We have discussed the first two periods, immediately before doing, saying, or thinking something and while we are actually doing, saying, or thinking it. Now we are ready to discuss what happens after the karmic action has ended.
After a karmic action has ended, there are three things that follow according to the Mahayana tenet systems: Chittamatra and Madhyamaka. There is no general word for all three together, so I have coined the word karmic aftermath to cover all three. This is a little bit complicated, because one of the types of karmic aftermath actually begins once the karmic impulse that drives us to commit a karmic action ends and we initiate a method for carrying out the action. But for ease of discussion, let’s just speak of karmic aftermath as what comes after a karmic action has ended.
We have mentioned briefly nonstatic phenomena that are neither forms of physical phenomena nor ways of being aware of something or, more literally, noncongruent affecting variables. For the sake of simplicity, let’s speak of them as “nonstatic abstractions.” Nonstatic abstractions are imputation phenomena, which means they are phenomena that are, literally, “tied” to a basis and cannot be cognized without also simultaneously cognizing their basis. So now, after the karmic action has ended, we have three nonstatic abstractions on the basis of our mental continuum: networks of karmic forces, karmic tendencies (sa-bon, Skt. bija, seed), and karmic constant habits (bag-chags, Skt. vasana). Karmic constant habits are only asserted in the Mahayana tenet systems.
Types of Karmic Aftermath
Networks of Karmic Force
There are two aspects of karmic force, one for each of its two phases:
- The karmic force that is the action itself
- The karmic force that has taken on the essential nature of a karmic tendency (sa-bon-gyi ngo-bor gyur-pa).
In the Sanskrit and Tibetan literature, a karmic action is always referred to as the “pathway of a karmic impulse” (las-lam, Skt, karmapatha), never as an “action.” The pathway of a karmic impulse is a nonstatic abstraction, an imputation phenomenon on the basis of four components:
- An object at which the action is aimed
- A motivating framework
- The implementation of a method for carrying out the action
- A finale.
This nonstatic abstraction, in other words the pathway of the karmic impulse, functions as a karmic force.
A karmic force that has taken on the essential nature of a karmic tendency is not the same as the second type of karmic aftermath, the actual karmic tendencies (sa-bon). This second phase of karmic force is still either positive or negative, still either constructive or destructive, and still a nonstatic abstraction. The actual karmic tendencies, on the other hand, which are also nonstatic abstractions, are unspecified to be either constructive or destructive: they are ethically neutral. To avoid confusion, let us restrict our usage of the word karmic tendency to just one type of karmic tendency, the unspecified one.
If we ask why is it necessary to have these two types of karmic aftermath – constructive or destructive karmic force and unspecified karmic tendencies – the answer is a bit complex. Only constructive or destructive karmic impulses bring on karmic force. Neutral karmic impulses, such as the impulse to eat, which Buddha did not specify to be either constructive or destructive, do not bring on karmic force. But since neutral karmic impulses also have karmic aftermath, it is necessary that there be a type of karmic aftermath that is unspecified as being constructive, destructive, or neutral. Thus karmic tendencies can be the aftermath of not only constructive and destructive karmic impulses, but also the aftermath of neutral karmic impulses.
However, in terms of the Buddhist presentation of the various types of cause and effect, only constructive and destructive phenomena give rise to ripened results (rnam-smin-gyi ’bras-bu) and such results are always unspecified. The unspecified aggregate factors of a rebirth state are the ripened result of karmic aftermath. Therefore, there must also be karmic aftermath that is constructive or destructive – namely, networks of karmic force – to act as the ripening cause (rnam-simn-gyi rgyu) for these aggregate factors.
To make it easier to understand, let’s call the first phase of karmic force positive or negative “obvious karmic force” or “obvious karmic potential” and the second phase positive or negative “nonobvious karmic force” or “nonobvious karmic potential.” Here, I am using the terms “obvious” and “nonobvious” merely to signify that one phase occurs during the action and one afterwards. “Obvious” does not mean, however, that we can see or hear the karmic force while we see or hear ourselves or someone else committing a karmic action of body or speech. We can see or hear the action, but not the karmic force itself. The obvious karmic actions function as a karmic force, and therefore, by extension, we can speak of “obvious karmic force.” We shall also use the term “karmic force” as a general term for both the obvious and nonobvious phases.
The term network of positive force (bsod-nams-kyi tshogs, collection of merit) appears as a technical term only in reference to an enlightenment-building network of positive force, built up with bodhichitta and resulting in enlightenment. However, to make the explanation of the mechanism of karma easier to understand, I think we can also speak of a “samsara-building network of positive force.” If we accept that convention, then we can also speak of a “samsara-building network of negative force” and, as a general term for both, we can speak of “networks of karmic force.” A network of karmic force, then, is a nonstatic abstraction that is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of both phases of karmic force, obvious and nonobvious.
Furthermore, each moment of obvious karmic force is a nonstatic abstraction on the basis of each moment of the components of the action which, in turn occur among the five aggregates of the person who committed the action. The continuity of the five aggregates is maintained by the continuity of either foundation consciousness or mental consciousness of the person, depending on the tenet system. To simplify, let’s just say they are carried as parts of the person’s mental continuum. Each moment of nonobvious karmic force is a nonstatic abstraction on the basis of each moment of the person’s mental continuum. In short, then, each moment of the entire network of karmic force is a nonstatic abstraction on the basis of each moment of the person’s mental continuum.
I think “network” gives a clearer understanding than “collection.” A network connects a lot of different points so that there is some sort of collective interaction. All of them connect with each other in different ways.
Deeper Analysis of Networks of Karmic Force
Let us examine networks more closely. We could talk about a network connecting physical points in one moment, like all the different parts of a machine functioning together. That is how we usually think of a network, isn’t it? Here, let’s change dimensions and think of a network in terms of connecting different moments of time. We acted like this; we acted like that. I yelled then; I yelled another time; and then I yelled again. Each act has a karmic force associated with it, both during and after its occurrence. The obvious karmic force of the action has a continuum of moments that lasts only as long as the action lasts. During the duration of the act, the obvious karmic forces of each moment of the act network together so that the longer the act continues, the stronger the network of karmic force from it becomes. Please bear in mind that this is the networking of moments of something and, naturally, only one moment happens at a time.
