Difficult and pleasant situations are equally part of life’s journey

YOUTH IN FOCUS: I have continuously tried to do good things to people and I never try to harm anybody.  But I face bad responses from some of those who I have helped.  I feel that I have a very bad karma, and so may I seek advice from Lama about how to clean my bad karma.

Sangay Dorji

Hi Sangay, well, first I’ll explain a little how karma works, and then I’ll deal more specifically with your question.

Literally, the word karma means action and the root of any action is intention. If you want to go to Siliguri, for example, you must first have the intention to go there, right? Later, if you find transportation links, you can act on your intention and move towards your destination.  If there are no such links then the intention remains, but no progress is made in your journey.        

Consequently, we can say that intention is like a seed and that outer circumstances serve to bring the seed to fruition. If these factors do not exist, then the seed remains dormant.    

To put it in another way, everything is connected like links in a chain. Our present situation did not appear at random, but is the latest link in a series of interlinked intentions and action. If the present situation was unconnected to the past, then we could wake up one morning and find ourselves on top of Jumolhari or to discover that Swansea City (my favourite EPL club) have won the league title. But that is not going to happen (unfortunately, in the case of Swansea… HAHA).

Here’s another example: Each floor in a building depends on the one below it. Now imagine that inferior concrete was used to construct the fifth floor, but again tough concrete used on the higher floors. Even if the building passes 100 floors, the weakness of the fifth floor will affect the structure right to the top. Then if one day an earthquake strikes, the building will topple.

This is similar to how intention and action affects our mind-stream, causing results in the future. With regard to action, no one decides what is good or bad. Good action is basically a deed that accords with the correct view of how the universe functions, and bad action is a deed that opposes this view. As this subject is a little complicated, perhaps you can simply think of positive action as something that benefits others and negative action as something that solely benefits ourselves at the expense of others.

With regard to your question, yes, you can say that your situation has arisen as a result of past karma, and there are practices that can help purify it. However, these methods are intended to assist us on the path to enlightenment so we can benefit others, not to make our lives smoother and trouble-free.

In reality, it is impossible to have a trouble-free life. Unenlightened existence will always have ups and downs. Think of it like travelling from Thimphu to Bumthang. Our vehicle will go up high mountain passes and drop to low valleys. Life is the same.

In this respect, trying to make every encounter peaceful and joyful is like trying to flatten and straighten the road to Bumthang. We would not only get exhausted but also be unsuccessful in our attempt. Instead, it would be better to equip our vehicle to travel over different kinds of terrain.           

How do we equip ourselves to face life’s ups and downs? Well, first of all we can train our minds to observe our feelings rather than react to them. When we hear harsh words, we automatically feel a sensation in our head or perhaps in our chest. We should observe this sensation without labelling it is as good or bad. Later, we can ask ourselves whether the words were true or not. If they were, then we can openly admit our error – making mistakes does not make us bad, but human. If the accusation was incorrect, then accept it as just someone’s opinion. Ultimately, we cannot change how others view us, but we can decide how we react.

Maybe this image will help: You are in a boat on the ocean and suddenly a storm blows in. You cannot stop the storm, right? This is your karma. However, you can decide how to sail the boat. This is your freedom, and the way you do so will affect your future.

Therefore, in response to your question, I suggest that you learn to first observe your reaction to harsh words and then later reflect on why they hurt you. If you can train yourself to do this, you will slowly be less affected by others’ comments. At the same time, you will understand that difficult and pleasant situations are equally part of life’s journey. As a result, you will feel less disappointed by others’ responses and so continue to help your friends and colleagues. It would also help your situation if you openly tell everyone of your faults and mistakes but keep your good qualities and noble acts hidden and secret.     

On a final note, please consider these words of the 7th Dalai Lama. They will give you a realistic view of your situation:  “Others whom I like to blame for hurting me, are merely the circumstances that make my negative karma ripen”.

ShenphenShenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes.

Email to :thinleyzangmo24@gmail.com  for any queries

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