Unexpected Encounters in Life
Alaya-vijinana, which is a Buddhist concept, is one aspect of our mind. It’s like a storehouse. Traces of past actions are stored as seeds in it and they are very stable and buried deeply. With proper time and conditions, these seeds will develop and ripen into future experiences. When and how a seed produces a result is clearly explained in Buddhism, which is also referred to as karma or the law of cause and effect. With this law, you’ll understand that there are always causes and conditions behind coincidences. It is the inevitability behind the unexpected. It is also why people’s fate can change.
Even though we can sometimes escape from the law, we can never evade karma. No matter who we are, we all live within this law. When the time and conditions meet, we will definitely experience the result of what we have done before.
General Opinion About ‘Unexpected Encounters’ in Life
Opening by the host
Good Afternoon, I am Armando Buonaiuto, curator of Turin Spirituality. I want to welcome you to our first meeting of the year at the Carignano. You know the topic of this edition is ‘The Human Dough—Made of Earth and Gazing at the Stars’. This year, we want to explore into humanity. We’ve always been working on ‘finding the meaning’. It’s the slogan of Turin Spirituality. But, apart from the tools to find the meaning what really matters is who is searching human beings. So we thought to dedicate a talk to explore our lives. The meaning of our lives often slips away from our understanding. We are often surprised by what is happening But there are two fixed points: one is ‘being made of earth’, that is we are limited creatures, mortal creatures; the other is ‘gazing at the stars’ that is treasuring everyone in our hearts, a desire for transcendence, a desire for absolute, and a kind of nostalgia for the unlimited, as if somehow we had already met it. Our lives take place between these two extremes nobody knows what will happen in between as if we are on a bumpy road. Often the most unexpected encounters will change our lives and take us from earth up to the stars. Today, to explore into this mystery of our lives, we have a mentor, a very special one who makes us proud. It’s good for us to start our first day in Carignano like this. Let’s welcome Khenpo Sodargye. Let’s also welcome the interpreter Professor Ester Bianchi of Perugia University experts in Sino-Tibetan Buddhism. I leave the floor to Professor Ester Bianchi to introduce Khenpo.
It’s a real joy and a great honor to be here to introduce you such a great master. Khenpo Sodargye is one of the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist masters. We can tell his excellence from his title ‘Khenpo’. We can translate it as professor of philosophy or professor of Buddhist theology. So from his title, we know he is a master with great erudition. He is not only well known in religious context but also in other contexts as well. For example, he is in contact with some famous Buddhist scholars around the world. He gave talks at many famous universities not only in Chinan but also in Europe like University of Göttingen recently and in America for example Stanford University. Although you all want to listen to his words but before giving the floor to Khenpo I want to add something about his legacy and the monastery he comes from.
Khenpo Sodargye is one of the main disciples of H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche which was one of the most important Tibetan masters of the modern age a great reincarnated tulku and also a tertön, a treasure discoverer. In the early 1980s in the eastern Tibetan region, Dharma centers that are small, medium and large were built everywhere. H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche founded the Larung Gar with altitude around 4300 meters. The monastery has a Rime tradition which is an nonsectarian movement of Tibetan Buddhism. So the curriculum and Dharma activities there are comprehensively arranged. But it’s also true that practices in more related to the Nyingma tradition also referred to as the Red Hat tradition as called like this by Giuseppe Tucci. The highest practice of Nyingma is Dzogchen the Great Perfection.
Khenpo Sodargye took his monastic vows at 23 in 1985. Larung Gar is where he followed H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche and learnt the teachings and practices of tantrayana, became a khenpo, and his activities began to flourish. He is not only the main teacher of the Chinese community but also the most authoritative teacher among all the monastics and lay practitioners. No matter what ethnic group they come from people come to Larung Gar and stay there. His works include academic translations on tantric texts and Dzogchen as well as practical instructions and teachings. Also there are a series of his translations that has been widespread in China and overseas. Those teachings not only include traditional Buddhist teachings from over 2000 years ago but also deal with problems of modern time.
In today’s talk, you will see how Khenpo combines Buddhism teachings with modern life. Now I’m giving the floor to Khenpo. The topic for his talk as we can see is ‘Unexpected Encounters in Life’. More specifically, he will talk about the connection between randomness and predestination. He will mention one of the core teachings of Buddhism, the law of cause and effect.
