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Lions Roar : March 2018
at someone, we are clearly ignoring the welfare of the other, indulging in our own aggression, and actually causing harm. In so doing, we make ourselves harder and more insensitive, and create confusion and obstacles for them. But how would the purely mental activity of jealousy produce negative karma? The Dhammapada, one of the earliest Buddhist texts, says that what goes on in the mind is actually the primary determinant of karma. Why? Because whatever negative actions we perform with body or speech first appear in the mind in the form of negative emotions and thoughts. It is not possible to engage in negative actions of body and speech if we have not first entertained negative thoughts and emotions. This means that, as far as karma is concerned, whatever we are doing mat- ters, whether we are acting, speaking, or just thinking. The Buddhist insistence that there is ultimately no “I” or “self ” raises an interesting question: how can there be karmic continuity from life to life? The answer is that every intentional action leaves a karmic imprint on our minds. Most often, the trace is so subtle that we are not aware of it. Yet it remains within us at an inaccess- ible level of our mind known as the alaya, or “universal uncon- scious.” From there it continues to influence how we experience things and think about them. It is this subtle consciousness, con- ditioned by all of our previous karma, that exits the body at death and carries along with it our entire karmic history. This is possible because, although ultimately there is no self, rela- tively speaking each of us is defined by a “life-stream” of connected moments. One moment of consciousness, acting as a principal cause, transfers its karmic burden to the next, during our life and at our death. It is our very belief in a “self ” that holds this karmic stream intact and enables us to have the illusion of being a separ- ate, discrete person. It is this illusory idea, structured according to our karma, that continues from one lifetime to the next. REGINALD RAY is the spiritual director of the Dharma Ocean Foun- dation and author of Touching Enlightenment and Mahamudra for the Modern World. * It’s All about Our Intentions by Toni Bernhard KARMA HAS BECOME a controversial subject to Buddhists, with scholars disagreeing about its meaning. Throwing my hat in the ring, I don’t believe that karma is related to any kind of exter- nal justice system where we are doomed to suffer because of some bad action we can’t even remember. Plain and simple, karma is about our intentions—our intentions at this very moment. The literal translation of karma from Sanskrit is “action,” but the Buddha often said that karma means “intention.” He said, “Intention, I tell you, is karma. Intending, one does karma by way of body, speech, and intellect.” Action has two components: 1) your “bare behavior” and 2) your intention accompanying that behavior. It’s important to note that the word “action” here includes physical action, speech, and thoughts—the equivalent of “body, speech, and intellect” in the above quotation from the Buddha. In Buddhist psychology, the key to fulfilling your potential as a human being is not the bare behavioral component of your action but your intention in engaging in that action. And, as the Buddha said: intention is karma. What does it mean to say that karma lies, not in the “bare behavior” that constitutes your action, but in the intention accompanying that action? Consider the physical action of wield- ing a knife. The bare behavior: wielding a knife. But the intention accompanying the act could be to perform life-saving sur- gery or it could be to stab someone in anger or to steal from him. The Buddha identified six intentions that underlie action: good-will (or kindness), compassion, generosity, ill-will (or anger), cruelty, and greed. The first three intentions are non-harmful; the last three are harmful. Notice how the six intentions mirror each other: good-will/ill-will; compassion/cruelty; generosity/greed. The “test” of whether an action is non-harmful or harmful is whether, in engaging in that action, you intend to alleviate suffering for yourselves and others or to intensify it. The same analysis that applies to the physical act of wielding a knife applies to speech. If you yell at someone, “Don’t move!” that’s your “bare behavior.” But your intention could be kind (trying to stop the person from stepping in front of a moving car) or it could be based on ill-will (the words “don’t move” being spoken with a gun pressed against the person’s back). The same analysis applies to thoughts. If you’re thinking about the homeless, that’s the bare content of your thoughts. But your intention accompanying that thought could be com- passionate (hoping they find a place to stay warm in the winter) or it could be cruel (hoping they freeze in the cold). Karma is crucial to our development as wise, loving, and car- ing human beings, because every time we act with a non-harmful intention, we predispose ourselves to act that way again. We plant a behavioral seed. Conversely, every time we act with a harmful intention, we predispose ourselves to act that way again, making it more likely that the next time our behavior will be harmful. Here is the Buddha on this subject: “Whatever a person fre- quently thinks and ponders upon, that becomes the inclination of his mind... If a person’s thinking is frequently imbued with ill- will... his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with ill-will....” The key word is “inclination.” Each time our intention is one of ill-will, an inclination to respond with ill-will is strengthened. In other words, we’re more likely to act out of ill-will in the future. LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2018 60