When the action ceases, the continuum of the karmic force changes its essential nature. It no longer is in the nature of an obvious karmic force; the subsequent moments of the continuum now are in the nature of a nonobvious karmic force. Its continuum begins the moment the continuum of obvious karmic force (the action) ceases and generates next moments until it either finishes giving its results or is purified. “Purified” means eliminated without it giving rise to a karmic effect. Please note that one karmic action can ripen into one karmic effect or into a series of karmic effects.
The moments of the continuity of that karmic force also network together so that they have a cumulative effect. However, it is not that the network gets spatially larger, because networks are merely nonstatic abstractions. They lack any physical form.
The effect that can ripen from this network can also grow in strength over time, as in the example of the negative karmic force of arguing with our partner that grows stronger the longer we go without apologizing. It can also weaken, as in the case when we counter our negative karmic force with positive karmic force from acting constructively.
The network of karmic force from a karmic action spans both phases – the obvious phase and the nonobvious phase. In addition, not only does the continuity of obvious and nonobvious karmic force from one karmic action network together over time, but also the karmic forces of many similar actions network together. For example, each time I complain, the karmic force of that act networks with the karmic forces of previous times I complained. The more times I complain, the stronger the network of karmic force from complaining grows and the stronger its effects can be. Here, the nonstatic abstraction becomes what we in the West might call a “karmic pattern.”
On top of that, the karmic forces from all our constructive actions network together, as do the karmic forces from all our destructive actions. Although we have used, for the sake of simplification, the term “network” to describe the nonstatic abstractions that are imputations on the karmic force from one specific type of action directed at one specific person and on the karmic force from one specific type of action directed at many different persons, only the nonstatic network that is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of all the constructive or destructive actions directed at all other beings is literally called a “network of karmic force.”
This is what karmic networks are talking about, and I think this way of explaining it makes a lot better sense of the whole picture of karma than using such words as “collection of merit.” It is certainly not a collection of points that we keep in a book and, with enough points or “merit,” we win a prize. Let’s take a moment to digest this.
Questions Concerning Networks of Karmic Force
Up to now, I have seen that when I repeat a negative action, it adds to the network and makes it larger and larger.
In a sense, yes, but try not to think of it in a spatial way.
It is not adding one to other, but rather one reinforces the other or strengthens it. When I have repeated something, it gets stronger because it includes the second, third, and fourth times.
Correct. The karmic force of the first act networks with the karmic forces from the second, third and fourth repetitions. And not only that, but of course every time we do something, it is slightly different. It is not an exact repetition. This is why “pattern” is a helpful word here. It goes in that direction. This is not like filling a bag with more and more rice, as in a collection of rice.
That is what I thought about merit up until two minutes ago.
That is because of thinking in terms of spatial dimensions and material phenomena. We are working here with moments of doing something and with what happens over time. We have to change dimensions. We are talking about moments. Duration and repetition strengthen a karmic pattern.
Are these networks some sort of energy?
No, the networks of karmic force are not types of energy; they are nonstatic abstractions that are neither forms of physical phenomenon, such as energy, nor ways of being aware of something. Networks of karmic force are imputation phenomena on the obvious and nonobvious karmic forces of the karmic actions of body, speech and mind, and all of these karmic forces are, in turn, nonstatic imputations on the basis of the mental continuum of the person who committed the actions.
The networks of karmic force are nonstatic abstractions on the basis of continuities of moments of karmic force having two phases, each of which has a different essential nature. Each phase is karmic force as a different type of substance, like a continuity of water can be made up of phases of water and ice, or phases of steam, water, and ice. Each phase is water as a different type of substance – gas, liquid, or solid.
The phase transition of water from a gas to a liquid or a liquid to a solid condition is occasioned by the water reaching a certain temperature. Similarly, in the case of the karmic force, the phase transition from obvious to nonobvious karmic force is occasioned by the action ceasing.
I need a picture or an analogy to understand what you mean by a network being an abstraction.
First of all, please note that we are not using abstraction here to mean something vague. Also, although a nonstatic abstraction can be represented by a static idea or a static category, a nonstatic abstraction is not the same as a static idea. A nonstatic abstraction, such as the positive force of a specific constructive act, changes from moment to moment as its strength grows stronger or weaker depending on our further karmic actions. The idea we have of positive force or the category “positive force,” with which we think about it, does not change from moment to moment, though we can replace our idea of it with another one as we learn more about what a positive force is.
When we think about a nonstatic abstraction, like positive force, we are merely representing it with a static idea. The positive force is a fact, whether or not we think about it, while the idea of a positive force only exists in the context of our thinking of it. So, it is not that if we stop thinking about positive force, this nonstatic abstraction no longer exists. It is not like when we forget the meaning of a foreign word and no longer have any idea of what it means.
What is a nonstatic abstraction, then, in this context? Let’s use another example, age. Our age is neither a form of physical phenomenon nor a way of being aware of something. It is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of each moment we have been alive. It is nonstatic: our age changes from moment to moment as we grow older. Furthermore, our age is a fact, whether or not we think about it with an idea of what our age is and what that age means to us.
For those of you who are familiar with math, our age is like the first integral in calculus, which is a connection of points to constitute a line. A line cannot exist independently of a series of points and cannot be seen without also seeing the points that are its basis. A line, then, is not the same as the idea of a line; it can be seen. A line, however, is a form of physical phenomenon, whereas these nonstatic abstractions, such as age and positive force, are neither forms of physical phenomena nor ways of being aware of something.
Now let’s change dimensions and talk about time, for instance an hour, as another example of a nonstatic abstraction. An hour is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of a series of sixty minutes. It cannot exist or be known independently of those minutes. But the sixty minutes don’t all happen at the same time, do they? Similarly, not every year of our age happens at once. One minute happens at a time and then it’s no longer happening. It is finished.
An hour is a nonstatic abstraction based on a succession of minutes that each lasts a moment and then no longer is happening. Again, it is like a first integral, but of temporal points, not spatial ones. An hour is not just an idea. We can say an hour actually exists, can’t we? It is the same with other nonstatic abstractions, like positive force and a network of positive force.
Just as an hour is a nonstatic imputation phenomenon on the basis of a series of sixty consecutive minutes, a network of positive force of a specific type of constructive act is a nonstatic imputation phenomenon on the basis of a series of similar acts. But only during the obvious phases of karmic force do we have a succession of moments of a specific type of action. A network of karmic force, however, is not simply a nonstatic imputation phenomenon on the basis of merely the succession of moments when we acted that way. Its basis also includes the succession of moments in between manifest occurrences of our acting that way. The basis, then, must include the succession of moments of the no-longer-happening (’das-pa) of our acting in that way.
