The Complexity of Karma
Karma is a topic that concerns what happens to us and why. It is something that is very relevant to all of us on a personal level, not something outside of the sphere of our lives. If we can start to understand karma and how it works, we can begin to understand what happens in our lives and how to deal with it. The topic of karma also brings us to the topic of ethics in Buddhism, which deals with how we shape our behavior and how that affects what happens to us.
Karma refers to behavioral cause and effect. In other words, we are not just talking about the cause and effect of physical objects, but the cause and effect relationship between our behavior and our experience. Of course, we have to include the cause and effect relationships of external objects. We bang into a table and because the table is solid, it hurts. Factors like the weather, history, politics, economics, and so on also affect our experience. In fact, if we start to think about it, we see that absolutely everything that has ever happened in history influences what we experience.
If we start to think about what is history, that also is not so simple. History is just an abstraction imputed on what everybody in the universe has done. It is just a way of organizing and explaining what millions and millions of beings did. It is unbelievably complex. So historical events, like the crashing of the planes last week into the World Trade Center, are not simply solid monolithic events that will shape what we and everyone else will experience as a consequence in the future. Many, many things contributed to the tragic event; many things networked together during the event; everyone will remember different things about the event; and many, many things will be affected by it in the future. That’s history.
Our experience and our behavior, which is based on our experience, is the most complicated thing that there is. Even if we don’t really understand or think in terms of rebirth, everything that everyone who has ever lived has ever done affects our experience and behavior. Everything that we have done in our lives affects our experience and behavior as well. From a Buddhist point of view, it includes everything we have done and everybody else has done in previous lives as well, not just in this life.
Here the term network is quite helpful. When we think of karma, we have to think of this unbelievable network of what everybody has done interconnected and affecting everything that everybody experiences and does. It is very interesting because it is not symmetrical. If it were symmetrical, everybody’s behavior and experience would be exactly the same. Let us use an analogy, the Big Bang. If everything started from one point, then doesn’t it seem as though all the star systems and the whole universe extending out from that point should be symmetrical? Yet it is not. What can we conclude from that? We are all individuals. We are not all identical. Although we are all influenced by the same things, we have our individual karma. And, there is no beginning. If there were a beginning, everything should be symmetrical. Think about that. We can start to get an appreciation of how complex karma is.
The Need for Omniscience to Know All about Karma
In order to be able to understand all of this, we have to be omniscient, because we have to be able to understand everything and how everything is interrelated. Thus, only a Buddha can understand karma completely. When we think about omniscience, we need to try to understand that we are not talking about little capsules of isolated information or data about everyone, like some super spy network. Rather, it is the knowledge of this entire network, everything interconnecting inter-dimensionally. There is no such thing as isolated data. When we talk about something, it gives the impression that it is isolated data. What a Buddha knows is the whole network, this unbelievable network of karma. That is what an omniscient mind knows, all at once. If you know the whole network, you know it all at once.
Also, it is not that in a Buddha’s mind there are a zillion pieces of data going at the same time. Why? Because we are imagining that a Buddha’s mind works conceptually. To think conceptually would mean to have a little voice inside our head saying, “This person’s telephone number is blah, blah, and blah.” Buddha does not have a little voice in his head saying every piece of information in the universe simultaneously. When we have difficulty conceiving of omniscience it is because we are looking at it conceptually. It is non-conceptual. There is no little voice saying each piece of information. It is direct. It is seeing this whole web, though if we wanted to see one little piece and put it into words, we could.
In fact, when we talk about individual items, actually they are just what could be isolated by words and concepts from this interconnected web. When we isolate them with words and concepts, they are what the words and concepts refer to. But they don’t really exist like that because they exist totally interrelated. That is what voidness and dependent arising are talking about. Things are devoid of existing as isolated little pieces of data. Everything is interrelated and could be isolated by words and concepts and that would be what they refer to, but they don’t really exist that way.
Recognizing Our Inaccurate Views
If our topic of karma is something that only a Buddha could fully comprehend, the question is: how do we normally view what happens to us and what happens to other people? The Buddhist method is not just to teach us an accurate description of what is going on in the universe. What we need to do is to identify our mistaken or inaccurate views and convince ourselves that they are absurd. These inaccurate views are actually incorrect, so we can drop them. And simultaneously, when we understand an accurate description, we need to become convinced that it really is accurate.
