Examples of the Laws of Karma

Meditation Practices on the Laws of Karma

Yesterday we talked about the laws of karma, the laws of behavioral cause and effect. In terms of karma in general, the main practice entails specifically to restrain yourself from committing any of the ten destructive, or nonvirtuous, actions and to make an effort to perform the various constructive, or virtuous, ones. We also discussed various features of the laws of behavior and their results, particularly, first of all, the certainty factor: that if you perform a constructive or positive action, it is certain that the result of that will be happiness. We discussed also the factor of increase, that from a small action very many and great results can follow. The way to meditate on all of this, or to build up beneficial habits of mind with respect to this, is to think about the certainty of behavior and its results, to think that happiness is what comes as a result of constructive actions, whereas unhappiness, suffering and problems is what follow from destructive ones.

You start by thinking about all the different types of happiness you might want and ask yourself, “Well, what are going to be the causes for these?” Next you think about the various constructive actions and how they will ripen, considering that they have a ripening result, they have a result that corresponds to its cause in terms of your experience and also in terms of your instinctive behavior, and they have comprehensive results. You think about all these results and the happiness you would want to achieve, and how they would come about from these causes, namely, acting positively and constructively. You then think, “I want to be able to achieve that happiness.” Therefore, you make a firm decision to try to get this happiness.

Then you think that what would cause problems and prevent you from attaining this happiness would be to act destructively. You then think of the various destructive actions and their results, the ripening results, the results that correspond to their causes in your resultant experience and in your instinctive behavior, and the comprehensive results. Finally you think, “I don’t at all want to experience any of these types of problems and sufferings,” and therefore, you take a very firm decision to abandon acting destructively in any of these ten manners.

Then you consider the increase factor, how from a small action, large results can follow and you decide firmly, “I’m going to try to do even the smallest type of constructive action and I will try to avoid committing even the most minor destructive one.”

Then you think about the next two factors, which are that if you haven’t committed an action you won’t meet with its results, and if you have done a certain action, it will not have been in vain and its results will ripen. In terms of these you think, for instance, that if you’ve acted destructively, built up a negative potential, there are only two possibilities. You can purify yourself of having to experience that potential through applying the four opponent forces such as regret and so forth; otherwise, it is certain that you will have to experience its results. Likewise, having done certain positive constructive actions, it is only a matter of time that happiness will ripen from that, or, having acted destructively, that unhappiness and problems will come as a result. These things will ripen for sure and you can be certain of that, it is never the case that, having built up a potential for something, this won’t ripen at some point.

However, if you haven’t built up any potential for something, then there’s never a cause for it to happen. For instance, if you think of various types of happiness that you might desire, there’s no way you will experience those types of happiness unless you build up the causes that will bring them about. So in that way think of how, if you haven’t built up the causes, you won’t meet with the results, and having built up the causes, it will not have been in vain.

Various Accounts Illustrating the Laws of Behavioral Cause and Effect

If You Have Committed a Certain Action, It Will Not Have Been in Vain

To illustrate this, there’s the case of a son who locked his mother up in the house and wouldn’t give her anything to eat. The mother pleaded for some food and the son just took some ashes from the fire, mixed them with some water and gave that to the mother to eat. Finally, the mother starved to death.

This son died and in a later life he was reborn at the time Shakyamuni Buddha was alive gracing the earth. He took up robes, studied and reached the state of an arhat, a liberated being. However, even after achieving the state of a liberated being, of an arhat, he became very sick. In those times, the monks who followed the Buddha used to go in the morning on alms rounds with their begging bowls, but this arhat could not go. The Buddha suggested that some of the monks who had miraculous powers take the bowl of this sick monk around on alms and bring it back to him with some food. So one of the monks took the bowl of this sick arhat and went out on begging rounds with it, but when he took the bowl back to the sick monk, a bird came and took away the bowl and everything in it, and there was no way for him to deliver the meal.