In Buddhist technical jargon, the no-longer-happening of a karmic act is also called the karmic action’s “state of previously having perished” (zhig-pa). A karmic action’s “state of previously having perished” comes into existence when the act “perishes” (’jig-pa), meaning when it ends. According to the Mahayana tenet systems that we are presenting here, excluding Gelug Prasangika, a karmic action’s state of previously-having-perished is a static abstraction; it is a static state, a fact that never changes. It is a static imputation phenomenon on the basis of each moment of the nonobvious phase of the karmic force of the action, when the karmic force has taken on the essential nature of being a karmic tendency. This succession of karmic tendencies is, in turn, a nonstatic imputation phenomenon on the basis of the succession of moments of the mental continuum.
Thus, in each moment, only one moment of the network of karmic force is presently happening on the basis of the nonobvious karmic forces of many types of karmic actions. A moment of obvious karmic force may or may not also be presently happening. On the basis of each of the nonobvious karmic forces of that moment are the previously-having-perished states of every previous occurrence of a similar karmic act. It is in this way that the network of karmic forces is a nonstatic abstraction on the basis of an entire karmic pattern. After all, only one moment happens at a time.
Each moment of this succession of nonobvious karmic forces has a potential (nus-pa) to ripen when the proper conditions are present. So, since there were recurrences of a similar type of action, we need to say that there were successions of moments of potential for that same kind of behavior during the periods in between the recurring episodes of when we had acted that way. The not-yet-happening (ma-’ong-pa) of a further recurrence of the same type of action is itself an imputation phenomenon on the basis of that potential. As the strength of the karmic force changes from moment to moment, so too does the potential change and, likewise, the result that is not-yet-happening also changes. That is why there is no such thing as pre-determination in Buddhism.
The Complex of Behavioral Cause and Effect Is a Nonstatic Abstraction
Let us expand our discussion. In general, with karma we talk about behavioral cause and effect. When we talk about behavioral cause and effect, we are also talking about a nonstatic abstraction over time. However, we are not only talking about an imputation phenomenon on the basis of moments of similar behavior and the periods in between when we are no longer acting that way, but still have the potential to act like that again once more. Behavioral cause and effect is a nonstatic abstraction also on the basis of the moments of the karmic impulses beforehand that led to the actions and the moments of the results of those actions that have not yet happened in our experience.
That is the complex of behavioral cause and effect. It is a nonstatic abstraction on the basis of an entire sequence of cause and effect. Only one moment of the karmic cause and effect sequence occurs in any time, and the nonstatic abstraction is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of each of them as they change their temporal signature from not-yet-happening to presently-happening to no-longer-happening.
Let’s analyze in more detail a specific complex of behavioral cause and effect. Occurring on our mental continuum, there is an intermittent series of karmic impulses that arise before each repetition of a specific type of karmic action and a continuum of obvious karmic force during each of the occurrences of the action. In between recurrences, there are continuums of nonobvious karmic force and, intermittently, there are occurrences of ripenings of the potentials of the karmic force. These ripenings include a repetition of a similar action as what we feel like doing and wish to do. The karmic results that follow from the network of karmic force of that type of karmic action may occur only once, or they may occur several times, with intervals of varying length in between.
As long as a result has not yet happened or has not yet finished recurring from a certain continuum, we can say that this continuum, as a nonstatic abstraction, is a presently-happening and presently-functioning phenomenon in each moment of the mental continuum. Once a continuum of a specific karmic force has exhausted and thus has finished giving any results, the ripening of that particular continuum becomes a no-longer-happening phenomenon.
For example, an hour is a nonstatic abstraction on the basis of a sequence of sixty minutes. Until the entire continuum of sixty minutes is finished, we are still experiencing the hour of the class. The hour is a phenomenon that is still happening. Once those sixty minutes have finished and we are beyond that hour, there are no more presently-happening minutes occurring as the basis for that hour. The occurrence of that hour is now only a no-longer-happening occurrence.
It is the same with a network of behavioral cause and effect. Once it has finished giving its results, its ripening can no longer be a presently happening event. According to Tsongkhapa, the continuum of the karmic force is still present, however, on the mental continuum, but it is no longer functioning to ripen into results. The nonobvious karmic force with the essential nature of a tendency now becomes a “burnt seed” and takes on the essential nature of a karmic constant habit. As such, it hinders the attainment of enlightenment.
It is possible to purify our mental continuums of negative karmic force so that, without it ripening, it directly takes on the essential nature of a karmic constant habit. One method for accomplishing this is Vajrasattva meditation, but only when the meditation is done perfectly. On a strictly sutra level, however, voidness meditation is more generally practiced.
In order for a result to arise, certain circumstances or conditions are needed to help cause it to happen. Underlying all of them is unawareness (ignorance), specifically about “me” and how “I” exist. This is the main condition for networks of nonobvious karmic force to give rise to their karmic results. If we get rid of that unawareness forever, then ripenings of the networks of karmic cause and effect that are imputation phenomena on the basis of our mental continuums become only no-longer-happening phenomena. The ripenings can no longer be presently happening phenomena, because they cannot recur.
That is how we purify karma. So long as a network of the karmic force of a specific type of karmic action can actually produce a result and has not yet produced or finished producing its results, its ripenings are either no-longer happening phenomena, presently-happening ones or not-yet-happening ones present on the basis of a mental continuum. When it is finished giving its results or there is no longer any possibility for it to actually produce any results, there are only no-longer happening ripenings in the continuum. What follows in the continuum are merely the constant habits that the karmic force has transformed into.
Can I change the character of the network between myself and someone else by being compassionate toward this person?
I think we need to make a distinction here. First of all, we don’t build up a network of karmic force with only our actions toward one specific person. We may yell at many people. It is not just that we will experience the results of a certain type of action in terms of our relationship with this one person in future lives. It could affect many different relationships with those toward whom we have acted similarly before.
On the other hand, we of course do have networks of karmic force or karmic connections with individual beings. That is for sure. But with any person, animal, or being that we interact with, we perform a countless number of actions through what we do, say and think in relation to that being. All of those actions network with each other to form a relationship, which is also a nonstatic abstraction. Certainly, we can change the character of that network by changing what we put into it – by changing our actions, communication, and thought. Just as we can strengthen a network of negative karmic force by repeating a destructive action, we can also weaken it by applying opponent constructive forces. Instead of yelling at somebody, we could speak kindly to the person.
