A great living teacher, Judith Simmer-Brown, has a deep knowledge she expounds quickly. Luckily for us students she writes on the board a lot. I am furiously taking notes before she fills the board and erases it and starts again. One day in Turning the Wheel of the Dharma class she wrote something like this on the board. I have never seen anything like it. It’s the only thing on the board and it stays up for an hour. I like the idea of a Dharma formula. And I like to rest my pen and ponder.
Karma + Intention= Results
Karma means action, activity. And we know how actions cause consequences. What goes up—
We know people who believe only in what they call karma. It’s my karma, or this is a karmic relationship, I hear them say. They mean, it’s the way it goes and it goes that way. It comes from long ago and there ain’t nothin’ I can do about it.
A student in a yoga class of mine at Naropa wrote about karma. He said if he believed in karma Old Yeller would have lived to a ripe old age (written by Fred Gibson). Bad things happen to good people (and dogs). Another student wrote about people born into intensely brutal places, situations, or poverty. If we look at karma alone it seems like we are blamed somehow. Where’s the justice in that?
You can read all about the five types of karma and “laws” of karma with the touch of a google finger.* It’s not personal or particularly private. That’s how it rolls. On the other hand karma can be intimate. I can’t get off the hook by remaining silent when I see injustice or by thinking emptiness will somehow wash away all my problems. I am responsible for my actions now. The Dalai Lama famously said that cause and effect is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING to understand. I’ve heard Zen Master Kobun Chino ask a student, What is more important, the practice of Zen or kindness? Of course the answer was kindness. Seems like emptiness is taking second place. Hummm. Doesn’t realizing that our nature is that we are together help us be kind. It’s all linked, right?
… Complex. Isn’t it?
Then, I know people who say, express your intention and it will be so. This is said from a seat of privilege. I am thinking of a film where the intention advocate is seated on a nice couch (maybe purple, with gold colored cushions) in a library overlooking the ocean and he says it’s all about intention and that you can have what you want. This view implies a life with no karma. What about when it doesn’t work? Those oppressed, who have not had opportunities. What about women, or people of color or LBGTQI community or children of poverty, or differently abled people or old people or brown or African American people and the trauma that comes with being treated as if invisible or abused, neglected, banished, marginalized? We know that we don’t all start from the same patch of ground. What about the karma of a place, a country?
I am very innocent on this trajectory somehow. I am groping in the twilight and then there is a thought—I offer my practice, I send love to someone and my heart feels open. Intention is a hugely powerful thing though, Intention changes how I feel, what I do.
Wait, Does this imply that time is linear? Or that time is real? Is this even about time?
WHAT ABOUT CHANCE?
I can’t measure how much my actions affect others— have no idea. No matter how hard I guess and think without blinking I can’t say exactly how my karma or intentions manifest.
Where is the freedom? Luck? (Unluck?) Transformation? What is my responsibility?
Here’s a practice Zen Master Kobun Chino told a group of us: While you lie in bed before sleep go over the day. Notice interactions. Try to find out places you could have acted more skillfully.
Here’s a practice that a Brahman teacher we call Acharya told a group of us: When you wake in the morning rest on your right side and look into your palms. Check in with how you feel as you do this. Then ask that your hands to be of benefit today, no matter what lands there.
As I write this fireworks are shooting up the sky. I like the celebration. I even like the decadence. When I was a kid, on a blanket at the fairgrounds I waited so long for the sky to finally get dark and then leaned into a parent, safely. The collective OH from the crowd, which I was a part of… It sounds like war today. It seems to harm the sky and my cat is worried. I wonder about the karma and intention. I pause for a moment, and as Judith Simmer–Brown has taught, I temporarily suspend my belief.
*for an in-depth article about karma with quotes from Buddha read this: www.buddhanet.net/t_karma.htm