How to hit the jackpot

8.5 mins read.

I do like this time of year – sitting in the Spring sunshine watching those moist bright green buds pop out hopefully from the skeleton trees. The seeds were clearly there all along, but now the conditions have come together for them to burgeon into the most beautiful flowers and leaves.

Carrying on from this article, Unlocking the power of intention.

These seeds remain dormant in our mind until the conditions for them to ripen occur, and then they produce their effect. In some cases, this can happen many lifetimes after the original action was performed. ~ Geshe Kelsang

Seeds ripen as sprouts sooner or later, with the assistance of some external conditions such as sunlight and moisture. Similarly, every time we intentionally do anything, we sow a seed in our field-like consciousness that later ripens as a crop-like experience when various conditions come together. If we have a kind intention, for example, this will ripen as a positive experience for us, such as receiving help. If we have an unkind intention, this will ripen as a suffering experience, such as receiving hostility.

We can sow the seeds for whatever beautiful healthy plants we want to ripen in our minds. We can also dig out the poisonous seeds with a bit of mental gardening – nothing is fixed.

(Those green buds also remind me of the ripening of everyone’s potential – most people just don’t realize yet what they have inside of them, how extraordinary they can be.)

Striking it lucky

It’s a good idea to nurture and feel happy about all the seeds you have sown already in this life and in previous lives – you did a lot of pretty awesome things just to be sitting here in this rare precious human life, for a start. You already hit the karmic jackpot.

And ever since you were born in this life, every moment of love where you have wished others to be happy, for example, has created the causes for so much happiness. As a matter of fact, our mental actions are hundreds of times more powerful than our physical and verbal actions. As an illustration of this, it is said that generating real love for all living beings for one moment creates more merit, or good karma, than feeding all living beings three meals a day. (Nothing to stop us loving people and feeding them, by the way.)

Or how many seeds of faith have we already sown in the Field of Merit (focusing on the vast assembly of enlightened beings), including just requesting their help? This opened our mind to blessings at the time and sowed the seeds for whatever it is we asked for.

Or those times we’ve thought about emptiness, the mere absence of all the things we normally see – just doubting inherent existence causes samsara to shake! Not to mention any time we may have done a Tantric sadhana, creating potent causes for the Pure Land.

Everything is continually growing and evolving, so who knows when all those good seeds we have already planted will ripen? Far from being fatalistic, understanding karma gives us agency. It gives us hope.

Life after life after life

Buddha gave detailed explanations through which we can understand the connection between our actions performed in previous lives, either virtuous or non-virtuous, and our experiences in this life, either happiness or suffering. ~ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

If we understand this natural law we can use it to our advantage and gain full control of our actions and lives. If we don’t, we keep being swept along by the winds of karma as helplessly as a leaf in a typhoon.

Buddha understood and explained how our intentions and their resultant experiences don’t just play out over one lifetime and in one world. This body you are sitting in is not the only body you have ever had or will have, nor is this the only life. We’ve already had countless dreamlike bodies and lives and will be having countless more. As Voltaire put it:

It is not more surprising to be born twice than once.

(Talking of which, a friend recently recommended a Netflix documentary called Surviving Death, especially Episode 1 ‘Near Death Experiences’ and Episode 6 ‘Reincarnation’. I just watched a bit so far but you might find it interesting.)

Yesterday has gone. Tomorrow has not yet been born. Today, moment by moment, is appearing from the ripening of potentials in my mind. We are not moving around in a real or permanent world — nothing is actually out there or static, instead life is momentarily unfurling like a dream. What comes up for me today has less to do with what I do today than what I did in the past. What I do today, meantime, is creating the causes for all manner of future experiences.

A few days ago, I, in Denver, was chatting to a Brazilian friend in the UK, when another American friend just happened to walk past and I just happened on a whim to introduce them — maybe because they sort of remind me of each other and are both passionate about animals. One of them enquired about the other’s last name, the same as her mother’s unusual maiden name; and it turns out that their families come from the same small village of Ganci in Sicily. What are the chances?! It is no coincidence — simply the ripening of collective karma to be in the right place at the right time to meet a long-lost cousin.

