Lesson
3

Awareness of Death

3 of 3

Meditation — Disrupting the cycle of ill-deeds through equanimity and contrition

Awareness of death causes us to put less emphasis on externals and more on the internal. Realizing that our actions mold our future, we seek to go beyond being driven by the uncontrolled process of good and bad karma, to get beyond its influence entirely, while still bringing about others' well-being. But in the meantime, it's necessary to accumulate beneficial karma in order to oppose negative habits and make use of the power of other such positive forces already established in the mind.

How do we break this cycle? With the deliberate practice of equanimity and regret for harm that we have wrought on others, we are not just succumbing to habit—the tendency of making ourselves the most important and turning others into mere objects for bringing about our own happiness. Instead, we are breaking this cycle—seeing others as equal beings of feeling, who want happiness and don't want suffering. This is a radical step.

If you can experience closeness with others through the meditative exercise of equanimity, eventually you will be able to bring it to bear in difficult situations.

Through mental reorientation, it is possible to alter the effects of karma. The only sure way to affect the course of events is to begin practice before the onset of negative karmic effects, building the strength of familiarity. Once unpleasant karmic results unfold, it's difficult to change course if you aren't already used to the process. In the midst of an episode, it is very difficult to suddenly come to your senses and calm yourself down. But if beforehand you have meditated over and over on how others want happiness and do not suffering, then your mind will slowly become empowered to notice when anger is beginning to arise and will be able to mitigate its force or shorten its duration.

If you can experience closeness with others through the meditative exercise of equanimity, eventually you will be able to bring it to bear in difficult situations. You will develop a reservoir to draw from. You will become accustomed to new ways of relating to people in problem situations.

You can overcome the ill effects of past negative actions by a four-step process: disclosure of ill deeds, contrition, intention to restrain yourself from them in the future, and virtuous activity.

1. Disclosure

It's like splitting a log: you can see what is inside.

Hiding what you have done nourishes guilt and thereby increases the negative force of the action; it's as if you are doing the action over and over again. The Dalai Lama says this is like splitting a log: You can see what is inside. Disclosure and contrition break up the mass of nonvirtuous power and diminish its force.

Disclosure acts as an antidote to hatred.

Disclosure acts as an antidote to hatred. By hiding a nonvirtuous action, by holding yourself back from others, you separate yourself from those who might learn of your actual deeds. Some of the deeds were probably motivated by hatred, and past hatred, if not admitted, will lead to future hatred. If you seek to hide them, their force will increase day by day. Someone who feels guilty and tries to hide what he or she has done is nourishing the force of those very deeds.

In meditation, contemplate: "I have done it; I have to face the fact that I have done it. I can't undo what I have done. But I am sorry I did it, and I intend not to do it in the future."

Go back through your life and reflect on nonvirtuous actions one by one. Stop letting those deeds have power over you.

2. Contrition

Certain deeds are like coming to a fork in the road. After the deed is done, you remain someone who went down one fork rather than the other.

Certain deeds are like coming to a fork in the road. After the deed is done, you remain someone who went down one fork rather than the other; the deed retains power over you. If the deed is nonvirtuous, disclosure and contrition are ways of reducing that power. We cannot undo the past; but it is possible either to reinforce or to alleviate the force of past actions. That's why disclosure and contrition are powerful.

Buddhism stresses not feelings of guilt but rather contrition, followed by developing an intention of restraint in the future. Simply put, you decide that you have done something wrong and then vow not to do it again. You make the intelligent decision to face what has been done and make a commitment to break the cycle.

Contrition is a heartfelt experience of regret that is at the core of resolving guilt.

 

3. Intention of restraint in the future

In meditation, bring to mind past a nonvirtuous action and contemplate: "I did it; I have to face the fact that I did it. This action was motivated by desire (or hatred) and ignorance. I can't undo what I did, but I am sorry I did it. It was wrong, and I do not want to do it again in the future. May I not do it again in the future! I will make sure not to do it again in the future."

4. Virtuous activity

A final way to reinforce disclosure, contrition, and the intention not to repeat the action is to engage in virtuous activity, such as giving to a charity, helping others, reading profound texts, and so forth, with a deliberate sense that this activity serves as an antidote to what was done earlier.

Death is definite, but the time of death is indefinite. You could die at any time. So make use of this precious opportunity to do what is worthwhile in the long run. Do the meditations described in this lesson, if only for five or ten minutes a day. And undertake virtuous activities to underscore their force.