Sokei-An and Realizing Buddhism

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Looking through the Dewey Decimal 294.93s in library catalog I cam across a book titled “Cat’s Yawn”. Finding it listed under Zen I was intrigued by the title and had it brought out from the stacks where all the old books are shelved. The cover, with the line drawing of a yawning cat made me smile and what I found inside opened my bodymind to a Zen Legacy Master I’d never heard of but was very happy to discover. Sokei-An Soshin Taiko Choro Zenji (1882 – 1945) was the first Zen Master to make his home in the Western world. In 1916 he emigrated to the U.S. under the direction of his teacher to bring Zen to the West. He founded the First Zen Institute of America which is still active today. Sokei-An died in 1945 leaving behind a legacy of Buddhist thought that mirrors what many Buddhist teachers today, myself included, think of as contemporary to our culture, context and time. Sokei-An was way ahead of us.

In 1940 the First Zen Institute began publishing a newsletter . . . yeah, they had newsletters in the 40s . . . in which he offered Zen in a way he felt would open the bodyminds of Westerners to Buddhist philosophy and practice.

Cat’s Yawn was first published in 1947 and is still being distributed today. After spending time reading and pondering Sokei-An’s words I came to the realization of their value now. In Volume 1, No. 1 of Cat’s Yawn, Sokei-An revealed his view of Zen as a religion and his intent in teaching it. It is titled: “The Man Who Is Not a Sky-Dweller”.

He begins by speaking about Chinese calligraphy’s three recognized styles of writing: rigid, less rigid and flowing style, then moves to three styles of deportment (behavior and manners): formal, semi-formal and informal. These serve to describe Sokei-An’s view of religious practices.

He goes on to say, “In religion also there are three styles: ritualistic sermons, preaching from the altar and discussion at the dinner-table when the priest is invited to a lay-house. In addition there is religious discussion among the monks in their own cells, when this is permitted. I am weary of talking about Buddhism in a formal attitude, as I perform the ritual under the candle lights, and burn incense in air vibrant with the sound of the gong. Since a man is a Buddha it is majestic and beautiful to discourse upon religion in a rigid, formal attitude. But since a man is also merely a man, and nothing more, he prefers to talk about his own faith in a less formal or informal attitude, or in no attitude at all.

I wish to talk about my faith in a very disheveled attitude, just as a cat vomits the breath from its mouth in yawning. In this western world Buddhism has been studied for about two hundred years, so I understand. First it was investigated by Englishmen in Ceylon in order to gain control over the natives. In the second period this religion was studied by Christians whose purpose was to disparage it in the Orient. In the third period it was studied as an odd Oriental philosophy, and in the present day, in what is its fourth period, western people are attempting to discover whether there is any element of truth in Buddhism. But in my opinion they have failed. They are merely talking about what Buddhism is; but this “What is Buddhism?” is a great question!

I was initiated into Buddhism when I was still a boy. My age is now three score years. It was only yesterday that I came to understand what Buddhism is. Let me speak, lying on the floor with my yawning cat at my side, about the Buddhism which is my very self.”

These words have given me much to think about. Sokei-An’s three styles of religious practice are parallel to my own view of the Three Refuges. The Buddha offers teachings from the altar (or cushion), the Dharma offers the intentional rituals that guide practitioners; the discussion at the dinner-table is the sangha . . . each with its own value depending on the audience and the situation. At times these practices swirl together, seeming dualities coming together as a holistic experience. When I preach from the altar it is to communicate the dharma as I comprehend it from the Buddha’s sermons presented in a ritualistic way through the Pali Nikayas and other Buddhist scriptures. Talking one-on-one with family, friends and sangha members tends to take on the flavor of a casual dinner conversation. Discussions between myself and my dharma brother, David Sensei, for example, definitely have the character of all three . . . preaching, ritual, and casual.

Sokei-An writes of being weary of the formal attitude, an attitude I feel certain was demanded of him during his years in a Japanese monastery. Coming to the West must have felt liberating in some sense to him, freeing him from those expectations. His writing shows a sense of opening up and allowing the man who is a Buddhist to be more informal yet firm in his faith.

