Changing Your Behaviour

What I’m going to talk about today is a subject that I don’t usually talk much about, because people seem to think it’s a magical or mystical thing or it’s handed down to us from some god or a higher being; none of these are true. I am talking about karma.

Many people think that karma is handed down to us from lifetime to lifetime, and we can’t avoid it.  Actually, karma means patterns of behaviour we have done so often they have become habits. It is no more mystical or magical than that. This means karma is one hundred percent in your own hands. You produce your own karma, not anybody else.

When we do an act for the first time, we plant a seed in our mind. For example, you tell a lie to this person for the first time. That plants a seed, and that seed becomes a potential. If you never tell another lie, then that potential will just sit there dormant, and nothing will happen. But if you tell another lie, what you’re doing is watering that seed, and it will start to grow. The more you keep lying, the more you keep watering that seed, and the more that seed will grow. That seed will now grow into a habit, it grows into a pattern of behaviour, and that is what karma is. It’s a pattern of behaviour.

 

When you keep acting in a certain way, that pattern of behaviour keeps growing, and it becomes part of your character. When that happens, you begin to act in that way from your unconscious mind. You’re now lying without consciously thinking about what you are doing. So, in the first instant when you planted that seed, you are doing it consciously. You consciously made a choice to lie, but the more that you’ve watered that seed, the more it becomes an unconscious way of acting. It is now a habit, your behaviour, your character.

 

It’s nothing to do with a god or higher being, it’s nothing to do with anybody else, it’s everything to do with you. And that’s the good point, because if it’s to do with you, it means that you can change. You can break that habit.

We all have behaviours that we don’t really like, or we don’t want to be that type of person, but we are. If you’re an angry person, if you’re a jealous person, if you tell lies or if you steal things, these are all learned behaviours. You are not born with any of those behaviour. No baby was born a thief, or a criminal, or a murderer, a liar, a cheat. These are all behaviours that we’ve learned. So, because we’ve learned them, we can unlearn them. We can change our behaviour.

If we keep doing the same behaviour, we’re going to keep getting the same result. Now, that is such a simple thing for us to get our heads around. But we all keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. The only way to get different results is to do different things. If we want to change our lives, if we want our lives to be happier, if we want to be contented, we have to change our behaviour.

We need to analyse the behaviours we don’t like and start to think of different ways to act. To help with this I have written an acronym called A.W.A.R.E. We can use this practice during our meditation sessions. The A stands for attention, W is why, A is assess, R is reality and E is examine.

 

While sitting in meditation, focus on your breath for a few minutes. This will help calm you down and focus the mind. Now, think of a behavioural pattern you wish to change. Then bring an incident into your mind when you behaved in that way.

Now use the AWARE practice:
Attention – look at this behaviour and see if you are working from your conscious mind, or are you working from your unconscious mind. Are you on autopilot, is this simply a habit? You bring your full attention to how you acted.
Why – And then you look at the why you acted that way. Now, when we look at the ‘why’ what we’re looking for is what’s my motivation? What is my intention of acting this way? Why did I behave like this
Assess – then we assess if the action was an ethical way to be. Am I causing harm to somebody else or am I causing harm to myself?
Reality – a lot of the time when we are on autopilot our actions are not based in reality. We tend to generalise or catastrophise. So, here we ask ourselves am I just generalising? Am I catastrophising?
Now we’ve looked at our behaviour and understood that it either stems from our conscious or unconscious mind. We have looked at why we acted that way. Assessed the situation to see if it was ethical and if it was based in reality. So, now we need to examine a better way to act in future.
Examine – if you don’t want to act in the same way in future, you need to explore better ways to act. Ways that are helpful, skilful, ethical and kind. By reflecting on a better way to act, you are planting seeds for the future. So, the next time you find yourself in the same situation you can act in a different way. This will help you water the new seed and the more you do that, the more your behaviour will change. This is obviously a slow process and it will take time and a lot of effort, but it is doable.
I am sure we all have lots of behaviours we would like to change. Just start with a simple one, because once you start to see changes in that behaviour, it is going to motivate you to change other behaviours.
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Why Did That Happen?

Buddhism does not talk about destiny or god’s will. Instead, they understand that things happen through a complex web of causes and effects.

Let’s start at the basics. If you plant a rice seed, you will get rice. You won’t get wheat or tomatoes. So, the cause of rice is the rice seed. Things do not just appear without a cause. For example, look at yourself, you are here because of our parents. You didn’t just miraculously appear. You were born because of cause and effect. Now, all of this is probably easy to understand, but it’s when we go a bit deeper people start to get confused.

When I teach this subject people always say, ‘If everything comes from a cause, why did this happen or why did that happen.’ The truth is there isn’t usually just one cause. Let’s take the rice seed again. The rice planet cannot just grow from a seed. It needs soil, water, air and many other things. So, there isn’t just one cause. There are so many causes each crossing over each other like a giant spider’s web. This is why it is quite often impossible to find out why things did happen. But that isn’t good enough for us humans, we want answers and that is why it is easier to dismiss things as simply destiny or god’s will than it is to understand cause and effect.


I like this teaching because it stops me playing the blame game

Let me give you an example. Ruth is always woken up at 7.00 a.m. by her electric alarm clock. She washes, gets dressed, has a cup of coffee and is out the door at 7.45. She walks down the road to the bus stop, which usually takes 10 minutes, and she crosses the main road and catches the 7.55 bus to work.

On this particular morning, her alarm did not go off because there was a power cut. This meant she didn’t get up till 7.30. She quickly washed, dressed and ran out of the door at 7.50. It was raining so she had to go back inside for her umbrella. This made her even more late. As she was running down the road, she saw the bus pull up. At the same time, Dave was going into work early because he had a lot to do. His wipers needed replacing and so he couldn’t see very clearly. Ruth in her desperation to catch the bus, ran out in front of Dave. He didn’t see her and so ran her over.

Now, Ruth’s friends will say the cause of the accident was Dave’s fault, and his friends would say it was caused by Ruth. But let’s look at all the causes that led to the accident. The power cut, alarm clock not working, Ruth getting up late, it was raining, so she had to go back inside to get her umbrella, Dave going into work early, his wipers not working properly, Ruth running in front of him and him not seeing her. So, you can see it is not always clear what causes things to happen. All we can say is that there was a cause or causes and it wasn’t destiny or god’s will. 

Another thing people tend to say is, especially if they are talking about karma, which is just another way of saying cause and effect, ‘If you do good, good things will happen to you, and if you do bad, bad things will happen to you.’ Well, this would be true if we all lived in our own personal bubbles, but we don’t. What you do will affect others, and what they do will affect you.

This is why good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. It is because we all get affected by other people’s actions. So, the cause of your bad fortune may not even be your fault. Here is an example, you may be the best driver in the world and you always stop at red lights and you never go above the speed limit. Again, that would be fine if you drove around in a bubble. But we don’t and we could end up having an accident because of someone else’s bad driving. So, the cause of your accident was their dangerous driving of someone else. The effect was you ended up with a damaged car.


Once you understand the concept of cause and effect, so many other things

start to fall into place

For me, I like this teaching because it stops me playing the blame game. I understand that there is not going to be one thing or person I can say caused what happened. So, that stops me asking why, why, why. It also teaches me that whatever action I take there will be a consequence. So, I always think before I act.

I understand this concept may seem a little difficult to understand at first, so I would suggest you contemplate it during your meditation practice. While meditating ask yourself questions like this:

Can things appear without a cause?

Can things have more than one cause?

Do my actions have consequences?

I can assure you, once you understand the concept of cause and effect, so many other things start to fall into place.  

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.