Karma is empty

teisho 1039 (2006)

This teisho was based on some talks given by Ma Tsu. He said that those who seek the dharma should not seek for anything.

To sit in order to become a buddha, to become awakened, is a waste of time. To sit in order to become anything is a waste of time. Every day is a good day, before or after awakening. We think we have good days and bad days, but beneath it all is the truth that every day is a good day.   You are life itself, you are the vitality of being. And this vitality that we are is not isolated, separate; we are all of life, each one is the complete whole.

It is natural for human beings to seek the dharma, that sense of wholeness and totality, beyond the fragmentation that we have created by our ignorance.  We seek something that can release us from the bondage of incompleteness.  We feel sure there must be something that would give us the fulfilment that we know in our very depths is our true nature.  But that effort, that search to find completeness, only leads us further astray.

There is no buddha outside the totality that you are; there is no totality outside the totality that you are.  It is this separating out, this division, the claiming of something as an absolute point of rest from which everything else must take its orientation, that causes the alienation and unsatisfactoriness we feel in our life.

Often when people start practicing Zen, they imagine some kind of culmination in purity. It is because of our imagination of how life and practice should be that we are frustrated, disappointed and despairing. One must start from where one is, without reliance on either purity or defilement, not attaching to good nor rejecting evil, because rejecting evil assumes one knows what is correct, what is right.

It is not that we shouldn’t search for perfection, but don’t say that perfection lies in this way or that, in doing this rather than that, because then we are no longer searching for perfection but rather for an idea of perfection.

Some people feel their life is a mess and ask what they have done that it should be such a mess. Each decision they have made in their life has led to where they are. Each one of us is the product of our own attitudes, our own decisions, and reactions. Some people have extremely tough situations to deal with: some are born deformed, some are born into extreme poverty, some are born to abusive parents.  Even so, what comes out of the situation is the reaction the person had to that situation; it is part of the burden they have to pay for in what is called our karma.  Each one of us is our karma, the sum total of all the profound reactions we have had, the judgements and decisions we have made.  People say it is their bad luck that has got them into a situation or their bad karma.  And in saying this they make the bad luck and the bad karma  ‘something’.  It is an outside influence on them, over which they have no control.  To melt down this ‘bad karma’ one needs to see into its emptiness.  We need to see it is of our own making, it is our own.  On the one hand, this is bad news because it means we have the full responsibility for our situation.  And yet it is good news because we are free.  We are not dependent on anything or anyone.  Ma Tsu said,  ‘The nature of karma is empty, it is without self-nature.’ The most profound disappointment you have had in your life, the greatest despair, the greatest sense of failure, this is your karma, and your karma is empty. And there is no reason whatever for you to continue to carry that burden.  You can put it down.  You are life itself, you are the vitality of being.

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