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Real Life Scriptures

November 5, 2012

Many Buddhist terms and concepts may seem esoteric and foreign to us, so that even if we understand them intellectually, they don’t become second nature, or put another way we don’t naturally turn to them  when we are in trouble.  (Or perhaps, almost any time except when we are reading or listening to teachings.)  By not making a personal relationship with Buddha’s teachings and understanding it from our own experience, it can be very hard to make it relevant to daily life.

In Modern Buddhism Geshe-la says:

“There is no difference between Kadam Dharma and people’s everyday experiences. Even without studying or practicing Dharma, some people often come to similar conclusions as those explained in Kadam Dharma teachings through looking at newspapers or television and understanding the world situation. This is because Kadam Dharma accords with people’s daily experience; it cannot be separated from daily life. (my bold)

What is my experience of Karma?

I thought it would be interesting to explore this approach using one example, I chose Karma. Geshe Kelsang says that one of the main reasons we find it hard to use dharma to help us is that we that we don’t really believe in karma.

Here is the definition of Karma from the Kadampa.org website:

“Sanskrit word meaning ‘action’. Through the force of intention, we perform actions with our body, speech, and mind, and all of these actions produce effects. The effect of virtuous actions is happiness and the effect of negative actions is suffering.”

Not believing in karma means not believing that our experiences, our traits and tendencies as a person, our luck or lack of, are the result of our own previous actions (which originate within our own mind). One consequence of this view is that we believe that everything that happens or we experience comes from something or someone else outside our mind, of which we have little control and only the choice to react.

In the realm of common experience, its not unusual to hear people say things like,

“I’m exhausted with fighting the idiots at work, the people on the train, the tax man…you..”

These kind of feelings and words reflect a disbelief in karma; and they illustrate that the result of this belief is that we often find life to be a constant exhausting struggle to hold back a world of “opposing forces”. Each of us must judge ourselves, but I know that it is in my darkest moments that I most feel like this, like a helpless victim, “The world outside must change, if I am ever to feel right inside again”, and at those times, its hard to see a way forward.

On the other hand, believing in karma engenders an attitude that the only thing I have to fight is the ignorance and selfishness inside myself; these are the things which frustrate my wishes and are the cause of all my problems. The journey into oneself may seem daunting  but there is so much inspiration and guidance to be found in the field notes (or dharma teaching)s of my own teachers and their teachers and so on. Working to solve my problems from inside out, rather than the outside in,  makes me feel calm and clear and capable of finding the route to make things better.

The Scripture of Experience

This way of using everyday experiences to gain conviction in dharma teachings like karma goes right back to early lineage teachers of Kadampa Buddhism. Geshe Potowa (1031-1106 AD) used everyday experiences to illuminate the practice of Buddha’s teachings. One of his works is called the Scripture of Examples. He even changed the words of a drunken thief’s song so that instead of dealing with the joy of beer, it illustrates the proper attitude to spiritual practice:

“How happy we are to be practice dharma from the mouth, but how much more wonderful it would be if we were practising from the bottom of our hearts.”

In this way he was able to connect with many people in a way they could understand and relate to. The original was, “How happy I am to be drinking from the mouth of the barrel of chang (Tibetan beer). But how much more wonderful it would be if I were drinking from the bottom of the barrel.” (From Eight Steps to Happiness)

I think we should each try to build up our own personal Scripture of Examples, things which really touch us, here are a few of mine with respect to karma.

My Parent’s Advice

My mum likes to tell me there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. I think that’s what Shantideva meant when he said that to protect ourselves we can either cover the whole world in leather, or put leather on our feet.  If  I’m protected by the shoes of believing in karma, there is no place I can’t go and no fear or problem that can’t be either dealt with, transformed and patiently borne.

There is a lovely quote my dad once made as the centrepiece of some of his beautiful calligraphy art.

“There is no such thing as a problem

Without a gift for you in its hands”

– Richard Bach

Understanding karma is very much like this, at first we may feel aggrieved that a problem or a difficulty we are experiencing has its root in our own mind, like

“Oh now I’m to blame!”

