighting with him about this issue. Here we see how desire drives karma, creating suffering.
Let us now examine another scenario. Let’s say that in the process of reaching the restaurant, you get into a fight with someone who cuts into your parking space and you end up exchanging some rude words. Here you have created Tamasic or harmful Karma because your anger made you want to hurt or punish the other person who was trying to take your parking slot. You could end up reaching the restaurant in a bad mood, blaming the bad experience of having ruined your day. Instead of enjoying your meal, you may spend the whole afternoon venting and complaining to your friends.
Every action we perform is creating karma. When we are rushing or trying to multitask, we end up being irritated and snappy, and we unwittingly create more poor karma. This is why it is so important to maintain our internal harmony at all times so that we can respond from our centre of peace and create more good karma, than bad karma.
Neutralising past poor karma
The 7 Karma Codes reveals ancient wisdom that will help you overcome your destructive habits and tendencies, your selfish desires, and unmindful behaviours that can help you neutralise your past karma.
When we come into this life, four essential determinants decide our destiny, the quality of our consciousness, past Karma’s, current life soul syllabus, and the burden of past Karma’s that we have chosen to redeem or neutralise in this life. These create our fixed destiny. Many people wonder if this means that we have no choice, because everything is always pre-decided. The truth is that you do have the power and free will to change your destiny. But to do so, you need to understand the universal laws and internal forces that act upon your psyche. You also need to know how to skillfully align yourselves with these laws, and how to counteract the opposing effect of internal forces. The 7 Karma codes explain these in great detail, in a very interesting and simple manner, through the loving and deep conversations between a mother and her young daughter, called Precious. Together they explore how to create a better and more powerful destiny.
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About Suzy Singh
Suzy Singh is a Healer, Karma Coach, Spiritual Teacher & Author of the bestselling book 7 Karma Codes, Heal the Storm Within. She is based in Delhi, India and can be reached on email@example.com.
Her website is www.suzyheals.com
It is true that we pay for what we do; or, to put it another way, that we reap what we sow. And the corollary commonly drawn from this rule seems to be that we don’t reap what we have not sown. That part of the assumption, however, is wrong.
After all, someone else can perform an action – can “do a karma,” so to speak – for me, and I can benefit from it too. For example, farmers sow their seeds in the fields, and the vegetables they grow come to my table and I enjoy them. I did not sow those seeds, but I reaped their benefits. The things we enjoy are rarely the result of our personal actions alone, but are very much affected by the actions of the environment around us – in fact, the environment has a 99.9 percent role in what we say and do and we’ve got only a 0.1 percent role!
Really, the environment’s karma is always acting on us and moving us in certain directions. So if you say, “my karma alone determines my future,” that’s not correct. If you want to affect your future – which is 99.9 percent determined by the karma of others around you – then you’ve got to work on the environment, not just yourself. That’s why a management expert like Peter Drucker says the performance of a company is determined largely by forces outside the company. In the same way, your karmic results do not depend solely upon your efforts, but also on the environment around you. If your environment is a supportive one, your progress will be excellent. If your environment is working against you, you’ll lose no matter how hard you try. And that’s the crux of the matter. You alone cannot determine your future. Everyone is creating it together. That’s why Krishna says to Arjuna:
|| karmani eva adhikarah te; ma phaleshu kadachana ||
It means essentially, “You have the right to act, but not to the results of acting.” Again, that’s because the results will be determined by the environment; they’re not in Arjuna’s control – they’re not in your control. If you want to affect that massive portion of your destiny that is controlled by the environment, then you must either become the environment or else tune in to its wishes and visions so that it will support you and help amplify your efforts.
So that’s how I look at karma: It’s predetermined to a large extent – yes, agreed – but in a non-personal sense. And that is what puts the arrow on Time; that’s what pins it down. Even so, I’m not so sure that people really get this part of it. They are always saying, “I’m the result of my karma alone.” But if you think about that for even a moment, it doesn’t make sense – not even from the moment of your birth! Your father and mother did some karma and as a result of that karma you were born into this world. Yes, the parents’ karma reflects so very strongly on their children.
And that’s the situation: The environment plays a large part in your life. You’re doing your work; you’re doing your karma properly. And yet, because of someone else’s action, you suffer. What is to be done about that?
