I would like to share with our readers a response I gave to a question received on the EDIG website about the duel posting on Karma: Where The Ideal Meets The Real. The question was, “How does one keep positive thoughts when harmed by others?” Here is my answer:
One thing we must realize about karma is that it has no value until we give it value. Cause and effect is a universal reality and is pervasive in all things. Nothing is permanent, even happiness. The most we might experience is a sustained state of mind that is free from disharmony. But even that mind state has limits. It is not unreasonable to assume that bad things happen to good people. I am not speaking about natural events that is built into our human condition, such as illness, old age, and death.
It takes some practice to see situations separate form their causes, and eventual consequences. But neither thoughts or actions are without a cause. There is always a chain of causes. This starts effecting us before our birth and continues throughout our lives and even beyond our deaths. When we experience an event, either good or unpleasant, it is natural to ask questions. The what if game, or the blame game, or the why me game, or the thank-god game. This especially is what happens when we feel we have been harmed by others. It may seem more natural if something bad happens as an “act of nature.” But when it happens at the hand of others, we generally take it personally. And this is where our practice and a more enounced understanding of how our mind process events comes into Buddhist perspective. Especially relative to karmic consequences.
It is easy to say that our mind is up to its old tricks trying to justify, rationalize, and find ways to make ourselves feel better. The real question might be, “Who is harmed here?” Our everyday-mind (ego) answers me! Negative karma and positive karma are like seeds. If either are not planted in soil, will they ever grow? If they are planted in soil, but given no water, will they grow? What if they are planted in soil, given water, but never allowed light to reach them, will they grow? Karma is like seeds. Causal conditions must be just right in order for them to grow into effects. Without conditions they will never flourish. This is why we must always be sure to avoid creating conditions for negative karma to ripen, and instead create conditions only for good karma to grow. This is most important with our thoughts. If we identify, nourish, and expand harmful events, either real or perceived, we only continue to harm ourselves. Harm is a value we give to an event. Harm retards the feeling of happiness. When this happens, it growns into resentment and the chance that we will continue the harm by expanding it towards others. A process that if not checked at the very beginning of an unsatisfactory action, it could quickly get out of hand.
Do you know the problem here? To much thinking! Thinking about the past, especially going over bad things that have happened in our minds again and again, serves no purpose. It is completely useless mental activity. In fact, it is worse than useless, because it can only harm our happiness. This is not to mean we should never analyze perceived harmful events in a way to find lessons that adds to our wisdom-file. This is how a mature Buddhist practice develops insight. It is the uncontrolled thought constructions that holds on to the negative and labels them harmful. The mind which gets caught up in useless fantasy and projection is only a self-serving mechanism that has the potential of separating us from others, even if it is clothed with higher purpose. When we trip on something on our path we did not see coming, we pick ourselves up, maybe apply a band aid to a scratch, and keep walking. This accident will cause us to be more watchful. So it is a learning experience. This is the same with negative causes. We get up, fix the problem if necessary, and keep walking the path with renewed or additional experiences to add to our wisdom-bag. We do not hold on to them, we store our experiences for later reference if needed.
Out of every adversity is an equal or greater opportunity. It is up to us to see through the fog of negative thinking. It is hard not to think negatively about a harmful experience. It is that self generated negative thinking we need to abandon. Another’s harm is only momentary, self inflected negative emotions can last a life time. Live happy, live with compassion, live with maximum enjoyment, share with others, all these things will override the unhappy. It is not as important what people do to us, as it is what we do to ourselves that counts. Because it may effect how we treat others. Be a duck, let water roll off your back. When you learn to do that, the water will return to its source eventually. And that is how karma works, and quacks.
/\ David Xi-Ken Shi