Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Looking squarely at our karma

Now Shantideva describes another method for overcoming our wish to retaliate – seeing how undesirable situations are a result of our karma.

(6.42) In such situations, we should think,
“In the past, I harmed others in a similar manner.
Therefore, it is fitting that I, who caused harm to others,
Should now be experiencing such harm myself.”

(6.43) The physical suffering I experience
Is caused by both the stick and my body;
But, since the stick comes from my assailant and the body from me,
With which of these should I get angry?

(6.44) Blinded by craving and ignorance,
I have taken this form, the basis of human suffering,
Which can hardly bear to be touched;
So with whom should I get angry when it is hurt?

(6.45) Although we childish beings have no wish for suffering,
We are greatly attached to its causes.
Thus, the harm we receive is entirely our fault;
What reason is there to blame it on others?

(6.46) Just as with the guardians of hell,
The forest of razor-sharp leaves, and so forth,
My sufferings in this life result from my actions –
So with whom should I be angry?

Generally we blame other people for the harm, any harm, we receive, directly or indirectly. We are convinced it’s always others’ fault. But any harm we receive we have to say is just karma ripening, our karma ripening. And we can either accept that happily or not.  It’s our choice. Some karma is ripening for us, bringing suffering upon us – we can either accept that happily or not. The second is usually the case.

We’re not prepared generally to happily accept our suffering. Even though we may recognize what is happening as a ripening of our karma, we still try to get some different karma ripening for us. How?  By changing conditions. If we change conditions, different karma will ripen, of course. There is nothing wrong with trying to do so, but when we are not successful, we must accept our suffering patiently.

Why do we experience any harm, mental or physical?  The harm we receive is entirely our fault.  When we receive harm we should identify this so that we stop blaming others.  What reason is there to blame it on others?  We can see this by considering the four different main karmic effects.

The harm we receive is a result of the ripened effect of karma. The ripened effect of our action is rebirth, rebirth in the human realm with contaminated aggregates – a body and mind that naturally give rise to suffering. Our present basis, our human body and mind, is the basis of all our human problems. It is the basis of all our suffering, mental and physical. Without such a basis, how could we be harmed? We could not be harmed by anyone or anything.  Whose fault is it that we have a body and mind that can be hurt so easily?  We are easily hurt mentally and physically. Why is it that we have a body and a mind that can be hurt so easily? We created the cause for such aggregates by engaging in deluded actions.

It is the result of our environmental effects.  If we live in a place where people are unfriendly or even hostile to us, like guardians of hell, it’s because we created the causes for such an environment.

It is the result of an effect similar to the cause.  We did similar things to others, and now it has simply come back to us.  When we harm others, we are actually harming ourselves in the future.  The harm we receive now comes from our past actions of having harmed somebody else – we are the future self of our past self.

It is the result of our tendencies similar to the cause.  Because we had tendencies similar to the cause, we created all of this karma and so the tendency is the deep cause of the other effects.  Also, when we are harmed now and we react negatively due to tendencies, this negative mind activates new negative karma which makes our situation worse because negative minds activate negative karma. 

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