Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on July 30, 2014

Above title a line from the disco song by The Trammps of 1978, and here I am referring to our karmic burn rate. We are certainly all slaves to our own karma, usually creating it as fast as we can. I always liked the album title of singer-songwriter Neil Young, "Rust Never Sleeps," only here it would be "Karma Never Sleeps."

Since I was originally raised on the Ten Commandments, when I wandered into Buddhism and learned about the law of Karma, cause and effect, I was always on the watch not to accumulate karma of the "Do Not Kill," "Do Not Steal," and so on variety. It never occurred to me until somewhat late in the game that I was already accumulating a myriad of karma of a lesser kind. I call it micro-karma and I was on the lookout for big mistakes while trampling on the grass and stepping on ants. I am reminded of the quote from the poet/occultist Aleister Crowley, "To snatch at a gnat, and swallow a camel." That's about right.

And when I say "lesser karma," here less is more, a lot more. While we may never make those big karmic mistakes that the Bible warns us about, we are busy accumulating micro-karma at an alarming rate. And this micro-karma is just as inexorable as the 'Ten Commandments' kind and way more common.

This idea of micro-karma dovetails perfectly with what I blogged about recently, the concept of "Skillful Means." The only way to reduce this micro-karma is to be more aware, and thus become more skillful in our actions and cause less karma to accumulate. Many of us (like me) have a "bull in a china shop" approach to karma. I can't help but stumble around and generate it everywhere I turn, I am my own personal karma cornucopia.

And this torrent of micro-karma all comes from our own mind, often (you guessed it) courtesy of our Self and its stubborn attitudes, biases, prejudices, likes and dislikes -- 'ad infinitum'. We are busy just all the time tracking karma. Yes, it can seem such a small thing, like disliking the clothes someone else likes to wear, or showing some attitude when it doesn't help. It might not seem to matter much, but if we lay down that beat over and over, every day, all day, little things mean a lot and add up, with the result that a solid groove of pure karma is recorded. No, one blip is not a big deal, but multiply that by the countless thousands of similar thoughts each day and you have a small mountain of karma in the bank, and probably not good karma at that. Sooner or later it all gets cashed in.

The remedy for this, and an important part of dharma practice, is purification, and I don't mean taking a sauna or performing a fire puja, unless you are burning your own karma. What I am pointing at here is straightening out our bent attitudes much like we might hammer out a box of rusty nails. It is easy to think of purification as something that overcomes us in the pitch of life, but that is really a masochistic approach, letting our own mistakes catch up with us.

Much better is to take prophylactic measures or, as I like to say, go to meet our maker halfway. In other words, we can begin to purify our attitude and approach consciously rather than wait for it burn through us by way of exterior events that crop up and are beyond our control. In other words, many people look at purification as something that happens to us rather than something we voluntarily do ourselves.

The Bible has a statement "Straight is the gate and narrow is the way." The dharma has its own version of this, with its many pro-active purification practices. Each time we straighten out one of our crooked attitudes, we put a stop to the karma it records forever. Incorporate a purification practice (like Tong-Len) into our life and we become a purification factory that is working overtime, 24x7.

I came up through the late 1950s and onward. It was considered cool to have a bit of an attitude. That's how we stood out from the "squares" back then. Fast-forward my life to when I got into dharma practice and those same attitudes became a drag on my practice. Bent or warped attitudes are not aerodynamically sound; they just don't fly.

At some point in my dharma practice I actively had to begin to straighten out and purify my own attitudes, and I don't mean just the mainsails. I am talking about an almost incalculable number of tiny biases, prejudices, cat-calling, critical attitudes that slow me down from being effective, from being skillful in my means. "Straight is the gate," and to get through that gate we are going to have to shave off some of our hard edges, one by one. As mentioned, each attitude or view we straighten out stops recording its karma and gives us just a little more awareness to work in.

My point here is that purification is more than just having a bad cold and purifying our body. Increasing our awareness through dharma (mind-training practices) requires all kinds of purification, such as a pure intent, pure actions, and so on. They are not just going to clear up like a teenager's bad complexion. Most of us have our attitudes (however slight) baked in by this point. To straighten them out we are going to have to consciously recognize and purify them, one by one. We have to pay attention to what we are doing.

Well, that's my rap. Purification is an integral aspect of dharma practice; it's built in. When I first realized that some of my own attitudes needed purification, I had mixed feelings about it. Part of me prized the "bad boy" attitudes I had picked up along the way and I was not sure I wanted to be all that straight. I sure didn't want to be "square" as all of those early 1960s attitudes I had would put it. At the same time, all that attitude was getting real old, literally. And I didn't quite know how to rectify it, how to stop the avalanche and purify myself. I was even shy of the word "purity" itself for some reason, probably because I didn't want to end up being puritanical.

Luckily, the dharma has several very effective methods to straighten out our attitudes and help remove the rough edges. Perhaps the easiest practice is that of Tong-Len, which I have written about many times here. For those who want to follow up on these thoughts, here is a free e-book on Tong-Len. Just scroll down and pick the book "Tong-Len: The Alchemy of Reactions."


[Photo taken yesterday.]