But given a little time, we realise that in the problem also lies the solution, the gift.  We can find this understanding again and again in western literature. One of my favourite lines of Oscar Wilde is:

“But strange that I was not told
That the Brain can hold
In a tiny ivory cell
God’s heaven and hell.”

from To L.L. by Oscar Wilde

The opportunity that this view brings to me is to find love where I feel dislike, patience where I feel anger, generosity when I find myself clinging to resources, reputation, praise or pleasure and understanding in the face of fear and prejudice. In short, the view of karma really accords with becoming the sort of person I would like to be.

The Dog Chewing Shoes Scripture

I thought it would be nice to finish with a light hearted story of karma from my recent experience.

My dear dog Oscar almost never chews shoes, in fact I guarantee the safety of any visitor’s shoes absolutely; in 7 years there are no recorded mishaps. However, he seems to have one weakness, me. Or more specifically, my new shoes.

So, on purchasing a new pair of trainers this autumn, I took extra care to keep them well out of the grasp of Oscars enquiring mouth, maintaining a strict protocol of locking them in a cupboard whenever they were not on my feet. However, after a month or so of regular wear and bearing in mind that Oscar’s particular penchant is for the new, I felt it safe to relax the alert levels slightly, placing my shoes, from time to time, on an out of the way shelf in our bedroom. After a full week without incident I began to feel the trainers were completely safe, but still kept them out of harms way.

But then it happened – last weekend I came home from a brief trip to the shops, went into my bedroom and was surprised to see one of my trainers on the floor. “Funny”, I remember thinking quite naively, “I don’t remember leaving it there” but on leaning down to pick the shoe up I realised that I hadn’t. Oscar had!

I think in a previous life Oscar may have been a fashion designer, his re-treatment of my shoes follows a consistent pattern and leaves a very standardized “brand”, normally a slight mauling of the top back of the left shoe.

On finding the shoe, my first instinct was to feel annoyed, but then I began to laugh. Suddenly I could see a trail:

  1. It was always my shoe, never my wife’s
  2. It was always the left shoe
  3. The absolute newness of the shoe was not the predominant condition
  4. The attack only ever occurred once
  5. The result was a damaged but usable shoe

What I understood was that it was in fact me, not Oscar, nor the age of the shoes which was the common factor. I surmised that in the past, probably a previous life, I had done something and now one of the results was that my left shoe keeps getting a pasting. Of course I know I have to continue to be vigilant with Oscar, and make sure he knows its wrong to chew shoes, but at the same time, I won’t get too disappointed with him if it happens again and instead, mainly look straight to myself as the principal cause.

There are actually lots of patterns in my life, many much more serious than this, and I know each of my friends has different problems or bits of luck that seem to crop up again and again in their lives. These can also be understood as aspects of karma; although sometimes people call them signs, or guardian angels or gifts from the universe. However, building up a catalogue of these experiences which are very personal and meaningful is, I think, a great way to make dharma teachings our second nature, our instinctive response to whatever we meet in life.  In that way, we really become Kadampa’s.

I didn’t plan to write extensively about karma itself in this post, so if you are interested to know more about these teachings, I happily recommend Joyful Path of Good Fortune, also check out Vide Kadampa’s experiences of meditating on karma (what a fantastic blog!).

Your thoughts and experiences

I’d really love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this post. Also, if you like the blog it would be great if you could share it on Facebook or Twitter and so on. Word of mouth is absolutely the only way people can find this site 🙂

Many thanks as always for reading!

4 Comments
  1. Another great article! Do leave links to your articles on FB Kadampa Life whenever you want, it is one way for people to keep up with you.

    • Thank you Luna – I’m very happy you enjoyed it. I still need to sort out a Facebook account to post things. It’s my Christmas mission 🙂 Happy Thanks giving!

  2. edwin permalink

    Beautiful stuff

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