Tag Archives: karma

Three Things Spiritual People Do Differently

1. They See Themselves as Part of the Cause

I remember the Dalai Lama once speaking about Saddam Hussein…how every body blamed him, alone. The reality is, he explained, that without his army, his warfare, his ready militia and unquestioned support among the populace, his capacity to do harm would have been all but nonexistent. In Buddhism, this willingness to see the interconnected causal web underneath the facade, is called deeply looking.

To bring this home, to the everyday, it would be the moment when you ask, how am I contributing to the situation? How did my action or lack of action play a role in the development of this dispute or occurrence? 

2. They See Themselves as a Witness 

I have heard it said that this one skill is the defining criterion of a spiritual life. Not unlike #1, seeing yourself as a witness develops as you begin to shift your focus from finding solutions on the outside, to finding solutions on the inside.

This is what meditation prepares us for—watching ourselves.

Every time you sit, without reacting, you strengthen your capacity to avoid “taking the bait.” Without analyzing, condemning yourself, or getting involved with the passing parade of emotions, you begin to see the whole thing for what it really is…just neurotic bursts of inner dialogue. And eventually, you find yourself able to bring space around the fear, the anger, the doubt, rather than acting on it.

3. They Take the Lesson 

My teacher, Guru Singh, uses the analogy of the postal person. While we may find ourselves resentful of some irksome situation in our lives, perhaps one involving a partner, neighbor or workmate, the energy we spend trying to make them realize how wrong they are will be totally wasted until we figure out what it is we’re supposed to learn from the whole thing. The mailman won’t go away until we’ve signed for the letter!

This too, is not unlike #1, in that the external blame only serves to keep us blinded to our own role in life’s deep interconnected relationships. We are all karmically linked, which is only to say that we affect one another in myriad countable and uncountable ways. The awareness that develops out of a spiritual practice brings us more in touch with this causal dependency.

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Reconciling Free Will with Destiny (and how about fate?)

free-willIt’s hard to imagine Pavarotti or Maria Callas not ending up as singers. It’s as if they came to uplift, inspire, heal and delight the world with their voices. Each soul is incarnated to fulfill its destiny, according to Yogic philosophy, and when we awaken to that purpose, we are living according to our destiny.

A poetic expression of this idea is found in this passage:

Your mission is to vibrate higher in your vessel so you awaken completely to your sacred purpose. ~Dror B. Ashuah

This awakening is the key to our sense of fulfillment. But it is a huge challenge in a society, which would tempt us, left and right, to seek fulfillment from external sources and all things pinned to appearance—from the allure of a sexy body to the amusement of a new gadget, to the promises of the perfect dream vacation. Profit is made by keeping us trapped in a cycle of codependency and separateness. The tragedy is that we are kept from our own inner power. The result is a never-ending cycle of unrecognized addictions of every sort, in which, fueled by a vague neediness, we go on supporting this infrastructure—a mega-system that thrives on our insecurities.

How can we wake up from this codependency and align ourselves with our destiny? This wisdom, this sense of knowing is already within. It is the little spark of light that shines forth from within. But because the fog of our emotions and obsessions is so thick, we often miss it. But when we pause for a moment to let the fog settle, we find it. And we delight in its warmth. And sometimes we summon the courage to trust that light and let it guide us along our path.

Where does free will fit into this?

The minute we come to center, we find ourselves nourished. Like drinking from the nectar of our own internal fountain of bliss, we feel full. Those things on the outside seem to lose their appeal. We realize that what we tend to call free will, is but a confused mix of desires shaped by others and meant to mask insecurities. We have taken the reins of our life. But this requires the choice to wake up from those things that have held us hostage for too long—the things on the inside, like unhealthy emotions and insecurities, as well as the things that keep us wobbling around on the outside. As soon as we stop believing that there’s a quick fix “out there” in the world of pills and thrills, we begin to take steps on our true path. And we begin to resist those things that take us off our path. This is the beginning of waking up.

So, what is fate?

Fate, according to Yogic wisdom, is the black hole of other people’s opinions and ideas. It is the nowhere land, in which we get lost in the web of expectations and pressures set by others, be it society, parents, or personal delusion. These pressures drown out the voice of the spirit and over-ride our own sense of self-authority and purpose.

Every time we come to center, we have made a choice. We have honored our commitment to align with our sense of purpose. This is free will.

Walking our path, guided by our ever-brightening inner light, we encounter our karma (which doesn’t mean punishment). Think of karma as the residue of our actions, either in the here and now or in the here to fore. It is everything we have inherited, assumed, absorbed and adopted—from our DNA, to our zodiac sign, to our first kiss, to our first break up. It’s the record of all the patterns and habits that are embedded in our mental, physical and psychological selves, right down to our very cells. Why bother about it? Because that which would transform has first to be exposed.

And this process of transformation is strengthened by our moment-to-moment commitment and through the tools of practice—which we may call “spiritual,” since the desire to come back to center and to wholeness is a spiritual one. These tools include, but are not limited to, the uplifting presence of community, meditation, movement, and especially, intention.

Waxing philosophical.