All living beings have been our mothers, for that matter. Below the surface where we usually hang out, there is an infinite web of karmic relationships. We often deny ourselves that depth, richness, and connection in our lives, but it’s there.

Everyone is unique

Most humans already have a general sense of karma; it makes intuitive sense that what we put out there should come back to us sooner or later. Buddhists believe that our karma plays itself out over many lifetimes, but we can also see instances of karma operating within one lifetime.

The law of karma explains why each individual has a unique mental disposition, a unique physical appearance, and unique experiences. These are the various effects of the countless actions that each individual has performed in the past. We cannot find any two people who have created exactly the same history of actions throughout their past lives, and so we cannot find two people with identical states of mind, identical experiences, or identical physical appearances. ~ How to Transform Your Life 

Each of us is unique, like snowflakes. Even identical twins who have the same nature and moreorless the same nurture still have their own experiences, personalities, tendencies, and life spans — a unique and complex summation of their individual and collective karma. Despite all the same caregivers, genes, education, toys, parental love, etc — ie, even with all else being equal — they can and generally do end up being completely different. Karma also goes deeper and explains why two people are born as twins in the first place.

Geshe Kelsang gives the example of two siblings going into business. They have the same education and resources and do the same things, but one becomes wealthy and the other goes bankrupt. What accounts for this? Nothing external.

Luck and bad luck are descriptions, not explanations. The explanation is that one sibling previously created the causes of wealth—giving—and the other created the causes of poverty—stealing or miserliness. They created a different set of actions, so they had different karmic effects.

(This doesn’t mean that the bankrupt sibling hasn’t also planted the seeds for wealth and vice versa – they may well have, it’s just that these have not yet ripened.)

We know things are not really handed to us on a plate for no reason, so what is that reason?! What we believe it is will determine what we do with our lives. As Venerable Geshe Kelsang says in Ocean of Nectar:

If our enjoyments were the result of this life’s endeavors alone, anyone who strove to became rich would succeed; yet there are many people who work hard at business with no success, while there are others who seem to accumulate wealth with almost no effort. This is because wealth is the result of giving in former lives.

We read this and maybe we even think we believe it, but the proof is in the pudding – do we act according to it? How much time do we (do I) spend putting effort into gathering external conditions for success compared with the internal conditions for success, such as giving? Today, for example – did I just push on through trying to fix everything on the outside with uncertain results, or was I mindful of my intentions and where these were certainly leading me?

Each person has a different individual karma. Some people enjoy good health while others are constantly ill. Some people are seen as very beautiful while others are seen as very ugly. Some people have a happy disposition that is easily pleased while others have a sour disposition and are rarely delighted by anything. Some people easily understand the meaning of spiritual teachings while others find them difficult and obscure. ~ How to Transform Your Life

I’ve heard people say things like, “I had a karmic thing happen once! I stole a lollipop and …” Or “It was karma, meeting that love of my life!” Yes, it was. But so is everything else. Karma affects every part of our life all the time.

Just so you know, I am laying some groundwork in these first few articles on karma, and then I intend to apply this basic understanding to different areas in our life and spiritual practice, and answer some common questions. That’s the plan, anyway!

Meantime, over to you ~ I would love to have your comments and questions in the box below 🙂

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Beneficial believing

To carry on from here, I want to add that conventional reality is not just a question of agreeing with each other. There is no safety in numbers. I was just reading about the odd phenomenon of presumptive nominee Trump:

The internet creates a sense of universality; it’s easy to think your bubble is more representative than it actually is. Facebook curates our feeds so we get more of the stuff we ‘like.’ What do we ‘like’? People and posts that agree with us. It’s sort of a mass delusion. ~ The Week

hallucination 1We can all be wrong about something and agree; in fact we often are. So my point about conventional reality being collective hallucination in the last article only goes that way around – collective hallucination is not necessarily conventional reality, it can just be sheer madness with no basis in any reality. For we are hallucinating both conventional truths and non-existents.