This happened again and again for six or seven days, there was no way that food could be brought to this sick arhat. Then, one day, Shariputra himself tried to take the begging bowl and bring it to this monk with food. As he brought the bowl toward the house, the doors of the house disappeared and without an entrance there was no way to get into the house. All this was something that came about as a result of previous negative karmic potential built up by this monk.

Shariputra used his various miraculous powers to make a door and walked in bringing the bowl into the house, placed it on the ground in front of the sick monk, and the bowl disappeared into the ground, also as a result of the previous karma of this monk. Although it had sunk under the ground, Shariputra again used his miraculous powers to stick his hand into the ground and bring the bowl back up. The monk tried to eat the food, but as he brought it up to his face, his mouth disappeared and he had no mouth to eat.

Well, even though this might sound very weird, this is the type of extraordinary things that happen as a result of karmic potentials built up from past lives. After this event, the monk explained to Shariputra that all of this was the result that was ripening from the past, “I denied my mother food and, as a result of that, it is impossible for me to eat anything, to get any food. Even though I’ve achieved the state of a liberated being, an arhat, nevertheless, the results of previous karma are certain. But in that previous life I gave my mother gruel made out of ashes and so, if you make that for me, I will be able to eat it.” He ate this gruel made of ashes and then he demonstrated all the miraculous powers that he had gained as an arhat, a liberated being, such as flying through the air, and making fire and water and all sorts of elements come out from his body. After demonstrating all these powers, he passed away into the final release of parinirvana.

This story shows that if you have built up a certain karmic potential, the action will not have been in vain; and even if you’ve achieved the state of a liberated being, an arhat, such things will ripen.

If You Have Not Purified All Karmic Potentials, They Will Surely Ripen

Please may I ask a question?


On the one hand it is said that karmic seeds can be burnt, purified, by the four opponent powers, but, on the other hand, it seems that even these great masters who are arhats have to definitely suffer the results of their actions? How is that possible?

As you point out, if you openly admit to, confess, the wrongs that you have done and apply the various opponent forces to purify yourself, then there is no need to have to experience the results of the various actions you’ve done in the past. However, the various deeds of liberated beings are quite inconceivable and there are instances such as this, where they didn’t openly admit to past wrongs and didn’t purify themselves, and as a result they had to experience the consequences.

Another example about this type of thing is from the life of the great Nagarjuna. There was a king who had a special relationship with Nagarjuna. Unless Nagarjuna died, the king wouldn’t die and his son, the prince, couldn’t become king until his father had passed away. This prince wanted to become king very badly and so he went to Nagarjuna and asked him to please pass away. Nagarjuna said that he agreed to pass away, but he had achieved a type of body that could not be killed, a deathless type of body. This prince used all sorts of weapons and means to try and kill Nagarjuna but couldn’t; none of them would work. Nagarjuna said, “You should stop this, you are wasting your time. You can’t kill me that way. There is a certain action that I did in the past, in one particular life I was a grass-cutter and once I chopped off the head of an ant while cutting the grass. The potential from that is still around and if you take a blade of grass and pass it across my neck, you will be able to kill me in that way.” So the prince went out, got a piece of grass and put it across Nagarjuna’s neck and was able to slice through it with the blade of grass. This was because there was this particular potential that Nagarjuna had not purified, that he had not openly admitted to and purified from his mental continuum.

Does that mean that you have to be aware of every action you have done and purify them one by one, or is there a state you can reach in which all your actions are purified?

The way to handle that situation is by considering the fact that rebirth is something that has no beginning and, therefore, there isn’t a single negative action that each of us hasn’t done at one time or another. Therefore, when you admit to the wrongs you’ve done in the past and purify yourself of them, what you do is think of absolutely every horrible nasty thing that can possibly be done, and admit to having done all of them. You can reason this out so that it becomes a rational process by thinking of all the negative things you’ve done in this lifetime, and considering that if you were to remember them all, you would come up with an incredible list of negative things that you’ve done. On the basis that in previous lifetimes you’ve acted similarly, it becomes reasonable to assume that, since you’ve had beginningless rebirths, at one time or another you’ve done every possible destructive thing. So when you purify yourself, you admit to having done every possible wrong action and imagine various nectars flowing to you from the Buddhas and purifying you as you apply the four opponent forces.

