Archive for the ‘Karma’ Category

This may sound morbid, but I’ve been thinking a lot about death recently. There are several reasons for this, chief amongst which is the fact that I’ve been (and technically still am) ill recently. In the last two and a half weeks, I’ve blacked out twice. I don’t know if that’s serious or not, but the fact that the room regularly spins doesn’t help matters. I went to see the Hospital up in London, for a normal, routine check up on my heart (I was born with a congenital heart defect). When I told the Doctor about this, she became concerned. Anyway, they’re running up all sorts of tests on me, and I look forward to the results.
The second reason I’ve been thinking about death recently, is because my wife and I watched a program on the BBC recently all about death, and people’s attitude toward it. I think it’s fair to say that death is somewhat of a taboo in England, if not the western world. People don’t talk about it, and you’re seen as a bit odd if you do. In my line of work, there is always the distinct possibility that I will come up against death, whether it’s my own or someone else’s. Fortunately, I haven’t yet, the closest I have come is a lady in a body bag, but I’ve always wanted to know what my reaction would be should I come across one. It is said that death is the ultimate teacher, the final challenge, or even just the beginning. But people don’t like to think about death in my experience. If people start to talk about death, the subject is often quickly changed.
But is this the right attitude to have? Often, death comes as a bit of a surprise, so to not plan for the death of a loved one, or your own, seems like a bit of a wasted effort. I know that if I was to die tomorrow, my wife would only have a vague idea of what my wishes were. And the same if the opposite happened.
In Buddhism, we are taught that death is not to be feared or ignored, but to be used as motivation to practice. If we were to lead a life of ignorance, where we do not live our lives to our best, it is a waste, and we will be born in samsara (suffering). The following is attributed to the great Tibetan Buddhist Scholar, Je Tsong Khapa:

This life is as impermanent as a water bubble;
Remember how quickly it decays and death comes.
After death, just like a shadow follows the body,
The results of black and white karma ensue.

Finding firm and definite conviction in this,
Please bless me always to be careful
To abandon even the slightest of negativities
And to accomplish only virtuous deeds.

This simple verse, or prayer, highlights the main teachings of Buddhism in 8 lines. Life is short, and death is the only certainty. There is nothing after death but the result of our Karma (actions), good and bad. We should always make the most of this moment. Living our lives as best we can, without performing any negative actions. Obviously, this is a very simplified version, but one I try to keep to at all times.

I must be honest though, up until now, I haven’t been very diligent in my practice. I could blame this on my matt, my back hurting, or even not having enough time, but the simple truth is that I’m just lazy. Although I am young, death is an ever present threat, and my practice could be cut short at any time, with all this negative Karma un-purified. If this ‘scare’ has taught me anything, it’s that I should get my self sorted and sit when I can. The advantage is that concentrating on something has helped me when the room is spinning. If my sergeant will accept this for the reason I’m sitting crossed legged in the middle of the squad room is another matter. Another thing it has taught me is that I need to write out a death plan, detailing what my wishes are after I pass on. It’s a plan that we should all follow, even if it’s just to make us think about our inevitable fate.


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Spring is traditionally the time for new life. And this has never been more apparent this spring for us. Our living room looks out on to the communal garden which has a small tree. Durring the winter, this tree looks cold and bare. But in the last couple of weeks, I have been watching the tree flourish with bran new leaves, blossoming into a lush verdant green. In a matter of weeks, the leaves will be big enough to provide us with enough shade.The evidence of new life has also been evident at work. My Colleague has moved on from our station, and gone on to be a vital cog in the local Schools liason Office. This is her good Karma, for all the hard work she has put in over the last half a decade. I wish her all the best for the future.Furthermore, several of our friends have been blessed with the birth of a baby. We visited one yesterday, and the baby was in a clean, safe and loving home, with two loving parents. I thought how fortunate this baby was, and wished them all the best.Buddhism says that being born in a human body is as rare as a turtle in an endless ocean who surfaces for air every 1000 years, and when he does, he put’s his head through the whole of a ring. When we think that there are more sentient beings in the animal kingdom than there are humans, it seams like this life realy is a fortunate Karma. It is sad that so many people do not take the oppertunity to make the most of their lifes.I am a practicle person. I have never believed that one religion is the true religion. To me, Buddhism is not the be all and end all of religions. Clearly there are other religions: Cristianity, Muslim, Hindu, Judeism, Taoism, Seekism to name but a handfull. It doesn’t really matter what religion you believe in, as long as you live well, and uphold your religious beliefs. You don’t even have to have a faith to live well. But the most inportant thing to do with this human life is to live well. As long as other people benefit from your existance, in some small way, all the better. As the Vulcans say in Star Trek: “Live long, and Prosper”.

