This morning, a little mouse—probably more than one—got run over by our tractor. Please include these mice in your prayers today, as well as all the many seen and unseen animals that we accidentally, unintentionally, and so often run over with our various machines. Only those that are visible strike our hearts very much; but if you could see the invisible numbers of beings killed on the land, it is many times that. So light a few butterlamps dedicated to all of them and keep them in your prayers.
This is a good way to contemplate karma and the enormous powerlessness we have over our actions. However, when every action brings learning, we will begin to understand the importance of liberation in one lifetime.
Truthfully speaking, it is impossible to be in this realm of cyclic existence called “samsara” and not inflict harm on sentient beings—no matter how careful we are or how ethical our conduct is. It is impossible not to kill: walking kills, eating kills, breathing kills, just the functioning of the human body, even when immobile, inflicts enormous harm on sentient beings. Which brings us back to what the Buddha said: Short of absolute realization and liberation from the root causes of samsara, we can never give only happiness and the causes of happiness to sentient beings without harming them.
Understanding this will help you to understand the enormous amount of suffering in this world. It will also help you understand the importance of cutting the roots of ignorance: those causes, or conditions, that continuously revert back to habitual tendencies.
We cannot, however, only emphasize negative actions. The power of virtuous actions must also be recognized. Anything we do—even if it stems from the root poisons—may be transformed into a cause of virtue.
Transforming All Actions into Virtue
The death of this mouse, for example, could be looked at in a positive way. This death could lead to an understanding of birth, rebirth, and suffering. It could lead to an understanding of our inability to really help sentient beings. It could lead to an understanding of the uncontrolled state we live in. When we can’t even avoid killing a mouse, where is there any basis for ego to stand on? And how could ego be so proud as to imagine it’s in control of things? This death could lead to an understanding of how subject we are to ego’s falsity and arrogance—and to the causes, conditions, and rampantness of an untamed mind.
For the mouse, itself, this death may be a good thing. It may be its first encounter with Dharma. This mouse could have been born on the adjoining land, or in town, or across the street. Instead it just happened to be born on this particular spot, with the causes and conditions for becoming the basis of a Dharma discourse that enables more than a hundred people to better understand karma. That is a lot of karmic fruition.
Maybe this mouse was a bodhisattva, born for this particular activity. One never knows. It could have been the Buddha sitting in that field—because of which we’re talking about karma. If its death becomes the basis of a hundred practitioners understanding karma and having a moment of genuine compassion, what greater merit could a being accumulate?
One Never Knows
Will those of us endowed with a human existence ever meet with a time when we become the cause of a hundred human beings developing compassion and generosity? One never knows.
There is a story Patrul Rinpoche recounts in the Words of My Perfect Teacher about a pig who had just come out of a swamp and was running around a great stupa. As his muddy body rubbed up against the stupa, he accidentally sealed a crack in its wall. This is said to be the seed of his liberation and the beginning of his journey to enlightenment. So perhaps that mouse is in a better position than we are. One never knows.
We can appreciate this sentient being’s adverse circumstances, pain, and loss of life—but it’s a small thing to give up, if it leads to obtaining a precious human existence. Isn’t it?
After all, no matter how long this mouse might have lived, he or she would never have been able to obtain the wisdom of discrimination. Mice are very sweet and cute, but they cannot discern between what to cultivate and what to abandon. This life was cut short; but it has the brilliant quality of connecting to a path that truly results in a precious human existence. This is how progress is made.
This is how we have all progressed. How many times have we been born as a mouse or some other living being? Now, having gone through so many culminations and so much exhaustion, we have come to this state. And at this moment, we have a choice: Will our life be better than a mouse’s life or not?
We may sit in meditation, reciting our aspirations and dedications of merit for the mouse; we may wish for it to journey on to a life that is good and valuable and a real cause of rebirth in the human realm. But if we’re not aware of our own karma and actions, we may be worse off than the mouse. In our next life, we may be on the receiving end of the prayers of the mouse. That’s also possible.
Whichever way you look at it, one thing is for sure: when you understand karma and the power of karma, good and bad, you have no ground to stand on to defend any arrogance or ego—this ego that is so very insignificant, small, and not even really there. The fault begins and ends with you; the good also begins and ends with you.
We have to see the bigger picture. Feeling immense sorrow when sentient beings are killed is very good. We must have genuine compassion and sadness for sentient beings. On the other hand—besides sadness—there is not much we can do. Wallowing in sadness is unnecessary because it doesn’t lead anywhere. If we solidify sadness and are unable to let it go, ego is actually gratified by our holding on. And that is not helpful at all.
We have to ask, “What is possible? How can we actually transform something seemingly harmful or sad into something positive?” We can look at it in terms of Buddha activity.
Threefold Buddha Activity
The activity of the Buddhas is threefold: wisdom, compassion, and skillful means, or method. Every circumstance can be transformed into the path of bodhi by applying these three: What is the wisdom in it? What is the compassionate aspect? How can I use and transform it skillfully?
