Purifying non-virtue: Karmic results

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

  • The four karmic branches of sexual misconduct
  • The karmic results of non-virtue
  • Regret as a means of preventing future suffering

Vajrasattva 21: Purification of the body, part 2 (download)

21 Vajrasattva – Purification of the Body, part 2 2-1-12

This is part two of “purification of the body” and the other day I went through the four karmic branches of killing and stealing. I’ll return now and finish up with sexual misconduct. Unwise sexual behavior is another term for this.

The non-virtue of sexual misconduct and its four karmic branches

There are four types: one is with an improper person, the second one is an improper way, the third one is an improper place, and fourth is at an improper time. But the principle one is having some kind of relationship/sexual behavior with someone who is already in a relationship. That’s usually called adultery. That’s the principal thing to avoid because it causes a lot pain and confusion in people’s lives as we’ve seen.

Next let’s go through the four karmic branches of sexual misconduct. The object could include someone who is celibate, in custody of their parents, someone related to you, even your own partner. It’s also inappropriate if this happens in front of holy images or on days when you’ve taken precepts. The complete intention is that you have sex with the person you’re intending to, there is recognition of the person, and there’s an intention to do it. The motivation is usually attachment, however in the case of rape it’s likely anger but that’s also mixed in with ignorance. The action is the actual meeting of the sexual organs and the culmination of the action is if we take delight in the experience.

Karmic results of non-virtues of the body

I thought I’d move on today to the karmic results of each of these actions of the body, and then I’ll make my reason about why this is important. In general the fruition and result of any non- virtuous action is rebirth in one of the lower realms if it’s a complete karma. The second type of result is the result similar to the cause. Here for example, if we kill someone then we are going to be killed. The corresponding result of killing is to have a short life and to suffer from many sicknesses and to be killed. The environmental result of killing is that food, drink, and medicine that would normally nourish us and sustain us and prolong our life is ineffective—and what’s more the food would make us sick and it shortens our life. Pretty much your death is always the result of killing.

In the case of stealing, the corresponding result is to live in poverty; whatever property that we have must be shared with others and nothing is our own. Interesting! The environmental result of stealing (and this is according to the lamrim, so you can interpret this according to what you do in your life) their example is that fruit and crops do very poorly. So if you are a farmer, the yield is small and the fruit is blemished. It will rot quickly and the meat of the fruit is missing. The area that we live in, if we are stealing, will be plagued by drought or excessive rain. Fruit will dry out before it can be harvested or plants will not produce any fruit at all.

With sexual misconduct the corresponding result is to have our own partner be unfaithful, they’re loyal to someone else, or they’re very difficult to get along with. The environmental result of sexual misconduct is to be born in an unclean place full of excrement and urine, littered with filth and mud and slime and smells like a sewer, and the people who you live with or who are around you have a bad character, are crude, and untrustworthy. So those are pretty sobering results.

Regret as a means to prevent future suffering

When I went through the Vajrasattva practice on the three-month retreat, when I got to the regret part and I’d gone through all those things then what I really focused on was the harm I’d caused others. I think you all are doing that. Not guilt. I would see when I would tip into guilt, but I really focused on the harm that I’d caused, and felt very grievous about that. I also had at first a panicky fear about where I was headed if these things weren’t purified. So this was going to be a birth in a hell realm of some kind. Initially that scared the heck out of me and I was very panicky. Later on that just sort of grew in time into some understanding through hearing teachings about the fact that this is wisdom fear coming up.

But then about three weeks ago I was listening to some of Venerable Chodron’s talks on the Vajrasattva practice that she gave at Vajrapani Institute. Quite often when I hear her teachings they’re done so clearly my mind just goes, “Yes, of course. Yes, of course.” I hear it and I go, “Yes, of course, of course.” Then about two days after listening to this one teaching I went, “Oh, oh!” It was the same feeling I had when I was in my early twenties and I was talking with my uncle one day who’s a doctor. He was saying, “Well you know, you don’t die of old age,”—and it was like a bomb had gone off in my head. Of course, I knew that. I knew my grandmother died when I was ten. I knew that people were dying at different ages. But when he said it like that, “We don’t die of old age,” it suddenly hit me that I could die at any moment, and it just blew my mind apart.

I’m going to read to you what I heard the other day that blew my mind apart. You’ll probably think, “Well yes, I knew that already. It’s too bad you’re only learning that now.” But you’ll hear it in a different way, too. Okay, so Venerable Chodron says:

In Western cultures when we think of a terrible negativity, why do we think of it as terrible? Well, the main reason is because we harmed somebody else.

So yes, that’s what I’ve been thinking the whole time. Yes of course.

But in Buddhism these negativities are terrible because we will experience the karmic result in a lower rebirth.

Even if we’re born human the things that will happen to us, as you just heard, the environment we’re born in, the habits that we’ll have, all of that—will just carry on in these miserable circumstances. So they’re terrible because of the suffering that’s going to befall us.

What we’re usually not thinking is, “I’m regretting them because I’m going to have negative consequences in the future.” We’re usually not thinking that. I haven’t been. She goes on to suggest:

Why does this happen? Why do a lot of us come to that conclusion?

And she says that maybe one reason is that we talk about rebirth but maybe we don’t really believe it. I thought more about this, and I thought, “Well, maybe it’s also talking about karma and not really believing that these karmic results will happen to me—the positive ones, yes; the negative ones? Nah!” So that was interesting.

She also said that in our culture of course things are considered negative because we’ve harmed somebody else. That’s appropriate. She continued on to say to have huge compassion for the people that we’ve harmed. I am sure that you’re doing that as well. That’s feeling regret.

Then this is the part. Okay, you’re ready?

The harm I’ve done to others, that is over. The harm that is going to befall me hasn’t happened yet, so I can prevent that harm. I can’t prevent the harm that has already happened to others, but I can prevent the harm that is going to happen to me because of my negative actions.

And so the regret is coming from that space as a way of actively preventing harm. Now that’s what blew my mind apart. That’s a new way of looking at all these things. Not only does it blow your mind apart, it also opens your heart—which was very cool. I was very happy to discover this at my great age.

As you continue in your purification you can just rejoice now that you know this practice—we are getting rid of these things that are creating obstacles in our spiritual practice. They are getting in the way of us getting closer to enlightenment so we can be of benefit to all sentient beings one day.

Everything we do matters

I’d like to share with you two things in closing. This is a very compelling quote that Geshe Sopa talks about in his lamrim commentary. He encourages us by saying this:

Do not think that small virtuous actions will not help you because they’re too small. The power of habitual action is addressed in this stanza from the Garland of Birth Stories, “By performing virtuous or non-virtuous actions habitually it becomes the nature of a person, so that in future lives without intending it, they continue to do them as if in a dream.”

Now this last little gift, so in your break time when you need something virtuous to do. The opposite of killing is saving lives. So I’m going to show you something called an “Insektenfanger.” The company that makes it is called Snapy. John is going to do some fancy film work now and I’m going to give you a demonstration of how to save lives with this instrument. So here is the insect. It’s a very lovely instrument so you gently place it over the insect whose life you’re going to save. Now, around here what happens is Karuna (our young cat) is usually batting around insects downstairs. So not only are we saving the insect’s life, we’re saving Karuna, the little kitty, from future rebirths in a hell realm. Then you dedicate all that merit of course.

So you put this over top of the insect, this slides, you have to do this gently because you don’t want to trap the insect and squeeze it to death. There you have it. Then you take it out and put it somewhere. Well it’s snowing today so you wouldn’t want to do that. You put the insect somewhere safe and then you rejoice and rejoice and rejoice. Enjoy your retreat.

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