Karma, Reincarnation, and Family Relationships

In one of my teacher's books, he once wrote about a poem inscribed above the Imperial Shrine in Hangzhou.

I love this poem so much that I keep a copy in my wallet when I have to counsel people. It really does describe human relations quite accurately.

In fact, this poem prompts me to say that this is what I really love about Chinese culture. Chinese culture is just full of all sorts of cultivation teachings like this that permeate society everywhere, and yet the common man doesn't even know it. The great thing about Chinese culture is that it has been shaped on cultivation teachings through and through.

To be sure, Indian culture was also shaped by cultivation teachings as well, but due to the influences of Confucianism and the "practical mindset" of Chinese Taoism, the Chinese teachings have always had more "purifying" effect on society that is in tune with the actual realm of human relations.

In Indian culture, too many low levels teachings are thrown in with the high level teachings, so there's too much dirt that contaminates the diamonds and it's hard for someone without prajna wisdom to penetrate through the mixed up mess to know what they should rely on.

This is a topic that we could end up discussing for hours, so we'll have to skip it for the moment. If you want some further insight, however, I suggest you turn to The Insider's Guide to the World's Best and Worst Spiritual Paths and Practices which discusses how these two cultures differ.

Anyway, the poem I love above the Imperial shrine in Hangzhou runs as follows:

Husbands and wives were connected in the past
Whether their connections were good or bad,
those connections never fail to meet.
Sons and daughters are basically past debts,
Whether seeking repayment or making repayment,
They only come on account of debt.

When I hear people on television saying they are searching for their perfect match or the perfect mate, I always run that idealistic notion past the meaning of this poem and have to tell you there is no such thing as a perfect mate. Everything and everybody has flaws for there is no yang without yin and yin without yang.

The quality of the relationship you end up with in marriage, or in any other type of relationship, is totally dependent upon two factors: (1) your past karma and (2) the actions you perform in this present life to deal with that karma and which create your karma of the future.

It is very hard for two people to create extremely good karma between themselves, for everything in which they interact, so remember that the karma you get is the karma that you deserve. It's the karma you deserve because it is the situation you have built. Just look at your own personality and behavior to know the type of karma that you merit. If you are asking for XXX and not giving XXX, how can you say you deserve it?

Nevertheless, people are always searching for that "perfect mate," that "perfect match." There is no such thing ... there's only a relationship you have to work at, a sacrificing of egos to the bond rather than the other individual.

However, when people press me for the characteristics of the perfect man or woman and demand a response, I always quote another famous Taoist saying, which only cultivation people tend to understand:

Perfect yang is brilliant.
Perfect yin is reverent.

Here's a bit of the explanation.

A woman -- being female -- is yin. When yin is reverent, it is still and yielding and quiet and follows because that's the nature of yin. When yin becomes still and quiet out of reverence, this stillness is purity. The purity of yin is the maximum exhibition of its loveliness. The stillness of yin through reverence also means the cultivation of emptiness, and by cultivating emptiness one's yang nature is sure to arise.

When yang arises, that's the very definition of great good fortune.

Yang chi arising will open up all the chi channels in a woman's body, which will make any woman look the very best she can possibly look regardless of her age or appearance. This will make her the most youthful and lovely she can be, which is also the most attractive to the yang (male nature) she can be. That's why reverent yin can become perfect.

Of course this happens only with the spiritual cultivation of mental stilling -- reverence -- rather than through facial creams or exercise or whatever else we market today. Through cultivation of the way of yin -- in the nature of bringing forth the yang -- a woman's personality, behavior and appearance will become the best they possibly can be. Yin becomes perfect through cultivation, and the cultivation of yin is the way of reverence or mental quietude.

What this is saying is that a woman only becomes her best through meditation.

Here's a big secret: a woman only appears "elegant" to others when her chi becomes smooth, and that only happens due to the practice of cultivation. If she "looks elegant" but her chi isn't smooth, no one will consider her elegant even if she is quite beautiful. In fact, if she is quite beautiful but her personality is "crabby" or "cranky" because her chi doesn't flow smoothly, then it'll be hard for anyone to get along with her personality and it's quite possible she won't even find a mate. Meditation is the only remedy for this type of situation because it's the only thing that can help someone smoothen your chi flows and iron out their rough personality edges.

On the other hand, if a woman is not very pretty and yet her chi is smooth and comfortable, then everyone will like her and she'll get married in an instant despite any "deficiencies" in the direction of beauty. So marriage or no marriage will have a lot to do with her personal cultivation which produces a smooth personality. Since meditation will make her chi flow better and bring up her yang chi, it's the one thing that will improve her chances of finding a match since it will help make her the best she can possibly be.

Once again I could go on discussing all the various aspects of this short phrase for hours with all its ramifications, but we'll just summarize by saying to forget about money, status or appearance in describing the perfect, or ideal man or woman.

Rather, as regards the perfect man and woman ... "perfect yang is brilliant, perfect yin is reverent." From the cultivation aspect, that's all we can really say.


Then how do you find your perfect mate?

But now that you know this cultivation viewpoint, people always still ask how they can find their true mate, their destined life partner. How can you do so in this world with billions of choices? How can you find that one with whom you have the most good karma?