Remember, the word Buddha, sang-gye (sangs-rgyas) in Tibetan, is made of two syllables. The first syllable means to clear out, purify, or get rid of all of the confusion, misunderstanding, limitations and so on. The second syllable, gye, means to expand, to grow with a correct understanding and with positive qualities. That is the process of becoming a Buddha, to clear out confusion and garbage and to work on the positive things.
To clear out the garbage from our house, we first have to find it. On our computer, we have to find the bugs and viruses before we can delete them. We need to look at some of the alternative ways of describing what happens to us and what happens in the universe, to see if they are something that we need to delete from the internal computer system of our minds. When we have cleaned up our internal hard drive, we can then put in some much more functional programs. So, when we talk about these alternatives, we need to try to recognize in ourselves whether we actually think like that.
Many people think that what happens to us is just by chance, which means that there is no choice. Do things happen randomly? “I happened to meet you on the street just by chance.” “Just by chance, I went to the store and there was a sale.” That means there was no cause. How could there be no cause? What kind of life does that imply? It would imply that there is no cause for anything that ever happens. Is it just by chance that last week those two airplanes flew into the World Trade Center? That is not a terribly useful way of looking at what happens in life, is it?
What is interesting is that although we can dismiss chance as satisfactorily explaining an airplane going into a building, we don’t dismiss it as explaining meeting someone on the street. We have to find our own examples. We may not accept chance as explaining everything, but we do tend to think that it explains some things. Where does that leave us? If some things in the universe don’t happen by chance and others do, what are the rules? That becomes very difficult, doesn’t it? So, chance is not a satisfactory solution or explanation. A big sign comes up on our internal screen: Delete!
It would be very nice if we could just delete such ideas from our internal mental hard drives by pressing a button, but this is a very insidious, nasty virus that keeps on popping up again and again in our system. We have to be very much on the alert to notice when it comes up again and be sure to delete it. If we delete it enough times we get it out of our systems. That is the process of purification.
We have to be a bit careful in using the analogy of a computer, though, because if we take it too far, it could allow the nihilist position which is that we could wipe out our hard drive completely and be left with nothing.
These infected programs are difficult to delete completely, but it is possible to get rid of them forever. Once we have the correct programs in there and reach a certain stage in which we are competent with them, the system will never crash. Before we are competent with the new programs, it might crash because we are not familiar enough with them. When we have a new program, we have to discover the bugs and get rid of them. This is analogous to not having an accurate understanding of the Dharma. Once we get rid of the bugs, the program is stable.
With this analogy, we can appreciate the process of debate that is used in the Tibetan tradition for learning the Dharma. If we try to discover all the bugs in our system and remove them ourselves, it is very difficult. Not only is it difficult, we get tired of doing it. We don’t do it thoroughly. If we have a lot of very energetic experts probing and testing our system and trying to find all the bugs in it, which is what happens in debate when people challenge our understanding, then we discover all the bugs and get rid of them much more efficiently.
A variation on the idea of chance would be that things happen according to mathematical probability. It is a nice scientific explanation. “If I call you enough times, there is a mathematical probability at some point you will get off the phone and I will be able to connect with you.” There is a mathematic probability that if enough airplanes are flying, one of them will fly into the World Trade Center.
Is that a good explanation? Can we calculate it on a supercomputer and come up with an accurate answer? It sounds very nice and scientific, but that is really not the way that things happen, is it? We can’t just reduce everything to a mathematical formula of probability. Even though scientists will try to convince us that if there are a million monkeys sitting in front of computers and there is enough time, one of them is going to write the complete works of Shakespeare, I am not totally convinced. Again, the alarm goes off: Delete!
The next alternative is luck. Things happen by luck. “It is very lucky that I didn’t go to work early and I was not in my office at the World Trade Center.” “That person was very unlucky to be in that building.” Is that how things happen? What does that mean? “Today is my lucky day.” We really think like that sometimes.
That implies inherently existent luck; an inherently existent lucky person or an inherently existent lucky day without any cause. That is not really the way that things work even though we may think that if we meditate enough, maybe we will become lucky and become a Buddha. We need to take it to its absurd conclusion. We have to delete that one too.
The next alternative is that things happen by fate or destiny. “It was my destiny to meet my beloved.” We can think of this in an impersonal way: “It is just the way that things are.” “It was the fate of all those people to die in this terrorist attack.”
But destiny also implies something fixed, inherently existent, which nothing can change and so on. That does not really explain things either. We do tend to think like that at times. “What is my destiny in life?” Again, we need to examine ourselves. Do we really think like that sometimes? “It is my destiny to do something great, so all I need to do is to sit back and let it happen?”
