In order for us to work with our karma we must start where we are. It does little good to be idealistic or engage in wishful thinking without any real experience to base these ideas on. It is true that our essential nature is no different from that of a Buddha. However right now this is just some doctrine, as we have not realized it. For this doctrine of Buddha Nature to have any real effect on our lives we must engage it, and realize it for ourselves, otherwise it is just an idea. A prominent American Buddhist teacher, Reginald Ray, once said in an interview on a Canadian news program that, “Ideas do not change people, experiences do.” Therefore Buddhism can not be seen as some doctrine disconnected from practice or everyday life. Thomas Keating says in the first paragraph of his book , The Mystery of Christ, says that Christian theology & Christian spirituality can not be separated, they are totally infused. The word religion comes from the Latin religare which means “to bind”. So we see that religious beliefs should really be seen as practices that are meant to be infused with our daily lives to help us realize our true potential.
Over the past five weeks we have looked at our present situation in depth. We have seen that it is turbulent to say the least. This turbulence is based upon confusion, and creates patterns that perpetuate our hectic lives. This whole thing is moving very fast, and we struggle to keep up. As I said at the end of the last talk the only way to transcend our current situation is to see it exactly for what it is. This type of seeing is wisdom, and this wisdom dispels all traces of ignorance, the primary cause of our problems. However in order for this type of wisdom to manifest we first have to settle our mind. We begin to calm our mind with shamatha meditation, but at some point our practice has to move beyond just a formal sitting practice. It is very good to have a practice that includes 20-40 minutes of sitting meditation a day, but in and of itself this will not have an overwhelming effect on the way we interact with the world. It will bring some stability to our lives, but we will find ourselves playing out the same old story over and over again. The reason for this is that the power of our patterns or karma is overwhelming, and we lack the necessary insight to overcome them. Our practice has to move with us in our daily life, it has to become alive so to speak. We are introduced to this post meditation practice first through the teachings on the ten virtuous acts & the ten non-virtuous acts.
The main reasons for practicing the ten virtuous acts is to reduce the turbulence we have talked about up until this point, and to loosen our grip on the world. Our life is very chaotic, it is moving a thousand miles per hour, and with the practice of the ten virtuous acts we can begin to eliminate some of our unnecessary struggles. We can remove some of the grosser levels of dysfunction, allowing our mind to settle even more, which will allow wisdom to arise spontaneously. All of the teachings within Buddhism are connected with realizing our true nature, as this is the basis of all practice. The mind is like pond water. The water is clear by it’s very nature. However when the mud at the bottom is stirred up it gives the water a polluted murky tent. All it takes to restore the water to it’s clear appearance is to allow the dirt to settle back to the bottom of the pond. We do the same thing with the mind, we allow it to settle. All we have to do is stop stirring up the dirt. Abstaining from the ten non-virtuous acts does just that, it removes a lot of unnecessary chaos that continually stirs up the dirt at the bottom. In our attempt to create and manage a world that revolves around us we kick up all the dirt at that bottom. This causes the mind to appear polluted.
Karma can be understood to be of three types. The three are body, speech, and mind. These three can be further classified into two groups, virtuous & non-virtuous. Non-virtuous karma gives rise to hectic irrational patterns. While virtuous karma gives rise to a more stable consistent state of mind that is conducive to the practice of meditation. There are four factors that contribute to the strength of karmic imprints. These four are understanding, intention, action, and completion. When all four of these conditions are met the tendency will be strong. So with a reasonable understanding of karma one can see the benefits of engaging such a practice as the ten virtuous acts. First, one develops understanding by considering the benefits of performing positive acts that help not only themselves but others also. Next, one develops the intention to carry out an act in order to be of benefit to ones self as well as others. Then, one carries out the action to benefit one’s self & others. Finally, one is satisfied that they have carried out such a positive act. In this way one can begin to sow strong positive tendencies. On top of this, the law of cause and effect states that every action will produce a result, the result will be similar in nature to the cause (positive act/ positive result), and there will a reinforcing or increasing effect. Therefore if we perform positive acts the result will be good, and this result will reinforce our positive intentions, which in turn will go along way to produce more positive acts. It is in this way that we begin to work with our current situation. Removing a lot of these negative causes from our life will do a ton to settle our mind, allowing our mind to become clear, so that insight will arise. Although creating positive patterns does not equal enlightenment, as they are still patterns, it does go along way to create an optimum situation for meditation practice. As our mind becomes settled, it’s clear nature becomes apparent, and with this insight arises.
