Karma, by Diana St Ruth

Mandala of Hannya Bosatsu, Japan, Nanbokuchō period (1336–92) © Metropolitan Museum of ArtAccording to Buddhism we live out the consequences of our deeds in this life or some future one. Ajahn Sumedho, a Buddhist monk of the Theravadan tradition, put it this way:

`There is justice in the world. Even though you may not be discovered or punished by society, you don’t get away with anything. You keep being reborn again and again until you resolve your karma. Here we are. How many lifetimes have we all had? We don’t know, do we? But here we are. Here I am in this incarnation with my particular character and karmic tendencies.’

The thought that my own life was the outcome of previous existences had a profound effect on me as a teenager. I remember those feelings of exultation: `This life of mine—the result of my own actions in the forgotten past? I’m not here by chance?’ These ideas brought an overwhelming sense of joy to me. It meant I was not a helpless victim of circumstance or fate, as I had thought. `If the way I lived in the past has brought me to this situation, then the way I live now will affect my future.’ That is how I felt and there was a great deal of excitement around it; I felt empowered. This was rather a simplistic understanding, of course, but it felt fundamentally right; I just had that sense that it was true.

Everyone’s life will contain health and sickness, birth and death, highs and lows of all kinds; that is natural; that is the way our lives are. Karma, on the other hand, could be said to be the law of ourselves, the law of our inner lives, the law of the mind. It is more our inner world than the outer one, though ultimately they are both the same.

How do most of us live our lives? We seek wealth, status, pleasure. But if we manage to get these things, do we get genuine happiness? Even when things are just about perfect, there is often a feeling that something is not quite right. We’ve yearned for that Caribbean cruise all our lives and then when it happens: ` Too hot! Too many people! Too noisy! Feel seasick! Too much rich food! Want to go home!’ And then at the end of the cruise: `Don’t want to go home! Don’t want to go back to work! Best holiday I’ve ever had!’ For some people, no matter how good it gets, they suffer from a feeling that happiness lies somewhere else or at some time in the future—but never right here and right now! This has nothing to do with how rich or poor we are. Some people can manage to suffer under any circumstances, and some can rise above it all. It depends on how we react to what comes to us. Wishing, wanting, yearning for things to be different, yearning for something else—it all oils the wheels of karma.

The Buddha spoke of sowing seeds,`The doer of good, will receive good,’ he said, `The doer of evil, will receive evil. Sown are the seeds and we shall taste the fruit thereof.’

Material gains and losses was not what the Buddha referred to in terms of karma. The Buddha abandoned material comfort in favour of the frugal life of a wandering mendicant. It was freedom from conflict and anxiety within the mind; it was understanding the nature of existence which the Buddha referred to as the finest fruit, the best and deepest happiness.

Read more from Diana St Ruth.

Understanding Karma and Rebirth A Buddhist Perspective by Diana St RuthAn extract from: Understanding Karma and Rebirth
A Buddhist Perspective
by Diana St Ruth

Buddhist Publishing Group

ISBN 978-0946672301

Categories: Beginners, Diana St Ruth, Foundations of Buddhism

Tags: ,

2 replies

  1. Cool, thanks for that. I’m very fond of the first verse of the Dhammapada,

    Mind precedes thoughts, mind is their chief,
    their quality is made by mind,
    if with base mind one speaks or acts
    through that suffering follows one
    like a wheel follows ox’s foot.


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