Sometimes life gets so complicated and busy and difficult and trying and expensive and depressing and, well, just plain overwhelming, that it seems impossible that we have the correct situation in which to realize our inherent Enlightened nature.
It is easy to think ‘only when I am a bit more stable in my hectic life will I be able to have the time to sit and meditate, and then possibly have a satori experience’ (Satori is, in simple terms, a mini-enlightenment experience, though I hesitate to imply that there are gradations of enlightenment.. I will talk briefly about this later on…)
In Zen, a bad situation (ie. a complicated and overwhelming life) is actually is a good situation. This is a great teacher. It can encourage our practice and increase our determination. Of course, a bad situation has the power to drag us down into a pit of despair and inaction and decay. So be careful! Very careful! A bad situation can also be seen as the repayment of some karmic debt. Karma means action.
Every action we have, which includes our thoughts (as these are the actions of our minds), has an effect on the entire Universe. The largest effect, of course, occurs with the things and beings directly impinged by an action. If I rescue a slug on a hot sidewalk, this has a huge effect on that slug, however, the effect on the planet Saturn is, well, probably not perceptible. Probably. But not definitely. And it definitely has an effect, though it just not be able to be seen. (I suppose the way to explain this in scientific terms is with the butterfly effect (This is a part of Chaos theory I believe, and sorta goes like this: A butterfly flapping its wings in Africa can create minor wind turbulence that eventually, over time, creates the conditions to create a hurricane, a hurricane that would not have existed if that one sole butterfly didn’t flap its wings)). So, my saving a slug has a very real effect on Saturn. Could I possibly measure that effect? Probably not! So our karma, our actions, are very very far-reaching! They are very powerful. One reason suffering exists is the result of people riding the tidal wave of their past karma… it can feel insurmountable. Our physical brains are like this too. We can re-wire our neural connections in our brains, but years and years or doing the same things over and over creates pathways, canyons… exactly like how rain hits the ground and gravity takes it to the sea… it follows an easy path and the more water flows, the deeper that path becomes, the more entreated it becomes and then a deep river is born. Changing out thought patterns is like trying to change the course of a river! That can seem impossible! Strategy is the key. A plan of attack, if you will. In nature, a powerful river can change its path overnight. It is rare, but it happens. An earthquake hits and … BOOM! The water has found an entirely new way to find the ocean. Rivers can also change slowly, and if we keep tending to our brain-river, we can slowly change its course over time. Our physical brains are wired like this. You often hear things like ‘He can’t change, he’s hard-wired that way’ or ‘I can’t change, I am just wired that way’ While it may be true that we have particular wiring structures that we have been born with, we also have all the tools we need to change the way we think. This reminds me of a classic Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk is placed on a planet with a Lizard-man creature to battle it out until the death. Kirk was physically weaker and no match for the creature. But the strange aliens beings who arranged this battle told Kirk he had all the means in which to win, so he thought about this information… and he had faith it was true. Once he accepted its truth, he began to seek the solution. He realised there was, I believe, flammable materials, hard cylindrical tubes, and diamonds…. He used the tube as a rifle, the flammable stuff as gunpowder and the diamonds as bullets. He found his solution!
Life is like this. Good situation or bad situation… they both supply us with all we need. Remember the Universe has deep unbounded love for us. It is rooting for us to win! It is on our side. Don’t fight it, accept it, embrace it, love it, and then we begin to see the diamonds, and we see them shoot straight into our heart-minds, into our Buddha-minds!
Back to the repayment of karmic debt: Since all our actions have an effect, we are bound by our actions. In the past, we may have done something that we know was wrong to do. Maybe we hurt someone, or even ourselves. This action in the past will resonate its effect always and everywhere. Sounds heavy and depressing! But, the Universe sometimes bounces the ball back to our court, so to speak, and we have another try. Sometimes, that next attempt we are given is very painful, as we must absorb the suffering we created in the past. This is repaying karmic debt. So, when something horrible happens to us, we can be thankful on one level, as we can see how this ends some vibrating suffering throughout the world. Just like a hand covering a vibrating bell stops its noise, repayment of a karmic debt stops the vibrations of the suffering noise. The scientific part of my brain finds this hard to accept, it sorta implies the Universe is a planner, and orchestrator, even after I realise the butterfly effect is real. It is still is hard to accept. However, the holistic part of my heart-brain feels its deep truth, its complex yet simple, unhindered motion.
I said earlier that satori is sorta like a mini-enlightenment experience. It can certainly be seen that different levels of depth of awakening may be realized. It can be thought of like when we awake from sleeping in the morning… Sometimes we may wake up slowly, and be groggy for a while, perhaps until the morning coffee kicks in! Other times we wake up instantly, eyes wide open.. Bam! ‘Okay I’m awake now!’ Either way, once awake, we are awake, are we not?