The four types of karmic results
The four types of karmic results
A series of commentaries on Mind Training Like Rays of the Sun by Nam-kha Pel, a disciple of Lama Tsongkhapa, given between September 2008 and July 2010.
- The four types of ripening results of karma: ripening, causally concordant, experientialy concordant, environmentally concordant
- Changing our habits is habit forming
- Exploring the four results specifically with regard to the ten nonvirtuous paths of action
Cultivating motivation: rejoicing in our precious opportunity to hear teachings
Good evening everybody. Let’s cultivate our motivation. And with a sense of joy and wonder at the number of causes we needed to create in the past in order to have so many different conditions come together to be able to listen to the Dharma right now at this very moment. With a sense of awe at how that all happened. Let’s make a determination to use the opportunity to listen carefully and attentively and with wisdom, not taking it for granted. In particular, let’s place our listening and reflecting and meditating within the context of benefiting sentient beings and by aiming for enlightenment as the best way to be of the greatest benefit to them.
So if we take the time to really think about all the causes and conditions that had to come together so that we have this opportunity, right now, here, today, it’s really rather amazing, isn’t it? How were we even born as who we were to start with, when we could have been born as so many sentient beings? Why did we have the life experience that we’ve had? What were the seeds inside of us that got nourished by this life experience that led us to have some interest in the Dharma? Having that interest in the Dharma, why did we pursue it? So many people don’t. How did we all find our way to the Abbey? Or find our way to the computer; that’s for our Internet audience. How did this all happen? When you think about it, so many incredible causes and conditions had to come together for this one very moment to come into being in the way it has.
When you look at our lives with the opportunities that we have had over a period of time and then you think of all these causes and conditions that had to come together, it’s really kind of mind boggling. There are so many other things we could be doing, so many other people we could be. Why were we born in the family we were born in? Why did we have the education we had? All these different things depend on causes, on conditions. Nothing happens in and of itself. Nothing was predetermined by somebody else. It’s just this whole web of things happening. We have the fortune to be here tonight.
The war in the Middle East and delusions
You people have been on retreat so you probably don’t know, but the situation in the Middle East has flared up and it’s really quite awful, I mean really awful, really, really, really awful. How is it that we are here and we’re not there? What is our responsibility to sentient beings with the opportunity that we have, to be able to benefit those who aren’t here and to maintain a mind of equanimity about that conflict?
It’s really awful and it’s tempting to take sides; one side or the other side. Then you see that the whole thing is just deluded sentient beings. That’s all it is. Anybody on either side of this horrible conflict, with just a change of karma, could have been born on the other side of the border, had a different life and be involved in the same conflict, but playing a different part with a different philosophy. The philosophies actually coincide to a great extent, which are, “You started it.” That’s what both sides are saying. Do you remember when you did that with your siblings? Do you remember? Whenever your parents came in when we were fighting? “He started it! He started it!” Therefore I have a right to hit him back, or take his toy, or throw sand in his face. Then of course, in my case it was my brother because my sister was quite a bit younger than me. “No, she started it! She’s the oldest. She should know better! That’s what you always tell her.”
So here you have these two sides who are acting basically like we did when we were kids. You started it so that gives me the right to harm you. You know how some of you were with your siblings. You did things that you knew were going to bug them in order to get a reaction. Did any of you do that? That’s exactly what’s going on. Let’s just do that, get a reaction and then everybody will blame him. No matter what side you’re on in this horrible thing, it’s suffering, samsaric suffering. You see the whole thing is brought about by causes and conditions, not only the ones in this life, but the ones in previous lives. We could all be having very different experiences in different places on the globe right now; not to take this for granted right now but to really work for the benefit of all these beings. Really see it as the deluded human mind instead of taking sides for this one or that one and blah, blah, blah. This is the outcome of afflictions. This is the outcome of karma. This is why it’s important to practice the Dharma and try to be free. If we don’t try to be free, we could wind up as a Hamas leader or an Israeli government official in the next life. Then we could be the ones provoking and continuing this kind of thing. We don’t want to do that and in addition we want to be able to do something to benefit people.