I believe we in the West are still in, and are likely to remain in Sokei-An’s described fourth period for some time trying to decide if there are elements of truth in Buddhism. We are trying to decide if the rituals are necessary. We are trying to decide if we want to be Buddhists in America acting like Japanese, Chinese or Tibetan, or American Buddhists letting a Western way of practice evolve naturally out of the teachings of the Buddha, and the experiences of cultures before us. The proliferation of Buddhist traditions and platforms in the West offer choices of elements leaving it up to each of us to experience them as truths in our own lives. During his own time he viewed that search for truth as a failed endeavor. Still he recognized that some people were talking about what Buddhism “is” and he thought that the question “What is Buddhism” was a good start.

Sokei-An died in 1945 and since then that question, “What is Buddhism?” can be viewed as the core of the Western approach. Most of us weren’t raised in Buddhist culture so that needs to be the initial question. In nearly six decades of living it has been only in the last eighteen years have I been asking that question and striving through practice, study and experience to discover the answer that uniquely applies to me.

Each of us who currently practice or are exploring the possibilities of Buddhist practice are hoping to find out what Buddhism is to us. In time, like Sokei-An, the realization that Buddhism is our very self can arise with the falling away of our delusions.

PRANA – Keeping Relationships Connected for Over 2600 Years

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

In the Sigalovada Sutra the Buddha speaks at length about relationships with friends and family to lay-householder Sigala. He teaches of the importance of these relationships and how to honor them through our actions. The Buddha realized that relationships can be a source of joy and contentment, or one of suffering and discontent, and that it was our responsibility to take the appropriate actions to maintain and strengthen them. One category in the Sigalovada Sutra was traditionally called Husband/Wife, what I creatively re-described for contemporary practitioners as Domestic Partners is the intimate relationship most likely to be a cause and effect of suffering, discontent and anguish. There is a path to a rewarding and fun intimate relationship and that way is through PRANA.

In the beginning there is love and it is fantastic! Heart’s a-flutter, breathing is shallow and rapid, and skin tingles. After that comes the relationship and time to put in some effort. After seven months in a monogamous relationship a sense of deep connection and intimacy is formed, you’ve begun to rely on sharing. Seven months isn’t long in terms of time, but it is long in terms of psychoemotional attachment. This is a positive thing. You come to rely on your partner being there for you, and you for them. There is someone to share with. This is something worth effort and commitment. You’ll want to be proactive as a partner. You’ll want to do things that strengthen the bond, engage in activities that bring about positive development. While you know that over time the dynamics of relationships will change, you can keep them on a path of positive transformation.

The seven month figure comes from an article by Robert Epstein in an issue of Scientific American Mind, Jan/Feb 2010. He went on to say, “The fix for our poor performance in romantic relationships: extract a practical technology (knowledge or dharma) from scientific research on how people learn to love each other — and then teach individuals how to use it.” For a pragmatic Buddhist the dharma, and the knowledge gained through making it part of how we are is certainly a practical technology.

P.R.A.N.A. – Dharma Technology

Prana (not to be confused with prajna which means wisdom) is a Sanskrit word that refers to our interconnection between our life force and the causal Universe. It is similar to the Chinese, qi — Japanese, ki — and Greek, pneuma. Each of which also speak to the connective force between people and the world around them. Relationships are all about connection and P.R.A.N.A. is a tool for helping you keep that relationship strong.

There are typical complaints when it comes to relationships. He/She doesn’t listen — has lost interest — doesn’t appreciate me — isn’t affectionate – doesn’t help out around the house. P.R.A.N.A. is a proactive approach that touches on these issues and offers ways to avoid them.

Partings: Before saying goodbye to each other for the day take 2 minutes and ask, “What is one thing you plan to do today?”

Reunions: At the end of each workday have a low-stress conversation. Take 20 minutes to talk about some cool plans for the time away from work, how the garden is looking, or exchange humorous stories about your day.

Appreciation: Take 5 minutes to show genuine (sincere) appreciation for something your partner did for you. This can be as simple as, “Thank you for being you.” After all it is the “you” you fell for in the first place.

