“The river laughed. Yes, that was how it was. Everything that was not suffered to the end and finally concluded, recurred, and the same sorrows were undergone.”
Hermann Hesse, ‘Siddhartha’ (1922)
“It’s a long, long Way,
‘Cause I’ve been there before,
And I ain’t goin’ back there no more”
Seasick Steve, ‘Long Long Way’ (2011)
Atoning for past karma, in Buddhism, is for me at least a process of having to be awake to the grim process of the desires of old karma, while also being awake to what these desires result in, and being awake to a better way.
Old formulations are easy and automatic no matter how dysfunctional they are. Wanting to live in anxiety of the presumed expectations of others (‘never good enough’), in earnest of myself (‘is this right’), in low self-esteem (‘of course not good enough’), in expecting punishment for the sake of punishment (‘hell is where I belong’). These are all automatic patterns. But they are all also harmful, and dysfunctional.
There is no other way to a better way, than to go through this process of change. And ‘going through it’ is the same thing as atoning. Having distance from the old dysfunctional patterns, recognising them when they arise, being aware of a different response, learning to take that new response.
I misunderstood ‘to atone’ before because that is a word used in Christianity; often to mean saying sorry to God. Truly atoning is not saying sorry to anybody or anything, but simply committing to the process of change from negative karma. Saying sorry makes no difference at all, whether it is to God, or to an ant!
Buddha confirms that attaining Enlightenment is a very difficult thing to achieve. Persistence is required, and it is easy to lose nerve. He is also very clear. When we lose nerve and go back to the automatic and comfortable ways, they do not stay comfortable. So it is that we trap ourselves in a karmic cycle. Ever repeating itself because we are afraid to move on.
There is much less pain, and much more freedom, to be had with just a little persistance. Not persistance at doing ‘right’, but persistance through the grim challenge of re-living our own karmic causes and effects whilst also being awake to them and realizing a different manner altogether.
But I’ve read many people say this, and not understood it until now. Only now is this a lived reality. And that’s the funny thing about the Way.
Just so many words on a blog. There’s a sunset outside, and small birds are singing.