Based on notes from an introductory course on Buddhism taught by Venerable Thubten Chodron, all referenced readings in this guide are from Open Heart, Clear Mind by Venerable Chodron. The book and study guide offer a foundational understanding of Buddhism that is both profound and accessible.
III. Our current situation
Rebirth, karma, and cyclic existence
Reading: Open Heart, Clear Mind: III, 1-3
- Get a sense of the continuity of mind by progressively remembering events in your past. Are the same person now as you were at age 5? Are you totally different? Will you be the same person when you’re 80? What we call “mind” is a composite of various factors, all of which are constantly changing.
- Think about the logical reasons for rebirth: our body and mind arise from causes. They body comes from a continuity of physical material, our mind from a continuity of moments of mind.
- Contemplate the stories of people who remember previous lives
- “Try on” accepting rebirth. What other things could it help explain?
- Since our body, the life form we’re born into, is a reflection of our mental states, think of how it’s possible to be born in other bodies.
Karma is intentional action. Such actions leave imprints on our mindstreams that influence what we will experience in the future. Reflect on the general aspects:
- Karma is definite. Happiness always come from constructive actions and pain from destructive ones.
- Karma is expandable. A small cause can lead to a large result.
- If the cause hasn’t been created, the result won’t be experienced.
- Karmic imprints don’t get lost.
Reflect on the results of karma and how our present actions influence our future experiences. Make examples from your life of these:
- maturation result: the body and mind we take in our future lives
- the result similar to the cause
- in terms of our experience
- in terms of our actions: habitual actions
- the effect on the environment
Points for contemplation and discussion
- Does rebirth make sense to you? What specific things give you difficulty?
- Could rebirth and karma explain things that previously didn’t make sense to you, such as why nice people had horrible things happen to them?
- What impact would believing in rebirth and karma have on how you looked at life and how you interrelated with the world?
The causes of cyclic existence
Disturbing attitudes and the actions created under their influence cause us to remain in a cycle of constantly recurring problems. The main disturbing attitudes were listed previously and are repeated here to help us make the connection between them and cyclic existence:
- Attachment: an attitude which exaggerates or projects positive qualities on an object or person and then grasping or clinging on to it.
- Anger: an attitude which exaggerates or projects negative qualities on an object or person and, being unable to bear it, wishes to run away or strike back at what disturbs us.
- Pride: an attitude holding onto an inflated image of oneself.
- Ignorance: a deluded state on unknowing which is unclear about the nature of things such as the four noble truths, actions and their results, emptiness, etc.
- Deluded doubt: an indecisive attitude inclined towards incorrect conclusions regarding important points.
- Distorted views: either a deluded intelligence which grasps at an inherently existent self or one which grasps at other mistaken conceptions.
Factors that stimulate the arisal of disturbing attitudes
- Predispositions of the disturbing attitudes: Do you have the seed or potential to generate disturbing attitudes although they may not be manifest in your mind now?
- Contact with the object: What objects or people trigger the arisal of the disturbing attitudes in you? Are you mindful when you are around them?
- Detrimental influences such as wrong friends: Are you strongly influenced by friends or relatives who act unethically or who distract you from the spiritual path?
- Verbal stimuli — media, books, TV, etc.: How much does the media shape what you believe and your self-image? How much time do you spend listening to or seeing the media?
- Habit: What emotional habits or patterns do you have?
- Inappropriate attention: Do you pay attention to negative aspects only? Do you have many biases? Are you quick to jump to conclusions or be judgmental? What steps can you take to remedy these tendencies?
Conclusion: Understand the disadvantages of the disturbing attitudes, determine to abandon them.