Background[edit | edit source]

Tim K lotus-on-arms.jpg

Insights[edit | edit source]

At the conclusion of an afternoon’s presentation on Buddhism at Hempfield High School, some students stuck around afterward to ask more questions. One young man essentially asked me if Buddhism leads to passivity, meaning that because we work to accept reality as it is, we in turn do nothing to improve upon it...wonderful question!

To see and accept reality as it is means that we UNDERSTAND why things are the way they are; there’s no ambiguity, no confusion, we can see clearly why things are the way they are, and in as much, there’s no room for anger to arise.

I encouraged him to consider the difference between being socially/politically active because we’re selfishly angry that things aren’t the way WE want them to be, and being socially/politically active with a heart full of love and compassion for those whose freedoms and rights we’re standing for.

In other words, I tried to explain that we don’t have to be angry to care, that we can do the same work, and arguably more effectively, with a peaceful, loving, and caring mind.

I would love to see this next generation lead the way, abandoning the hypocrisy in hating and being intolerant of those we accuse of being hateful and intolerant, and learn how to serve one another through the power of love and understanding.

On Karma[edit | edit source]

Posted on Facebook[edit | edit source]

This past Tuesday I enjoyed a conversation with friends regarding the topic of karma. Our exchange apparently kept the wheels turning in my one friends mind, as early Friday he texted to share his thoughts and ask more questions. When I attended a picnic that he was hosting the next day, the first thing his girlfriend asked was to please share more thoughts with her on the topic. Through these conversations it became clear that the western conception of karma is still pervading, and while not entirely incorrect, is certainly incomplete.

Karma in the west is often conceived as a mystical, cosmic force of justice and retribution, where the universe is keeping score and doling out concordant, yet unforeseen consequences that are delayed well off into the future. I find it incredibly helpful to strip away all of the mysticism and instead look at karma as a very practical process, that yes, certainly comes along with long term consequences, but is actually only accessible and always effectual in the present moment.

When we understand karma more as volition, and see volition as that which motivates our current behavior, we can see that it has been the volition behind our past behavior that has brought us to this moment just as we're experiencing it. If we don't appreciate the consequences we've inherited on account of what we've been thinking, saying, and doing, if they are having a negative or undesirable effect on the state of our mind and our lives in general, it would be in our best interest to stop entertaining such behavior, not just out of concern for unforeseen consequences waiting in the distant future, but rather because it's affecting us negatively right now.

What we do in this moment affects the next moment. For instance, when we think and continue to entertain an angry thought, we get angry in the very next moment. What we're doing right now affects the next moment. That's "instant karma".

"Instant karma" is much more calculable. From past experiences, we know, or should at least be able to closely approximate, what the probability of the consequences will be dependent on what we're thinking, saying, and doing right now. When we place all of our focus here, we can use our capacity of being able to choose which volitions we follow (and which we don't) in order to increase the odds that we're going to arrive at a more desirable future in the very next moment.

Now, if we can see that what we're doing right now affects the next moment, and we don't make any changes to our volitions, then the next moment after, and thereafter, and thereafter, all begin to look an awful lot alike. As such, without wisdom, and without yet taking responsibility for our role in making it so, we might begin to feel that life or the universe is out to get us, when in fact reality as we've come to experience it has primarily been shaped by the behavior arising from our own mental habits. In other words, our own tendencies are the most formidable force at work in shaping the consequences of our lives.

So if we're at all concerned about "karma that's gonna come around", the only way out is to dig in to our minds right now, changing our course by abandoning any volitions that need abandoning, cultivating those that need cultivating, so as to undo any unhelpful tendencies or habits, bettering the likelihood that we will increasingly arrive at more desirable futures.

In summary, the greatest and most detrimental misperceptions in the western concept of karma take all responsibility out of our hands, puts it into the universe, then places the focus entirely on accepting unforeseeable consequences inherited in an unknowable distant future. Pretty grim. The Buddhist conception, however, is more a practical evaluation of our own choices, how they not only shape the distant future, but also, and more importantly, how they shape the very next moment. Knowing that any consequences we'll be arriving at in the long term will be on account of what we're doing now, we feel inspired to choose our actions more carefully. Understanding that we have a choice in the matter not only provides relief in knowing that through our own efforts liberation is possible, but it also encourages us to take agency over our own lives; thinking, speaking, and acting in ways that will most likely yield the most positive consequences possible not only for ourselves, but also for all of those around us.

Please feel welcome to join in meditation at the East Liberty branch of the Carnegie Library.

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