Meditative Sky
7-Week Zen Practice Period / The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
Week 3: "The Zen of Karma"
Listen to this talk:
Week 3: The Zen of Karma (40 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
Awakening Heart (Community of Mindful Living)
November 14, 2010 - Dallas, Texas

So tonight we're going to continue our series on the Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. We've talked about the law of pure potentiality, and the law of giving and receiving, and tonight we will talk about the law of karma, cause and effect. I'd like to invite all of you to open to the booklet and just repeat after me, or, let's read together, the paragraph that says "Every Action."

Every action generates a force of energy that returns to us in like kind. What we sow is what we reap, and when we choose actions that bring happiness and success to others, the fruit of our karma is happiness and success.
In Deepak Chopra's book "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success," he gives us three practices to cultivate positive karma. But first of all, what is karma? It's a really interesting word, it's in all the movies nowadays, it's a part of popular culture kind of like the word
7-week Zen practice period
Zen or nirvana. I'm sure you can find perfumes and drinks and other things, maybe even underwear, I don't know, these days, with these kinds of words. But Karma literally means Action, and an action can take place as an action of thought, an action of speech or an action of doing. So when we say Karma, it means an action of either thought, speech or physical doing.

But the way our popular culture uses the word Karma, it doesn't really mean action. It really means what in Buddhism is called Karma-phala, which is the fruit of action. So - and that's okay, because when we use the word Karma in general, we refer to both the action and the fruit of that action, so both the action as a cause, and the consequences and the effects of that action. But just so you know that literally Karma just means the action part, and you have to say Karma-phala for the fruit, but the way we use it in general now, it just kind of means both of that, which is good.

So Deepak Chopra looks at Karma, and he invites us to practice three practices, to help us really practice with this law of Karma. One of them is to look at the choices we make in each moment, to really witness our mind and the moment of choice. A second practice is to ask two questions as we are making those choices. The first question is, what are the consequences of this choice that I am making? And the second question is, will this choice bring fulfillment and happiness to me, and also to those affected by this choice?

And the third practice he recommends is to seek guidance from our deepest heart, to really pay attention to the messages from the depths of our being, which we can feel in our heart or maybe even in our abdomen, in our gut. If we are sensitive enough through mindfulness practice and meditation, we actually can feel a subtle inner knowing or guidance from our body when we are about to make a choice. We can feel a slight contraction or slight opening. So it does take some practice, though, to really listen deeply, so that's why we practice.

There are a few things I wanted to talk about tonight, and I actually wanted to keep the talk as short as possible because I wanted to have more community sharing, since the last two times I went over time and we didn't have very much time for sharing and that's a very important part of our practice, I believe. So I will just address some questions you may have, I will have to kind of guess, but if you do have a question I'm not addressing, feel free to raise your hand. Yes?

Woman's voice: What if the choices that you have in front of you, they're both so difficult that - and you can't really - you don't get a sense of which one to pick? What if that's the case, you know? Either choice poses difficulties?

Brother ChiSing: Between a rock and a hard place? Yeah. Well, there are two approaches to decision making, and they both have their merits. One is careful investigation and analysis and deep looking into the pros and cons of every side. If we do it from a mind of frenetic thinking, it may take a long time to really come to a positive conclusion. I think it's a lot easier, though, if we're doing that kind of investigation from a mind that has been practicing meditation, mindfulness, peace, love, joy, things like that. So I think that's a - it's a process, but it's a process that can be much easier if we are meditating regularly, because then we are able to investigate from a more mindful space.

Now, the second approach to that is to just completely let go of thinking about the problem, and to surrender the problem to the greater wisdom of the universe, and to just do what you know what to do, which is simply to practice your practice, to hold the question in your heart but without trying to find an answer, and to just entrust the question to the universe, as you're walking mindfully, as you're sitting mindfully, as you're doing all that you know to do, to just practice what is right. And many times, an answer will bubble forth spontaneously.

