“A Penny for your thoughts?”
I respect Buddha in the highest regard mainly because he was not a product of his parents’ upbringing or the genes he inherited from them. He was a product of his own actions and he was able to meditate on this, comprehend it and accept it. Buddha was sheltered away from the world for the longest time. This meant that he only witnessed one side of life, which in his father’s point of view was the good side. No suffering, no death, no poverty. Yet he, Siddhartha, was not content with such a life of privilege. I’m sure you can imagine how boring it would be to experience only half of what life truly is about.
If you have the time and the interest, here is a list of articles that maintain that material possession isn’t the key to true happiness:
Even if you haven’t read those articles, you may have at least understood my point from the quotes above. The idea here is that the pursuit or attainment of material wealth will likely result in fewer experiences of positive emotions and hence a less satisfying life. This is the problem that young Siddhartha faced. No matter how secure or amused and entertained he was, he was not satisfied and yearned to discover the life outside the confines of his palace walls. His journey to enlightenment is long and far to intricate of a subject for me to cover in one single post. Therefore, I’ve decided to focus on Karma, outlining and critiquing his law. If you’re interested in the early life of Buddha, I found a simple article online here.
“Money doesn’t buy happiness”. Well, if money isn’t going to lead us to true happiness then what is? My answer is Karma; it is order of act and result, e.g., desirable and undesirable acts produce corresponding good and bad results. When I think about this, the first thing that comes to mind is the act of creating something intangible to produce observable results. What’s the intangible? Our sense of self. Since infancy, we use our sensory perception to take in all the information we can use to “create our sense of self”. We are forever seeking answers. What does this food taste like? Do I enjoy it? As we develop, our sense of self also grows according to what we’ve reaped from our environment. Do I like basketball or volleyball? The outcome of each stage of our development isn’t permanent however, it can be altered by later experiences. Therefore, the invisible force of Karma is creating our sense of self, that intangible part of us. It is a human commonality and has been defined as the ego or the mind. The observable result is the sum of all qualities of the self that we know, all that we’ve experienced, all that we’ve fed our souls (if you believe in such a thing). The observable result is what we show to the world. Don’t you ever wonder why people say “you are what you eat so eat something sweet”? To be more in-depth and perhaps something to contemplate about, Buddha states, “we are the heirs of our own actions.”
Karma is volition and it requires intention as well as performance. This is going to be far fetched but bear with me. When does life begin? Do we have a soul? What happens when we die? These are all questions that we can’t quite answer because it requires us to believe in something that we can’t explain. It requires us to believe that we are more than just human. Human is the form we take to experience life on Earth; this form allows you to reason (a distinctive function we pride ourselves over all other animals). This form allows you to understand yourself and your actions.
Aristotle’s virtue ethics is closely tied to Buddha’s law of Karma. However, instead of asking “what is the right action?”, virtue ethics asks “how should one live?”. This encompasses the whole life and the answer is virtuously. Karmically, patience is good action, which results in a capacity to accept delay. When you foster such virtue in your life you will discover that you will no longer be burdened by frustrations. Instead, things work out in your favor, producing happiness. Impatience is poor action which produces restlessness and a desire for immediate gratification. When you foster such a vice, you will often be frustrated and instead of moving forward you are likely to move a step back. So as to make you realize that you need to re-examine your actions. When you find yourself forever dumbfounded by questions like “why does this keep happening to me?”, you need to take a moment to evaluate all the actions that have led up to that moment. That moment when you finally see a glimpse of Karma.
Buddha’s law of Karma is so in-depth so I’m narrowing it down further to immediate Karma, which is present action and its present reaction. I say this because now is all we’ll ever have in this form. Yesterday is already lost and tomorrow is never a true day. That’s why we say “tomorrow never comes” right? Immediate Karma is experienced in this present life. Buddha did not teach this law of Karma to protect the rich and comfort the poor by promising illusory happiness in an after-life. It is about intentional action now; self-directed efforts to create the life we want despite the life we’ve been given: to create a heaven or hell on Earth.
I stress the importance of understanding how immediate effective Karma affects our lives because it is a law in itself. It operates in accordance to our actions and not to an external ruling agency. Therefore, it applies to all human beings regardless of one’s faith. I have diverse friends, each with the beliefs that work for them: some are Buddhists, some Agnostics, others Christian. Some of my closest friends are either Hindus, Atheists, Muslim, Judaists, etc. Heck my mother was Catholic and my father was Protestant; as a child I had to attend both churches. I considered being Buddhist one year; I was an Atheist many other years. Through it all, I realize that one thing remains: Karma. It is the one thing that I can control that will lead to the success of my life, to true happiness. Furthermore, it does not leave me with feelings of anguish over the after-life. Once we understand that we are responsible for our own actions then we can begin to live life more openly, responsibly, and acceptingly.