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Karma: The Revolving Door

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I’m hesitant to write this post. Honestly, I don’t think I’m ready. As I sit in front of my tiny wooden statue of the Buddha, flanked by two candles, I cannot help but hear a faint whisper saying…

“Time is now.”

Siddhartha Gautama taught that our existence is conditioned by the past actions and thoughts of the universe both within and outside of us. We are ever-changing, ever evolving (or devolving) beings trapped inside the revolving door of karma (action)…that is, unless we free ourselves of desire, illusion, attachment and the endless cycle of cause and effect. This is the point of Buddhism: liberation from karma–suffereing, to escape the revolving door.

So why is this post difficult for me? Because from September 11th, 2001 and up until this moment, I wanted Osama bin Laden dead. But that wasn’t enough. I didn’t just want him dead, I wanted to place the bullet in his skull.

The attack against the United States on September 11th was an act of karma–bad karma–that not only stained the lives of those who propagated the attack, but everyone on the planet. Karma then is like a stone dropped into a pond. Those ripples fan out and strike other objects within the wake of those ripples and like an echo, eventually come back to the source. This is where cause and effect comes into play. One’s karma returns.

In the case of Osama bin Laden’s karma, the ripples touched millions instantly, including me. Just as the ripples in water cause a reaction (unless you are detached from karma, as the Buddha teaches) in everything it contacts, I was moved into action by these events.

Two weeks later, I surrendered to and embraced the national hatred toward this man and his al-Qaeda network. I joined the United States Marine Corps with the sole intent of going into whatever clime and place required to wipe this man’s existence off the planet.

But something happened. I didn’t make it through Basic Training. 1 1/2 months in (half-way through) my time at Paris Island, South Carolina Marine Corps Training Depot, I started sleep-walking. I was so involved in my training, so ready to be a Marine, that I performed drill movements with my rifle in my sleep. I was immediately discharged and it took years for me to let go of my desire to get back into the Corps.

This is what the Buddha was talking about. My desires became an obsession that mired my very existence. I became a slave to karma. Freedom is only achieved once we release ourselves from desire and master our own minds. My wife insists that I didn’t become a Marine due to some higher purpose. Indeed, had I graduated, I would not have married her, had our children, or maybe even alive to write this post to you. But even thinking about such things pulls us back into karma–into the tar-pit of our own subconscious imaginings. What matters is what is here, now. The reality and realization of constant change.

To overcome one’s own self is indeed better than to conquer others. Neither god nor demigod, nor Mara with Brahma, can undo the victory of him who has subjugated himself and who practices self-restraint.–Dhammapada, canto 8: 104-105

Now that I’ve overcome my desire to become a Marine and kill Osama bin Laden out of revenge, the Buddha asks me to go a step further. So, Great Master, it isn’t enough that I don’t want to personally kill him, but I must refrain from wanting others to kill him as well?

Indeed, the Buddha teaches us that All life is not only sacred, but possesses latent buddha-nature. Because of this possible enlightenment, this possible change (all existence is in flux, remember?), we cannot be attached to what we perceive this man or anyone else as being, because this apparent state of being is only our own projections of that person or thing. Our projections are not reality, only our personal conditioned reality.

But what about justice? Didn’t Osama bin Laden deserve to die? I can’t answer that, but I suspect that the Buddha would ask us why we cling to the cause and effect cycle of retribution (sometimes a fancy word for “justice”) that is karma in the first place. If we release ourselves from this notion that killing bin Laden somehow creates balance in the universe, then the teachings of the Buddha becomes clear. Did killing him or any other terrorist remove our animosity? Some might say, “Well it makes me feel better.” The Buddha would probably reply “That means you were a slave to your desire. Your enslavement to the desire to seek ‘justice’ controlled your actions. You are not free.”

So I return to where I started. What do I do with this news of bin Laden’s death? What do I do with my feelings of satisfaction and joy for this man’s demise?

Nothing. The Buddha tells me to:

Observe your thoughts with detachment as you observe with detachment the distant flight of birds in the peace of the evening. –Cularahulovada Sutta

Wow. No one said this would be easy. Obviously the national reaction to this news is celebration and relief, a sigh from the breath of Justice. But the Buddha calls us to do something higher. To release ourselves of that need, to meet evil with good, the violent with non-violence, hatred with love, the intolerant with tolerance.

A tall order indeed. I can’t say I’m there yet, but I’m trying. Of course there’s also the timeless wisdom of Master Yoda:

“There is no try. Do, or do not.”

All I know is that I want to be like this guy.

And letting go–of everything–is the only way to get there.

What do you think? We’ve all faced injustice large and small in our lives. Maybe you are bullied in school. Perhaps you’re the victim of domestic abuse. Your desire for equanimity could stem from something as small as someone cutting you off in traffic to as large as facing the murderer of a loved one. Given these teachings from the Buddha, do you think you could strive for the peace that is detachment? Could you let go of your need for justice? Could you let go of your emotions?



