February 25, 2011

The Truth About Karma.

More than any other import from the east, westerners have bastardized the concept of Karma…

We have said it means fate or a cosmic version of what goes around comes around. In truth, Karma means creation. It is an act of creation. It refers to the world we create. Not just the house we live in or the car we drive. Karma is also referring to the interior world we create. In other words, the teachings on karma suggest that we are creating ourselves.

Last week we talked about the birth and development of the ego. Having established itself, the ego wants to extend itself, but this is far too dangerous. So, the ego looks to create a world in its image… A world that ignores its fears and conforms to its expectations. These acts of ignorance and obsession come to create patterns of consciousness called personality. This act of creation is karma.

Personality is a strange word. It means a lot of things to a lot of people. Personality, in this case, refers to the patterns of consciousness and behavior we develop as a way of tip-toeing around insecurity. It is just the sum total of preceding states of mind expressed in the form of hopes and fears. It is by hoarding past experiences, and using them as means to navigate through life, that we begin to develop a pattern or persona. These patterns create the illusion of consistency. They attribute a host of enduring qualities to an otherwise ephemeral experience, the self. In order to better understand how these patterns develop, it may be helpful to take a closer look at the dynamics of cause and effect.

The laws of cause and effect are essentially the guiding principles of creation.

They are basically the formula used to produce the various character traits that define who and what we are. In order for the protocol of cause and effect to be functional, there must be some thing which is being done by some one. Therefore, the Karmic equation looks something like this: Self + Action + Other = Creation. This co-dependent dynamic, where a complete experience is dependent upon verbing between a subject and object was well established in the first four stages of ego’s development. It is this action and its corresponding creation that the laws of cause and effect are more specifically concerned with clarifying.

There are a great many factors at play in an act of creation, and fully understanding how it works is beyond my grasp. However, there are four primary laws which seem to govern the process, and exploring them may make it bit easier to understand how this process of creation plays out.

The first of these laws states, that for each and every action there will be a subsequent reaction. Simply put, every cause will produce an effect. Regardless of how significant or insignificant an act may seem, it has consequences. These consequences themselves are a type of momentum.

The second of these laws explain that this momentum will always be similar in nature to its cause. It is almost as if it were re-birthing itself. In the same way that an apple tree births apples, positive thoughts, kind words, and generous deeds produce peaceful and harmonious states of mind that correspond with these actions. On the other hand, negative thoughts, harsh or divisive words, and selfish deeds will give rise to fearful and aggressive states of mind, as it was these states of mind that gave rise to such actions.

The third law says that these consequences will themselves become causes which produce more of the same thing. In other words, not only will the effects be similar in nature to their causes, they will also be self-replicating. Karmic seeds are not suicide seeds! Every action will produce a result. This result will be similar in nature to its cause. Then, this result will in turn become a cause, which serves to produce more of the same stuff. It is similar to a fission reaction where the results of our actions are reproduced at an incredible rate; 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and so on. Furthermore, over no amount of time do the potency of these seeds diminish; they simply lay dormant awaiting the proper conditions to become operable.

This brings us to the fourth principle of creation. In the same way that an apple seed will not grow on concrete, these seeds do not sprout unless the necessary conditions become operable. In order for these tendencies to flare up, the appropriate situation must be present. These potential states of mind, which lay dormant in our sub-conscious, are associated with a particular stimuli, and in order for these various personality traits to manifest they must be called into action by the appropriate name. This name is a situation which resonates with the very set of circumstances that originally planted the seed.

The potency of these traits are determined by four factors: understanding, intention, behavior, and completion. These factors are the four dimensions of an action. Understanding refers to our knowledge of the situation. If we have taken the time to consider the situation and formulate some backstory, then the first criterion has been fulfilled. Intention refers to our plan of action, which is based on our understanding of the situation. The understanding we have of the situation serves as the material that enables us to formulate a motive or plan of action. Once we have a goal in mind, we then put our plan into action. This action is the actual behavior. It is the way in which we attempt to work with the situation. If we follow our course of action all the way through to the end, the third criteria has been completed. This brings us to the fourth and final stage of an action, its completion. Here is where we step back and look at what we have created. We either admire our creation or detest it. The success is measured against our expectations. If we had a fairly good understanding of the situation, a clear intention, the behavior was followed through to the end, and our goal was accomplished, then there is a high probability that the action will be reborn in the future.

