Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Questions, Part 4: Buddhism and Destiny

Question: What is the relationship between karma and destiny?

Answer: Do we shape destiny by clinging to a long-stored visualization, or is this predestiny? If we shape our destiny, is that very act itself predestiny? Do we dimly recognize the force of karma and then eventually succumb to an inevitable result? Do we “program” a result by a repetitive pattern of thinking, and if so, at what point in what lifetime?

Intellectually, I believe that karmic consequence and predestination are empty issues, liable to interruption in the way clouds are interrupted by strong sunlight. Experientially, I see that we are constantly shaping our lives by our transient beliefs— and these can be conscious or subconscious beliefs—and we do so habitually, through the stream of lifetimes without beginning or end.

Earlier, I told you about the Wheel of Sharp Weapons. This text begins with a magnificent image:

“In jungles of poisonous plants strut the peacocks
Though medicine gardens of beauty lie near.
The masses of peacocks do not find gardens pleasant,
But thrive on the essence of poisonous plants.
In similar fashion, the brave Bodhisattvas
Remain in the jungle of worldly concern.
No matter how joyful this world’s pleasure gardens,
These Brave Ones are never attracted to pleasures,
But thrive in the jungle of suffering and pain.
We spend our whole life in the search for enjoyment,
Yet tremble with fear at the mere thought of pain;
Thus since we are cowards, we are miserable still.
But the brave Bodhisattvas accept suffering gladly
And gain from their courage a true lasting joy.
Now, desire is the jungle of poisonous plants here.
Only Brave Ones, like peacocks, can thrive on such fare.
If cowardly beings, like crows, were to try it,
Because they are greedy they might lose their lives.
How can someone who cherishes self more than others
Take lust and such dangerous poisons for food?
If he tried like a crow to use other delusions,
He would probably forfeit his chance for release.
And thus Bodhisattvas are likened to peacocks:
They live on delusions—those poisonous plants.
Transforming them into the essence of practice,
They thrive in the jungle of everyday life.
Whatever is presented they always accept,
While destroying the poison of clinging desire.
Uncontrollable wandering through rounds of existence
Is caused by our grasping at egos as real.
This ignorant attitude heralds the demon
Of selfish concern for our welfare alone:
We seek some security for our own egos;
We want only pleasure and shun any pain.
But now we must banish all selfish compulsion
And gladly take hardship for all others’ sake.
All of our sufferings derive from our habits
Of selfish delusions we heed and act out.
All of us share in this tragic misfortune,
Which stems from our narrow and self-centered ways.
We must take all our sufferings and the miseries of others
And smother our wishes of selfish concern.
Should the impulse arise now to seek our own pleasure,
We must turn it aside to please others instead;
For even if loved ones should rise up against us,
We must blame our self-interest and feel it’s our due.”

I do not know what else to say. Maybe I can propose the wonderful idea that we are all Bodhisattvas, some veiled, some incipient, some manifest at various stages, some overt, some covert.

Maybe—if we truly accept the concept of bodhicitta, which we can reduce to the very simple notion that we are inherently good beings momentarily disturbed by wrong ideations—the only predestiny is that predestiny, and karmic imputations are pebbles on the path. Maybe, as we gobble lust and dangerous poisons, we complicate something very simple and make the pebbles into mountains we then must climb in order to make any progress.

We make our own suffering, do we not?

We make our suffering with our very notions of progress, thinking only of ourselves, and not of others. Are our habitual sufferings predestiny?

A habit can be abandoned, and if it were the cause of a destiny, that destiny would be changed. An intention can be abandoned. A pattern can be interrupted. Clearly, in this light, any construct of predestination is impermanent and mutable, like the wind.

We are human.
We are mutable.
We create ourselves with our minds.

From the moment of birth, our bodies begin reaching toward death. Eventually, our bodies succumb.
Nevertheless, does the mind die?
If I chop off my hand with an axe, does my mind die?
Who is the “my” that seemingly owns this mind?
Where does this “my” reside, and what does it consist of?
Who or what knows this “my?”
Where does this knowledge reside?

If there is such a thing as predestination, what owns this predestination, what contains this predestination, what decides this predestination, and what does this predestination occupy?

You and I are identical, self-replicating models of each other.
You and I are interchangeable.
Isn’t my predestiny also your predestiny in some over-arching
You are great and I am small. You are black and I am white.
You are rich, and I am poor. But you and I are traveling in the
same space, at the same time, on the same road, to the same

The things we do, eh?

How we hurt and injure each other.

Sisters turn against brothers and brothers turn against each
Children turn against parents.
Husbands turn against wives, and wives turn against husbands.
Families turn against families.
Cities turn against their citizens.
Nations turn against nations, then turn against themselves.
Religions turn against religions.
Races turn against races.
All in the name of right and wrong, and it has been ever thus.
Is that predestination?

The only predestination we might ever find in this life is love, but we struggle against this love as if it were an enemy. Eventually, it overcomes us, too late to undo the damage we have done.

Maybe you have had the same experience?

Maybe we should stop struggling and permit another, better experience to arise.

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