We could take this in another direction and say that this fate or destiny is not impersonal, but is personal in the sense that what happens is God’s will. “This attack on the buildings in New York and Washington was God’s will.” For some people that is a satisfactory explanation. But then, why did God want that to happen? We might just say we cannot understand God’s ways, but God must have a good reason. Is that an effective way of dealing with life? What about people who say it is God’s will for me to hijack the plane and fly it into the building? Many people say that they know what God’s will is and they try to tell us. We must examine this in terms of whether it is really a satisfactory explanation of what happens in the world and in our life. It presents many contradictions. Why would any omnipotent, but compassionate and forgiving being want to cause a tragedy? That is a very difficult problem in theological systems. It is one of the central issues. If God is omnipotent and compassionate, why would God allow suffering? It is a difficult problem.
The next possible explanation comes from the ancient Roman Empire: the concept of fortune. Good or bad fortune. If someone wins a battle, that means that the goddess Fortuna has smiled on them. Romans threw gladiators in the arena with the lions and watched to see who was going to be the fortunate one, the winner. This is the idea that might makes right. The victor is the right one.
According to this view, the hijackers had the good fortune to succeed in accomplishing what they were doing and the people who were killed had the bad fortune to be the losers in the event. What kind of ethical system does that generate? “If I succeed, I am fortunate, it is good, and it doesn’t matter what means I use to succeed.” We go into business thinking it does not matter how corrupt we are, if we succeed we are fortunate. It is quite illuminating to see how we are influenced by these ancient systems of thought. We can delete that one as well.
Law and Order
The next set of belief systems is that things happen according to legal procedures. One view is in terms of heavenly laws, divine reward and punishment. There were laws made by some supreme being in heaven. If we follow the laws, we are rewarded, and if we don’t follow them, we are punished. According to this view, the attacks in the US were because of all the moral corruption in the US. There were religious leaders who actually explained it that way, that God was punishing the US because of gay rights and abortion rights, etc. Is this an explanation that we find acceptable? It is not a very nice explanation, is it? Especially because there are so many versions of God’s laws according to different religions. How do we know which is right, except on the basis of saying, “Mine is right”?
A variant on this, from Ancient Greece, is that what happens is based on following laws that are made on a secular level by legislators. This is a very tempting explanation. Its presence is quite strong in the US. What happened on 9/11 was because people broke the law. “If we could just enforce the law better, something like this will never happen again.”
Isn’t that a bit naive? This is Ancient Greek thinking: If everybody follows the legislated laws and are good citizens, then the society will go well. If people don’t follow the laws, they need to be punished and put in jail. “Catch and punish Bin Laden and that will solve the problem.” “The problem was really only caused by these bad citizens. There are no other causes.” “These people don’t follow the law; they are evil. Therefore, the solution is law enforcement, more police.” Is that a good explanation for what happens in life? We might reject that explanation as well.
Let us look at some non-Western ways of thinking. In the Hindu explanation, karma is described as a type of destiny. We are all born into certain castes. If we live up to the appropriate actions of that caste, everything will go well and we will get a better rebirth. If we are born as a woman, obviously it is our duty to get married, have children, be a very good housewife, serve our husband, wash the feet of our mother-in-law, etc. If all the women do that and the men do their caste duties, society will function harmoniously and everything will go well. If we reject our caste duties and try to do something outside of our caste, there will be chaos. In the Bhagavad Gita, for example, when Arjuna is faced with the dilemma of whether or not to fight in a war against his relatives, Krishna tells him that he needs to follow his duty and that it is better to die doing one’s duty than to withdraw.
This may have led to a very stable Indian society, but what are the implications of applying that to our modern world situation? The US is the superpower. That is its caste. What are the duties of that caste? To be the policemen of the world and to fight this “Infinite Justice” war to rid the world of evil. If America does not follow its caste duties, chaos and evil will rule. The demons will come and take over. It is a perfect example of this ancient Hindu way of thinking, isn’t it? Is this type of system of ethics and explanation of what happens in the world satisfactory for us or again do we press the delete button?
Let us look at the Chinese systems. In Confucian thinking, there are certain norms of role models in society. If we follow these role models, everything will go harmoniously. These norms will change, so we have to flow with the change. If we stay in harmony with the changes as dictated by the emperor or the president, everything will be wonderful. This is the ethics and mentality of conformity. Follow the fashion. One’s pants should be so long, etc. “Get a good job and everything will go well, you will be happy.” If the emperor or empress of fashion declares that the skirts should be a different length, everything will go well for you and you will be happy if you conform. If you don’t, you are out of it.
