From “Forum: Is Karma Fate or Freedom?”, in Lion’s Roar

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Rita Gross: The present is an effect, and we can’t always ascertain exactly why the present is as it is. But how we deal with the present becomes the cause of future effect. So that to me is one of the most important clarifications about what karma is and isn’t. You know, if somebody has been mean to us, we don’t necessarily know why, but how we deal with that difficult situation will have a lot to do with how we feel in the future and how our relationships with other people will work in the future. That’s why Thich Nhat Hanh says we shouldn’t ever take out our frustrations by punching pillows, because all we’re doing is imprinting in our mind that it’s okay to react or hit when we are angry.

[…]

Andrew Olendzki: In classical Buddhist psychology, karma is explained in terms of the relationship between what we might call mental states and mental traits. The state of what is mani­fest in the mind, the emotion of anger or hatred or love, has an effect on your behavior, whether through body, speech, or mind—and that lays down a disposition, a character trait. A behavior has been learned, has been reinforced, and so down­stream when you are called upon to respond to a situation, if you have watered those seeds with a lot of anger, you’re going to be inclined to be an angry person who has angry responses, and the whole thing will just cascade. But if you’re able to cultivate states of mind that are kind, you’re laying down dispositions—habits, as it were—that are kind, and those will more likely be triggered.

[…]

Rita Gross: I think the word “habit” is really important here. When we do something over and over, it becomes habitual and therefore much easier to repeat. So the seeds we choose to water—Trungpa Rinpoche used to use this analogy, too— makes a lot of difference. Here’s where the role of practice is so important. Without the ability to see what’s going on and catch ourselves, which is an experience we develop through meditation practice, we tend to be very reactive to our envi­ronment. When that happens, we only reinforce the habits we’re already familiar with and aren’t able to turn our habits in a more positive direction.

Andrew Olendzki: I agree. What meditation is doing is training us to be aware of what’s going on. We can get through the day pretty well without being aware of what’s happening; all of our habits are automatic responses. We don’t have to pay attention, but when we do, we have the chance to alter our habits, which is what makes the practice transformational.

Rita Gross: And that’s what makes it possible to let some seeds wither and others flourish.

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Rita Gross: I do think it’s important to separate karma from rebirth to a certain extent. The deeds that I do in this life will not die with me or my body. They will con­tinue into the future, whether or not there is personal rebirth. Someone will reap the effects of the things I’ve done or haven’t done in this life, and that to me is motivation enough to do the best I can with the situation I have right now.

Larry Ward: My approach to the rebirth question is to come back to the present, to the states and traits that Andy pre­sented earlier. The question for me, from a meditative practice point of view, is if a state of hatred or irritation or anger comes up, is that state going to be reborn—not next year, but in the next moment? One way to understand rebirth is as an exis­tential present moment, in terms of the continuation of whole­some momentum or unwholesome momentum. So rebirth can be understood in the present tense as well as in the long term.

Andrew Olendzki: Well said, Larry. I think these days a lot of us are rethinking this very question, given the challenges of explaining rebirth in a literal sense. Many of us are thinking of it more moment to moment—every single mind-moment is a rebirth, a new beginning, and the question that comes up in the literature is, are you the same person now that you were ten years ago? Or ten minutes ago? And how is who you are now going to affect who you are going to become ten minutes or ten years from now? That’s very valuable to think about, and it’s very helpful to practice with so that you bring the best possible quality of mind to every moment. In this way you do your best to work with whatever you’ve inherited from the past and also maximize your benefit to the future.