If I don’t add any input, can a karmic network with a certain person change?
Well, no. I don’t know if we will get to it in this weekend, but one of the laws of karma is that these forces are not going to grow old and lose their power just by themselves. However, if you ignore the person, that is an input. Avoiding them is a type of action. It is input.
Is there is a difference between ignoring someone and not doing anything?
We need to differentiate several possibilities here. Purposely restraining ourselves from meeting someone and not making any effort to meet someone are different from just not happening to meet someone. In all three cases, we are not meeting the person. Only the first two add input into the relationship that affects how we will interact in the future. If we just don’t happen to meet someone for a long time and then we meet them, if the karmic connection is still there, the relationship will continue. Of course, that relationship will be affected by what has happened to each of us during the period we have not met. But what has happened to us has not affected that karmic connection itself, because our behavior during that period was not directed at each other. Only behavior directed at the person with whom we have a relationship affects the karmic connection with that person, even just thinking about them. Everything else that has happened simply provides the circumstances for how that relationship will manifest.
What about shamatha meditation with which we quiet down from actions and thought? Can that get rid of karma?
Shamatha meditation is just a practice to gain concentration. By itself, it does not lead to overcoming karma. It is just the tool of gaining perfect concentration, so that then we can work more efficiently with the understanding of reality, which is what will eliminate karmic aftermath. We use the concentration we have gained in shamatha to focus with discernment on reality.
A network of karmic force is just one type of karmic aftermath from a karmic action. There are two more: karmic tendencies (“karmic seed”) and karmic constant habits. To specify what karmic tendencies are, we need to know how they differ from the other two types of karmic aftermath.
[See: Types of Karmic Aftermath: Usage of Technical Terms]
Karmic tendencies give rise to their results only intermittently, whereas karmic constant habits give rise to their results continuously, all the time. Networks of karmic force also give rise to their results only intermittently and, in this sense, they are like karmic tendencies. Karmic tendencies and networks of karmic force give rise jointly to one group of results, while karmic constant habits give rise to something else.
Networks of karmic force, however, derive only from either constructive or destructive actions and are, themselves, only either constructive or destructive. Karmic tendencies and karmic constant habits derive from all karmic actions, whether constructive, destructive or unspecified, and are themselves exclusively unspecified. They are neither constructive nor destructive; they are “neutral.” Thus, karmic tendencies are intermittently-ripening “neutral” phenomena, whereas karmic constant habits are continuously ripening “neutral” phenomena.
As intermittently-ripening phenomena, karmic tendencies differ from networks of karmic force in regard to a second characteristic besides their ethical status. They differ in terms of the manner in which, jointly, each intermittently gives rise to karmic results. This requires close examination.
Buddhism differentiates at least six types of cause and five types of result. Asanga speaks of even more varieties of causes and results, not to mention various types of conditions or circumstances that also contribute to the causal process. This makes the analysis of cause and effect very complex. Because anything that happens is the result of many different kinds of causes networking together, any one phenomenon may simultaneously be many different types of result. Each type of result that it could exist as would be the result of a different type of cause. Similarly, because any one phenomenon can function as many different types of causes, each type of cause that it could exist as would be designated in terms of the type of result that arises from it.
In this way, karmic tendencies and networks of karmic force serve as joint causes for several different types of intermittently-arising karmic results. Although each of the results is labeled as a certain type of result of karma, the label reflects simply the most prominent aspect of result that each of them is. For each result, the karmic tendency and network of karmic force that are involved function as different types of causes. Other, non-karmic factors also play a causal role in the arising of a karmic result. As Buddha taught, an effect does not arise from just one cause.
Two Manners of “Ripening”
The general technical term for the process whereby karmic tendencies and networks of karmic force give rise to karmic results is “to ripen” (smin-pa). “Minpa,” however, like several other terms in the presentation of karma, is used here as a general umbrella term that covers two manners of producing a result and is also used for one of those manners. One is for a cause to mature and thus produce a result. This first manner is also called “minpa.” “To mature” means for a cause to develop or grow to the point at which it can bear fruit, which means produce its result. This is ripening in its definitional sense. The other manner is for a cause to exhaust and finish (rdzogs-pa) as it produces its fruit. Although this manner is also called a “ripening,” it is not a definitional ripening. “Ripen,” then, in the discussion of karma, does not refer to the process whereby an unripe piece of fruit becomes a ripe one.
Both types of intermittently-ripening karmic aftermath exhaust and finish after they have completed producing their results. Karmic tendencies, however, do not mature; they simply exhaust. Let’s use a simplistic example to understand what it means for a cause to exhaust as it produces its results. A karmic tendency is like a certain amount of gasoline stored in the gas tank of a car. The gasoline starts to produce effects when it begins to flow to the engine. The gasoline in the tank continues to produce a flow of gas to the engine as it slowly runs out and exhausts itself. The supply continues to exhaust until it completely runs out and the gasoline is finished. At this point, there was only no-longer-happening gas in the tank, not any more presently-happening gas. Similarly, karmic tendencies continue to give rise to results until they become fully exhausted and finish.
Networks of karmic force also ripen to give a result in the manner of running out and exhausting. However, in the case of one of the several types of result that they can produce, these networks also mature to give this result. This specific type of result is called a “ripened result” (rnam-smin-gyi ’bras-bu). Ripened results are unspecified phenomena and can only ripen from constructive or destructive phenomena as their ripening cause (rnam-smin-gyi rgyu). Although karmic tendencies and networks of karmic force can both produce many of the same types of karmic result, karmic tendencies cannot give rise to ripened results because they are unspecified phenomena. The ripened results of networks of karmic force are the aggregate factors that make up each moment of our experience – our five aggregates – but only the unspecified ones, not the destructive ones like anger or the constructive ones like patience. These aggregate factors are the ripened results of our networks of karmic force in the sense that they arise as the nonstatic components that comprise whatever we experience in any moment.
One of the laws of karma is that, unless purified or somehow weakened, the karmic force of an act constantly grows. This means that the network of karmic force from an act constantly grows until it becomes mature enough to bear fruit. The maturing process most often takes several lifetimes, during which karmic forces from many similar acts may network together with it. Thus, the network of karmic force from an act grows not only from its own natural development, but also from the influence of other things we do. The network of karmic force of a specific act continues to be mature enough to bear fruit until it runs its course and exhausts.