It really touches the mind that likes to take sides. It really does. Now it’s not about taking sides, it’s about what are the deeper causes for what’s going on. What are the deeper causes? Because we can all see that you might have many cease fires, but without addressing the real issues it doesn’t get fixed. So that’s even the issue in this life. Even if you address that, it’s still not going to get fixed as long as there’s anger and attachment. Where do the anger and attachment come from? They come from ignorance. Where does the ignorance come from? It comes from ignorance in previous lives.
More on karma: killing insects, judgmental mind, jealousy
Okay, we’re going to continue to talk about karma. From the reaction I’ve gotten from people here and the e-mails that have come, it seems to be a topic that people are reacting to a lot and it’s really making you think. Did you do your homework last week? What did you learn when reflecting on the heaviness of karma and the different factors involved?
Audience: I took a situation when I was a kid, killing insects and saw all of it, the strength of intention, method, lack of antidote, so I got very heavy karma as a kid. So then I contrasted that with, as an adult, looking at my judgmental mind and being critical and really the heaviest weight on that one is really just the method, that it’s repeated, it’s habitual. And I couldn’t really find much intention, I’m sure there is some there but I can’t get at it very easily.
Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Okay, so you started out taking a very obvious negativity as a kid, killing insects and seeing that there were many of the weighty factors involved. Strong intention, “I’m gonna get that bug.” And doing it many times and maybe doing it cruelly and not using antidotes and things like that; so making that heavy. Then thinking as an adult about having a very critical, judgmental mind, which is a mind very close to maliciousness. If we don’t watch that judgmental mind it goes over into maliciousness. Then seeing that, of the weighty factors, you found that the one of habit was strong, but you didn’t find a strong intention. You’re trying to apply the antidotes.
There’s definitely an intention there, isn’t there? If there weren’t the intention the mind wouldn’t be doing this so often. It’s interesting to ask ourselves, what am I getting out of this? Often ego mind is getting something out of the criticizing of other people. It can work in a few different ways. Sometimes this critical, judgmental mind could be thinking, “Well, if they’re so bad, I must be good.” It could be a way to make us feel good about ourselves in a very contorted way. Or another thing is, just by having this kind of buzzing in the mind all the time—there’s a definite feeling of, “I am.” So ego gets a hit. Self-grasping ignorance gets a hit because there’s this negative emotion in the mind. Look at all these different things and see: “What it is that I’m getting out of it?” It’s obvious that in some kind of contorted way, ignorance is getting something out of it; or attachment, or arrogance. Something’s getting something out of it. What did other people see?
VTC: So then it was a good homework assignment. Because she said she didn’t like it because it made her look at something that was disturbing. [laughter] Go on.
VTC: Let me tell the others who can’t hear. Many years ago you were involved in a relationship and your boyfriend’s sister didn’t like you. Of course it was all her fault and you were enduring all of this, but what you’re realizing now is that you also played a role in it. You did things that made her dislike you. What really brought you to your awareness at one point is when you were reading a book by Eli Weisel. And it dawned on you that, “Oh, I know what it’s like to hate!” And that’s shocking isn’t it to see that we have the ability to hate so much in our own mind? Thinking that at the time there was nothing you were doing, you were so locked in it that you couldn’t do anything differently. Now, having some perspective, seeing that you played a big role in making the whole thing happen and did so with a lot of enthusiasm and rejoicing and it was something done repeatedly, with some intention that was fairly strong, and causing her pain, and taking a while for you to understand her pain. You’ll be busy with Vajrasattva [purification practice]. [laughter]
Audience: I actually worked on that for three months, years ago.
VTC: Good. That happens quite a bit. We might work on something very seriously in our practice for a period of time and it seems to get resolved and then years later it comes up again. And we have the opportunity to work on it again, chipping away at it at a deeper level than we had before. Anybody else?
How do we get respectful, pleasant speech coming our way: changing old habits
Audience: What came up for me doing this, was the question, what’s the completion stage when like I’ve repeatedly done something that would not bring about the desired result which is, for instance desiring to be spoken to more respectfully. I have snarled at people. It never works.
