Working with karma
We begin every teaching with prayers to the Refuge, to the Bodhisattva commitment, and to the Guru-masters.
Refuge in Tibetan means protection, in the Buddhist context, it means to be protected by all the completely enlightened beings who are the Buddhas. We are also protected by the truth of the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddhas. In addition, we follow the Sangha who act as our guides on the Path of Dharma. These are beings who have already achieved a certain level of enlightened wisdom through their own Dharma practice. They are therefore qualified guides for us. We seek to be connected to these three aspects of Refuge to avert our deviating into the wrong direction. We wish to stay on the right path.
The second prayer reflects the importance to develop the Bodhicitta attitude. When we go to receive the Dharma, or when we practise the Dharma, we are not doing it to solely benefit ourselves. It is natural that we initially seek out the Dharma for our own sake. But we must at the same time, start to learn to be concerned for other beings as well. We learn to adopt an attitude, or an aspiration that we may become useful to others. We try to share always with others whatever knowledge we may acquire. This open, and genuine altruistic care and concern for others is Bodhicitta.
When we pray to the Guru as in Guru Yoga, we seek to receive the essence of the knowledge and capacity of our Buddha nature mind. This is accomplished through our connection to the qualities of the Guru which will lead us to realize the essential meaning of the Dharma thereby we become liberated from our suffering and our illusions. This is just what the Buddha had taught us, to begin to step away from samsara and towards nirvana through a process of our own awakening to the truth.
As we say the prayers, we try to keep our understanding in mind concerning Refuge, Bodhicitta, and our connection to the realized masters.
The term, Buddha, in Tibetan, means someone who is totally enlightened, San Gye. He is someone whose knowledge is complete, or all knowing. In Indian, the term is Bhagavan. A little more than 2500 years ago, the Buddha explained that all beings could improve their conditions by connecting to the truth. We should first try to understand and then to act according to the truth. This will inevitably bring about better and beneficial results for oneself as well as for others.
The Buddha explained that each and every being has an innate and basic potential. This potential is wisdom, and it can be developed. Just as he himself developed his wisdom and reached enlightenment, similarly, we can also achieve this same result. The Buddha then taught extensively and exclusively to reach this one goal. He explained in great details the obstacles preventing us from developing our inner potential. He elucidated the methods, the practices as remedies to help us overcome our obstacles. He taught the path of meditation as the means to develop our innate wisdom.
The Buddha’s teachings are very vast and profound. The translations in Tibetan alone total 103 volumes. These are massive volumes of the Buddha’s original teachings. Then there are the numerous commentaries and explanations given by the Buddha’s disciples, great Indian scholars, and panditas that serve to further clarify and to make more precise the very profound meanings of the teachings. These make up additional volumes numbering almost 200. Add to these the numerous Tibetan commentaries that have been passed down through the generations to the present day, the existing volumes of Buddhist teachings have reached well into the thousands! Numerous commentaries given by the different scholars and yogis accompany every original teaching. This is important so as to present a complete view which would otherwise be difficult for one person alone to give. Of course, the commentators from the past were themselves high-realized masters. Through rigorous debates among themselves, they were able to make the explanations ever clearer and more precise for the followers at large. Each generation of realized masters contributes towards improving the explanations. This work continues today. The result is anyone who takes the time to look for an explanation to a subject will no doubt find a very clearly presented one.
Despite the vast volumes of teachings that are available to us, I feel that the Dharma can be followed in a very simple way without studying all of them. In our centers in France, we try to follow in a very simple way. People do not have so much time to study and learn. From the very large commentaries, the realized masters have neatly extracted the precise meanings and incorporated them into what we’d call, essential practices. These are then introduced to the people so they could easily follow the Dharma. If you can understand and can get the basic meanings, then everything becomes very simple for you. There may be intellectuals, or practitioners, or scholars who wish to study and to do research in the Dharma. They can study the detailed proofs of the different theories which can be very complicated. They can rely on the extensive volumes of explanations which are there to validate and to clarify them.
What is karma?
Karma can be translated from the Sanskrit or Tibetan term as cause and effect, or action and result. Very simply, the Buddha explained that we are human beings and as such, we have to go through birth, aging, and then death. Some of us think that death marks the end of living. Others among us believe that there is continuity after death. Some people think in terms of existence versus non-existence. The Buddha’s answer is that we are here now as human beings but when we die, our mind continues.
