Meeting three old friends (or enemies …)

Reflecting on karma over the last few days I came across three old friends, to be precise, actually enemies that are disguising as friends. I am sure you are already guessing who they are. Here is how they popped up again:

In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying Sogyal Rinpoche explains the meaning of karma as follows:

“The word karma means ‘action,’ and karma is both the power latent within actions, and the result that our actions bring.” (p.96)

“The effect of our actions depends entirely upon the intention or motivation behind them” (p.97)

“Karma is not fatalistic or predetermined. Karma means our ability to create and change. It is creative because we can determine how and why we act. We can change. The future is in our hands, and in the hands of our heart.” (p.99)

While karma refers to actions as well as their results, the emphasis is on the action. The idea of karma does not provide an excuse for passivity, suggesting that whatever is happening to me or others is because of my or their past karma and cannot be changed. It is true that my karma is responsible for what I am experiencing now but that is old past karma. The key is to focus on the new karma that I am creating now, every moment of my life. When someone else is suffering, rather than saying “that’s their karma,” “I can’t change it,” or “they need to go through this,” I have an opportunity to help them and create positive karma. When calamity befalls me I have an opportunity to break the vicious cycle of reacting in habitual ways that will perpetuate this kind of experience in the future. Thus, Buddha’s teaching on karma is not a depressing message, but a message conveying hope. It is telling me that the future is in my hands and that I have the power to change.

The centre of the Wheel of Life. In this image: ignorance is represented by a pig; attachment/desire is represented by an Indian bird known for its attachment to its mate; aversion/anger is represented by a snake, since it is quick to strike.

Because the teachings explain that the most important aspect that determines the result of actions is the motivation behind them, it seems to me that the first step to incorporate an understanding of karma into my life is to have a look at what motivation is behind my actions. As I tried to observe how I go about my life for the last few days, I noticed that most of the time I am directing my focus to the goal of pleasure, gain, praise or other people’s respect. Usually my actions have an immediate goal of feeling good,  being happy e.t.c. The flip side of this wish is trying to avoid pain, loss, criticism, bad reputation. Most of all, this is based on a very self-centered motivation. I pay attention to what seems to immediately affect me and ignore whatever does not seem to be immediately related to my personal well-being.

On closer examination these three preoccupations are the familiar gang of the three poisons (desire, anger and ignorance) which are presently running my life. Since I started to reflect on these three poisons a few weeks ago I have come to understand better how these poisons cloud my mind. Reflecting on karma now, I hope, will help me to become clearer about what I need to do to change my present way of relating to the world that keeps accumulating negative karma and leads to unwanted future suffering.

The key message I am hearing is that karma is determined by the motivation behind my actions, by how I direct my mind. This brings up the question for me: How can I best change my motivation? What kind of motivation should I adopt? I will be reflecting on this over the next few days and I invite you to join me. As always feel free to share your thoughts by postings comments.

(The above image is from the Wheel of Life — a traditional representation of the samsaric cycle of existence. Also translated as wheel of existence, or wheel of cyclic existence.)

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One Response to Meeting three old friends (or enemies …)

  1. Margretta Campbell says:

    it has been suggested (can’t remember where now) to make a quick prayer of “may this benedfit beings” before doing anything at all, then it quickly becomes apparent when your thoughts and actions are not in accord

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