VTC: You want other people to speak to you more respectfully….
Audience: Or more pleasantly, more politely….
VTC: …and appreciatively and so the method you use to get them to do that is to snarl at them. [laughter]
Audience: So if they said something in a tone that I didn’t like, then I’d give them a verbal slap.
VTC: Yes, right, it’s the same thing. This is our national policy; I’m going to beat you up until you decide you like me. [laughter] Really, it’s the national policy. And it’s our personal policy. You do something I don’t like. I’m going to make you miserable until you decide that you like me and that I’m right.
Audience: And you treat me better. It’s so stupid.
VTC: It’s definitely stupid. This is another one like D was saying. What is in us that’s getting something out of this? What is it that is thinking that this is going to bring about the result we want, when it brings about the opposite result? And instead what it does is put the imprints, the latent seeds of karma in our mind to experience and hear more harsh speech again in the future.
Audience: It’s like digging myself into a pit.
VTC: Yes, it’s like digging yourself into a pit. This is the situation of sentient beings. When we say that we want happiness, the ignorance makes it as if we are deliberately creating the causes of suffering. We can see this so clearly in our own lives. It’s not just in the Middle East. It’s also in our own lives. We want happiness. Everybody wants happiness and doesn’t want pain, but the method we use in our confusion to get the happiness we want—it’s like we want to suffer and we’re deliberately creating the causes for suffering—because our techniques to get the happiness don’t work and yet we keep doing them. We don’t know any better because we have these bad habits. It really takes a lot to just stop and think, “This is not working for me; and it’s not working for other people.”
Audience: But even getting to that point of seeing that this totally doesn’t work, but then stopping the pattern is….
VTC: Yes, changing the habit is difficult. It’s like instead of picking up the phone and saying, “Hello,” picking up the phone and saying, “Good morning.” Do you think you’ll remember to do that? So we really have to be very alert and very attentive. What I find helpful in these situations, is to look ahead during the day and think of the kind of situations I may encounter with different people that may trigger my old habits. And then to remind myself, “Oh Chodron, be careful. Because if this happens you’re very likely to go into your old habit and you don’t want to do that.” I find that very helpful to do in the morning, if I have to see certain people or do certain things that I know are going to happen. It’s the same when we have our community meetings. Do you find yourself setting your motivation and it’s like, “Okay, I’m really going to listen this meeting.” “I’m very much going to listen,” or “I’m going to speak kindly.” You set a strong intention right before you’re going in the situation. But the thing is life often brings us situations that we didn’t have in our calendar. All sorts of surprises come up and so this is where setting up new habits is so important.
Audience: The other thing I want to add is that once you make efforts to habituate to doing something differently, especially when you live in a community that’s well aware of the old habit that they’ve already been experiencing, is that when you try to change to be kinder, more respectful, at first you’re not going to get much of a response because they’re expecting the old behavior that you normally do. You know they’ve already got you turned off, pulled away and done their habitual response to you. You’ve got to be really patient with yourself and you’ve got to be really patient with the people that are just used to you being other than your old way. So you might not get the, “Wow!” you expect, you know. [laughter]
VTC: So, when we start to change in our environment, the people who are used to us being one way aren’t going to suddenly really believe it’s happening and give us all sorts of good feedback; because they’ve already got their defenses all set up and they’re ready to hear things in a certain way. So we are patient with them and we are patient with ourselves.
The results of karma: Heavy karma requires heavy purification
Question: Okay, so we had a question sent in: if a nonvirtuous action was done with weighty factors, does the purification also have to be weighty as well?
VTC: Well, I would think so. Yes, because it’s like if you put something heavy on one side of the scale, if you want to balance it out you have to put something heavy on the other side of the scale. Especially if the factors were weighty in terms of a strong intention or in terms of doing it many times, then the force of the determination not to do it again has to be very, very strong in order to stop the result of that karma because one of the results is the tendency to do it again. So if you have a lot of energy behind doing something repeatedly or with a strong motivation then you really have to work at it for a bit of time for it to balance and pull yourself out of it.
