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Lions Roar : July 2010
o ,....., o (',J o ::8 >L1 C/) ::8 z ........ @ >L1 U Z >L1 f-< C/) ........ X >L1 o ...-1 >L1 >L1 :r:: What Turns the Wheel The twelve nidanas describe the way we move from lifetime to lifetime in the painful cycle of existence called samsara. By understanding how they work, says SAKYONG MIPHAM RINPOCHE, we can change our future karma. THE FAMILIAR TIBETAN IMAGE of the Wheel of Life shows us how samsara, cyclic existence, really works. The wheel of sam- sara is driven by the three poisons-passion, aggression, and ignorance-which are represented in the center of the circle by the snake, rooster, and pig. On the outside of the wheel are the twelve nidanas, the specific steps by which we move from past lives to this one to the next. When we talk about karma, we are talking about these twelve branches of dependently related aris- ings, or "cause and result:' From the Buddhist point of view, there is no outside influence. Things depend upon one another, and they produce a certain cause or result. We usually think of things as having a beginning and an end. However, it's very hard to point to the beginning or end of anything. Causes are always becoming results, and results are always becoming causes. We look for beginning points be- cause we want to believe in permanence. The twelve nidanas are a core teaching that explains how karma works and why we practice meditation. The Buddha said all causes and conditions are dependently related: because one thing arises, another arises. In the present, we're feeling the result of past causes and conditions, and planting karmic seeds that will produce results in the future. People often say that because karma has already been set in motion, understanding karma won't make much difference. This would be true if there were only one cause involved, but there are always many causes at play. For example, the birth of a tree takes water, air, sunlight-all kinds of causes and conditions. There are multiple interactions taking place. If things were fixed and definite, practicing dharma would be pointless-there would be nothing we could do about anything. But there is something we can do: we can change the course of karma. There are multitudes of causes and conditions-all de- pendently related-that have arisen from actions in the past and have come together in a present action. We practice because our SAKYO N G M I P HAM R IN PO C HE is the spiritual leader ofShambhala, an international network of Buddhist meditation and retreat centers. He is the author of Turning the Mind Into an Ally and Ruling Your World. The Wheel of Life, a traditional presentation of cyclic existence (samsara). Concentric circles represent the three poisons, the six realms, and the twelve nidanas. present thoughts and actions affect the ripening of those karmic seeds. We can change the course of future karma by understand- ing the twelve nidanas. The first of the twelve nidanas is ignorance. This coarse level of ignorance has to do with not knowing. Specifically, we don't know the four noble truths: suffering, the causes of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the true path. We also don't know the true nature of what ignorance creates. Therefore we take the five skandhas-form, feeling, formation, discrimination, and con- sciousness-and falsely identify them as a self. And once there's a self, there is action. So the second nidana is formative, or conditioned, action. When we've mistaken the five skandhas for a self, action- karma-is created and planted like a seed in the eighth con- sciousness. The eighth, or store, consciousness is the fathomless basis of everything we experience, the storehouse of karma. Un- der the right conditions, karmic seeds will grow there, becoming the basis for a lifetime or a universe. Nonvirtuous actions such as anger or laziness sow the seeds for birth in the lower realms, such as the hell realm or the animal realm. Virtuous actions such as generosity or patience are the basis for a rebirth in the human realm or the god realm. SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2010 19