No dream, no dreamer

It is so helpful to use our dreams to delve into reality, as explained here. Geshe Kelsang gives this beautiful verse in The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra:

All my appearances in dreams teach me
That all my appearances when awake do not exist;
Thus for me all my dream appearances
Are the supreme instructions of my Guru.

I often think too, when I wake up and the dream has disappeared, the dream has gone and so has the dreamer. If there was never a real dream, where was the real dreamer? So where is the I who is now awake also? Dream minds, people (including ourself), and objects are all created by the self-grasping dream mind. Waking minds, people, and objects are all created by the self-grasping waking mind.

Beneficial believing

Understanding lack of true existence is the wisdom realizing emptiness and it will set us free from samsara permanently. However, although a direct loverealization of emptiness is our goal, we also need to learn what to do with appearances for our own and others’ sake. Eventually we will come to see appearances and emptiness (lack of true existence) as one object, at which point those appearances are no longer technically conventional truths, but ultimate truth.

Ultimate truth appearing.

So, meanwhile, until we realize this union of appearance and reality directly, how are we to navigate through the false appearances, the hallucinations, and make our lives meaningful?

I think through “beneficial believing,” as Geshe Kelsang has called it — believing things not because they are true from their own side, but because they are beneficial and will lead us in the right direction. This includes toward the one and only true object, the only truth that exists in the way that it appears — emptiness or lack of true existence — realized by our very subtle mind, the clear light of bliss.

(By the way, even ultimate truth is not ultimately true – even emptiness is empty of inherent existence.)

Buddha’s teachings are divided into two: the instructions for directly realizing emptiness (wisdom practices) and everything else (method practices). Method practices such as renunciation and compassion do not apprehend ultimate truth directly, but they do apprehend the best of the conventional or relative truths, and they lead us to relative happiness, including the requisite merit or good karma for developing the Form Body of a Buddha. Method practices nurture the growth of our Buddha nature and wisdom practices free it from obstructions.

Fulfilling our two basic wishes

To reiterate, as Geshe Kelsang says in Modern Buddhism:

All conventional truths are false objects because the way they appear and the way they exist do not correspond. ~ p. 129

bear quiz
This may help me, relatively, up the mountain.
In other words, conventional truths are all fake. However, some conventional truths are more useful than others; so those are the ones we need to focus on to go in the direction we want to go in. Which is? We all want to be happy all the time, and we never want to suffer. Anything that takes us toward the fulfillment of those wishes can be described as beneficial believing, or even wisdom.

For example, although neither me nor you exist from our own sides and are creations of self-grasping, understanding the equality and interdependence of ourselves and all other living beings (as explained in the mind-training teachings) is far more realistic and valid, and therefore beneficial, than grasping onto an isolated or inherently existent self and other. These do not exist even relatively, do not appear to any valid mind; for no one in the universe can agree, for example, that I am the only real me.

Here is an example.

“I don’t understand it!”

If we ever wonder why we get so confused in our dealings with others, we need look no further than the fact we are all hallucinating and not all our hallucinations match up. A sad friend told me this week that someone broke up with them and they can’t understand it — they were sure they were getting on so well and that the other person really liked them too. And according to them that felt like the truth; but according to their ex-lover it did not. So where did that truth exist? Did it exist at all?

Unlike a chair that we are agreed we can sit on, what was appearing so vividly to their attachment never existed. All they had was their own version of events, total projection, and in this instance no shared reality. The ex-lover’s apparent truth, that this person was no longer love 1interesting or whatever, was also not objective but a mere reflection of her own mind. In this instance, these reflections did not coincide. Their perceptions were not in agreement, in fact they clashed, and so pain arose. It’s happening all the time with all of us.

When we manage to let go of our delusion of attachment for people, all we are losing is our illusions. Letting go of illusion, we are now free to experience a totally different and more realistic relationship. It seems that the best “truth” to be salvaged from these kinds of situation is love and compassion recognizing our equality and interdependence and wishing the other person to be happy and free. That mind is valid, for its object does have a relative truth to it. And it fulfills our basic wish, it makes us happy again.