There are two things to be done: (1) you can remove yourself from your environment. If you were born in, say, Nicaragua, you can go to the U.S.A., Land of Opportunity. Pack up, leave everything behind, move to a new place; see if it helps.
Or (2) you can help improve your present environment by tuning in to it; by merging with it. You’ve got to lose yourself. You’ve got to become your environment and work from there.
Aggregates of Life
That’s where selflessness comes into the picture. In order to lose yourself and merge into your environment, you’ve got to understand the impulses that drive that environment. That is what all of our laws and constitutions and so on are trying to do – to abstract the principles that govern a society and define a life system or value system that extends beyond the personal.
So I’ve got my life, and my family has its own “family life.” And every village and town likewise has a life of its own. Every nation has a life. The international regime has a life. And each of these lives contains separate lives within it. Each constitutes a sub-life of all these units. So there’s nothing wrong in assuming that a nation or even a corporation has a life. A corporation is a living entity bound by certain rules and regulations which govern the flow of information in and around it. These flows are like the nervous currents that flow in our own bodies.
You see, a human being is not a single entity. It’s a conglomerate. Every second there are about 1.2 million cells coming into your blood stream and another 1.2 million cells dying. It’s a stream of life, which we simply consider – for convenience – to be a single person, a single entity. But this person does not die with each blood cell that dies and is not reborn with every new cell. So many lives are flowing through us. With such a complicated system in place, it really can’t be said that such-and-such a person is always there – because he or she is becoming a different person with every second, every millisecond, and every nanosecond.
Each day you can put your feet in the river; but it’s not the same river. It’s a different river – different water, different fish, different silt and debris, different microbes with every passing moment – but you still call it by the same name. Likewise with the human entity: I call myself Sastry; but I’m not the same Sastry I was even one second ago. So these names are confusing. The concept of the “individual self” is actually the concept of an aggregate. And once you accept that an aggregate can have a life – independent of any particular cell coming into or passing out of it – then you’ll have no difficulty in understanding that a family has a life, a company has a life, a village has a life, a city has a life,
Earth has a life, every planet has a life, the solar system has a life, Space has life. All of these are aggregate concepts; they simply represent different levels of the organization of intelligence.
Harmonizing with the Environment
To live in these aggregates – to live in your environment – requires both cooperation and a competitive spirit. Competitiveness enhances our quality of life; so does cooperation – but they are still opposing forces. How much competitiveness is appropriate and how much cooperation is a balance that each society strikes in its own way: A capitalist society defines it in one way, a communist society in another; and a religious institution will define it in yet a third way. There are different degrees of balance required, depending upon each given setup or context. Moreover, what is right for one person at one point of time is wrong for another person at another point of time: In the U.S.A., it’s often wrong if you’re not dating; in India, it’s often wrong if you are.
So how do we harmonize our own personal values with those of the environment in which we must function? Must we sometimes forsake our personal values? Should we forsake them here and there, now and then, or should we not? Let’s look at the example of an orchestral musical composition. There is harmony in the music because the conductor tells the individual musicians in the orchestra, “Okay, now you play the violin at this octave, and you play the cymbals at this frequency,” and so on. And in order to achieve harmony, the musicians follow the conductor’s orders. In other words, we might say, they suppress their individual freedom to some extent – because if they were all to simply do their own thing, it would spoil the harmony. Similarly, for the sake of maintaining harmony in the aggregate life of our society, we are expected to follow certain rules and regulations – though the dynamic of following them is necessarily a suppression of our individual freedom.
In the world of business, to be frank, profitable trade usually depends upon someone cheating somebody else: “Vyaparo dhroha chintanam.” You have to give something less than what you get in order to make a profit, and profit is the supreme goal of business. Thus, corruption – in the sense of illegitimate earning – is necessarily part of the corporate ethic. In the same way, at any given moment, there are certain cells within you that represent chaos and disease, and others that represent order and maintenance. There is a war constantly ongoing between these two. Sometimes the protective white cells die; sometimes the invaders die; it’s is a matter of life and death for the cells involved. Similarly, a company’s ethics represent the aggregate life of the corporate entity, whereas the personal ethics of an individual employee within that entity represent the life of the self. And these interests do diverge sometimes. They too can be at war.
