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karmarama

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A couple of days ago (see post of March 9) I mentioned four of the Five Remembrances that are part of Buddhist teaching. Here’s the fifth: 

My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

To me it speaks of karma, a Hindu concepts carried over into Buddhism, which states that ‘for every event that occurs, there will follow another event whose existence was caused by the first, and this second event will be pleasant or unpleasant according as its cause was skillful or unskillful’ (Law of karma). This is akin to the principle of causality in the Western philosophical tradition, stretching back at least to Aristotle, whereby one event (effect) occurs as a result of another (cause).

What I like about it (if “like” is the right word) is that it places the onus for my conduct squarely in my court. Before I act on my thoughts and feelings (before I “react”) there is, apparently, a moment of decision-making. During that time, I’m able to weigh the consequences of my actions.

Not always as formulaic as it sounds! For instance, anger (one of the Three Poisons, along with greed and ignorance) inevitably gets me into trouble as I skip over the moment of decision-making and go straight to action: be it during a heated discussion, from a place of hurt or entitlement, with a raised middle-finger in traffic, or as a knee-jerk reply by email.

There are more complications, of course. But at its purest, the fifth remembrance reminds me to be mindful about my thoughts, words, and actions; to consider its likely consequences; and to take responsibility for suffering I may cause to others and myself (see my ‘atonement’ post on February 16).

p.s. The version used above is that by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen teacher. Another translation, as used at my home monastery for instance, reads like this: ‘My deeds are my closest companions / I am the beneficiary of my deeds / my deeds are the ground / on which I stand.’ image: sodahead.com.

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