All of our thoughts and behaviours in this life can 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. Moral discipline helps us 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 by saying things like: “I am a straightforward person and I always speak my mind.” But is that acceptable? Even pretending you know something when you do not is regarded as the committing of verbal karma – let alone showing disrespect to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. If you do not make any changes, you do not morally discipline yourself, and you 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 are able to resist temptations and shun ignorance – and 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. It is a Buddhist saying meaning that while our malicious thoughts or negative intentions are still in the subconscious mind, we can have an instant realisation that they are unwholesome and therefore nip them in the bud before they form. With this method, we can prevent karmic obstacles from ever 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 the consumption of alcohol and meat.
Moving on to the next phase, we will need to face an even greater demon within us: our inner demon. It is caused by our karmic obstacles, and also serves to bring about more major karmic obstacles. This is the exclusive domain of the highly cultivated person. Only by facing it, seeing through it and becoming enlightened are we able to eliminate our inner demon.
Needless to say, seeing through the nature of things is not simple. It encompasses a highly advanced cultivation philosophy, such as getting rid of attachment to self and others, eliminating attachment to forms, seeing that all sentient beings are equal, and so on. However, we cannot simply resolve our problems through learning theory. To illustrate: when one sees a beautiful young lady, an ordinary person will admire her superficial beauty and outward appearance. However, for one with a certain level of spiritual practice, they would see this physical body as “a sack of skin”. In other words, there is no attachment or grasping to forms. This is what wisdom is all about.
Wealth should also be perceived in the same way – as a “sack of skin” – because there must be a reason for its gain or loss. Just like a professional mountaineer makes their way to the top of a snowy mountain, they understand that stamina is very precious. To avoid any possible waste, every step they take must be carefully considered. Even the weight they carry needs to be accurately calculated – not too much, not too little. At the same, they are fully aware that before nightfall or in the face of an incoming 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 – they will urge them not to waste any more energy and instead embark on the correct route. 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. In this context, gratitude does not simply refer to a state of mind, but to its nature as 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 therefore 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.