If you read my previous post “Karma, maybe it doesn’t mean what we thought it did” you know my view of Karma differs somewhat from the way Karma is traditionally taught. This is not just based on an opinion that I created myself but one that I developed by correlating the Buddha’s core teachings of Impermanence, Suffering, Dependent origination, Emptiness and Not-self against the prevailing ideas about Karma. There were many facets about Karma that just didn’t match up. Also, in addition, it is by my own life experience that I have come to the understanding I have today.
This post is sort of a slightly less technical more lighthearted look at this same idea. If you have ever traveled to Asia there is one thing that almost instantly is apparent to the westerner. Pets do not hold the same status here as they do in the west. This post is not about the rightness or wrongness of this status. Of course it is easy for the westerner to just proclaim the sheer evil of the pet’s status in Asia. There are many factors that lead to the condition of pets here and I do not think that this is a fair assessment at all. I have a western friend who when he fly’s he brings his three small dogs with him. They do not fly in the cargo hold but inside the cabin with him. He has to buy some sort of special doggie ticket for them. Some connections you make when flying will not allow the dogs to fly in the cabin some my friend will take a different route even if it costs more so that his dogs can sit happily beside him.
Here in Asia things are very different. First of all when people are struggling to earn enough money just to feed their children the idea of paying for airline tickets for their dog is a thought that is just not anywhere in their minds. Another reason is that culturally for a culture that requires you to remove you shoes before you come into the house, so that you don’t bring in the uncleanliness from outside inside, pets until very recently did not live inside the house with the people. Lastly, and probably most importantly most of the pets that you see running around the streets do not belong to anyone, they are feral. So even though you see someone that may be feeding a street cat or dog they do not actually belong to them. Of course this means that all these cats and dogs running around do not get vaccinations or other veterinarian care that they need. They are often very unhealthy and commonly have mange. They do not get neutered or spade so this keeps the population of these street animals very high.
I am not condoning the state of these animals but I do understand the reality of why this problem exists. Like most things I would think it is obvious that the right answer, if we are practical, should be somewhere in between these two extremes. I believe that the most effective way to help this situation is for the government to have a program to spade and neuter these feral animals. This would have the most impact on the situation, by keeping the population down, but of course the governments of large groups of impoverished people have their budgetary limits as well.
This brings me to a tale of two cats. One day my family and I went to the local grocery store to buy food. When we parked the in the parking lot we noticed a small rusted bird cage next to a garbage can. Inside this bird cage was a very young chocolate brown kitten. It was very small and I am sure that it was too young to be taken away from its mother. Of course there is no way that we could walk past and leave this poor kitten there to die so we picked him up and took him home. My kids named him Milo, which is the name of a popular chocolate candy here. We took Milo into the vet and got him his shots. With the daily feeding he was getting Milo quickly grew into a healthy adult cat. So as soon as the vet said he was old enough we had him neutered. Milo was a very friendly and lovable cat. The only problem we had was trying to keep him inside. Not wanting to add to the current street cat problem we wanted him to be strictly a house cat. But either it was because he was born outside or just his spirit he was determined to get outside. One day unknown to us a door was left a jar and Milo got out. When he got outside he wandered off. We looked all over the neighborhood but could not find him and we never saw Milo again.
Just recently my wife was driving to a friend’s house. When she entered the neighborhood suddenly a small white kitten ran out in front of her car. She slammed on her brakes but from the driver’s seat she could not see the kitten. Afraid that she may have ran the kitten over she got out of the car and went around to the front. To her surprise the kitten was just sitting in the middle of the road right under the front of her car. She was looking at my wife meowing and when she picked the kitten up it started purring very loudly. So of course you know that this cat got a ride to its new house (our house!) with my wife. My wife named this kitten “Money” because both how lucky it was it didn’t get ran over and the fact that by sheer luck its life had just improved greatly.
I said to my wife when she got home with the kitten how lucky the cat was that my wife had found her. My wife replied “I didn’t find her, she found me”! So this got me thinking about the workings of Karma. The first thing that struck me was the incredible number of actions that had to occur to have this kitten and my wife be in the same place for this to happen. When we think about this we usually see it in a very narrow way. In other words we may recognize that if my wife had decided to not go to her friends that day the cat could not run out in front of her car. Or we may think that if the kitten had just sat in the bushes and not ran out my wife would have drove past and not have come home with a kitten that day.
