The individual aspect of karma, how we are ensnared in habits of mind is what comes with us from previous lives. It follows us into this life and influences what we create now by conscious or unconscious action. This is the material of our practice, the essence of our personal version of delusion. To have any influence over our unique way of navigating time—and identity—our practice must orient to the level of our habitual view and decisions about time. Imagine breaking the spell of time. Suddenly we have a different view of what is enough or what is too little.
Samsara is also dying and recreating itself in every instant. We are all doing it together. We are all subject to its terms. We perpetuate those terms with every conscious act. Being asleep to micro-events of our lives, we are wanderers, constantly re-creating ourselves without realizing our true relationship to what we take for granted as ‘events.’ If we are to have any influence on the terms of living in samsara, this is where our attention must go. The more we become aware of Awareness and our common entrapment, bringing that into our daily life, the more we might regard our predicament as a perpetual purgatory. The inner character of every instant always seems just beyond our grasp. What’s more important is to realize that by this very knowing we are always presented a choice of view and of conduct. Even so, the discipline we apply to resting effortlessly in our daily existence and the attention we bring to the activity of mind is all influenced by the fundamental limitation to which we are all subject. That limitation is time.
The flow of our individual negotiation with time is what Mahayana might call relative karma. It’s relative by virtue of the artificiality of viewing ourselves in isolation from others, separate from the collective field, the universe of sentient beings. The bodhisattva is an enlightened being devoted to serving others and concerned with the welfare of all. Such a being has seen through the array of habitual decisions about time and untangled from them entirely. S/he has developed Awareness transcending time, entering a unitary dimension including collective activity, thought, and behavior. The accomplishment of the bodhisattva is to remain stable within the absolute condition of all beings while acting as an open heart at the relative level to elevate their karmic condition; that is, retaining a degree of individuality while acting for the collective. In the case of the bodhisattva, maintaining this balance is entirely natural, completely effortless.
The notion of collective karma, group, tribal or ethnic karma, organizational karma, national or even planetary karma, is not a Western distortion. There are many references to the idea of collective karma in Buddhist literature. To think this way is not a departure from Buddhist orthodoxy. From a relative view, such decisions certainly do occur at the group, tribal, national, and global level. A national leader may commit acts of violence. Whether the karmic seeds of such actions spread to individual members of the group may depend on whether that leader is supported or opposed. Since membership in the group is continuously changing from one day to the next or one year to the next, we cannot assign karmic effects to those members a year or a generation later for the actions of their predecessors. But if there is no such thing as an independent actor and if causality itself is difficult to pin down, how can we explain any of this?
When attempting to tease out the factors effecting developmental decisions and collective actions, we inevitably encounter conflicting values and the difficulty of assigning their relative importance, the relative participation of individuals in hierarchies of relevancy and influence. What is the greater good or the greater harm? Such views occur within the relative realm. The question remains: how to expand our view to access the inter-subjective, the deeper and unspoken common agreements that define a group? How else can we discern what is happening at the interbeing level of process and decision-making to evaluate or realize the developmental potential of the whole? Our discomfort may be eased by remembering that such complex karmic conditions are rooted in beginningless time.
From the absolute view, all phenomena being equal, there is no such thing as good or evil. These distinctions dissolve as we uncover the activity of mind assigning such attributes to what is no other than a value-free arising. This is very difficult to grasp, let alone accept, given our religious, social, and cultural conditioning. Yet all phenomena are both ‘here’ in the relative sense of time, judgment, and evaluation and are also ‘not here’ in the sense that the ground from which they arise is not conditioned on conventional reality whatsoever. Such arising is based on something else entirely—a pure, unobstructed, unconditioned ‘space’ in which, paradoxically, neither time nor space have any meaning at all.
If all phenomena are the same, arising independently of any judgments or projections, then karma is defined by our intrinsic conditioning (or hardwiring) to see the world in polarities. The Vajrayana and Dzogchen definition of true liberation is that all phenomena, the continuous effervescence of everything, is instantaneously recognized as the expression of essence nature (emptiness) before any attributes can be assigned or any value judgments can be made. Everything remains free of memory or plans, free of past or future. Liberation is the instantaneous evaporation of all attachment, reversing the continuous ‘flow into oneself,’ becoming free of all polarities, free from any tendency—or even capacity—to make such distinctions, which is to say, the extinction of time. Such a capacity may not seem very useful in the relative world…unless we recall the union of the Two Truths operating as one Mind, flowing out of ourselves, giving ourselves to both the time-bound and timeless nature of every act, regardless of whether extended or received.
About “Just Passing Through”
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