Donald the Human Trump Card: One Buddhist’s Perspective…

With each passing day, I find it more difficult to get away from what appears to me to be the “truth” about Donald Trump – and it is this: the man is where he is today, practically in the White House, because not only are the conditions “right,” but also because they’re damned near perfect. Donald Trump was “made in America,” but we simply don’t want to admit it.

Is it not ironic that the man who claims he wants to make America “great again,” is only great because America made him so? Every time we laughed at the “reasoning” behind his exclaiming “You’re fired!”; every time we overlooked his sexism, racism, and xenophobia; every time we called his complete disregard for ethics and human beings in his business practices simple “wheeling and dealing” instead of the hate crimes they were; we contributed to the Frankensteinian creation of the monster Trump is today. It’s vipaka, baby — the “fruit” of our karma…

Everyone is acting as if Donald Trump is some sort of violent, freak accident that “happened” to us one sunny afternoon. Not true. Donald Trump didn’t “happen” to “us”; Donald Trump is “us,” whether “us” refers to you and me, or to the [U]nited [S]tates. He is the sum total of our situational ethic; our refusal to admit to the existence of white privilege; our worship of the failing dollar; and the misinterpretation of the freedom of America as the “free dumb” in America. He was everything that a lot of us wanted to be – and still is. This is why  many of us will still vote for him, despite all of our public protestations, once the curtain closes behind us in the voting booth.

And if you are possibly upset that I used the words “white privilege,” please understand that it was not with anger or “reverse racism.” Any type of unfair advantage, no matter what color the perpetrator, always backfires. So-called “white people” suffer the effects (vipaka) of “white privilege” as much as so-called “people of color.” We cannot judge the intent of all by some, or truly believe, if we know the Dharma/Dhamma, that “evil” ever wins. The Law of Karma is the strictest, most impersonal bookkeeper ever employed. It doesn’t care who you are or what you do. It simply ensures that everything is always perfectly balanced — even when it doesn’t appear to be so…

Just remember this: “The Donald” cares about no one but himself. He doesn’t need you. He doesn’t need anyone – especially now that he has managed to do “the impossible.” And I don’t mean to imply that he’s not a nice person. If he’s a psychopath, and I mean this in the nicest, most clinical sense of the word, he simply can’t help it. Nonetheless, the man can’t manage a business, but we choose to believe that he can guide a nation, and deftly navigate the politics of one of the most complex and critical eras the world has ever known. Good luck with that.

So, please, stop it with the pissing and moaning. You’re not fooling anyone. This “crisis” pales in comparison to the one from which we are only now just recovering: nearly eight long years of an eloquent, educated, articulate, brilliant, undeniably just, albeit “Negro,” man holding the office of president of the United States. Many folks’ biggest disappointment can only be that he did not, in fact, do as they feared: He didn’t take office and treat white people as if they did not exist, or might possibly not have voted for him. He didn’t turn white privilege into “everything-but-white privilege,” he didn’t ignore the pain of the Syrian refugees because he valued the lives of Africans more… If you’re confused by this statement, let me draw an analogy: He didn’t pretend the Rwandan Genocide wasn’t happening because, well, no one who was anyone really cared anyway…

If you are voting for Mr. Trump, I truly don’t think less of you. Our conditioned existence is much too complicated to simplify into categories of any one person’s idea of “right” and “wrong.” Politicians are a special breed, and if there’s one good thing I can say about Mr. Trump, he’s honest about not giving a damn. But if we believe what the Buddha taught about a “conditioned existence,” then we understand that what is happening in the world today is the only thing that can happen, given what occurred prior to now (possibly for immeasurable past eons) and what is happening in the ever-fleeting and ever-changing “now.”

The only card game I ever learned to play was “Old Maid,” and that was in elementary school – many, many years ago. Nonetheless, I do know the meaning of the word “trump,” with regards to “grown-up” card playing. There are actually three definitions, in particular, that interest me, the last of which I only discovered today.

Trump:

  1. a playing card of the suit chosen to rank above the others, which can win a trick where a card of a different suit has been led;
  2. a sound of or as if of trumpeting (the trump of doom);
  3. a dependable and exemplary person.

“The Donald” is the personification of the eternal “trump card,” practically doing whatever he’s wanted, all his life, because he’s always been treated as if he’s of a higher suit or rank. You might call that a kind of “privilege,” with his being a white male being only incidental… And personally, I know people of all colors, ethnicities, income levels, social ranks, gender identities, religions, and political parties who do not think Mr. Trump is the best choice for this country.