This week we’re going to talk more about the results of karma. They talk about it sometimes as three results or as four results. So it just depends on how you do it. If it’s three results, they call it the ripening result, the result that is concordant with the cause, and the environmental result. That’s if you say three. If you say four you take the causally concordant result or the concordant result and you divide that one into two: the causally concordant result which means the tendency to create that cause and habit to do it again, and the experiential concordant result, which is you are going to experience something similar to what you did to other people. So whether you divide it into three or four it has the same meaning.
The results of karma: The four results of doing the ten destructive actions
So when we go through these, I don’t think I need to repeat the ripening result and the causally concordant result for each one. It’s kind of obvious. In terms of the ripening result, which means the life you are going to get born in to, if you do any of the ten nonvirtues, with all the factors complete, it’s going to lead to a lower rebirth in terms of the ten nonvirtues. In terms of the ten virtues it’ll lead to an upper rebirth. I won’t repeat it every time that one of the results of doing this is a lower rebirth. We should have that in our minds. In fact that’s the one that makes us really think about taking refuge and precepts because that one can be quite disturbing, you know, “Whoa, I’m going to get born in a lower realm!” It can be kind of startling and can wake us up a bit.
The other one that’s very similar in each case is the causally concordant result, which is the habit to do the thing again. If you kill, part of the result you are going to get is the tendency to kill again. Or if you gossip, part of the result is the tendency to gossip again. They say that actually the causally concurrent result, because it creates the habit, is the worst of all the results. You might think, “No, the ripening result is worse because that’s getting born in a lower realm. That’s the worst result.” Actually not, because getting born in a lower realm happens for a certain period of time and is finished. But the tendency to do the same action again and again and again, that one’s really poisonous because each time you do it, you create more karma and put more imprint, more habit in your mind to get all four of the results again. That’s why this habitual one is said to be so serious as a result. And that’s why when we’re doing the four opponent powers, the power of the determination not to do it again is so important. That one’s going to offset this tendency to do it again. And that’s why taking precepts and keeping precepts is so important because that also is right in the face of this tendency to do it again. If we look at the experiential result, those differ according to each of the ten; and so is the environmental result. But if you look at them closely they’re linked to that original action.
Karmic results of killing
For example killing, if we go through the four results for killing:
The ripening result is a lower rebirth.
The causally concordant habitual result is the tendency to do it again.
Then the concordant experiential result is that you are going to experience a short life. If we kill then we’re making others have a short life, so then what happens to us after we experience the lower rebirth, when you are again born human; that’s when you have the short life. So apparently it seems like the ripening result is experienced first, probably not in all cases but in many of them. After that you have this concordant experiential result which is to have a short life.
The environmental result is to live in a place with strife and war, where the food and drink and medicine aren’t potent. So you live in a place with a lot of fighting that’s not peaceful. There’s a definite tag in or a link with that, between that and killing. And then the things to keep you alive, food and drink and medicine, they don’t have any power to keep you alive. You know some places you go it’s like the medicine has no strength, the food has no strength so that’s an environmental result of killing.
Karmic results of stealing
Then as far as stealing, the same thing, the ripening result is a lower rebirth and then the habitual result is a tendency to steal again. The result that’s concordant with the experience is experiencing poverty; so having a lack of material possessions. You need something, you don’t have it. So you can see the link: we deprived others of what they need and now we’re being deprived. Then the environmental result is you live in a place with many dangers, where there’s a lot of poverty and draughts and floods. So you’re living in a place where it’s very difficult to preserve your material property, either by natural causes, or there are a lot of thieves around, or who knows what’s going on. You’re living in a place where it’s hard to keep and have your possessions safe.
Karmic results of unwise sexual behavior
Unwise and unkind sexual behavior leads again to the lower rebirth and the tendency to do it again. You can see that even in this life. You set up a habit and it becomes very difficult to stop. But then the result, the experiential result, is that in future lives you wind up with a disagreeable spouse and marital disharmony. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Sexual misconduct is usually interrupting a relationship somebody else has or that you have or they have with you; or treating people poorly so that you’re using them without any respect. So then it makes sense, in a future life you have a romantic relationship, your spouse is disagreeable, there’s a lot of marital discord, you have constant problems in relationships. Then the environmental result is living in a dirty place with poor sanitation and a lot of misery. There are lots of places like that.