There is a term, reincarnation, which is a Christian term. The Christian explanation is somewhat different than the Buddhist’s concept. I discovered this during an inter-faith dialogue with a Catholic priest. By karma in the Buddhist context, we are simply saying that since we exist, then at the end of life, we have to go somewhere. This is all we mean by reincarnation. It is easier to understand if you do not have a preconceived notion of reincarnation which might confuse you. The Buddha told us that it is the mind that reincarnates.
Each human being has a mind. Each human being has a body. Each human being has a name. The mind identifies with the body with a name and thinks that there is a self, “I am so and so.” The Dharma explains that it is due to our habitual tendencies that we feel that there is a “self”. Some realized lamas have described the mind as being like energy, like air, without any form whatsoever. There are many terms used to label it, such as soul, thoughts, or consciousness. These terms can be confusing. For simplicity’s sake, I always refer to it as the mind.
When one dies, the mind does not stay with the body. The mind actually separates from the physical form. Reincarnation in the Buddhist context means that my mind continues while my body changes into another form. My mind continues into another form of being. The Buddha explained that there are six “form” realms of beings as well as some formless states of beings. The basic point is that the mind can take on any form or any state of being. Which form you end up with depends on your own knowledge and ability which is your karma. Your reincarnation is directly based on your karma. If I go into the city, I will choose according to what I feel like. For example, I can choose to go to a park, or to a restaurant, to a shop, etc. How I choose will depend on my own inclinations and feelings. Our rebirth after the present life is similarly based on our inner conditions. Since our inner conditions are based on our karma the Buddha said that our own basic individual karma would “choose” or “influence”, or “determine” the form of rebirth. With the passing of one life form, the mind without a body is like air, transparent. The mind can feel without an “I” and it can perceive any condition, or any form of life. Having taken rebirth, we will again go through the life cycle creating more karma until its end marked by death. This is a fundamental truth that the Buddha discovered, and he called this endless cycle of rebirths samsara. The crux of his teachings is that if we live in tuned to only how we feel, or we simply follow whatever and wherever we are connected, then we will always act akin to the same influences and conditions which bind us. We will never get free. We will inevitably continue to accumulate causes of like karma, and experience like results.
To think more carefully in order to change
It might therefore be worthwhile for each of us to take a step back and try to listen and introspect more carefully. The Dharma tells us that karma is ever present and samsara is continuing. Everything is nice, yet everything is also difficult, so we have to think more carefully. The Buddha taught us many different paths and results but they all lead to the final destination called beyond samsara. In ancient times, they coined the term, nirvana, to signify this liberation when our consciousness becomes totally clear. I am not saying that we are in complete darkness right now. We are who we are right now. This is fine. We can of course continue to follow what we have been doing so far with all our ups and our downs. But we can do better. There is a better way.
Try not to follow the ignorance
The Buddha introduced us to the basic state of ignorance, or marigpa, in Tibetan. He explained that we are always in marigpa, which means we are not seeing properly. Ignorance, or marigpa, does not mean stupid. It means that while you may be clever, and you have wisdom, nevertheless you don’t see your wisdom. Not seeing clearly, you could therefore act wrongly. Everything is linked or interdependent. This is how karma works. If you act positively, the result will be good. If you do wrong, the results will not be good. Your positive actions can create benefit for others, and vice versa, your negative actions will hurt others and you, too.
The teachings tell us not to follow the ignorance. The question is how to clear oneself of this fundamental ignorance. The answer is meditation. After the Buddha was enlightened, he gave teachings to his followers on a personal level. Many people went to him for help and for guidance. The Buddha gave them teachings fitting their individual propensities and personal capacities. First, he emphasized teachings that are aimed to help the person. These are generally referred to as the Hinayana teachings. The Buddha himself did not make any kind of categorizing such as Hinayana versus Mahayana. Some Buddhist followers arbitrarily created these terms in later generations since the Buddha passed away. Second, the Buddha taught how not to be caught up in self-centeredness but to always think for others’ benefit as well. These teachings are more commonly referred to as the Mahayana. Actually, nowadays, all these teachings are combined so the man-made categorizations such as Hinayana, Mahayana, or Vajrayana. have not as much significance they did in earlier times. The terms of differentiation still exist today. However, when we explain, teach, or apply the meaning of the Dharma, no such distinctions are made.
The Buddha first taught about the self. He expounded the truth of individual karma, and its result which underlies the cycle of rebirths in samsara. He taught about the different sufferings in samsara due to the mistaken identification with a self under the influence of ignorance in the mind. This is the reason why we should try to get free of the ignorance. We will then understand more clearly and we will fare much better. The Buddha gave teachings on the two truths – the relative and the absolute truths. His teachings on the relative truth bring results that pertain to our human existence in the here and now. His teachings on the absolute truth bring us to Buddhahood. We all have the potential to achieve this absolute result. To be free from ignorance applies both in our relative existence at this present time as well as when enlightenment is achieved. We now turn to the methods taught by the Buddha which form the Path of Practice, which will lead us to liberation.
