With the five skandhas we establish some idea of the self by inventing the other, much the same way right is established by left & vice versa. Then ego wanders through the six realms attempting to maintain it’s newly acquired territory. In other words, ego is established by creating division, I & other, and then solidifying this division. Next ego uses various techniques such as, aggression, fantasy, ignor-ance, reason, competition, and pleasure to maintain this separation. All this is done for security, in order to maintain some sense of self which is completely dependent upon this apparent separation. This whole process is called samsara and that which bonds us to this process is called karma.
The workings of karma are extremely subtle and are difficult to explain. Hopefully tonight we can develop some type of general understanding about how karma functions. The word karma literally means, “action” or “doing”, but may be better understood as creation. The reason being we are constantly creating our worlds. When asked what karma was the Buddha replied, “Because of this that arises, and vice versa.” In other words because of this we create that. There is a direct linkage between the this and the that. This also explains another of the Buddha’s statements in regards to understanding karma when he said, “ If you would like to know what you were in a previous life look at your present situation, and if you would like to know what your future life will be like look at your present situation.” In an attempt to create security ego plants the seed for future discontentment, which in turn leads to ego trying once again to create security or solid ground. For example within the animal realm ego devises some goal it must achieve, and in our heads when this goal is achieved happiness will be had. However in the process of trying to achieve this goal more problems are created, which in turn have to be solved. Therefore ego comes up with some goal for solving this new set of problems, and happiness isn‘t attained. This view looks at happiness as though it is some creation or result that arises from the coming together of all the right ingredients, applying the right formula to life. This attitude also keeps enlightenment just out of reach because it keeps it tied up in the past or future, by viewing it as something to be created. From this point of view we always look at things from either the view point of regret thinking, "well if I would have done this", or through the lens of wishful thinking saying, "If I can only had this". In either case the word IF is present which implies something is missing. It is this attitude that binds us to our pain. Ego is constantly trying to figure something out, put everything together in the proper order. This is the current situation. The power of karma is dependent upon four factors: 1) having understanding 2) having motivation 3) acting it out 4) being satisfied at completion. If all four factors are present within an experience the karmic seed from this experience will be strong. If however one or more are missing the potency of this seed diminishes. So first one must have understanding about the situation, and not necessarily an accurate one. All that is required is some explanation about the situation that we believe, no matter how far removed from the truth it maybe. Second, we must have some form of motivation. In other words we were doing this for such and such a reason. Next we actually perform the act, we carry it out to completion. Finally we are at completion, and we are satisfied with the result of our action. If all of these points are present the karmic seed is very strong. It should also be understood that these seeds or imprints are not substantial. They are like potential energy or a type of mometum, than an actual seed. With each action we gain a type of momtentum, we begin to move in a certain direction. Overtime this begins to create a snowball effect so to speak. At this point the potency of the momentum or karma has become so strong that can easily be mistaken as something solid, when in reality it is devoid of intrinsic existence.
First there is confusion, then the world is divided up into self & other, and from here ego begins to try and manage this world. Therefore we have subject, object, and action. Within this context of subject, object, and action, the laws of cause and effect dictate the course of things. In other words for every action, be it big or small positive or negative, there is a result. This result leaves behind a seed, and this seed is karma. Then this seed becomes a cause, so on and so on. Let us use an example. In order to make it easy to understand let us use something obvious like a divorce where a child is involved. Karma does not have to be a negative thing per se, but for this example it will be. The father finds himself bored with his marriage and in an effort to spice things up a bit he seeks an extramarital affair. At some point his wife becomes aware of his mistress, and asks him to leave. Now the kid involved is only, lets say 4-5 years old. She has little understanding about what is happening. More than likely such a situation would be confusing on a very fundamental level for such a young child. However ego does develop some explanation in order to shed some light on what is happening to it's position. All she knows is that he is her daddy and she is his daughter, her idea of who she is has become somewhat dependent upon her relationship with her father. When her father leaves she has little knowledge as to why, all she knows is that their relationship has changed. Whereas at one time her father would come home every night and play with her, now he no longer comes home. In her mind it is described by saying, "He left, and when he did he left me". The whole thing centers around me, the ego. For the child this experience shakes her understanding of who she is, and that whole process is traumatic for her, it causes her a great deal of fear. Now in reality the father leaving had little or nothing to do with his child. However because of the young child’s confusion this whole process was personalized, and as a result she was full of fear & hurt. So she does her best to re-establish her idea of self, and then goes back to managing her world. In order to protect itself ego once again establishes separation. The girl puts a great deal of distance between her and her father, and there she seems to feel comfortable or safe. There is understanding in the form of, "he left me". There is motivation to protect herself from such a painful experience in the future. There is action by creating distance or separation between her and her father. Finally there is satisfaction in that a sense of security arises from the apparent division between her and her father. Therefore all 4 conditions are met, and from the experience a strong seed has been planted. In the future when the conditions become operable this seed will come to fruition.