The same is true in terms of rejoicing in the constructive and positive things you’ve done in the past. It’s also based on reason, because if you think of the precious human life that you have now and all the opportunities, respites and freedoms that you have, this must have come about from having done a tremendous amount of positive things in past lifetimes. So when you rejoice in all the positive things you’ve done in the past, you should rejoice in a very vast manner. Undoubtedly you’ve done a lot of positive things as well.

Unintentional Acts

May I ask a question? Yesterday I had understood that for an action to be complete, it needs to be committed intentionally and not by accident. And yet Nagarjuna killed the ant by accident. So, what is going on here?

In that past life, the action of chopping the ant’s head actually was intentional. In the account it doesn’t say that Nagarjuna accidentally chopped the head of the ant. It was that he was cutting the grass, saw this ant and chopped its head off.

The process of karma, of behavior and its results, involved in accidentally stepping on an ant is not that you have a full potential built up with all its ramifications, that you will be reborn as a hell creature if you just accidentally stepped on an ant. However, even though it doesn’t have the full consequences, it still does have some consequences. For instance, it would have the consequence of the same thing happening to you at some time in the future. Ants, for instance, experience people stepping on them; and so the same thing would happen to you as a result of your stepping on an ant. Sometime when you are an ant, you’re going to be stepped on as well.

We need to understand what it means to say that the consequences of your actions come back to you. Accidently stepping on an ant wouldn’t have as a ripening being reborn in a hell, or having a short life and things like that, but it would have some consequences. The action comes back to you in some form. This is why in monasteries there is the custom of taking the rainy season summer precepts of staying in retreat. For three months during the Indian monsoon, the monks and nuns must stay within the limits of the grounds of their monasteries and nunneries and not go outside. The reason why that was instituted for the three monsoon months in India was because during the monsoon there’s a tremendous amount of insects all around. To prevent the monks and nuns from stepping on insects as they walked around on their alms rounds, the Buddha decreed that during that period they should stay inside the grounds and mostly meditate.

This is related to the three spheres of activities of explanation and practice, a list of activities and practices that was written down for monks and nuns. The first of these is the sphere of abandonment of things and gaining mental stability; the second is the sphere of actions through work; and the third is the sphere of reading and studying through listening and pondering. The practices of the rainy season retreat would fall within the first sphere, the sphere of abandoning actions through gaining mental stability and meditating. So the three months of the monsoon, when the insects are most numerous, is the time to put into practice this sphere of abandoning things through gaining mental stability.

The Passing Away of a Buddha

Sometimes I’ve heard it said that high lamas, such as the Dalai Lama and Ling Rinpoche and also Buddha Shakyamuni when he passed away, are not subject to karma but are only demonstrating it. Is that the case or is it that in taking a body, even if it’s to help other beings, they’re actually subject to the effect of their own actions that they did in the past?

Are you asking the question from the point of view of sutra or tantra?

I suppose sutra.

The Sutra of Golden Light, the Suvarnaprabha Sutra, states that the Buddha has no final passing away or parinirvana and the Dharma has no setting like a sunset. However, when the karma and potentials of the disciples who will be able to meet with the Buddha are exhausted, they then demonstrate passing away. It also says that although the body of a Buddha is not made out of flesh, bones and blood, and therefore there’s no way that it could produce actual physical relics; nevertheless, because of the power of the disciples’ faith, the Buddhas demonstrate and create these relics for them.

If you have faith and respectful belief, then you will see the appearance of the various enlightened beings, like seeing the moon reflected in a clear lake. But if you don’t have respectful belief and you lack faith, then you won’t see them. For instance, His Holiness the Dalai Lama could be sitting on a throne and people would be coming up to meet him and receive his blessings, but there are many examples of people who would just walk right by and not even see him.

