Why live to expend
positive and negative karma?
Why not live to create positive karma
to dilute negative karma?
There is a story about a man who, after he died, was reborn as a snake. He retained his intelligence and memory, so he knew that he had become a snake due to the retribution of previous karma. He grew fast as a snake and needed to eat all the time; but he was not a good hunter. He always felt the pangs of hunger. He thought to himself, “The life of a snake is not good. I know I’m a snake because of bad things I did in the past, but I did some good things too. After this lifetime things will probably change for the better.” He looked for a way to die. One morning before dawn he crawled to the gate of a city and waited for the day to arrive. A man saw the snake and called to others, “There’s a huge snake outside the gate!” People picked up bricks and grabbed clubs and beat the snake to death. As life left him, the snake was happy. He thought, “Now the retribution for all my evil past actions is finished. In the future I’ll have a happier life.”
Do you think the snake got what he desired? If the snake did accomplish his goal, then you might as well commit suicide when you run into difficulties. This way, nobody would ever have any problems for very long. Obviously something is wrong with this logic. The snake’s death was not an accident. In intentionally seeking death, the snake only succeeded in creating more bad karma. I’m sure you have already guessed that he was reborn as another snake. When he realised that he was in the same miserable condition, he thought to himself, “This is unfair! Who is doing this to me?” At the point someone said to him, “The reason that you are again a snake is because you haven’t yet paid back your karmic debt. You tried to escape your situation. Not only do you have to take care of the principal of your ‘loan’, but you must pay back interest as well.” The snake thought carefully about this and decided, “I’ll finish my life as a snake. I’ll live no matter how much suffering I have to endure.” As soon as he made up his mind, he died and was reborn as a man. He remembered his previous existences as a snake and told his story.
Our lives are analogous to the story of the snake. If we face dangers and difficulties as they arise, accepting them and dealing with them, then they will no longer be perceived as dangers and difficulties. People who live their lives in this way are the happiest. Those whose personalities are bright and tranquil will likely see their way through difficulties more easily than others and will live, if not longer lives, then at least fuller lives. Those with inordinate fear of death will likely die sooner than those who do not have this fear. It is said that soldiers who have a great fear of death die in more sizable numbers on a battlefield than those who do not. The snake could not escape his karma. He could only accept it and live his life as best he could. With this attitude he was able to work with his attachments and vexations. It is the same with our desire to become enlightened. If we give up our mistaken ideas, we will likely replace them with correct ideas; but even correct ideas aren’t the end of it all. In going from the incorrect to the correct we are still making distinctions. We still have a concept of self and others. We have to transcend ideas of correct and incorrect and self and other in order to attain complete liberation.
Complete Enlightenment: Zen Comments on the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment
Ch’an Master Sheng-yen
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Must Payback of Karmic Debts be Complete for Enlightenment?