It sounds like a very strange kind of approach. Most of us in American culture only know about the first approach. Tackling the problem head on, looking at it from every single angle, and usually not from a very mindful mind, but that's how we do it. That in Chinese philosophy would be called a yang approach, which is a more kind of a direct or active - sometimes they would call it a masculine approach. And the second approach to decision making that I mentioned, where we're just letting go of the problem and surrendering the problem to the universe and just trusting that it - and trusting ourselves to the process of our practice and allowing the practice to bring the answer at the right moment, at the right time, that would be more of a yin practice, yin meaning kind of an allowing, a letting be, sometimes it's referred to as a feminine approach.

So I think that if you can combine both approaches mindfully, it can be very effective. So do what you can with the active approach, but also, at the same time, practice the letting go approach and trusting approach. Allow the answer to come from your practice and just from life itself. This is something I've learned a lot from. I've mentioned this before, you know, about six years ago when I was trying to decide on whether to move from California to Minnesota or Texas or somewhere else, I really didn't know, and I think I was overdoing the yang approach, because I was getting a headache from trying to figure out where-what to do-I mean, I wrote lists of pros and cons of each city, and what I'd do and what I wouldn't do, and you know, what kind of career opportunities, and how many friends did I have in this state, and-and it just drove me crazy. So I tried the other approach. I just held the question in my heart, and I didn't try to answer it. And I just practiced. So I was at a retreat at Deer Park Monastery near San Diego, and one day we were doing our walking meditation, I think it was right before lunch, and so I was just holding the question, but not thinking about it, just entrusting myself to the practice, breathing in, breathing out, taking a step, taking another step, holding the hands of my friends, walking up the hill with many, many people, monks and nuns and laypeople, and I remember very vividly, you know, as I was practicing, of course I had wandering mind at times, it's like, you know, breathing in, breathing out, stepping, stepping, I am home, I have arrived, here, now, here, now, what an interesting bush that is, here, now, what an interesting hat she's wearing, here, now, I wonder what's for lunch, here, now, I have arrived, I am home, that sort of thing. But then I really got into the rhythm of the practice and there was a moment where I just completely let go into the practice and suddenly I have arrived, I am HOME. And when my foot touched the earth, I felt like my awareness was like a silent sonic boom across the whole planet, and I realized I had actually taken a real step, my full being truly present on the earth, and I realized the whole entire planet is my home, and there was no state lines, in reality, there were no country boundaries. I was so worried about should I move here or there, to this city or that city or this state or whatever, and the whole time I was already where I was supposed to be, on Mother Earth. Although I wasn't really fully aware of being where I was until that moment. Oh. I've been home, right where I belong, this whole time.

So the question actually got answered, but in a different way than I expected. Because I realized the real question was not what city should I move to but am I really where I am? Am I really, truly here, or am I lost in my thinking mind, in my worry mind? Am I really, fully here and now?

So the answer came, and of course that made it easier for me to make a decision about okay, where am I going to move to? Because now I realized it didn't matter so much. I thought I was between a rock and a hard place when in fact I was already home and it was just what part of my home do I want to be in? you know, it's okay. It's not going to - I can't make a wrong decision in that sense. So I think that our practice can help take the edge off of the hard decisions we think are so hard. And also many times, people do receive great insight and very specific answers from the practice. But also realize that you don't have to make a decision, a choice alone. So many of us think that we have to make choices all by ourselves, especially the hard ones. Someone who, you know, there was a teenager - a teenage girl at one of the retreats and she and her mother were there and she was pregnant. She was very young and they didn't know what to do. They were just torn up. And they asked, so, should she get an abortion or not? You know, because if you get an abortion, wouldn't that be taking an action of bad karma? But if we have this baby in this situation it's just going to create more suffering, you know, because she's not ready to be a mother. So this was a very hard question. What do you do? Well, Thay, our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, very mindfully said, "I'm not going to give you an answer, but I'm going to give you a process on how to find the answer. Don't try to answer such a difficult question alone. Let the community help you."