In summary, in one respect, karmic tendencies resemble karmic constant habits in that both are unspecified phenomena. In another respect, they differ from karmic constant habits in that they produce results intermittently, not continuously. Unless we achieve a true stopping of them, specific karmic tendencies from specific actions toward specific beings will naturally end when they are exhausted; they will not continue forever.
In one respect, karmic tendencies resemble networks of karmic force in that they both give rise to results intermittently, and in fact, they do so jointly. Also, unless we achieve a true stopping of them, the karmic force and karmic tendency from specific actions toward specific beings both will naturally end when exhausted. In another respect, karmic tendencies differ from networks of karmic force in that these networks are either constructive or destructive phenomena; karmic tendencies are unspecified. They also differ from these karmic networks in that, although they both exhaust after finishing giving their results, karmic tendencies do not mature to give rise to any of their results. Networks of karmic force do mature to give rise to ripened results.
Karmic Constant Habits
Then there are the karmic constant habits, the third type of karmic aftermath. Like networks of karmic force and karmic tendencies, they too are nonstatic abstractions; but unlike them, they produce their results continuously rather than intermittently. Because of that distinction, the way in which karmic constant habits produce their results is not called “ripening.” Moreover, karmic constant habits will never end naturally. They never become exhausted and run out. They go on producing their results continuously, forever, unless we attain a true stopping of them.
Differences among the Types of Karmic Aftermath
Differentiating What Arises Intermittently from Karmic Aftermath
To further appreciate the differences between karmic constant habits and the intermittently-ripening karmic aftermath, we need to differentiate what they give rise to.
One of the main things that karmic tendencies and networks of karmic force jointly give rise to intermittently is our experiencing tainted feelings of some level of unhappiness, happiness, or neutral. “Tainted” (zag-bcas, contaminated) means arising from and accompanied by unawareness (ignorance). Here, “happiness” means the problematic type of happiness, the kind that does not satisfy. We never have enough. We don’t know what will come next. All of these tainted feelings are intermittent. They are always changing from moment to moment, either in their intensity or from one to the other, and no one feeling ever remains constant.
Another thing that comes from networks of karmic force and from karmic tendencies is what we feel like doing and then what we wish or intend to do. When we say in our Western languages, “I feel like doing or saying something or thinking about something,” the Buddhist analysis is simply that we experience the arising of a conceptual thought. The appearing object of that conceptual thought is the category of a type of action that we have done before. The category can be represented by a mental representation of a specific instance we remember of doing it or by just a generic representation, or even just by the mental vocalization of what we feel like doing. For instance, we might feel like eating something but not know what we feel like eating.
This feeling like repeating an action similar to what we have done before leads to the arising of an intention, with which we want to repeat that action, but now in a specific way to a specific person or object. For example, “I feel like doing something to make that noise stop,” or “I feel like yelling,” would be followed by the intention, “I want to yell ‘Be quiet!’ at my neighbor.” Yelling at someone is similar to what we have done before, and it arises as what we feel like doing and what we want to do, as a ripening of the karmic force and karmic tendency to yell at people. A specific type of action, such as yelling at someone like we’ve done before, also only ripens occasionally, not all the time, as what we feel like doing or want to do toward an intended object.
Note that the intention with which we want to yell could be accompanied, either simultaneously or subsequently, by an inciting karmic impulse to think about it so as to come to a decision whether actually to go and yell. It could also be accompanied by an urging impulse just to go and yell, without thinking it over.
Based on the repeated but intermittent occurrence of what it is that we feel like doing and want to do, such as smoking, we can say there is a pattern, which, in the West, we call a “preference” or a “liking” for that type of action. We like to smoke, for instance. From the viewpoint of Buddhist analysis, the contacting awareness (reg-pa) that accompanies our seeing cigarettes is pleasant. When we see cigarettes, we “like” them.
It is very amusing. We know that karmic tendencies and forces can end because we can recognize when they have finished ripening. For example, I like Indian food and often I feel like eating it. As this karmic aftermath ripens, I eat Indian food repeatedly. Then, eventually, that karma is finished. I’ve had enough Indian food and the feeling to eat it doesn’t arise anymore. Due to various circumstances, such as falling in love with an Indian and getting married, I may build up a similar karmic force to eat Indian food again, but that particular karmic force from before is finished. The same thing happens with feeling like being with someone.
When we stop feeling like doing something anymore, that is not a true stopping of karma at all. It simply means that that particular network of karmic aftermath has fully ripened and, being exhausted, is finished. A true stopping (true cessation) of something means that it will never come again; we will never build up any more. Just because one particular karmic package has finished ripening doesn’t mean that we are not going to build up another similar one. It just means that that particular package is finished. True stoppings only derive from the force of non-conceptual meditation on voidness; they do not naturally occur.
Another point is that just as the network of karmic force and karmic tendency of doing something ripen jointly into what the action is that we feel like repeating and want to repeat, so too the network of karmic force and karmic tendency of avoiding doing something ripen jointly into what the action is that we feel like not repeating and want not to repeat. This is indicated in the symbolism of the Kalachakra mandala.
The Kalachakra mandala contains three levels, known as the body mandala, the speech mandala, and the mind mandala. The body and speech mandalas have thirty-six offering goddesses each. In the speech mandala, they represent wishing to do thirty-six things that everyone does, and in the body mandala they represent wishing not to do these thirty-six things. For example, wishing to sing, to spit, to run, or to lie down, and wishing not to sing, not to spit, not to run, or not to lie down. Thus, they represent certain intermittent ripenings of karmic aftermath – compulsive, uncontrollable feelings and wishes to do something or not to do something – that we are normally under the control of and which we need to purify and overcome. Note that feeling like not singing and wanting not to sing – for instance, during a ritual when everyone else is singing – is not the same as the non-arising of a feeling to sing or the wish to sing, which is the case at all times when we are not singing.
How does attachment fit in here? Maybe you stop smoking, but then you eat chocolate.
We may be attached to eating Indian food – in other words, the mental factor of attachment may accompany our feeling like eating it and wanting to eat it. Even when a particular set of karmic aftermath has finished ripening, however, attachment as a general mental factor may still be there. Positive and negative emotions also arise from their own tendencies (seeds). These tendencies also ripen intermittently, simultaneously with the ripening of various karmic tendencies and forces, not just with the ones of eating Indian food.
