Presented by Jhampa Shaneman
These lectures were transcribed by T Vd Broek. Heartfelt gratitude is offered for all the hours of work spent on this Dharma activity. These talks are offered free of charge. They have been slightly edited.
Feb 3, 1991
To talk about responsibility for things. For example the war in the middle east and one's responsibility. This talk is interesting and fundamental to Buddhism, to speak of when something happens in the world in regards to one's country, community or one's self. To what extend are we responsible for what is happening. From a Buddhist ideal it would come to karma. I have covered all the basic teachings quite a few times but it is refreshing to come back to it for the insight it provides.
In the law of cause and effect there is the basic teachings and I would like you to think in a more dynamic manner. For example when the law of cause and effect are presented in the format of saying life is precious but also impermanent. Because it is impermanent, what do we have to put our emphasis to? We have to put our emphasis toward what sort of person we are. What sort of karma we collect. What sort of activities are we involved with? Within that one should be conscious to have very positive karma and try to not allow negative karma to be expressed.
In regards to karma itself, it has four principles. Karma is definite, meaning that if karma is created if one does a particular activity, the effects of that activity and what it will bring about will definitely come about at some point whether in this lifetime or beyond. Because it is an activity the mind was properly engaged in therefore karma is definite. That activity if done, will not be lost.
The second aspect of karma is that it increases. If you allow yourself to develop a certain style of karmic expression, that karma will increase in the sense that it will infiltrate into other activities and affect them. This applies to both positive and negative karma although negative karmic expression tends to be easier for us. For example if one allows oneself to do the negative action of stealing because of desire or anger or ignorance because you are insensitive, in that way stealing will start to go into other activities. So it increases as you become more conscious of opportunities of when you could steal. You get caught up in the karma of that negative activity. Therefore it is important to try to stop or limit negative karmic expression and to try to put as much energy as you can into positive karma. This will also have its effect of trying to broaden our mind into positive activities.
The third principle is that if you do not create the karma you will never experience it's results. Very often people become paranoid if they are involved with others. For example if you are with someone who do very bad things but you have no particular input into it. Let's say Paul kills someone. And I am with Paul. I have some karma there. But if I do not do the action and if I had no involvement in that, then there is no karma on me. Also, for example, in the giving and taking meditation with someone who is ill, for example you find someone who has cancer. There are Buddhist meditations in which you visualize taking away their karma and giving love and compassion. Sometimes people think I will get cancer if I do this! Therefore I should not do this! In the principles of karma, unless you have the karma to have cancer, you will not have the cause for it. You should know that unless you create the karma, you will not have to worry about experiencing the results.
Similarly, if you do not practice generosity, should not expect affluence. If you do not practice patience, then your own physical beauty will not be high and should not expect to be peaceful. You have to collect the karma to experience the results.
The final principle is that karma is true to it's nature. If you do a positive action you will have positive results. If you do negative activity, you will have negative results. This applies to the fact that if you have a positive motivation when you do something, you are collecting positive karma. If have a negative motivation although the action may appear to be good, you are collecting negative karma. Sometime you might do something deceptively, give a gift when you hate their guts, knowing it something to bring harm towards them, so although the gift is an act of generosity, because the mind is negative, there is only negative karma in all of that. In such ways karma is true to it's nature.
Similarly if you do something nice for someone and they misunderstand you, that is still good karma for you. That is their karma, what they are experiencing on their side. It is not your responsibility and you should not loose confidence.
Those four principles, karma is definite, karma increases, if you don't do it you will not experience it's results, and finally, it is true to it's nature are considered fundamentals in Buddhist presentations of karma. To swing over into being more open minded in thinking about the meaning of performing certain activities, to look into the actual dynamics of your own mind. For example stealing. There is the subject and object. There is the delusion of desire. There is the activity of stealing. Finally there is I have it in my pocket, it is mine. Those four facets being there, you have completed the perfect activity. In that way in collecting karma, you should be conscious of having those four facets there. Subject, object, the delusion that motivates you, the activity to accomplish it, and having accomplished that, the knowing of the completion of having done it.
What do the four principles mean in our mind stream? The consciousness of that person has an energy pattern which lacks respect for other's property, desire which is out of control, and the completion merely validates the activity. That would be the imprint on the mind. That there is a certain head space which has acted through and been validated. That is karma.