Novelty: This is an opportunity to be creative. Arrange a weekly date. For 2 hours find a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere (it could be right there in your own home or in your backyard) and do something together. it can be a shared interest, learning about your partner’s interests, or even sitting quietly and enjoying each other’s company.

Affection: Try a little tenderness. For 5 minutes engage in some hand-holding, kissing, hugging and maybe even a little groping, but do it with tenderness, with gentleness, and most of all with compassion.

Do the math, that’s 5 hours a week to keep a loving, committed relationship creative and fun, 5 hours of pure practice of compassion, and 5 hours that will have lasting karmic effect. This is definitely a win-win situation.

Note that with some minor adjustments P.R.A.N.A. can be a guide when dealing with your children too. For example, after school ask your kid, “Tell me one thing you did at school today and it can’t be about lunch or recess.” It can also be tweaked and applied to family relationships. For example, taking a day each month to spend with a relative can go far in maintaining a stronger, more positive connection. Relationships with friends can also benefit with a little creative re-description of PRANA.

Your relationships, like the Universe, are based on dependent causality. You get out what you put into them. It is your awareness of the needs of your partner or children, your acceptance of ways to fill those needs, and the taking positive action that will lead to a harmonious relationship. Your example will likely become their actions as they realize the positive encompassing effect it is having on both lives.

Death of Spiritual Friend of the Buddha Center

Hello to all,

Venerable Teak “The Fool On The Hill’ Gausser, known to the sangha at the Buddha Center in the virtual space of Second Life as Teak Zenkova, died in last days of August this year.  His loss is felt deeply by Yuri Marcus (Zino March), one of the founders of the Buddha Center who was both spiritual friend and student of Teak.  Teak was also instrumental in the development of the Buddha Center and was an early dharma teacher there.  He was one of the first to realize how the virtual space of Second Life could be a conduit for the dharma to reach those unable to find a temple or teacher where they lived.

Teak leaves a legacy of compassion, humor and wisdom in the many people whose lives he transformed through his teachings, his attitude, and his commitment to the dharma.  This Sunday at the Buddha Center there will be a Puja for the Departed performed to honor his life, the lives of his family and friends, and his legacy.  It is an honor for me to be part of that legacy.


Here I offer a ‘Letter to the Grief-Stricken’.

To the Grief-Stricken,

You’ve lost someone very close to you and you are grieving. No shock there, grief is an emotion that arises as a result of human experience. It’s perfectly normal to experience denial, anger, and sadness when you’ve suffered a loss. You asked me what does Buddhism offer as ways to deal with grief and loss. To come to an acceptance of loss and a relieving of grief after the death of a loved one you first have to accept the reality that death inevitably follows birth. What can suck is death coming too soon.

There is a Buddhist parable, The Mustard Seed, that speaks to thinking one is alone in their suffering after loss. In a condensed version a young woman named Kisa, carrying the body of her young child came before the Buddha. She was in a state of intense grieving, refusing to believe her child was dead. She was confused, angry and sad all at the same time. The emotion of grief dominated her bodymind. Kisa demanded of the Buddha that he cure her son, bring him back to life. He tells her that to do as she asked he would need a mustard seed from a house in which there had been no death. At every door she was offered mustard seeds but when she asked if anyone had died there she heard, “Yes, my . . . died here.” Spending the day knocking on door after door she realized that death is a part of everyone’s life, that she is not alone in her pain and grief, loss comes to everyone. Kisa gains an understanding that she is not alone in her suffering, that she suffers along with many others. All life on this planet will transition from emptiness to form and back again.

How does understanding that you aren’t the only one to suffer affect your own grieving process? For some, knowing there are others in similar situations helps ease their own pain. Pain shared is pain reduced. For some though, the same understanding can add to their own suffering as the pain of others becomes part of their own grieving process. The pain of another is my pain too. Which are you more likely to experience? That it happens to everyone can bring about an enlightened moment but isn’t all that is needed to come to terms with grief.

