During last year’s season of Rains Retreat talks Phra Cittasamvaro Bhikku said the Buddha taught there are four imponderables, four things just not worth thinking about as they are impossible to understand. One is the source of psychic powers, another is the mind of an Arahant, the third is the mind of a Buddha, and the final imponderable is karma. Trying to figure out how karma works will do little more than split your head into seven different pieces the Buddha said.
But I keep coming back to it this week. My post on moving the mala was prompted by reflections on karma, those “huge killer waves of our own making”, and Joseph’s post yesterday underlines again just how vital it is, if not to fully understand, then to at least have a basic grasp of how these energies work. Just as Phra Pandit suggested last year, we can get by with an outline of the principles of karma without delving into its more complex, imponderable, depths. And that basic outline is simply that everyone has karma and so we must be careful of what we do.
“That’s it”, he said. “Finished. Anything that comes next is, unlike most of the Buddha’s other teachings, going to be mainly speculation.” But it’s clear that our behavour, and the patterns we establish, can make all the difference between joining those figures in white at the bulgogi feast, or remembering one’s vows just in time. The clearest and most succinct formulation I ever heard of the workings of karma came from a Thai friend of mine when she said “Do good, get good. Do bad, get bad”. Whichever way you look at it, our intentions and habits, orientation and practice, are what decide our fates.
Who can’t help but be reminded of Bodhidharma and Emperor Wu? “How much karmic merit have I earned by ordaining monks, building monasteries, having sutras copied, and commissioning Buddha images?” “None.” And then there’s the story of Nanta, the old lady who, despite her poverty, lit a lantern for the Buddha with such sincerity that not only did it burn late into the night, but she was also promised future Buddhahood from that single act of devout intention.