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Lions Roar : January 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2007 54 The monument at Deer Park in Sarnath, marking the Buddha’s first sermon presenting the fundamental truths he had realized. Understanding the second seal, that all emotions are pain, we see that the miser, the self, is the main culprit, providing nothing but a feeling of poverty. Therefore, by not clinging to the self, we find no reason to cling to our possessions, and there is no more pain of miserliness. Generosity becomes an act of joy. Realizing the third seal, that all things have no inherent exis- tence, we see the futility of clinging, because whatever we are clinging to has no truly existing nature. It’s like dreaming that you are distributing a billion dollars to strangers on the street. You can give generously because it’s dream money, and yet you are able to reap all the fun of the experience. Generos- ity based on these three views inevitably makes us realize that there is no goal. It is not a sacrifice endured in order to get recognition or to ensure a better rebirth. Generosity without a price tag, expectations, or strings pro- vides a glimpse into the fourth view, the truth that liberation, enlightenment, is beyond conception. If we measure the perfection of a virtuous action, such as generosity, by material standards—how much poverty is eliminated—we can never reach perfection. Destitution and the desires of the destitute are endless. Even the desires of the wealthy are endless; in fact the desires of humans can never be fully satisfied. But according to Siddhartha, generosity should be measured by the level of attachment one has to what is be- ing given and to the self that is giving it. Once you have real- ized that the self and all its possessions are impermanent and have no truly existing nature, you have nonattachment, and that is perfect generosity. For this reason the first action encour- aged in the Buddhist sutras is the practice of generosity. A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF KARMA, PURITY, AND NONVIOLENCE The concept of karma, the undeniable trademark of Bud- dhism, also falls within these four truths. When causes and conditions come together and there are no obstacles, conse- quences arise. Consequence is karma. This karma is gathered by consciousness— the mind, or the self. If this self acts out of greed or aggression, negative karma is generated. If a thought or action is motivated by love, tolerance, and a wish for others to be happy, positive karma is generated. Yet motivation, action, and the resulting karma are inher- ently like a dream, an illusion. Transcending karma, both good and bad, is nirvana. Any so-called good action that is not based on these four views is merely righteousness; it is not ultimately Siddhartha’s path. Even if you were to feed all the hungry be- ings in the world, if you acted in complete absence of these four views, then it would be merely a good deed, not the path to enlightenment. In fact it might be a righteous act designed to feed and support the ego. It is because of these four truths that Buddhists can practice purification. If one thinks that one is stained by negative karma or is weak or “sinful,” and is frustrated, thinking that these obstacles are always getting in the way of realization, then one can take com- fort in knowing that they are compounded and therefore imper- manent and thus purifiable. On the other hand, if one feels lack- The four seals are meant to be understood literally, not metaphorically or mystically, but they are not edicts or commandments. They are secular truths based on wisdom. PHOTOSBYJOSEPHSZOSTAK