You know, it should never, ever be the decision of just one person, such a question. Especially for pressuring one young girl to make such a huge decision by herself, it's not an action of compassion at all. Rather, those kinds of questions can be supported by all of us, together. So really, it shouldn't be this one girl and her mother trying to figure it all out by themselves, but it should be the family and the community and the society helping out, helping with the decision. And what he meant by that was not some sort of legal action imposing some external morality on somebody, what he meant by that was, can we be of support to the girl and let her know that whatever decision she makes, we will be there for her? Because if that were the case, it would change all the options for her, wouldn't it? So let there be the sangha, the community as a support for all the decisions we make. Don't isolate yourself. There's no need to isolate. And when you open your heart to the sangha, to the community as part of your decision making process, all the options shift, and there's more options than you thought were available.

So if the girl decides to have an abortion, we will be there to support her through the emotional trauma of it. And if she decides to keep the child, then we will be there, too, to give financial and spiritual and emotional support to her and the mother and the family and the child. Because no one should ever make such decisions alone. And we never have to make choices alone either.

Now I hope that answers some of your questions. Okay, good. Another question that is sometimes asked is, Well, what we are experiencing now is the fruit of our actions of the past. So if we are suffering in misery or whatever, according to a literal understanding of the law of karma, it is because we did something in the past that is causing us to have this result. Whether in the past in our personal past or in our past lives, you might think of that in that way. But, karma is so complex the Buddha even said that there's not a single sentient being in the universe that can fully understand it, and a Buddha can barely understand it. So don't beat yourself up if you don't understand it. It's very difficult and complex.

For instance, if someone who is very poor comes across our path, we might think to ourselves, "Well, they're poor because of their bad karma," and you just pass them by. But you see, it's not so simple because some beings choose to take on the disguise of suffering as Buddhas in disguise, or Bodhisattvas in disguise, to give us the opportunity to clean up our karma, to give us the opportunity to do something good so that we can negate any negative karma. So in that moment of meeting that poor person, perhaps that person is really a Bodhisattva in disguise, giving me the opportunity to make a choice that will help me. So what will be my choice? If I just say, "Well, it's their bad karma," I have just created more bad karma for myself. But if I help that person, I have created good karma because of this person, who is probably a Bodhisattva in disguise. So you don't know. So the best policy is to treat everyone that you meet as a possible Buddha in disguise. That's the best policy. Because you just don't know. That's why we can't judge anyone for their situation. We don't know.

So if we're not going to be able to fully understand the whole process of Karma, so what do we have to talk about tonight? Well, the Buddha as a teacher was always very practical. Many people asked him lots of metaphysical questions, and lots of philosophical questions, and most of the time he wouldn't answer them. Because it wasn't really the right question, just like my question about well, where should I move to? Minnesota? Texas? Somewhere else? Stay in California? Really wasn't the right question. The deeper question was, am I truly here and now? Am I really able to be present here and now? That's the real question.

So the Buddha would sometimes be silent to these questions that were just not important questions, not really the right question. H e would wait for the person to ask themselves, "Why is the Buddha being quiet? Hmm, maybe I need to ask a different question. What would be that question?" So the Buddha, by this process would give people opportunities to do some self reflection, look into their heart, and then ask a real question. And many times the real questions were things like, not "Can you tell me the whole process of Karma so that I can understand all of it?" That's not really the right question. But a question that might be helpful might be like this: "What can I do to clean up my negative Karma and to cultivate good Karma?" or an even deeper question, "How do I become enlightened so that I can become free of all Karma, good and bad?" A real question might be not, "How old is the universe?" Or "What is God like?" or, "Is my soul eternal or not eternal?" but, "What can I do to transform my suffering?" "What can I do to be of service to others?" See, it's a matter of the question, and I think most of us have been asking so many questions that aren't really the real question of our heart.

You know, I'm going to digress a little bit, but I just love the Buddha. I love the Buddha's teachings. I love the Buddha's practices. And I love the way many Buddhist communities have evolved over the centuries to provide various ways of understanding the Buddha's teachings and ways of practice. I think they're all beautiful. And that's not to say that I don't think there's beauty in all the other teachings and traditions and faiths. Of course there is. But when I study the Buddha's teachings and live the practices, I am just amazed over time at how profound and beautiful they are. And how blessed I am to have this opportunity to encounter such teachings and practice them. I hope that you, too, can really come to that place of deep appreciation of the Buddha and the teachings and the practices, because one of the ways that is so powerful that we can truly transform our karma is to deeply take refuge in the Buddha and the dharma and the sangha, to completely and fully entrust our whole heart and being to the enlightened ones and to the enlightened teachings and practices, and to the enlightened communities. This alone, I really feel, is enough. Because all other practices that transform our karma are contained in those three practices.