Another ripening of karmic tendencies and networks of karmic force is from time to time experiencing things happening to us similar to what we previously did to others. I stole in the past and now I experience other people stealing from me – for instance, I lose my wallet, or I experience being out of money or being poor.
A further thing that ripens intermittently, but only from our network of karmic forces, are, as mentioned before, our tainted aggregates: our bodies, types of primary consciousness and mental factors – but only the unspecified ones – and so on. This refers primarily to the aggregates with which we are born. In terms of our bodies, it refers to the life-form we are born as – human, chicken, cockroach, ghost and so on – its size, weight, color, deformities, and so on. In terms of the objects of sensory cognition, it refers to the phenomenon of, when they drink, humans experience what they drink as water, ghosts as pus, and gods as nectar. In terms of consciousness, we could be born blind or deaf. In terms of unspecified mental factors, we could be born with strong or weak attention, concentration, intelligence and so on. In Western terms, these factors are genetic ones, and the ripening of our karmic force refers to having the fertilized egg that our mental continuum connects with having this genetic makeup.
Although the unspecified aggregates with which we are born are the primary ripened result of our network of karmic force in one or more previous lifetimes, the unspecified aggregates in our moment-to-moment experience in this lifetime can also be considered a ripened result of that network of karmic force.
Forms of Physical Phenomena as Karmic Ripenings
Please note, here, that when we say that our bodies or other forms of physical phenomena that are part of our form aggregate, such as the sight of a table or the sight of our friend, ripen from our networks of karmic force, we are only speaking of them as the conventional objects that we actually experience when we cognize them (tha-snyad spyod-yul). In a sense, what ripens from our network of karmic force is their becoming objects of our experience. The table and the sight of our friend in the next room, before we see them, are not parts of our aggregate of form. They did not ripen from our network of karmic force. Only the table and our friend as being objects of our visual cognition when we see them are what are included in our form aggregate.
Since this can be so easily misunderstood, let me explain it a little further, although it is rather complex. In these cases, the obtaining cause (nyer-len-gyi rgyu) for the table we see is the trees it was made from, and the obtaining cause for the body of our friend that we see is the sperm and egg of their parents. The obtaining cause of something is what transforms into it and, in the process, ceases to exist. So, we have to be very careful not to misunderstand when we say that our bodies are the ripened result of our network of karmic forces. They still also came from our parents’ sperm and eggs.
The final thing that ripens intermittently from networks of karmic forces and from karmic tendencies is the tainted environment or general situation of the place in which we are born or stay. Again, this refers to the tainted environment being what we experience when we actually experience it. This is a dominating result (bdag-’bras, comprehensive result) of not just our own intermittently-ripening karmic aftermath, but of the intermittently-ripening collective karmic aftermath that many beings share together. As individuals, however, we only experience such environments being objects of our cognition sometimes, and not for all our rebirths, or not necessarily for our entire life within one rebirth.
Differentiating What Arises Continually from Karmic Aftermath
As for what ripens continuously from the karmic constant habits, it is, to put it very simply, that we are experiencing life through a periscope. We are limited. We can only see or perceive what is in front of our noses. We can’t be aware of the causes and interconnections of everything that is happening, its results, and so on. We can’t see all the relations that everybody has with absolutely everybody else, all the influences on them, and so on. Only a Buddha’s omniscience is aware of all of that, and simultaneously so. As limited beings, so-called “sentient beings,” we only perceive a little bit. This is the case in every single moment of our existence before attaining enlightenment. It never takes a rest. It never goes away until we are enlightened.
The Gelug presentation just adds that what we see through the periscope appears to exist in an impossible manner – in the Chittamatra system, with an appearance of duality (gnyis-snang), and within the Svatantrika system, with an appearance of true unimputed existence (bden-snang). The non-Gelug systems assert that things do not appear to exist in impossible manners of existence during non-conceptual cognition. They only do so during conceptual cognition. Mind you, conceptual cognition usually follows a moment of non-conceptual sense cognition almost instantly. The general presentation, however, which everyone accepts, is that in each moment our cognition is limited periscope perception.
These are all types of aftermath of karmic behavior. They are all nonstatic abstractions, and their continuums are presently-happening phenomena that are imputation phenomena on the basis of our mental continuums so long as they can still produce their various results. The intermittently-ripening karmic aftermath will naturally stop existing as presently-happening phenomena on the basis of our continuums when they have finished giving their results and exhaust. We can attain a true stopping of negative karmic force before it has finished ripening, however, through ridding ourselves of the emotional obscurations preventing liberation by means of non-conceptual cognition of voidness. A true stopping of karmic constant habits, however, only occurs through ridding ourselves of the cognitive obscurations preventing omniscience.
Can one fall after having reached enlightenment?
No, a true stopping means it could never happen again. Otherwise, it is a temporary stopping.
Why to Consider the Consequences of Our Karmic Behavior
Let’s review the karmic results that ripen in the future from the karmic aftermath of the actions we do that are brought on by karmic impulses. Although we often speak of the “ripening of karma,” it is actually the karmic aftermath that ripens, and not the karma itself. And, in the case of karmic constant habits, they give rise to their karmic results, but not through a process of ripening.
I thought that we don’t think of the future. We live now and forget it. So why be so preoccupied about what might happen then?
We live in the moment. That is true. However, it is very important to be aware that our behavior will have consequences in the future. If we don’t have that understanding, then we think it doesn’t matter what we do. If I feel like punching you in the face now, that is fine. The next moment is the next moment. That is not what we mean by living in the moment.
“Living in the moment” means not having expectations for the future, not dwelling on the past, and all of that. One of the disturbing emotions is naivety. One of the main types of naivety is with respect to behavioral cause and effect, thinking that what we do will have no effect on others or on ourselves. This especially accompanies acting destructively.
Staying in the moment means we keep our attention here and now. In keeping our attention here and now, we also understand that what we do, say or think will have consequences, though we do not mentally wander thinking about the consequences. Understanding that our present actions have consequences in the future doesn’t take us away from the moment.
What is the Tibetan word for naivety?
The Tibetan word is “timug” (gti-mug), in Sanskrit moha, which is a very difficult word to translate. I’ve tried several different words during my career. For a long time, I used “closed-mindedness.” A lot of people simply translate it as ignorance, which does not differentiate it from the mental factor of unawareness – in Tibetan marigpa (ma-rig-pa), in Sanskrit avidya. Naivety is not precise either.
