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Karma with teachers and parents

Karma with teachers and parents

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

  • Purifying karma with our teachers through kindness and maintaining a good relationship
  • Remembering the kindness of our parents
  • Purifying karma in relation to our parents

Vajrasattva 34: Purifying in relation to teachers and parents (download)

Ok, we’re back to looking at confession in relationship to these particular objects—and really its particular groups of people. So we took a look at teachers and we’re going to look at parents. But before we go onto parents (because I still feel they’re so powerful and Dharma always bears repeating since it’s the opposite of what our common minds are doing), I want to just read these verses again and then add a little bit about purifying in regards to teachers and then we’ll go on to parents. And this will be the last talk on content about our Vajrasattva purification.

On Monday, in the very last talk, what we’ll talk about is how to continue the retreat—this lifetime and all the other lifetimes that you might need it. So if it’s going to take three great eons then I think we’ll be doing this for a little while.

So again back to Shantideva, Chapter 2 and looking at these four verses:

In this and all my other lifetimes,
Wandering in the round without beginning,
Indiscriminately I have brought forth suffering,
Inciting others to commit the same.

I have taken pleasure in such evil,
Tricked and overmastered by my ignorance.
Now I see the blame of it, and in my heart,
O great protectors, I declare it!

Whatever I have done against the Triple Gem,
Against my parents, teachers and the rest,
Through force of my defilements,
By the faculties of body, speech, and mind;

All the suffering I have committed,
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 powerful! I think I can read that every day. I hope I remember. That’s one of the difficulties of samsaric mind—we hear these wonderful things and then we’re distracted immediately.

Purifying harmful actions created in relationship to teachers

So back to teachers. One of the ways I started thinking about this last night and today is just think about what your life was like, what your mind what like, before you met your Dharma teachers and before you met the Dharma. And for me, that’s plenty right there, I don’t have to go further. I was drinking alcohol—socially, not a big problem right? I was going out to dinner a lot, going to movies a lot, reading a lot of novels, talking with friends a lot—all of these are just considered to be perfectly wonderful activities and there’s nothing wrong with them in themselves. But if I look at what I was doing for other people, for other beings, in any kind of way that was selfless and not serving the self (not self-centered) I didn’t even have that idea, much less how I could try to do it. I did not have the idea of bodhicitta. I did not know the word. I didn’t know the concept.

I remember the very first time I heard the word “bodhisattvas” some kind of little sprout went off in me and I just went, “Oh, I like that word,” and I asked somebody, “What is that?” And I was astonished to hear about what a bodhisattva is and does. It was like, “Oh my gosh! Really, there’s that kind of a being anywhere?”

So this only happens because of teachers. We are so dense—or at least I am, I have to claim it for myself—my ignorance is so thick that I have to sit and meditate on the idea that I did not create these teachings. I could not find them on my own and they wouldn’t exist without the teacher.

And then what do we do? Well, if your mind is anything like mine and like many of us have shared here at the Abbey very openly with one another, we criticize. Our minds criticize. We criticize in talking, we criticize in our mind, “Oh the teacher should have done this.” And, “I don’t think they should do that.” And, “I don’t want to do that, why do they want me to do that?” And we oppose and we resist.

So this is what we need to pull out, set it down, look at it in the light of Vajrasattva because it’s way to be very kind to your teacher, is to clear this stuff out, just to be very kind to your teacher. Think about that just on a common level, if you’re in a kind of a dispute with a friend and they clear out their side of it and then they come to you—isn’t that a great kindness? Because all of a sudden there is some room and you can grow into what can happen between the two of you, which is wonderful, instead of being stuck in this. So it’s a great kindness to our teachers to do this. Of course it’s a kindness to ourselves and all other beings but we really need to do this.

I can’t remember if I told you this before but it bears repeating, it’s a great idea it didn’t come from me. One time I was—I knew my mind was kind of yucky about a teacher and went to another Dharma teacher who I really trusted and I was just asking her to kind of help me with this kind of mind and I laid out my criticisms and blah blah and she didn’t let me go very far—because she’s very wise. And she said:

You need to remember that your teacher only has one plan for you, your teacher has one goal, your teacher wants one thing for you—and that’s your full awakening. Your teacher isn’t doing anything else. All this embroidery that you’re doing—that’s yours. Your teacher has this one point plan.

