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Buddhadharma : Winter 2014
30 buddhadharma: the Practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 1 4 So having a human body and mind, hearing English and being able to understand it, having the faculties of cognition and thought, memory, and understand- ing—all these are the results of everything that has gone before. Our life is preconditioned. But what words I choose to write and your reactions to them are up to us. What we do here in the pres- ent moment is entirely our decision. Choices can be made, and those choices make a difference. That’s why karma and our efforts make a difference. That’s how directionality is given to our lives and how we are able to steer our actions and understanding toward that which is wholesome and liberating. Rather than presenting a fixed deterministic universe, the Buddha described the five niyamas, or laws of nature. We are experiencing, in this moment, the effects of these five different laws of nature, all of which are operating simultaneously. The first of them is called utu-niyama. Utu literally means “weather.” Utu-niyama is the laws of phys- ics and chemistry. When we talk about what we experience, we don’t always take into account the fact that we have a physical body and that this is a physical universe. But we do experience the results of the way matter works, the configurations of the material world, and the operations of physical laws. The second law is bija-niyama, or the laws of biology. Bija literally means “seed.” Human beings are subject to the laws of biology. We have a human body; we need to breathe and eat. We exist as part of a social group. We are of the species homo sapiens sapiens. Living on this particular planet with physical bodies and particular social patterns and forms, we are the inheritors of the biological universe. We may think that these aspects of our life are unremarkable, but a huge part of who and what we are is determined by utu-niyama and bija- niyama, the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. We all experience these central aspects of our life in the same way, all day long, every day. They’re not news. It doesn’t make the headlines that every- body keeps breathing. What does make the head- lines is that so-and-so’s been elected, so-and-so’s been killed, so-and-so’s caused a scandal. It’s the individual actions we take that get our attention. So the third of the laws is kamma-niyama: the law of action and its result, or the law of the way personal choices function and the effects those choices have. We tend to give this third law credit for causing all the things we experience in our life—it gets far more attention than the other four combined. But it is important to realize that our actions, and the laws of cause and effect that relate to our actions and our choices, are only relevant within the wider context of the whole natural order. The fourth law is called citta-niyama, or the law of psychology: how the mind works, how we think, the way memory works, how a thought moment takes shape, the speed of thinking, the processes behind emotions. Citta-niyama encom- passes the laws of mental activity and the patterns of the whole psychological realm. These laws of the mental realm function in the same way as the laws of physics, chemistry, causality, and biology, and they interrelate. We feel, think, remember, and plan in certain ways and according to certain patterns. That’s how minds work. The fifth law is the overarching and all-encom- passing dhamma-niyama, the fundamental law of reality, the relationship between conditioned reality and unconditioned reality. It’s the realm of form, the realm of time, the realm of space; the unborn and the unoriginated, the timeless and formless; the all-encompassing and all-embracing laws of reality at its most fundamental level. At any moment, all five of these laws are operat- ing simultaneously, so what we experience right now is not just the results of personal actions. Choosing to listen to a dhamma talk or read a teaching leads you to experience an effect because of that particular karma, that choice. But it’s also the result of the very fact of hearing or seeing. The mind recognizing that sound or sight and assigning Our lives are controlled by the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, and dhamma itself, as well as the laws of cause and effect. If we think we are ill because of something in a past life, that makes things very personal. AjAhN AMARO is abbot of Amaravati Monastery in England and former co-abbot of Abhayagiri Monastery in California. he was ordained by Ajahn Chah in 1979 as a monk in the Thai Forest Tradition. PHOTObelindabluebell