Now in terms of Nirmanakayas, the word in Tibetan is tulku, there are different types. There is the supreme type of Nirmanakaya or Emanation Body, such as the Buddha Shakyamuni appearing in the full form complete with the 32 major marks and the 80 minor marks. He demonstrated a manner of passing away in accordance with the ways in which we can perceive and see things. In The Sutra of the Fortunate Eon, which describes the life accounts of the 1002 Buddhas of this fortunate eon, it mentions two different ways in which Buddhas pass away and what’s done with their bodies. Some, like Buddha Shakyamuni, pass away like he passed away in Kushinagar and their body is cremated. Others, when they pass away, their bodies are left in state. That doesn’t mean that the body was necessarily buried, but it could be that it was left off in a cave or up on a mountain, and in that way disposed of by remaining in state.

There are two ways of seeing the event of Buddha Shakyamuni passing away in Kushinagar. One is from the point of view of the shravakas, the listeners to the teachings, and the other is from the point of the vast-minded Mahayana practitioners. The listeners, the Hinayana practitioners, interpret a final passing away in which there is no remainder left of any of the aggregates, just like the going out of a candle. The Mahayana system describes what happens after a Buddha passes away quite differently. However, in both cases there is a presentation of the passing away of the Buddha, a parinirvana. In Mahayana, they say the Buddha only demonstrates passing away and doesn’t really have a final passing away like you would have in the Hinayana system. But the way he demonstrates a passing away is in the ordinary manner to which we are accustomed.

When the Buddha was still practicing on the paths, still requiring training, he took many rebirths and there’s a description of 500 rebirths in pure forms and 500 rebirths in impure forms. These 500 impure births were in non-human forms, and one of them was a rebirth as a very large ape. At that time, there were hunters who were after all the forest animals. As all the animals were running away from the hunters, this large ape, who was a previous life of the Buddha, saw a stream. He put his feet on one margin, reached out over the stream and, putting his arms on the other margin, formed a bridge so that the deer and the other forest creatures could cross over and escape the hunters. After all the animals had passed over, the ape looked back and saw there was one tiny baby creature that was still hopping along, so he waited until this last animal had crossed over. All this traffic of animals with very sharp hooves, like deer and so forth running over him, had eaten away the ape’s back, causing it a great deal of damage. His body was in a terrible state and was of no more use, and so he let go, fell into the stream and died.

Later, when the Buddha was reborn as Shakyamuni, he had many, many disciples whom he led to various states of realization and attainment. When the Buddha was about to pass away, he noticed there was this one non-Buddhist left who still had the karma to be a disciple of his and attain realizations. So the Buddha blessed his life span to be one month longer in order to be able to teach this last disciple. After this one month extension of his life, he went to Kushinagar and passed away. The reason for this was that this last disciple was that baby forest creature that had been left behind after all the other animals had crossed the stream, and who still had the karma to pass over the bridge of the Buddha, the ape. So he still had the karma to be a disciple of the Buddha and this account came about because of that.

The Bodies of a Buddha

This type of Emanation Body or Nirmanakaya of a Buddha is called a Supreme Nirmanakaya, one that has 32 major excellent signs and 80 minor exemplary features, like the Buddha Shakyamuni. If we have built up the potentials to meet with such a Supreme Emanation Body of a Buddha, then even as an ordinary being we’ll be able to meet with such a figure; but if not, we won’t be able to. As for Sambhogakayas or Bodies of a Buddha that Make Full Use of Mahayana, these are ones that abide in Wo-min or Akanishta realm, the realm to which nothing is higher, and these can only be seen by arya bodhisattvas. Arya bodhisattvas are dedicated beings who have actually cognized voidness non-conceptually with straightforward cognition. Aside from these arya bodhisattvas, no one else is able to see Sambhogakayas. As for Dharmakayas, the Bodies of the Buddha that Encompass Everything, except for the Buddhas themselves, no other beings, not even arya bodhisattvas, can actually perceive them.