Because it is a clash of values. An honest man in a corrupt society is a misfit: Either he becomes corrupt as well, or he perishes. That’s just the way things are. Say, for example, that you need to get a government official’s approval for some project and he lets you understand that a little money under the table will help make things happen. It’s called “expediting money.” Not corruption, of course.
What should you do? You’ve got to weigh the consequences – sometimes they’re in your favor and sometimes not. And then you make a decision. Which decision? I’ll just say this: Peace of mind loses the battle when making money becomes the goal. People believe that money and power are the means to achieving peace of mind. Then once they’ve accumulated these “means,” they reason that since they can get peace of mind eventually anyway, why worry about it today? So it doesn’t work – at the end of the day, you’ve got to ask yourself, “Look, do I want peace of mind? Or do I want power and money, which are the means to peace of mind?” If you choose the means, you forfeit the end: That’s the clash that exists.
You see, what’s wrong with the present paradigm is the equation that people make between possessions and happiness: The more you have, the happier you are, right? But that equation is valid only to certain extent: If you have a comfortable, air-conditioned house, what does it matter if that house has 60 rooms? You can only sleep in one of them. They say Bill Gates has a house with 120 rooms! But how many rooms can he live in? What you enjoy is your wealth – what you don’t enjoy really isn’t yours at all. So this proportionality between possessions and peace flattens everything out. If I visit my friend’s home for the night and he gives me the master bedroom to sleep in, then it’s my house for the time I’m there. If you just let go of the concept of ownership, then all the houses in the world are yours. The concepts of “I” and “mine” are the problems. The problem people have is failing to distinguish the point at which their wants and means are in proportion with one another. Because once you’ve crossed that equilibrium, it makes no difference whatsoever whether you have one million or 100 million. Once you realize this truth, you’re free to say, “I’ve got enough. I don’t have to bend to anyone.”
Astrology and the Environment
You can change the future, but you cannot know it. You can know the past, but you cannot change it. The present is the interface between knowing and changing, between knowing and acting. The past is history, the future a mystery. The past is His-story and the future is Her-story. The future belongs to the Mother and the past belongs to the Father. It would be nice to know the future. All fear is caused by not knowing what the future holds. So people try to dispel its mystery by various means, such as astrology. And astrology can sometimes be a convenient thing, too! Say somebody has made a marriage proposal to your daughter. You don’t like the match, but you don’t want to take the blame for rejecting it. So you say, “The stars are bad; what can we do?” As a result, many people conclude that astrology is based on myth. And it seems like a pretty good conclusion, doesn’t it? Think about it: “What is your time of birth?” Well, what does that mean? Is it the time when the sperm meets the egg? Or is it when life occurs in the womb, which is the third month? Or is it when the head comes out of the womb? Or when the whole body comes out? Or when you cut the umbilical cord? What is the precise time of birth? Nobody specifies. What for? That’s why they call astrology a pseudo-science.
But if we understand that every human being has a life, and that every planet has a life, and that each life interacts somehow with all other lives and therefore exerts some influence – well, then we can begin to understand astrology. The solar system has a life. And within that living entity, each planet is influencing the system’s other entities in subtle ways that don’t depend upon distance. To understand these interactions, or to get the right intuition about them, you need to do sadhana. For sadhakas, astrology works 100 percent. For people who want to earn money, it’s all bunkum. There is a science and a non-science to astrology. And that is the difference between them. So you do your sadhana. And once you realize that you are the Truth, what need have you to do more? Once you realize that all efforts take you away from yourself, then you can remove all the effort and just be what you are. What sadhana am I doing? I’m sitting and talking. I’m not doing japa. I’m not doing anything, just easing myself into a state of peace. That is what I’m doing.
All fear, once again, is caused by not knowing what the future holds. It’s the fear of the unknown. And basically, it’s a part of your programming as a human being. For most of human history, fear was a necessary part of the life process itself. In the early days of civilization, people were living in the forests, jungles, savannahs – there was no light at night; no amenities. So every little noise that one heard had to be immediately interpreted and understood: “Should I be afraid of it? Should I face it? Should I run away? How should I react to it?” Fight or flight; that kind of instinct was necessary. And basically it’s a process of naming – the mind seeks to name what it perceives, and if it cannot find a name then its level of alertness spikes.