With some understanding as to how the four governing dynamics of cause and effect work together with the four determining factors of potency, we can begin to comprehend just how patterns or personality programs are generated. Based on our understanding of the situation we develop some kind of intention or plan of action. Next, we institute this plan of action by putting it into effect. When the action comes to fruition, we assess the situation once again to determine whether or not our behavior was effective. If it was seen to be effective or profitable then this particular act is written into law. This essentially constitutes a whole or complete action. However, it does not stop there. Everything we do produces a result, and this result will always be similar in nature to its cause. These effects then go on to become causes, which just produce more of the same old stuff. So, eventually it gets to the point where our personality is a loop; a predictable pattern of consciousness.

To make matters worse, the whole process revolves around a sense of self. So, we are really just perpetuating self-centered states of mind that put us at odds with the world we live in. This is why we feel stuck! The ego is nothing more than a program limited to a certain number of responses, all of which revolve around some selfish agenda.

The Buddha said, “If you wish to see your past lives look at your present state of mind. If you wish to see your future lives look at your present state of mind.” So, liberation rests in the present moment. Ego’s obsession with its creation, that is itself,  makes ignore-ance of this fact possible. Maintaining security by protecting this ignore-ance is the job of the six personality programs.

The six realms or personality programs are defense mechanisms developed by the ego to secure and manage its territory. They are patterns of consciousness born out of insecurity and expected to establish and maintain a sense of security.

The first of these programs is arrogance. The theme of arrogance is established and maintained by obsessing over some glorified self-image. It is a program produced by the ego reveling in the apparent success it has created. It is a type of self-deification. This program interprets the world in the light of its own self-image, which is regarded as the pinnacle of human existence. In fact, it is so ideal that it is almost God-like. It is a type of self-conscious enlightenment, which is no enlightenment at all. The personality program of arrogance establishes the ego as the definitive center of everything. As Thomas Merton said, “[The ego] would have the world and everyone in it bend their will to it, as if it were in fact God.”

In this God-like realm, ego is the alpha and omega; if it does not fit into ego’s scheme then it is seen as threatening. The operating program of arrogance translates threatening experiences into inferiority. They are stupid or worthless, and so are the people who conjured them up. It seeks to manage these threats by devaluing them and their source. So we end up belittling others, or walking around with our nose up in the air looking down on the world. This is an air tight attitude. Criticism is seen as worthless or idiotic; as if it were coming from lesser-beings. In this way, the ego is able to maintain the necessary level of ignore-ance for long periods of time, and as the old saying goes, ignorance can be bliss.

However, impermanence has a funny way of dismantling such systems, and it is called death. Since our self-image is inextricably connected with our bodies, and our bodies are born, it should follow that just as our bodies have to undergo a process of dissolution, and so it is with our self-image. This process of dissolution is called ageing. This process of birth, ageing, and death is happening all the time. Our self-image is constantly being born, growing old, and then passing away. We are simply unaware of this ongoing process. Since our level of awareness has been heavily sedated with entertainment, it generally takes something pretty drastic, such as signs of aging or imminent death, to get our attention. It is rather difficult to remain arrogant when we are growing old. We are not as fast as others, physically or mentally. We have to rely on others for relatively mundane tasks. It is fairly difficult to maintain an arrogant attitude when we have to rely on others just to take a shit!

This happens in other ways as well. Maybe someone whose arrogance is centered on their athletic ability sustains an injury, or a person obsessed with their appearance acquires a disfiguring scar. In one way or another, life pokes a hole in our defense networks, and as a result our programs malfunction. When this happens the ego has to regroup.

The theme of rivalry or competition is constructed and maintained by obsessively mulling over results. The ego appraises itself by comparing its results with the results of others, or in a more subtle form, by comparing its results to its own expectations (this is especially brutal). It is comparing its internal state of affairs with the external appearance of others. This is an extremely delicate matter. Since the ego’s value or position in the world is determined by these comparisons, ego must be cautious about who it holds itself up against. The ego must be careful not to surround itself with highly efficient or productive types. There is a real sense of agitation that emerges in the presence of “do gooders” and “know-it-alls.” However, there is still enough arrogance present to make being surrounded by slackers or bums unbearable. It is a bit of a catch 22. This is the world of a Demi-God.

