Conquering Life: An essay on Karma

It is often difficult for us to feel in control of our lives. Unable to change the past, or control the events around us, it is easy to feel like a paper sailboat being tossed about on a stormy sea. The Dharma, however, offers us a different view. Within the Dharma we discover that we can control the nature of our lives, and that we can find an island of peace amidst this ocean of chaos we call life. Through understanding, we are able to conquer our lives.

The five things that are welcome in this world, but are difficult to attain, are long life, beauty, happiness, honor and heaven. These five auspicious and often sought after pleasures are not found easily. They do not come to us without effort. They do not come to us by way of day dreams or wishful thinking. If we wish to attain these, we must strive for them of our own merit. What is given to us can be easily taken away. Therefore, it is up to us to follow a path that leads us to the pleasures we seek. Those who prudently follow a wise path that leads to the attainment of these five pleasures, is said to attain these things - in both their human and divine existence.

The five things that we can not escape from in this world are age, sickness, change, death and karma. These five things are the nature of Samsara (the cycle of suffering, birth and death). Realizing this, can help improve the nature of our lives. Without clinging to our youth we allow ourselves to grow and mature. Realizing how fragile the nature of our existence is, we nurture ourselves and others. Realizing the impermanence of our lives, we find an appreciation of what is before us in the moment. Realizing death, life has value to us. Realizing we can not escape our karma, we begin to develop and cultivate a path that releases us from our self afflictions.

The life we live, is the result of how we have lived. A life lived with pain and anguish (in dark karma) is a result of having lived controlled by our desire nature. A life lived with merit (in light karma) is a result of having lived in control of our desire nature. A life lived with both pain and joy (in dark and light karma) is a result of having lived both controlled by and in control of our desire nature. A life lived with equanimity and peacefulness (in neither light nor dark karma) is the result of having lived free from our desire nature, and without taking delight in the benefit of our merits.

Karma is the chain that binds us to Samsara. The debts of our dark karma bind us to the wheel of Samsara. Even living in light karma binds us to Samsara, for we are drawn to the delight of our merits. The merits of heaven shall also be spent and bring us rebirth in the lower worlds. Only when we live for the benefit of all living beings, without any intentions of self, can we break the chain of karma and find liberation.

We are the owners of our karma. Karma, the fruit of our intentions, shape our lives. The intentions that create our karma are born of our own desire nature. Our karma manifests in the present, in the future, and even follows us in our future existences. What we run from, we shall run into. All that we reap, we must sow. Even if we allow others to carry our burden, they can not purify our karma for us, and we shall not share in the merit of their virtues.

We can control the nature of our lives. Within this moment, the only moment that exists, the past, present and future are contained. We may not be able to change our past actions or the actions of others, or prevent its results, but we are in control of how we re-act upon them. The Buddha tells us that studying the nature of our actions (before, during and after we act) can help us discern what is helpful and what is a hindrance upon our path. He has given us the Noble Eightfold Path, and adapting this path to our way of life can help us overcome our desire nature, change the light of our karma, and conquer our lives.

May your karma be full of Dharma.


The Upajjhatthana, Nibbedhika and the Ittha Suttas of the Anguttara Nikaya (the Further Factored Discourses of the Buddha); The Saleyyaka, Kukkaravatika and Ambalatthikarahulovada Suttas of the Majjhima Nika (the Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha)


More by :  Ch'onsa Kim

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