Many of us do think that way: if we buy a nice house, get a good job, and buy a good car, we will be happy. Conformity brings happiness. Every year we have to upgrade our computer. It almost feels as if we have to, doesn’t it? Where does this way of thinking lead? If the emperor declares war, everyone must wave the flag and join the army. If everyone does that, justice will rule. If we do not, we will never be happy. Now the times call for swift justice, because the emperor has declared it, and the emperor knows. Tragedy happened because we were not patriotic enough. If we all just followed the American way, this never would have happened.
Next let’s look at a popular, simplistic Chinese Buddhist way of looking at things. The Sanskrit word karma was translated into Chinese with a character that is often related with business. So karma is looked at in a simplistic way as a business investment. Doing good deeds it is like making a good investment, we will make a lot of profit. People who got caught in the World Trade Centers were not good business people in terms of karma. Do we think we can we buy things going well by doing good deeds? Can we build up good merit like building up a good bank account? It is interesting to examine ourselves to see how we might tend to think this way. Good deeds are a karmic investment, a good insurance policy. That also is not quite the right take on Buddhism, is it?
Often we tend to think of what happens in terms of what is called “humanistic ethics.” If we don’t cause harm to others, we will be happy. If we hurt others, things will not go well for us. It is a comfortable way of looking at ethics for most of us, but does that really explain our experience? Many people who died in New York were good people. They were kind, nice to everyone. They wouldn’t hurt a fly, and yet they died in the collapse.
Now we start to seriously challenge our understanding of Buddhism, don’t we? Buddhism is not a system of humanistic ethics, even though we would love it to be. It is not as simplistic as just not hurting others. What Buddhism explains is that the effects of our actions on others are uncertain. I could say something very innocently to you and you may completely misunderstand and get deeply hurt. How do we deal with that in terms of humanistic ethics? I cooked a nice meal for you; my full intention was to give you pleasure, and you hated it. Or even worse, you choke on it and die. How do humanistic ethics explain that? This also is not sufficient to explain what happens.
The Indo-Tibetan Buddhist View
Although, of course, we try to follow the guidelines of not harming others, that is not really the basis of the Buddhist explanation of karma and ethics. The Buddhist explanation, from the Indo-Tibetan tradition, is that if our actions are under the influence of disturbing emotions like anger, greed or naivety, then they are destructive. It doesn’t matter what effect my actions may have on anyone else, they will have a destructive effect on me and my experience in the future. I could rob your car and you could be delighted to be able to collect the insurance and get a new one. What is certain is the effect on us, not on someone else.
When we examine ourselves, we find that we don’t just think in terms of one system, but usually some combination of them. We might explain some things in terms of luck and other things in terms of law and order. It is very important to try to recognize these things in ourselves, to bring them up to consciousness, as we would say in Western terminology, to be aware of them. If we examine each of these systems and find that they are unacceptable, then when we notice ourselves thinking and feeling in these ways, we can reject it.
This is an important way to counteract suffering. Many people have been suffering as a result of witnessing and thinking about the events that happened in the US on 9/11. Why? It may be because of the loss of life, but would people have been equally upset if a plane had crashed into a village in Africa and killed the same number of people? For most people that would not have been so shocking. We can say it was hyped up by the media, but that is just media hype. When we analyze, what we discover is that what is so upsetting is the feeling of insecurity. America seemed impervious to attacks before and now life is insecure. People are afraid to fly in airplanes and so on. We can ask ourselves: “Why do I feel like this? What explanation of events am I using here to make me feel like this? Do I feel that what happens has no cause; it is just arbitrary?”
Previously, we might have thought that we were in control, or the government was in control. That is another erroneous view, that there could be a strong enough authority to prevent anything bad from happening. That is a child’s view: “If my Daddy is strong enough, I will be protected from all harm.” If that is challenged, it means things are out of control. Anything can happen, which implies thinking that things happened by chance, with no cause. “And now the evil-doers who do not follow the laws are in control.” That makes us insecure, because we are thinking that what happens in the world is due to the breakdown of law and order. If the war of “Infinite Justice” is carried out and we win, since those who win are in the right, then we will be safe again? Will that really work? Does that make sense? Is this what we are thinking? If we wave the flag enough, will it make us feel more secure?
It is very interesting. When we start to analyze like this, we start to discover this truth that Buddhism teaches: if we have a disturbing attitude, which is based on an inaccurate way of viewing the world, it causes us suffering. The term klesha in Sanskrit is sometimes translated as “afflictive emotions.” But emotions are only half of the picture. We can also have a disturbing attitude, or disturbing view on life, which causes us suffering.