One of the main emphases of the Hinayana teachings is that we should not suffer. It is possible to be free from suffering. We are human beings and at the end of this life we will continue to live many more lives. Our future is filled with uncertainties. If we want to ensure a better future then we need to live by proper ethics now. While we are relatively free. We should act morally grounded in a genuine wish to benefit others. In order to act positively, all our ideas and concepts have to become clear to us. We try to engage in positive thoughts and avoid all connections to negative thoughts. Our speech and actions would then follow our positive inner inclinations and intent naturally.
Wisdom versus illusion
The Buddha said that it is important to always think of others. For the moment, our tendency is to think only of our own benefit. It is difficult for us to act positively, or to care for others because we have negative emotions, and they disturb us. To understand the difference between positive and negative actions, we need to examine how our consciousness functions. We must therefore be introduced to the conditions of our mind. Our mind functions through two aspects. In Tibetan, they are yeshe and nyurmon. Yeshe is wisdom, or complete clarity. Nyurmon means distraction. Our mind can function either through wisdom or through the distracted influences as in the negative emotion. Everything depends on our mind. If we are not aware of our inner functioning and we simply follow according to how we feel, then we are said to be acting under confusion. But if we are aware, and we can see by ourselves, then there is understanding. The understanding will steer us in the right way. The right way does not imply that there are prescribed things to avoid or to do. Of course, we are now very much controlled by our feelings. But actually, if we take the time to reflect and to try to see for ourselves, then we will discover the right things. In other words, we will connect to yeshe, wisdom, or clarity. To clarify our mind, or to allow this wisdom to come through, we have to know the functioning of the disturbing emotions. The disturbing emotions are not something foreign to us, external to us, but they are how we feel. So the first thing is to understand the cause of the disturbing emotions, or the distractions. When we are not aware of them, they disturb us. But if we are aware of them, then they do not disturb the mind. Aware, we go forward. Aware, we continue. In this way, we begin to connect to the wisdom aspect of mind.
The Buddhist tantric teachings employ different methods, rituals, mantras, and meditations to help us connect to the truth. They help us deal with our disturbing emotions. Ultimately, we wish to become clear of our ignorance. It is the root cause of our being trapped by our own illusion. It is why we helplessly live our illusions and suffer the consequences of our negative emotions, and actions.
“Illusion” is just a term. For most of us, seeing is believing. I am not saying that things do not exist. Rather, I am saying that things exist as appearances in your mind. Due to a lack of true understanding, the disturbing emotions dominate our experience. We feel that there are many problems and much suffering. The one point that can never be overemphasized is the very importance to look always at yourself. We use meditation as a method to look within. This is essential when you follow the Buddhist path of practice. You should know how to look within. Here are a few things that we need to keep in mind:
We have to engender a proper attitude. This means to know how to think for the welfare of other beings.
We have to know the meaning of ignorance that is in our mind.
We have to know that there is karma, or cause and effect.
Knowing these three factors will help us when we look into our mind. We will know where to connect because we can understand the significance of the different meanings. The right connection gives our mind the proper orientation, attitude, and will in turn reveal to us what really matters.
Look into your own basic nature
When you look into your mind, it is very simple. There is nothing to do. Just sit. First, you just sit without doing anything. Then, from time to time, look at your own nature. Look at yourself. It is similar to pacifying the water. When you want moving water to settle, you simply leave it on its own. It will settle. Similarly, when you sit to watch your mind, you let all the feelings and thoughts calm down on their own. Let them become pacified. Actually, when you do look at yourself, you will find it very difficult to find out about your nature. Why? It is because of the many contradictions in your mind. They arise when your obligations, your duties, and the things that you feel you have to do not fit into your set of circumstances. You feel confused and somewhat at a loss as to what to do. For example, you will think as follows:
“This is right for me to do. But, it does not fit well with my conditions…so maybe it’s not quite right…”
“I must be mistaken because things just can’t be like that…”
These thoughts of contradiction can appear in the mind. They may be very minor or trivial but nevertheless they confuse you. The point is to sit, and try to become calm, and quiet. You will then, as we say in Tibetan, “go back to your nature”, your original nature. It means to see who you are really and how you function. It is very difficult to find this nature at first. But if you refer back to the teachings, then you will gradually know.
