Karma and Dharma

There is a story of a monk that wanted to join the Buddhist community. He was involved in a spiritual practice, which encouraged self-punishment in order to pay his dues, in other terms – to remove bad karma. When the Buddha realized this, he asked the monk if he actually knew how much bad karma he had accumulated. The Monk’s answer was negative. Then the Buddha asked if he knew when to stop with whipping himself as part of his punishment, on which the monk again replied negatively.

Therefore, the Buddha emphasized that this method is never-ending creation and accumulation of “bad karma”, because at some point he will finish with his punishment and still go on beating himself as an innocent man. Consequently, he will be stuck in this loop of generating karma repeatedly.

Thus, the monk asked the Buddha for his advice. The Buddha then guided him to become aware of the fruit of the actions he is constantly doing, and that the only thing that can really liberate him is if he start behaving, from this moment on, in ways that create no harm at all, including on himself, and to stop worrying about the past.

I believe we all have been through this in our lives… maybe some of us still struggle with the conditioning of self-punishment and feelings of guilt over experiences or past action. However, I will not go into details about this now… everyone has their own reasons and ways to go through phases and experiences in life, according to the level of their consciousness at that moment.

The reason why I started with this story is that I wanted to point out the meaningless and irrational pattern we follow and nurture, based on the belief of reaching “betterment through suffering”.

By understanding that Karma refers collectively to all our actions and has corresponding consequences on our life, in the present and future, we can clearly understand the fundamental connection between all the action-reaction dots, which we generate during our existence.
The key point is This Moment and what exactly we do in it. The choices we make now will determine the effects and results that will eventually follow. Therefore, how do we expect to have better tomorrow, month, year, a life, if at this very moment we dwell in feelings that does not serve us in the direction we say we want to go.

For example, we may face hard times in our lives, loss of a loved one, heartbreak, losing a job, miscarriage, death of a family member… many situations in life might be considered as hard or even undeserved. So we ask ourselves why is this happening to us, we shouldn’t go through this pain and sorrow, we should be in better situation, or we might go in the contrary and start believing that we don’t deserve anything better than this.

Both of these states are misleading and limiting. They bound us deeper and deeper in this whirlpool of unconscious patterns that we follow with no way out. It seems that everything happens to us and we just react to those events from the level of our existence in that moment. Starting from our mood, through the level of our self-esteem in that particular moment all the way to the self-development work we have invested ourselves in, it depends if we will react or respond to the ever-changing life events.

The way we react is triggered by the beliefs, inclinations, and prejudices of the unconscious mind. A reaction is based in the moment and does not foresee the effects of what we do or say. A reaction is survival-oriented and on some level a defense mechanism. It might end up ok, but oftentimes a reaction is something we regret later. This is where we start the whipping.

On the other hand, a response is based on information from both the unconscious and conscious mind. A response acknowledges our well-being, as well as on those around us. It takes into consideration the long-term effects and complies with our ethics and principles.

When we react, we are reactive. We make actions. Thus, create Karma. Which can be negative or positive, depending on how we process it.
To respond means to be responsible. Meaning, doing the right thing in the given possible situation. This is our Dharma.

To clarify these concepts, we can say that Dharma should be the guidance of our Karma.

If we go back to the Buddha’s advice in the story, we can correlate Karma with the ongoing action as punishment and Dharma as the moment the Monk liberates himself by being conscious of his actions in that very moment.

This does not mean we clear out our already accumulated Karma. Nor it means we will start living a life free from hardship, pain or sorrow. It simply means we will create space for us to take a deep breath, step back and give ourselves the opportunity to respond. Respond to life, not go against it.

We give ourselves the opportunity to accept the situation as it is, go deeper into the essence of it and use it as a means for our own development.
Our own liberation from outer circumstances and inner limitations.

Because in order to clearly understand what it is that we are supposed to do, our mind should be still, uncluttered by inner chatter and our emotions undisturbed by outer circumstances. For me and my friend “Impatience”, this is a challenge we face on regular basis, and will do so until the lesson is learned. Nevertheless, I am not in a hurry… I take my time in learning… (however paradoxical this may sound)

Now I know this is hard work and needs a lot of introspection, conscious observation and sense of Viveka – Sense of discrimination; wisdom; discrimination between the real and the unreal, between the permanent and the impermanent.

But everything is hard until it is easy right 🙂
The only thing that makes this possible is the effort we put in every moment. Not today, tomorrow, a month from now or next year. Just now. This moment.

And by effort I don’t really mean struggle. I mean surrender. Surrender to our Dharma. Our path. Our own truth. Surrender to our inner wisdom.

How do we do that? There are many ways to discover our own path, some of which includes self-reflection time, meditation, observation and retrospection.. These techniques will lead us to listening to our gut feeling, paying attention to synchronicities, discovering our talent, our passion in life, recognizing the things that uplift us and bring joy into our life because there is where our purpose lies.

The individual who truly loves the soul, is fully satisfied with the soul, and finds utter contentment in the soul alone, for him no duty exists. Therefore, always conscientiously perform good material actions, and spiritual actions without attachment, by doing all actions without attachment one attains the highest.- Bhagavad Gita 3:17-18