More coming soon. Meantime, your comments are most welcome! Just use the box below 🙂

A storm on Belleair Beach

When I first met Phyllis Kalinowski, she was already dead.

She had a hole above her left eye, where she had just been struck by lightning.

And, lightning notwithstanding, I had just been intending to stroll along that beach and swim in that ocean. Instead, I crouched by her and did transference of consciousness (powa) until the first responders arrived. Phyllis Kalinowski struck by lightning

This is a beach I have never been on before. It was several miles from where I normally swim. We only chanced upon it because there was a big storm. When we were walking onto our normal beach, everyone else was walking off it, even though it wasn’t raining yet; and two women warned us rather sternly: “Don’t go out there.” So we didn’t, as they seemed to us like Tara. But still we felt strangely impelled to drive around looking for another beach, and it looked a bit less dark and thunderous further south.

You can probably tell from my wandering around in a storm that I always assumed the whole “you can get struck by lightning” thing was grossly exaggerated. But, as one of the first responders told me:

“It happens all the time around here.”

The most dangerous time is before the rain starts – once you’re wet, the lightning apparently glances off you.

Nowhere is safe. Phyllis was feet away from the idyllic Gulf of Mexico where, like us, she clearly thought she could get away with a stroll. She wasn’t yet headed toward shelter – and she unfortunately happened to be the highest lightning conductor on the beach. She had fallen flat on her face. Her friend, finding her like that, turned her over onto her back. Then, I imagine, her friend screamed – and when we first saw her she was hurrying away as fast as she could, wailing. She was being comforted by an older stranger, and I was wondering at the incongruity of someone dressed in a swimsuit on a beautiful beach being this stricken. Why did she go to the beach in the first place if she was this distraught? And, if something had upset her since she got to the beach, what could it possibly have been? Seeing us approach, she said in an odd echo, “You don’t want to go down there!”, but then said not another word as the woman led her away.

We expected to see something as we walked over the sand bank, but we were not expecting Phyllis. Another stranger, a man, had offered to guard the body while waiting for the first responders. He looked very uncomfortable and stood at some distance away. Other than that, no one else was on the beach. I felt very sorry for Phyllis – her friend was hysterical and this man clearly didn’t want to be there. She needed some peace around her, so we went close to her to meditate and pray.

Her arms and hands were flung out, relaxed. Despite the big hole in it, her face did not look scared. It must have been instant death. Mysteriously, her sunglasses had not fallen off. This did not look like someone asleep though. Her consciousness had clearly departed, hopefully through her upper chakras, leaving just her flesh. There is literally all the difference in the world between a dead body and a live one. I could tell from her face that she was not much older than me. According to the news reports the following day, she was 51. Her body had strong tan lines so I assumed she was a Florida native – it turned out she came from Brandon and had gone to the beach that day with her old friend to shell and swim.

Phyllis 2
These guys came after the first responders to take the body away.

The flashing lights and sirens heralded the approach of the first responders. They felt her pulse, nothing. She was already cool to the touch. They opened her eyelids, and her eyes “looking” at me were hazel brown and quite, quite unseeing. They cut her swimsuit off, with a view to restarting her heart. This is nothing she was expecting when she woke up that morning. It was nothing she was expecting even twenty minutes earlier. The indignity of her flesh, cherished and guarded throughout her life, now laid bare; I looked away then. Their efforts did no good anyway, she was still dead. They covered her with a yellow plastic sheet. Professional, swift — they were used to dead bodies, this much was clear, though a couple of the younger paramedics couldn’t disguise a look of surprise when they first saw her wound. 

Karma strikes again

Phyllis and us had the karma to be on that beach at (almost) the same time. How did we come to this moment? We clearly had some connection with her—strange, fleeting, but hopefully helpful as it led to a transference of consciousness and many prayers being made. When and how did we meet in the past? How did she create the causes to have so many Buddhists praying for her?

