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Lions Roar : March 2018
Conversely, each time our intention is to be kind, an inclination to respond with kindness is strengthened. We’re, in effect, learning how to be kind and so we’re more likely to be kind in the future. The same analysis applies to the other four intentions. And so, by responding with kindness, compassion, and generosity, we are turning ourselves into a person who is kind, compassionate, and generous. We are forming our character. This, in turn, has a positive effect on the world around us. And of course, the converse is true, should we respond to the world with ill-will, cruelty, and greed. The key to learning to incline ourselves toward non-harm- ful intentions is to reflect on whether our proposed speech or action will intensify suffering for ourselves and others or will alleviate it. Mindfulness practice helps here because it makes us more aware of our reactive tendencies. Then, instead of acting impulsively, we’re able to examine our intentions before we act. As the Buddha said above, “Intending, one does karma...” Thus, with the intention not to harm, we “do” karma, meaning that the person we become is kind, compassionate, and generous. Karma is a profound teaching, one worthy of our careful attention. TONI BERNHARD is the author of How to Be Sick and How to Wake Up. * Your Guide to Future Happiness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu THE TEACHING OF KARMA offers an important perspective on how best to relate not only to the present, but also to the past and future in a way that can make you lastingly happy. What the Buddha taught about karma is this: Your experience of the present moment consists of three things: 1) pleasures and pains resulting from past intentions, 2) present intentions, 3) pleasures and pains resulting from present intentions. With reference to the question of happiness, this teaching has three main implications. • The present is not totally shaped by the past. In fact, the most important element shaping your present pleasure or pain is how you fashion, with your intentions in the present, the raw material provided by the past. • Pleasures and pains don’t just come floating by of their own accord. They come from intentions, which are actions. This means that they have their price, in that every action has an impact both on yourself and on others. The less harmful the impact, the lower the price. If your search for happiness is harmful to others, they will fight to undo your happiness. If it’s harmful to yourself, your search has failed. • Your search for pleasure or gratification in the present has an impact not only on the present but also well into the future. If you want long-term happiness, you have to take into account the way your present actions shape future events. And you have to pay careful attention now, for you can’t come back from tomorrow to undo any careless mistakes you had made today. PHOTOBYCAROLYNLAGATTUTA/STOCKSYUNITED Taken together, these observations about the connection between action and happiness show the need to be skillful in your pursuit of happiness. If you want your happiness to last, you have to look for pleasure, gratification, and meaning in ways that are harmless. You have to choose carefully which skills to develop that you’re sure to need in the future—strengths of character such as patience, virtue, generosity, and discernment that will enable you to be happy in the midst of aging, illness, separation, and death. Fortunately, the nature of this connection between actions and their results means that it’s possible to develop skill in areas where you’re not yet skilled. There’s enough of a pattern between actions and results that you can discern the pattern and put it to use. At the same time, because the pattern is not deterministic, you have the freedom to learn and change your ways. In this way, the Buddha’s teachings see a clear connection across past, present, and future as to the best way to pursue happiness. You develop the right attitude toward past mistakes so that you can learn from them. You approach the present as an opportunity to respond skillfully to whatever arises. And you face the future with the confidence that you’re developing the full range of skills you need to handle whatever lies in store. ♦ THANISSARO BHIKKHU, also known as Ajaan Geoff, is a Buddhist monk and translator. He is abbot of Metta Forest Monastery in Valley Center, California. LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2018 61