“I am here. I exist. Right now, I am a human being. I am like this…”
Just try to look at the self. You actually have many capabilities. If you really try to focus, you can understand everything. You have this potential. You are capable of trusting and believing in the Dharma teachings. When you look, you will see your conditions, and all your abilities. There is kindness, compassion, and love in you. They are there very naturally. We can see them very clearly for ourselves. This is what the Buddha taught – we have these qualities. Somehow, when we have to link or engage in external conditions and circumstances, then these qualities seem to disappear. The teachings affirm that this does happen. We have all experienced such ambiguities in ourselves. This is why it is so important to look at ourselves by ourselves. Usually, we tend to think like this:
“Oh, I am not so good.”
“I am not so capable.”
“I am quite bad.”
While some of us may think along these lines:
“Everything about me is good.”
“I ‘m alright.”
“I can do everything.”
These are just individual concepts. What will make a difference is to know clearly yourself, then you will feel differently. Your expectations and perspective will change. In Buddhism, we simply look inward without connecting to the externals. Simply look at the basic human nature. This is what we call meditation. The Tibetan masters say, “Just look at your mind.” You connect to your mind in your practice (meditation). When you know your own potential, or capacity, then you will be able to work with any and all conditions. It is when you don’t see your own nature that you are foggy or confused. You are doubtful, and confused.
“I cannot see.”
“I cannot accept.”
The negative emotions cloud the mind
Your understanding of yourself yields understanding of the causes of the various conditions in mind, or karmic conditions. You will find it easier to deal with the disturbing emotions, which are the most problematic conditions of mind. The disturbing emotions are attachment, pride, jealousy, hatred, expectations, and anger. They are your own mind. When you are aware of them, you will see how such emotions disturb you, and the conditions that cause them to arise. You will know that they bring you great difficulties, in short, suffering. Slowly, you will understand that you don’t have to follow these conflicting emotions and continue to suffer. Then, another understanding will result.
“Why do I let the disturbing emotions overwhelm me? Why do I have to follow them every time that will inevitably bring me suffering?”
It is actually a very subtle idea that will come to you. At the moment, you may think it normal to feel the way you do. It is when you feel yourself turning away from them that you will begin to gradually understand them.
Influenced by ignorance, we feel our negative emotions natural. We recognize and accept them as integral to being human. And so we remain as we are. But if we really try to reflect, we will find that we don’t have to follow the negative emotions. As I said before, this is a very subtle understanding. For example, last summer, a doctor told me that if I changed my diet then I would feel much better. During a two-week period, I followed his prescribed diet – what foods to eat and what foods to avoid. The result was a dramatic improvement in how I felt physically. I felt totally different, no pain, and no discomfort. I really thought that I was fine before the diet change. I didn’t even notice the small discomforts. We are all same. We think we are healthy and everything is fine. But if you really look, you will notice that there are sometimes the little tensions in the body, and feelings of heaviness. Myself, I used to feel gas in my stomach and sometimes, I did feel tired. With this diet, needless to say, I was very surprised to feel as if totally free physically. I remembered it is similar to how I felt when I was young. It was like that. Then I reflected that this was what the Buddha meant. Since we are here in samsara, we don’t feel so much. We feel everything is as it should be. But if you really find yourself, another feeling will appear. All the samsaric conditions are not really normal. If you could change, you would feel much better. Of course, we do the practice and this is how we know. Much similar to the example of our physical health, if you do the right things, you can totally change for the better. Otherwise, you remain as usual.
React differently to the negative emotions
With respect to the disturbing emotions, there is a better way to deal with them. For example, right now, when people do not behave properly, we get angry. We feel that anger is normal, and justified. But our anger also makes us a little upset, and not so happy. The teachings tell us that we don’t have to react with anger. If you knew better, you won’t get completely upset. You may react a little but not quite to the point of getting upset. There is no need to follow the suffering. You do not have to counter with negative action or revenge. By refraining, the outcome in terms of karma will be much better for yourself. You will also not cause others to create negative karma. Again, the key is to just look at yourself.
Of course, you can see your regular emotions. They may range from mild to strong, but you can see them clearly. Apply the Mahayana idea that we have to think for others – not only for the self exclusively. If we can connect with this idea whenever we feel negative, then we have truly reached a turning point. We will understand the fact that negativity does not serve any good whatsoever. We will then be able to accept much more than before. Even in the case where the other person has made a mistake, we will understand that it is due to his ignorance, or his not seeing. We will not feel so hurt. We are not saying that the mistake is right. The mistake is wrong. The difference is you can understand why he made the mistake. It is true that in general, we do know why mistakes happen. What we are talking about here is different. It is a type of knowing grounded in understanding and compassion. For example, where young children are involved, we stand ready to help them even when they make mistakes. We understand that they may not yet know everything so they need our help. In this way, children can learn and improve. It is this kind of caring feeling that enables us to share and help those who are not acting quite properly. Even if the person is not really nice, we can still understand that it is due to ignorance, karma, cause and effect, and so on. Because acting under confusion is an experience that you can discover firsthand in yourself, you will then understand it in others. If you could help, then help, if not, just continue without responding negatively. The point is not to be drawn into the negativity and then act likewise. If you can do this, then you will enjoy more peace of mind.
