midwestbuddha: (tree)
A friend and I once had a wonderful, philosophical conversation on the subject of karma. He thought each being chooses the pattern of their life before birth, while I was of the opinion that each life is shaped by the karma incurred in previous lives.

So—which of us was right?

Interestingly, we’re both right.

According to Buddhism, there are six realms of existence: the four lower realms, the human realm and the higher planes, called deva and brahma.

If you’re like me, you just read that and thought: Four hells? Yep. If we allow our minds to become conditioned to anger, greed, delusion and hatred—well, let’s just say they “leave the light on for ya”.

But, when generosity and morality are practiced, karma leads us to the higher planes where beings dwell made entirely of light that live in a blissful state.

Okay—so…how can one both choose their fate before birth and accumulate positive karma to occasion rebirth in a higher realm?

Here’s how:

Many years ago, I was privileged to attend the death of my husband’s father, Eugene Jones. Privileged because I feel transitioning from this realm to the next is both wondrous and mystical.

As often happens when children are confronted by the death of a parent, my husband and his siblings began questioning what they’d always been taught about death and the afterlife. Their reactions varied from shock to feelings of abandonment, and even having been cheated.

In an effort to express comfort, I picked up Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield’s book, Seeking the Heart of Wisdom. It read:

The karma generated at the moment of death plays a crucial role in determining the circumstances of rebirth… the mind states generated by the performance or remembrance of wholesome or unwholesome actions in the last moments before dying will condition rebirth.

I had felt this at the time, as we all stood around Dad’s bedside, speaking our final, loving words to him while weeping. I had felt it at my mother’s passing too, as I thought my last words to her as she lay dying: “Thank you for my life.” Surely it was the communicating of our memories of his generous, loving actions that brought Gene what Seeking The Heart of Wisdom refers to as proximate karma, in those moments.

Or else, what happened next could not have…

For, as we sat in Dad’s hospital room, only a few moments after his last breath, a nurse put her head around the door, saying apologetically, “I’m so sorry to disturb you. But I wanted to make sure no one in here had pressed the nurse call button…the strangest thing just happened: every light on the floor just went on. I’ve never seen anything like it! We have to check all the rooms to see if anyone needs help…”

Goodbye, Dad, I thought to myself, I’m glad you’re a deva now.

Gene Jones, by everyone’s account, was an extraordinary individual. Literally everyone at his funeral had a story to tell about his sense of humor, his patience, generosity—but especially, his kindness. One of the boys my husband had played with as a child, now a minister, delivered an address centered around Dad’s favorite answer when someone asked how he was: “Simply splendid!” That was Dad: responding to each new day, each moment, with positive karmic actions. And therefore, choosing his own rebirth in the deva realm.

My e-mail friend was recently distressed and frustrated by all the waves of illness he’s endured in his lifetime. Despite his point of view, he questioned: Why would I choose such a difficult and painful life for myself?

Buddhism teaches that the human plane of existence is the perfect realm in which to earn merit (good karma). This is because it is the middle ground between the perfection of the heavenly realms and the torment of the hells.

Does this answer your question, my friend? You live this painful life to perform merit despite it…and therefore occasion your own rebirth in a happier realm.

So—do we choose our fate, or does karma?

Both, is the answer!

Ah, I know what you’re thinking now: Simply Splendid!

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midwestbuddha

June 2012

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