There’s no karma we can’t change. Our mind is not set in stone. As Lama Yeshe says, we create negativity with our mind so we purify it by creating positivity with our mind.
If you’ve eaten poison, because you know the meaning of poison and its consequences, your first step is to acknowledge it and immediately think, quick, what can I do about it?
That’s the attitude to have in the process we’re involved in of cultivating our minds. The bottom line is we’re trying to lessen the neuroses and grow our goodness; as a neuroscientist would say, we’re trying to develop new pathways.
But our problem is because we’re so addicted to guilt, the moment we acknowledge we had that fight with our sister, for example, we rush to guilt: I’m a bad person. This is useless! It’s anger against ourselves.
The problem with guilt is that it’s related to the punishment/reward mode, which we’re addicted to. We’re going to get punished, disapproved of; it’s so instinctive.
But if you’ve taken poison, you don’t say to yourself, “Oh, I’m a bad person, I ate poison.” There you are getting sicker every day, and you’re thinking, “I’m a bad person.” How foolish! We drown in guilt. What good is guilt? We need to do something to solve the problem.
The first step of acknowledging the anger, the poison, is called regret: a healthy, grown-up recognition that, yes, I got angry. It’s the first of the four steps in the process of purification, as it’s called. As Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, we’re insane not to do this practice every day.
Then, like with the poison, we don’t want the future consequences—because everything we think and do and say programs us; that’s the natural law of karma—so we think, what can I do about it?
And it’s not guilt; it’s accountability. We simply don’t want the consequences within ourselves of our own actions. We’re the boss. There is no punisher, no rewarder.
So at the end of the day, you check up. You fought with your sister, you bad-mouthed your boyfriend; you kicked the dog; you did this; you did that. Join the universe, we’re all the same!
And like with the poison, this harms you. This is the key point about the first stages of practice and karma: you’re harming yourself. So this regret is like compassion for yourself. If you hear it this way, it transforms the process. It’s self-respect.
Then of course you can regret other old bad habits, in this life and from previous ones. There’s a million other things that we don’t remember, of course, and they’ve all left imprints, tendencies in our mind, which of course we don’t want.
If we’ve had countless lives then there are countless things we’ve done driven by ignorance, anger, and the rest. It’s natural. And we’ve broken our vows. So we can say to ourselves, “And whatever I’ve done since beginningless time with my body and speech to harm any sentient being, I regret, because I do not want the future suffering!” Especially as animals. It’s the heaviest rebirth for harming because they’re so driven by ignorance and fear, so driven by attachment and aversion and aggression, so they just eat each other and get eaten. So much suffering and therefore so much harm!
So, you think, “All the lives that I have been an animal, every action I’ve ever done to harm sentient beings, I regret from the depths of my heart because I do not want those karmic seeds to ripen as my suffering. Because you know what, Robina?”—you talk to yourself—“I am sick of suffering.”
That’s the point about regret. You’ve got to make it sound like that: compassion for yourself.
So then the next step, reliance: “Whom can I turn to? Where’s the doctor?” Well, the Buddha is our doctor; he’s the one we rely upon for the medicine.
There are two parts. The first part is you visualize Buddha in the form of Vajrasattva above your crown in the bodhisattva style, holding a dorje and bell, radiant white light body, and his mind is oneness with the mind of your lama. So delight that you have found a doctor: the Buddha.
Regret is for your own sake, compassion is for the sake of others.
The second part of this second step, reliance, is where you have compassion for others whom you have harmed. You think of those you’ve harmed—the dog, the cat, the ex-boyfriend, the baby you aborted—and you have compassion for them. They don’t want suffering either, and you wish to purify for their sake. Regret is for your own sake, compassion is for the sake of others.
Then, also here, if you’re brave enough, you can have compassion for those who’ve harmed you. And why would you do that? Because they are going to suffer terribly in the future as a result of their harming you, so they’re the real object of your compassion. As Geshe Sopa said, “The bodhisattvas need their enemies.” The best object of compassion, if you can. If you’re not ready to forgive the person who’s harmed you, then don’t go there, but have compassion for those you have harmed.
Third step: the remedy. You apply the antidote, you take the medicine. So, here, you’re visualizing Vajrasattva, nectar coming, imagining purifying, and reciting the mantra. All the lamas praise this as the best remedy, the most potent, because of the power of the holy beings. Any practice we do that brings them in is so beneficial, so productive.
And the fourth one is resolve. Pabongka Rinpoche says it’s the most important. You make a decision to change. You resolve to not break your vows, etc. Don’t lie to yourself and resolve never to fight with your sister again; give yourself a timeline: I won’t get angry for a day. Then you’ll keep it.
This is a psychological process, I tell you. Don’t think of it as religion. You are deciding. You. And as Lama Yeshe says, “What purification is is the power of regret, the power of reliance, the power of the remedy, the power of the resolve to change.”
Excerpted from Robina Courtin’s blog post “Purification is a psychological process”.
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