What does Karma mean?
Good morning friends. It is good to be together again. Two weeks passes so quickly. So much happens. Olivia and Tan had their baby! Alexander Mai 5lbs 8oz 17in. Yeah! Mother and baby are doing fine.
Welcome again to visitors and new friends. It is good to come together and consider the Dharma.
So - How did you do on the homework from last time? We talked about non-harming and we were going to try to gently shade our thoughts, words and actions away from harming - toward harming less. Not harmless - just harming a little less. How did we do? Some people remembered - some people tried. That is good.
Today we will talk about Karma. What it is this Law of karma we speak of?
About the kinds of karma we may create - Good or Bad? We will consider what Shinran meant when he said that Evil Karma can be transformed into Good - he described a process of transformation by the karma of the Buddha - “The Ice of our delusions transforms into the water of enlightenment.”
Karma means Action - Now I’m back to explaining a word from an ancient language. Karma is a Sanskrit word. It comes from the same root as our word Create - Kri - which means to order or to do.
Karma means Action - your karma are your actions, your intentional actions. When we make things a certain way. The fruits of your actions are the effects of those actions on your life.
The Buddha taught on karma often and understanding Karma is very important to spiritual growth. Karma is, like everything, in constant flux and change. We create our own present and future by the choices we make in each moment. This is a just right understanding. The Buddha’s teaching of karma empowers us to become the drivers in the unfolding of our lives
There are other views - Sometimes we hear people saying “That was his karma” when referring to a punishment for someone’s bad actions in the past. In other world views - like Jainism - karma is like that, seen as an explanation of bad events. If something happens to someone - they deserve it. Really close to Fate or Predetermination. But not in Buddhism.
Sometimes we hear karma used to mean justice or punishment. The old phrase - “time wounds all heels”. Some idea that the universe has a balancing agent that metes out punishment. We’d like to think the universe is just, but that is a fanciful idea. Not found in Buddhism.
The Buddha came from that way of thinking and moved into the effective and healing understanding that he taught. Karma refers to your Intentional Action in the present, the Fruits of these actions - Fruits of Karma happen later. The causes are the actions and the results are the fruit.
In the Devadaha Sutra the Buddha discussed these common misunderstandings of karma. In his time people concluded from his talks that Karma was something like this. …
"Karma is a basic principle that governs human conduct. It declares that our present experience of pleasure or pain is the result of our past conduct and that our present conduct will condition our future experience."
In the sutra he shows this is a misunderstanding. It does not accurately describe his teaching on karma, and is instead a fairly accurate account of the Jain tradition’s teaching. The Buddha actually ridicules this view. The Buddha explains that the present experience of pleasure and pain...
is a combined result of both past and present actions….
a combined result of both past and present actions.
This is very important because it acknowledges our free will and the possibility of putting an end to suffering before the effects of all past actions have...ripened.
This addition of “combined result of both past and present actions” is what makes Buddhist practice possible and effective our life. If the cause of my present difficulties is located only in the past, I can’t do anything in the present moment to stop that suffering. But that cause is not only in the past. The sutra explains that I can effect my experience in the present and change where I am going. The Buddha’s teaching on karma recognizes we have some power to drive the unfolding of our lives.
We learned from Dr. Matsunaga, that in life there are three categories of causes 1) objective conditions, 2) personal karma, and 3) Buddha’s karma. If someone experiences a painful circumstance - they crash their car - objective conditions point to myriad circumstances that contributed to the accident. I want to make this clear - We do not think most events are caused by personal karma? It is not your fault.
The victim’s personal karmic actions did not cause the accident, because by definition personal karma refers to how each of us responds to a situation on a spiritual level. The Personal karma aspect in this example is how the person responded to the accident emotionally and the kind of spiritual insight gained through the experience, despite the difficulties and pain of the situation. Maybe because of the difficulties and pain of the situation. Personal karma are actions in the spiritual part of our lives. This usually has to do with how we treat ourselves and others.
“Karma” means “action”
Actions take three forms: actions of the body, speech, and mind. What we think, what we say, and what we do; primarily in the spiritual context.
It is empowering to realize that we can affect the course of our spiritual lives. This is clearly different from ideas of predetermined fate or Divine Will that explain away the same events. Always remember, karma is applied primarily to our self (first person). It is not a way to judge others (third person), especially to explain why some people find themselves in unfortunate conditions. In Buddhism, Karma has a very special usage. It is the cause and effect in our spiritual efforts to follow a path toward understanding - clarity - enlightenment . A positive cause (=karma) leads to a positive result. A negative cause (karma) leads to negative result. The pail words associated with karma are “skillful” and “unskillful”.
When we reflect on our actions - Karma - we are considering causality in our lives. Karma is a fundamental part of the Buddha’s teaching because our actions are causes of our mind state. Ultimately our actions determine if we suffer or are joyful. Buddhism is really a study in these causes.
