by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Chapter 17
Reflections on the Law of Karma

It is impossible to escape from karmic consequence if we do evil on the assumption that, by not recognizing an act as evil, no bad karma can accrue to us.

Great Master Dogen, "What is Truly Meant by Training and Enlightenment" (Shushogi)

Laws, Limits and Attitudes

If I fall down and hurt myself, it does me no good at all to think that the law of gravity is punishing me--and it simply is not true. Again, if I were to be struck by lightning, and if my dying thought were to be, "The laws of electricity are out to get me." there would be neither truth nor benefit in indulging such thoughts.

Not only are natural laws not "out to get us," but the fact that we are subject to these laws shows that our human lives share in the fundamental unity of existence. Why not take a positive attitude toward the limits that these laws impose upon us?

The law of karma is also a natural law. If I ignore, resent and defy it, I am begging for trouble--and I will inevitably get what I am begging for. On the other hand, if I cultivate a respectful, attentive and grateful attitude toward the functioning of the law of karma, I will (with equal inevitability) derive many benefits from that attitude.

Karma and the Body

If I take the attitude toward my body that it belongs to me and that I can jolly well do whatever I please to it and with it, I ignore the law of karma and create suffering. This body does not belong to me. In fact, in deepest truth, there is no "me" for it to belong to. If it belongs to anyone, it belongs to the Eternal, for though "my" body and mind are not the Eternal, there is no part or aspect of them that is not of the Eternal.

Our body gets the consequences of our mental, verbal and physical actions. We cannot change this truth, and ignoring it guarantees that our body will suffer the consequences of our rashness. On the other hand, when our mental, verbal and physical actions manifest the true spirit of the Precepts, our body reaps the benefits. Thus, we can pile tension upon tension in our body, or we can live in a way that allows our body to know deep peace.

Almost all societies have widely-accepted practices involving abuse of the body: misuse of alcohol and other drugs, various forms of self-mutilation, ascetic religious practices, etc. None of these practices have anything to do with genuine Buddhism. Buddhism teaches moderation and respect for the body.

Making Suffering and Making Liberation

In Buddhism, "liberation" refers to being freed from the fetters of greed, hate and delusion. It never refers to a (delusory and impossible) state of being freed from the law of karma.

We create suffering through actions of body, speech and thought, and we free ourselves from suffering through actions of body, speech and thought. While other people can bind and torment us, no other person can bind and torment us as deeply and enduringly as we can bind and torment ourselves through willful wallowing in greed, hate and delusion.

Other people can be kind to us and help us, but no other person can be as kind and helpful to us as we can be to ourselves through Preceptual training.

Meditation and "Two-Minded Madness"

When we are swinging between the opposites--greed and hate, joy and sadness, elation and despair, etc.--we can be so caught-up in intense feelings and/or so confused by delusional thoughts that we can be utterly blind to the law of karma. That is, we can act as if we will reap no consequences from our actions.

This is why taking refuge in the stillness of the Buddha Nature through pure meditation is so important. There is a deeper Place within ourselves, a Place in which we can sit still beneath (as it were) the emotions and mental confusion. In this Place, we are more aware of the potential consequences of our actions. Just as the Ten Precepts point out particular areas of danger, so meditation plugs us in to our own intuitive and experiential insight into the real nature of actions that we are contemplating.

Karma Triumphant

Rev. Master often pointed out, "Our past karma can always potentially act upon us." Correct spiritual training--that is, truly Preceptual training--puts limits on that karma and does not allow it to run amok. Correct training keeps the karma pointed in the direction of spiritual conversion.

But if we willfully ignore the potential consequences of our actions and revel in greed, hate and delusion, we give carte blanche to the strongest and most dangerous elements of our karma, in effect breathing new life into that which training is meant to convert, not re-ignite.

When this happens, I call it "karma triumphant." This is bad news at any point in our spiritual life, and much grief will come of it. It is a lot easier to open Pandora's box of greed, hate and delusion then it is to round up the karma and get it contained again by the Precepts and facing in the right direction (conversion, that is, re-harmonization with the Eternal).

The sooner we catch ourselves in such circumstances, do sange ("Oops! I've made a mistake. Please help me get on the right track."), renew our commitment to the Precepts, and deepen our understanding, the better it will be for us and for the world around us.

The lesson here:--Do not turn your life over to the karmic shadows from the past and turn them into seeming-realities.

Gratitude for the Law of Karma

The ultimate reaping of karma occurs in pure states of feeling. Such states of feeling can vary from the deepest pain to the highest ecstasy.

Feelings have the quality of irreducible fact: each particular feeling is exactly what it is, with its own unique qualities. But feelings also signify. That is, feelings convey messages that carry vitally important information. If I strike a match and do not extinguish it before it burns my fingers, the pain of the burning warns me of the danger of hanging on to the lit match. If I overindulge in eating chocolate cake, the consequent state of indigestion warns me of the danger of eating too much rich food. If I think badly of another person, the feeling of uncleanness and dis-ease that develops with and from that chain of thought warns me that a certain kind of thought-action is spiritually unhealthy.

This reaping of karma through feeling is essential to our physical and spiritual survival and well-being. Therefore, we can be deeply grateful for the functioning of the law of karma. It is our best teacher. When rightly understood, it is seen to perfectly express the Love and Wisdom of the Eternal.



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