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Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Owning your own

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the subject of karma. We agreed that neither of us believed there was some omniscient being who kept tabs on everyone in the universe. So what is karma?

I don't claim to know. I've heard many versions, many interpretations, and I can't say that I know which is correct. Who truly does? And yet in some sense I still believe in karma.

The Buddhist view is that karma is action and that it brings a result dependent on the intention behind the action. If one rolls over in the night and inadvertently kills an insect that happened to be in the bed there is no bad intention so no bad karma results. At times I choose to kill a mosquito knowing exactly what I am doing. I make a decision that I would prefer this mosquito to be dead rather than buzzing around me with the potential to make me sick if it bites me. Often in such circumstances I say to myself, 'I accept any karma that comes to me from killing this mosquito.'

I believe that in countries where most people consider themselves to be Buddhist there is often a misinterpretation of karma. People go out of their way to make merit (good karma). They feed the monks or give money to the temple. I remember the time a friend had gone to the bank and got brand new notes to make a donation to the temple because she believed that more merit would accrue. I doubt that such actions result in any merit because according to Buddhist teachings karma is the result of intention. If the intention was to create merit then the intention was selfish and no merit would accrue.

Many people in such countries drive fast under all circumstances whether safe or not. There is no mindfulness of karma at this time. The intention is 'I want to get to my destination as quickly as possible and I don't care about anyone else'. Such selfishness cannot lead to merit. If such people drove with more care for others they might not feel so much need to create merit through donations.

I seem to remember a quote from the Buddha saying that one glimmer of mindfulness brings more merit than to feed the entire sangha and the Buddha himself.

In India at times I encountered people whose way of doing business I would consider to be dishonest. It was suggested to me that such practices were so entrenched in India that if you don't adopt them yourself you lose—if you can't beat 'em join 'em. I strongly disagree. No one is responsible for my karma except me. It is only by maintaining my integrity that I maintain any good karma I might have. If someone else is intent on dragging themselves into 'hell', let them do it. I can't stop that. But I can take responsibility for myself.

And what about the bad stuff that does happen to me? There is plenty of evidence of it in the pages of this blog. I've been robbed quite a few times. I have been in situations that I have found to be extremely challenging. Does this suggest that I have been a very bad person in the past?

I don't claim to know but what I believe is this. We do influence our karma by the attitude we carry in our minds. I know many people who have very little to complain about and yet they suffer from deep depression. In the Western world (and perhaps Asia too) how many people are there who can say they can live without the aid of drugs? Nor just the illegal ones, when I say drugs I'm talking about the many drugs that society offers us to help us cope with the unsatisfactoriness of our existence: from caffeine to heroin. The fifth precept of Buddhism requires one to refrain from the taking of intoxicants. Many of the intoxicants popular today were not available in the time of the Buddha. Would they have been acceptable to the Buddha if they were?

When shit happens to me I too sometimes get depressed. I immerse myself in this depression and observe. I don't take anything to get me out of it. And eventually I reach a point where I can say 'thank you'. I say 'thank you' to the situation that brought it about and I ask myself what I have learned. The reality is that I have not learned anything new, I've just been reminded of the Buddha's first noble truth: there is dukkha (unsatisfactoriness). I'm also reminded of the second noble truth: the cause of my dukkha is my attachment to my desires. Basically, I am attached to things being different from the way they are. I have an expectation that things should be otherwise.

I can't change the world. I can only change myself. I ask myself what can I change in my life that will improve my situation. The reality is that while I can change the situation my new situation will also contain dukkha to the extent that I am attached to an expectation of how things should be. I can choose how to see that dukkha. I can let it get me down or I can smile and move on. In this way, I believe I am creating my karma each and every day. What happens to me is not in itself my karmic inheritance. It's the way I handle it that creates my karma.

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Found your blog through Flickr (Travel Photography group) and am enjoying reading your thoughts. It is hard not to believe in some kind of karma, or as I was taught it as a child "what goes around comes around" and "do unto others..." etc. Being nice to people makes the world a better place, for everyone, and that includes yourself at a later time :)
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