Every Monday there is a book club to prepare for upcoming weekend courses held at the Himalayan Institute. You can follow along and find the podcasts here or subscribe on itunes. I joined last week because I was excited to read and discuss From Death to Birth by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait. Its a wonderful book on Karma and Reincarnation.
During our discussion a story was told:
There was a man who lived in a village and had a son. The son was a powerful warrior. People from the village always used to say to the Father that he was very lucky to have such a powerful warrior as a son. The Father replied with equanimity and wonder, “Good, bad, we’ll see”. When the son was out hunting he was in a terrible accident and broke his leg. The people from the village came up to his father to offer their condolences and the father again replied, “Good, bad, we’ll see”. Then soldiers came to the village searching for every boy and man to take off to war. The son couldn’t go because he had such a severe broken leg. People from the village came up to his father and said “You must be so happy that your son was not taken off to war”. The father replied again with the same response, “Good, bad, we’ll see”.
This story illustrates that life and karma is a continuous vicious cycle of action that has both pleasurable and painful experience. Although, even the pleasurable ones are seen as painful because these experiences create a fear of losing pleasure in the future. The goal is not in trying to prevent the vicious cycle of karma (we can’t!), its more in how we respond to all of life’s ups and downs because simply a broken leg may save us from going into war, we just never know what’s a blessing or curse in the moment.
I remember when I was at the height of my gambling addiction. I was working 3 part time jobs, over 40 hours a week, a full class load in college, as well as drinking a lot of alcohol. When I was in the midst of my gambling addiction and my partying lifestyle I was completely miserable. However, looking back on these painful experiences lead me to discover yoga and gave me the motivation to learn about life and death, pain and pleasure, yoga and lifestyle, etc. Like the Father and Son in the story we all go through life and the vicious cycle of karma, the goal is to respond with genuine equanimity or we will fall prey to attachment of life’s ups and downs.
Often we ask ‘why’ something awful happened to us or a dear friend, but ‘why’ invites a thousand more unanswered questions as its nearly impossible to understand why circumstances occur throughout our life.
Instead, the more appropriate and helpful question in understanding the cycle of action is ‘how’. By asking ‘how’, a person is interested in knowing more about the subject and situation, instead of the always defensive and fearful ‘why’.
In starting to ask ‘how’ one fuels the desire to understand karma and to continue this understanding of karma one must begin to pursue intense tapas (practice), samadhi, mantra sadhana (practice), the grace of God, selfless service, and be in the company of the wise. These practices are the preparation a seeker needs to understand and assimilate the most difficult questions spirituality and life presents: how it is we were born, how it is we create karma and the dynamics of karma, and how it is we leave this world and what ultimately stays with us when we die.
Discovering the answers to these questions is the key to create our own destiny because in knowledge of birth and death, beginning and end, and the ultimate goal of life, we are able to walk through this world with true purpose and attain our highest dharma (duty) knowing full well where we came from and where we are going.
It seems daunting but not seeking answers to these questions or even asking in the first place seems even more traitorous.