We realize that what happens in life is very complex. Many forces are involved – historical, political, individual karma, and so on. In fact, we were never in control. To all of a sudden feel that we are out of control is the disturbing emotion that I call “naivety.” Many years ago I translated this term as “closed-mindedness,” but that is not really accurate. It is naivety. We can see how if we think naively, it causes us suffering.
What is the solution to something so complex? It is not that we just work on building up some more positive karma so that such things won’t happen to us. In more accurate terms, if we can get rid of karma completely, we will not be caught in any difficult situation. We need to work to help everybody get rid of their karma. It is much more complex than just doing one thing, like catching bin Laden and then there are no more tragedies. Even if the US changes its policies toward the Third World and the Islamic world, life is much more complex than just doing that.
One of the laws of karma is that things do not happen as a result of just one cause. What happens is a result of countless interconnected causes. That doesn’t mean that we just sit back and don’t do anything. We can add a drop to the bucket, without exaggerating or denying the effect of one more drop in the bucket. One of the sayings of the Buddha is that a bucket is not filled by the first or the last drop, but by a combination of all the drops. We can think that we will work on our karma as a way of dealing with this situation. We can have compassion for the people who died and their families, but we are not going to freak out about what has happened. We work on being as positive as possible. But watch out for the extreme of thinking that we can buy our happiness and safety with positive potential!
One way that we can relate to this situation in a positive way is to see that it helps us to become mindful of another of the very basic teachings: death can happen at any time. Rather than freaking out, we can take advantage of our opportunities and not just waste time, without going to the self-defeating extreme of being a fanatic. As one of my favorite Zen koans says: “Death can come at any time, relax.”
When we think about karma and building up more positive force, we have to avoid the naive idea that everything is just going to get better and better as a result. Just being positive does not make us immune to disasters, as if we had this invincible, karmic bubble around us. “I am protected by refuge! I am visualizing my Guru on my head, I have a special force; I am invincible! I have my red protection cord around my neck!” As one teacher said, “Don’t think that if you tied a red protection cord around the neck of a pig about to be slaughtered, that it would save that pig!” Even if people in the World Trade Center had all been wearing red protection cords around their necks, I doubt that they would have survived the crashes.
We have to realize that even if we do a lot of positive things in a very proper way, the nature of samsara is that it goes up and down. We have been building up all sorts of karmic potentials without beginning. Depending on our states of mind, the circumstances and so on, various things will ripen. Sometimes nice things happen, sometimes not-so-nice things happen. This is why we find that astrology, for instance, cannot give us all the answers about what is going to happen.
Karma and Astrology
There is a big discussion, which I find interesting, of karma and astrology. Can we predict what will happen to us or in the world? There is astrology in some of the Buddhist teachings, particularly in the Kalachakra tantra. But one great Tibetan master said that if astrology could explain everything, then a human being and a dog born in the same place at the same time should have the same personalities and the same things should happen to them in life. We can conclude that karma is far more complex than what an astrology chart can indicate. There are many more forces involved than heavenly bodies, angles between them, and so on.
If we were to examine the astrology charts of everyone who was killed in the World Trade Center attack, I think it would be quite difficult to find a way of predicting it. Although we may reject the simplistic view of astrology that what happens to us is the work of these planets out there, or the gods and goddesses that live on these planets or stars, still we need to be a bit careful about our understanding of astrology. Astrology gives a reflection of certain basic themes of karma, but not the whole picture. I think that the model of mathematical probability is more applicable here for understanding astrology. There is a certain probability that this is the type of personality and unfolding of events that may happen if someone is born at such and such a time and place. But there are also probabilities that something else might happen as well.
What we have to try to avoid is the disturbing attitude behind a superstitious mind, which is the attitude that there is a big solid “me,” and that “me” needs to be in control of what happens. “If I know what is going to happen, then I will be in control; I can prepare.”
This is a “control freak” mentality. We look at an astrology chart, tarot cards, the I Ching, or go to a Tibetan lama for a mo prognostication with dice, thinking that if we know what is going to happen, we will be in control. Such a mentality is based on naivety isn’t it? It is disturbing because we still feel insecure. We have a false sense of security and then if it doesn’t work out the way we thought, our faith is shattered. It is all suffering.