Karmic results of lying
Then for lying, the ripening one is the lower rebirth, the habitual one is lying again. The experiential one, the one that’s concordant, where the experience is concordant with the cause is that you will be slandered and deceived by others. And so sometimes we wonder why do people slander me, and talk bad about me, say lies about me behind my back? Well, because of my lying. Have you ever had situations where people don’t believe you even when you’re telling the truth? You’re telling the truth and people do not believe you. That’s a karmic result of our having lied in the past. It’s kind of like the little boy who called wolf? When he was telling the truth no one believed him. That’s the experience that’s concordant with the cause. You lie and then when you’re telling the truth nobody believes you. And then the environmental result is living in a place with a foul odor, where people are deceitful, and there’s a lot of fear. Okay, so you live in a country or in a place in a particular country where people deceive each other a lot, where in order to get anything done you have to bribe somebody—you have to give bakshish. That’s an Indian word. Do people know it here?
Audience: It’s Turkish
VTC: You have to give a bribe, give them something, a handout. That comes from lying, so here you are, living in a place where people are deceitful and to get anything done you have to cut through all this deceit in some way, so it makes it quite difficult. And a place where there’s a lot of fear—what’s the link between living in a place where people have a lot of fear, and lying? You can’t trust, there’s no trust there. When we lie we create the situation, not only for others not to believe us when we’re telling the truth, but to be afraid of us because they don’t trust us. So then we’re born in an environment where there’s a lot of fear.
So lying is actually a really big one. Sometimes we tend to pooh, pooh it like, “Oh, lying isn’t so bad.” But it really is. It really is. Because we spend a lot of time building up trust in a relationship and all it takes is one lie and then it’s very difficult to restore the trust after that. So it’s a big one. I especially think how lying ties into so many other things to lie about. Then how lying affects so many other people; and how our ego gets involved—to protect our ego. And how we lie to cover something up and just how divisive it is—especially in Dharma relationships. If we lie to our spiritual mentors or our Dharma friends, we are totally destroying the relationship. Those are the people who really want to help us the most and we lie to them. We’re preventing them from helping us and we’re creating an attitude of mistrust between us. It’s so important to get over that thing inside of ourselves that doesn’t want to tell the truth and to fess up—because the thing is we feel better. I don’t know about you but I feel better.
I find it very difficult to do big lies. I was always afraid, because I would get in trouble if I lied. I would get in trouble really big time so it was often out of a lot of fear that I didn’t lie. I remember one time, neighbors who lived next door had moved out of their house and moved across the street. And so a lot of us kids found one of the windows open and of course the house had nothing in it. But we went in the window and walked around the house. In my mind it was, “I’m not supposed to be doing this! I will get in so much trouble if my parents know that I did this.” Even though there was nothing in the house. It was like, I wasn’t supposed to do it, but I did it with some of my friends and then I felt so guilty and I felt so awful. I just couldn’t stand the feeling inside. I just had to go tell my parents that I did it, because I just couldn’t stand how I felt inside doing that.
So actually, I thought it was very good that I couldn’t stand that feeling. It was good for a kid because, I mean, first I couldn’t stand the fact that I did something that I wasn’t supposed to do. And then, two things, I couldn’t stand the fact that I was keeping it hidden. So both of those things. It was actually quite good that I had that, because when you don’t have that sense of betraying others or some sense of conscience then you just kind of do whatever, don’t you? And you never think about it.
Audience: What about the idea that, I don’t have to fess up to the real people; I’ll just purify it in my meditation.
