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Karma with holy beings and teachers

Part of a series of teachings given at the Winter Retreat from December 2011 to March 2012 at Sravasti Abbey.

  • Purifying harmful actions in relation to specific objects
  • Why particular objects are especially powerful
  • Harmful actions we can do without even realizing
  • Things we can do to counter our negative actions

Vajrasattva 33: Purifying in relation to the Three Jewels and teachers (download)

We’ve just had these wonderful talks about dedicating in ways that I hadn’t even thought of before from Venerable Chonyi, and with a lot of enthusiasm. And it really has helped so that we don’t waste our merit and our efforts. And now we’re in a new session. Again, Vajrasattva is gleaming above our heads and we are thinking, “Gee, what can I purify now? I’ve been through so many sessions, nearly ninety days or whatever it’s been.” But the Dharma always has something new to do. It really, truly is endless in a very good way. It just goes on and on in a way that … well eternally, infinitely; it’s quite an expansive practice.

So here we are and we can do confession in relation to certain objects that we may not have thought of. And we are going to look at confession in relation to the Three Jewels. We’re going to look at confession in relation to our teachers and then in relationship to our parents. These comments mostly come from a 2009 teaching by Venerable Chodron on this, and she was looking at, and using, Shantideva’s Confession chapter out of The Way of the Bodhisattva. It’s chapter two and it’s an amazing chapter to read over and over and over. And she’s looking at certain verses so we will use that as part of the framework. But remember back when we were talking about karma and the heaviness of karma? Is it a complete karma? Is it not a complete karma? But even if it’s not a complete karma we want to go there, as they say. So the heaviness of karma that we will experience, it’s absolutely guaranteed unless we can get some of this purification going with it. It depends on many factors as we’ve gone through before: the intention, the action. And now we are going to look closer at the object, at several objects, of our destructive actions.

Just on a common level, we have different relationships to different objects. And it’s funny calling them objects because in the West we don’t call people objects. It’s kind of an insult. But this is just a technical term for the subject, the action, the object, a way to talk about it. But if you think about it, either for your partner, your best friend, or your child, when you do certain things towards them, let’s say a negative act, you feel something a little heavier than if you did this to someone in a grocery store. Now this could just be our lack of equanimity, but really we have special relationships and the law even recognizes this, too. We have fiduciary relationships towards certain people. We’ve taken on certain responsibilities. We’ve built a more dense connection with them. And so it’s just kind of logical that karmic actions, either positive or negative, towards these objects of our teachers, or the Three Jewels, or our parents, would carry a heavier weight. We have a very special role and they have a very special role towards us.

So both positive things can be wonderful to do – small positive things. Serving your teacher in what you might think is a small way. You don’t know where that ripple goes out, infinitely, and probably creates a connection that you will meet them again some time. So again, just emphasizing that some objects are simply more potent for gaining merit, and they are also more potent when we do negative acts towards them. So we’re going to look at the verses Venerable Chodron was teaching from and commenting on, and there are many in this chapter. But there are four key ones and I am going to just read them. This is Shantideva talking about himself, but it’s also all of us of course:

In this and all my other life times, Wandering in the round without beginning, Indiscriminately I have brought forth suffering.

Every word is so potent in this, you know, “indiscriminately wandering without beginning in all lifetimes.” And this indiscriminately referring to our ignorance, of course.

I have incited others to commit the same.

That’s verse 28. Four lines and there is so much in there. And then he goes on:

I have taken pleasure in such evil,
Tricked and overmastered by my ignorance.

Oh my gosh! Now I react to the word evil, I have a lot of trouble with it. But you can just put in suffering:

I have taken pleasure in such (suffering).

And how did I do that? I was

Tricked and overmastered by my ignorance.

That’s so potent. And this is how we “wander around.”

Now I see the blame of it, and in my heart,
O great protectors, I declare it!

Okay, there’s the confession. And we don’t have to go further; we don’t have to go into guilt and breast beating and emotional turmoil. Because that’s where the self-centeredness will take us again, all about, “I’m so awful now.” But I just declare it. I declare I have done these things. Then he goes on to the special relationships:

Whatever I have done against the Triple Gem, against my parents, teachers, and the rest,

I don’t know what “the rest” is because Venerable Chodron didn’t really comment so much on that. But “The Triple Gem, parents, teachers, and the rest,” I guess it’s everyone.

Through the force of my defilements,
By the faculties of body, speech, and mind;
All the suffering I have committed,
That clings to me (it’s so potent), that clings to me through many destructive deeds; All the frightful things I have caused to be,
I openly declare to you, the teachers of the world.

So that’s it—these four incredibly potent verses out of Shantideva. And as he points out, it’s an open declaration: “I’ve done this.” That’s plenty. We don’t have to go further. “I have done this.” Owning up is huge! And that’s it, and it involves all of the ten destructive actions.

Purifying karma created in relation to the Triple Gem

So we can work with these, with the Three Jewels, our parents, teachers, and go through all of the ten destructive actions: the four of speech, the three of body, the three of mind. How did I do these with my teachers, you know? And especially if you are a person…. By the way, we get a lot of emails, “I’m looking for a teacher, I’m looking for a teacher.” If you’re looking for a teacher, do this. You purify all the past lifetimes that you had a teacher and didn’t honor your teacher, didn’t serve your teacher, didn’t respect your teacher, and this clears all that out so you will find the teacher. This is what they mean when they say, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” This is the student getting ready.