We have ploughed, sown, and fertilized the crop we are about to harvest. And frankly, the only thing that truly surprises me about what is happening now is that we are surprised at all.That said, Mr. Trump is not the problem. He’s merely a symptom. Just as there is ‘personal’ karma, there is ‘national’ karma. Presidencies change just as everything else changes.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the last, legally-possible, four-term president, right?

Namaste.

 

 

 

 

Lions and Tigers and… Ants, Oh My! The First Precept…

I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life (doing harm) –The First Precept of Buddhism

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I was raised in a Christian home. Like many people, I understood that the Bible’s commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” applied to human beings. There was never any talk of not killing squirrels, deer, rats, mice, or insects. I’ll never forget the very first (and last) time my father, during my childhood, went squirrel hunting with a huntsman neighbor. My father brought home two squirrels that he’d shot, skinned, and cleaned all by himself. He was so proud! Nonetheless, my mother wasn’t having any of that! She refused to either accept, cook, or allow the squirrel carcasses to remain in “[her] home.” I, myself, was appalled that he could have expected us to eat anything “so cute,” but didn’t really think much more about it. We were not vegetarians, and as Guyanese people, we ate a great deal of rice with curried chicken, goat, and a beloved beef/goat dish known as pepper pot, among other things.

By the time I graduated from high school, I’d left the church (I was raised Lutheran); returned to Jesus as an apostolic Pentecostal “holy roller” for a short time, and then, due to mine and my father’s involvement in the martial arts, become extremely interested in Eastern philosophies. By the time I graduated from my university undergraduate program, I’d come to terms with the meat-eating experience and transitioned from vegetarian to vocal-veganism, though that would later change after someone pointed out that my love of leather didn’t quite square with veganism. Additionally, I’ve had some very rough times, financially, when my only choice was not between various types of meals, but rather between being able to eat or not. It is not uncommon, when trapped in the social services system, to be ridiculed (and refused) for asking for an extra bag of potatoes instead of that hunk of mystery meat you’d rather not eat, anyway. It’s a real case of “beggars can’t be choosers”… Nevertheless, since one can choose, it is definitely worth taking the 1:19 that it takes to visit this hell documenting the “legitimate” slaughter of animals for the benefit of meat eaters. Warning: It makes Dante’s version look like a trip to Disney Land. When we eat meat, we are complicit in the unimaginable suffering it causes our fellow ‘travelers’ on this planet…

Fast-forwarding to 2015, last summer I flew from New York to California to spend two weeks as a guest in a Theravada Buddhist monastery with a group of Bhikkhunis (female monks). I should mention, here, that in the Theravada lineage, meat-eating, with certain restrictions, is allowed, but it is a subject of much contention with serious repercussions if not mindfully and compassionately approached… I’d had to fill out an application to arrange the visit, and part of that had been informing them of what service I could be while visiting. I volunteered to drive, clean, and cook (so long as I had a really-detailed cook book). Upon arriving and settling in, I learned that my duties would be, primarily in the kitchen. Much to my delight, I discovered a sink full of dishes upon entering the kitchen, as lunch had just been served. Without being asked, I walked to the sink, picked up the sponge and discovered, to my horror, a dense colony of ants streaming beneath it. The only reason I did not shriek in horror was because I am so polite. So, though it took me a few moments more to pick my jaw up off of the floor (I’m more polite than I am “smooth”), I quietly dropped the sponge back into place, took a deep breath, and tried to figure out how best to calmly ask for some “Ants-Be-The-Hell-Gone” spray. But before I could ask, my guide informed me that the ants were there because of the obligation to observe the first precept. Truly, that had never occurred to me. I’d simply thought the good Sisters, who don’t do kitchen work, just didn’t have any good “help.”

Of course, they had no bug spray, bleach, or any other of the many treasured and beloved toxic concoctions upon which so many of us rely. We had to make due with “natural” cleansers. So, I had no choice but to get with the program. One of the other visitors to the monastery had come up with a rather ingenious method of handling the ants. She would take a sheet of paper towel, dampen it, and then gently “drag” it over the ants. With the ants, uninjured, but sticking to the paper towel, she would carefully transport them to the lowest rung of a plastic rack on the patio which was also used to dry laundry. As the paper towel dried in the wind, the ants could easily disengage from it, make their way to the ground, and crawl away (i.e., back into the kitchen).