VTC: I don’t have to really tell anybody that I did this? I’ll just purify it in my meditation practice? That one you have to see. Because there are some situations where years later it isn’t really skillful to go and tell somebody that you did this thing in the past, because it might cause them more upset now. So there, out of maybe some concern for the other person, you work on purifying it in your own practice. You don’t have to go blab it to the whole world. But then there are other situations where maybe you’re using that as an excuse to not really be honest about what you did in those situations. Then sometimes we have to nudge ourselves and then think of who is an appropriate person to tell. Because there are some people who are appropriate to tell and some people who are not appropriate. So which is it? [laughter] We all have those things, don’t we? I’m not picking on you. We all have them.
Karmic results of divisive speech
Then using our speech to create disharmony, we get a lower rebirth and then a tendency to do it again. The result similar to the cause in terms of our experience is not having friends. This makes sense, doesn’t it? If we use speech to create disharmony, we’re not going to have friends. And the thing is, this is the karmic result in future lives—but it’s also a result in this life, isn’t it? Talking behind peoples’ backs creating factions dividing people, all of that stuff which we do so easily, don’t we? We can really do that really easily. And then you meet people who have a really hard time having friends, they seem like nice enough people but nobody wants to be with them. It doesn’t seem to make any sense [on the surface, that they don’t have friends], but it is this kind of karmic result.
Then the environmental result is that you live in a place that is bumpy and uneven, where travel is difficult. Disharmonious speech makes things bumpy and uneven and it makes relationships difficult, so this is the environmental result: bumpy, uneven, and difficult to travel. I wonder what we did to have a road filled with ice here? Maybe as a collective as a group, we were chilly to other people. You know? Somebody came to us for help and we responded very coldly and chilly; and now we live in a place where the county can’t even get up here to plow the road and now it’s full of ice. I don’t know. It’s an interesting thing to think about, isn’t it?
Karmic results of harsh speech
Okay, harsh words: lower rebirth, the habit to do it again. And then the experiential one is we get insulted, abused, put down, and criticized. In other words what we dished out boomerangs and comes back to us. I always find this one very helpful to think about when I’m about to do harsh words; and also when I’m hearing harsh words. I’ve often told you, when I compare the number of harsh words that I have heard directed towards me, compared to the number of harsh words directed towards other people: I’ve said much more than I’ve heard. So I’m actually getting off kind of easily when people criticize me, or speak harshly, or whatever. And so just accept that with equanimity; and don’t respond in kind and keep the whole thing going.
Audience: Venerable, to hear people always sounding like they’re criticizing and using harsh speech when in fact they’re not, it’s also the karmic [result]?
VTC: Yes. I would say so. That when you have the tendency, that even when people aren’t criticizing, you hear it as criticism? I would say that’s definitely linked in with criticizing other people—because then other people kind of react that way to us, don’t they? We criticize. So every time they see us? That’s what you were saying before; they have their defenses up already. We have our defenses up even though somebody hasn’t said anything to us yet.
The environmental result of harsh words is a barren, dry place that is inhabited by uncooperative people. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Barren dry uncooperative people, a place with thorns, sharp stones, and a lot of thorns and many dangerous animals. We live in such a beautiful, peaceful place, don’t we? It’s kind of amazing up here.
Karmic results of idle talk
Okay then, idle talk: lower rebirth, tendency to do idle talk again. The result similar to the cause in terms of our experience is that people don’t value or listen to our words. So it makes sense: when we do a lot of idle talk, people at some point tune you out because you’re just kind of going, “Blah, blah, blah.” Then in a future life when you actually do have something good to say, or some good advice, or some instructions, or something that’s worthy of listening to—people tune you out. You know, they don’t listen. Your speech doesn’t have any weight. They say, “Oh yeah, yeah,” and then go on and do whatever. Sound familiar?
Okay, and then the result, the environmental result of that, is you live in a drab place with unbalanced climate, where the fruit does not ripen at the proper time. Drab, unbalanced climate, fruit does not ripen, because idle talk what does it do? It dries every thing up, doesn’t it?