So how did we do these? Whether it’s the extreme example with the Three Jewels, you know, burning Dharma books or wrecking monasteries, or imprisoning monastics. And those are being done on the earth right now, in Tibet. Or, the statues that were shot up in Afghanistan, or historically different times when Buddhism was wiped out of this and that country. But most of us aren’t involved with that, I hope! If you’re watching and you are, start purifying now, it will work. You can get there. But for most of us it’s things like putting our Dharma books on the floor without a cloth under them, or stepping over Dharma materials.

Or, one thing I have to really work on, is I do notes or Dharma things and I stick them up on a shelf and they gather dust, and I just leave them. It’s pretty awful when you think it’s the words of the Buddha or the words of the Buddha through your teacher, and you’re just, “Oh yeah,” blithely putting them up there. And six months later you go, “Wow, look at all those dust bunnies.” What is that about? It’s this mind of ignorance. So mostly we would be doing that. Keeping things in our Dharma materials, or statues in low dirty places, not respecting them, and the same for any representations of the Buddhas or teachers. We really want to be respectful of them. And one thing I like here at the Abbey is that people can, freely, without embarrassment, bow to any kind of holy object. So we are constantly coming in and bowing at the mural, and bowing here and there. So it’s a wonderful way to treat your holy objects and offerings on our altars. Venerable Chodron pointed out not setting them up mindfully. I do water bowls every morning on my little altar and, some mornings, I get done and I am in the bathroom or something, and I go, “Wow, did I even do that?” So this is mindless. But really wanting to focus and say, “I’m making an offering and I want to really do that.” And also taking them down. Especially with any craving like, “Oh, I really want that cookie and so I am really glad the day is over because I am going to take it down and get it for myself.”

The other thing she has talked about is not getting caught up with, “Oh, this representation of the Buddha is beautiful and this one’s not. This statue is pretty, this statue’s not.” That’s just personal preference. We want to be honoring these representations and the effort someone made to make them. So we want to be thinking about that. Also, not respecting monastics that we’re around, for their vows that they are keeping and their renunciation. So those are common things we need to watch out for, for the Three Jewels, and that we can confess. And then I’m just going to do a little bit on the teacher today and then I’m going to stop and do more on the teacher, and we will do the parents the next time.

Purifying karma created in relation to our teachers

So Venerable Chodron has said for our Dharma mentors it has to be someone that we see as the teacher. And it is an interesting thing in Buddhism, you decide your relationship to the teacher. The teacher doesn’t run around and try and get you, and proselytize and set up the relationship. She has said this many times, you decide how close you are, you decide your relationship, you form the relationship by the work that you do with your mind and heart. And of course, then the mentor is an incredibly potent object because they guide us on the path.

I climbed Mount Hood when I was quite young, early twenties. And I had never climbed a mountain before and this was on a whim. Luckily, I went with a group of very skilled mountaineers because many things happened that were life-threatening, one of which was a snow bridge broke in when two climbers were on it. Luckily not me, because I wouldn’t have known what to do, and I would have been in a thousand-foot crevice. But it’s a great metaphor for how I wouldn’t know how to get up there and get back down. And this is what the teacher is doing. We don’t know how to get up there and get back down. As Venerable Chodron has said over and over, we have been guiding ourselves for endless lifetimes. And are you awakened with your own guidance, or the ones you followed? So we need to be following someone who knows how to go there and get back and we need, on the way, to treat them with incredible kindness, service and respect. So if we haven’t done those then let’s confess them in our very next Vajrasattva.

More to come.

Zopa Herron

Karma Zopa began to focus on the Dharma in 1993 through Kagyu Changchub Chuling in Portland, Oregon. She was a mediator and adjunct professor teaching Conflict Resolution. From 1994 onward, she attended at least 2 Buddhist retreats per year. Reading widely in the Dharma, she met Venerable Thubten Chodron in 1994 at Cloud Mountain Retreat Center and has followed her ever since. In 1999, Zopa took Refuge and the 5 precepts from Geshe Kalsang Damdul and from Lama Michael Conklin, receiving the precept name, Karma Zopa Hlamo. In 2000, she took Refuge precepts with Ven Chodron and received the Bodhisattva vows the next year. For several years, as Sravasti Abbey was established, she served as co-chair of Friends of Sravasti Abbey. Zopa has been fortunate to hear teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Geshe Lhundup Sopa, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Geshe Jampa Tegchok, Khensur Wangdak, Venerable Thubten Chodron, Yangsi Rinpoche, Geshe Kalsang Damdul, Dagmo Kusho and others. From 1975-2008, she engaged in social services in Portland in a number of roles: as a lawyer for people with low incomes, an instructor in law and conflict resolution, a family mediator, a cross-cultural consultant with Tools for Diversity and a coach for executive directors of non-profits. In 2008, Zopa moved to Sravasti Abbey for a six-month trial living period and she has remained ever since, to serve the Dharma. Shortly thereafter, she began using her refuge name, Karma Zopa. In May 24, 2009, Zopa took the 8 anagarika precepts for life, as a lay person offering service in the Abbey office, kitchen, gardens and buildings. In March 2013, Zopa joined KCC at Ser Cho Osel Ling for a one year retreat. She is now in Portland, exploring how to best support the Dharma, with plans to return to Sravasti for a time.

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