As I just explained, unawareness is in regard to two specific things. It does not refer to unawareness of someone’s name. We are talking about unawareness of behavioral cause and effect – as opposed to physical cause and effect: kick a ball and it will go over there – and also about unawareness of how things exist. There can be two ways of being unaware. It can either be not knowing at all or understanding incorrectly. This unawareness can accompany any type of action or experience, whether we were acting destructively, constructively, or in a neutral way – like scratching our heads. It can accompany a disturbing emotion or a constructive one, like love. For example, out of love I may do something nice for you, but I may be unaware of the effects of my actions, I am unaware of how I exist, how you exist, and so on.
A subcategory of unawareness is timug, one of the three poisonous attitudes. It occurs when unawareness about behavioral cause and effect accompanies a destructive karmic impulse and destructive karmic action, which means that it necessarily also accompanies a disturbing emotion. We don’t really have a word for that specific category of unawareness. In English, naivety could accompany a constructive as well as a destructive action. Here, we are only talking about what accompanies a destructive one.
I have had great difficulty trying to find an exact word. As I often point out, different cultural frameworks do not cut the pie of experience into conceptual categories and words in the same ways. We need to try to understand the definition of the word timug rather than worry about the word timug. When we understand the definition, we understand what the word signifies and what Buddhism is talking about when it uses it. There is so much misunderstanding about Buddhism because there are not just one or two words like that; almost every single technical term has no exact correspondence with our Western words.
We are not the only ones who have that problem. The Chinese faced the same problem. The Tibetans had the advantage of not having a very sophisticated, technical language beforehand and so they made up a lot of words. That is the way the Tibetan language works. They could put two syllables together, each with its own connotation, and make a new expression. The Tibetans also used another system, which employed the completely literal translation of parts of Sanskrit words. Like translating “understand” as “under” and “stand.” It did not make any sense in Tibetan whatsoever. That is how the Tibetans, for the most part, avoided this problem. Eventually, what happened was that most of the central Asian languages, including Mongolian, just borrowed many Sanskrit words.
The Ripening of Karmic Aftermath
Let us return to our discussion of the ripening of karmic aftermath. Remember, “ripening” here is an umbrella term that covers several manners of giving rise to an effect. In our system, here, we have three periods of time to consider: until liberation from samsara when we become arhats, until death after liberation, and until enlightenment when we become Buddhas.
As a Hinayana system, Vaibhashika omits the third period since, according to the Hinayana tenets, the mental continuum ends with death from the lifetime in which we attained liberation. Gelug Prasangika omits the second period. According to its tenets, with the attainment of liberation, we rid ourselves simultaneously of both sets of what our system here asserts is gotten rid of in two stages.
The Ripening of Karmic Aftermath
The two intermittently-ripening types of karmic aftermath – the networks of karmic force and the karmic tendencies – jointly give rise to:
- Experiencing tainted feelings of some level of happiness
- Experiencing having karmic actions similar to what we have done before arising as what we feel like doing again and wish to do again
- Experiencing things happening to us similar to our past karmic actions
- Experiencing tainted aggregates and a tainted environment.
The karmic constant habits lead to constant limited cognition.
Tainted feelings are the mental factor of unhappiness, confusing happiness, and confusing neutral feeling. “Tainted” (zag-bcas), usually translated as “contaminated,” means they are tainted by confusion, which means they all come from confusion. Feeling like doing something again is a conceptual mental cognition and wishing to do it again is another mental factor, the mental factor of intention. Remember our example of feeling like eating Indian food. It being Indian food that we feel like eating while experiencing the physical sensation of hunger is the result of previously having eaten Indian food with pleasure. Feeling like doing something, however, may or may not bring on the intention to do it or an impulse to do it – another karma. Karmic aftermath does not ripen into karma; the aftermath of karma always ripens into some nonstatic phenomenon other than karma.
In other words, the karmic force and tendency to eat Indian food does not ripen directly into an impulse to eat it again. It ripens into the occasional experience of it being Indian food that we feel like eating and want to eat when we are hungry. The experience of that mental factor of feeling like doing something similar to what we did before, such as eating Indian food, and then wanting or intending to do it may then lead to a new impulse to eat it, a new karma.
This is quite neat actually. While wandering in samsara – which means compulsively wandering from one uncontrollably recurring rebirth to another – we experience all these ripenings of karma. Our tainted feelings go up and down. This means our feelings of unhappiness, happiness, and neutral go up and down. At the same time, we experience moments of feeling like repeating similar actions to what we did before and wanting to repeat them, as well as situations happening to us similar to what we did to others. We yelled at others and now others yell at us. We were nice to other people and others are now nice to us. It works both ways. They don’t happen constantly, though – only sometimes.
We also experience tainted aggregates, such as our bodies and minds, and tainted environments. Remember, “tainted” means they have come from confusion. This usually refers to our samsaric rebirth situation. We might experience a human body and mind, a dog body and mind, an insect body and mind, a physically handicapped body or a mentally handicapped mind, and so on. We might experience being born in a very rich county, a very poor country, a country that is repeatedly at war, or one that is repeatedly at peace.
Until liberation, our experiences of them are also mixed with confusion and they lead to more confusion – more uncontrollably recurring rebirth. After liberation from samsara and until we pass away from that rebirth in which we attained liberation, we still experience the bodies and environments into which we were born. Although they still are tainted in the sense that they have ripened from confusion, they no longer are mixed with confusion and do not lead to more confusion. They are no longer so-called “obtaining aggregates” (nyer-len-gyi phung-po). Please excuse the word obtaining: it’s awkward, I know, but I can’t think of anything better that would still be accurate to the meaning.
“Obtaining aggregates” are those that are accompanied by confusion and thus lead to more confusion. Consequently, we “obtain” from them more suffering and further samsaric rebirth. Before gaining liberation from samsara, our aggregates are both tainted and obtaining. After gaining liberation and before we die from that lifetime in which we have gained liberation, our aggregates are only tainted. They are no longer obtaining.
Throughout all of this, in every moment, we are experiencing limited cognition. So, while in samsara, we are experiencing feelings of happiness and unhappiness, feeling like acting similar to how we acted before and wanting or intending to act like that, different kinds of bodies, different types of environments, and things happening to us similar to what we did before – all going up and down and all through a periscope. That is our karmic package. That is the first noble truth, true suffering. It is disgusting. This is what we want to get out of. It is really boring! This has been going on with no beginning and it will go on with no end, unless we do something about it.