Again, much to my great discomfort, the thin, but comfortable air mattress on the floor of my bedroom (which was just off the kitchen) was, occasionally visited by ants, as well. I could literally feel them crawling across my body, but once I discovered they didn’t bite, I relaxed and simply learned to be especially gentle if I had an “itch.” I learned to think of the ants as my co-pilots in life… And truly, the only reason I did not lose my mind was because I had already begun to practice some consideration for insect forms of life several years prior to arriving at that California monastery. Many years of trapping and transporting spiders “back to where they belong” had not only cured me of my fear of spiders, but even brought me to be able to appreciate their beauty. So, now that I’ve become enlightened, instead of jumping on my tractor and driving through my home trying to mow them down, I simply exclaim, “Namaste!” and run like hell…

Learning to live with the ants at the monastery was a life-changing experience for me. Even though I’d learned to catch spiders in jars, without harming them, and take them back outside, and would never have willingly harmed a dog, cat, squirrel, or deer, on my first day at the monastery I would have thought nothing of drenching the counter with Raid or tightly scooping up all the ants in a piece of wet paper towel. Until then, I had not realized that the Buddha did not differentiate between human and animal lives when those “animals” were, well, “only ants,” or perhaps cockroaches, or other creatures not as cute as lady bugs… Ants were, to me, merely pests, and the products of an unclean environment, not sentient beings who could show up for any number of reasons. And of course, it’s so much easier to see that dogs or horses have feelings, and love their offspring than it is to see the same thing in ants… The point, here is that, we tend to sympathize, more, with those who either look like us, or act like us; so, there is some moral danger in thinking that “difference” justifies indifference…

All sentient beings fear being harmed, love life, and want to be happy. I also discovered that those who value and revere the life of an ant are probably much more likely to respect it in a human being. If all human life was viewed as sacred, we could not have had Black Americans lynched for sport; Jews gassed, incinerated, and subject to outrageous medical experimentation during WWII; the Imperial Japanese Army’s prostituting of Korean girls and women, also during World War II, or the Rwandan genocide. In each case, these people were considered less than human, if only for convenience’s sake. It is always necessary to, first, distance ourselves from those we seek to demean, i.e., relegate them to the level of “lower than an animal,” or insect…

Each of the five precepts (the ones that must be observed by all non-monastic Buddhists), are fraught with subtleties we may yet to have considered or acknowledged. It is also important to acknowledge that they are not “commandments.” For us, they are not non-negotiables dictated by a stern, or loving, God who will subject us to an eternity in hell for not following them. It is always our intent that determines the “right” or “wrong” of what we do, and we are accountable to an immutable law of nature that neither cares about us personally, nor hears our appeals for mercy or special dispensations when we’d rather not deal with the results our actions always ignite – karma.

Prior to my monastery visit and after getting up close and personal with more ants than I’d ever dealt with (in any merciful way), I’d occasionally wondered why it was even necessary to utter the first precept, because like many people, I have never taken a human life (though, unlike the Buddha, I am as yet unable to account for any of my actions in past lives). Thus, in former kitchen experiences, if “cleanliness (truly) is next to godliness,” then I’d felt justified in doing whatever I had to do to keep my kitchen pest-free. Consequently, in this regard, alone, I might formerly have been considered one of the greatest transgressors of insect repellent, mosquito squashing, and spider bombing. The fact that I truly believed that certain gradations of life (insect versus human) justified such killings certainly lessens my culpability in the past, but now that I’ve received and processed new information, in both the intellectual and experiential senses, my future actions are subject to that new knowledge.

Two years ago, while living in a different city, my building experienced a “rodent infestation.” According to the exterminator, there were mice living within the insulation in our walls. The building was situated near a large vacant lot that was overgrown with bushes and weeds – a haven for everything from mice to much larger “rodents.” In an effort to hasten this case of rodent resolution, I bought a set of “sticky” rodent traps. These flat, “wall-less” traps, garnished with a little peanut butter or some other delicacy, can incapacitate even the smartest of rodents, who, by being careless, can place a foot too close to the sticky surface. This happened one night, with a trap I’d placed just a few feet from the bed. I’d awakened to the sound of what sounded like “tiny shrieking.” As the window was open, I’d imagined the sound must have been outside, but then, I thought of the trap, got up, and turned on the light. A tiny mouse had wondered out into the open during the night, gotten stuck, and in its struggle to escape, had ended up with the left side of its face, and part of its body stuck to the trap. It was truly one of the most heart-wrenching sights I’d ever seen, even though I was supposed to be happy that the product worked.

