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Meditating on the media

Meditating on the media

Part of a series of teachings on a set of verses from the text Wisdom of the Kadam Masters.

  • Being mindful around media (advertising, television)
  • Staying away from media that really triggers our afflictions
  • Using media (television, movies, books, news) as a contemplation on karma

Wisdom of the Kadam Masters: Meditating on the media (download)

We were talking about the six conditions that stimulate the afflictions. We had the seeds, the object, inappropriate attention, detrimental influences (or bad friends), media (verbal stimuli), and habit. We still have those last two to explain.

It’s helpful to remember this list because then you can look at your life and see how those things work. And when you have an affliction then stop and say, “Okay, what was it that was involved in triggering it?” And it wasn’t just one of these six. You’re always going to have the seed and inappropriate attention, then you can see what else comes in there. And very often there’s habit.

We started talking about verbal things before, and especially the media, and how important it is to look at our relationship with the media. I wanted to go into that a little bit more, so that we can really pay attention to it.

When we’re exposed to the media, when we’re not mindful, whatever we see in the media we just go along with and that becomes our example for how things are and how we should be. That becomes very dangerous. Last time I talked about the images, and the advertising, or the scenes in the movies. What we expose ourselves to is very important.

If there are special objects that really tick you off, or really trigger an affliction, then don’t look at the media that is about that object. If you have a lot of sexual energy and it’s really difficult don’t go to the movies and watch love stories. If you have a lot of violent energy don’t go to the movies where there is violence and they’re fighting wars. Things like this. And be careful of what we expose ourselves to.

Now, since we cannot always avoid verbal stimuli we also have to develop the antidote to the afflictions in order to calm them if they get triggered. Of course, we use all the antidotes that we’ve been talking about all along, but when you sit down to watch some media (let’s say you’re watching the news, or you’re going to watch some documentary, or—I’m talking for the people out there too—you’re going to go to the movies and watch something), have a determination beforehand of, “I’m going to see this in terms of karma.” Then you watch the whole story as it’s unfolding and you think of not only the kind of karma these different characters are creating by anger, by lust, by jealousy (their different mental factors), but also look at the actions themselves: harsh words, lying, physical violence, coveting. You watch the whole movie analyzing all these things, giving names to all of the events that are going on. So instead of getting caught up, and your own afflictions getting triggered, you’re stepping back and you’re watching, “Oh, that’s what this afflictions looks like. And that’s what I look like when I’m under the influence of that affliction. And look what that affliction makes you do. This character (but we always look at it like it’s real people) he’s lying, he’s creating disharmony in relationships. They’re doing all sorts of things.”

Then, what are the results? And then you look at the results in this life, which is very helpful to really see the results of the actions right now. But then you don’t stop with that, you think, “Well what are the karmic results?” What kinds of rebirths are these people going to have? What kinds of situations are they going to face in the future? Here’s where (especially when you’re watching the news) everybody in the news is doing whatever they’re doing because they’re trying to be happy and they think it’s the right thing to do. At some level they have some kind of “good motivation.” It’s not necessarily a virtuous motivation, but they’re doing it because they’re trying to be happy and they think that’s the path to happiness. And then you think about the karmic results, and you see the suffering that these people will experience, and then you can really link together “oh, this action brings this result.” Or you do it the other way, you look at the news and see what situation somebody’s facing–the difficulty–and then you think what kind of action was done in the past that created the cause to produce this kind of problem. Then the whole thing about karma becomes so real for you.

It beats getting mad at the people on the news. And it beats getting discouraged by watching the news. You just make it a whole lamrim teaching on karma and its effects.

Some of the situations, you can see, might be difficult, and here’s where you really have to be careful with your own understanding of karma. For example, you see the refugees from Syria (let’s say) who are trying to cross the Mediterranean and are drowning. What’s the karmic cause of this kind of thing? Well, first of all, living in a war-torn country is the karmic result of the cause of killing and physical violence, and these kinds of things. Having a short life by drowning, also the result of killing, and so forth. Now, does this mean that they deserve to die? No. You really have to make sure that in your understanding of karma that there is no thought of reward and punishment, and there’s no thought of “deserve happiness” or “deserve suffering.” It’s just this is a result of doing that kind of action.

Then you see the people (let’s say) the people who are trafficking and are taking these refugees on board and making them pay exorbitant amounts of money, and then sometimes just putting the boat out there, they don’t even accompany them, they just put them on the boat and let them float in the Mediterranean. What kind of karma are they creating? First of all, there’s a lot of covetousness there. They’re doing what they’re doing out of greed. Not very much concern about others’ welfare. And being really irresponsible in what they’re doing. In a way it has to do with stealing. It has to do with physically harming, even though they’re not the ones who are actually doing it, they’re providing the circumstance for it. What kind of result are these people going to experience? Also, what is it? It’s lying. Saying, “I’m going to take you across and then you’ll get to Greece and you’ll be okay.” They’re totally lying through their teeth. What kind of result are these scammers (they’re cheating these people) what kind of results are they going to experience? Poverty. People won’t believe them. They won’t have support when they have problems. People will run away from them, as a result of their lying and their cheating. They won’t have support when they need it, when they face difficulties. You don’t rejoice at it, “Oh, I don’t like those scammers anyway, so go to hell, I’m glad.” No, we don’t cultivate that kind of attitude that rejoices in other people’s suffering. But rather, you use it to understand karma and to generate compassion for everybody involved, both the scammers and the refugees who are being scammed. Because everybody’s trying to be happy, and in the middle of their ignorance, creating the cause for so much misery.

In that way you look at the news and it helps you in your lamrim meditation, not only with karma, but also with the cultivation of compassion and tolerance. These kinds of things can be very helpful.

Then you read another article and it’s about (e.g.) Bill Cosby sleeping with all these different people and drugging them or whatever, and then you think, “Okay…” Well, we don’t know if it’s true or not. If it’s true, what kind of results would it create? If it’s not true, what kind of causes did he create to be unfairly accused? What kind of causes do you think created that result? Lying. And unfairly accusing others and ruining other people’s reputations. Divisive words, also.

You think about this, and it really makes the whole thing about karma become quite vivid in your mind.

That’s a way to transform watching the news or watching the media. I would use it when I would go visit my family because my parents, when they were old, that’s all they did was watch television, and if I wanted to see them the only place I could see them was in front of the television. And the only time we could talk was during the commercials, if I got them to press the “mute” button. So you have to do something with your mind while you’re watching these shows.

Sports matches are incredible to watch, too, when you look at them in terms of karma. People’s motivation, and what kind of results are going to come from those motivations. Here these people being famous, and isn’t that the result of good karma, but so many of them are confused because of the fame, confused because of the wealth, and they wind up acting poorly, so they’re experiencing the result of good karma, and at the same time using that as the opportunity to create negative karma.

Then you watch the audience, people getting so excited about a ball. It’s just a ball. And they’re totally so mesmerized by where this ball has to be. Whether it’s golf, or baseball, or football. Hockey there’s a puck. It’s just fascinating to watch. Look at all these people with human lives and human intelligence, and this is what they think is important. You want to cry when you see it.

Anyway, very good way to deal with the media. Next time we’ll talk about habit.

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.