Would You Like Fries with that Karma?

“Karma isn’t a big thing in the West, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a helpful way to understand (and work with) our minds,” he writes in his journal while relaxing on lunch.

A staggered herd of late night/early morning shoppers lurch toward their cars like a stream of zombies. He coughs out a clod of dust that his bronchials collected from the refrigerator tops in the neglected break broom. Did you know that he’s a janitor?

“People used to think of karma as something physical, as a force behind everything that happened in the observed universe. I’m a fan of the Mahayana understanding—with a few modern slants.

“Karma is anything that prevents our minds form being blank slates, pregnant with unconditioned potential. Genes are karma; classical and operant conditioning are karma; our habits and instincts are karma.

“Through mindfulness, we can become aware of our karma and, thankfully, we can change it. We can check ourselves; that’s a huge part of mindfulness. Checking on our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions and seeing what sort of karma is at work within them.

“In Yogacara, karma is split into seeds and fruits. The things we think, see, and do plant seeds in our minds. These seeds can ripen into fruits the next time we find ourselves in similar circumstances.

“If I stub my toe and get pissed off because of the pain, that anger is a karmic fruit that causes suffering. Giving into that anger plants more seeds, meaning that the next time I feel pain, I’ll probably be angry again.

“One way to break the cycle is to check ourselves before or as the anger arises. When we do that, we’re planting wholesome seeds that might ripen the next time we feel pain. Eventually, you might not get angry at all when you stub your toe. Hell, you might even laugh about it.

“Fruits and seeds don’t just apply to our knee-jerk emotional responses, but any kind of conditioned, automatic reaction we have to any stimuli. Waking up and immediately thinking about what you have to do that day might be automatic to you.

“It might be automatic to think about a breakup, concert, or the first time you got laid when you hear a certain song on. Maybe you automatically feel envious when you see someone attractive in a relationship with someone else. Maybe you automatically feel calm or drowsy when it rains.

“It isn’t entirely right calling anger, worry, calm, envy etc. karmic fruits. If we wanted to get uber-technical with it, the karmic fruit is the overall state of mind that allows anger, worry, calm and what not to arise. How we respond to what pops up amid that state of mind is what sows new karma. But, you can think of it however you want—this is your show.

“Another way to deal with karma is to overturn the confusion that props it up. Ideally, we stop planting seeds altogether, whether they’re wholesome or unwholesome. That’s what nibbana is: the mind becomes completely free of conditioning, free of its baggage.

“I don’t think that’s absolutely necessary, especially if you don’t believe in rebirth. You don’t have to understand the True Nature of Reality and have a mind, ‘As vast as infinite space,’ to be happy, satisfied and at peace.”

He once had his sights set solely on Perfect, Unsurpassable, Complete Enlightenment for all beings, but he abandoned that quest because he felt that that isn’t what the world needs right now.

The irony behind his Paccekabodhisatta (Lone Bodhisattva) Path is that he started on it with a Bodhisattvic motive. The Vow to, “Save all sentient beings,” demanded that he turn his back on Bodhisattvahood and Buddhahood—to instead simplify and personalize his journey.

He might not self-identify as a Buddhist—or as anything at all—but deep down, he knows what he is. But he’ll go to great lengths to to live as if he isn’t.

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