Karmic results of coveting
Okay then, moving on to the three mental nonvirtues. The first one is coveting: so lower rebirth and tendency to covet again. And, similar to the experience, actually comes in very similar to the habit, it’s to having intense desire and lots of craving. So again, it makes sense. You cultivate craving and desire in this life, then in future lives there you are, maybe trying to practice the Dharma and your mind is going, “I want that,” and “I want this,” and “I need this,” and “I need that.” Constant craving and desire, craving and desire—in a way you know that is really harmful for our practice. And then the environmental results are small crops and that the environment constantly deteriorates. Covetousness is related to greed. So it makes sense that the crops don’t bear a result, because when there is greed, we are taking and taking. So then in the environment, crops don’t bear well. The result is that the environment is kind of dry; it’s deteriorating all the time. That’s interesting to think about, in terms of global warming, isn’t it? And you can see it, I mean, even in this life, how that results. Why is global warming coming? Because of greed; and we can’t just blame the corporations because we are the ones who drive the cars. We are the ones that pollute the air. We are the ones who drive when we don’t need to be driving and do all sorts of other things. So it’s our greed as well.
Audience: [Beginning inaudible] They irrigate to grow cotton, and the soil that was filled up with so many minerals and gets depleted so quickly so every year there is less and less and less.
VTC: Okay, so our land, we build up land to be able to get a good crop, to grow cotton, but then, with the environment, the result is pollution.
Audience: Just through irrigation.
VTC:Just irrigating it pollutes the land. Yes.
Karmic results of malicious thoughts
Okay, so then with malicious, vicious thoughts: the experience is to have a lot of hatred. So you’re born as a person who has a lot of hatred. And I think also, this isn’t in the text, but I think also, people who suffer from paranoia, and suspicion. I think that’s the result of having a lot of malicious thoughts in previous lives. So if you’re suspicious, you’re fearful, you think people always trying to do harm to you—I think that kind of lack of trust of other people, and paranoia, suspicion, fear, I think that comes from maliciousness. Because when we have maliciousness, that’s how we are making other people feel about us. One of the guys I write to in prison says he is amazed at the effect on him of the Dharma. He says that for so long he tried to make other people to be afraid of him, and to project this kind of macho thing of “Don’t mess with me because I’ll beat you up buddy if you do.” And you can see why people deliberately create that image, can’t you? Because there is a lot of fear, isn’t there? But then, to counter the fear, you develop your own malicious thoughts toward others. You act like that; and you keep that whole thing going in the mind again, and again and again. Then the environmental result is a place with epidemics, disputes, dangerous animals, and poisonous snakes—a place where it’s dangerous; because we, with our malicious thoughts, invented all sorts of scams to cause danger and harm to others.
Karmic results of wrong views
Then, distorted views: being born deeply ignorant. So this could be what we normally consider ignorant, like some kind of mental disability. But I think it could also mean a person who is very intelligent in a worldly way, but very ignorant in a Dharma way. Because you meet people some times who in worldly ways are extremely bright, but you try and talk to them about karma, or the value of compassion, or something like that, and it’s just like they don’t get it. So I think this could be a kind of cause for distorted views. Then the environmental result is to be born in a place with few crops, and you lack a home, and you lack a protector—because with all sorts of distorted views, we’re displacing ourselves from the path to enlightenment. Our correct views, in some ways, are our best protector—because if we take the time to really generate right views, then from there, right actions will come. But if in the beginning we have wrong views, then from that all sorts of negative actions come. So we have time for a couple of questions?
Question and answers
Audience: I have a question about idle talk. When we led some exercise, a couple of weeks ago, in a Dharma meditation group trying to identify how much of our talk has been idle, it’s impossible to really know, it seems, because some times it is quite strong because it’s fun. It’s how we pass the time. It’s how we relate to each other. So we are trying to get how damaging it is. It’s hard to get it correct and get it in my mind about how damaging it is and how it leads to a lower rebirth, because it’s so much how we relate to each other…
VTC: So your question is that because idle talk is so much of how we relate to each other as human beings, it’s difficult to understand how this can be so severe as to cause a lower rebirth. Because it’s so commonly accepted to do idle talk, nobody sees it as negative. Okay, killing people we can see as something to be abandoned, but idle talk, people don’t see that as something to be abandoned. They see it as something to cultivate, because the wittier you can be, the juicier the gossip you have about somebody else, and the more you know about politics and sales and things like that, then the more people will think you’re interesting, yes? So this one about idle talk, I think we have to understand it well. It does not mean that every time we talk to somebody we have to either talk about practical issues that need to be communicated about or we need to have a deep Dharma discussion. Because not all human communication is like that. There are situations when you just say, “Hi, how are you?”
