All our thoughts and behaviours in this life may bring about karmic obstacles. Greed, hatred and ignorance, and attachment to self and others are all sources of karmic obstacles. But how can we prevent them from forming?
First, we need to rely on moral discipline. That is to change our shortcomings, habits, temperament and to rid ourselves of greed and hatred. Humans have a wide array of habits and temperaments. Some people justify their behaviour, saying, “I am a straightforward person, I always speak my mind.” Is that acceptable? Even pretending you know something when you do not is deemed committing verbal karma, let alone showing disrespect to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. If you do not make any changes nor morally discipline yourself and continue to drink and consume meat, how could you cultivate your mind? Moral discipline forms the foundation of the Buddhist teachings of Morality (Precepts), Concentration and Wisdom. Only when we change and discipline ourselves can we reduce the formation of karmic obstacles and maintain concentration so that we can resist temptations and shun ignorance, and then develop wisdom.
After taking action to overcome our major shortcomings, the next step is to “battle against selfish thoughts in an instant”, which is a high level of practice. This is a saying in Buddhism which means that while our malicious thoughts or negative intentions are still in the subconscious mind, we should have an instant realisation that they are unwholesome, and nip them in the bud before they form. Through this method, we can prevent karmic obstacles from forming. Conversely, should we allow these thoughts to lead us by the nose, malicious thoughts will then take shape, resulting in the formation of karmic obstacles. Apparently, this step is far more challenging than refraining from consuming of alcohol and meat.
Moving on to the next phase, we will need to face an even greater demon within us. Our inner demon is caused by our karmic obstacles, and also serves to bring about more major karmic obstacles. It is exclusive to a highly cultivated person. Only by facing it, seeing through it and becoming enlightened can we eliminate our inner demon.
Needless to say, to see through the nature of things is not simple. It encompasses very advanced cultivation philosophy, such as getting rid of attachment to self and others, eliminating attachment to forms, and seeing that all sentient beings are equal, etc. However, we can’t resolve our problems simply through learning theory. To illustrate: when one sees a beautiful young lady, an ordinary person will admire her superficial beauty and her outward appearance. However, for one with a certain level of spiritual practice, they would see this physical body as “a sack of skin”; there is neither attachment nor grasping to forms. This is what wisdom is all about.
Wealth should also be perceived the same way, as a “sack of skin”, because there must be a reason for its gain and loss. Just like a professional mountaineer making their way up to the top of a snowy mountain. They understand that stamina is very precious. To avoid any possible waste, every step they take has to be carefully considered. Even the weight they carry would have to be accurately calculated – not too much and not too little. At the same, they are fully aware that before nightfall or before an oncoming snowstorm, they will have to make their way to a safe campsite.
At this moment, if they see the rest of the group taking the wrong route, some enjoying the scenery, others chasing after antelopes, then they will urge them not to waste their energy anymore and to embark on the correct route instead. After all, the antelopes will not be able to save their lives should a snowstorm hit. This underlines the significance of being able to see through the nature of things. To have this ability, one must have wisdom, which needs to be cultivated through moral discipline and concentration.
The second tool to prevent karmic obstacles from forming is to possess gratitude. Gratitude here does not simply refer to a state of mind but also a tool, a Buddhist practice. With humanity’s throng of desires (“seven emotions and six sensory pleasures”), every passion and desire forms karmic obstacles which can only be prevented through gratitude. Gratitude is the only emotional response that is able to prevent the formation of karmic obstacles; it is an effective weapon against greed, hatred and ignorance. As you gradually adopt gratitude in dealing with the people and matter around you, your karmic obstacles will be reduced.