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Lions Roar : May 2006
And Gampopa (1079-1153) says: Great wisdom will not take birth in you If you have earned little merit. Attempting to meditate on emptiness without merit can invite self-deception. We might think that we are in a state of awareness without grasping, when we are actually grasping at a subtle level at meditative experiences like clarity, joy, and no-concepts. It is grasping, or attachment, that keeps us in samsara. Tilopa told Naropa (11th century): Son, appearances are not the issue. Rather, attachment to them is. So Naropa, cut [your] attachment. Or, meditating only on emptiness, we could drift into the absence of thoughts. Contemplating in this state creates no merit, but leads to rebirth in samsara’s formless realms. Jigme Lingpa says, “If you are attached to ‘no-thoughts,’ you will fall into the formless realms.” Beings there remain semi-unconscious without making progress for possibly millions of years. Karma So we need to create circumstances conducive to our development. Since we live in a world that is created by and operates through karma, we have to abide by its laws and travel the path of positive karma. To emphasize the importance of making merit, we should note that even the buddhas observe karma. Guru Padmasambhava said, “My realization is higher than the sky. But my observance of karma is finer than grains of flour.” Some people think karma is fate. “It must be my karma,” they sigh, resigning themselves to some calamity. But karma doesn’t have to be bad. It can be good. And we make our own karma. Every thought, feeling, and deed sows a habitual karmic seed in our mind that ripens into a corresponding positive, negative, or neutral experience. Anger and jealousy manifest as painful, unhappy experiences. Selfless, joyful thoughts and feelings flower into wondrous, fulfilling experiences. So we don’t have to resign ourselves to “our karma.” We control our karma. Every moment is a new juncture, a chance to improve our way of thinking and thus our circumstances. This principle of interdependent causation is the bedrock of the Buddha’s first teachings, the four noble truths. Karma, Merit, and Samsara No matter how seemingly pleasant, samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth, is a delusory nightmare of confusion and suffering. Nothing lasts. In some lives we may be reborn in higher realms; in other lives we go to lower realms, depending on which of our karmas are ripening and how we lived our preceding life. Our cycling in samsara stems from grasping at self. Nagarjuna writes: If we grasp at the (five) aggregates, we are grasping at self. If we grasp at self, from that (arises) karma, and from (karma arises) birth. Through these three, without a beginning, middle, or end, Revolves the fire-brand circle of samsara By depending on each other as the cause. So Shantideva asks: All the violence, fear, and suffering that exist in the world Come from grasping at self. What use is this great evil monster to us? To uproot grasping at self, we need to realize wisdom. To realize wisdom, we need merit. Merit releases us from negative emotions, the cause of samsaric suffering, and loosens our grasping at self. As that happens, we glimpse the true nature of our mind. Once we do, we can meditate on the true nature to perfect the realization of wisdom. Until then, we need to make merit. SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2006 63