We are usually trying to escape from problems and difficulties. But running away just does not work. It does not change anything. Peace of mind comes through understanding the disturbing emotions, instead of avoiding them. When we see how we are disturbed by pride, jealousy, and other negative emotions, we will act better free from their influence. This in turn will cause us to understand even more because we are clearer. This is why it always comes down to the one point: look at yourself. If you know how to look, then by this awareness, your mind will change for the better. How your mind connects with all the different conditions will turn increasingly positive. The result is better karma for everyone.
meditation gives the capacity to cope
In general, we feel that we are analyzing ourselves, and our situations all the time. This is also my experience. But I have found that by just analyzing, I don’t get the exact meaning. I may believe my own conclusions, or I may believe what the teachings are telling me, but somehow, belief alone does not show me how to work with the different conditions. You believe what the Dharma tells you yet you cannot effectively cope with your daily situations. You have to meditate. Meditation gives the mind the capacity to get clearer. This is why the Buddha said to truly integrate the Dharma in our lives, it is important to meditate.
It is very difficult to explain how meditation functions. Its effect comes very naturally. It appears. It is very hard to show theoretically that if you meditate in a certain way, then your mind is changing. It is difficult to prove in theory why meditation is so important. When you do meditate for long periods, you don’t need to see, or to feel anything. If you expect to feel something or to see certain visions, then you are again caught by your own illusion. Meditation has to proceed very spontaneously and continuously. Just keep going. This emphasis cannot be stressed enough. Why? Because without the obstacles that cover our seeing like veils in the form of visions and feelings, then we can get through to the real meaning that we already know – the many theories and teachings. For example, we know that the emotions like jealousy, pride, and anger can disturb us. Yet, when we encounter their appearance in our mind, we let them influence us. We cannot help but let them lead us into wrong actions, and wrong thinking. it. Somehow it is very difficult for us to cope with them.
We cannot change right away but in order to change, we have to meditate. Maybe you all know this already. Meditation makes us understand everything better because it makes us understand the functioning of our own mind. We cannot see the result today, or tomorrow. But gradually, our mind begins to get used to meditation. Then maybe after a year or two later, we will feel a very slight change in us, nothing big. We will feel different in the way we handle life in general, in our communication with others, and in the way we perceive the reactions of others. As well, we will notice that our emotions, and distractions of mind are becoming somewhat softer, or more pliable. They can be understood more readily, and we will feel much lighter overall. These are just descriptive words. What we experience is quite difficult to put into words or terms. We tend to hear a term and immediately focus on it. We get fixated on the words and lose their meaning. In the olden days, an analogy often used to describe meditation was the ripening of a fruit. A fruit ripens slowly and gradually until it is ripe for picking. Similarly, meditation ripens all your qualities in your mind. As was explained earlier, there are two aspects to mind: the wisdom aspect and the aspect of the disturbing emotions. To ripen the mind means to get clearer, less distracted, and connecting to the wisdom aspect of mind.
Directed in the right motivation
When we meditate, the emphasis is to orient our attitude towards a proper goal. This does not mean to question why we meditate. However, we are dealing with an abstract concept – a negative action, in general, not only disturbs others but it can also cause more negative actions to be committed. Before we practise, we should carefully reflect in this way,
“I do practice now. I don’t want to be distracted and act negatively thereby creating suffering and all kinds of confusion. I try to do practice myself, and through this, I can also help other people. I hope my own understanding will increase so that my actions will be directed in the right way generating help to others.”
Some people embrace this type of thinking quite readily, which is good. But not everybody has this motivation. We may simply wish to do better personally as well as to help our close friends and family. Everybody has this wish. You work together with your colleagues in an office, or you live together with your family. When you act positively, you help those around you. This is natural. If you are rash and negative, you will disturb everyone and create unhappiness all around. Moreover, we are always learning from one another. We influence one another quite subconsciously. If you are negative, then slowly your surrounding will also become negative. For example, you are at the office, and you told a few colleagues how you had manipulated a certain situation to gain a certain advantage. By talking like this, then you will start to believe that what you are clever and right. Your dishonesty appears favorable due to your own personal gain. The fact that you have disturbed others is ignored. The person next to you apprehends the whole situation and starts to think that it is OK to behave like you. This kind of negative influence is widely prevalent among people. So it is necessary that when you begin your meditation, you take a moment to really focus on your wish to act positively,
“I want to act better. Through my practice, I will try to better my understanding so I can help others… I will try to do my best for the welfare of others.”