This brings up a few very important points about Karma that too many people may not be apparent. Karma is popularly thought to mean a sort of tit for tat, what goes around comes around, or what you do comes back to you sort of thing. This does not make sense comparing it with the other core teachings of the Buddha. For one there would have to be a “self” that the actions belonged to or followed. The Buddha’s teaching on Not-Self denies that. There would have to be a bank or some place or thing where these actions could be permanently stored so that they could be given back to you. The Buddhas teaching on Impermanence denies this. There would also have to be a “god” or some higher power that decides when and how you will get back these things that you have done, the Buddhas teachings deny this. Karma literally translates to English as “action”. The first important thing to realize is that the actions that affect you are not just the ones that happen today or yesterday but actions that stretch back infinitely through time. This may appear somewhat silly at first but if you have an open mind and really give it some thought you will see the truth in it. When we first moved here we only had one car. A few month ago we got a second car. So if we didn’t make the decision to get the second car my wife would not have been driving that day, and would not have picked up the kitten. If we had not moved here, we wouldn’t have gotten the second car, my wife would not have been driving that day, and would not have picked up the kitten. I got offered a job here when we were in Hawaii if I would not have been offered the job, we would not have moved here, got the second car, my wife would not have been driving that day, and would not have picked up the kitten. I met my wife ten years ago while living in Hawaii, if I had not met her we would not have moved here, got the second car, she would not have been driving that day, and would not of picked up the kitten. Before moving to Hawaii I lived in Japan. If I had not decided to move to Hawaii, I would not have met my wife, would not have moved here, got a second car, and she would not have been driving that day, and would not have picked up the kitten. Before I started working my current type of job I was in the military. I decided to go into the military because I grew up in a small rural are where there were no jobs. One day a father of a girl I knew who had been in the military suggested to me that going into the military was a way to get training and therefore a way out of my current situation. So if this man had not made this suggestion I would not have gone in the military, I would not have got my current type of job, I would not have gone to Japan, and then I would not have gone to Hawaii, I would not have met my wife, I would not have move here, got the second car, and my wife would not have been driving that day that she almost ran over the cat! Whew! That sure was a lot of things that had to happen in order for my wife to find the cat. I know that was somewhat tedious but necessary to illustrate just a few of the inter-dependencies that exist prior to any event. Could you say that the man who made the suggestion to me about joining the military is responsible for my wife finding that cat? Well, yes in part, but that’s not all!
The other thing that matters is the kitten. I don’t know about what goes on in a cat’s life but the same seemingly endless chain of events had to happen in relation to the kitten in order for it to be at that same place at that same time. It’s mother had to decide to have the kittens nearby, where did the mother come from……..etc. So this means your Karma is not just isolated to the things that you do but it is in combination with every one else’s actions. The actions of others affect you! It is not just what you do that sets up your current world but the endless activity of all other beings!
Lastly the thing to notice is that it is not just past actions that cause your current conditions. It was not just all the events that I laid out in the past for both my wife and the kitten but the current choices that they each made at that time. The kitten made a choice to run out in front of the car. My wife made a choice to stop and pick up the kitten. So what this shows is that you are not stuck with the results of things you did in the past. Karma is not in any way a fixed destiny where we have to live out the results of choices that we have made in the past or even some past life with no power to change it. Yes we may be in a situation that was set up by countless past events but we have the power to choose and change our current actions which will ultimately determine our current condition..
Milo and Money due to their own actions and the actions of others were presented an opportunity. They had a chance to change their lives from a life of a street animal in Asia to a life of relative luxury with a house full of foreigners!(In terms of lifestyle and the tendency for foreigners to spoil them). Sort of the equivalent of winning the lottery! Milo made the choice one day to leave. I don’t know for sure, maybe his life got better. Unfortunately living here the odds are they did not. Hopefully Money will decide to stay with us and live a long healthy life. The moral of this story is that Karma is not likely what you thought it was. We are responsible for our own actions but our current condition is also influenced by the actions of others. Even though it is not obvious these actions go back in an endless succession though the mists of time. But each and every action we currently make is equally affecting what our future will be. Most important is realizing the connections to our the past actions, to others actions, and our current actions. Understanding this we can make positive choices and take positive actions that can set up our future to be what we want it to be.