Am I, as the western philosophers would say, pre-supposing the existence of free will? To that, I extend a brief summary of Sartre’s position, that as conscious beings, we are innately free. Where I differ (and where I differ from my earlier position, as expressed in my book, Buddha in the Classroom), is on how this relates to destiny. Diehard existentialists, like Sartre, reject any suggestion of a deterministic universe, one which would open up a world of easy excuses that render us helpless, like puppets on the strings of our inherited tendencies. Typical of the western tendency to polarize beyond repair (and even more typical of an existentialist like Sartre, who was allergic to any species of God-talk), destiny and free will are seen as irreconcilable.

But, what if we instead, look upon destiny as a flexible journey, in which my will and God’s will (or universal will…or divine will) are one and in sync?

To be clear, free will, as it is typically defined, is the ability to choose from among genuine alternatives. In the world of eastern mysticism, we go further here, too; while existential freedom describes our conscious choosing, the Yogis were more interested in our state of consciousness, itself.

The difference is subtle but immense, since it is our state of consciousness that structures what we see as choices, in the first place. What most people think of as freely choosing is nothing more than habit patterns and uncontrollable desires for things that aren’t necessarily good for us. The more conscious we are, the more inclined we will be to investigate those ingrained tendencies (what the Yogis call samskaras), and the more adept we will be to change what we can and reconcile ourselves lovingly with those we can’t. This happens through those Yogic tools and through all meditative practices, which temper our reactive mind while taming the twin dragons; fear and anger.

Ultimately, the more conscious we are, the more freedom we have.

The Brahmin and the Cobbler (A Story of Enlightenment)

Here is an old story from Indian lore. It takes for granted the spiritual expectation, in Vedic philosophy, that with good karma and spiritual advancement, we may gratefully escape samsara, the seemingly endless cycle of birth and death that keeps us trapped in the torment of our own karma and misery. It also takes for granted the assumption that the Brahmins—the high-caste priests—would have earned the privilege of liberation first. But watch for the twist! Here, The God of time, Narayan—another name for Lord Vishnu—offers a surprising decree. I am retelling the story as I remember it.

—   —   —   —

Once on a sunny day near the Ganges, a Brahmin priest, who had just finished his oblations, came across Narada, the messenger of the Gods. After bowing deeply in respect, the Brahmin took the liberty of asking the divine sage for a favor:

Brahmin priest: “Could you be so kind as to ask the supreme Lord, Narayan, when I’m going to be liberated from this world and joined with him in holy bliss? I know it will be soon because of my station, and all, but I would just like to know, all the same.”

Narada: “No problem, my sir. I’ll ask when I see him.”

Further along down the river, a lowly cobbler, fixing shoes by the wayside, also stopped Narada, as he was passing through, and chanced to approach the great emissary:

Cobbler: “Could I appeal to your kindness by asking you to speak to the great God on my behalf?”

Narada: “I’d be happy to.”

Cobbler: “You see, I’m growing more weary each year, and I’d just like to know how many more lifetimes I am doomed to suffer in this material world?”

Narada: “I’ll be sure to pass on your message.”

And Narada continued on, passing seamlessly through to the spiritual world. When he saw the great Lord Narayan, he bowed to his feet, as is the custom in approaching great spiritual masters. The Lord then asked if there was anything he could do for Narada, who proceeded to put forth the concerns of both the priest and the cobbler.

As Lord Narayan can see through the barriers of time, and into eternity, he thus knows all. With a brief pause, he informed Narada of the destiny of his supplicants:

Lord Narayan: “The cobbler will come to me at the end of this present lifetime. But the Brahmin will live through at least 100 more lifetimes.”

Seeing the confused look on Narada’s face, the Lord only smiled and gave these instructions:

Lord Narayan: “Next time you see the cobbler and the priest, they will ask you what I was doing when you saw me. Tell them I was threading an elephant through the eye of a needle. When you see their reactions to this, you will then understand everything.”

So, Narada went on his way. The first man he saw was the Brahmin, who was shocked and insulted by the news:

Brahmin priest: “A hundred rebirths in this hell! I don’t believe it! You probably didn’t even see the Lord! Tell me, what he doing when you saw him?”

Narada: “Threading an elephant through the eye of a needle.”

Brahmin Priest: “Threading an elephant through the eye of a needle? That’s totally absurd! You must be lying about everything!”

So, Narada excused himself and pressed on until he found the cobbler. He gave him the news that he would soon be liberated and would be joining the realm of the Lord at the end of this lifetime, at which point the peasant exclaimed in joy:

Cobbler: “Oh, what blessed and glorious news! But, alas, tell me my good sir, what was the Lord doing when you saw him?”

Narada: “He was threading an elephant through the eye of a needle.”

Cobbler: “Lovely. Absolutely lovely.”

Narada: “You mean, you believe that?”

Cobbler: “Why, sure! You see that huge old oak tree up the hill? It grew from a tiny acorn. So, if the Lord can squeeze a gigantic oak tree into a little seed like that, He can just as easily thread an elephant through the eye of a needle.”

And with that, Narada understood the difference between the priest and the cobbler, as well as why the priest was not yet ready for liberation.