According to all the papers and news shows, Phyllis was a great person. “She was just wonderful, she was so giving to everybody’. “Those who knew the wife and mother of two described her as an energetic, outgoing and compassionate woman.”

Do you ever wonder why we have chance meetings, and what is their meaning? How many people are there in our karmic circle, whom we share life with every day – 5, 10, 20, 100? How many family members, friends, and colleagues? Then how many millions of people do we meet for one minute or two minutes during the course of our lives, nodding at each other on the street, or having a momentary conversation about something that may or may not be meaningful to both of us? Yet at the same time we have entwined karma and a deep connection with each one of them, dating back lifetimes.

Our meetings, however brief, need never be superficial or insignificant. There is always something positive we can do with our mind when others cross our path. As P said on Tuesday, as we watched the people walk by in Liverpool One, “People-watching is so meaningful if you use Dharma!” There is a beautiful verse in Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:

Therefore, in whatever I do,
I will never cause harm to others;
And whenever anyone encounters me,
May it never be meaningless for them.

I am so sad for Phyllis and her family and friends, but I am glad we were there that surreal day. She helped me deepen my experience of the truth of Dharma and I hope, thanks to the Buddhas and other friends, that I was of some use to her.

Brief encounters

A lot of people saw my Facebook posting about Phyllis and were praying for her even before her strange death hit the news the following morning.

Oscar the kitten in Kadampa LifeThat same evening, my first foster kitten Oscar died of FIP, just over a year old. I coincidentally had the chance to say goodbye to him when I arrived at Orlando airport a week earlier, as his mum and dad live nearby. Oscar was a beautiful little fellow inside and out and no cat could ever want a more perfect, loving home, so it was very sad. Oscar however created the causes for many Facebook friends to care and pray for him too. 

A few days later, Dianne Elliott also died, of a heart attack that was not unexpected given years of poor health, but sudden nonetheless. Dianne was a long-term Buddhist practitioner and a beloved woman, and her funeral (in Barrow last Wednesday) was by far the best one I have ever been to. Although she will be very missed, I think we all felt she had gone to the Pure Land, in keeping with her foremost and most constant wish:

At my deathtime may the Protectors, Heroes, Heroines, and so forth,
Bearing flowers, parasols, and victory banners,
And offering the sweet music of cymbals and so forth,
Lead me to the Land of the Dakinis. ~ Quick Path to Great Bliss

DianneI first met Dianne in Florida too, but we go back many years and share many experiences and good friends, and so the connection is clear. The day before her death, oddly enough, I had ridden her old bicycle and driven past her old apartment, and was thinking of her. I heard the news by text message, but most people heard about her death within hours of it being posted on Facebook, and powas and prayers were made for her worldwide.

A week later, little Losang Tenpa died. Although he had spent his whole short life in Nepal and India, there were hundreds of Westerners who loved him, rooted for him, and prayed for him. All this also through the collective karma of Facebook, where big Losang Tenpa posted moving accounts of the last few hopeful, heroic months and then his sudden, tragic passing. Good article about it here, on the Heart of Compassion blog. 

Collective karma

Facebook seems to have increased the number of daily encounters we can make — friends of friends, or friends of friends of friends, or the people (including animals) whom we are asked to help and pray for every day… (It seems everyone can have their fifteen minutes of fame thanks to Facebook…)

All in all I find that Facebook can be pretty meaningful–or as meaningful as I want it to be–if I log on to increase my love, Losang Tenpacompassion, and sense of connectedness with a wide world web of living beings. Though it can of course be a huge exercise in distraction, it seems in some ways to be the result of good collective speech karma. Dianne’s husband said he felt a bit strange about announcing his wife’s death on Facebook, but the fact is he knew it would do the trick. When I die, I hope to have the good karma to be posted on Facebook too. It is through Facebook, after all, that thousands of people were able to tune in and make strong prayers for Dianne, Phyllis, little Tenpa, and Oscar, within short days or even just hours of their unscheduled departures from this life.

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