So that really cut it for me and I started going, “Oh, I’ve got to clean up some of this.”

Venerable Chodron says:

Choose your mentor carefully, but once you’ve chosen the mentor then work from your side to have a good relationship with them. You chose them due to their wisdom and kindness so it should be easy. But of course, we get to see the problems in our own mind and we clear them up.

Purifying harmful actions created in relationship to parents

So now we’re going to look at another category—our parents. And again I remember the first teachings on this. I just thought, “Well that’s all nice to care about your parents and respect your parents and all that but it’s really for people who had good parents. And that wouldn’t have been me—my parents were all messed up. And I had to do “x” number of counseling sessions because of them,” and da da da.

Someone showed me a cartoon once and it had a huge auditorium and there are two little people sitting in a giant auditorium and there’s a big banner on the stage and it says, “Adult Children of Normal Parents.” And it was like, “Oh yeah, ok. Now I get it.” There aren’t any normal parents. It’s our karma—we get what we get. And being a parent and having gone through it all I really see there aren’t any normal parents. We do our best, you know.

But (Venerable has just gone over this and over this and over this so many times so it is seeping in), the focus is their kindness. And this is why we want to clean things up between us and our parents of this life, and all lives, because actually the teachings are that everyone’s been everyone’s parent so you’re really clearing it for up for everyone. But in this life we need to look and we would not have stayed alive; when we come out we’re naked and own nothing. If our mothers’ just dropped us there on the ground we’d be dead within six hours, five hours—depending on how cold it is. That’s it, it’s over. But instead they take us in whether they wanted us or not because planning parenthood wasn’t so planned back then for some. But they took what they got potluck and they brought you in and fed you and clothed you. And if they couldn’t, they found places for you to go if they had to put you in the care of someone else.

All of this is great kindness. They got up at night over and over, I can’t remember how many times I got up at night, it was unbelievable. I was so sleep deprived. But you just do it, because your kid needs something. And you throw up on them, you poop on them, you pee on them and they just keep going. So it’s unbelievable what our parents have done.

And the first step is to recall that, so that we have an impetus to bring forth our negativities and our criticism and our blaming of parents. We won’t really want to unless we can see their goodness. So I try to get very, very specific and that’s been very helpful—get very specific about the kindness of your parents. Don’t be just fake about it. So specifically one of the things I remember that was quite helpful, and I’ll just give it out as an example, is my parents were quite poor. They both worked and they worked a lot. My dad often worked more than one job and they still came up with tuition to send us all, three of us, to private school all through elementary because they wanted us to get a spiritual education and it was really excellent schooling. I mean it was unbelievable. And they just did this and I took it for granted until I started doing these meditations and went, “Wow! That’s amazing that they did that. They would not have had to work so much and so hard if they didn’t have to do that. But they took that on for our benefit.” And we did benefit.

So of course our parents are very strong objects of karma, positive and negative, and helped us when we were the most helpless. So, again, purifying any negativities we have towards them is a great kindness. A return of the kindness they’ve showed us. And we need to do this. Actually what you’ll find is interesting—your parents don’t need it anymore. They may be passed on like mine or they may be even in this life, they don’t need it as much as we do. We need to clean this up and have our minds happy and clear. And stop blaming them, just kind of grow up to our responsibility. This is our karma that we took on and we want to clean and clear this up.

So, all of these are groups for possible confession. There’s one more that we won’t have time to go into but I will mention it, which is: people who are particularly fragile or vulnerable, like the poor, people who are ill. So again you can think about your life now. How have you treated those groups of people? Have you done things to care for them? And if not, if you’ve been callous, if you’ve been cruel, if you’ve been thoughtlessly blaming them, bring that out and rely on Vajrasattva to purify.

All right, let’s keep going.

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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