Purification of habits and preventing the ripening of bad karma

By Daren Yeoh

From the ebook ‘Candles of Celebration’

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There was a road rage incident televised in the news.  A man got out of his vehicle with a weapon and assaulted another driver.  There was a CC video nearby which captured the whole incident.  The victim had to be hospitalised and the other was charged.  This is an example of how external factors can trigger karmic actions and cause karmic stores to ripen resulting in a sequence of events that adversely affect the individual and his family.  Are humans doomed to be controlled by external events?  We can live in a free democratic society but if we are so dictated by external triggers, can we really taste true freedom?  The Buddha says that the tears that each of us has shed or the blood that each of us has bled is far greater than all the oceans in this world combined.  Do we want to continue to shed more tears in the present and future lives?

If we allow external factors to affect ourselves, then it is very difficult to find peace and bliss and there is a greater chance for bad karmic imprints to ripen before we have the chance to purify them. If one seeks happiness outside of oneself, that is, depend on others or external objects to feel happy, one can never find true peace and freedom.  Also, if the focus is on the ego, one will also be affected by external factors as the ego will seek differentiation (for example, by judging or seeking dominance over another).    We need to practice in a way that put focus on something else, something beyond us, something that signifies non-judgement, acceptance, connectedness and peace.

We are born with inherent tendencies and habits that go back far longer than we can remember and which affects our life in the present.  It is written in our genes.  Some habits are particularly strong, such as desire, anger, greed, hatred and delusion.  Deepak Chopra in his book the Crystal Cave refers to Merlin who said, “Normal mortals have so many personalities (different persons) within them, fighting with each other to come to the fore.  They can never find quietude.  The wizard on the other hand, has no one within him and is at peace”.

As a lay person, it is beneficial to have a practical, simple and easy to remember practice to purify our habits.  The path of purification based on the teachings of Buddha is concentration, virtue and understanding.

As an example of the practice, when an external trigger hits us (say a car cuts abruptly in front of us) and we feel a negative feeling, the practice involves:

1.      Firstly, be aware of the feeling (this may be anger or annoyance).

2.      Do not deny the feeling, acknowledge that feeling and then let it go and allow it to dissipate into the universe (like a drop of bitter dew dissolving without a trace in a running river).  You can imagine the feeling as a colour or object leaving you and disappearing into the vast universe.

3.      Then bring up in your mind the positive affirmations that one following the path of kindness is striving for.  Say to yourself, “gift” (you are giving the person a gift of peace; by not reacting, you are giving the driver a gift of space; a gift of wisdom) or say, “we are ultimately all connected” (the driver might be a family member or a close friend in one of our past lives) or other virtues that are meaningful to you such as patience, peace, understanding and wisdom.  Alternatively, you can bring an image of a spiritual person in your mind or consider what a wise person would act or say to you.

4.      Finally share the merit that you have created with all the people suffering in this world.

The above practice should be gradual.  Do not be discouraged if the negative feelings are overpowering at times.  Keep going.  The Dalai Lama encourages us to keep developing our heart no matter what is happening and what is going on around us. Never give up.

Message from the Editor:  My brother Daren, is a practitioner of Kriya Yoga and a follower of Ajahn Brahm. He has given a practical method to apply when faced with negative circumstances which involves both awareness and wisdom. When we are aware, we connect with the Divine within and allow the Divine to help us. When we use wisdom, we take back control over our mind. Our mind becomes a tool we use instead of our Master.

He wrote, ‘We need to practice in a way that put focus on something else, something beyond us, something that signifies non-judgement, acceptance, connectedness and peace’.  I cannot agree with this more. We must remove our ego from our practice. When we practice to achieve some siddhi or spiritual power or with some expectations of some spiritual experience, our ego is involved. Achieving those siddhis does not guarantee happiness. However, when we practice to train our mind and understand ourselves, we will have greater control over how we react to negative circumstances. We will be in a stronger position to apply the method mentioned by Daren in this article.  Also, when we rest in the silent gap between our thoughts, we are resting in the true nature of our mind. At that moment, we are resting our head on the peaceful lap of the Divine.

He also wrote, ‘The path of purification based on the teachings of Buddha is concentration, virtue and understanding’.  When we strengthen our power of concentration, we are better able to redirect our thoughts from negative thoughts to positive thoughts. Daren gave a few examples in this article. Without concentration, negative thoughts can easily snowball when we are faced with negative circumstances. Meditations that involve concentration on an object such as a candle flame can improve our power of concentration.

With virtue, there are lesser things for us to worry or think about. If one has told a lie, one has to constantly remember that lie. If one has hurt another, one has to worry about revenge by the other person. On the other hand, when we bring happiness to others, they will wish us happiness. Their thoughts have the creative power to bring joy to our life even without doing anything. The same applies when we hurt others.

‘Understanding’ refers to understanding oneself. No other person understands us more than ourselves because we are with ourselves 100% of the time. We know the words we use to make ourselves worry or angry. With understanding comes power because only with understanding can we change ourselves. For example, the topic of discussion on a radio programme the other day asked the question, ‘If you are unhappy with your job, should you leave your job?’ Most of the responses were along the lines of asking oneself; is it really the job or is it just one’s negative thoughts that make one unhappy with the job. That answer is clear when we advise others. But when it involves ourselves, our negative emotions come into play and we cannot see the answer as clearly.

This is the power of understanding. Only with understanding are we able to let go of our habitual way of thinking. That is why the wise say that they can point us in the right direction but we have to walk the path ourselves. The Buddha said that the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon. We need to shift our gaze from the finger to the moon. There is no point talking about the finger when we cannot see the moon. We need to apply the techniques we have learnt to understand ourselves and transcend our negative tendencies. Only then, can our mind step down from being the master to become a tool we use to live a happier life.

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