I was, essentially, paralyzed by the sight and wondered if it were possible to free the mouse. Having experienced getting the skin of my own hand stuck to the trap while setting it up, I could tell, just by looking, that if I tried to free the mouse, I would end up with only one half of its body in my hand. The other half of its body, with its thin, delicate skin, was never, ever going anywhere else. Being too scared to touch the trap, as the mouse was struggling, mightily, and had continued to shriek, I went, miserably, back to bed. A couple hours later, as morning arrived, I ran next door to enlist a neighbor’s help in simply picking up and disposing of the trap. The mouse was still thrashing and screaming those two hours later… Deciding to leave extermination to the professionals, I disposed of the rest of my sticky traps.

We’re treading on very thin ground when we look at one living being and decide that its life is not as valuable, or sacred, as ours, or another’s. We unthinkingly do this with animals and insects, everyday; and some human beings even do it with other human beings. Thus, the first precept, to do no harm, is not as simple to observe as we might expect, nor as difficult to transgress. In the words of the Buddha:

All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill. —The Dhammapada

The Buddha never said, “But one caveat — this applies only to people, especially those who look like us, or act the way we do, but not to animals, insects, reptiles, or fish”…

Namaste.

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References:

Animals and the Buddha

Meet 10 Beautiful Spiders

I’ve named this, “Makes Dante’s Hell Look Like DisneyLand” because I don’t read Arabic…

These are the Most Exquisitely Weird Spiders You Will Ever See

 

Intention: The Filter of Karma…

Karma cannot be deceived. It keeps unfolding. It is painfully democratic…. We cannot opt out of it. There is no timeout in life. Whatever we do lays a seed in our deepest consciousness, and one day that seed will grow. Every thought that occurs, especially if we water it with intention, plants a seed… –Sakyong Mipham, “Ruling Your World,” p. 52

”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””’

I have discussed the difference between “karma” and “vipaka” several times in the past. Basically, the term karma, which means “action,” is what we do, not what happens to us; and vipaka, which means “ripening [effect]” is the result of our karma, i.e., our actions, good, bad, or indifferent. So, it is vipaka that happens to us, not karma. This is why it’s incorrect to say, when something bad happens to us, “Ah, well, I guess that’s just my karma.”

People who rob banks, get caught, and go to prison, don’t usually say, “Ah, well, I guess it’s just my karma,” as if they’d expected to be treated any differently after having been caught. Yet, interestingly enough, people who do say this are often implying that they have, somehow, been treated unfairly, or somehow, received treatment that they did not deserve in relation to what they did. And what they don’t realize is that karma, which is a far from linear process, has just handed them an opportunity to “act,” which could effect a completely different outcome — should they choose wisely. It is important to note, here, that it is not, as has so often been misstated, Buddhists who are fatalistic and morbid. Buddhists actually believe that it is possible to escape the web of karmic entanglement, if not the actual effects of the causes we ignite.

There is a man with whom I once regularly rode the bus. He is a Bible-believing, tract-distributing, testifying Christian. We are on very friendly terms, despite his unsuccessfully trying to bring me to Jesus, gently, several times. I’ve seen and heard him engage many people in repentant prayer as they’ve waited for the bus, as well as on the bus.Yet, what interests me most is his premise. He tells people that no matter what they’ve done in their pasts, immediate or otherwise, that simply by repeating the “Believers Prayer” with him, and giving their heart to Jesus, right there at the bus stop, that they will automatically be forgiven all their sins — completely — and no matter what they have done. He also tells them that should they backslide, they need only read the prayer, as spelled out on the tract he leaves with them, and repent, once again, sincerely, and they will once again be forgiven. Finally, in addition to that, he tells them that even if they completely return to a life of sin, and find themselves on their deathbeds, all they have to do is repent, and immediately after dying, they will go to be with Jesus in heaven — so great is His desire to forgive… And it is this “promise” upon which many professing “Christians” rely. Personally, I question this man’s interpretation of both the gospels and thus, Jesus Christ.

