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Three Jewels - Chapter 10 The Wheel of Life

by Sangharakshita

The Three Jewels - Chapter 10 - The Wheel of Life.

Sangharakshita: We're studying the Wheel of life and the whole chapter falls quite naturally
into two halves more or less, the first covering karma, certain technicalities of karma and the
other covering the Wheel of Life itself. Now what I suggest we do is, because we've only
three hours for this particular chapter, we go through the first half rather more rapidly, that is
up to our coffee break, discussing only a few passages which raise matters of general
importance, we shall find a lot of detail in this part of the chapter and it isn't necessary to
discuss every item. So we'll just read more or less straight through this first half of the chapter
just stopping to discuss sections which raise quite important matters of principle and not
allowing ourselves to be bogged down in detail very much, and then of course after the coffee
break we'll be into the Wheel of Life proper which is our main theme for this morning. So
let's start off with the Wheel of Life and go round in a circle each reading a paragraph at a
time.
Text Page 68. - "The laws in accordance with which individualized consciousness determines
conditioned being are covered by the compendious term Karma, while the actual process is
elucidated in the complex of teachings pictorially represented in Buddhist art by the "Wheel
of Life" (Bhavacakra)."
S: This is rather cryptic, it follows from what has been said in the previous chapter but as it
may not be altogether clear as it's very condensed I'll just briefly explain what that means. We
have first of all as it were two things, there's consciousness and there's being, as far as human
beings are concerned at least you can't altogether separate the two, you can certainly
distinguish them, there is an aspect which we can call "consciousness", there is an aspect
which we can call "being" and these two are related and as regards consciousness there is
consciousness which is individualized, consciousness at the centre of which there is as it were
an "ego" or "self', for want of a better term, and consciousness at which or at the centre of
which there is not any such ego or self that's as regards consciousness. Then as regards being
there is being which is conditioned, being which arises in dependence on conditions and
being which is unconditioned. Now the conditioned being is determined by the individualized
consciousness according to certain laws and these laws are summed up in Buddhism by the
word karma. Karma is the [2] sum total of all those laws in accordance with which a
particular kind of conditioned being follows from a particular kind of individualized
consciousness, the laws governing that transition, as it were, are called karma and the actual
details of the process, how it happens, it's different phases these are all pictorially represented
in Buddhist art in the Wheel of Life. So therefore in this chapter first of all karma and then
the Wheel of Life.
Question: What kind of beings aren't conditioned by karma?
S: Those beings which represent we may say or embody different stages of the Path which is
non-conditioned, or different aspects of the Goal itself that is the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and
so on, not that if they have physical existences that physical existence isn't governed by
ordinary natural laws but in their inner being they are no longer bound by that, or even they
enter voluntarily into that sort of situation but the situation in which they are including their
own as it were embodied being doesn't follow from any limitation on their consciousness.
Text Page 68 - "So far as its usage in connection with Buddhism is concerned, the word
karma is often employed in a gravely erroneous manner. Some writers make it mean not only
action, it's literal meaning, but the result of action, for which Buddhist literature reserves
separate terms such as karmavipaka and karmaphala."
S: We're very familiar with these sort of you know mis-usages of the term, if you say "Oh, I
guess it's my karma", or "That must be my karma", "something has happened to me, it's my
karma", this is a very loose meaning - usage of the term indeed. Strictly speaking karma
means just action not the results of action. There's a separate term for the results as I've said.
Karmaphala, which means the fruit of karma, or karma vipaka which means the fruition of
karma.
Text - "Others use it in the sense of fate or destiny, sometimes even going so far as to
maintain that according to Buddhism [3] whatever happens to us, whether pleasant or painful,
comes about as the result of previous karma. The confusion must be cleared up before the
different types of karma are enumerated."
S: This is the first thing, before we go on to deal with the different kinds of karma we must be
absolutely clear what karma is, karma is just action, action as it were of the individualized
consciousness, willed action as we shall see a bit later on, it' certainly not action in general,
it's certainly not fate, it's certainly not destiny; we're going now into these various confusions.
Q: Karmavipaka, what does that mean?
S: Vipaka means sort of fruition.
Q: Fruition? ... of action, and karmaphala means fruit?
S: Fruit, that's literally fruit, yes. There's the same sort of idea. You can also ( ) vipaka means
ripening - ripening or fruition.
Text - "Though having the literal meaning of action, karma in this context invariably means
act of volition."
S: That is willed action.
Text - "Thus we get the important equation karma = cetana (volition) = Samskaras
("formative" or rebirth-producing psychological factors). "
S: Yes this - it's a well known as it were equation in Buddhist thought. First of all karma the
action, then karma is cetana, not just action of mind in the conceptual sense but action as it
were of your total being, the total energy of your [4] being which is in some cases conscious
and then of course we call it will; and these in turn equal the Samskaras as they're called
when they appear in the list of the twelve nidanas that is to say the so called formative or
rebirth producing psychological factors. So it's quite important to bear this in mind that karma
means cetana and cetana means Samskaras. Cetana is very often translated as mind but it isn't
that. It's more like volition, volition or will has been... has been explained as the sum total of
psychic energy available to the conscious subject, but sometimes you're not quite clear where
the conscious subject ends and where it begins because sometimes the conscious is a bit more
conscious than it is at other times - it sort of shades off so what then enters into the definition
of will shades off. Sometimes the energy is very clear and because the subject, the conscious
subject is very clear and sometimes the conscious subject is not so clear so the energy is not
so much the energy of volition in the fullest sense but a sort of drift, a sort of tendency not
completely conscious, in a particular direction.
Q: It's quite a difference in your ( ) it's conscious.
S: Right, yes. Yes this is how it is, so we mustn't interpret the word volition too, as it were,
sharply, there are different grades, different as it were degrees of impetus, different degrees of
clarity. But all this whether clear or relatively unclear or even confused is summed up in
cetana or Samskaras. Cetana to me, I don't know that this is borne out by the text, has the
suggestion more of the rather clear volition, Samskaras means the whole sort of muddled
heap of conscious, you know, decisions, actual volitions, vague drifting tendencies only [5]
partly conscious sort of glimmering with a bit of consciousness every now and then; the
whole sort of heap and collection, all that drift and general tendency of one's being, this is
known as the Samskaras, and it's they, according to Buddhism, which ultimately are
responsible for us coming into yet another life. It's the motive force in all of them, you know,
to bring about yet another life. All right, on we go then.
Text - "As opposed to Jainism, Buddhism maintains that involuntary actions, whether those
of body, speech or mind, do not constitute karma and therefore cannot bring about the results
accruing to karma."
S: I've given another illustration here but the classic one from Buddhist literature relates to
the incident in which a monk, a follower of the Buddha was invited to somebody's house for
lunch as we would call it, though this was before twelve o'clock, and no one was present in
the room inadvertently he sat down on a chair or rather sat down deliberately but
inadvertently he crushed a child that had been laid on the chair underneath a cloth, he
probably thought it was some sort of cushion. So there was the cloth on the chair, he just sat
straight down and of course crushed the child and killed it. So the question arose, "What
action has he committed, has he murdered the child, was he morally responsible for the death
of the child?" So the Jains who were apparently around in that place said he had committed
murder because according to them it was the action which counted not the volition, the
intention. But the Buddha said, "No, he had no intention of killing the child so he was not
guilty of murder, but on the other hand", ...

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