Why do I say that?
The Buddha realized that life is fundamentally joyful. But that most sentient beings do not experience it that way. He looked for the causes of joy in life. And the causes of our suffering. The Buddha’s great quest and the 48 vows are focused on creating a cause for abiding joy in the lives of all sentient beings. We realize that everything is the result of a chain of causes and effects. We see all things and all beings as events rather than objects. We are all Inter-dependently-co-arising through time and space. When we feel separate from anything it is really a misunderstanding in a sea of interconnectedness. The I-me-me-my we feel inside is a little misunderstanding in a vast sea of interconnectedness. We live in a sea of inter-being as the teacher Thic Nat Han describes it. Because of this we need to look at the causes of our aloneness.
That is why we focus on what causes what? It is not just an exercise. It is very practical - We focus on causes because - A condition with a cause can be ended when the cause is removed. This is true of suffering. Suffering can be ended - joy flows in. This is the third noble truth.
I feel like we are getting closer our question - What is Karma? We often talk about different kinds of karma - What is good karma? and What is bad karma?
Positive karma is any thought and its expression in words and bodily action that are in accord with the Buddha’s teachings and lead toward enlightenment. The Buddha used the word skillful - for what we might call “good” karma But it's been translated in many ways.
In the - Sevi-tabba Asevi-tabba sutra,
the “Things that should and should not be practiced” sutra.
The disciple Sariputra asks the Buddha to clarify what actions are skillful and what actions are unskillful. Buddha describes 10 skillful and 10 unskillful actions that affect our path toward experiencing reality-as-it-is -
Skillful actions are these:
Giving, Morality, Mental culture, Reverence or respect, Service in helping others, Sharing merits with others, Rejoicing in the merits of others, Teaching the Dharma, Listening to the Dhamma, Straightening one's views.
The unskillful acts are...
Killing of beings, Stealing, misusing sexuality, Lying , Slander, Harsh speech, Frivolous and meaningless talk , Covetousness, Ill-will, Wrong view - in relation to others, denying generosity or denying mother and father
If these are the groupings of good and bad karma - how do they affect us? How does karma work?
The Buddha taught that it works on our habit of mind - our tendencies. If we habituate positive actions, they become common in our experience. If we habituate bad actions, we get used to them and they dominate our lives. When we talked about Ahimsa last time - non-harming- we could see that moving our thinking, speaking, and acting away from harming would transform our lives in the joyful direction. There are pathways in the mind, if they get used a lot they get easy quick and common. Karma operates through its effect on our consciousness. Cultivating skillful actions of body speech and mind results in our having those thoughts more often, we say skillful things [or maybe just don't say things] more often and we act in useful skillful ways more often.
For example, we take the first one on the Buddha’s list of skillful actions - Giving - we say Dana. This is the first practice in Buddhism. What is Dana?
Dana is generosity, giving. The action of giving. We give to the temple to support the three treasures. Most of the time people make monetary offerings in support of the teachings. Sometimes people give their time and skills to maintain or create our Dharma refuge here.
At 3pm Saturday before a Sunday service members come and help prepare the temple for the service. This is a big job. We sweep, vacuum, straighten chairs, setup everything in Hiroma hall, and generally get the old girl ready. This is a great opportunity to cultivate good karma. And we have a chronic problem with low attendance. Yesterday this was done by 4-5 people. If you can mark it on your calendar and make it a habit.
The big project we are working on now is the Solar Array for the temple roof. Everyone was generous and giving to make that happen. It is taking a while to finish due to the winter - but in the spring we’ll finish it. the PUC has muddied the waters, but we will finish.
Please understand that Dana is not payment for goods or services; it is freely giving from the heart without expectation. We say selfless giving. Your generosity is a gift that supports not just the Center, but also the Sangha, the larger Dharma community, and your own practice. Buddhism exists in the world because of the dana of millions of people over 2600 years. [ It's been awhile since I pointed out that there are Dana boxes by the doors in the hondo and downstairs as well. That is where people give their dana.]
Dana is a skillful action - Good karma - The practice of dana orients our minds in the direction of the Buddha. When we give we are less selfish and begin to understand the third noble truth - take away clinging and we are joyful. So that is positive karma - a positive action. It's not easy or natural at first because it is a new habit, with just right effort it becomes normal.
Bad karma, on the other hand, goes against this and turns us away from the Dharma. Of course, these actions are carried out in the arena of our everyday life, but they have significant spiritual effects. They are our personal karma. They become habits and troubles we carry with us. The unresolved thoughts and actions that chew away at us on a very deep level.
Positive actions have positive results. This makes sense.
A positive result is being closer to seeing clearly our interconnectedness - enlightenment. This means to experience in life with a greater joy, serenity, gratitude and concern for all beings. But what can we do about the unskillful actions?
