Karma - The Budhisattvas of Adversity
by Desiree Punwani
Load-Lighteners who Deserve our Gratitudeo Night duty nurses
o Night watchmen [almost all night workers]
o Air traffic wardens [one of the most stressful jobs of our times]
o I.C.U. staff
Pain is the result of bad karma." Is it? The most inspiring way I have seen someone view pain was at a fire-walk workshop I attended. At the end of the walk in which some 30 of us participated, one girl had a particularly painful burn and a couple of others had blistered feet. Most of us had an unusual burning sensation in the feet, almost as if the body had absorbed the heat to prevent burns. The young lady was really upset because she saw her burns as some sort of 'failure'. Most of us were ready to console, offer physical help or use healing practices. One man who had walked on the burning coals four times and had come out unscathed got up to thank her and the other injured. He spoke of how most achievements in life generate some amount of pain. This pain has to be shared by all concerned, and the sharing is not equal. For no fault of their own, some people get a larger share. These are the unacknowledged heroes of our daily lives and we ought to recognise them as such. This wonderful man's few sincere words took the young girl from a self-defeating attitude to a point from where she could, if she chose, transform her perception of pain forever.
And so can we if we understand that some of the pain that is our lot is the shared pain of universal development and transformation. By bearing pain uncomplainingly we can make it our offering towards universal growth. It is not as if we don't understand this. At times of family or community crisis, we all understand the need for everyone to share the responsibility, the inconvenience and yes, even the pain. In fact, the shirker is looked down upon. Most of us do take our responsibilities seriously. Yet, our attitude towards them could be fine-tuned. We are not aware of the power of uncomplaining acceptance and of co-operating with the universe when we are called upon to do so. We are not aware, so to speak, of the possibility of upgrading our actions by imbuing them with nobler intentions. If the same rupee bought us better quality, which of us would settle for lesser? And yet this is what we constantly do with our energies - constantly.
The awareness that we are all connected does not only mean that my thoughts and intentions can reach you. It also means that the work of the world has to be shared. So the man who pulls the heavy cart, may have his own karmic load to bear but he also makes it possible for us to travel lighter. The man who does night shifts sacrifices his sleep so we may rest well. Does it not behove us, therefore, to thank the universe by thanking each and every person who does his assigned role well, so we can rest assured that Atlas will not shrug?
Can you imagine the potency of stepping out for the day wired for gratitude? Being able to thank the road workers toiling in the heat or the traffic police on their feet for a good eight to 10 hours a day? Have we noticed the banana man or the man who pushes his handcart for miles to bring us fresh vegetables daily? How about the invaluable service offered by the shoemaker or mochi who sits at the curbside all day and whose skills far outweigh what we pay him? All these people make our lives easier. The expression, 'There but for the grace of God, go I,' loses its fearful undertone and becomes an expression of appreciation and recognition.
Physical and mental handicaps are often viewed as great karmic suffering. However, optional perspectives are available to us. Most of the institutions for the handicapped or differently-abled have been started because some bodhisattva made the personal sacrifice of a lifetime to help establish institutions to support them. In doing so, the good that came out of the situation far outweighed the 'suffering' involved. As a matter of fact, in all these cases suffering was transcended, both at the personal and at the larger level. Ask the parents of any of these special children and they will tell you of the gift the child has been in their lives and the lives of many others. Wherever there has been acceptance, there is recognition of the gifts these children contribute to the well-being of all whom they touch. Remember, someone has to bring these children into the world, and somewhere subconsciously these people may have offered to do so. So how come we don't acknowledge the tremendous job these parents do of rearing such children?
A bodhisattva is an evolved soul who out of intense compassion stays or postpones his personal 'nirvana' to help suffering humanity. The bodhisattva vow asks that,
For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery in the world
[Guide, X: 55]
The souls who offer to come into this world 'handicapped' to help make a better world, to repair damaged hearts and homes, to save their dear ones from their own arrogance and to help them discharge karmic debts; could they be suffering the fruits of bad karma or could they possibly be bodhisattvas? We can choose how we want to see them. Our choice will change the window from which we view the world from one of pity to one of appreciation. Our choice will change our karma. How does this happen? Our view of the world determines its reality for us. If we see the world as incomplete and lacking, that is how it will be for us. If, however, we see everything perfect in its place, a part of a larger plan that we may or may not understand, then our relationship with the world is a better adjusted and happier one.
The writer is an active spiritual aspirant with leanings towards Buddhism and Advaita. She can be contacted on
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