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Lions Roar : May 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2007 32 life? Obviously you don’t have enough money yet. Another example is fame. If I am known by lots and lots of people, then I must be real, right? Yet the attention of other people, who are haunted by their own sense of lack, can’t fill up our own sense of lack. If you think that fame is what will make you real, you can never be famous enough. This understanding of anatta gives us some insight into karma, especially the Buddha’s take on it, which emphasized the role of motivations and intentions. If my sense of self is actually composed of habitual ways of perceiving, feeling, thinking, and behaving, then karma isn’t something I have, it’s what I am. The im- portant point is that I change my karma by changing who “I” am: by reconstruct- ing my habitual ways of perceiving, feel- ing, thinking, and behaving. The prob- lematical motivations that cause so much trouble for myself and for others—greed, ill will, and delusion, the three unwhole- some roots—need to be transformed into their more positive counterparts that work to reduce dukkha: generosity, lov- ing-kindness, and wisdom. Whether or not you believe in karma as something magical, a kind of objec- tive moral law of the universe, on a more psychological level karma is about how certain habitual ways of thinking and act- ing tend to create certain types of situa- tions. If I’m motivated by greed, ill will, and delusion, then I need to be manipula- tive, which alienates other people and also makes me feel more separate from them. Ironically, I’m busy trying to defend and promote the interests of something that doesn’t exist: my self. (It’s because the sense of self is not a real self that it feels so vulnerable, always in need of defense and support.) Yet acting in that way rein- forces my delusive sense of self. When I’m motivated by generosity and loving-kind- ness, however, I can relax and open up, be less defensive. Again, other people tend to respond in the same way, which works to reduce dukkha for all of us. Transforming our karma in this way is very important, yet it is not the only goal or the main goal of Buddhist practice. Most fundamentally, Buddhism is about awakening, which means realizing some- thing about the constructedness of the sense of self and the nothing at its core. If changing karma involves reconstructing the sense of self, deconstructing the sense of self involves directly experiencing its emptiness. Usually that void at our core is so uncomfortable that we try to evade it, by identifying with something else that might give us stability and security. Another way to say it is that we keep trying to fill up that hole, yet it’s a bottomless pit. Nothing we can ever grasp or achieve can end our sense of lack. So what happens when we don’t run away from that hole at our core? That’s what we are doing when we meditate: we are “letting go” of all the physical and mental activity that distracts us from our emptiness. Instead, we just sit with it and as it. It’s not that easy to do, because the hole gives us such a feeling of insecurity, ungroundedness, unreality. Meditation is uncomfortable, especially at the be- ginning, because in our daily lives we are used to taking evasive action. So we tend to take evasive action when we meditate too: we fantasize, make plans, feel sorry for ourselves, and on and on. But if I can learn to not run away, to stay with those uncomfortable feelings, to become friendly with them, then some- thing can happen to that core—and to me, insofar as that hole is what “I” really am. The curious thing about my empti- ness is that it is not really a problem. The problem is that we think it’s a problem. It’s our ways of trying to escape it that turn it into a problem. Some Buddhist sutras talk about paravrtti, a “turning around” that transforms the fes- tering hole at my core into a life-healing flow that springs up spontaneously from I-know- not-where. Instead of being experienced as a sense of lack, the empty core becomes a place where there is now awareness of something other than, greater than, my usual sense of self. I can never grasp that “greater than,” I can never understand what it is—and I do not need to, because I am an expression of it. My role is to manifest it. our new place 825 Sonoma Avenue Santa Rosa,California (707) 544-0540 po Box 2972 Santa Rosa, California 95405 John Tarrant Bring Me the Rhinoceros and Other Zen Koans to Bring You Joy PZi Director + Author of The Light Inside the Dark zen INSTITUTE PACIFIC www.pacificzen.org zen for real life photo with guanyin shot by Michael Sierchio in SanFrancisco samOvar tea Lounge apr.06 roshi Zen is not about what you believe. It’s about how you experience your life. registrar @ pacificzen.org (707) 538.9340 (7am-7pm) 7-Day Summer Retreat : June 9—16 + 2007 7–Day Autumn Retreat : Oct 13—20