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From “Forum: Is Karma Fate or Freedom?”, in Lion’s Roar

From ‘Nishitani Keiji’s “The Standpoint of Zen: Directly Pointing to the Mind”, by Bret W. Davis, in “Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings’, (W. Edelglass and J. Garfield)

“To cut through the mind of self-attachment that arises in the form of the ego-self is at the same time to go beyond the world (or the so-called “three worlds” of desire, form, and formlessness). This is the “great death” of Zen, which cuts through the roots of life and death for the first time. In consciousness-only theory, it is said that in extinguishing vijñana or consciousness, the visaya or world of objects over against it is finally extinguished. What comes to be manifest here is the non-discriminating or fundamental knowledge which in usual Buddhist parlance is called prajña. Its standpoint is that which has transcended the world to the “other shore,” which has gone beyond all possible beings in their very beingness, i.e., insofar as they are thought to be, and in this sense is called absolute emptiness (sunyata). This of course does not mean void or empty in a privative sense, emptiness as opposed to fullness. Rather it is the standpoint of the oneness of mind and things. Here all things cease to be the world of objects over against the discriminative mind, and manifest their true form in the field of absolute emptiness. All things manifesting their true form is nothing other than nondiscriminating knowledge. This then is the standpoint of the great wisdom of the oneness of things and mind, the wisdom that is prajña. It is here that the realization of self as no-self, the awareness of one’s own true self, occurs. All things are brought to light as being originally without self-nature, “self”-less, as being no-self-nature. All things are “no-self-nature as emptiness.” And this at the same time means that each and every thing becomes manifest in its true reality.

[…]

“I” directly see “myself” in the appearance of every single thing just as it is, as though two mirrors were mutually reflecting one another.” [emphasis added]

From ‘Nishitani Keiji’s “The Standpoint of Zen: Directly Pointing to the Mind”, by Bret W. Davis, in “Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings’, (W. Edelglass and J. Garfield)

From ‘Zen no Tashiba’ (The Standpoint of Zen), by Nishitani Keiji

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Nevertheless, one of the fundamental teachings of consciousness-only theory consists in bringing to light the inauthenticity of this discriminating mind. The standpoint of discrimination is that of placing the ego-self in the center, regarding the things of the so-called external world, and becoming attached to them. But attachment to things is only the other side of attachment to self. It is a twofold process: in the course of being attached to itself, the ego-self is attached to things, and in the course of being attached to things, it is attached to itself. While dividing self and things, it is tied to things and hence can neither truly become one with things nor truly become one’s self. This mode of being is an essential, intrinsic aspect of the human mind; but regarded from the field of the alaya-consciousness which forms the basis of this discriminative mind, the standpoint of the latter proves to have no foundation in truth whatsoever, to be “imaginary in nature” (parikalpita svabhava).

Discriminative knowledge is essentially falsehood (abhuta parikalpa). Yet at the same time, considering the essential connection between the seventh consciousness which is the seat of the discriminating mind, and the eighth or alaya-consciousness, we can see how difficult it is to shake off this falsity. For the alaya-consciousness which becomes the ground for pointing out the falsity of discrimination is at the same time the hidden root of discrimination; the two are as inseparable as roots from the earth. Therefore, in order to free oneself from the discriminating mind and negate its falsity, one must break through the eighth as well as the seventh consciousness. To crack the rigid frame of the ego-self, the force binding the frame together must also be torn loose from its roots up. This great latent force, determining the apparently free discriminative activity of the ego-self from within its hidden depths, imparts to it the character of necessity called karma. The connection between the seventh and eighth consciousnesses can in this sense also be designated the “karma-consciousness” of The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana. Breaking through the frame of the ego-self is only accomplished by cutting the roots of this karma-consciousness which reach to its depths. This is the meaning of Zen master Hakuin’s saying, “Slice right through the field of the eighth consciousness.” To cut through the mind of self-attachment that arises in the form of the ego-self is at the same time to go beyond the world (or the so-called “three worlds” of desire, form, and formlessness). This is the “great death” of Zen, which cuts through the roots of life and death for the first time.

From ‘Zen no Tashiba’ (The Standpoint of Zen), by Nishitani Keiji

From ‘Dogen’s “Mountains and Waters as Sutras” (Sansui-kyo)’, by Graham Parkes

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In an essay on the Mahavairocana Sutra, Kukai writes that the ultimate text of that sutra is the entire universe: “the vast and boundless text that exists spontaneously and permanently, namely, the mandala of the Dharma of all the Buddhas.