It is better to view consulting such things a bit like getting a weather report. If there is a certain probability that it will rain we take our umbrella, but we know that it may not rain. It is nice to have weather reports, but if we take the weather report literally, we will be in big trouble. I personally find astrology useful, but we need a sober and mature attitude about it.
Karmic Bingo and the Four Noble Truths
We can see that karma is talking about our behavior and what happens to us. Here, behavior is viewed specifically in terms of whether or not it is backed by a disturbing emotion. We can understand the Buddhist approach to karma best by using the structure that Buddha himself taught it with, which is the four noble truths. His Holiness the Dalai Lama always emphasizes that it is important to be able to see any Buddhist teaching within the framework of the four noble truths. “Noble” refers to the aryas, those who have seen reality nonconceptually. These truths are what aryas see as true. People who have not seen reality directly would not even conceive of them. Sometimes I like to call them “the four facts of life.” They are facts. They are just the way it is.
The first of these is usually translated as “the truth of suffering.” I like to refer to it as “true problems.” This is referring to feelings of happiness, unhappiness, or neutrality. They are all problematic and they are what ripen from karma. Unhappiness, pain, suffering is obviously a problem. Then we have tainted happiness. This is our usual happiness. It is also a problem. The problem is that it doesn’t last and it does not solve anything. It is nice, but so what? Even if we were to stay on vacation for our whole lives, we would get bored.
The third aspect is neutrality. Things are just going along. But the real, the deepest, problem is that we have no idea what is coming next. This is known as the “all-pervasive affecting problem.” There is absolutely no guarantee of what we are going to feel in the next minute, is there? We can look at the plane smashing into the building and think that is the worst of samsara, but it is not. The worst of samsara is the constant uncertainty. A war is bad, but what is so awful is that in samsara, war is going to happen again and again. And it can happen at any time.
We have to identify samsara. This is the situation that we have to get out of. We are not just talking about stopping war and having peace and then everything will be alright. When we talk about renunciation, what we have to get fed up and disgusted with is the uncertainty that anything can happen at any time. It is awful. We really want to get out of that.
The first fact of life then refers to the results of karma: pain, pleasant results that don’t last, and the phenomenon of going up and down with no certainty.
The second fact is that these experiences come as the result of karma and disturbing emotions and attitudes. If we experience pain and gross suffering, it is because we have acted destructively. We act destructively because we are influenced by the disturbing emotions – especially greed and anger. We are greedy so we steal: we are angry so we kill. The happiness that does not satisfy is the result of acting constructively under the influence of a disturbing attitude, mixed with some naivety. We think to work hard, be positive, and save money so we can go and have a vacation, and this will cause us to be happy. Maybe we do have a nice time, but it doesn’t solve anything. We have to go back to work. We acted with a disturbing attitude of naivety about the true causes of happiness.
Having things go up and down is a result of acting in any way, positively or negatively, mixed with confusion. That is why our experience is mixed. We have such an enormous store of karmic potentials and there are so many zillions of circumstances involved, of course it goes up and down. To use the image of a bingo game in which ping-pong balls with numbers on them are shot out of a machine when we press the button, it is like we have accumulated a countless number of ping-pong balls of karmic potentials and we have no idea which is going to come up next. Even if understand that the ping-pong balls come up due to very complex laws of karma, it is still a stupid game – karmic bingo! So long as we continue to play, we will never win.
That leads us to the third noble truth, the true stopping of suffering and its causes, which would be freedom from the game. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? The third fact is that such a thing is possible and we can do it. We can stop playing the game of karmic bingo forever.
The fourth noble truth is how we gain the understandings, the realizations and so on that will eliminate the karma, the disturbing emotions and attitudes, and their tendencies. Karmic bingo is a very insidious game. Every time we press the button for another ball to come up, we also add another ball to the vat. To get out of the game, we have to eliminate the confusion with which we think we have to press the button again and again. Once we do that, we are out of the game. It is not that we have to go into the vat and get rid of every ping-pong ball. That would be an endless task. The disturbing emotions and attitudes both cause karma to ripen and cause us to build up more karma and, because they are rooted in confusion, when we eliminate the confusion with correct understanding, we stop the disturbing emotions and attitudes.
I have put it very simplistically but perhaps we can start to relate to the Buddhist path, the fourth fact, which allows us to achieve the third fact, which is having no more naivety with which we think we have to follow out all the karmic junk that comes up in our minds. This analogy can also help us to develop the proper attitude of renunciation, which is total disgust with how stupid the whole game is. We think, “I am tired; I am bored; I want to stop playing karmic bingo; I want to get out!”
Let us reflect on this for a moment.