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March 31, 2009

Action and Karma


These long and lazy days in Mysore, I have been delving more deeply into the book, "Words Of My Perfect Teacher", by Patrul Rimpoche. As I mentioned in my last post, this book was written in the 19th century and is considered to be a classical book on the principles and practices of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama himself recommends it to all those who seek to learn more about spiritual practice.

The part of the book that I have been focusing on of late is the area in which the principle of karma is discussed.

No doubt most of you are familiar with the concept of karma, but for those of you who are not, I will give a brief explanation.

The idea of karma is the idea that no action that we undertake is without consequences. Every action, whether it is positive or negative, mental or physical, produces some results. The idea of Karma also includes the idea that nothing that ever happens to us, again whether it is positive or negative, is an accident or a random occurrence in any way. Whatever happens to us in our lives is, inevitably, a result of our past actions in some form or another.

The Buddhists believe that the purpose of our lives is simply to fulfill our karma or to bear the fruit of our past actions. Samasara, or the cycle of birth and death, is comprised entirely of the effects of our actions.

The most important aspect in determining the nature of one's karma is the precise motivation or intention of each particular action that we carry out.

If our motivation for any particular action is selfish or self-centered (that is, any action that is motivated by greed, vanity or purely selfish reasons), then that action will almost certainly produce negative karma for us in this life and in future incarnations.

The Buddhists also believe that karma is also what causes us to be reborn in either higher or lower realms of existence based on the nature of that karma. Negative karma causes us to be born as lower levels of life forms such as animals or even insects and may even cause us to be reborn in hell type realms or as some kind of tortured ghosts. Positive karma causes us to be reborn as spiritually oriented human beings or even as demi-gods in celestial type realms.

Positive karma is produced by those actions, which are motivated by a spirit of genuine generosity towards the welfare of other beings and by those actions, which are not driven by ego, centered desires.

Another salient point about karma is that one action does not just produce an equal and opposite reaction, but creates multitudes of seeds of future consequences. That means that one small action produces consequences on a much larger scale. That means if you killed one other being in this life, it could mean that you yourself could be killed again and again in hundreds of future lifetimes. What a scary thought!

Now, whether you actually believe in the idea of reincarnation or in the idea of being reborn in higher or lower realms of existence does not, in my mind, really matter. I think we can all tentatively embrace the idea that what action we take now has potential future consequences. We have all, at one point or another experienced a kind of "instant karma". That is, a time when we did something in one moment and then, not too shortly thereafter, we experienced a kind of backlash from that particular action.

At the very least, the whole idea of karma is worthy of contemplation. The reflection on the idea of karma is, by itself, a valuable meditation, as it causes us to look at ourselves in more introspective ways. This kind of deep introspection is a valuable and necessary part of spiritual practice and life.

I have noticed very clearly about myself that there are many moments where I am unconsciously assuming that the actions that I take and the thoughts that I think have little or no actual consequence or power. Whether they do or not is really not the point. The curious thing is, is that I assume that they don't. Why is that? How did I come to this particular belief nature of action and about myself? Did I learn this from a credible source or is this belief about the nature of action simply an expression of some mass unconsciousness or ignorance?

I asked myself, "What would happen to me and to my life if I were to actually were to consciously take every single action in my life as if that action were to have significant consequences, both seen and unseen?” Whether or not each action had strong consequences or not, the very notion that each action did have consequences would significantly alter the way that I lived my life and the very way that I viewed my own self in this life.

One of the biggest changes in myself and my life is that I would take much more care with each action that I took and I would be much more conscious with my particular motivation for each action that I took. That means that I would be eminently more mindful of my conduct in the world and of my own self. That in and of itself would add great power and awareness to my life.

Since reading this particular part of this great book, I noticed that I have naturally been much more empowered to take care and to exact a natural kind of discipline in my life with regard to my conduct and to the way that I think. That assumption that I previously held that allowed me to assume that my actions and thoughts were of little consequence contributed to a lot of selfish, unconscious and downright sloppy behavior and thinking.

Now that I am even just reflecting on the fact that my actions and thoughts may have more significance than I had previously assumed automatically and naturally altered the quality and nature of my behavior and thinking. I am stunned in many ways by how dramatically this particular reflection has changed the quality of my life. I am feeling stronger, more confident, and more full of faith and more centered than before I began this particular course of exploration into the nature of action and their consequences.

Again, I remark on the vast availability of profound wisdom from the different major spiritual traditions. Not only that this wisdom is available, but also of the potential power that this wisdom has to directly affects each one of our lives.

I encourage you all to seek out, in your own way, the jewels that are everywhere around us.

Hari OM!

Govinda


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