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What You Do Will Come Back to You

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Negative, unwholesome actions lead to negative ends

Dependencies, addictions, and attachments. We all know that drugs degrade our body’s systems and lead to a dead end. Drinking alcohol upsets our equilibrium and destroys our livers. Smoking destroys our lungs, making it hard to draw in and expel air. Gambling is rooted in excessive greed; we never get enough and can end up destroying our lives and our families.

Greed for money, land, and fixed assets makes us avaricious, and so our actions become excessive and out of balance. Greed for personal or political power, and the pursuit of gain and fame depend on a sense of self-image that is wholly delusory. We long for luxurious homes and other symbols of affluence: expensive cars, watches, diamonds, gold, silver, and on and on. All are dependent on feelings of insecure need that are impossible to satisfy when too much is still not enough. 

Some of us become hooked on wearing designer clothes at great expense in order to enhance our attractiveness. But again this need is really to compensate for our inner insecurities. Just as some people are hooked on looking beautiful, others are hooked on finding beautiful partners to satisfy sensual needs that can never be satisfied because they are based on selfish desire rather than selfless love.

Some of us seek satisfaction through food that goes beyond our basic need for nutrition. In particular, things such as sugar, salt, cheese, coffee, and other stimulants ultimately play havoc with our circulatory and nervous systems and have a long-term impact on the hardiness of our hearts.

It is easy to become dependent on comfort and ease, with soft chairs and beds, with sumptuous luxury suites where we never have to make any effort to do anything. But here one never gets anywhere except into a big, soft lounge chair. Many pursue sensual pleasures in their search to bring meaning to life, particularly through sexual behavior, which will never be sensually satisfying so long as we keep wanting bigger and better orgasms. Seldom or never is it sufficient to satisfy our appetites.

Satiating the six senses

The same is true of the six senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste, and mind. Although they may bring us pleasurable sensations, they will not be satisfying when one can never get enough of them. Moreover, when our senses are unsatisfied—perhaps because of unpleasant sights, bad smells, harsh sounds, thorny touches, bitter tastes, or unsatisfied desires—we typically end up feeling exasperated or frustrated.

In the end, trying to extract pleasure from the senses can be compared to a dog who keeps chewing on a dry, meatless bone without receiving any nutrition. The pursuit of selfish pleasures does not bring lasting satisfaction. Selfish pursuits are dependent on moral imperfections, which are the opposite of moral perfections and so, by definition, are unsatisfactory.

Some of us may have experienced horrible physical abuse, or suffered a sense of abandonment, or disappointed expectations, or the loss of a loved one, or the betrayal of trust. But as long as we continue chewing on the bone of contention, we are like that dog and his dry bone receiving no nourishment. Eventually, we have to let go of our bitterness and our sense of blame. We need to try to find wholesome nourishment on the positive side of kindness and compassion, of loving and giving.

It would be difficult to find anyone who does not feel that they have been betrayed or disappointed at some point, either by those close or by those indifferent. And it would difficult to find anybody who does not feel anxious about life or who does not fear that this kind of suffering will happen again and again. 

For this reason, such a person might feel a hidden sense of disappointment, characterized by mental stress, disdain, aggressiveness, or hatred bordering on a tendency toward disruptiveness and violence, or even potential mental illness. But if health and happiness are the goal, such negativity can only be viewed as a mental tendency leading us in the wrong direction.

Positive, wholesome actions lead to positive ends

The right way—the wholesome way—is to let go of resentment. This might be comparable to the dog finally realizing that it will never find any benefit from the dry, meatless bone that it has been wasting its energy on, expecting to find satisfaction where there is none to be had. 

Bitterness and hatefulness never take anyone anywhere positive. They will always lead us to the brink of despair. Instead, one must turn away from that which offers spiritual starvation and danger, and devote one’s energies to the exact opposite: cultivating compassion, loving-kindness, and forgiveness as medicinal mental antidotes. 

This may seem like an unexpected twist in direction, but pay heed to what comes next. There is always a wrong way and a right way. And the right way—where wholesome spiritual nutrition is concerned—is to stop feeding on the bitter dregs of life and change one’s diet to more wholesome nutrition, which will lead the mind-body toward health and happiness. 

Instead of always looking and lurking on the dark side, we should walk and observe on the bright side. Then we can begin to realize what was always there in plain sight, but had yet to catch our proper, undivided attention. While one is feeling bitter, angry, and self-involved, a lot of good, wholesome things are also going on that one can become a part of if one notices and makes a determined and diligent effort to pay attention.

Wholesome, nourishing, positive actions

When we make the effort to look, we can see love, care, and friendship in action.

We can see loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.

We can see people cherishing wives and children, devotedly supporting families and relatives, and showing due respect for elders.

We can see people who are always kind in speech and honest in business.

We can see those who are generous in giving, and those who follow the Dhamma, blameless in their actions, while shunning and abstaining from all evils. 

When we look around, we can see those who are showing reverence and humility, being content and grateful for what they have. 

In Asia, we can see people who are accustomed to visiting and learning from monks, and we see those who are discussing the Dhamma at the proper time.

We can see those who are energetic, behaving with self-restraint and with insight into the Four Noble Truths. 

We can see those who practice meditation—bhavana—with detachment and patience.

We can see those who are calm, peaceful, and blissful.

We can see those who have no sense of craving.

We can see those who are on the way to freedom—on the path to liberation. 

We can see those who are on the way to enlightenment and nibbana, like a flame going out.

All people have a chance to do what has been described here. And when one has heard about it, when one knows about it, one will also want to try to attain it.

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Book Review: Esoteric Theravada: The Story of the Forgotten Meditation Tradition of Southeast Asia
Understanding the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path

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