Karma and Friendships

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With my recent layoff, I have gone through a few different stages, not unlike famous Five Stages of Grief, albeit milder forms. I was in a weird state of denial for a time, hoping I could find a new position in the company (there are none since we’re downsizing), followed by waves of rage toward my company (why did they callously toss me aside after all my devotion and work?) to intense despair (my family and I are doomed) and even some second-guesssing (bargaining?) over what I could’ve done to avoid this. Gradually, these have subsided as I look more and more to the future and finding something new even in these turbulent times. I suppose that is acceptance.

I used the opportunity to reconnect with a lot of old coworkers and friends on social media, explained my situation, and hoping they knew of any openings. I have been overwhelmed with the response.

Due to the economic downturn, companies aren’t really hiring right now, but even so I have chatted with a lot of people I haven’t worked with years, and I was really happy to hear that yes they do want me to work for them, and will be working to find openings as they come up. It’s not a sure thing, of course, but the fact that so many friends are willing to go to bat for me is really encouraging. I am not doomed, and even if my old company sees no value in me, I feel a lot better knowing that other people still care about me, and appreciated our time together.

It shows also how people really make the difference. No one person can overcome challenges alone. We need other people. Not in the fakey, insincere “business networking” sort of way, but genuine camaraderie that comes from sharing burdens together, looking after one another, and so on. In other words, a genuine community.

I do believe some of this also relates to the Buddhist notion of karma. Whenever people discuss karma, they usually talk about it in transactional terms: you do something good, something happens to you, and vice-versa. But karma is more like laying seeds over and over again with our daily thoughts and actions. When and how these seeds will bear fruit is impossible to know, and there’s just so many of them.

My favorite Buddhist quotation on the subject is by a Chinese Buddhist monk named Ouyi Zhixu1 (蕅益智旭, 1599–1655) who was a really influential teacher from the Chinese Tiantai school of Buddhism. His name in English is pronounced “Oh-ee jih-shoo”. Among his most popular treatises in English is a small texted called the Mind Seal of the Buddhas (online copy here), which looks at Pure Land Buddhist texts through a Zen eye. It’s a good read, and still one of my favorites over the years.

In Mind Seal of the Buddhas, Ouyi states the following:

Believing in the result means having deep faith that the Pure Land and all the forms of goodness (spiritually superior beings) that are assembled there are born from the Buddha Remembrance Samadhi, the meditative concentration that comes from reciting the Buddha-name. When you plant melon seeds you get melons, and when you plant beans you get beans. [Effect follows causes] like a shadow follows a physical shape, like an echo responds to a sound. Nothing is sown in vain. This is called “believing in the result”.

Translation by J. C. Clearly

The idea is that no action, thought or intention is without some kind of result. It may be a drop in the bucket, but we’re constantly scattering seeds for our future. One or two seeds might not be much, but we’re constantly scattering seeds of a certain disposition, this inevitably lays the groundwork for future conditions. Ouyi is simply pointing out the obvious.

Further, let’s look at another analogy from the Japanese Buddhist monk, Nichiren (日蓮, 1222-1282) in a letter to one of his followers:2

Blue dye comes from indigo, but when something is repeatedly dyed in it, the color is better than that of the indigo plant.

Translation from The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin by Soka Gakkai

To me, this implies (among other things), that habits and actions we do further “deepen the dye” and reinforce themselves in a kind of feedback loop. This can be positive, negative or somehow neutral, but this “habit energy” is a real thing and if we can catch negative habits and try to slow down the momentum or shift direction even in small ways, it can change the course of things.

Small seeds lead to big oak trees, afterall. 😉

Edit: According to WordPress, this is my 100th post! 🎉🎊🍾🥳

1 Because of the differing ways that Chinese language is romanized, sometimes Ouyi’s name is spelled as Ou-I Chih-Hsu instead. The spelling I posted above is the newer, more commonly used “Pinyin” spelling, and the one I recommend using personally. Pinyin is more intuitive and more internationally recognized now, though the older Wade-Giles system is still frequently used in Academia.

2 Soka Gakkai notes that this quote was also based on an earlier one by the famous Confucian Xunzi and his writings: “From the indigo, an even deeper blue.”

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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