Buddhists believe that we keep coming back until we get it “right.” There’s no “final judgment” or end of days; in fact, we should be so lucky. Whereas a Christian commits murder, sincerely repents, dies and goes to be with God, a Buddhist commits murder, sincerely repents, dies, experiences rebirth, then because of wrongly taking a life, will “live a short life” or possibly be murdered him- or herself… Yet, because of the cycle of endless rebirths, part of the experience of samsara, and the intricately woven, multidimensional web of the karma of endless past lives, this “effect” might not come to fruition until many lifetimes later; or, it could manifest in other ways such as that person eventually also experiencing the loss of a loved one through violent means. The perfect and perennial example, here, is Maha Moggallona who, despite being one of the Buddha’s most accomplished monks, was murdered due to having murdered his own parents in a former life. He was assassinated, beaten to death — the method he had used to murder his own parents…

Additionally, if we kill someone, and it was because we were in a really bad mood that day, rather than in self defense (which would still be a “bad”), since we don’t believe in a personal deity, there’s no appeals process available. Karma is totally impersonal and completely unforgiving in that it requires the “cause” we’ve committed to play out to its inevitable effect; but for Christians, apparently, it is possible to spend one’s entire life stealing, lying, and murdering, but if they can just “go to Jesus” a few moments before they die — they’re forgiven. Now, to me, that sounds like a gross circumvention of justice, and it begs the question, “Is ‘forgiveness’ the same as not having to reap what one has sown?” Or to put it another way, can one willfully commit unconscionable acts, repeatedly, with no repercussions, simply by “going to Jesus?” Could Hitler have said, before he purportedly committed suicide, “Wow, Lord, maybe I overreacted,” and be standing at the Pearly Gates to greet “errant” Jews who finally saw the light and also became “Christians?” Or could he even be standing at the Pearly Gates with St. Peter to tell Jews who never came to Jesus that they’d best be set to spend eternity in another type of oven?

Karma is destiny, not fate; and many people don’t realize that there is a difference between the two. Fate implies that our experience is preordained and that no matter what we do, we’ll get the same result (particularly regarding unpleasant results). Conversely, destiny, also implies that certain events are bound to happen, but unlike fate, destiny can be shaped, i.e., there is the possibility of our influencing and thus, changing it. Therefore, in the language of karma, whenever we act, whether verbally, physically, or even thought-fully, we enter into an unerringly balanced mechanistic process of intricately interwoven cause-and-effect that favors no one person over another. And yes, this is a hard pill to swallow because such phenomena as racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia make this appear to be otherwise — but consider for a moment if this were true. Would it not call into question everything from the concept of babies being born “innocent” to the nature of “injustice,” itself?

Now, let us drill down even further. The term karma, refers to not only our actions, but also the intent that fuels those actions — and it is this line of reasoning that brings us to the always controversial Buddhist teachings that say there is truly no “good” or “bad” except in the relative sense. This view exists because karma is viewed through the filter of intention…I know of two situations where angry men have laid hands on other individuals with such force that they have broken those individuals’ ribs. I maintain that in the first case, they were “wrong,” and in the second case, they were “right.”

In the first situation of rib-breaking, the man used a baseball bat to break someone’s ribs in a fight predicated merely by drunkenness. In the second situation, a paramedic was administering CPR — and if you’ve ever been certified to administer CPR, you’ve most likely heard the shocking statement that if you administer CPR, and there are not any broken ribs, you’re probably not doing it right… So, my point, however simply supported, is that one could either be a person who gets into a bar fight every now and then, and only occasionally breaks a few ribs, or be a paramedic, and break ribs every day. In reference to rib-breaking, the vipaka for bar brawlers will be substantially different from that of the paramedics (unless it is their intention to break ribs)…

For a Buddhist, karma (his or her actions) is “God,” and consequently, this “God” determines whether our lives are pictures of peace, pandemonium, or a pairing of both. The pairing of both is often the result of past karma coming to fruition (ripening, or becoming vipaka), whether from earlier in our present lives, or from past lives. Unlike instant, repeated forgiveness that absolves us from any responsibility or culpability for our actions, the keyword for Buddhists is ‘intention.’ So, rather than repeatedly praying for forgiveness, we instead seek to refine our intentions (thoughts) — the source and fuel of our actions, so that our intentions, and thus, karma, will first be purified, and then, extinguished.

And interestingly enough, the term nirvana, which is popularly interpreted as meaning some kind of phenomenal liberation or bliss, literally means “blown out,” as in “extinguished,” with regard to the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion, the hallmarks of samsara (suffering)… This summons another interesting difference between Christian theology and Buddhist thought. Christians are first born again in hopes of living forever; but Buddhists seek to end suffering, once and for all, by quenching the flame of repeated rebirths, and never returning (unless they take the Bodhisattva vow)… Hence, the Buddha’s “parinirvana,” or final death…Buddhists believe, regarding the Buddha, unlike Christians believe, regarding Jesus Christ, that the Buddha was a man; he’s dead; and he’s not coming back. Finally, unlike Christians who worship Jesus Christ, we do not worship the Buddha, or pray to him. The Buddha was a man. A man. We rejoice that he achieved his supreme intention. And we rejoice that all men and women can be as he was.

Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

And of course, Namaste.
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References:

The Bodhisattva Vows from Buddhism.about.com

Mukpo, Mipham J. Ruling Your World. New York: Three Rivers Press. 2005. Print.

The Killing of Maha Moggalana. Wisdom Quarterly Blogspot (Monday, Dec. 28, 2009).

The Three Poisons, Part I: Ignorance…

About a year ago, a young man in his early thirties who was having severe dental problems due to having no dental insurance said to me, “Well, I guess I’ll just get dentures sooner than later — it happens to us all!” Though he smokes, chews tobacco, and drinks only coffee and colas, I had to bite my lip to avoid exclaiming, “No, it does not!” By that time, I’d learned that arguing, stating “the facts,” or trying to persuade people whose minds are already made up is not only futile, it’s egotistical. Unless you’re a lobbyist, a member of a debating team, or an attorney arguing a death penalty case, it’s a useless, thankless endeavor, and the reward is small — being “right” for a minute, or forever, in nobody’s but your own fondest memories. Additionally, because everyone wants to be “right,” they resent it if you cause them to feel or look “wrong,” and the repercussions can be swift, or slow and insidious. And of course, issues of race, class, someone’s lack of self-esteem, or just plain accountability can define the difference between our being seen as intelligent or a trouble maker…

Nonetheless, much reading and discussion with dental professionals will lead one to the discovery that teeth were meant to last a lifetime, even if you live to be 100, but you need to know how to take care of them. Tooth loss is not an inevitable, unavoidable “fact” of life. This much, I knew. I also knew that if I’d disagreed with him, he would have discounted my views because I was a woman, and not “free, white, and over-21,” as he constantly reminded me and anyone else with whom he “conversated” no matter what they looked like. And this leads me to the discussion of one of the Three Poisons, ignorance, as identified by the Lord Buddha. The other two “poisons” are attachment and aversion. They are also interpreted, respectively, as delusion, desire, and hatred.

The word, ignorant, is actually a beautiful, compassion-based word that has, in the common usage, been bastardized into meaning “stupid.” Though I am not an expert in the language of the Theravada Buddhist scriptures, Pali (the language of Theravada Buddhism), I have learned that when Buddhists [properly] use the word “ignorant,” it does not necessarily imply stupidity, but rather “not knowing.” And that’s a significant, yet subtle difference. What this means is that it is possible to say people are ignorant not as an insult, but as a simple statement of fact coupled with the understanding that those persons are simply doing the best they can with the information they currently possess. Truly, even when it doesn’t look like it, most people are doing what they think is “best” — if only for them…

For example: Robbing a bank (however “justifiably” desperate one may be) is stupid; but telling a lie, however “white,” is ignorant. The Buddha famously said, to his young son, Rahula that a liar is capable of any evil, and thus, lying is never justified. Lying is bad karma — and here, it is important to remember that the term karma does not refer to what happens to us, but rather to what we actually do. Karma translates to “action.” So, karma is what we do, but vipaka is what happens to us as a result of that action. If someone falsely accuses a person of committing a crime, causing that person to be wrongly incarcerated, that’s bad karma (action). When the truth of their lie is finally revealed, and they, themselves go to prison for lying, that’s their vipaka, a term which translates as “the ripening or maturation” of [a] karma (action). So, vipaka is the consequence of [a] karma — whether it be good or bad.

One of the the beautiful, liberating things about understanding the difference between karma and vipaka is that we realize that we have much more control over what occurs in our lives than we might think. When something bad happens to us, it is not “right view” to say, “That’s just my karma.” Buddhists are not as fatalistic as they’re reputed to be. Then there’s the hard truth. It is more appropriate to throw up one’s hands and say, “Ah, well, I guess that’s just my… vipaka (i.e., the natural consequences of my past actions.) Nonetheless, at any given moment, we can choose what karma we wish to enact, and immediately influence our future vipaka, i.e., outcomes.

