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Lions Roar : March 2018
Karma HOW CAUSE & EFFECT WORK IN YOUR LIFE Who you are in this moment affects who you’ll be in the next. Karma Is Ego, Ego Is Karma by Reginald Ray KARMA’S CENTRAL PLACE in the tradition is shown by the Buddha’s own enlightenment, which consisted of nothing but seeing that nothing in the universe stands outside karma’s domain. Even the concept of the independent, autonomous “I” we so dearly cherish is nothing but the product of karmic forces. To Westerners, the doctrine of karma can be somewhat off-put- ting, seeming to be a mechanical law that exacts full payment from us for our moral infractions. Yet Buddhism actually takes the opposite view. Only when we see fully the ramifications of karma can we understand who we are and why we are here, con- nect with the warmth and blessing of the world, and experience genuine compassion for other people. Beyond this, to understand that there is no “I”—but only the operation of impersonal karmic forces—is to attain the freedom of complete liberation. Buddhism highlights two types of karma. The first is the karma of result. This addresses the age-old question of why our life is this way and not some other; it shows us that every aspect of our lives is the result of actions we have performed in the past. This includes our body and its physical condition, our par- entage and other elements of our history, current friends and relatives, our overall life situation, our general state of mind, and even the thoughts we think and the emotions we feel. All of these come about because of specific actions that we have carried out in the past. They represent what is given in our lives and, as the fruition of past actions, stand beyond our abil- ity to make them other than what they are. The second type is the karma of cause. This addresses the question of how or even whether we influence the future. It says that every action we perform in the present is going to produce results of some kind further down the road. Our mind and the actions that proceed from it are that powerful. Everything we do affects the future in ever-widening ripples of cause and effect. If our actions are virtuous, then the karmic results will be positive, whereas if our actions are unvirtuous, the results will be negative. Positive results include fortunate life circumstances, experiences, and opportunities, while negative results include various forms of suffering. Positive circumstances are desirable not only because they bring happiness but, more importantly, because they place us in a favorable position to engage in spiritual practice, to change ourselves for the better, and to help others. Negative circum- stances are undesirable because, in addition to the pain they bring, they generate outer and inner obstacles to the practice of dharma and make it more difficult to progress along the path. The teaching on the karma of cause is a powerful one because it calls into question our natural tendency to assume that, as long as we don’t get caught, our actions have no consequences. According to Buddhism, everything we do brings consequences. Our own intentions in what we do is the key factor in deter- mining whether an action will yield positive or negative results. If we act in a purely selfish, self-serving manner, then the future fruition of that action will be negative. By the same token, if our motivation is to alleviate suffering and bring relief to others, then what we do will bear fruit in positive karmic results. Assessing intentions is not always easy because of a natural tendency to hide our actual motivations, not only from others but also from ourselves. Many times we convince ourselves that we are acting generously, only to discover later—perhaps through the feedback of others—that we were, once again, serving ourselves and ignoring others’ needs. According to Buddhism, however, ignorance of our actual motivations is no excuse and does not relieve us of their karmic consequences. Therefore, a crucial part of understanding karma is to become aware of our own intentions so that, to begin with, we know what we are doing. We create future karma by actions of body, speech, and mind. Examples of demeritorious actions might include killing an animal (body), speaking abusively to another (speech), or fanning the flames of our own jealousy at someone else’s good fortune (mind). It is perhaps easy to see how the actions of body and speech produce negative karmic waves: if we kill an animal or lash out PHOTOBYHIKRCN/©123RF.COM LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2018 58