Belief brings blessings to support and enhance our practice
To wish is very much like praying. The term, “prayer” is a Christian term. In Buddhism, the meaning of prayer is similar. It means that when I believe in something, my belief connects me to the something. Due to my conscious focus or belief in the truth, then I am connected to the truth thereby I receive blessings. In Buddhism, blessings give us the capacity to connect to our own true nature so that we will be able to do the practice, or to understand the Dharma teachings. This is the reason to maintain our belief and to use the resultant blessings as a support for our meditation. Our practice will then be more effective. Because we are talking about belief, naturally, some people believe whereas others do not believe in the benefit of prayer, connection, and blessings. But for those who do believe, then it is good to pray before meditation, just for a few seconds. We pray to be protected by the Refuge, and we pray for all beings engendering Bodhicitta. You can recite the prayers, or you can very sincerely think the meaning of the prayers in your mind. This is very easy to do when you really believe. Where you don’t believe then it can be difficult. We do not push people to believe. Belief has to come from your own mind. Some people have such strong belief that they become totally enlightened. In Buddhism, we believe in the Buddha and his teachings. So when you pray, just connect to where your belief is. The belief in Refuge can really strengthen your capacity to understand clearer.
When we practise motivated by Bodhicitta, our practice will be ever more effective. If we take the time to reflect, we will find it easy to understand and accept Bodhicitta. Everybody needs help. We naturally feel that people should not have to suffer. Bodhicitta is good for everyone, and so we apply it in a general way. When we are together with people, getting along seems quite reasonable. Problems often arise when we have to work together. At such times, it could prove very difficult to remain positive. We therefore have to go step by step to gain understanding of ourselves and others so that we can become more open.
Having turned to the Refuge for protection, and engendering Bodhicitta, we begin our meditation. In general, to meditate means to just sit. We do not let the mind go wandering after the thoughts. We want “to be in the present”. Our mind should rest in the present. This means, “I am here.” Be aware of where you are. All the mental tendencies or patterns will appear as wandering thoughts. Be aware of them. The awareness will also bring you back into the present moment. We use different methods which help and support our focus. A method could be visualizing a certain mental image, or focusing on a particular external object, or simply resting our focus on our breathing. Knowing to return to your focus means that you can see clearly in one second your distraction, or your thinking of other things. If you are aware, then you can come back. Unaware, you will think more and more; you may think you know your thoughts but your mind is actually gone. Bring your mind back into the present clearly on the one point of focus. If you are able to continue with this, then it will cause you to develop your intelligence, and clarity of mind. You can be clear in the present moment. In time, the clarity or awareness will stay all the time. Actually, even when we don’t have instructions on meditation, we are naturally trying to meditate. This I have noticed, too. For example, we encounter a problem requiring a solution. We will immediately try to meditate, or to focus, to come up with a solution. Of course, strictly speaking, it is not meditation, but we try to think, “…what is the best way to go about it.” Due to this zeroing in on the problem, we can see many solutions. This process is a human reaction. It is in our nature. Without focusing on the problem, we are a little confused and we feel lost.
Similarly, in meditation, we focus and try not to be disturbed by the habitual and wandering thoughts. We are continuously aware and return to the meditation as soon as we detect a distraction. This is the training. Once the process becomes a habit, at anytime we can apply it. You will be able to meditate and focus whenever and whatever the situation. Mind is alive in the midst of all the appearances of our daily life.