Such a situation creates a survival of the fittest kind of atmosphere. This kind of atmosphere has the potential to produce incredibly efficient personalities, but it can also swing to the opposite extreme. Constantly comparing oneself to others can leave one with a depreciated self-esteem. The competitive operating system tends to translate threats by either magnifying personal successes or beating up on oneself. Therefore, ego is regularly cycling through this competitive frame of mind on its way to states of grandiosity and self-pity. When the results of these comparisons are consistently unfavorable the ego has to shift gears.

The operating system of ambition is all the time trying to formulate the correct equation to produce pleasure. It sees happiness as something to be figured out. Personalities of this sort are absolutely obsessed with the pursuit of happiness. Ambition, in this sense, is logical and calculated— the whole operation hinges on reason. Ideas to produce this illustrious state of ecstasy are constantly being churned out. Thought is all the time working to extinguish this suffering, by figuring out how it can come to own the object of desire. In most cases, failure to solve the equation is considered to be a flaw in logic, a poor calculation on ego‘s part. So, it is back to the drawing board.

The interesting thing about this operating system, is that it has the capacity to turn this logic inward, infiltrating ego’s mainframe, and self-destructing the whole operation. If this logical approach ever questions the whole of ego’s enterprise, then the entire project would be in jeopardy.In most cases however, the right question is never asked. We tend to challenge the content of our solution, and not the system itself.

As we progress through our explanation of these personality programs, we can see a process of downgrading taking place from the point of view of ego. As we move along, ego is finding itself in more and more desperate situations, and these operating systems begin to reflect that sense of desperation. They are becoming more elementary… Geared more and more towards instant gratification. This sense of desperation is the result of ensuing chaos. The speed of life seems to be growing ever faster, as ego’s operating systems are becoming increasingly ineffective. We are currently discussing the fall of ego. However, this is a two-way street. This digression can be seen as progression, with ego’s rise to power.

The personality program of compulsion certainly reflects this gradual course of devolution. Compulsion or tunnel vision is a very goal oriented operating system. Whereas, the operating system of competition functions through a comparison of results, this narrow-minded program is not in the least bit concerned with results. It detects a problem and almost reflexively begins to barrel forward with a solution. Within this frame of mind, ego stubbornly pursues the completion of its goal with no real concerns for the repercussions. Not to mention, this program lacks the logic present in the before mentioned ambitious mentality. Within the realm of compulsion we behave as animals.

At this point in the game, there is a real sense of panic or bewilderment. Ego is becoming aware of the fact that the whole system is in danger of crashing. The environment has become completely overwhelming and totally unmanageable. The massive number of threats that are popping up on ego’s radar sends the whole system into crisis management. Within crisis management mode, there is no time for calculating a course of action. It is the job of the compulsion program to go through it’s rolodex of conditioned responses, and spit out some plan of action, some means by which to subdue the chaos. Ego begins to rule with an iron fist. Once a goal has been identified, ego just bulls forward with a blind eye. This mentality is hardly effective; as it tends to do little more than create additional problems to be solved. People generally tell the compulsive types “to slow down” and “think things through,” but unfortunately they were too busy to hear that advice. As the problems begin to pile up, one on top of the other, ego shifts further into crisis management mode, by booting up the consumption program.

As the threat level increases, anxiety and tension reach fever pitch. The experience of life has become completely unbearable. At this point, ego is not in the least bit concerned with solving these problems. In fact, the problems are coming so fast that ego begins to retreat. Here, the policy of ego is one of complete and total distraction. Instead of solving problems, the ego chooses to ignore them by seeking oblivion. The consumption program demands that we drink ourselves into a stupor, eat ourselves into a food coma, or loose ourselves in a movie. This is a system that is meant to render you completely unconscious.