They say you have this lifetimes experiences which are based on previous lifetimes karmic activity. Very few of the things that happen to you in this lifetime are the result of this lifetime's activities. You are the experience of what is happening in this lifetime. Not to say things are predestined, but allowing yourself to get into certain circumstances will ripen certain karmic effects for yourself. If you want to hang out in a bad neighborhood, you may have a lot of different experiences than if you hung around with good people. There is different opportunity for different type of karma to evolve. That is why morality is stressed. It allows you to be protected from extreme negative karma. If I never go to bad neighborhoods or to Iraq, I will not have to experience the results of those karma. And that would be dictated by morality. I would avoid going out late at night by myself in a bad neighborhood. That type of morality would protect me.
Within your mind stream are the imprints of activities of previous lifetimes which magnetize certain situations and experiences in this lifetime. It is not specific. You can look and see what type of activities you are performing in a general way. In doing that you can surmise the previous lifetime activities. There is an old saying in Buddhism. If you want to know who you were in your last lifetime, look at what you are doing in this lifetime. If you want to know what you will become in your future lifetime, look at what you are doing in this lifetime. You could say in an unconscious way you are an expression of your previous lifetime's karmic activity. And as you become more conscious you can realize what you are creating for yourself in your future lifetime. In that way it is important to become more conscious of who and what you are and try to develop more positive creative karmic relationships.
Karma is dependant on your activity, your conscious involvement with the activity, that activity being completed to make a strong imprint. Those facets linked together with delusion create karma.
Regarding things beyond ourself, there is karma for why you are born in a particular ethnic group. That would apply to the type of person you are, and the activities you do, and the particular sex you are born with. That the country you are born into has a particular karma. And the world system you are born into would also have karmic effect. Karma will draw towards particular situations. You are born into a particular ethnic group that experiences particular bias, Jewish, Italian, North American, etc. The type of person you are, karmically you are drawn to certain things. And in the intermediate state you do not have a body that slows you down so karma quickly draws you toward a karmic group you feel affinity for.
The American Iraq conflict is a couple levels of karma. It is world karma. Lama Tashi says everyone wants peace but we still have war. It is karmic because people are still not ripe enough to experience peace. They all want peace but do not go about it in the right way. That they got involved in the war is part of the world karma of our planet.
If you look back at yourself in your own dealings, maybe you resort more to aggression than to negotiation. Then you have part of the karmic cause of war. You do not need to say specifically that you are the cause of the war, but you can say that your attitude because it is lazy in promoting peace, has helped establish the war because you have not established a strong and peaceful attitude, you have not promoted it, therefore you can be responsible for that. You cannot be responsible for the war but for the fact that humanity has not upgraded itself. In that way you can chastise yourself. You could have tried harder to help people utilize peaceful means in resolving conflict.
In talking of karma and what can I do about the war? And what can I do karmically that will foster something good? I will use an example. There was a Tibetan Lama of the Gelug tradition. He was not that spiritual but was very powerful and in high position. As he grew older he found some sects were not very pure and he got together a military party and stomped on some monasteries to liberate Buddhism from bad influence such as relying on local spirits a lot to do good things. All the Lama managed to do was create hate toward the Gelug tradition. Because he relied on aggression for his idealistic goal, even today there is still garbage kicking around amongst the Tibetan community and a lot of sectarianism goes on. If he had been intelligent, he could have resolved the problem with positive qualities and drawing them into a better head space.
If you apply that to here and now, that you are a practitioner of Buddhism and a pacifist and things like that, and yet you feel completely useless because of the war, that is part of the cause of why the war is there. You feel weak and cannot do anything, and we will go to war time and time again as long as people have that attitude. Instead if you could be charismatic, have dynamic energy which wants to establish peaceful negotiation, you do it with the people you live with, those you come into influence with, then actually you create a wave of energy which is negotiation.
The main point is to come back to yourself and how you deal with your own aggression and negative feelings. And are you working with them skillfully or not? In that way you are working on world karma. If you get your own act together, it does change the world around you. Think about what I can do. What am I karmically responsible for? And what can I do which is actually real to me?
You could become a banner waver for a peace movement but the real point is are you a peaceful person? Are you a transformed person? You may be just as aggressive in being a peace-nick as those fighting in the war, never dealing with your own aggression and such!
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