Impression of Italy
Honored guests, today I am very glad to have the opportunity to speak to all of you. It’s a happy encounter, and I am truly delighted. This is my first time in Italy. My impression is that Italy is a very beautiful country and a center for art. It’s a dreamland for many people, a paradise on earth. Although this is my first time here, I felt a connection with this country early in my life. That sense of connection came from a book I read called Heart: A School-boy’s Journal, which was translated into many languages. It was the fictional diary of a third-year primary school student in Turin, Italy, telling about his life back at that time. It encompasses human love and kindness for something as broad as the nation and as narrow as oneself, one’s family and friends. Through this book, I got to know and feel close to this country and the people here. Though I am not familiar with people’s personalities and interests here in Italy, I am attracted to people’s kindness and the smiles on the faces of those passing by. I’m also impressed by the beautiful architecture.
The Torino Spiritualitàhas had many editions, and I feel honored to be part of the event this year. The reason for this is very simple. No matter whether it’s in eastern or western countries, most people merely focus on the external world rather than on their spiritual lives. But Torino Spiritualitàhas held many forums and dialogues to explore our inner world, our spirituality. This is very meaningful for the whole of human society.
General opinion about ‘unexpected encounters’ in life
The topic for today is unexpected encounters in life. You might be interested when you hear about this topic. Personally, this is also something I always think of in my life. In our lives, some unexpected encounters often change our destinies. For example, a stranger you met by chance became your friend which changed your life; a book you came across changed your way of thinking; or your visit to a place had a huge impact on your life. All these seem like coincidence.
When something happens, people often attribute it to luck. For example, when some people get rich all of a sudden, other people think they are lucky; when yet other people perform badly in their jobs or lose profit in their businesses, they think they are unlucky. There was a true story that happened in Hong Kong which goes like this: On a stormy night, a man was about to go out on a date with his girlfriend, but he stayed at home instead because of the thunderstorm. In the same apartment building, there was a pregnant woman who didn’t plan to go out because she was in bed resting, but decided to go out to eat as she felt hungry. Despite the storm, she insisted on going out to grab something to eat. When she came back, the whole building had collapsed. The boy who was supposed to go out died in the building; and the pregnant woman who hadn’t planned to go out survived because of her hunger. Many people think this man was very unlucky and the pregnant woman was lucky.
There’s another way looking at things, that they just happen randomly without any reason behind them. For example, many people think the suffering and joy they experience in this life or the things that happen to them all occur accidentally without having any causes and conditions. This view lacks depth and analysis. It’s only because we can’t see these causes and conditions. Take the stars we see at night as an example. Since we can’t see the causes and conditions for a star to appear at night, we think what we see is how the stars look right at that moment. Yet, some of them already died many years ago, but because they were many light years away from us we are still seeing their lights.
When it comes to the phenomena of life, we can’t fully explain it through science. We need some help from spiritual teachings. This is because although science is very good at studying nature or the physical, it still has a long way to go to research and understand the inner world and the nature of mind. As Einstein mentioned, anyone who thinks science is trying to make human life easier or more pleasant is utterly mistaken. This may be criticized by others. I admire science, but I also respect religion and am often amazed by the power of religion. It’s good to know the 90% of the Italian population has religious belief. I think it’s very necessary to have faith in a religion, whether it’s Buddhism, Catholicism, or any other religion. Having a religious belief and respecting all religions is very important for everyone. I’m not here to get publicity for Buddhism, because whatever religion you have, as long as it tells the truth about humanity and the world, then it is a good religion. If its teaching isn’t beneficial to human society, it’s not worth following.
Maybe you are not successful right now, but that can be changed through your own effort and the merit you accumulate by being virtuous.
Karma and Causality, the Inevitability Behind the Unexpected
Karma and causality, the inevitability behind the unexpected
In fact, many things have happened to us or to our relatives and friends seem to happen randomly or due to our good or bad luck. However, there are many unseen causes and conditions behind them. These causes and conditions are very complicated and often go ignored because they are very closely related to one’s previous lives. When something happens, that is already the result. The fact we can’t see the causes and conditions that caused it to happen doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It’s just as when a flower withers, some petals fall in a ditch, while others fall in the garden. This seems to happen accidentally, but actually petals falling into the ditch and into the garden are the results of different causes and conditions.