And you just chat with people. Like the people who come and are building on our new building, sometimes we have practical things to discuss, but we are not going to sit down and say, “Do you believe in rebirth?” It’s just not appropriate. So: “Hi. We’re having a lot of snow, aren’t we? How are you doing? Have you had to shovel your roof?” So we talk like that. But the thing is, you’re aware that you’re chatting like that. And you’re doing it for the purpose of developing some kind of friendly communication with other people; and making people feel at ease. And you’re aware that you’re doing that and why you’re doing it. Then it doesn’t seem to me that it would be something to be abandoned because you are mindful of why you’re doing it, who you’re doing it with, and you know when to stop. Of course that’s tricky because sometimes we’re mindful at the beginning of, “I’m starting this conversation to just chat and make somebody relax.” But then we get so involved in it that four hours later we’re still chatting! Okay? So we have to be careful about that one. But in particular what we want to be careful with is wasting the time of people who practice the Dharma. Yes? Because that’s where idle talk becomes really damaging. When we just sit around, and ‘shoot the breeze,’ and talk, and blah, blah, blah; and say the same thing to each other over and over and over again instead of reaching a decision and going on. Or we just sit and laugh, and laugh, and laugh, and on and on. That’s when it becomes really detrimental because the time that could be used studying and practicing is now turned into just chattering away. Okay? So that’s the detrimental thing. But there are occasions where you do chat, and certainly I think that laughter is good. Okay?
Audience: So do we experience all four of these results if we have an unpurified karma?
VTC: Okay. So if we do an action, if it has all four parts to it, and if it’s not purified? Then yes, we will experience all four results. If we purify then we start to cut away at the results. And so this can be an excellent way to give ourselves some energy to start to change some of these things that we’ve done repeatedly, that we have a very bad habit with. Spend some meditation sessions thinking of that result. And do all four results. And think of really having that lower rebirth. And being constantly belittled, and put down, and criticized, and disrespected, again and again and again. Because there are some people in society: wherever they turn people are doing that. So okay, that’s the result of harsh words. So imagine how I feel if I were to have that kind of experience. Or to be born in a place where there are lots of thorns; and really put yourself in that experience. And then that gives us some kind of energy to stop doing the action. Because we see that there’s some kind of relationship between what I’m doing now and what I’m going to experience later.
Audience: What’s your advice for when we know about karma? This is the problem that I had a couple months ago. I knew about karma, and I received these teachings but I still want to do the habitual actions and ignore the fact that karma existed, but couldn’t ignore the fact that karma existed, but still did that habitual action.
VTC: So what about those times when you know about karma, but you also have a lot of habit energy going in a direction and so then you know, “Ahh, I don’t want to do this because it’s creating a cause of suffering! But I really want to do it! But I shouldn’t be doing it! But I want to do it!” That’s happening because really in our mind we don’t believe in karma. Because really, at that time, our understanding of future lives is intellectual. And so then we say, “I shouldn’t do it.” And ‘should’ doesn’t work very well when we have a very strong desire or very strong affliction in our mind. And so that’s where I think it’s very helpful, you know, the more we meditate on karma, the more we think about future lives, and link actions and their results together. Then the easier it becomes in those situations to really say, “Oh, okay. Wait a minute. Yes, I have a lot of habit to do this but I really don’t want that result!”
So spend some time this week thinking about the four results of different karmas. And do it not only in terms of these ten nonvirtues but think of the ten virtues. And think of the four results in terms of the ten virtues. And actually, because I didn’t go through these, the ones with the ten virtues this week, make sure that you do that yourself. And really go through and think about the good results that come from keeping the ten virtues. And then the second part of the homework assignment, maybe choose one bad habit and really think about what the results of that come to be.
Venerable Thubten Chodron
Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.