We do have some level of control over our vipaka until the moment we draw our last breath, but this does not necessarily mean that we will escape the vipaka (ripened effects) of our previous karma (actions/choices) in this life, or the next… Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who authored one of my favorite books, Man’s Search for Meaning, said:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

And God help you if someone knows you know this. They’ll often be happy to place you in a position to test your true adherence to this theory. Nonetheless, the ability to choose should be our greatest and most treasured freedom because our choices today are where we’ll live tomorrow — whether our role be that of punish-er or sufferer.

The story of the Maha-Moggallana, the arahant and beloved companion of the Lord Buddha aptly illustrates this. Despite living the holy life, he was murdered, according to the Buddha, because of murdering his own parents in a former life… This is why it is so vitally important to guard our actions and speech as if our lives depend on them — which they do… And just in case what I said didn’t register with you, Maha-Mogallana attained Liberation; yet, was beaten like a dog, dragged himself “home” through the streets to be in the presence of the Lord Buddha once more, and then died.

Buddhists believe that out of the many different types of sentient beings, of which humans are only one, the human rebirth is the most fortunate. This is because only human beings can attain enlightenment. There is a verse from the Holy Bible that I have always loved, and which is most appropriate here:

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. –Phillipians 2:12(b)

Unfortunately, not everyone can do this all of the time. What I perceive as “right” today, I could realize to be a colossal mistake tomorrow — and it’s all because of my “ignorance,” my “not knowing.” According to the Buddha, there is much that cannot be learned in books or by talking to other people. No one can make up our minds for us. ‘Truth’ is an experience, ultimately too subtle for words, and can sometimes be relative. “What God has joined together, let no man (or woman) put asunder”; yet, some marriages need to end. We need to be willing to meditate,think upon and rigorously examine our experiences, remembering that because they are our experiences, we were there, taking part in them… Putting up a nasty meme on Facebook, e.g., “Some women think they are everything; in reality, they are everything but..,” without questioning one’s own self or culpability is not a solution — neither is drinking, drugging, or sinking into silent, angry bitterness. We all pay, one way or another, for negative karma we’ve committed, but often, the people who inflict these punishments often incur their own negative karma for inflicting your vipaka. They think they’re lucky dogs for getting revenge, but don’t realize that through that very act of revenge, they are sealing their own vipaka. If they were not ignorant of this fact, they’d be merciful…

For in the same way you judge others, so will you be judged… Matthew 7:2

And this applies even when those being punished “deserve” to be punished. Mind you this discussion is taking place outside of a discussion of any established legal system or the prison industrial complex…

When someone simply doesn’t know, or realize, that the results (vipaka) of their karma (actions) can only be unhappiness and suffering, even though their ignorance is to blame, they will suffer the consequences. Just as drunk drivers can’t use their drunkenness as an excuse for murder, we don’t get to use our ignorance as an excuse for the mistakes, or missteps we take. This is why I am so grateful to the individuals who have been merciful to me, and why I am obligated to try to be as merciful as I can be. We all act under the influence of “not knowing,” and because of our not knowing, we cause problems by judging or retaliating against people whom we, ourselves, may have been responsible for inciting.

Today, I will remember that as much as I care, and as hard as I try, I am still a “hot mess.” If that can be true for me, it can be true for another. Today, and always, I will strive to meet “in the middle,” as much as I can, and as much as others are willing, so that I do not hasten the end…

Namaste.

 

 

Election Seasoning…

Election years are probably my least favorite years, with the year prior to them ranking a close second. No! Actually, it is the year after election year that is my least favorite because it takes me that long, and then some to recover from the previous two years, and then it’s about time, again, for the same insidious cycle to commence, once again. Obviously, there’s a bit of clinging going on, here…

During election years, a type of lynch mob mentality suffuses the atmosphere, and we spend a good deal of time finger-pointing and harshly criticizing others for doing and saying things that even we, ourselves, do and say. Nonetheless, we often feel justified in our critiques because it is not we who are “public officials”…

But what good is having decent, ethical elected officials in office if we, ourselves, don’t religiously practice those same purportedly valued ethics? We want them to “be there” for us, but can we in our own, however unintended, hypocrisy, be there for them when their time of testing occurs? And knowing that they, too, are aware of this dilemma, can we blame them too harshly when they decide to play for keeps instead of standing for justice?

Like many people this election season, I have my causes and candidates — favored and least favored. What I hope will make a difference for me this year, as I walk the fine line between Engaged Buddhism and insidious, silent consent is this:

Though karma guarantees our just desserts, it is only self-reflection and compassion that can cleanse the palate of our shared, conditioned existence, thus preparing us for a next and better course…

Namaste.