This program is not about acquiring things. Instead, it is hell bent on consumption; consume, consume, consume. It is the moment of climax that comes with the act of consumption that provides ego with the sense of relief and comfort it so craved. Unfortunately, it is the feeling of despair and depression that comes immediately after the act of consumption that drives the ego to seek yet another distraction. It is almost as if we wake up from the distraction in a fit of shame, and in hope of escaping this shame ego begins to look for some-thing else to consume. This is a dangerous and terrible cycle. It is this chain reaction that creates addiction, the “imperious urge” to once again experience “the sense of ease and comfort” that comes along with the act of consumption. This particular operating system is not about desire; it really could care less about the actual object. It is obsessed with consumption, with ingesting any form of distraction. It seems as though the walls of ego have been breached. Ego begins to retreat to its last strong hold, and from there the ego initiates its final line of defense, aggression.

Ego, now on the verge of being turned up-side down, moves into lock down mode, and institutes martial law. The operating system of aggression is designed to maintain the last remnants of ego’s territory. Its main objective is to keep some degree of separation between self and other. Aggression is ego’s last stand, its final attempt to maintain some kind of relationship with “other.” It does this by trying to preserve some kind of a buffer zone. This is absolutely essential, because this buffer zone is nothing more than the distinction between self and other, which enables the relationship between self and other to persist. The ego’s very existence is dependent upon this degree of separation.

The aggression maybe projected at others or at one’s self, but in either case its aim is to defend this final degree of separation. Aggression projected externally tends to cling to “other” by making it an enemy… An object of hate, some-thing to fight against. It may not be the most pleasant relationship in the world, but nevertheless it is a relationship, and bad attention is better than no attention at all. When the aggression is turned inward it manifest as depression, a type of isolation from the outside world. In both cases, there are varying degrees of aggression. The anger may begin to boil over and become rage, in which case we may resort to physical violence or may never get more sophisticated than a resentment. With depression it maybe that there is nothing more than isolation or it could get to the point of inflicting harm upon yourself in order to produce some kind of confirmation that you still exist. In either case, the aggression escalates, as the problem is never addressed. Finally, the aggression becomes so intense, so finite, that the whole thing implodes. The center the ego worked so hard to create has become too dense…

When the space between self and other dissolves, relationship ceases. So self and other collide, and such an impact is volatile from ego’s point of view. This is like matter and anti-matter touching; as they collide the whole of ego’s creation is swept away by a forceful current of energy. The whole system crashes, as the distance between self and other disintegrates. So, the whole ego-centric system is destined to self-destruct. That is the nature of created or contrived things; what goes up must come down.

What at one time was pure unadulterated space, through the power of illusion, began to appear fragmented. Seeing the world through the eyes of a false-self implant transformed the world into a violent and chaotic chain of events orbiting around some gravitational center. Consciousness went about consuming life, and as a result it became more and more self-centered— fatter with every experience it chomped down. As our perspective became increasingly ego-centric, its gravitational force continued to gain in density, until eventually the center became so dense that nothing could escape its grasp. The ego wanted to own everything. The false-self experience became so compacted that escape speed exceeded the capacities of conceptualization, impulses, perceptions, relationship, and form. The situation became unmanageable. At this point, it seemed as though the weight of the world came crashing down upon the ego like a type of psychosomatic black hole.

The dissolution of this fixed center was inevitable. This singularity is incapable of sustaining itself. Resting between this moment of death and the re-formation of this energy, is a gap in all dualistic processes. This gap represents our inherent potential to move beyond the perpetual cycle of dualistic creation, decaying, and death, into the sphere of eternity devoid of any beginning or end. Resting in this gap is the practice of meditation.

So, here are some questions to help get the discussion going:

Can you identify, not necessarily with any particular personality program, but the whole movement? From a certain point of view can you see yourself as this cycle?

Can you see the periods in your life where you have moved from big crunch (the ego’s systems trying to seduce the world) to the big bang (where its seduction has resulted in a center that is too dense and therefore explodes)?

Can you see how the guiding principles of creation and the four factors of potency establish these defense mechanisms as patterns or personality traits? Develop and strengthen them?

What are your thoughts on all of this? Does it seem like it relegates personality down to a form neurosis or suggest that there is an organic sort of personality that we are ignoring?

As far as a synopsis… This is the best I could do wish the 15 minutes YouTube would give me!

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