“Karma” has been a word that has been usurped by our society. Everyone uses that word, Buddhist and non-buddhist alike, but how terribly misunderstood that word is. We have just done a sesshin at Hokyoji Zen Community where we investigated the teachings on Karma. Particularly we read Katagiri Roshi’s book, Each moment is the Universe, part 5, Creating the Future.
We usually think of Karma as a heavy burden we drag around after us. Some people use it to mean fate or destiny, that which we have no control over and shapes our life. In that case, we don’t have any free will. Some people use “karma” to get out of responsibility for their actions or their life by flippantly saying, “Oh, its my karma.”
But, do you know what Katagiri Roshi calls Karma? Vital creativity and Eternal possibility! That makes me smile. My memory of Katagiri’s teaching is so pro-living. Living our life as it is.
This Vital Creativity has to do with practice-realization in each moment. Karma is nothing more than how a “moment” gets conditioned by the fragrance of our past actions (and many infinite conditions, both personal and non-personal). The past conditions this moment and yet, the past doesn’t actually exists. We then condition the future by how we react to this moment. The future is conditioned by “now” but the future doesn’t actually exist. So all time; past, present and future, arise mutually in the only time there is – this moment.
Katagiri Roshi writes: “To accept your past karma completely is stillness.” Radical acceptance of the difficulties of the present moment and our personal suffering is the road to stillness. “Settling the self into the self.” It has taken me a long time not to fight who I am or what conditions have existed in my past; personal conditions, ethnic conditions, political conditions, race, history, etc. We have no control over the past conditioning that produced the present moment. All we can do is deeply accept this moment and feel the raw truth of the moment.
Where we do have some leeway is how we react to this raw truth. How do we react to this moment? In full ego reactivity (me, me, me) or practicing to come from our highest wisdom and from the precepts. We can actualize seeing this current moment with Buddha’s eyes. This is a pivotal active or creative moment. In this moment, perhaps we could say, we have a choice or we have free will. We can choose to use the laws of causality, in this moment, deliberately and intelligently. Each moment we can interrupt our habitual and delusional reactions to the past conditioning and we can plant a wholesome seed. Can we settle into this moment exactly as it is and then give back to the moment a good seed for the future. We can create the future.
This is what Katagiri Roshi calls Vital creativity.
And it is endless. Eternal possibility, Katagiri Roshi calls karma. Dogen says we have six and a half billion moments in a day. Each moment is an opportunity to go a-planting. There is an enormous Buddha field in each day. It’s endless. Always a choice, always change, always a possibility to plant something good. The seedling could be mustard seed size. It could be any of the spiritual qualities. It might be just relating to this moment’s arising with compassion. If the conditions warrant, it might be repentance or forgiveness for past wrongs.
This is the great thing about “everything changes.” We can move and change along with everything else. We don’t have to get stuck by our limited thinking and the momentum of our habitual reactions.
“To find a peaceful life, first of all you have to settle yourself in the self and in everyday life. According to the rule of causation, if you do something, you will get a result more or less immediately. So you have to get a taste of that result: good, bad, or neutral. Then in the next moment you have to be free from causation. That means you return whatever feeling you get from your experience into eternal possibility.
“At this time, cause is not something separate from result and result is not something separate from cause. Cause and effect are one. Freedom from causation is emptiness. Anytime, anywhere, you can be free from your karmic life, because your karmic life is going on in Buddha’s world. That is the reality of one step. The next step. To live your life freely, in peace and harmony, all you have to do is wholeheartedly take care of one step in every moment. This step is not separate from life, it is the full aliveness of life, interconnected with grass, water, your feelings, your body, and many things. In one step there is a peaceful life.”