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Anonymous

posted May 26, 2011 at 12:06 pm


There is a brand spanking new rock there, but you might not see it under water and smaller rocks, silt, muck. Unless it is dredged up from the pond, it will stay forever a changed pond.



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Anonymous

posted May 26, 2011 at 12:06 pm


There is a brand spanking new rock there, but you might not see it under water and smaller rocks, silt, muck. Unless it is dredged up from the pond, it will stay forever a changed pond.



report abuse
 

Anonymous

posted May 13, 2011 at 1:36 pm


Hi there Maria. Osama’s death does present us with a conflict in feelings, doesn’t it? In the end though I think you’re right. Love, compassion, and understanding are the only way to confront hate and ignorance.



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Anonymous

posted May 13, 2011 at 1:36 pm


Hi there Maria. Osama’s death does present us with a conflict in feelings, doesn’t it? In the end though I think you’re right. Love, compassion, and understanding are the only way to confront hate and ignorance.



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Maria

posted May 11, 2011 at 9:14 pm


Wow Andrew, I really enjoyed reading this post and it was something I needed to read:) As a Muslim I also hated Osama Bin Laden for giving all muslims a bad reputation. However, news of his death just left me in shock and part of me was happy that that Muslims can now be out of the spotlight for a little while at least but I didn’t think celebrating and rejoicing in his death was the right thing to do either. It just showed me that humanity is just sinking into a world of revenge, vegeance, and hate:( However, reading what you wrote and the comments lets me know that there are still a few out there that are trying to combat that revenge/hate into love, compassion, forgiving and understanding that is needed in order for a society to be prosperous and move forward.



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Maria

posted May 11, 2011 at 9:14 pm


Wow Andrew, I really enjoyed reading this post and it was something I needed to read:) As a Muslim I also hated Osama Bin Laden for giving all muslims a bad reputation. However, news of his death just left me in shock and part of me was happy that that Muslims can now be out of the spotlight for a little while at least but I didn’t think celebrating and rejoicing in his death was the right thing to do either. It just showed me that humanity is just sinking into a world of revenge, vegeance, and hate:( However, reading what you wrote and the comments lets me know that there are still a few out there that are trying to combat that revenge/hate into love, compassion, forgiving and understanding that is needed in order for a society to be prosperous and move forward.



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Anonymous

posted May 6, 2011 at 10:36 am


Well said. The Baha’is offer a great example of justice through peace, and patience.



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Anonymous

posted May 6, 2011 at 10:36 am


Well said. The Baha’is offer a great example of justice through peace, and patience.



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janine van rooij

posted May 5, 2011 at 2:57 pm


Hate only begets hate…. an endless circle. When we are met with injustice we should seek justice, on a personal level. If the injustice is directed to a group of people, still justice needs to be sought. It is possible to seek justice without causing physical or mental harm to a person, as many individuals and groups of people have proven, I am thinking now of the Bahais in Iran, especially those who have close family members imprisoned or put to death solely because they are Bahais. But there are other groups and individuals all over the world who take up nothing but their deeds, which are not violent, and their words as weapons in the fight for justice. So yes, fight for justice but beware that emotions as anger and hate and wish for revenge become a motivator for your fight. They will not lead you to acts of justice.



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janine van rooij

posted May 5, 2011 at 2:57 pm


Hate only begets hate…. an endless circle. When we are met with injustice we should seek justice, on a personal level. If the injustice is directed to a group of people, still justice needs to be sought. It is possible to seek justice without causing physical or mental harm to a person, as many individuals and groups of people have proven, I am thinking now of the Bahais in Iran, especially those who have close family members imprisoned or put to death solely because they are Bahais. But there are other groups and individuals all over the world who take up nothing but their deeds, which are not violent, and their words as weapons in the fight for justice. So yes, fight for justice but beware that emotions as anger and hate and wish for revenge become a motivator for your fight. They will not lead you to acts of justice.



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Anonymous

posted May 4, 2011 at 11:49 am


Very true, Malini. I think this is the case with many people in that the ideals of their spiritual teachings seem obscure until a real-life application falls into their laps.



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Anonymous

posted May 4, 2011 at 11:49 am


Indeed, and you are most welcome.



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Anonymous

posted May 4, 2011 at 11:47 am


Great food to chew on.



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Anonymous

posted May 4, 2011 at 11:47 am


Great food to chew on.



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Anonymous

posted May 3, 2011 at 11:58 am


Succient imagry and wisdom here. Thank you for sharing.



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Anonymous

posted May 3, 2011 at 11:58 am


Succient imagry and wisdom here. Thank you for sharing.



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Anonymous

posted May 3, 2011 at 11:57 am


I am happy to share my experiences, Pyllis. My only hope is that the lessons I glean are a blessing to others.