Grief is an emotional red balloon. Anger, pain, denial, sadness and fear is the breath that fills the balloon until it is near bursting. With the understanding that suffering is universal a little air is released. More air squeaks out when impermanence is realized. That everything arises and falls away can ease the pressure of grief. Coming to the realization that death follows birth for everyone you can get past anger and fear . . . and a little more air leaves the balloon.

Do you honestly think you are “grieving for them”? You are grieving for the loss you are experiencing. You are grieving for the loss that all that person’s loved ones, friends and family are experiencing. This person was supposed to stay around and be available when you needed them. Now how can they be there for you? Grief, like funerals and wakes are for the living. You grieve for you. Understanding the unique personal quality of your grieving allows more air to escape the balloon.

Grief over the loss of someone close isn’t shown in the same way by all people. Some rant and rave, some cry silently or hysterically, some quietly mourn, and some seem to show no emotion at all. It isn’t in the how you grieve as much as it is in how long the grieving continues. Just like you can get comfortable with negative habits you can delude yourself into thinking you find comfort in grief. Grief encompasses the dispositions of anger, fear, denial, sadness that lead to psychoemotional pain if you cling to them. You practice non-attachment when you let grief run its natural course. That act of letting go drains the rest of the air from the balloon.

In contemporary psychology there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, acceptance that are gone through with important losses. The first four mirror the negative dispositions of delusion, anger, avoidance and depression that hinder a mature practice. In Buddhist practice you learn to be mindful of the arising of these emotional phenomena and make the effort to take positive actions without their influence. Either grief will arise and be quickly recognized as not being useful in that situation and discarded, or it will fully arise as the result of a profound loss and need to be confronted. Eventually these hindrances don’t arise at all. You accept their existence but not their power. With that acceptance there can be an end to periods of grief.

In my experience dealing with the loss of a loved one my Buddhist practice could only recognize two of the five stages of grief. When my mother and father died I experienced sadness. That these two important people would no longer be among the living was a loss not only to me but to everyone. It wasn’t hard for me to accept they were dead because I’d seen the bodies put into the ground. To ease the pain of loss I could recall that what I had learned through their examples would always be a part of how I am. We might be separated in life and death but their legacy lived on in me. Being wise to the reality of impermanence I couldn’t deny their deaths. Death being a conclusion to life left me with nothing to be angry at. Death is an empty phenomena and not a being so there was no one to bargain with. Sadness is a natural consequence of loss and should be experienced for what it is. The bargain would have been based in selfishness – ‘I’ll miss them.’ – so acceptance was chosen as the most useful action.

We’re back around to the ‘ways to deal with grief and loss question.

No matter how great a loss is, if you fully accept it straight on, the loss will turn out to be a gain. The great affair of birth and death works in a similar way. If you neither attach to nor fear birth and death, but boldly accept their reality, then you will become a liberated person in the midst of an ocean of suffering. Chan Master Sheng Yen

Master Sheng is direct and pragmatic. He’s teaching us that we’ll encounter great loss but that won’t matter because we’ll apply our practice to the situation. Being aware that the cycle of arising and falling-away is a reality of this life and so it shouldn’t ever be unexpected, though it may be a surprise. We can accept the bad with the good. The action that Master Sheng is calling for is to use experiences of loss along with all our moment-to-moment experiences as a cause for engaging our practices of calm, honesty and compassion. Knowing the transitory nature of all phenomena there is no attachment to loss, attachment that can transform grief into suffering. What can be gained . . . wisdom.

I don’t want you to think that getting past grief and loss is easy. Sometimes it is harder to do than others. The philosophy of Buddhism teaches that an awareness of impermanence and of dependent origination can ease the pain of grief. The psychology of Buddhism teaches that meditative practice brings about the development of a calmer more aware bodymind able to recognize and cope with the emotions that arise in grief. Want can be the most difficult aspect of dealing with grief is severing a spiritual connection with a loved one. To get over that hurdle be reminded that we are never completely separated from anyone. All who knew or encountered the person now dead is a part of that legacy. That person had a profound effect on how you are or you wouldn’t be grieving. In you are ideas and motivations, stories and advice that will keep you always connected.

I bow with respect,

Wayne Ren-Cheng

Livelihood: Intent Matters — Imagination in Meditation 2




Business in weapons, business in meat, business in human beings, business in intoxicants, and business in poison were not appropriate livelihoods in the Buddha’s time and culture.

