Observing Karma

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kathmandu, Nepal (Archive #029)

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this teaching on karma at Kopan Course No. 7, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in Nov-Dec, 1974.

This is an excerpt from Day 26, Refuge (conclusion). Lightly edited by Sandra Smith.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching at the Seventh Kopan Meditation Course, Kopan Monastery, Nepal 1974. Photo: Wendy Finster.

From beginningless samsaric lifetimes, I and all sentient beings have been experiencing suffering numberless times due to the ignorance of karma. If we don’t try to remove the ignorance of karma this time, when we have received a perfect human rebirth, we will have to experience samsaric suffering by circling around in samsara endlessly, due to ignorance of karma. We will continuously create negative karma with that ignorance. It is necessary to fully understand each single action—whether it is positive or negative; how it is negative and how it is positive. Besides that, it is important to know that karma is definite and expandable, that we cannot experience the result of a cause that we do not create, and whatever karma has been created can never get lost.

In order to observe karma, we need to understand what is negative action, what is positive action, and how karma ties us to samsara. If we have a much deeper understanding of karma, by understanding the four outlines, this strong understanding gives energy to the mind. As this understanding increases our energy and as we have a deeper understanding of karma, our fear of creating negative karma, the cause of samsara, increases. Due to this deep understanding of karma and the fear that arises, the energy comes. It is built within our mind. So as this energy rises more strongly, as it increases, we can observe karma better and better. We can discipline ourselves more and more strictly and purely, without much difficulty, as we have that much energy, understanding and fear. If we don’t have deep understanding, a deep feeling, then there is no understanding of how karma works, there is no evolution of the understanding of these four ways [outlines]. 

If there is not this understanding, the fear does not arise. If fear does not arise, there is no energy, and if there is no energy, we can’t observe karma well. We find it difficult to observe karma and become lazy. Even if we know it intellectually, we are lazy, because there is no energy, no fear and no understanding of creating negative karma. We are lazy even though we know it intellectually.

It is very useful, very effective for the mind to understand karma through stories and examples. In the example of the grain, the seed that is planted in the ground, generally, even though it has the ability to definitely grow, there is always the chance to take the seed out, to burn the seed, to stop the seed from growing into a plant by pouring hot water over it. There is the chance to disturb the perfect conditions that cause the seed to produce the plant and cause it to grow, even though it is definite that it will bring the result if it doesn’t meet any hindrances.

So just like this, whatever karma has been created, if it doesn’t meet any hindrances, it is definite that it will bring the result, whatever the karma is. If the karma created meets a hindrance, then it is possible that it won’t bring a result—that we won’t have to experience the suffering result or the happy result. Even though that much numberless karma has been created, there is always the chance to stop it, to not experience the suffering result by completely destroying the karma, which is like destroying the ability of the seed to grow.

Also, we can stop experiencing the suffering result by not meeting the conditions that make the seed of karma bring the suffering result. For example, in previous times in India there were two beggars. One beggar was from the caste of kings, and one beggar was from the Brahmin caste. The beggar who was from the king caste was wise in knowing how to beg, and the other one, of the Brahmin caste, was not so wise in knowing how to beg. The person of the Brahmin caste went to beg food from the monastery before the Sangha had lunch, so he didn’t get any food. Just before they started to have food he went to beg, so he didn’t get any food. The person who was of the king’s caste was wise and knew how to beg, so he went to beg food after they had lunch in the monastery. The monks gave a lot of food to this beggar.

This beggar asked the other beggar who was from the Brahmin caste, “Did you get food?” and he said they didn’t give him anything. The beggar who didn’t get any food said, “I wish to cut all these monks’ necks and drop their heads on the ground.” The other one who got food said, “I wish I was a benefactor, always making offerings for the food of the monastery of the Sangha.” They had different wishes like this. However, soon after that, the other person, who was of the Brahmin caste,, had his neck cut by a vehicle, a horse cart, as he was sleeping in the street. The other beggar was also sleeping in the street.

During that time, in that country the leader died, and the people wanted a new leader, so they found the person who was sleeping in the street under the shade of tree. Usually as the sun goes away, the shade changes, it doesn’t stay in one place, but this person was sleeping under the shade of a tree and the shade never moved away—the shade was always there. The people found this amazing, they were really surprised at this person. They thought, “Now we have found such an incredible person who has such power,” and they thought the best idea was to ask him to be the leader of the country. So afterwards he became the leader of the country and became very rich. As he wished, he had the chance to make offerings to the monastery and the Sangha for a long time.

This is how karma is definite. Positive karma was created by this person and negative karma was created by the other person. Even just by wishing, there is karma. Even just different types of thinking, and wishing like this, has different results, such as the suffering result that the person who created negative karma experienced. Besides his neck being cut by a vehicle, he also had to be born in the suffering realms and suffer for many eons, since he had such a negative mind towards monks, the higher objects. The other person who created positive karma had an enjoyable, happy life, and in that life he also created much good karma of offering like this. In many of his future lifetimes he also received a happy life and had many enjoyments as he wished.