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Fate Vs. Karma

Many people say that fate and Karma are the same thing, that they both lead to destiny and that one won’t come without the other.  In many ways, this is true, but at the root of it, both fate and karma are different.Let’s look at the similarities first:  Fate is described by Wikipedia as “Fate is destiny, an inevitable course of events”, and describes karma “as that which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect“.  On the surface, these two explanations are very similar.  Fate is similar to destiny, whereby things happen for a reason.  Karma also means that things happen for a reason.  So are they the same?Simply put, no.  Fate puts our lives in the hands of a greater being, or a master plan of the universe.  A Buddhist would not see this as being possible.  To demonstrate my point, lets look at gravity.  Before Sir Issac Newton sat under that tree that (fateful) day, gravity was seen as the will of god.  God wanted us to be stuck to the ground, and that anything not on the ground was a miracle (who bought the olive branch to Noah to signify the floods had finished?).  Once Newton ‘wrote’ the law of gravity, it was no longer mystical, but Physics.  When we look back at it now, it seems pretty obvious.  The apple fell not because of divine intervention, but because gravity pulled the apple down.  Similarly, events do not happen just because of some divine plan, but because of karma.Karma is not just a theological subject, it, too, is Physics.  as stated above, it is the law of Cause and affect.  You throw a ball up, it will eventually come down and hit the ground.  This is not just obvious, it’s Physics.  Even if you don’t hold the Buddhist concept of rebirth, Karma still works, logically speaking.  We can see it in the smallest things we do, like throwing a ball in the air, to the biggest things, like putting in effort at school and getting good results.  This may seem obvious to the sceptic, but is still classed as Karma to a Buddhist.  To a Buddhist, Karma isn’t a retribution or evil law, it’s plain obvious.  If you slap your self around the face, it will hurt.  It’s not because some higher power wants to see you in pain, it because you slapped yourself!  Karma, like gravity, isn’t controlled by a higher power such as the Buddha, it is just there, in the background.  We can’t seeit, taste it, smell it, feel it, hear it or detect it by any other means, until it comes to fruition.  So although Fate and Karma seam to be brother and sister, just synonyms, but in reality, they are more like neighbours: living on the same street, but completely different families.

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As written in my last post, I’m reading a book by Pease and Pease.  The latest chapter talked about why we lie, and the form of lies we tell.  And it made me think: Is it possible NOT to lie?Baring in mind that one of the precepts I am (trying) to follow, lying is one of things I should be avoiding.  And as far as I’m concerned, I have been.  Until the book illuminated another type of lie I hadn’t thought about.  For example, when we are given a gift that we don’t like/need, we should smile, say thank you and not say anything… Right? well, that would be good manners, yes, but it would also be lying.  Our children are often given mixed views on this.  They are severely scolded for lying, but should the above senario happen and they answered with the truthful answer (in fear of being chastised again for lying), they are immediately shouted at, told to say sorry and even thank the person for their lovely present.  So in essence, they can’t win.  They are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.  So what is the right answer?  I think depending on who the giver is, you could thank them for the gift, but explain that it really wouldn’t work/suit/need it, and ask if it is possible to return it in exchange for something more useful (at least that worked for me last Christmas).Strangely enough, this topic of conversation came up this afternoon.  My Father-in-law and my son were playing with some cards on the table.  My Father-in-law gave him a compliment like “Oh, you’re getting better at this, aren’t you?” to which my son replied (without hesitation) “Yep!”.  This made me laugh, thinking there was no modesty there, but then thinking about it, he would be lying if he was modest.  If someone is good at something, they should say they are (without crossing the line into bragging).There is several types of lies to consider.  There is the:

  1. The White Lie: something said to “keep the peace” between friends, loved ones and strangers, to stop any emotional discomfort, like saying thank you for the present we really don’t like.
  2. The Beneficial Lie: A lie told by someone in an attempt to help others, like a doctor prescribing a placebo.
  3. The Deceptive Lie: One used by some who is trying to benefit from the lie, like lying to the Police officer who pulled you over for swerving all over the road (a falsification), or when you hear that some one is going to cheat in an exam and withhold it from the examiner (a concealment).
  4. The Malicious Lie: something said to intentionally hurt feelings, or to gain the upper hand (like a Daughter shouting that she wishes her parents were dead during a heated argument).

The last two types are obviously the worst kind of lie and should be avoided at all costs.  But from a Buddhist point of view, would it be ok to tell the first two.  Some hardliners may say that you shouldn’t tell any lies, or suffer the Karmic consequences.  But is this really possible?  A good point was raised by a comment left on another post by a reader that I’d like to reproduce here:

“A house is on fire with the children inside. The father lures them out with promises of candy.”  (dougrogers)

If asked if this kind of a lie was wrong, I’d have to say no immediately, think of the consequences of not acting.  But what is the difference between this lie and a daughter wishing her parents were dead, as in the above example?  It is the intention that brings about Karmic retribution (in my eyes).  If I were to not lie, and the children stuck inside the burning house died, what then? Yes I could say that I wouldn’t get bad Karma because I didn’t lie, but would that bring the children back?  Similarly, should the parents of the girl who’d wished them dead (out of anger) had a horrific accident, how would the girl feel?  I think that it is always wise to be mindful of our intentions when we lie.  If they are not a 100% selfless, we could reap the negative Karma.However, is it possible to be a 100% selfless? That is a different topic…

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Karma has been bought back to the fore front today when I found out that a couple of people that we know at work were involved in a car crash and are still in Hospital.  Although these people were a handful, it doesn’t make it any nicer to contemplate.  It even made one of my colleagues a little pale just to tell me about it.

All this just goes to show that karma IS a universal constant.  Some people call it fate, others call it an act of god.  I think that Karma is the most likely explanation, cause and effect.  I pray for all those that were involved in that crash, and hope they have a speedy recovery.

On a brighter note, I’d like to make any reader aware of the Relics tour that will be coming to London this week end at the Jamyang Buddhist Center.  I will be going, and will update soon.


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