Karma does not mean fate or something like that. The Buddha said, “If you would like to know what your past life was like look at your present situation. If you would like to know what your future life will be like look at your present situation". The key to our past and future is now. Therefore if I would like to be happy & content in the future I should start to plant the seeds for happiness now, and abstain from the negative acts that just produce more dissatisfaction. According to the laws of karma our current situation is of our own creation. This idea is very empowering, because it implies that our future situation will also be of our own creation. The doctrine of karma always puts the responsibility for our current circumstances squarely on our shoulders. If the problem was else where we would have little or no control over our own life. We would have to sit around and wait on everyone else to change in order for us to be happy. When we examined our current situation, cyclic existence, we saw that it was created or constructed. It was established on the foundation of ignorance, and it consisted of the five aggregates or skandhas, maintained by the six realms or themes, and the momentum of all of this was our karma. However it was constructed, and therefore can be de-constructed. This is the third noble truth, the cessation of suffering. We see that our pain and discontentment arise as the result of different factors coming together, and therefore it can be un-done. Furthermore we see that the responsibility for demolishing this state of mind rests solely with us. Of course we need assistance as far as teaching and guidance is concerned, but when it comes to implementing these teachings and guidance this is up to us entirely. As soon as we take the initiative, and begin to work with our mind these things start to unravel. The teachings of the ten virtuous acts and ten non-virtuous acts are where we start.
The ten non-virtuous acts are killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, divisive speech, harsh words, gossip, clinging to resentment, grasping at jealousy, and holding wrong views. These ten acts can be separated into the three classes of body, speech, and mind. Body is killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. Speech is lying, divisive speech, harsh words, and gossip. Mind is resentment, jealousy, and ignorance. Since body, speech, and mind encompass most of the human situation, most of our negative patterns are created & reaffirmed through these ten acts. In order to create and reinforce positive patterns we must abstain from the ten non-virtuous acts and cultivate the ten virtuous acts. When one of these ten acts begin to manifest we must become aware of it, and abstain from it. We have to let go of our deeply ingrained tendency to use these acts in order to create and manage the world, this is true renunciation. There are three principal paths toward enlightenment renunciation is the first followed by bodhicitta, and wisdom. By renouncing our tendencies to manage the world, we attain a certain level of peace & stability. For example lets say we are in a conversation about politics and we realize we are becoming increasingly annoyed with the person talking. They are either far to conservative or liberal for our liking. As the person continues to talk we grow angry with them thinking, "This person does not know their butt from a hole in the ground". If we are not aware of what is going on inside us it is only a matter of time before we are tongue lashing this person because we find their opinions threatening. We have to identify this, and furthermore we have to work with it. We have to realize that this anger is rousing up from within us, as the result of our own tendencies, not the other person. We have to avoid the age old belief that this person is making me angry. This person may make certain conditions opportune for something inside of us to arise, maybe they sound like our mother in-law, but they are not the cause. The cause is within us. Once we have realized this we have owned our resentment. Next we recall the ten virtuous acts. They are protecting life, giving freely, honest sexual conduct, speaking the truth, constructive speech, necessary speech, kind speech, tolerance, kind thoughts, contentment, and open-mindedness. Instead of clinging to anger and using it to manage the situation, we open up to this person. The absolute need for security & solid ground is renounced, we let go of it. We speak honestly & kindly to them. At the very least we refrain from harming them, by not running them off or forcing them to conform to our ideas. This is just one example, but it is easy to see how this would reduce a lot of un-needed drama from our life. In the same way that not hurting other living things releases us from the guilt of bringing harm to some living creature. When we take things that do not belong to us there are consequences that follow such an action. When we are selfish and dishonest in our sexual relationships we hurt ourselves and others, bringing un-wanted stress into our lives. When we find ourselves using harsh language with someone it brings tension into our relationships as others become afraid of us. When we are dishonest we become anxious and paranoid trying to cover up all our lies. When we gossip we bring harm to others that maybe indirect, but it is certainly painful. Gossip also brings tension into our relationship with that person. When we use divisive speech we pit people against each other which gives rise to fear & aggression. When we cling to resentment we become consumed with anger or depression. Not to mention that it gives rise to hurting others and oneself. Jealousy creates a type of obsession with competition, and results in us hurting others by lying, stealing, violence, speaking harshly, etc. Finally clinging to mistaken views perpetuates this whole cycle, and leads to nothing more than more pain. Ignorance is the fuel this ship runs off of.