I used to think my idea to become a monk was because of a chance encounter when I was at school. I used to herd yaks and wasn’t able to attend school. Later, I got the opportunity to go to a normal local school. It was a school many people aspired to go to. One day, I saw a friend of mine who used to herd yaks with me had become a monk and was attending a Dharma assembly. He was wearing a pair of black glasses, and looked very solemn. I knew nothing about being a monk at that time only that it looked nice and comfortable. So I had a sudden urge to become a monk, thinking given we used to herd yaks together we both should be monks as well. The idea was so strong at that moment. Later, when I was about to graduate, my wish to become a monk remained yet I couldn’t decide whether to go through with it or not. Then I happened to meet a teacher of mine who just passed away this year, who was very kind to me. When I met him, I asked whether I should become a monk or not, because many people had discouraged me. He told me I shouldn’t think too much, but should do it immediately. He said he had become acquainted with H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche and was willing to introduce me to him. Because of his encouragement, my whole life changed. I used to think all this happened randomly, but actually there were many causes and conditions that made this happen. All the things we experience in our lives have their own underlying causes and conditions.
Karma and destiny can be changed
Some people believe everything in life is predestined. Some Indian religions also believe that what will happen to us this life is predetermined and unchangeable, while other religions believe there is a creator who has already decided a person’s fate. According to Buddhism, our fate or our lives can be changed because everything happens because of corresponding causes and conditions or karma. There is a saying: all phenomena arise and cease due to causes and conditions. For example, when the causes and conditions are in place we can live or work together, but when the conditions cease, even though we want things to remain the same, it won’t work. It is very important to understand how causes and conditions or karma work. For example, some couples cannot maintain a good relationship and even get divorced in the end, which means the karma between them has ceased. Another example is that, you work very hard, and through your effort, make a lot of money. This is made possible because your effort is a positive condition for it to happen. So many things in life can be changed because they are very closely connected to our karma from previous lives and our efforts in this life. If we work really hard, they can change and they won’t work out if we don’t try hard. There are many examples of such cases, and I am sure you must have experienced or seen such things in life.
Karma literally means action. It also refers to the process of cause and effect: positive actions bring good results and negative actions bring bad results. The principle of causality is not a religious teaching but rather an objective fact. Karma is a kind of force or energy which has the ability to function or change. There is positive karma and negative karma. In our lives, there are some people who always experience misfortune. This is very much related to their negative karma from previous lives. Negative karma can be changed by cultivating virtuous deeds in this life. Many people who used to experience unfortunate circumstances have changed their lives for the better by living virtuously.
To give you an example, there is a very famous story from Chinese history about a man, Mr. Yuan Liao Fan. This story is recorded in his book called Liao-Fan’s four lessons, which tells how he changed his destiny by engaging in virtuous deeds. I don’t know if there is an Italian version of this book, but there is an English version available. One day, a fortune teller prophesized his future by telling him what would happen to him in his life. The fortune teller told him that his lifespan would be very short, that he would have no son and that his life would be filled with troubles. Initially, Liao Fan dismissed his words as utter nonsense because he didn’t believe in karma, but many things that happened later confirmed the fortune teller’s prophecy. Liao Fan then felt his life was hopeless. Then he met a Zen Master, Yun Gu. Master Yun Gu told him to practice virtuous deeds through which his destiny would be changed. He then followed the master’s instructions. As a result, his life was changed and he had children and also enjoyed a long life.
From his experience of changing his destiny, we know our lives can change as well. Maybe you are not successful right now, but that can be changed through your own effort and the merit you accumulate by being virtuous. Stress and problems are just temporary phases in life. If we can try to be unaffected by them, to face them with fortitude and calmness, a lot of problems in our lives that seem to be tricky can be resolved.
