Friday, November 12, 2010

Beyond Karma and Rebirth

(part one of a series of 'examining karma' posts)
It is said that the only constant is change. It is also said that the nameless Tao, that Tao of which we cannot speak is the eternal or constant Tao. So, change and something unspeakable beyond the phenomenal world of change, are simultaneously the only constants. The Book of Changes, the I Ching, simplifies all the possibilities of change, so that we, the individual, the perceiver, can learn the highest truths amidst the forms of change. The technique the I Ching prescribes for dealing with danger is restriction. In our modern world, in which we have access to mountains of information about any subject, the individual is increasingly in danger of “limitless speculation”. Through restriction we can come to know those forces which are closest to us. Through restriction we can focus our attention, our field of study to our immediate daily life and our action therein. It is in this field of action where we find the vast unchanging splendor of humanity. The Confucian concept of humanity, and its central significance, is illuminated through the practice of restriction as outlined in the I Ching. There are some fundamental constants in the human life that Confucius had the great wisdom to make central in his teaching. The Book of Changes addresses change so that we may come to know our unspeakable individuality, the unchanging within. The Confucian theory of humanity as illuminated through the practice of restriction is a bridge from the world of change, or Karma, to the world of that which is highest in humanity, that which unnamable, beyond change, or rebirth. Restriction of our inquiry to the most basic aspects of daily life, that which is common to all humanity, and the relationship of our personalities toward these events, allows us to focus our energy toward reality. Gradually this process of inquiry leads us to discover that which is beyond change, beyond karma and rebirth, in our immediate reality.
Our perception of our immediate reality is often clouded. We pick out what we want to perceive in our reality based on desire. We pursue change and rebirth based on desire. In this sense karma is desire. Rebirth is desire come to fruition. Life is typically lived in pursuit of desire. We orient our senses to pick out what furthers our desires. We ignore what hinders our pursuit. As long as our desires remain just below the surface of our awareness we suffer at the mercy of unknown forces. Desire colors our reality. The wheel of karma is powered by our volitional activity, desire. We create our future without knowing it. We put our values in everything we do. We use our resources to further some idea of ourselves. After these resources have produced what we wanted, we instantly create new desires for the future. This process of projecting our resources and desires into the future, then living the rebirth, the fruit, of that past orientation to life continues without our knowing it. Simply, we mobilize all the resources in our present situation toward some distant future world, some utopian vision of ourselves. Then we achieve it. Then we look back admiring where we were. We orient ourselves to achieve a distant future utopia as soon as possible. We are aware of the potential disharmony but are so convinced of the potential bliss of our rebirth that we ignore the risk and march on in pursuit of desire. Buddhism began with Sakyamuni and his Four Noble Truths. The notion of Karma, some would say, is central in Buddhist thought. I believe Sakyamuni would say that the mechanism of Karma is desire and thus the cause of suffering. He would also say that the cycle of rebirth is the ordinary life ruled by desire. Through the gradual practice of restriction in the midst of the deepening danger of desire, the path to a true life begins when we recognize our desire and guard against it taking over our life. When we recognize that which is free from desire, true self as opposed to desire self, we can begin to live a true life...

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