Stages of Ridding Ourselves of Karmic Aftermath
We get rid of karmic aftermath in stages. When we become liberated, we get rid of tainted feelings going up and down. We no longer have suffering. We also no longer have the compulsive wish to do this or that, similar to what we have done before.
In the lifetime in which we become liberated, however, and until we die, we are still left with our other four tainted aggregates, excluding feelings – a tainted body, mind, and so on – which came from confusion. The feelings we experience now are untainted (zag-med). They do not arise from confusion. During periods of total absorption (mnyam-bzhag, meditative equipoise) on voidness, we experience untainted happiness (untainted bliss); otherwise we may also experience untainted neutral feelings.
As arhats, we also still experience the tainted environments that we are in. Things also continue to happen to us similar to our previous actions. Arhats experience people throwing things at them, hitting them and so on, though they don’t experience any suffering from it and there is no compelling thought of throwing something back at the person. And, while arhats do not suffer or feel like striking back, they are still experiencing bodies that become injured and environments in which injurious things can happen, both of which come from confusion.
When we die from that lifetime in which we attain liberation, we get rid of, forever, our networks of karmic force and our karmic tendencies. We no longer experience things happening to us similar to the karmic actions we did before, even occasionally, and we don’t even experience tainted aggregates or environments again. According to the Hinayana tenets, at this point, the mental continuums of arhats cease: they become “extinguished like a candle.” Mahayana, however, says that they go on.
Please note that when we say that arhats are free forever from the networks of their karmic forces, then in the case of networks of positive force, or “collection of merit,” we are speaking here about networks of samsara-building positive force, not networks of enlightenment-building positive force. The latter derive from the positive force of constructive actions that we dedicate, with bodhichitta, to our attainment of enlightenment to benefit all beings as much as possible. Positive force that is not dedicated like this, or not dedicated to our liberation, is merely samsara-building. Only that type of positive force is a karmic force. Also, you know, there are stages of bodhichitta, part of it is mixed with confusion, part is not. Even the positive force mixed with confusion is enlightenment-building if it is dedicated with bodhichitta. It is a very complicated discussion.
[See: The Two Collections: Two Networks]
This is so complicated!
Life is complicated. What do you expect? If you look at how the human body works, that is complicated also.
According to the Mahayana tenets, when arhats die from the lifetime in which they attained liberation, they are reborn in pure lands with mental bodies made of light. They no longer have any tainted aggregates, such as bodies, or live in tainted environments coming from confusion and, of course, they still have no tainted feelings. Nothing is happening to them similar to their previous karmic behavior and they certainly do not feel like repeating any of their previous karmic patterns and they have no intentions of doing that. Their networks of karmic force and their karmic tendencies are completely finished, having taken on the essential nature of karmic constant habits. Because of those newly attained karmic constant habits and the karmic constant habits they have had with no beginning, they are still experiencing everything through a periscope in those pure lands. They are not aware of everybody’s karma or all the causes and consequences of every action. They are not aware of infinite previous lives and all the things that only Buddhas know. Why? Because they still have the karmic constant habits. It is only when we get rid of the karmic constant habits that we get rid of the periscopic vision. That only occurs with the complete riddance (abandonment) of the cognitive obscurations preventing the omniscience of enlightenment.
Are the arhats’ pure lands the same as the god realms?
No, they are not god realms. They are pure lands like Tushita or Dakini Land. A god realm is a tainted birth with a tainted environment. It comes from confusion. It is characterized by experiences with a type of happiness that is not satisfying and we never know what will come next, there is no guarantee.
Do we get rid of the periscope when we perceive voidness directly?
This is actually a very complicated question to answer, since the various Mahayana tenet systems have quite differing assertions regarding the process and steps through which the non-conceptual cognition of voidness rids us of the emotional obscurations preventing liberation and the cognitive obscurations preventing enlightenment. But, let us leave all these variations aside and simplify the discussion in order to answer your question now. Our discussion has been complicated enough.
Briefly, it takes more than the first non-conceptual cognition of voidness to rid ourselves of this periscope perception. It takes a very, very long familiarity with it. It has to have a much stronger force behind it. The way in which this force can build up is the same as how the networks of karmic force grow. We have moments of non-conceptually cognizing voidness and, when a moment is finished, it is finished. But, with each additional moment of cognizing voidness, the network of these moments is strengthened. What results from this process is usually translated as the “collection of wisdom” (ye-shes-kyi tshogs). I call it a “network of deep awareness.”
We have to have a tremendous positive force behind our non-conceptual cognition of voidness in order to get rid of the periscope, namely the positive force of unlabored bodhichitta. Our first non-conceptual seeing of it with unlabored bodhichitta underlying it does not have sufficient force. In terms of three zillion eons worth of positive force needed for attaining enlightenment, we need two zillion of them to go from our first moment of non-conceptual cognition of voidness to our attainment of enlightenment. So that’s a very long time.
We will continue tomorrow. The next step is looking at how samsara continues out of this. How does new karma come from this? We have to understand how that happens because, otherwise, it will go on without control. The intended end result of all of this is that we feel how stupid and boring all of this is. On the basis of realizing how stupid and boring it is, we get renunciation.
Let’s end with a dedication. By means of this, may we understand more and more about karma and how samsara works so that we have some idea of how to get out of it and can actually follow the path that Buddha demonstrated in order to reach enlightenment and be of best help to everyone.
How can we be of best help if our feelings of happiness and unhappiness are going up and down every minute of the day? We can’t predict our mood in the next few minutes. How can we help others if all sorts of things are always happening to us similar to what we have done before – people attack us and criticize us, we lose our jobs, and so on? How can we help others if our bodies are such a drag – we have to feed them, clean them, put them to sleep, and so on? How can we help others if we are born with such limited bodies and minds? We can’t understand all languages, or understand everything that is going on. We can’t understand others’ problems. We can’t multiply into a million bodies to help everyone at the same time. There are so many things that we would like to do to help others, but we cannot do them because we are so limited. We really want to get free from this whole karmic package, all of this karmic aftermath. May this understanding increase so we at least know this whole process and sincerely feel that we must get out of it so that we can be of fullest help to everyone.