Review of the Revealing Form of Physical and Verbal Karma
We’ve seen that one aspect of physical and verbal karma is the revealing form. In the case of physical karma, this is referring to the shape of the pathway of that physical karma. This is the shape of the whole complex involved with the action, not just the physical action. This includes the motivation, the object involved with it, reaching a finale, and so on. In the case of verbal karma, we’re talking about the sound of that pathway such as the sound of our voice as we say something. Again, this is with the motivation and the intention and all the rest.
Do you understand that we’re not talking about the sound that comes out of a machine? If there’s a sound of my voice as I’m speaking, that sound doesn’t arise only on the basis of the basis of the movement of my mouth and tongue, and the mechanical movement of air through my lungs and vocal chords. That doesn’t exist by itself, does it? It’s not the same as a sound produced by a machine. That sound can only arise with an intention, a distinguishing of what words to say, a motivation and so on, in addition to the mechanical thing of moving my mouth. So, the compulsive sound in karma is the complex of all these factors.
What reveals the motivation and all these other things, what I can perceive, is just hearing the sound of the voice that I hear. I can’t actually perceive the other factors. That’s why sound is what represents the flow here of the mental pathway. It’s through the sound that you know these other things and it is revealing or causing you to know something. The revealing form of the physical or verbal pathway or action ends when the action ends. When I stop speaking, that revealing form is finished. When I stop hitting somebody or petting the dog, that revealing form is finished.
Definition and Characteristics of a Non-revealing Form
But, there is also a non-revealing form. That also is part of the compulsiveness of the karma. Now, the definition: a non-revealing form is a subtle form of physical phenomenon that is caused by a strong constructive or destructive motivating framework. That’s the distinguishing intention and the emotion. It is caused by that but it does not show or reveal that motivation. Such a phenomenon is part of a mental continuum but is not felt on that mental continuum. In our Western terminology, that means that it is unconscious. It’s not made of particles. It does not degenerate or wear out from moment to moment although it can be strengthened or weakened. It doesn’t naturally wear out like a battery in a recorder. It can only be an object of mental cognition and it must be either constructive or destructive. That’s the definition and its characteristics.
In addition, it arises dependently with a revealing form and it continues with a mental continuum after the revealing form is no longer present. It continues with the mental continuum so long as we do not decide to never repeat that action. So long as we intend to repeat yelling at you or repeat speaking kindly to you, it will continue. If I decide that I’m never going to yell again, you lose the non-revealing form. Vows are included in these non-revealing forms. If we decide, for example, that we’re never going to work for enlightenment or engage in bodhisattva behavior anymore and give up bodhichitta, then you no longer have the bodhisattva vow. That non-revealing form is gone.
These non-revealing karmic forms are compulsive. They are still karma. So, karma, now in the case of physical and verbal behavior, there’s the urge that brings on the whole pathway, includes the pathway, and it also includes this non-revealing form that continues after we finish the action. Therefore, it’s certainly not just the action, is it? It’s much bigger.
Now you have to sit and figure out what in the world is this referring to, this non-revealing form. That’s not so easy, is it? We have this definition and it’s rather complex. It must be referring to something and something that we want to get rid of. We have to figure out what it actually is. We need to identify the object of refutation or, to be more technically precise, the object that we want to rid ourselves of. Unless we identify it correctly we can’t get rid of it. You get rid of something different.
An Analysis of the Non-revealing Form
From my own analysis of it, this is my best guess, as it were, as to what is being referred to. I’ve never heard anyone actually explain it in words that we could understand beyond the definition. This analysis makes sense to me and we can work with it. Five years ago I would have explained it as some sort of an invisible vibration like good vibes or bad vibes. Now, I have a more sophisticated understanding. Five years from now, what I explain now might seem as simplistic as the vibration. This is provisional.
Only a Buddha understands this completely accurately. Whatever understanding that we have before we are a Buddha is provisional and this offers great hope because we can refine it more and more. In this way we don’t become so attached to our understanding and insights. We realize that it’s never going to be completely accurate and that way we avoid the arrogance of thinking we don’t need to learn anything further. It’s part of the bodhisattva vows not to think like that. We can always go further in our understanding until we become a Buddha.
