When I was young I would experience waves of intense feelings. I didn’t know where they were coming from. Sometimes they would last a few days. They were feelings of alienation, sadness, inadequacy and fear, and I just felt downright weird. I couldn’t be with my family or friends, and I just said I was feeling sick. What worked was to take walks on the beach and go to Coney Island and go on the rides and EAT all kinds of stuff.
When I got older I asked around if anyone knew about this kind of thing. My sister and friends knew nothing. I then got into all kinds of things that were very unhelpful. Then, as I have written about before, I yelled for help. I was led to Rev. Master Jiyu and her teachings of Buddhism. The first few months at the monastery it came up for me from Rev. Master’s teaching that what I had was “karmic inheritance.” Through Rev. Master’s teaching I saw that this is a very big aspect of our existence. Rev. Master says this in many teachings.
In her Kyojukaimon commentary on “Cease from Evil” Rev. Master Jiyu says quite clearly how important karma is. “The Law of Karma is one of the five laws of the universe; it is absolute, it is inescapable. What happens, or happened, or will happen to you or to anyone else is caused by karma.”
Early in my training I realized the feelings I had were karmic feelings. Like most people I didn’t see the cause but as it is said, “feelings are the reaper of karma.”
When I was a young novice monk something did come up one night, a kind of dream-vision of something from my karmic past. It was a railroad car crowded with people. There was great sadness and the smells were very strong. When I woke up I was very shaken. The smells were with me for most of the day.
We can speculate what that was, but that is not helpful. Just to offer that up to the Love and Compassion of the Eternal in our meditation and training is enough. That’s where this kind of karmic pain wants to go. It is looking for love and the Pure Love of the Eternal is the medicine.
I know many people have trouble with this teaching. I know it is hard to grasp. I have found it true for myself. In the booklet, An Introduction to the Tradition of Serene Reflection Meditation, Rev. Master Jiyu provides the clearest and most cogent explanation of the central importance of karma in our lives that I have ever seen and I am very grateful for it:
What people usually think of as their “self,” “soul,” or “spirit” is actually an impermanent combination of several components. Some components, such as the ego, the sense of self, the body image, and the like are personal and individual but are continually changing and do not survive death. Another component, the Buddha Nature, because it is one with the Buddha Essence of the Universe, is unchanging and eternal and yet, for the very same reason, is neither personal nor individual. A third type of component is what is known as karma; this is the spiritual force set in motion by all volitional actions, whether good or ill. When we speak of a person’s karma, we refer to the sum total of all such forces currently remaining effective which he or she has produced in this life- time or has acquired at the time of conception from other beings which have left it unfulfilled at the times of their deaths. Positive volitional acts produce positive karma, sometimes called merit, which has positive effects on the lives of beings. This positive karma, already being at peace by its very nature, is at one with the infinite Sea of Merit of the Cosmic Buddha upon the death of the individual and thus provides no basis for an immortal soul. Negative karma, if not exhausted or purified in this lifetime, continues on after death and conditions the conception of a new being who will have an opportunity to allow it to run its course or to purify it, thus setting it to rest. Once its force is spent, negative karma ceases to exist, hence it, too, cannot produce an immortal and individual soul. The karma produced in this life and the karma inherited from other beings are not of different types: they both act in the same way and are indistinguishable. Thus, in Buddhism, there really is no such thing as an individual and immortal soul….
I would like to end with a visual diagram that first came up for me in 2004 at a retreat in the Netherlands that may help to illustrate the process of karmic inheritance and conversion through training. (Thanks to some friends of Seattle Dharma Refuge from the University of Washington for creating the graphic.)
May was a busy month at the temple. Rev. Master Mokushin, Dean of the Serene Reflection Dharma Association, arrived on May 16th. On Saturday, May 19th, North Star Dharma Refuge was officially opened as a temple and Rev. Master Bennet installed as its Priest, with the meditation group and Rev. Master Mokushin as witnesses. As part of the ceremony, he vowed at the temple gate that “while I remain within this place this gate shall never be closed to any living thing.”
On May 21st, Rev. Master Bennet had a total knee replacement of his left knee at the local hospital. The operation was successful, and physical therapy is ahead of schedule.
Rev. Master Mokushin returned home on May 31st. Rev. Master Bennet expresses his gratitude to Rev. Master Mokushin for her help both with the temple opening ceremony, and post-surgical recuperation. He is also very grateful to Jeff for chaufferring Rev. Master Mokushin to the airport, for mowing the temple lawn while his knee mends, and to Mary and Irene for providing treats for the temple opening.
Serene Reflection Meditation Refuge, Olympia, WA
We celebrated a funeral on May 1st at North Cascades Buddhist Priory for our beloved friend, Loki, who died the previous day. She was buried in the animal cemetery next to her friends, Molly and Smoochie. Loki had a great love for people, and we are deeply grateful to have lived and trained with her.
At the end of May, Rev. Master Koshin honoured us with a visit, and it was our pleasure to provide him with a period of well-needed rest.
During his visit Rev Master Koshin generously offered a public talk on "The Deeper Meaning of Life and Death." We thank Rev Master Koshin for his helpful talk, and thank as well the congregation members for organising the event, and Maroesja and Wim for providing their home as the venue.