Now one must take a more appropriate view of livelihood.

Arms dealers profit from business in weapons . . . soldiers use weapons as tools to protect others.

Industiral farms cause suffering . . . butchers prepare food to alleviate hunger.

Pimps are slavers . . . adoption agencies find families for children.

Meth and heroin are dangerous poisons . . . marijuana is sold for medicinal and recreational purposes.

Chemical weapons are used to kill . . . pesticides (when used properly) are used to protect families.

Intent matters.

Now it is not the title of the job that makes it inappropriate . . . it is how that job is engaged.

What we do matters.






I bow with respect,

Wayne Ren-Cheng

Bodhisattva, Spiritual Guide

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

A bodhisattva can be compared to a wilderness guide who leads all sorts of people – young and old, experienced and novice, men and women – into a trackless forest. It is a task that requires the three aspects of skillful action: permission, preparation and resources. The guide must have the permission of those traveling with them to lead them into unknown territory as well as self-permission based on their knowledge of themselves; they must have taken the time and effort to prepare themselves, the gear, and their charges; and they must have the resources of knowledge of the terrain, the ability to respond appropriately to any situation, as well as the material goods such as food, water and shelter to sustain all that travel with them. The guide also needs the wisdom to be able to discern the minds of those traveling with them, what their strengths and weaknesses are, as well as the practical knowledge to make the most of both in any given situation. The guide must be willing to endure all hardships in order to reach their destination without loss of one being and then be as willing to go back and do it all again.

Spidey Tray — Imagination in Meditation 1

Hello to all,

The act of engaging the imagination is an act of meditation.  Not only is it meditation, it is also fun to creatively re-describe the toys and games of youth as dharma lessons.  Here is one, watch for others.


A Spider-Man lap tray from 1979, a 1990s actions figure, a unique pin-back button, and red plastic letters from a 1980s word game become the platform for a lesson.  On the back is a sticker that reads:

Uncle Ben taught Peter Parker that with great power comes great responsibility.

The Buddha’s message is that with knowledge of the dharma comes the great responsibility to engage it in all aspects of life.

Knowledge of the dharma imbues one with great power, and with that power comes great responsibility.

Spider-buddha, Spider-buddha, does whatever a bodhisattva should’a,

Spins the dharma, so realize

Causality is reality all the time.

Be mindful . . . here comes the Spider-buddha {sing to the tune of the Spider-man cartoon theme] :)


I bow with respect,

Wayne Ren-Cheng Shi

Why Am I A Buddhist . . . Why Are You A Buddhist?

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

In St. Louis, Missouri a common question gets asked whenever strangers meet, “What high school did you graduate from?” The answer can make or break a possible friendship if one is found to have attended a rival school back in the day. The answer is important. Get more than one Buddhist in a room and the question, “What brought you to Buddhism?” will probably be asked. It isn’t the answer that is really important . . . it is the willingness to answer that is. I’ll venture to say that not one of you reading this would reject the friendship of another person because they didn’t come to Buddhism the same you did. Why we came to Buddhism really isn’t that important; why we choose to continue to pursue the Middle Path is. It is what defines practice.

Recently someone asked me, “Why are you a Buddhist?” Granted I’ve been asked this question before but it suddenly occurred to me that the reply that starts, “I found Buddhism because . . . your story goes here”, isn’t answering the question that most people are asking. It is actually a pragmatic question they are asking, one meant to reveal what is useful and productive about being a Buddhist in the West. Legitimate question, but having a legitimate answer requires me to listen deeply to myself, to be honest about why am I a Buddhist.

My response begins, “I practice Buddhism because . . .” and within those four words is a major reason why I am a Buddhist. I’m a human being and I want to be an even better human being and Buddhism offers me that opportunity through the guide offered by the Four Ennobling Truths and through how I choose to engage that guide in practice. I’m not expected to be perfect or to have all the answers but I am expected to keep practicing. Yeah, I know the saying “practice makes perfect” but honestly I’ve never seen any proof of that. In my experience I get better at being Buddhist but being “perfect” isn’t ever part of the agenda. In my experience “practice makes more practice” and I am good with that. For me it is in the doing, not in the done.