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Anonymous

posted May 3, 2011 at 11:57 am


I am happy to share my experiences, Pyllis. My only hope is that the lessons I glean are a blessing to others.



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Anonymous

posted May 3, 2011 at 11:50 am


The task is difficult, however the results of your efforts will set you free. It took me a long time to realize this.



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Anonymous

posted May 3, 2011 at 11:50 am


The task is difficult, however the results of your efforts will set you free. It took me a long time to realize this.



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Elsiejay

posted May 2, 2011 at 6:43 pm


I have pondered the old metaphor of dropping rock into a pond. We see the ripples, but often fail to look beyond the peaceful circles that move back and forth, usually interfering with each other. but we don’t look beyond the surface, where the real changes are happening.

The tossed rock immediately hits bottom, where all the dirt and muck lies, and the dirt, small stones, dust and muck swirls around the pond, obscuring all the real changes. The ripples stop after a few minutes, but the silt continues to swirl, with the heaviest stones falling out first and becoming obscured by the rest of the silt. That pond has fundamentally changed. There is a new rock there, but you might not see it under water and smaller rocks, silt, muck. Unless it is dredged up from the pond, it will remain forever a changed pond.

From the first moment of the impact of the first tower, our pond has been eternally change by the violence that most won’t forget, by the massive loss of life, and the constant push on the button of “KILL OSAMA.” 150 years after the Civil War, it is still passionately debated in city halls, working places and homes across the nation and beyond. Somehow, our leadership (not necessarily politicians or actors or sports stars) need to lead us into some idea of how we can deal with these rocks.

Every country has these challenges, and since we drew the lines on the globe, we need to remember that from high earth orbit, those lines don’t exist. Our creator loved us so much that He let us learn what happens when we throw rocks. We can begin to grow up when we are so preoccupied with caring for each other the rock won’t matter, nor will the splash.



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Elsiejay

posted May 2, 2011 at 6:43 pm


I have pondered the old metaphor of dropping rock into a pond. We see the ripples, but often fail to look beyond the peaceful circles that move back and forth, usually interfering with each other. but we don’t look beyond the surface, where the real changes are happening.

The tossed rock immediately hits bottom, where all the dirt and muck lies, and the dirt, small stones, dust and muck swirls around the pond, obscuring all the real changes. The ripples stop after a few minutes, but the silt continues to swirl, with the heaviest stones falling out first and becoming obscured by the rest of the silt. That pond has fundamentally changed. There is a new rock there, but you might not see it under water and smaller rocks, silt, muck. Unless it is dredged up from the pond, it will remain forever a changed pond.

From the first moment of the impact of the first tower, our pond has been eternally change by the violence that most won’t forget, by the massive loss of life, and the constant push on the button of “KILL OSAMA.” 150 years after the Civil War, it is still passionately debated in city halls, working places and homes across the nation and beyond. Somehow, our leadership (not necessarily politicians or actors or sports stars) need to lead us into some idea of how we can deal with these rocks.

Every country has these challenges, and since we drew the lines on the globe, we need to remember that from high earth orbit, those lines don’t exist. Our creator loved us so much that He let us learn what happens when we throw rocks. We can begin to grow up when we are so preoccupied with caring for each other the rock won’t matter, nor will the splash.



report abuse
 

Phyllis Unterschuetz

posted May 2, 2011 at 5:42 pm


Thank you Andrew for this insightful post and for the probing questions. For me detachment is the foundation of all virtues; its practice grants me the freedom to attune myself to God’s will and to strengthen aspects of my noble design that are inaccessible when I’m clinging to my own notions. You’ve shared a very helpful analysis and your willingness to be vulnerable in these posts is a gift to your readers.



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Phyllis Unterschuetz

posted May 2, 2011 at 5:42 pm


Thank you Andrew for this insightful post and for the probing questions. For me detachment is the foundation of all virtues; its practice grants me the freedom to attune myself to God’s will and to strengthen aspects of my noble design that are inaccessible when I’m clinging to my own notions. You’ve shared a very helpful analysis and your willingness to be vulnerable in these posts is a gift to your readers.



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Rita

posted May 2, 2011 at 4:07 pm


Thank you for this moment of peace in a day which has almost everyone stirred up in one way or another. I was feeling quite smug in my superiority today, for I am not rejoicing over the killing of that man and I am sickened to see so many people celebrating death.
Perhaps I, too, can detach from my emotions and let it all flow around me instead.



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Rita

posted May 2, 2011 at 4:07 pm


Thank you for this moment of peace in a day which has almost everyone stirred up in one way or another. I was feeling quite smug in my superiority today, for I am not rejoicing over the killing of that man and I am sickened to see so many people celebrating death.
Perhaps I, too, can detach from my emotions and let it all flow around me instead.



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