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Dogen substitutes for Kukai’s hosshin seppo the notion of mujo-seppo, which emphasizes that even insentient beings (mujo) expound the true teachings: “The insentient preach the Dharma. In this preaching the Buddhas are present and the patriarchs are present.” Dogen encourages, like Kukai, practice that effects an opening up of normal, everyday awareness so that such preaching may become audible. “When we each get rid of our husk, we are not restricted by former views and understanding, and things which for vast kalpas have been unclear suddenly appear before us.” Kukai’s notion that the ultimate sutra is the universe itself appears again in Dogen, who counters an overemphasis on study of literal scriptures in certain schools of Buddhism by maintaining that sutras are more than ancient texts and scrolls containing written characters. In the chapter “The Buddhist Sutras” (Bukkyo) he writes:

What has been called “the sutras” is the whole Universe in the ten directions itself; there is no time or place that is not the sutras. They use . . . the words and letters of the heavens above and the human world; they use the words and letters of the world of animals and the world of angry demons; they use the words and letters of the hundred weeds and the ten thousand trees.

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Dogen says that viewing the world from the usual anthropocentric standpoint is like “looking through a bamboo tube at the corner of the sky” (sec. 6). For a fuller experience, he recommends entertaining the perspectives of other beings, such as mountains, drops of water, celestial beings, hungry ghosts, dragons, and fish.”

From ‘Dogen’s “Mountains and Waters as Sutras” (Sansui-kyo)’, by Graham Parkes

From ‘The Incompleteness of Objective Reality’, by Thomas Nagel

“We must think of the mind as a phenomenon to which the human case is not necessarily central, even though our minds are at the centre of the world. This idea can be betrayed if we turn objective comprehensibility into a new standard of reality. That is an error because the fact that reality extends beyond what is available to our original perspective does not mean that all of it is available to some transcendent perspective that we can reach from here.”

From ‘The Incompleteness of Objective Reality’, by Thomas Nagel

From ‘The Puzzle of Conscious Experience’, by David Chalmers, in ‘Arguing About the Mind’ (2007), ed. Gertler and Shapiro

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“It is widely believed that physics provides a complete catalogue of the universe’s fundamental features and laws. As physicist Steven Weinberg puts it in his 1992 book Dreams of a Final Theory, the goal of physics is a “theory of everything” from  which all there is known about the universe can be derived. But Weinberg concedes that there is a problem with consciousness. Despite the power of physical theory, the existence of consciousness does not seem to be derivable from physical laws. He defends physics by arguing that it might eventually explain what he calls the objective correlates of consciousness (that is, the neural correlates), but of course to do this is not to explain consciousness itself. If the existence of consciousness cannot be derived from physical laws, a theory of physics is not a true theory of everything. So a final theory of everything must contain an additional fundamental component.

Towards this end, I propose that conscious experience be considered a fundamental feature, irreducible to anything more basic. The idea may seem strange at first, but consistency seems to demand it […] If existing fundamental theories cannot encompass it, then something new is required.

[…]

I suggest that the primary psychophysical laws may centrally involve the concept of information […] Perhaps information, or at least some information, has two basic aspects: a physical one and an experiential one. This hypothesis has the status of a fundamental principle that might underlie the relation between physical process and experience.

[…]

Second, we might bite the bullet an allow that all information has an experiential aspect –  where there is complex information processing, there is complex experience, and where there is simple information processing, there is simple experience. […] This seems odd at first, but if experience is truly fundamental, we might expect it to be widespread […] Of course, such ideas may be all wrong.”

From ‘The Puzzle of Conscious Experience’, by David Chalmers, in ‘Arguing About the Mind’ (2007), ed. Gertler and Shapiro

From the sermon ‘Jesus Entered’, by Meister Eckhart

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“free and new in each now, as if you did not possess, nor desire, nor indeed could do anything else”

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“this is why there is in him neither suffering nor succession, but only an equal eternity. In truth, this man is bereft of all wonder, and in him all things are present in their essence. Therefore he gets nothing new from things to come nor from any chance: he dwells in a single now which is in all time and unceasingly new.”

From the sermon ‘Jesus Entered’, by Meister Eckhart