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Buddhadharma : Fall 2015
fall 2 0 1 5 buDDhaDharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 15 and loved them. One day a very rapid, horrible fire started. It was a dry, windy day. The sparrow was of course paying attention, and she flew straight up. She used her intuition, saw a pond, filled her beak, flew over the fire, and dropped the water. She continued this over and over and over, dropping one drop of water onto the forest fire. Finally, totally exhausted, she fell into the fire. I love that story. So, who died? Did her efforts even help? If we think that way— life, death, the fire was put out, it wasn’t put out—that’s a big mistake. We all know this fire. We need to know the fire, the suffering, the pain. It’s impossible not to see it. But, again, we’re very smart, so we find all these ways to avoid looking at it. We have mov- ies; we have books; we have all kinds of things to distract ourselves. Human beings are very smart, but intelligence will not show us the way. Only a strong vow and strong direction will bring us to knowing how to put out the fire. FROM Primary Point, SPRING 2015 it’s not fate You can’t deny your karmic inheritance, said the late Traleg Rinpoche, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change. Critiques of karma often center on the notion of individual responsibility and sug- gest it produces an unsympathetic attitude toward others and leads to a dubious ten- dency to blame. The poor are blamed for being poor, and so on. Buddhism is said, falsely, to assign fault to individuals for all their circumstances and to deny agency. If we are poor, for instance, it might be thought, more or less automatically, that we will stay that way until our karmic debt runs out, and then, after we die, we may then be reborn in fortunate circumstancves, perhaps becoming a wealthy entrepreneur. This type of thinking cannot be recon- ciled with Buddhism’s emphasis on the interconnectedness of all things, though, which fully acknowledges the fertile com- plexity of influences on persons, including their environment. Certainly Buddhism contains the idea of an accumulation of karmic imprints and dispositions, a gathering of propensities throughout our lives—habit patterns are formed, and so forth. Even so, this does not mean that we simply wait for particu- lar karmic imprints or debts or inheritance to evaporate or disappear before anything can be done. Buddhist karmic theory is not akin to fatalism or predetermination. We do have real choice in our affairs. If we did not, then karmic theory would truly produce judgmental and moralistic attitudes, and the Buddha’s teachings would be far less inspi- rational and much less effective. Karmic theory does not have fixed attri- butes of this kind, though, and it is not linked to a static moral order. Of course, an element of determinism is involved and has to be accepted. We are who we are because of our karmic inheritance. We would not be as we are without it, but this does not mean we have to remain this way. More to the point is that karmic theory is supposed to encourage us to think, “I can become the person that I want to be and not dwell on what I already am.” That would be a proper appreciation of the Buddhist theory of karma. FROM Karma: What it is, What it isn’t, Why it matters, ShAMBhALA, JuNE 2015 Seated Maitreya Tibet