Of the various types of Bodies of a Buddha, we as ordinary beings can’t see a Dharmakaya, we can’t see a Sambhogakaya, a Body of Full Use, and most of us can’t even see a Supreme Emanation Body, a Supreme Nirmanakaya. However, there are three types of Nirmanakaya, there’s:

  • A Supreme Emanation Body
  • An Emanation Body as an Artist
  • An Emanation Body as a Personage.

Ordinary beings like us have the ability to see an Emanation Body, a Nirmanakaya, as either an artist or as an ordinary personage. Examples of Nirmanakaya or Emanation Bodies that are as personages, those who have literally taken birth, would be the Senior Tutor, Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

With respect to the Sangha, the Sanskrit word has the connotation of “supreme community” and the Tibetan has the connotation of “intent” and “positive goal.” So, putting these together as “the supreme community intent on a positive goal” or “intent community” conveys the whole meaning of both the Sanskrit and the Tibetan.

It’s useful, particularly in ceremonies where you take Mahayana precepts, to do the recitations both in Tibetan and English, and to have terminology in translation that actually communicates the connotations of the original words, rather than just having stock words that you have inherited from previous translators.

There is an account showing an example of an Emanation Body as an Artist or an artisan. Once there was a king of the gandharvas. The gandarvas are the heavenly musicians; their name literally means “those who sustain themselves on fragrances.” This king of the heavenly musicians was extremely proud and arrogant for being such a fantastic player of the vina, an Indian stringed instrument. In order to tame this proud king, the Buddha manifested himself as an artisan, this time as a musician. They had a musical competition on the vina, which has a thousand strings. Each round they would cut off more and more strings and continue playing the vina on less and less strings, until they were down to one string. The king was still able to keep up with the Buddha, but then the Buddha cut off the last string and continued to play beautiful music with no strings, and the king had to admit defeat. In this way, the Buddha was able to humble his pride and eventually help tame his mind. This is an example of an Emanation Body as an Artist.

The actual Form Bodies that we can meet before we become Buddhas ourselves, then, would be like the Supreme Emanation Body, an Emanation Body as an Artist, an Emanation Body as a Personage – those are the different Nirmanakayas – and also the Sambhogakaya or a Body of Full Use. Among these Form Bodies, a Body that Makes Full Use, or a Sambhogakaya, is one that has no passing away whatsoever. Whereas the various Emanation Bodies, the Nirmanakayas, either as supreme or as an artist or as a personage, are the ones in which a Buddha would demonstrate passing away.

So how did that question arise; from what point in the discourse? What was the occasion?

I think you were talking about the four opponent powers and that we can purify actions. After that, there was the story of the arhat who still had to suffer the result of his actions.

The question arose out of this account of Nagarjuna, in which Nagarjuna said, “The only way you can kill me is because I have this one karmic potential left that I haven’t openly admitted to. I have not purified myself of having killed this ant, and therefore the one way you can kill me is by killing me in the same fashion as I killed the ant.” The question then is, in terms of the Buddhas, when the Buddhas demonstrate passing away, is it a similar case? Is it based on a karmic potential that they haven’t purified themselves of?

The Buddhas explain that it is like that, but, in fact, they are only demonstrating the laws of behavior and its results. Buddhas have purified themselves of all negative potentials, so there is no reason for them to have to experience the results of any negative actions they might have done in the past. However, to demonstrate the certainty of the laws of karma, they sometimes do demonstrate different things happening to them, although this is just a demonstration that they set up in order to teach a particular lesson.

Further Examples of If You Have Committed a Certain Action, You Will Meet with Its Result

There is the historical account of the Buddha once getting a thorn in his foot. People asked, “What’s the reason why you got this splinter?” He replied, “In a past lifetime I was a captain on a merchant vessel with five hundred merchants on it. The vessel had gone off to sea to get treasures from the deep and, returning back to shore, the ship was full of jewels and various riches.