What happens at a biochemical level is that catecholamines are released into the bloodstream, abruptly raising your energy to levels ten or 20 times higher than normal. Suddenly you’re hit with a rush of energy strong enough to let you battle a tiger if necessary. The catecholamines are released during that brief moment before reasoning, understanding and labeling kick in. It’s a superpower charge that lasts only ten seconds at the most and then dies down. At that point, the mind takes another route; it begins reasoning and labeling: “Okay, that sound is the hiss of a snake; I should be afraid of it.” Once that thought arises, it’s no longer a general rush of catecholamines pumping into your bloodstream; it’s specifically a dose of adrenalin. The adrenalin prepares your system for a longer, sustained energy release of 20 minutes or so. Unlike the catecholamines, it can’t deliver 20 times your normal energy – the adrenalin gives you much less; maybe 1.1 times normal. Then, after a little while, if your system keeps getting the same kind of impulse over and over, it releases additional shots of adrenalin. And as the adrenalin level in your bloodstream builds, there comes a point where the threshold is exceeded. At that moment, fear takes over.
So it’s a three-step process: First, at the pre-recognition stage, there is no fear. Next, at the post-recognition/pre-reason threshold, there is unknown fear. And finally, at the moment our mind crosses that threshold from the subconscious to the conscious level, there is known fear. If you want to learn more about these concepts, you can read the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. Psychiatry explores fear quite deeply.
But let me put it to you very simply: It’s Krishna you’re afraid of. It’s Kali you’re afraid of.
The unknowable; the unseen; death; the abyss into which you must one day fall, and from which you believe you can never return. The vastness of Space, the loss of your identity – that is what you fear. And that fear is with you from the moment of your birth, when you emerge from your mother’s womb. Before birth, the umbilical cord connected you to your mother. Through it, blood streamed from your mother into to you; through it, your mother breathed for you, with oxygen mixed into your blood. There’s no need to breathe as you drift in the amniotic fluid; it’s so nice and smooth inside. But then you grow and grow, and things quickly change – soon you’re fighting for a little space.
Then one day, you begin to fall, slipping downward. You’re being squeezed; your entire body is under stress. Suddenly, something hard and cold clasps your head and you don’t even have the language to express the fear. And that fear only increases once you emerge from the birth canal, your warm liquid environment abruptly replaced by an air environment. The umbilical cord is cut, and with it your oxygen supply. You’re fighting for breath. Your lungs are filled with liquid, so the nurse holds your feet and gives you a slap. You cry out as your lungs fill with air. So you’re crying for life from the very moment of your birth. It is the deepest trauma your system ever knew, and you’re afraid of repeating the process: “Am I going to die again?” That’s your unknown fear and you have no language to express it. Before a child is socialized and educated, its only language is laughing and crying – binary emotion. You’re happy, you’re sad. You’re hungry, you’re full. You don’t know what you want. Then suddenly something pokes into your mouth and you start sucking; an instinctive reflex. You taste some sweet liquid and suddenly you’re happy and you smile. So the breast is a child’s first interaction with its mother after the womb – is it any wonder there are so many breast fixations on the male side?
From the womb to the breast and on into the world beyond, our individual lives – and consequently, our individual karmic dispositions – are profoundly driven by the myriad environments we pass through on our journey. If you want to change the aggregate values of the environments you inhabit, you’ve basically got to start a new society and then educate its individual members into these new values. In the meantime, you have a choice: You can either merge with your environment and help drive its flow, or else be swept up in it and let it drive you.
A discourse by Guruji Sri Amritananda Natha
May 2006, at Devipuram
Every ‘good girl’ would have been told by her mother to stay away from married men. And I was a ‘good girl’…until the unthinkable happened, which made me question my assumptions and challenged my self concept.
If a man could be called beautiful, it would be him. He was Vegan, a yoga instructor, tall, dark, handsome…and very married. I was recovering from a 9 year relationship, with only my gorgeous 2 year old son to show for it. And the first man that moved me after 1 year of celibacy was him. Life sure had a perverse sense of humour. He flirted with me…I resisted. He complimented me…I feigned indifference. He told me about his family…I admired his values. He sent me poetry…I fell in love. So I told myself: “I’ve been through a lot! I deserve to have a good time; it’s not like I intend to hurt anyone.” (This is rationalization).