The key to make change is to train the mind
Nowadays, people all over the world seem to busier than before and always have more things to do than they can ever finish. Many things may not necessarily be important to us. The things we believe to be important, when put in the bigger context of life, may be much less important or even just a waste of time. So try not to cling to or be distracted by trivial things, otherwise it will bring you a lot of suffering. Sometimes we need to be relaxed and stay peaceful. If we turn off our phones and allow our mind to calm down, many problems will be solved naturally.
Still, we should work hard and care for our families. Living in this world, we need to be diligent and hard-working in whatever we do, whether it’s mental or physical work. To be diligent and hard-working requires inner strength. When we are mentally strong, our physical strength will improve as well. Such inner strength can gradually be enhanced through learning and training the mind. In the Avatamsaka Sutra, it mentioned that if bodhisattvas use their minds properly, they can attain all supreme qualities. This means we should make good use of our mind to do virtuous deeds in our lives. If our mind is kind, many things in our lives will be accomplished effortlessly. A kind heart is like a seed. Today I generate the mind of love and compassion toward someone. The result it brings may not appear right away, but all our thoughts and actions are the seeds that will shape our future lives. It is like how famers plant seeds in the spring, but they cannot harvest until autumn.
Whether things go well or not in our lives, whether we’re successful or unsuccessful, we should be positive and happy. In this way, life will be full of hope.
How Karma Is Created?
How karma is created?
Where are the seeds that shape our lives stored? Maybe you are familiar with the concept of the all-ground consciousness or storehouse consciousness, which is one aspect of our mind. Traces of past actions are stored as seeds in the all-ground consciousness and they are very stable and buried deeply. The seeds may wait years or even longer before they develop and ripen into future experiences. For example, if someone kills a fish or murders someone the seed of that negative deed will be stored. When the time and conditions are in place, one will eventually experience the negative result. Another example is a parent who has two children and one is smart while the other is not. The reason for their difference is the seeds of wisdom in their consciousness were developed at a different level. That’s why although they share the same parents, their intelligence and capabilities are different. If we think, the principle of causality should make sense to everyone.
Four types of results karma brings
Some people may think if the principle of cause and effect or karma does exist, why don’t all the seeds ripen in this life? This is because karma has four categories according to the result it brings. The first one is karma to be experienced in the present life. This means we experience the result of the good or bad things we have done in this very life, with virtuous acts bringing happiness and non-virtuous acts bringing suffering. The second one is karma to be experienced after rebirth. This means the good and bad deeds one has done will not bring results in this life, but will determine what one experiences whether happiness or suffering, when one is reborn. The third one is karma to be experienced in other future lives. This means the karma one creates in this life may stay in one’s consciousness for hundreds, thousands or even millions of years. It may not produce a result in many of one’s rebirths. But after many lives, when the time and conditions are right, one will experience the result of this karma. The last one is karma that is uncertain. This means someone is supposed to experience some sort of suffering or happiness, but he engages in many virtuous or non-virtuous deeds in his life that make it uncertain whether he will experience the results. Just like when someone has been sentenced to life imprisonment, but due to his social connections he is released later and pardoned. The story of Liao Fan belongs to this category.
The categories of karma and how it works are taught in many Buddhist scriptures. Through study we’ll understand that those seemingly accidental encounters in our lives are not accidental at all. They look like they happen for no reason, but it is actually completely logical that they happen. For example, I encountered a stranger. We had a lovely conversation and this left a very good impression on us both. Then we became good friends, and had some collaboration together. How this happened, if we know the karmic connection behind it, we’ll know it’s not accidental.
Karma and causality is the law of nature
“The law of cause and effect is a law no one can avoid,” said the famous Burmese leader and Buddhist Aung San Suu Kyi in a speech at the University of Oxford. Even though we can sometimes escape from the law, we can never evade karma. No matter who we are, we all live within this law. When the time and conditions meet, we will definitely experience the result of what we have done before. For everyone here today, it’s up to you whether to believe in the law of cause and effect or not since everyone has the right and freedom to choose what to believe. But at least we should be good people with kind hearts. People with kind hearts usually carry positive energy or power. They always shine and inspire people around them and create a good atmosphere for them.