My response finishes with, “ . . . what we do matters.” Four words that encapsulate for me the whole of Buddhist psychology, philosophy and spiritualism as I have come to realize it. The Four Ennobling Truths are all about how our actions are the cause and effect of suffering – and that what we do matters. The Three Characteristics of Existence that include suffering and add impermanence and not-self are rooted in the ideal that we are each a unique part of dependent origination – what we do matters – we can bring about positive change on an encompassing scale. I haven’t read a sutra or legacy teaching that wasn’t sending the message “go do it”. The ideal that what we do matters renews my intent to be the best human being I can be. I want to cease to do harm because it matters. I want to do good because it matters. I want to do good for others because it matters.

“I practice Buddhism because what we do matters.” I am a Buddhist because my experience has proven to me that acting like a Buddhist engenders personal and social positive effects. Combine my practice with friends, family, sangha and consequential strangers who also recognize that what we do matters and that is a force for positive transformation that can’t be equalled. There is a dark side to the “what we do matters” that a Buddhist must view realistically. The negative actions of others also matter and we, Buddhist or not must not hesitate to act appropriately and decisively whenever we can to mitigate the negative karmic consequences that can arise. We can control what we do and how we react to the results of the actions of others. This is all about karmic consequences.

Acting pluralistically is the I and We. It makes no difference to me what faith, religion or tradition another person is . . . they are part of the We. Our commitments may differ but it is the goal of alleviating suffering that matters. It is engaging in thought and action that promote human flourishing that matters. What we do matters.

Taking action is highlighted in the words practice and do. Am I a Buddhist because I take action or do I take action to be a Buddhist . . . doesn’t matter as both are more likely to result in positive karmic consequences. Buddhism is all about action. The psychology, philosophy and spirituality of Buddhism has roots, beginning with the Four Ennobling Truths, in action. It takes personal action to recognize the reality of suffering and it takes engaged action to realize the alleviation of suffering. The Eightfold Path guides me to actions that will improve how I am and how I can be an agent of positive transition in the world.

The two words in the middle have their significance. I am a unique factor in dependent origination, and ‘because’ is causality, think ‘be causal’ . . . in a positive way. This happened because that happened. I practice to “be cause” of more positive than negative ingredients in the karmic stew. Each moment, each experience and situation are also unique factors so I’m mindful of the WHAT. What is the reality of the situation and what would be the most harmonious action to take NOW.

The eight word sentence is a mirror of what keeps me on the path. Action and responsibility, being the cause of good, the I and We of pluralism, do something, actions have karmic consequences so each action matters. My personal mantra, and you are welcome to make it yours – I practice Buddhism because what we do matters.

Ask yourself the “Why am I a Buddhist?” question before someone else asks “Why are you a Buddhist?”. Without the ability to be honest with yourself about the answer your chance of having a deep and engaged Buddhist practice is slim. Curiosity, desire, life experience, or wanting to be cool might have caused you to look into Buddhism but why you continue when it takes such effort and commitment is what is more important. It is there you will find the depth of your practice and what you can do to enhance it.

I picture Siddhartha sitting under the Bodhi tree after his awakening and thinking, “Man, what I just awakened to will really matter. Acting like that is going to take some practice.”


by Wayne Ren-Cheng

The Universe is not wise, it is not compassionate, and it is certainly not fair. The Universe only acts from the causal conditions that occur within it. You only have to view the Universe through a lens that strips away delusion and personal perceptions to recognize these truths. This not only leads to the realization that bad things happen to good people, but that good things happen to bad people. You can be the best Buddhist you can possibly be and you will still encounter moments of suffering in life the Awakened One fully realized in the Four Ennobling Truths. You can be the worst type of human being possible and still encounter moments of joy and wonder that doesn’t seem deserved. This too is an aspect of the first of the Four Ennobling Truths. Doesn’t hardly seem fair . . . does it?