How long to meditate depends very much on how much time you have: ten, twenty, or thirty minutes, or longer, regularly on a daily basis. It will help. If we could not manage it regularly, then the progress is always interrupted. You stop and then start again. It is not continual. But if we could do a little everyday then our mind’s capacity is developing everyday. This is why it is so highly recommended to practise everyday. We regard meditation as a daily activity rather than learning something special. “Daily” means that we feel that it is an ordinary part of our day. It then becomes very simple, and we can do it. On the other hand, if you regard it as training then you are treating it as something special. You will think that sometimes you can do it and at other times, you cannot because you perceive so many interruptions there. And so we do it daily, in a way, it is very simple. It really depends on you. It is very much like when you awake in the morning, you feel the need to take a shower, or otherwise you don’t feel good. It is not any special occasion and yet we always do it even when we are very busy. It is a habit. Similarly, in the morning, we have breakfast. The English term “breakfast” means to break the fasting. It is this kind of idea. We need to eat a little bit, if we are too busy, we don’t eat so much. But we can always manage to have a cup of tea or a little bit of food. It is normal and automatic. If you could practise meditation as a daily thing, something that you simply and automatically do, then it becomes very easy. When we get used to it, at anytime we can meditate. Just like when we are thirsty, we drink. When we are in any kind of confusion or difficulty, or complication, we can meditate. Furthermore, whenever we need to understand something we will be able to apply the meditation precisely there. Therefore the emphasis is to develop the meditation from an idea into a habit of mind.
Of course in the beginning we need training. We learnt how to take a shower when we were children. Our parents had to see to it that we washed regularly. They washed us until gradually and slowly, we learnt to appreciate and feel the need to shower. I remember when I was a child, I didn’t like so much to shower or to clean my face. I tried to run away when it came time to wash. I was always made to wash and clean. Somehow after a little while, I began to feel a need to clean.
The way of meditation produces results that we can use all the time. I am always available, always present, both at an emotional and at a physical level. I feel less tired, and less disturbed, and therefore much more ready to understand the happenings in the moment. Due to this, it is much easier to apply compassion and be open to others. Compassion is not applicable only when someone is sick, or is in difficult times, either physically or mentally. Compassion is our natural human nature where we are open and ready to support any kind of conditions. In general, when we are faced with the problems, we have to really think and force ourselves to do something, otherwise, we could easily fall into an attitude of not caring.
The benefit of compassion is twofold, for the self and others. My mind is much more flexible and it is relieved from the tension or tightness of mind. In the teachings, there are many references to liberation. We understand it as liberation from samsara. Generally, it means liberation from the tightness of mind. Tightness is caused by the disturbing emotions due to a very strong attachment. They make our mind quite tight. As a result, we lose our composure and can no longer do anything properly because of our self-grasping. Of course, we think that this is normal. Grasping is normal for us now. However, mind can be so much more comfortable with less suffering in the absence of grasping. Right now we are always grasping. For example, grasping is when somebody says something wrong, we are unhappy. Somebody says nice things to us, we are then happy. These little illusions are there. Somebody says something not quite nice, we feel very hurt. As a result, we react negatively. We think that it is human to behave like this. But on the contrary, we can change. If we do, then our conditions will improve.
Meditation will yield results gradually over time. The progress takes place step by step. For me, I feel that meditation is not about having visions or seeing something fantastical. It is not like this. Meditation is a means to naturally change my conditions for the better so I can be a little bit more relaxed. My understanding will improve, and I can be more open to others. I will be able to act with less heaviness or stress, a kind of separation from the problems themselves. This kind of change cannot be achieved in one or two days, one or two months. It’s quite difficult. The change that we are talking about here will come later, one or two years later. During this time, the change happens like the movement of the clock. It moves ever so slightly and hardly noticeable. Similarly, our nature changes, too, step by step. As we understand better, our actions will become better. And so will our karma. The progress cannot be forced. It will come naturally when you use the methods. And then, everything changes according to your own knowledge or wisdom. Though karma is very detailed and complex, I think basically it is your understanding, and your capacity to think for others that will change or will lead to better karma in a natural and spontaneous way.
End of lecture
Question and answer period:
Question: Rinpoche, if one has accumulated negative karma in the past, how does one purify it or make it more positive?
Rinpoche: Do you mean if you have negative karma, how to purify it?
Question: It’s through the many lifetimes we’ve committed many negative actions, or many bad things, so now we have bad karma.
Rinpoche: There are two things, actually. Karma can be negative or positive. For example, if you have some sand in two colors: white and black, when mixed together you have grey. But the shade of grey, be it darker or lighter, depends on the amount of black or white in the mixture. If there is more black sand, then the mixture is darker. If you add white sand, the shade of grey becomes lighter. I think that, basically, karma is created through our thinking and actions. In order to change negative karma, we have to be more positive much like adding white sand to make a lighter grey.