So, my provisional understanding is that this non-revealing form is like an invisible form of a neural pathway built up by and corresponding to the revealing shape of the physical pathway or the revealing sound of the verbal pathway. It arises dependently and simultaneously with and accompanies the revealing form. It continues afterwards as well. I’m using a way of understanding based on a lay person’s understanding of brain science. I’m not a doctor so this is not so accurate.
Still, think about it. When we act in a certain way, there’s a certain neural pathway of a type of behavior that occurs with that action or way of speaking. In a sense it has been almost imprinted on the brain. That pathway is still there after the action finishes. It is greased, in a way, so that the more that we repeat that action or that way of speaking, the more that pathway is there. It is descriptive of the compulsiveness with which we act and speak. That is the non-revealing form of it. When we talk about karma, this is the uncontrolled compulsion to repeat certain types of behavior and so on. We’re talking about a whole syndrome here.
Aspects of Compulsiveness in Regard to the Non-revealing Form
What are the components of this compulsion? There’s the compulsive urge that brings on repetition of a certain form of behavior and there’s the shape of the behavior itself. There’s also this unconscious compulsion that continues. It’s there in operation when we act. It’s there afterwards as well. There’s this unconscious compulsiveness that is part of a mental continuum similar, in a sense, to invisible neural pathways that have been built up. That is the mechanism of compulsion. What we’re talking about is the mechanism of karma and we have to rid ourselves of it.
Each of these aspects of the syndrome of being compulsive is brought on by different factors. In terms of strategy we have to work to somehow stop the karmic urges, somehow stop the karmic behavior, and we have to somehow get rid of this unconscious compulsiveness that’s there all the time. We have to work with all of these and we have to understand how they function, how they interact, and how they arise. In addition, we need to also understand the further complexity of the entire system of karmic cause and effect, the system which describes all of this and indicates a strategy to use.
We need to stand back and analyze our behavior and face that we have a problem. For example, I’m very compulsive. Compulsively I talk all the time. When someone asks a question I answer for much too long. There’s compulsiveness about that. His Holiness the Dalai Lama answers in one or two sentences so that everybody has a chance to ask questions. On the other hand, compulsively, I give a whole teaching for every question that’s asked. There’s compulsiveness about that. I don’t really have control over it. It’s a problem because not everybody gets to ask their questions. How do I experience that? I can’t control myself. It just comes out.
I could label “me” onto that and say that I am a compulsive person in this regard. This is a compulsive syndrome. Note, that I’m not labeling the Hindu atman onto this and saying that’s “me” who is compulsive. I’m not labeling a self-sufficiently knowable “me” onto this. That would be the subtle self of a person which needs to be refuted. This is conventionally speaking. Conventionally, I am compulsive. What kind of “me” are we labeling onto this? That is an important issue. I’m not labeling “me” onto an object that is to be negated, or a false self, or an impossible “me,” as being the one who is being compulsive. In Buddhist jargon, this is called the “mere me.” I’m labeling the “mere me” on this.
So, what is the basis for labeling “me” as being compulsive in this regard? First, somebody asks a question and with that circumstance, the compulsive urge drives me to compulsively go on and on with explanation of the answer. There’s the compulsive urge and there’s that compulsive sound which in a way is the revealing form. It reveals my compulsion, doesn’t it? I can’t stop myself from giving long explanations as the answer. But, even when I stop explaining and finally realize I should shut up because other people have more questions, still, there’s an unconscious compulsion there. If somebody asks me the next question, I will compulsively give another long complicated answer again. The compulsion, the unconscious compulsion continues. It’s like a greased pathway underlying my behavior even when I’m not actually doing anything or talking.
That’s what I think this non-revealing form is referring to. It’s on the basis of all of that that you can say that I’m a compulsive person in terms of my way of answering Dharma questions. If I want to become a more effective teacher like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I have to overcome the compulsion which is shaping the way that I answer Dharma questions. There are a lot of people who have questions. My ability to deal with each person’s questions is limited because of my compulsion. Therefore, what I need to rid myself of is that whole compulsive syndrome.
We’re not talking about a mechanism in terms of how results follow from it and so on. That’s a further development. The compulsive syndrome itself includes the compulsive urges to give a long answer, the compulsive speech in regard to the sound of my words going on and on explaining, and that unconscious compulsiveness that’s there all the time just waiting for something to trigger it. However, it’s not something that you could point to and find inside me. Again, this is just a conceptual framework to explain what is going on.