I love the Buddha's teachings because you can be a theist or a nontheist and still practice. You can believe in reincarnation or not believe in reincarnation and still practice. You can believe in an eternal universe or a created universe and you can still practice. You can believe in one god or many gods or no god or however you want to think about God and you can still be a practitioner. That's why I love about it, it's amazing to me. It's how universal these teachings and practices are. Because most of the time all these ideas about God and the soul and the universe and all these things, well, they're not really the right questions. They're not based on the right questions. What is the real question? If you can really practice deeply, take refuge deeply in the Buddha and the dharma and the sangha, you will find that real question and the moment you find the real question, lo and behold, the answer has been there all along, within your own heart.

And when I say take refuge in the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha, what does that mean? It means Buddha, to take refuge in the truth that there is enlightenment, it is real and it is possible, and it is embodied by a real human being and many beings, and even today there are persons who embody that truth. So when I take refuge in the Buddha, I don't just do it theoretically in my mind, which is very important, too, but I do it literally and tangibly, too. I look for at least one person living today, who at least comes somewhat close to that fully enlightened state. I don't necessarily need someone fully enlightened because I don't think I would even recognize anybody with them. I just need someone enlightened enough. Or more enlightened than me! Right? Yeah! Just find someone more enlightened than you, and that's how you can tangibly take refuge. Yes! Enlightenment is possible because there's someone more enlightened than me in the world! So I bow to that person who is a light to me, giving me encouragement that yes, enlightenment is possible.

So who have I found? I have found Thich Nhat Hanh. And I remember one time at a retreat he was walking into the room and I had a little gift I had got for him, it was a little cross inside a lotus flower, so it was like a symbol of east and west in harmony, and so I was waiting for the right moment, and so I made sure I was in the front row, and when he walked in the room and everyone stood up with their hands together, and he slowly walked and then right when he got to where I was, I just took a step in front of him, bowed and I put the object in his hand, and then I stepped back. And I was really nervous, and all the monks were like, "What is he doing?" And Thich Nhat Hanh just looked and at first he was like "What is this?" and then there was a moment of recognition where he smiled, and at the moment of his smile, I literally felt a wave of energy just radiating from his heart and it was like a sonic boom passing through my body - whoomp - and my heart was so moved - and my whole body started shaking and I just started to cry, because like, I felt his energy, the moment he smiled. It was like his heart sent out this electromagnetic wave just really powerfully across the room and I felt it because I was in such close proximity to him and wow! Such energy, such beauty and power emanated from him, and I thought, "I don't know if he's fully enlightened or not, but he's close enough for me!" And so I take refuge in the Buddha by taking refuge in the fact that enlightenment is possible and that there are people who are very close to it.

Woman's voice: Do you believe that Eckhart Tolle is enlightened?

Brother ChiSing: I believe that he is enlightened to some degree, yeah. I don't know fully, I don't, you know. I did meet him once, yes. I was actually, I had my small glimpse of enlightenment experience, and I went to San Diego to the monastery so that I could just continue to bathe in this experience, and I was just in bliss the whole time, and everything I thought manifested. Because I was in a very clear space. So I would have a thought or an intention or a desire and it would just manifest. So anyway, I was taking my teacher to the airport. Not Thich Nhat Hanh but another teacher. And, uh, this was, you know, in California. And we were talking about Eckhart Tolle. And I told my teacher, I told her, "Gosh, you know, I've met so many wonderful teachers, it's like weird karma I have, but most of the authors we that read I've met them in person, but I haven't met Eckhart Tolle yet. So I hope to meet him this year, and I'm going to give him a big hug and tell him how much I appreciate how he can take these deep teachings and make them accessible to so many people."

