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Dharma and Karma

Updated: Apr 27, 2021

Dharma is the name given to the vast body of teachings of Buddha, but it is more fundamentally the Buddha’s recipe for the cessation of suffering, the essence of which is contained in what are called The Four Noble Truths:

  1. Life involves suffering.

  2. There is a cause to all suffering.

  3. Suffering can cease.

  4. There is a way to be free of suffering.

Looking at the first statement: life involves suffering. There’s no way around it, nor out of it, and understand that suffering includes both pleasure and its flip side pain. This may sound pessimistic but understanding and accepting this truth is the first step towards freedom from being bound to the eternal cycle of change which the Buddha of our age called the Wheel of Life.

A wheel in a historical site mounted on a wall covered with ancient engravings.
Wheel - Photo by Navneet Shanu from Pexels

At the hub of this wheel are the three culprits that keep it spinning: ignorance, fear, and desire. Ignorance is the illusion of separateness, also called duality, which engenders fear of that which threatens the separate “me,” and its complement desire – which at a primitive stage is motivated by comfort and develops into attachment- holding on to what “me” has acquired. This in turn reinforces the illusion of separateness, and on and on we go. “Spinning wheel goes round and round...” The Buddhists believe that this cycle is not limited to one individual lifecycle but is part of a greater cycle or chain of cause and effect called karma. This makes sense if we examine the nature of karma.

Karma is the ever-unfinished business of the universe. As such, the complex web of cause and effect has no beginning and no end. It is a merry-go-round that one cannot step off of. Just as in the space that we perceive or conceive as “outside” ourselves, beyond the orbit of our own planet, there are not only other planets and moons orbiting, there are also infinite galaxies “outside” our own, also subject to the powers of attraction and repulsion that modify their manifestations. So if I step off one merry-go-round, I find myself on another. Nor can I can I step off the merry-go-rounds within. My very body is composed or held together by the powers of attraction and repulsion of the interacting systems of my own physiology, and that doesn’t stop at the molecular level where the atoms and their orbiting electrons attract and bounce off each other in their electronic symphony. The micro universe is just as infinite as the macro universe. So, even if I were to attempt to willingly or spontaneously astrally project myself outside my body, this planet, or beyond, where would I end up? Furthermore, even the dis-embodied mind that is experiencing the projection is still subject to the laws of cause and effect.

Can we change or control our karma ?

Yes and no ! No perceptible phenomenon, whether during our individual life, before it or after, occurs outside the realm of cause and effect. Karma is governed by the same laws. As individuals we participate in the modifications of our karma but the universe is a big and multi-dimensional place and time, with infinite variables affecting one another, so ultimately I cannot control my karma as a separate self. However, I also believe that there is a force beyond my individual mind’s capacity to comprehend that complements my efforts called grace. Grace is usually associated with benevolent salvation, but as individuals, we are not equipped to judge what is good or bad in the greater picture. The complement to receiving grace is our effort: thinking, speaking, and acting with faith, and faith is my lifebuoy in this turbulent sea of existence without which, I cannot imagine handling life. Having faith appears as my choice but it is always accompanied by a “Thank God”, or a “Thy will be done”! It would appear that faith itself is grace-given, otherwise why do so many seem to be lacking in it? That being said, I doubt that anyone alive is without some measure of it, otherwise one could not even cross the street on a green light! However small, like the biblical metaphor of a mustard seed, faith will grow when nourished. Perhaps one could say that faith is applied grace. The Bible says “God helps those that help themselves.” Upon his enlightenment Buddha said “I alone am responsible.” Now this is where some get hung up. If one reads “responsible” as guilty, and thereby interprets karma to be punishment for one’s sins, then one also tends to reject the concept of karma as depressing news to be filed away in the category of deluded religious dogma. The fact that I alone am responsible is actually great news! It means that my salvation, or freedom from suffering is not dependant on a powerful being outside myself but lies within me! The original definition of sin is to miss the mark. The mark, or bull’s eye, whether you call it God, or Buddha, or whatever you call the all-pervading and ever-present, is not outside of me, it is me (and you!), the true “I,” the bull’s “I”.

Be still, and know that I am God

Where should one aim to find this “Bull’s eye(I)” ? At the centre, of course – the centre of one’s being, the centre of the wheel of life. One cannot step off the spinning wheel but one can find cessation of suffering where stillness abides, in the eye(I) of the storm. When we meditate, and turn our attention within, focussing on the coming and going of the intimate process of our breath, without attachment to the appearance of thoughts, feelings and sensations, we find the mark – the seat of our being, our eternal Home, that has no address nor date of birth or death. The Bible describes it beautifully: Be still and know that I am God. One can translate this as: Be still and know your Self, your indivisible true nature. This is the One “place” where the changing tides of karma hold no sway. In the presence of Oneness, there is no separation between self and other, here and there, before and after, and no cause and effect.

There is more than one way to meditate, and more than one way to discover one’s still centre. I will share with you one that I find to be effective in a future article called The Breath of Non-Attachment.

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