Be inclusive and stay positive about life
No matter where we are from or what nationality we are, we all have the same experience of being happy and unhappy. No matter which religion we follow, we should respect and learn from each other. Regardless of our respective nationalities and our religions, we should work together for our common needs and also, when necessary, agree to disagree. Whether things go well or not in our lives, whether we’re successful or unsuccessful, we should be positive and happy. In this way, life will be full of hope. Remember how fortunate you are. There are many people around the world who have become homeless because of war. As human beings, we should care for people around us who are vulnerable and helpless. It’s very important we help them as much as we can.
Lastly, I want to thank you all for coming here to listen to this talk. It’s a very large audience. Your time is precious, but you are willing to sacrifice your time for rest, study or work to come here, which I think is due to our karmic connection. Thank you all for coming here to talk with me. I also want to express my special thanks to the committee and staff of Torino Spiritualità. It’s been held 10 times and it’s not an easy task to hold it every year. Also, it’s very meaningful and beneficial to bring guests of different religions and also scientists to share their ideas and wisdom. I extend my thanks to all the speakers as well.
How to follow the signals life sends us?
How to follow the signals life sends us?
I have this question, which probably would complete what he said. Assuming that this karma law affects everyone, are their signals we can follow that might tell us how we can live our lives at our best? If I can explain better with an example, three months ago I fell out of a tree and almost died. Although now my body has almost recovered in full, I still can’t live as before. I would like to understand a bit more about how to do good deeds, and be able to overcome the previously accumulated negative karma. I want to know more about how to follow those signals. If you have some suggestion about this I would be grateful.
Some things in our lives happen due to the karma in our mindstream. Some problems happen due to our negative actions, and problems caused by this will not become worse. Strictly speaking, according to Buddhist teachings, if we throw some little bugs to the ground or hurt them to make them uncomfortable, such actions will be preserved in our mindstream as seeds that may ripen in experiences like yours. According to the general opinion, your experience is caused by external factors and you can recover very quickly. In any case, as Buddhism talks about four stages of life: birth, old age, sickness and death, sickness is a very natural stage in one’s life and we can face it bravely.
The way to deal with painful situation
I’d like to ask the master about a concept he mentioned before. He said when a person is in a painful situation or he or she is with people in a hard moment of their lives, you don’t have to be too attached to that situation. If I understood correctly, you should treat it with some distance. I’d like to know if I understood it properly?
It’s very important for one to survive very hard times through one’s inner strength. In a movie based on the 9/11 attack, when the airplane hit the Pentagon, there was one person who was very brave and managed to run out from the ruins, and he incredibly showed no sign of trauma after this tragedy. Another person panicked when he heard the crash. Although he survived as well, he often suffered from poor physical health and was always afraid. They were both victims of the attack, but showed different levels of inner strength. According to medical experts, their different responses toward the tragedy comes from their different levels of inner resources.
The law that defines the outcome of karma
Does the law of cause and effect apply to the destiny of people and nations?
Good evening, I would like to ask the master, if the principle of causes and conditions that was introduced earlier could be applied to the destiny of people and nations as well.
In terms of causes and conditions, they are twofold: outer and inner. Outer causes and conditions are related to the material world. For instance, from a seed comes the root, stem, flowers, and fruit. Inner causes and conditions are related to our thoughts, such as desire, anger, ignorance kindness and compassion. Due to different causes and conditions, we become people of different countries. Some people have never learnt English, but speak it fluently from childhood onward. A lot of similar cases suggest that people may be reborn in different countries with traces from previous lives.
The law that defines the outcome of karma
The division of the four distinct types of karma, which have different repercussions in time, raises a question. Which is the principle that defines the very outcome in time, if in our lifetime rather than hundreds of years later? What is the law behind it?
This is because the virtuous and non-virtuous karma we have created ripen differently. Some special virtuous deeds can mature very soon. Some other virtuous deeds don’t mature that quickly. Just like it takes a couple of months for some seeds to mature while some others seeds may take a longer time to mature. In some Buddhist scriptures, there’s a teaching on what kind of karma, both virtuous and non-virtuous, ripens this life, what ripens after rebirth, and what in other future lives. For instance, killing one’s father or mother is non-virtuous karma that will ripen right after rebirth. Some other non-virtuous karma may mature after many lives. All these are clearly explained in Buddhist scriptures.