The only skillful means is the upaya that grows out of wisdom, recognition, and a compassionate heart that ensures our recognition is on the right path. This is the skill that can immediately transform every adverse, unfortunate, or negative circumstance into something good. This is something worth dying for. In a way, it’s worth having killed for.
Of course, nothing is ever “worth” killing for. What I’m saying is that—for example—having done some accidental deed, you could do something in memory of the being you killed. But instead of the memorial benches, statues, or gardens that people build, you could build something virtuous and continuous on this karma. Having given its life for this, the sentient being—and anyone connected to it—will benefit immensely.
If you have killed, you can immediately plant a seed, so this taking of life has a continuous fruition that benefits many people for generations to come.
If you encounter animals killed on the road, you could say, “May you quickly be reborn in a higher realm.” You might find yourself saying this many times just on one drive. But it is important to do this for the animals on the road or in the slaughterhouses.
In India, the slaughterhouses are quite open, so you can see the animals being killed. This can be very horrible. We usually don’t want to look at the bodies or see clearly that goriness or great sadness. But you should look carefully, so you see that death is not so beautiful. It is important that this trigger a seed in your mind.
This doesn’t mean you have to stop your car, get out, and poke the body to see all the gore. Just by seeing this sentient being you establish karma, and this karmic connection becomes a bridge between you. Then any wish that you generate actually has a path to walk upon.
This path, or bridge, connecting you and the sentient being is formed from your emotions and thoughts. The good thing about emotions is that these karmic habitual patterns are connected to grasping mind. And by grasping to this particular moment, your grasping actually becomes the cause for transforming the moment. Grasping becomes the karmic seed that connects your aspirations to that being. This is important.
This is why when someone passes away, we ask for something that we can connect with: a name, a picture, a date of birth or death, the position of their head, or their location. Then a picture can form in the mind, which connects us to the moment. This becomes the conduit, or bridge, for the aspirations and dedications to work. And that is very good.
In the Buddhist tradition, mantras must accompany our aspiration: OM MANI PADME HUM, or OM VAJRASATTVA AH, or the 100-syllable Vajrasattva mantra. It is not just our aspiration, alone, that brings the aspiration about; it is the power of our being. It is the knowing and the essence within us that bring our aspiration about. As ordinary beings, of course, we can only hope; as bodhisattvas, when we aspire to something, our aspirations have greater power and the fruition may be more or less swift. This is excellent. It is better than crying.
Every adverse circumstance can be made into something favorable. Not doing anything about negative karma adds fuel to it. We are all responsible for this. Who, for instance, invokes degenerate times? We invoke a degenerate time. We may not necessarily create it, but we certainly support it by not refuting it. Do we want such negative karma? I don’t think so. That would be a lot heavier than killing a mouse. That would be killing the understanding of absolute truth for generations of people.
So what can you do about this misunderstanding? How do you work through or against such negative karma, from a wisdom perspective?
The wisdom aspect recognizes false as false, untrue as untrue, impure as impure, and unvirtuous as unvirtuous. This is the discriminating aspect of wisdom. Recognizing this, the wisdom of discrimination must progress to the wisdom of dharmata.
If it just remains discriminating wisdom, we may again become biased and therefore critical. And criticism, again, plants seeds in all those who inadvertently join in. In this way many mother sentient beings—through no fault of their own—are dragged into a system in which they contribute to the flow of karma.
If you understand the subtleties of this, you can refrain from bias. You can try, instead, to transform the recognition of “fault” into the somewhat superior quality of wisdom, the wisdom of dharmata. How do you do this? How do you stabilize this so you don’t get stuck in criticalness? You just keep doing it!
The wisdom of discrimination plants the seed of the second quality of Buddha activity: compassion.
Compassion becomes the ground that permeates the wisdom of dharmata. Simply put, to generate compassion you realize: “This is the power of ignorance. It is ignorance that does not allow beings to understand the simplicity of truth, the truth of things as they should be.” Knowing how important it is to overcome ignorance, generate strengthened motivation. And knowing that the ignorance of others and the ignorance of oneself are not different, know “How easily I, too, succumb to ignorance.”
This shifts the blame to ignorance—and this becomes the inspiration for skillful means.
What are the methods that can avert, dissolve, transform, or transcend any negative situation? Whether it is the big picture we’re talking about here or some simple circumstance, what can we skillfully do?
Begin by remembering: “Oh, yes. My teacher told me that everything is actually a conceptual manifestation of my own mind.” Any fault is not so much the fault of appearances, as the fault of the one who views apparentness as “other.” The correction, therefore, must begin within you. When your mind frees itself of its immense covering, or veil, of ignorance, it becomes the building ground. Skillful means can then direct the mind toward intrinsic change and transformation.
This is what you can do and how you can begin. Blaming or finding fault with others doesn’t solve any problems. It is you who must simply change and intrinsically transcend. Then you become a better human being. By allowing the mind to be permeated with compassion, you become the foremost example of one who upholds the integrity and purity of the lineage and teachings. This, itself, is the key to liberating all sentient beings.
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