George Zimmerman Retweets Photo of Trayvon Martin’s Body | Essence.com

George Zimmerman recently, after retweeting a photo of Trayvon Martin’s dead body, said:

“Tell ‘Karma’ she’s worthless, God protects me.”

Who, I wonder, is this “God?” And of course, “Karma” would be a woman…

http://m.essence.com/2015/09/29/george-zimmerman-retweets-photo-trayvon-martins-body?xid=pd_taboola

“Bitch” Doesn’t Even Begin To Describe Karma…

“Karma’s a bitch.” –?
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Karma. You can’t pray to her. You can’t beseech her. You can’t make deals with her. You can’t seek her forgiveness. You can’t have a “personal relationship” with her. And you can’t expect her to suspend the laws of nature so that you don’t have to pay for the  evil you’ve wrought. Oh, wait a minute! I already mentioned prayer, didn’t I?

The term ‘karma,’ literally means ‘action,’ but it is widely and generally interpreted to mean “the result of an action, or actions,” which is incorrect. When our actions, i.e., karma, result in some type of payday, pleasant or unpleasant, there’s another term for that. It’s ‘vipaka.’ Vipaka means “fruit,” i.e., “the fruit of,” as in when our ‘actions’ (karma[s]) bear fruit (come to fruition), or when the seed(s) we’ve planted sprout, take root, grow, and multiply. So, when someone finally “gets what’s coming to them,” it’s not their ‘karma’ that finally caught up with them; it’s their ‘vipaka.’ The existence of the little-discussed (in the general public, anyway) term (vipaka) does not necessarily discredit other discussions, questions, or theories about karma. [And to emphasize this point, I have included, in my Related Reading section below, other discussions of karma that truly moved me].

Every action we express, whether physical, verbal, or even mental, is [a] ‘karma.’ An action as mundane as flossing one’s teeth is karma. The vipaka, or fruit, of flossing (particularly if that flossing is done regularly and well) is that of avoiding gingivitis. Better yet, commit the karma of regularly visiting your dentist. This type of karma is far-reaching and the results (vipaka), i.e., not losing all one’s teeth, are not necessarily immediate. This touches on the matter of different  types  of vipaka.

Sometimes, the results (vipaka) are immediate, and sometimes we don’t see those results (vipaka) for a very long time. Other types of karma bear almost instantaneous vipaka, whether good or bad. For example, when NYPD Officer Larry DePrimo bought a pair of leather boots for a man, and literally helped the man put them on his feet, he became, for a short while, the soul of the NYPD and the American public. He had no idea that his actions (karma) would be photographed and published all over the world. And then there are those individuals who commit murder (karma!) and never get caught (in  this  life, that is).

Consequently,the concept of karma begs the question of rebirth, even though one’s karma can manifest within just one lifetime, or even within five minutes of the karma committed. This seriously complicates the concept of rebirth, which is often viewed as mumbo-jumbo of the most primitive, pantheistic, and puerile kind. So, it’s worth taking a few minutes to consider that the law of karma is more akin to a law of nature, like gravity, or even more specifically, the law of conservation of energy. This law states:

“…energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only changed from one form into another or transferred from one object to another. This law is taught in physical science and physics classes in middle schools and high schools, and is used in those classes as well as in chemistry classes” (Your Dictionary.com).

And speaking of physics, interestingly enough, the differences between ‘energy transformation’ and ‘energy transfer’ have been used to describe the subtle differences some people make between rebirth and reincarnation, respectively. Additionally, the indestructible nature of energy, accepted as hard, scientific, even obvious fact, is also applicable to that energy known as “life.” For example, when a body breathes its last breath, where does that animating ‘energy’ “go?” If ‘life,’ itself, is a type of energy, and energy cannot be destroyed, is it so far-fetched to imagine that same energy being either transformed, transferred, redistributed, or redeployed? And even if you don’t believe in ‘rebirth’ or ‘reincarnation,’ does not some type of ‘transfer’ or ‘transformation’ take place when even a squirrel’s remains decay, merge with the soil, thus contributing to both the fertilization process and the growth and nourishment of other organisms? But that’s another post, isn’t it?

Namaste.

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Related Reading:

Well, we all know ‘Karma’ isn’t the bitch from The brooding architect (blog)

Our Mind Dictates Who We Are from Becoming Buddhist (blog)

Limitations and Expectations of Karma from Ayslyn’s Corner (blog)