Ryugen Fisher, the Venerable Shi Shen Long, over his lifetime (and this continues today with his students and their students) created a list of Life Lessons that arose from his own experiences, or the experiences of others. I often refer to the list for insight, inspiration and a dose of spiritual humor. Rule #11, The Rule of Expectations, offers a view of fairness: Expecting life to treat you “fairly” because you’re a good person is like expecting the bull NOT to charge at you because you’re a vegetarian. Like the bull the Universe doesn’t care WHAT you are, it responds only to HOW you are.


Not sure where this perception of a fair Universe arose but it is believed by many who’ve been acculturated to the notion that the world is supposed to be inherently fair. You only have to look around to prove this belief is a delusion. Students struggle for high GPAs in high school and college only to find themselves without job opportunities. Some business people engage in illegal and immoral activities and become unimaginable wealthy. People live lives of exemplary compassion only to be struck down by genetic diseases. Innocent children are abused and abandoned. The Universe rolls along with human beings evolving within it, but we aren’t steering it. We have our role as part of its motive power but it also needs the bad weather, steep hills and earthquakes because they are just as important to the workings of the machine. So what if those things make our lives difficult, the machine is just the machine. This means from our perspective that the ideal of fairness is a delusion.

There is no compassion, wisdom or fairness inherent in the Universe. There is also no vengeance, ignorance, or bad intent inherent in the Universe. The perception of the Universe meting out cosmic justice or punishment is the result of a misunderstanding of the reality of HOW it works. What happens is causally conditioned by all the phenomena taking place each moment. There is no doubt you can take actions that lead to unwholesome consequences . . . which is why a Buddhist looks to the Three Pure Precepts (cease to do harm, do only good, do good for others) to guide us way from such actions. You don’t have any control over unwholesome decisions made by others, the arising of new diseases, or what the rest of the causal process of the Universe is doing. When bad things do happen you must avoid attaching to them the perception that it was because of something you did, and focus on practicing ways to make situations better. By realizing that the “fair Universe” concept is a delusion, and that you are not 100% of the karmic consequences, you will come to realize . . . and here comes the good part . . . that you have the ability to engage in wholesome transformation of your self and the global society you are interconnected with, and interdependent on.

You are not 100% of the karmic consequences . . . still, what you do matters. Life’s circumstances can sneak up on you. When you develop an awareness of the conditions under which difficulties arise, and that chances are there was no intent to directly harm you, though is may feel so, you become better prepared to accept them and take appropriate actions. Your actions do play a significant role in future experiences but your’s are a part of them, not the whole of them. Not only what you do matters, but what you control over what you do.

You are part of a causal web and the rest of the Universe is too. The concept of “personal karma”, while it has its validity, is an ideal not encompassing enough to recognize the broader reality of karmic influence. Causality, what makes karma a reality, is how the Universe reveals its neutrality. The Universe doesn’t add a view, an intent, an action, or any effort to make things happen. You are not a target of it. It is egoistic for you to believe things happen TO us, or that they happen FOR us. They happen as a result of nonlinear consequences of causality and you just happen to have a role in a particular experience.

The realization that you are part, but not the whole of the karmic web is actually empowering. It is why you engage in becoming the best possible you, the best possible example of a wise and compassionate human being. The “small” role as one thread interdependent on the threads of others whose intent and actions mesh with your own is how incremental wholesome transformations happen. The web becomes larger and the probability of snaring positive consequences increases exponentially. Things may not happen TO us, or FOR us, but they do happen BECAUSE of us. We are each unique expressions of the Universe and our actions within it have unique consequences.

With the knowledge that you play a role, no matter how small, comes the responsibility for your actions. What you do matters . . . negative, positive or neutral . . . how you act, how you respond is what makes personal practice so important. It is through intent and action that a sense of fairness will arise. Fairness arises as a result of awareness, compassion, generosity and acceptance.

You occupy a part of the karmic web and so have a responsibility to the strand you control. You must develop both mindfulness and awareness so you can overlay the “personal” with the “global” karma and find ways to improve both. You accept that there will be situations that you can, and can’t control. You learn to take wise actions to be the cause and effect of positive transformation whenever, and where ever the causal Universe offers you the opportunity.