“There was one criminal on board called Minag Dungdung, who wanted to take over the ship, kill everybody and steal the treasure. At that time I saw that if nothing was done to stop this criminal, he would kill everybody. So at that time I exchanged self for others and, rather than letting this criminal build up the enormous negative potential from killing everybody and letting all the suffering arise for those merchants who would be killed by him, I took all the suffering consequences on myself by killing him and preventing him from doing this act. So at that time when I killed him, I did so being fully willing to accept all the disastrous results that would follow from that. My getting a thorn in my foot is a result of that.”

Of course, the Buddha had purified himself of that negative karma, but then he allowed himself to get a splinter in order to teach that lesson to his disciples. So there are these types of examples, even with the Buddhas. These are instances of the fact that, if you have committed a certain action, you will meet with its result, and if you haven’t committed it, you won’t.

Another example that I left out was that of Devadatta hitting or trying to hit the Buddha; this also can teach people the same type of lesson about karma.

Further Example of If You Have Committed a Certain Action, It Will Not Have Been in Vain

But there is yet a different type of example. Long ago there were sixteen thieves who stole a cow and brought it to some lady in town who had an inn. They then slaughtered the cow and ate it. At the time of the Buddha, there was the wife of a minister, who had had sixteen sons. The sixteen sons were extremely skilled, learned and clever, and the king favored them very much. At that time, the cow that had been rustled in that previous life had been reborn as another minister of the same king, and he didn’t like these children at all. On one occasion, these sixteen sons, who were quite rowdy and athletic youths, were crossing a bridge and they were horsing around on the bridge, and sort of poking each other and fighting. This other minister who had been the cow then said to the king, “You like those kids over here, but really they’re no good and they just pretend to be very nice and innocent in your presence.”

One day this other minister gave each of the sixteen sons a hollow cane made out of some sort of crystal, which had a sharp knife concealed inside it. On the outside you couldn’t see that there was a knife concealed inside and they just looked like very lovely crystal sticks. Then the minister went to the king and said, “You think those boys are so innocent and cute but, actually, one day they are going to come in here with crystal canes that have concealed weapons inside, and they are going to kill you.” The king saw the boys playing outside with these canes and, although he didn’t believe the minister, he asked someone to bring in one of the canes and break it open to see what was inside.

Now the Buddha, who was aware of this awful ploy that was going on, went that night to the boys’ mother’s house and taught her, and she gained bare cognition of reality, of voidness, achieving the state of a liberated being, an arhat. Back at the court, the king had one of these canes broken open and saw that in fact it did have a weapon concealed inside. He got very angry at the boys and without any trial or further investigation, he had all their heads chopped off, and he put all their heads in a big box and sent it back to the mother’s house. But, as I explained, the mother had been visited that night by the Buddha and had gained nonconceptual bare cognition of reality and so, when she opened the box with the heads of her sixteen sons inside, she was able to remain calm and not get upset.

In this account, the sixteen sons were the sixteen cow rustlers from this previous life and the mother was the innkeeper, the lady who had helped prepare the meal and had served the cow to the cattle rustlers. This shows how, if you’ve done certain actions in the past, the karmic potential built up from them will not go to waste but will, in fact, ripen.

Further Examples of the Ripenings of Karma

At the time of the Buddha there was a wood merchant who made an offering of gold coins to the Buddha and to the community of the Sangha. As a result, this person was reborn with gold earrings. There was also another person who made an offering of gold to the Buddha and when this person was reborn, whenever this person’s hands were clenched and then opened, a gold coin would fall out.

In another place, somebody was building a huge stupa, a relic monument, and there was one worker who always complained bitterly about all the work involved: “Why in the world are you building such a huge monstrosity? This is just too much work!” He complained all the time. So he kept on complaining that it was too big and it was a monstrosity, but eventually it got finished. When he saw the finished monument he rejoiced in it and thought it was worthwhile after all. He used his salary to buy a golden bell which he then offered and it was then placed on top of the stupa. As a result, he was reborn at the time of Buddha Shakyamuni as a monk who was called “the sweet voiced one” on account of his extremely sweet voice. His body, however, was an absolute monstrosity, a complete disaster. He was a very deformed dwarf and anybody who saw him would get revolted and nauseated by his sight. But his voice was so sweet that anybody who passed by would stop and listen to him. Even the animals would prick their ears up when he was chanting.