We made plans to meet early in the year; I bought new underwear, obsessed about what brand of condoms to buy, wrote poetry, had stimulating conversations with him in my head, smiled to myself and tried not to think about his wife. Two weeks before our meeting, I got a text saying she saw one of my messages and he had to lie to get out of trouble. My heart sank. The guilt I had held at bay tightened in my chest and had a fist fight in my belly. I remembered my mother’s words: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Karma. We cannot always control how we feel, but we can determine what we do. Emotions are a natural part of all human beings. They are not good or bad; they just are. The choices we make on the other hand, can be positive or negative based on the impact they have on people’s lives. (This process is called realization).
By choosing to do the right thing, I am hoping to attract my ideal life partner. If by chance he may feel tempted to stray after decades of togetherness, karma will set him back on the path to my heart. (This is visualization).
We love who we love. If I never lay a finger on him, I would love him still. This energy or feeling is not partial to class, person, status or position. We need to honour ourselves by owning our feelings. Luckily, the universe does not damn us for thinking or feeling. If it did, I would be in hell right now.
However, the fact that we love someone does not mean we should be in a sexual relationship with them. Everyone nowadays want to live a limitless life. The truth is, boundaries are necessary to maintain sanity and harmony within ourselves and the world. (This is reaffirmation).
Haneefah is the creative Director of her recently formed internet station Island Beat TV, and host of Owambe Jam, a cultural event to celebrate World Poetry Day.
Most people aren’t really driven to leave cyclic existence. Traditionally most Buddhists were only invested in getting a good next rebirth – you know, by ethics and generosity. So if you can live with that option, you’re still a Buddhist in my book.
I can tell you that a proper understanding of emptiness doesn’t deny the conventional self. It merely addresses the story-telling self, the Ego if you will. That voice in you that interprets reality according to how your desires want it to be and sets itself up as an authority on your life – that self is definitely denied by Buddhism. That is: it isn’t what it seems. It doesn’t even have to be killed or anything. It really just doesn’t exist the way it appears. When you see that fact, realizing it deeply, the Ego loses much of it’s power.
The self that buys groceries? That self is totally fine. In fact, it exists the way it appears and it is necessary.
Don’t feel pressured to believe in something that is beyond you. Emptiness has always been an elite thing. Most Buddhists throughout time were illiterate farmers. They did not think about selflessness. They thought about how to get their rice to grow.
And hey – if it turns out you’re not really a Buddhist – as long as you make sure to guard your karma, you’re still fine from a Buddhist perspective.
The basic instruction in the Gelugpa interpretation of Emptiness (which includes 4 different interpretations in it’s turn) is that when you come upon an interpretation of emptiness that makes you doubt cause and effect, back-paddle. Cause and effect (which includes working for a better world) is more important than emptiness.You’re questioning your understanding of emptiness because you feel doing actual good in the world is more important. Which it is. It only interferes with selflessness if you start thinking ‘hey, look at me doing good’. However, if you notice that in yourself, don’t stop doing good. Just use it as a tool to remind yourself that you’re not quite a bodhisattva/arhat yet.
Emptiness is a very complicated topic. Do take other people’s interpretations of it with a grain of salt. I studied for over a decade and I still don’t have more than a grasp of the basics.
Selflessness in the ethical sense has very little to do with selflessness as in emptiness. It’s great when people are altruistic, of course. Great karma for them and great blessings for those around them. However, that doesn’t mean they have realized emptiness. So don’t get your terminology mixed up: people being altruistic is another topic than selflessness in the Buddhist philosophical sense.
In Mahayana Buddhist terms there are two things: (1) the method side of the path: things like ethics, kindness, generosity etc. That’s what those farmer neighbors of yours had and what you are probably doing fine on as well.
(2) The other side is the wisdom side – this is where Buddhist philosophy comes in. And on that side it really takes quite a lot of work. Not that living an ethical life isn’t work – but it’s a very different story. To realize emptiness fully is to have both an intellectual understanding AS WELL AS using that understanding to clean up your own personality. When that realization occurs, that is when the end of cyclic existence comes into view.