Therefore, I think that even if you have past negative karma, if you could act more positively, then the positive karma would become stronger. In this way, we say that the negative karmas can be changed naturally – through our regular positive actions. Furthermore, I think that in order to change negative karma, it depends on your mind. If you see everything very clearly during the day, I think that most likely you will be accumulating positive karma. At the moment, we say that our mind is our thoughts and intents out of which flow our speech and actions creating ever more negative and positive karmas. So it follows then that if you always have positive thoughts, then your actions will be positive. It depends on our consciousness, or our mind. This is why compassion, love, and kindness towards others are so much emphasized, because these orientations of mind can create more positive karma. As a result, our state of being is linked to the wisdom aspect of mind. We will understand better the disturbing emotions, such that we will know how to cope or to accept them. If you don’t understand their functioning, then your mind is more stressed due to their presence. When we understand the emotions, we will by ourselves know how to act more positively. This point is fundamental. In the Vajrayana, we use special mantras and recitations that can effectively change the negativity. As we have seen already, the role of prayer and the receiving of the blessings enhance our capacity to understand which is itself a purification of negative karma.
Question: But we still have to suffer our negative karma accumulated in our past lives, right?
Rinpoche: Yes, I think so.
Question: You can’t get rid of them.
Rinpoche: I mean you can always try to make light of them…not only the past karmas, but also at the present time, we are still creating some negative karma. So if we could, we should try to avoid creating further negative karma.
Question: Are there any techniques or methods that one can use to become more aware of negative karma?
Rinpoche: To be aware of negative karma…I think there are many ways, but actually, if you’re able to apply the state of meditation, then due to this state, you can see much more clearly your disturbing emotions, how they function in your mind. In order to be able to accept and work with the emotions, compassion towards others can really help. I mean naturally we have compassion. We can think always of one another, which is very positive. We can do this. Therefore, by understanding our own emotions while at the same time being considerate towards others will enable us to avoid negative karma.
Question: Rinpoche, as you suggested earlier in your talk, let’s say that we introspect and we look at ourselves and we start to identify where we experience negative emotions and the things that make them arise in us. And we become pretty good at identifying the perturbing influences in us, and our own tendencies. Maybe we then make a little bit of a change but still, we see ourselves fall into the same negative emotions. Maybe we get angry in a certain situation and we look at it very clearly, we try and step back from it, but we can’t really completely step out of it. We have a real attachment to our family or someone, and we try to not cling but we’re not free of it. So then is it just a matter of persistent patience, or how…because you get frustrated in being able to look at it and yet unable to change the behavior?
Rinpoche: In general, one’s attachment to one’s family or the wish to do something good for others is actually attachment. Yet, these attachments are necessary at the present time and they are not so bad, rather, they can be quite important. It is on account of these attachments that one can also do a lot of good for others. The problem is when your disturbing emotions are used in the wrong way. The problem is in how you make use of your graspings. For example, the teachings always tell us that all beings and all things are equal. However, we cannot make everything perfect and equal, or to have non-discriminating compassion for everyone. There’s always some discrimination involved on our part. That’s the reason for what you described as some kind of grasping attachment towards your family. Though it is not totally wrong, and actually quite natural in a way, but at the same time, it is disturbing to you. As explained before, if you are not aware of your own grasping and attachments such as jealousy and pride then you will feel a certain way. You will follow that feeling, without clearly knowing or understanding the cause of the disturbance. We feel one way, and so we simply follow it and think and do only according to how we feel or what we want without consideration for others. This lack of concern for the position or feelings of others is the main problem.
Question: I just want to take the last question a little further: the actions, thoughts and emotions of the other people around us, do they influence us?
Question: And you also mentioned in your response to the first question that we could create good karma driven by our thinking…our thought process. So, what I want to ask is that, by thinking positively and by our thought process, can we really influence the karma of the people directly around us?
Rinpoche: Not only by thinking. It is because when your thinking becomes more positive and you follow it that you will act gradually more positively. The improvement is not immediate. A positive change may still appear to you as your normal tendencies because it is not very obvious. But it will produce better karma. Karma is very subtle, and complex. For example, if I am angry with someone, he might also get angry. Due to his anger, he could react negatively thereby producing negative karma. But it is I who created the anger in the first place. So I also have some negative karma arising out of these conditions. This is one effect. The other is a more general effect. We are always unconsciously following the ways of others influencing one another. So if I act unethically while following my own negative emotions, somehow other people will also act as I do. I am talking about the very little things yet karma is still being created without exception. When I am aware, my negative actions could decrease, and others may also follow suit as a result and become less negative, too.
Question: Isn’t karma also carried from lifetime to lifetime?
Rinpoche: Yes. I mean the teachings tell us that all karmas are linked with past lives. Our past karma is not necessarily entirely negative either. For example, the good conditions of our current life are the results of our past accumulation. As in my earlier example of the sand grains, we can add more white grains by choosing to act positively. We can start right now to do better, and slowly, we will be able to affect our past karma in a better way.