Mind as the Creator of Karma
"In the Rice Seedling Sutra, the Buddha explained that our confused lives in cyclic existence are the results of our actions and that these actions originate from our minds. How does this occur? Ignorance, which is a wrong conception of the nature of reality, produces other afflictions—disturbing attitudes and negative emotions—such as anger, clinging attachment, jealousy, arrogance, and confusion.
Motivated by afflictions, we act.
These actions, or karma, leave imprints on the continuity of our minds (mindstreams). The karmic imprints, or potentials, are like residual energy remaining after we’ve finished an action. Intangible, they are carried along by our mindstreams. When the environment is conducive, certain karmic potentials mature and influence what we experience. This process is complex and generally takes time to understand fully. What follows is a brief description to give you a general idea.
From a Buddhist perspective, our minds are presently obscured by ignorance: we don’t understand who we are in the deepest sense or the way in which people and phenomena exist. Unaware of our ultimate nature, we misconceive ourselves to be solid and real and to be an independent self. This misconception of the self is apparent when we experience a strong emotion. For example, when we’re angry, we feel there’s a real "I" who is justifiably irate. But if we ask ourselves, “Who is angry?” we have a hard time pointing to exactly who or what this seemingly independent self is. In fact, our self or “I” exists but not in the way we think it does. We seek to protect and please this independent self, which is a creation of our misconceptions. Thus, we become attached to whatever gives us pleasure and have aversion toward the people and things that interfere with our happiness.
From this ignorant view of ourselves spring jealousy, pride, confusion, grudge-holding, laziness, and an assortment of other undesirable personality characteristics. These afflictions obscure our good qualities, preventing us from being the kind of people we would like to be. Motivated by these afflictions, we act. Karma refers to the intentional actions of our body, speech, and mind: what we think, say, and do. Our actions stem from our minds. First, a motivation arises in our minds, then we act. Sometimes, we’re unaware of our motivations and are surprised at what we do and say. But if we’re attentive, we’ll observe that all our actions are preceded by motivations. For example, before we criticize someone, the thought arises, “This person is making me unhappy. I want him to stop.” Then we speak angrily, telling another his defects.
The Buddha explained that this action leaves an imprint on our mindstream, and later, when the external situation in our lives is conducive, this karmic potential matures and determines our experience. Just as a small seed can grow into a tree with many fruits, this one action of criticizing someone can produce several results: others will criticize us, our environment will be inhospitable, we’ll habitually criticize others, and we’ll have an unfortunate rebirth. Similarly, when we have good motivations, ones that are unselfish and concerned with others’ benefit, we act constructively. Such actions leave positive imprints on our consciousness. These positive imprints likewise give rise to results: others will like us, our habitat will be pleasant, and we’ll have good personalities and a fortunate rebirth. Thus, at different times, we generate afflictions such an anger, attachment, and confusion, and positive emotions and attitudes such as love, self-respect, consideration for others, and wisdom.
The Buddhist path is one of eliminating afflictions and increasing positive mental states, in order to bring ourselves and those around us peace and happiness."
Venerable Thubten Chodron.
Sravasty Abbey eTeaching August 2010. Monthly eTeachings are drawn from books by Ven. Thubten Chodron. You can explore her books on snowlionpub.com. Go to thubtenchodron.org for audio and transcribed teachings. There's a directory of video teachings at sravastiabbey.org