A rich patron once came to see the Buddha and heard this beautiful chanting voice. He said, “I’d really like to meet the monk who’s chanting like that.” The Buddha said, “No you don’t; it would be much better if you didn’t see him” But the patron insisted on going to see this monk and, when he saw him, he was thoroughly revolted by the sight. He asked what was the cause for this and the Buddha explained that, in a previous life, the monk had been a worker on this stupa who kept on complaining that the stupa was a monstrosity, and that it shouldn’t be built so big. As a result, he was reborn as a very small deformed dwarf, a monstrosity. But because at the end of the construction he had offered a bell to the stupa, he had a beautiful voice as a result.

There is another account of a land in which there were seven queens who all went out on a picnic along with their maidservant. During the picnic, they wanted to build a camp fire and there was a bush that had a pheasant nest in it. While the maidservant went off to get water, the seven queens lit a fire out of this bush and burned the pheasant to death. These queens were reborn at the time of the Buddha, they all became nuns and all achieved the state of arhats, of liberated beings. As liberated beings, they had all the miraculous powers, to be able to fly in the air and have various elements come forth from their body like fire and water, and so on. The maidservant was also reborn at that time and was also with this group of nuns, but she had not achieved the state of a liberated arhat.

One day, when they were all together, the house caught fire and, although the seven nuns who had achieved liberation had the miraculous powers to be able to fly through the air, they were unable to use them and were all burned to death. This is, again, an example that if you’ve built up a certain karmic potential, then you will have to meet with its result, that it will not go to waste. Again, in this example, they had not openly admitted to the wrong and purified themselves of the potential built up. The maidservant, who had not been involved in this act of burning the bush with the pheasant in it, was also caught in the fire in this later life, but was able to escape by crawling out of a drain from the house. This example also goes to show that when you haven’t built up a certain potential, you won’t have to experience its result.

Developing Confident Belief in the Teachings on Karma

All the exact intricate and subtle details of the laws of behavior and its results are something that only a fully enlightened Buddha can be completely aware of. It is very important to study these laws and study these matters. The texts explaining them are in the translated words of the Buddha, the Kangyur, in several of its volumes and especially in the Sutra of the Wise and the Foolish. These all discuss karma and you should try to study them.

As for the actual presentation of behavior and its results, the fact of being reborn in lower realms and things like that are things that we can’t see with bare perception, with our own eyes. The only way we can be convinced of it is by relying on the scriptural authority of the Buddha, relying on the Buddha’s word. How do we actually develop that confident belief that what the Buddha said about karma and these things is correct? To accept it simply because the Buddha is very precious and a holy being is something that doesn’t sit well with everyone and is not a very stable or steady reason for believing what the Buddha said, because it’s quite likely you might eventually think that the Buddha just sort of made it all up.

How do we develop confident belief in what the Buddha said about karma and these laws? Well, we consider all the things the Buddha said about voidness, about reality. The Buddha gave many lines of logical reasoning to establish that there’s no such thing as all these various fantasized, impossible ways of existing. If we use our powers of reasoning going through these lines of logic, then we too will become convinced that what the Buddha said about reality was true. Likewise, the Buddha gave all sorts of methods to be able to gain a stilled and settled state of mind, to be able to develop shamatha, mental quiescence, and if we practice them, we will in fact be able to gain a stilled and settled state of mind. When you’ve proved all of that to yourself, then you develop confident belief that what the Buddha said was true and, therefore, by extension, you’ll gain confident belief in what the Buddha said about the laws of behavior and its results.

All of this has come from the discussion of the ten destructive and the ten constructive actions. These are things that are very important to know and to put into practice.