Awareness of Death

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Meditation — making use of this precious opportunity

Because the body and possessions are left behind, we need to put more emphasis on consciousness. The predispositions that we carry within our minds are the crucial sources of help and harm. Karma has two basic meanings: one is action—physical, verbal, and mental actions—and the other is the potencies, established by these actions, in the mind. These are like etchings or infusions of future predispositions that draw us into attitudes and situations. Thus "good karma" refers either to beneficial actions or to favorable predispositions established by those actions. So, it's karma that matters; it's karma that shapes the future.

There is a famous Tibetan saying: "If you want to know what you were doing in the past, look at your body and present situation, because it was shaped by past actions. If you want to know what your situation will be in the future, look at what you're doing with your mind now." All pleasurable and painful feelings are said to arise from karma, your own previous actions. However slight the pain, however slight the pleasure, it's due to previous karma.

The present is determined by our past actions, but since karma means "doing," we can shape our own future through directing our motivation. There's a good deal of free will. Thus the doctrine of karma is a call to take responsibility for your own future, to see that your own situation is set up by your past karma, not somebody else's, and to use that knowledge to shape the road ahead.

Buddhism emphasizes the influence of our past actions, not for the sake of decreasing our sense of will—the sense that we have power to choose our activities—but in order to show the importance of the deeds we choose to do, since they have great influence on our future. The doctrine of karma is not a call to lay aside effort and will; it is a call to use effort and will. We shape our own paths.

In meditation, contemplate: "Since death is definite and it's uncertain when I will die, I must make use of this precious opportunity of a human lifetime right now."

You must take advantage of this rare opportunity and accumulate beneficial karma. The basic determinants are not money or social position, but actions. Since the force of karma is shaped by our intentions, we need to put as much emphasis as possible on what we are doing with our minds.