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Buddhadharma : Winter 2014
32 buddhadharma: the Practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 1 4 that actually control our lives, not just the effects of events in past lives. Our lives are controlled by the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, and dhamma itself, as well as by the laws of cause and effect, kamma and vipaka. This makes our experience much less personal. If we think we are experiencing an illness because of something really nasty we did in a past life or because of something somebody has done to us, that makes things very personal. But if we broaden our view to see that what we experience is in accord with natural laws, and that personal choice (our own or that of other people) constitutes only a small proportion of those laws, it makes the experience much easier to digest. Even when we look closely at only kamma and vipaka, that too brings a kind of evenness to our experience. When we are able to see that we are affected to some degree by our actions—that if we do something, it’s going to have an effect—this brings with it a quality of equanimity. When we see that what we experience comes about according to these inexorable and immutable laws, there’s much more of a balance within ourselves. The Buddha gave a small collection of teachings called the Five Subjects for Frequent Recollection. The first of these is “I am of the nature to age.” The second is “I am of the nature to sicken.” The third is “I am of the nature to die.” The fourth is “All that is mine, beloved and pleasing, will become otherwise, will become separated from me.” And the fifth is “I am the owner of my karma, heir to my karma, born of my karma, related to my karma, abide supported by my karma; whatever karma I shall do, for good or for ill, of that I will be the heir.” This reflection helps us develop equanimity in relationship to our lives. It counteracts the feel- ing that the gods are being unkind or that if we do something harmful maybe we’ll get away with it. At the other end of the scale, if we do something good and are concerned that we won’t get any beneficial results for it, that we won’t be rewarded, we can reflect that we’re equally the heirs to those good actions too, born of them and supported by them. Whatever actions we perform, we are heir to them. This is cause and effect. In a way, it’s just as inexo- rable as physics, chemistry, and biology. It’s the way the natural order works; if I see things in that way, something in my heart relaxes and acknowledges, “This is just how it is.” Complaining about the natural order is rather like a three-year-old who says, “Bad rain, you shouldn’t be here today! I want to play in the gar- den!” Yet we too blame the changes and events in our lives and take them personally. We are thus encouraged to refrain from simply grumbling about the way things are. This teaching should not be interpreted as espousing a dull resignation or pas- sivity toward the present experience; rather, the Buddha encourages us to take actions that will make the experience of our life more pleasant and more beneficial to others. Insofar as we are the ones who create our rewards and punishments, the ethics of Buddhism are dem- onstrated in our own psychological responses. If you act in a generous and kindly way, your heart feels light and bright. You feel a quality of self-respect. If you act in a cruel, selfish, and destructive way, your heart feels cramped, tight, and heavy. That’s a natural result. Rewards and punishments essentially come from the forces of our own nature, not from anything external to our own mind. But we are also affected by the people we are with and the environment we are in. When you come to the temple or listen to the teachings, you enter the field of the Buddha or a great teacher like Ajahn Chah and you experience the benefits of that field. Coming to a Buddhist monastery and listen- ing to Buddhist teachings on Sunday afternoons is going to have a certain effect. Spending Sunday afternoon in the pub or watching football will also have a certain effect. What goes on inside us is ulti- mately up to us, but we are affected by our environ- ment, so if we wish to support wholesome changes and qualities within ourselves, it’s always wise to be attentive to the environment we choose. This is one reason why the Buddha made the comment, “Don’t belittle merit.” Don’t think that good karma What we’re experiencing in this moment is the flow of the natural order. But still, we are able to choose; this is what makes the possibility of liberation open to us. ➤ continued page 80 (Opposite) Hands of the puppeteer, 1929 Tina Modotti (1896-1942)