It is our basic attitude which relates to how we deal with life. If we think we can have anything we want and do anything we want, then we will probably live in a state of perpetual frustration and disappointment because most of what we want doesn’t come to us, or comes in a way we hadn’t bargained for. Many of us do eventually notice this. As we get older, we generally get the message that life doesn’t bend to our will, rather it does its own thing. And life can turn out in various ways. Suddenly, we win the lottery. Suddenly, someone dies. Suddenly, we are wrongly accused. Suddenly . . . ! The more we contemplate life, the more we realise just how mysterious it is. What we can know, however, is that when we think, speak or act in harmful or unskilful ways, the results are distressing for ourselves and for others.
Innocent action, on the other hand, is outside of karma; it doesn’t make karma. There are no reactions from innocent or pure action. But innocent action isn’t goody-goody action which sends people running for cover when they see you coming. Innocent, pure action, is simply those many things we do which have no self-seeking motivation and so are free of guilt and of anxiety, wishing and wanting, fear and other unsatisfactory states of mind.
To set about living a pure life sounds self-righteous and rather dull, even a bit simple-minded, but the purity about which Buddhism speaks is none of these things—it isn’t boring, sentimental or `sweet’, rather is it more straightforward. One’s thoughts and deeds are free of worry and anxiety, and there is real self-honesty. This engenders a natural response to help people when the need is there, a natural compassion which doesn’t look for recognition. In the ancient Chinese Taoist tradition they say that `a truly good man is not aware of his goodness and is therefore good, and a foolish man tries to be good and is therefore not good.’ [Tao Te Ching, Lao Tsu]
We can discover this being-in-the-moment, this awareness-of-the-moment-as-it-is, and we can stay with what is rather than dwelling on hopes, fears and desires. Such a way of life will bring a kind of happiness we might never have experienced or imagined possible. It sounds too simple, too easy to obtain, but it’s there for the taking. This is when Buddhism talks in terms of realising the true nature of life and breaking free of karma and rebirth.
Indeed, the Buddha said:
Free yourself of what lies ahead, free yourself of what lies behind, and free yourself of what lies in the middle; thus you will cross (the stream) of becoming; with the mind freed on all sides, you will not come back to birth and decay.
Images: Stele with Scenes from the Life of the Buddha, Burma, early 13th century.
Seated Buddha with Dedicatory Inscription, China, 828. With thanks © President and Fellows of Harvard College
A Buddhist Perspective by Diana St Ruth