In order to abstain from the negative effects of the ten non-virtuous acts we cultivate positive responses by practicing the ten virtuous acts. Killing is counteracted by giving life, protecting it by helping others and not intentionally bringing harm to any living thing. Generosity is cultivated in order to overcome greed or stinginess. We give freely of what we can whenever possible. We always consider the other person involved, their feelings & needs, in order to overcome our selfish tendency to use others in sexual relationships for our security. At the very least we try not to hurt any one for our own pleasure. Lying is dealt with by always telling the truth regardless of the consequences we may face, unless telling the truth would bring still more harm to someone else. Speaking kindly towards others and encouraging them is practiced as opposed to belittling others and talking down on them. When we talk we do so in such a way that brings people together, instead of tearing them apart and pitting them against one another. Our speech should be relevant and meaningful, as opposed to mindless gossip that has no bearing on anything of importance. We try to cultivate loving positive thoughts about others. In this way we can begin to let go of our resentments. Contentment, just being happy for yourself and others, is cultivated to release our grip on jealousy. Study, contemplation, and meditation are utilized in order to dispel wrong views. It is sometimes suggested to pick whatever gives you the most trouble and begin to work with that first. By doing this we will develop immense confidence that will enable us to more easily tackle some of our other defective habits.
Practicing the ten virtuous acts seems difficult, but it is actually very natural. It only seems difficult because we have used the ten non-virtuous acts for so long in an attempt to arrange the world to suit ourselves. The reason I say they are natural is that they are closely connected with our true nature. When we perfectly practice this it is called a paramita, which means gone beyond. It is action which arises spontaneously, effortlessly. It is really remembering our natural state. Initially while practicing the ten virtuous acts we begin to let go, we are slowing down the momentum of cyclic existence. We are beginning to open up to the world, we are letting our fear fall from us each time we remember the ten-virtuous acts. When we find ourselves angry, arguing with others, most of the time we have refused to accept something as it is and now we are trying to re-organize it in order to once again establish some form of solid ground that validates ego. This is unnatural, and it even feels unnatural. When we are caught up in anger or fear we feel disconnected, overwhelmed, and often you can feel sick. When we are no longer succumbing to fear, we allow things to come and go at their own speed. It is not to say that we are not interested, rather we very engaged, curious. We have just given up our managerial duties, our desire to create some false situation that validates our sense of self. This type of engagement is somewhat destructive though, and begins with us accepting the situation as it is, in it’s entirety. It is destructive in that it is tearing apart the system ego has established in order to produce security & entertainment. From here the whole thing is playful, because we are open to it, we become like children strangely curious. We can really begin to experience things for the first time. We are accepting life, and therefore allowing it in without having to manipulate it. We remember the ten virtuous acts by opening up, and by allowing ourselves to flow out and be vulnerable. I keep saying remembering the ten virtuous acts because they are in touch with our true nature, we are beginning to head back home.