From a traditional Buddhist perspective – Mahayana or Theravada – Without wisdom we’re stuck in cyclic existence. The Tibetan tradition would add that without wisdom kindness is often counter productive. These are two very different reasons. Many people are more ready for the second type than the first. Which is fine.
Why is wisdom important for me personally? Well, meditating on emptiness and applying it to my personality has helped me deal with a few self-delusions.
Kindness without wisdom leads to all kinds of problems. People giving unsolicited advice, for instance. Giving help short-term that only creates problems long-term. This is a very common mistake among amateur bodhisattvas (as one teacher of mine called us).
Buddha too wanted to escape suffering. So in itself that is not a problem. What happens is that when people use the dharma to escape suffering, they are just covering it up, instead of using the dharma to deal with it. The story is that the Buddha rooted it out completely. You can’t root something out without confronting it.
You are coming up on one of the things that differ between various traditions within Buddhism. The ‘you need only see it’ approach is very much Zen (also Dzog Chen). The path approach is more classical, so most Tibetan traditions as well as Theravada are on that line. It is just a preference, not an essential difference. You would not deny, for instance, that you still have personal problems, I think. So there is a path in the sense that you’re not a saint just yet and yet you have the potential to become one (using very Western terminology for once).
If you think the system through consistently, you will see that – once karma and rebirth are accepted – the urge to leave cyclic existence is really quite rational. If you take people in poverty, dealing with disease without proper healthcare, in war zones etc. into account, most of them would probably think it a nightmare to be asked to return again and again.
As one of the topics of meditation in the Lam Rim I have trained to try and get a feel for it. I can’t honestly say I have internalized it. However, I do see that if karma is true, and rebirth is true, then the chances of being reborn as favorably as I was this time aren’t that good. I may be building enough good karma to prevent an unfortunate rebirth, but I can’t be certain.
Good question. Because if karma and rebirth are facts, then cyclic existence is a problem waiting to be solved. Just because my current life is too comfortable to make that too deeply felt, doesn’t make the problem less real.
However, as I started out saying: nothing is mandatory. Meditating on cyclic existence isn’t mandatory either. You are completely free not to be a Buddhist, and if you are, to be your kind of Buddhist.
The above is clearly only a summary of the doctrines of emptiness and cyclic existence. It may be enough to meditate on, but it certainly doesn’t replace the libraries of books written on each in Indian Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism and Japanese Buddhism.
Tibetan Buddhism divides the philosophical interpretations of emptiness into four schools. However, each of these is separated into at least two others – with often diametrically opposed viewpoints. Japanese Buddhism made no attempt to simplify the topic into a mere four schools. Instead they have about a dozen main interpretations.
If you haven’t been confused by emptiness, you haven’t even begun to understand it.
The no-self doctrine. As you can see above, the translation of anatma with ‘selflessness’ ads to the confusion about the topic. I prefer the translation ‘no-self’. This doctrine is common to all types of Buddhists, though the precise interpretation varies.
Emptiness. In Mahayana discourse ‘emptiness’ has come to refer to the lack of a ‘self of phenomena’. In other words: it refers to the fact that nothing exists the way it appears to us, not merely the Ego. 1) Phenomena don’t exist the way they appear to our senses and 2) we don’t really look with our senses all that clearly. Instead we see the world through the filter of our conditionings.
I am using the word Ego here the way it is used in common discourse. Don’t get Jung or Freud involved when thinking about Emptiness.
When we say ‘he has too much Ego’, we mean that he takes himself too seriously. The male Tibetan gurus who came to the West were quite confused by their, often female, students. Instead of having too much ego, they didn’t have enough: they lacked self-confidence despite all their accomplishments. In time the teachers found a way of fitting it in with their worldview as follows: the Ego of a lack of self-confidence.
I think this is quite useful. Lack of self-confidence is a sense of ‘poor me’. We tend to see it as humility, but the effect isn’t good. Lack of self-confidence makes us avoid trying things we may be able to do. Humility on the other hand can co-exist with achievement quite peacefully. It merely means that we don’t make our accomplishments an Ego-thing.
With this addition, Ego becomes something everybody has. Everybody has a story-line about themselves that is off from the reality. In my understanding, that is the ‘conceit of I’ that the realization of no-self will get rid of.
Author: Katinka Hesselink