This brings up the next important point in regards to the inner workings of karma, conditions.
In order for karmic seeds to manifest the conditions have to be appropriate. Take for example an actual seed, lets say an apple seed. If I walk outside with a perfectly good apple seed, and lay it down on the concrete it does not matter how much rain and sunshine this seeds gets it will not produce an apple tree. The same can be said if I were to plant it in a place where it gets absolutely no sunlight, there is no amount of fertile soil or water that will cause this seed to produce apples. All of the necessary conditions must be present. Now let us use our previous example of the little girl. Based upon her confusion she saw her idea of who she was shattered by her father leaving her. From this she learned that when men get close to her they may cause her a great deal of pain by abandoning her. Therefore she had a certain suspicion about relationships with men planted. Lets say a few years down the road she finds her self having trouble making the basketball team at school this karmic seed will not come to fruition because, the conditions are not relevant. Fast-forward ten years when this same girl is fifteen years old and a freshman in high school. She meets some boy who she finds interesting. They begin to hang-out and have fun together, and over time they find themselves getting close. Eventually they begin to become even more & more intimate, until eventually he starts calling her his girlfriend. Maybe this makes her a little uncomfortable, but it is when he finally says those magic words, “I love you”, or even scarier it dawns on her that she loves him, then she gets pushed over the edge. There is an alarm going off on ego’s radar (consciousness), the danger alert status has been elevated. Earlier in life she had an experience with a man who supposedly loved her, but eventually he left her, turning her world upside down. At this point the conditions have become all too familiar, and this karmic seed comes to fruition. She begins to manage the situation which may manifest as attachment or aversion. In other words she may try to bring him so close he can’t get away from her, or she may try to run him off right now before he has the chance to leave her. Whatever the case maybe the result is always going to be of similar nature to it’s cause. This brings us to our next point about the workings of karma, the nature of the cause & the effect.
When karmic seeds come to fruition the fruit is never alien in nature to the seed. Going back to our earlier analogy of the apple seed. Lets say that finally I get enough sense to try and plant that seed in the proper conditions. There is good soil, it is exposed to the right amount of sunlight, and it receives an adequate amount of water. Therefore this seed comes to fruition. However an apple seed will never give rise to a pear tree, it will only produce apples. The same is true of karmic seeds. Whenever the conditions have become operable and the karmic seed comes to fruition, the fruit will be similar in nature to it‘s seed. Back to our example of the girl who’s father left her at a young age. It is now about ten years later and she finds herself becoming intimate with some guy. Once she becomes aware that the conditions are operable (ego's position has become dependent upon some man) it is like an alarm goes off saying, "this situation needs immediate attention!". This happens as ego relates the current circumstances to a previous experience. So ego begins to manage the situation in order to maintain it‘s solid ground. The ways that ego goes about this may vary, but the result will always be similar in nature to the seed. It maybe that ego brings the boyfriend in so close that there is no way he can escape, in some way taking him hostage. Maybe ego starts to push the boyfriend away before he has the chance to deliver the devastating blow ego is expecting. The tactics may also be very subtle and intelligent. Another response may have been more preemptive, never allowing this situation to have ever presented itself. Maybe she decided long ago to change her sexual preference to members of the same sex, in order to avoid another similar situation all together. Nevertheless, the ego is relating a situation previously experienced to a present one, and trying to avoid any sort of painful or traumatic experience. Unfortunately her efforts will only give rise to more of the same, discontentment. Her behavior will inevitably produce a similar result to the one she initially feared. She will either smother him, or run him off. This in turn will reinforce her suspicion that men will inevitably leave her. Which brings us to our next point in our discussion, the increasing effect of karma.