Can Evil Karma be transformed into Good karma?
Remember there was a third category of karma Dr. Matsunaga taught...
1] Objective Condition, 2] Personal Karma, 3] and Buddha’s karma.
Amida Buddha is infinite compassion and infinite wisdom in the universe. Amida Buddha made 48 vows to reach out to all those simple folk who are unlikely to reach Buddhahood on their own. He dedicated the merit of his many kalpas of strenuous practice to this end. This is the great store of Buddha’s karma in the universe. It is a transformational energy.
We have all had the experience of doing something and it feels later that we regret or wish we could take back - This is the application of wisdom. At the time it seemed the thing to do - “He crossed me so I slugged him” as the school yard story goes. But with reflection. With the application of wisdom and compassion even a grave error can be a source of growth and transformation. This is the Buddha’s karma bearing fruit.
This effect is very important in our Mahayana teaching, and particularly in the Pure Land path of Shin Buddhism. Shinran Shonin observed that as a foolish ego-centered being [Bombunin], he - or I can say we - are not able to effectively practice positive personal karma. We just sort of bumble along. Like the first individual in the Lonaphala Sutra Cathy read. An unskillful person who does a small unskillful act can have large effects. It seems we are traveling on thin ice as it is. Without tremendous personal strengths and a perfect spiritual environment to live in, positive personal karma is really impossible for us. This insight about his spiritual limitations came to Shinran through twenty years of practice and struggle as a Buddhist monk.
In desperation, he left the monastery to seek guidance from the Bodhisattva Kannon. [right here] In a dream she directed Shinran to the teacher Honen, who helped him to awaken to the Buddha’s karma, expressed in Shin Buddhism as “the karmic power of the great vow” of Amida Buddha.
I often tell the ocean parable in the Newcomers circle - The story of a sailor fallen overboard in the sea - After almost drowning - He awakens to the futility of struggling in the middle of an ocean. Instead, he lets go of his frantic efforts to keep afloat by his own power and lies back - facing the stars - completely relaxed. To his wonderful surprise, he finds himself floating and supported by the ocean. When he first fell in - the ocean was his enemy and he fought against it - but with wisdom he awakened to the compassion of the ocean - the stormy sea is transformed into a supporting friend. The sailor switched from a futility of relying on personal karma perspective to taking refuge in the awesome power of the ocean of Amida Buddha’s karma.
This idea of easing-off on the “I-me-me-my” power and deeply hearing-feeling-sensing - that there is something bigger out there - this idea is central to Shin Buddhism. It is expressed in our most important sutra, the Larger Sutra. In the sutra Sakyamuni taught us that Amida Buddha’s Vow’s to aid all beings were taken long, long ago. It speaks to the existence of spiritual help beyond the limited self. Available to us if our ears and minds are opened to this karmic power of the Buddha. We are freed from the grip of Mara when as we turn to Other Power we feel all around us. Other Power is a word for Amida’s compassionate actions - his karma in the world.
When we reconsider and reflect and think better of an action we are expressing the wisdom and compassion of the universe. The Buddha’s karma and personal karma come together because we all have Buddha nature. It is inside us. We have this inside us, we need to Simply Trust to let it take us onward.
Unskillful karma can be transformed into Skillful Karma by the Other Power of wisdom and compassion. That is to say, I alone cannot effect such a change. It happens naturally when I completely trust in Amida Buddha - when I completely trust in the wisdom and compassion of the universe. Quoting Shinran...
Through the benefit bestowed by unhindered light,
One realizes the shinjin of vast transcendent virtues:
Unfailingly the ice of blind passions melts
And immediately becomes the water of enlightenment.
Obstructing evils have become the substance of virtues;
It is like the relation of ice and water:
The more ice, the more water;
The more hindrances, the more virtues.
Shinran is showing that we are ok just as we are. Worts and all. Regrets and sorrows and bad judgement - they are transformed when we give up our separate ego mind and simply trust in the universe. It is a deep and quite trust that expands in all directions.
So that is karma.
As Bonbunin we bumble along, we try our best to act in good conscience and kindness. Most times we fail. When we do we are redeemed by taking refuge in the greater goodness of Amida Buddha. Karma really applies to ourself in positive reflection and meditation. It is not like fate, predestination or retribution. Karma means action of thought, speech, and body. Karma really has much more to do with the present and the future than the past.
Buddha’s karma is available to those who come to realize the futility of perfecting our goofy selves. The Buddha’s karma is none other than Amida’s Compassion or Vow-power.
Lets share in Amida Buddha’s deep wish for all beings -
May you be happy;
May you be free from harm:
May you receive boundless compassion;
And may peace and harmony fill your heart
--- Namandabs - Namandabs - Namandabs ---
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