Two hours later, at the airport, there he was, Baggage Claim No. 2, and I was like, I just saw the back of his head, and I was like, "Is that Eckhart Tolle?" And then I was like, "Oh my gosh, I think it is!" So I, I like bravely went up to him and I bowed and I said, "Excuse me, are you Eckhart Tolle?" And he said, "Yes…." So I gave him a hug, and I told him what I had intended, and his wife was there, Kim Eng, and she said, "Wow, you're a pretty good manifestor," So. But it was because I was in that space at that time, and everything was manifesting very easily and effortlessly. But yes, he is, I think he has definitely a degree of enlightenment, I mean, I don't - I'm not enlightened so I don't know how to judge what degree anyone is, but I can tell he's more enlightened than me! And that's enough.

Woman: (Inaudible)

Brother ChiSing: The question is, how does the law of karma relate to the law of attraction? And actually, I wanted to talk about this tonight but I didn't have time to write it all down and I didn't want it to come across jumbled. But there's actually several laws at work. So there's not just one law going on. And so what we experience is actually the result of many different laws interacting. So there's the law of Karma but there's also the law of attraction but there's also the law of grace. And I think there's another law but I can't remember what it is. But anyway, these are all different laws interacting. So it's not that simple. It's not that simple. I would put it this way: That the least powerful law is the law of attraction. It has it's place, but it's within a greater context. It's the smallest law because it's the law within the law of karma. The law of Karma is within the law of grace. So if you ever get too scared like some Buddhists do about karma, remember that there's a greater law. Something greater than karma. And that's the law of grace. And the law of attraction is a powerful law if you do it in harmony with the law of grace and in harmony with the law of karma. Then it can be very powerful.

But you have to understand everything in its context and place. The people who say that the law of attraction is the greatest law, I think they're wrong. Because basically they're just saying that we can be manipulators of everything, and I don't believe that. We can manifest and co-create within a context, within the bounds of karma and within the bounds of grace. So the law of attraction and manifestation does have its place and it's very important, but it's always working in harmony with the other laws. But that's all I'll say. But there's a deeper question. So let's practice this week, what would be a deeper question than that? So back to the original, real question: What can we do to heal negative karma and to cultivate and nurture positive karma? Take refuge in the Buddha and the dharma, the dharma, the teachings and the practices, so do more study and do more practice, and in the sangha, take refuge in true spiritual friends. Because if you hang out with too many people who are at a lower karmic vibration than you, guess what happens? It pulls you down. So be careful. Be sure that you have enough people around you during the week that are at your same level or higher, so you can be uplifted. You don't have to be with them all the time, just enough that you aren't going to be weighed down. You see, this is very important.

So some other good practices are, give food to monks and nuns, and do an hour of practice every day. And you can divide the hour into several parts. 30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes at night. You can do the whole hour in one sitting. And it doesn't have to be sitting the whole time. You can do 20 minutes of walking, 20 minutes of sitting and 20 minutes of chanting. Or you could do 10 minutes of spiritual reading, 20 minutes of sitting, 20 minutes of chanting and 10 minutes of walking. Or whatever. Be creative. I did this this past week. For some reason my mind was just really really monkey mind this week. And I had intended to sit for an hour a few days ago in the morning. And it was like this: 15 minutes dragging by. 30 minutes dragging by. 45 minutes - I can't do this anymore. So I put on my chanting CD and I chanted for the rest of the 15 minutes that were left. And WOW! It was amazing, and it reminded me "Oh yeah!" I remember a Buddhist teacher told me once that chanting practice cleanses karma. And I felt it because my monkey mind immediately was able to be more tame, and instead of feeling sleepy and tired I was energized. So I was cleansing karma for that last 15 minutes. And my sitting was just easier.

And another wonderful practice is bowing practice. Full prostration bowing with your full mind speech and body entrusting yourself to the universe. Bowing all the way to the ground, to mother earth supporting you. And it's a yogic exercise, too, because by doing this it moves energy in you, too, and you can release a lot. So if you're going through a lot of emotional stuff, I highly recommend chanting and bowing practice, and also walking practice, anything to do with movement or vibration will really help. Because it cleanses negative karma. Oh, and of course what else cleanses karma? Helping other people. Doing volunteer work. Charity. Giving of your time and energy to others.

Transcribed by Jennifer Jonnson

▲ Return to Top