As karmic seeds come to pass they increase in power or potency. In lay language it is a lot like saying if you do something enough it will become like second nature to you. Just as when the seed gives rise to an apple tree, the tree bears many apples all containing many seeds, eventually you end up with an orchard. When karma comes to fruition the effect is similar in nature to the cause and leaves behind more seeds, a type of self-fulfilling prophecy that establishes very distinct patterns. We believe that such and such will happen because, we had some alarm go off on our radar (consciousness), and in order to protect our territory we shoot that bogey out of the sky, which reinforces our paranoia that they were after us to begin with. What in the beginning was a somewhat subtle suspicion now has evolved into a full blown paranoia. At this point our girl has begun to manage the situation, she has either run him off or took him hostage. Either way her behavior will more than likely do nothing more than reinforce her initial paranoia, thereby reinforcing this karmic imprint and causing an increasing effect. Suppose she runs the boy away, she is left thinking to herself, “I knew he did not want anything to do with me”, or “I will never find a guy that I really love!”. If she decided to bring him in close maybe it was even worse. Eventually the guy begins to feel smothered, and in order to get some space he escapes. Then she is left thinking, “All men will hurt me, they’re all pigs!” Whatever the case maybe you can see that karma will have an increasing effect, because ego‘s attempts to manage it‘s world leads only to more dissatisfaction. Twenty years later when a guy walks up to her to initiate casual conversation she is already on the alert thinking, "What is this guy after?". She walks around constantly on guard or maybe completely removing herself from the possibility of danger. Now let us say our girl decides to completely remove herself from the danger saying, "I will not be partaking in anymore relationships for some time". This is a great example of the increasing effect of karma, but it also brings us to our next point of karmic law, the exhaustion of karma.
Time nor fruition will exhaust karma. If we have an apple seed, and we were to put it on the shelf for 100 years this seed would not expire. 100 years later we could plant that seed in the right conditions and it would bear fruit. The same is also true of karma. Our girl can choose to remain relationship free for sometime, and when the conditions become operable that seed will probably bear fruit. If you go back to when she first met the guy, her freshman year of high school, it had been ten years since her dad left, but the seed had just laid dormant. When the conditions became operable, the seed came to fruition. As far as fruition exhausting the karma, it has already been shown that the fruition of a karmic seed creates an increasing effect and therefore it would be contradictory to say that fruition exhausted the power of the karma. Karma is like a type of fuel that recreates itself. Therefore the seed produces a fruit, which in turn bears a seed, so on & so on. This gives rise to that, and that in turn will give rise to this.
When we really investigate karma we see that it is nothing more than a pattern, a type of tying the thread of ignorance into a knot. Consciousness is the coming together of two factors; confusion and karma. Ignorance, which is the foundation for these patterns, isn’t really a thing. Ignorance or confusion is the lack of something, wisdom or insight. Wisdom here is referring to insight into the true nature of mind. Therefore wisdom should be understood to be something already present, we are just unaware of it. Through meditation practice we begin to still our minds and then investigate these games which keep us chained to this whole process of birth & death. Eventually we see straight through, and catch a glimpse of the true nature of mind. At this point we develop a real basis for practice. When these karmic patterns begin to rise on the ground of confusion we now have the confidence to move through them, to cut them at the root. Then we simply rest in our true condition which is no different than that of the Buddha, completely liberated from the bondage of confusion, ego, & conditioning .
This has been a very brief, general explanation of karma. A talk on this subject could potentially go on forever. However my understanding of it is limited and therefore I have tried to keep my explanation brief. I should also point out one or two other things as well. While karma is what keeps us in the cycle of re-birth it is not necessarily a wrong thing so to speak. If the seed planted is a positive seed it will bear a positive fruit, since the cause and the result can not be foreign in nature. Furthermore, there will be an increasing effect so many more good fruits will come to pass. In this particular lecture I have chosen to use an example which seems to be negative as I feel a lot more people could relate with it. I would also like to stress that the workings of karma can be very subtle, far more subtle than the examples given here. However for the purpose of this talk, which was to give everyone some general idea of how karma functions, I have chosen very obvious & gross level examples. The doctrine of karma is one of the most important points in Buddhism. Understanding karma is a very effective type of empowerment because , we realize that our present situation is TOTALLY our own creation. All our success and failures are a result of our karma, our doing. If we wish to understand our past or future circumstances we need not look any further than right now. Hopefully this talk provided everyone with some understanding of our conditioned state of existence.