Friday, February 19, 2010

I am related to my kamma

This week in the world of news we had two extraordinary events that are connected in what appear to be an abstruse manner. But with both Tiger Woods and Joseph Stack, we have two examples of decidedly different ways to handle personal responsibility, and an opportunity to examine the element of kamma in each.

Today, Tiger Woods spoke publicly, and in my opinion, eloquently about his extramarital affairs, and in doing so, gave us a pretty clear picture of how he was going to deal with the consequences of his actions.

Just the day before, we had quite a different event with a desperate and deluded man opting to destroy his own life while attempting to destroy the lives of others. Joseph Stack felt trapped; but did he set his own trap and walk willingly into it?

After every sitting meditation session, I recite two things: the Loving Kindness chant and the Five Recollections. Within the Five Recollections is this line: I am the owner of my kamma, born of my kamma, related to my kamma, abide support in my kamma – whatever kamma I do, skillful or unskillful, to that I fall heir.

The key element to this particular verse for the purpose of this post is the phrase, “I am … related to my kamma …”

When I first heard this, I asked my teacher what it meant. He said it literally means that the people you are related to are part of your kamma. The parents I had was not an accident, nor was it “fate” or random that I have the siblings that I do. And all the people I’ve had other types of relations with – friendly, professional, intimate, antagonistic – are connected to my kamma. These people are in my life because of past actions, either in this present life or from a previous life. And how I manage these relationships determines whether I am abandoning kamma or creating more.

Holy shit, I thought. That is some heavy duty stuff. I was stunned with the concept. Because if these people are in my life because of past kammic action, then how I deal with them right now determines my future kamma and my future life!

Hold on to that thought for a moment.

Joseph Stack was a troubled man; that is not too difficult for anyone to see. His despair must have been profound. Yet, when you read his manifesto, it becomes very clear that he accepted no personal responsibility for his actions. He quite plainly took significant time to justify in his mind what he intended to do (remember, kamma is based on intent): “I would only hope that by striking a nerve that stimulates the inevitable double standard, knee-jerk government reaction that results in more stupid draconian restrictions people wake up and begin to see the pompous political thugs and their mindless minions for what they are. Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.”

What a desperate and deluded mind to reach such an ominous conclusion. And we learned that it wasn’t just the people in that building in Austin who were being targeted by his delusion. Prior to his fateful flight, the night before, he had a terrible argument with his wife, who fled with their daughter to spend the night elsewhere. Thank goodness for that. For the next day, Stack set fire to his home before he fled to attempt mass murder.

Now think about that phrase, “I am … related to my kamma …” Think of all the people Stack has pulled into his kammic universe. They will be back, whether he is reborn human or animal, these people will be back.

Now let us consider Tiger Woods. Did you watch his statement? I did, and while listening to him speak, even before he began talking about his Buddhist faith, I recalled the Buddha’s teaching to his son Rahula.

“Rahula, it’s like a royal elephant: immense, pedigreed, accustomed to battles, its tusks like chariot poles. Having gone into battle, it uses its forefeet & hindfeet, its forequarters & hindquarters, its head & ears & tusks & tail, but keeps protecting its trunk. The elephant trainer notices that and thinks, ‘This royal elephant has not given up its life to the king.’ But when the royal elephant... having gone into battle, uses its forefeet & hindfeet, its forequarters & hindquarters, its head & ears & tusks & tail & his trunk, the trainer notices that and thinks, ‘This royal elephant has given up its life to the king. There is nothing it will not do.’

“In the same way, Rahula, when anyone feels no shame in telling a deliberate lie, there is no evil, I tell you, he will not do. Thus, Rahula, you should train yourself, ‘I will not tell a deliberate lie even in jest.’”

While I listened to Woods speak, I saw a royal elephant. Granted, he completely messed things up with his wife and children, but you could tell he recognized that. He took complete and unequivocal responsibility for his own actions. He owned them. And he admitted that simply saying he was sorry wouldn’t change anything. He had to change. And by recognizing this, he has the opportunity in this life to diminish the kamma he has created.


  1. In the words of Jan Glidewell, "You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present."

  2. Joe Stack's situation reminds me of someone I knew personally who was terribly abused and shamed as a child -- so that admitting he had done something wrong became a pain too unbearable to feel. Instead he projected it outwards onto others, hurting others -- his form of relief, unfortunately irritating, insulting and hurting others. Living with this continual inability to accept and forgive his own errors created a tension so great within him that it killed him. Which is not to say that one should justify all those wrongs. It's sad. But I appreciate your post very much. It's something I need to hear right now.