Overcoming Karma (I)

The hallmark of enlightenment is knowing the importance of humility. It takes humility to admit that we are no better than any other person. We may live, eat or sleep better. We may also have better access to education, livelihood and lifestyle. But wealth and abundance are not prerequisites to enlightenment; neither will living in poverty and physical sufferings bring us closer to the realms of realisation. It is the act of seeking that will bring us closer to enlightenment. The problem is, we often view ourselves as perfect beings living in an imperfect world that is ripe for our pickings. Since we do not view ourselves as imperfect beings, we, therefore, envy others in power and status, and we mistakenly accept them as our role models in life. We aspire and struggle to reach where they are; to be who they are. We live in such an “imperfect” environment that we wrongly believe that we must make it better. We rely on our ingenuity to invent; to manufacture; to exploit. We build financial systems to fuel our desires, greed and ignorance. We feign sympathy and compassion for the sufferings and misfortunes of others. The fact is, life continues even when we are not looking, or when we decide to look the other way. It will take a tremendous amount of conviction and wisdom, not to mention lifetimes, to unlearn what our forefathers have taught us. And even more to undo what we are teaching our young today.

Since the first discourse on Karma by Lord Gautama Buddha more than 2,500 years ago; the world has witnessed many destructions and changes. Many personal empires and dynasties, great and small, have come and gone. Whilst many more continue to exist today under the guise of democracy and industry. The world has morphed and changed tremendously since the industrial revolution. Over a few generations, people have also altered their behaviours consciously to align with acceptable social norms. These behavioural changes are, however, extrinsic. It is a survival strategy. A pretence to ensure our innermost desires and thoughts are kept safe and away from prying eyes. The outward displays of compassion and generosity are mere expressions of our inner guilt and pity, especially on those we deem worse-off than us, not because we understood noble notions but rather, we are fueled by misconceptions caused by our own karmic feelings and emotions.

Karma is a curious Truth. It stems from our intentions and actions (or non-actions) in previous lives; but brought forth as sensations, feelings and emotions in this life. The cessation of Karma (sufferings) therefore must depend on our daily practice to neutralise these karmic sensations, feelings, and emotions before they tighten their stranglehold on us. If we are constantly consumed by negative karmic emotions, we must seek to resolve the karmic sensations and feelings that give rise to these emotions. By not doing anything about it (non-action), these negative karmic emotions will be carried forward to our next life. This is the sophistication of Karma - it is not just actions, but also non-actions that give rise to Karma. Whatever feelings and emotions we harbour towards another person in this life; e.g., a spouse, child, competitor, relative or neighbour, etc, will be ingrained in our Spirit which also acts as the medium of propagation into our future lives. It is a contagion. If we are not careful, these karmic emotions will rise and impact us in ways we may not fathom in a new life. Karma is sophisticated but it is not complicated. Once we understood how our sensations, feelings, and emotions give rise to Karma, we will have a fighting chance of overcoming Karma.

There is no such thing as good or bad Karma. Our perception of good or bad depends on how much we feel about a particular event or circumstance. If we harbour negatively-charged karmic emotions, we will naturally react strongly to the stimulus. On the contrary, if we harbour comparatively positive karmic emotions, we will react favourably to the same stimulus. The stronger our karmic feelings and emotions, the higher the tendency for an event or circumstance to stir up a reaction. It sounds simple, but since we are not keenly aware of our karmic feelings and emotions, we will always find ourselves in all kinds of unflattering predicaments. To overcome this, we must first learn the art of observation. Start by observing ourselves (this is intrinsically a human ability) so as to find out what makes us angry, happy or sad. Find out also what annoys us or what makes us calm. Observe how we react to our spouses, children, siblings, friends, colleagues, neighbours or strangers. And think about how we might react differently, or anticipate how they might react to us if we had reacted differently. Next, observe others around us. How are they reacting to events or circumstances? Be mindful that others around us are also not keenly aware of their karmic feelings and emotions. Hence, if we are sufficiently observant, we should be able to “see” intricate behaviours unbeknownst to the observed. The art of observing others is not to partake in their events or circumstances. Observe as if a movie-goer in a cinema, except that we are observing others watching the “movie” and seeing how much they are engrossed in it. If we can do this, we will naturally awaken our subconscious mind and heighten our awareness of our own karmic feelings and emotions.

The fact that life is suffering means that we are naturally and karmically negatively-charged in terms of our sensations, feelings and emotions. We may work hard to better our lives (and become very good at it) or may participate in feel-good events to conjure up pleasant feelings and emotions. But experience tells us that these feelings and emotions do not last. Before we know it, we slip back into the negative emotions that drive us in a complete cycle - over and over again. Without consent, we permit ourselves to wallow in our ignorance - day in and day out. We remind ourselves to be positive, but only as long as we can remember to remind ourselves. This is why we need to be aware of our sensations, feelings and emotions; by learning to focus our mind on useful tasks that will really make a difference in our lives. Whenever we have strong negative emotions about someone; instead of fuming, why not dispense some of the negative energy by coming up with five positive traits about this person? Try it, and see how a simple tweak as this might change lives. It may look like a small feat, but a new life sprouts with each little success in our quests to overcome Karma!