If you want to attract a good mate, perhaps the best thing to do to maximize your chances is to recite the Zhunti mantra:

Namo sadoh nah
Samyak Sampoh Doh
Jeezu Nah
Dazah Toh
Ohm Zhurlee, Julee, Zhunti Soha!

Few people know that my teacher is actually the one who first brought the Zhunti mantra from China to Taiwan, and now it is extremely popular everywhere. He also create the special sadhana for the mantra described in Twenty-five Doors to Meditation. This mantra is one of the few able to open up your prajna wisdom and heart chakra, and people normally recite it asking Zhunti Buddha to help them manifest their goals and objectives.

My teacher once told me that when he first started reciting the Zhunti Buddha mantra he hated it, and so he knew that because of that reaction it was very powerful. I can also say the same thing ... when I started doing the Zhunti mantra years ago I hated it myself until after about 500,000 repetitions. Just recite a couple of million mantra and Zhunti Buddha will help you accomplish whatever you set out to accomplish.

This brings up the fact that one of the general rules about spiritual cultivation is that the one sort of practice you hate to do is probably the best one for you, and it's the resistance of your karma to change that throws up the dislike you experience in the first place.

Changing things always generates friction, and that dislike is one of the manifestations of friction showing that you are indeed making a dent in changing your situation. So if you encounter a practice that you hate ... whether it be breathing exercises, mantra, or meditation in general ... jump in and try it for awhile. Buddha always said to try a new meditation (cultivation) practice for about 100 days, which is about three months, and during that time give it your absolute best effort despite any obstacles that might arise. You must put your feelings of dislike aside and just keep at it.

Now because there are so many things that can go wrong in marriage, don't assume that the Zhunti mantra will attract a problem-free marriage mate, smooth things over and make all your problems go away, or attract a problem free "other" in general. Sorry, but life doesn't work that way, and there is no spiritual magic that can dissolve away concerns that must be worked out between individuals. You can only get what you've earned.

What you can attract to yourself is all a function of your karma with available partners and ... no good karma, no good relationship. The Buddhas cannot dissolve your bad karma for you, but can only help bring about situations where you can resolve it faster than otherwise and to a better degree than otherwise. They can help you create the opportunities for change, but you still have to do the working out yourself ... and it's all dependent upon your individual or joint efforts.

You always have only your own karma you can experience, and it cannot be fabricated out of thin air. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas can only help bring out situations where you can work through your accumulated good and bad fortune to produce a better result, and the things you must do to work through matters follow the rules of the world in that they're not always pleasant. Nevertheless, since we're talking about karma, go through them you must.

The secret of cultivation is that in all situations you encounter, you work to turn them into something better. All of us have mountains and mountains of bad karma we owe due to bad deeds from countless past lives, despite even being as pure as a saint in the present, so all of us have to learn how to transform bad situations into positive ones. That's the real lesson of Zen and Buddhism.

So if you think you can just mantra or pray and have a situation dissolve away, then think again because you're living a science fiction fantasy. Yes they are helpful, but you still always need to apply wise action and effort. The best way to insure good fortune in the future is to always cultivate good karma in the first place, which is why the Buddhas always tell you to practice charity and be careful with your behavior.

You might be provided with a miraculous opportunity to work through your karma because of mantra practice, but what you owe to someone else you must pay to settle and solve a situation. All debts must be paid whether for good or bad. Nothing comes free in the world, for everything is karma.

You can indeed, at certain times, have the power to determine how you're going to receive bad fortune such as through a single lump sum, or drips and drabs over a prolonged time period. Even Shakyamuni Buddha, despite his full enlightenment, showed that he had to suffer through some bad karma strings from many lives past, and couldn't escape everything.

If you still feel that you have to do something extra to look for that special partner, perhaps the best advice comes from public relations expert Paul Hartunian who wrote several nationally known books on how people could find the love of their life in a very short while. In short, his advice was for men and women to write personal ads, of a certain format, so that they might attract exactly who they were looking for and maximized their chances of finding them.

In another words, advertise for the successful match you want -- do something positive by taking constructive action to change your situation. If you want to go looking in public, he advised men to look to meet women in public theater where the girl/boy ratio is in the bachelor's favor. Women, he suggested, might want to attend those free seminars on investments and business matters where the male/female ratio is in their favor, and where a woman attracts attention in the predominantly male crowd.

If you don't find someone, remember that it just might not be the right time for it. Astrologically speaking, for some people there is a time when the chances of meeting someone increases, or falls.

If you do find someone and it doesn't work out ... Hartunian says, "So what?" There are plenty others out there. If it didn't work out then it wasn't your match, so why get all upset about it.

You should be thankful when something doesn't work out by considering that you were lucky to find out you didn't have enough long term karma. It's certainly better to find that out earlier rather than later, and you should always head into relationships with the idea to make it as good as possible for as long as it lasts, no matter how short or long it's destined to last. In that way you always build good fortune.

A relationship isn't a "failure" if it doesn't work out ... it's just that the relevant karma was used up and is then over. It's just that clean and simple. Sometimes things will work out and sometimes they won't. If they don't, so what? Life moves on.

That's about as much as I can tell you other than that Vedic astrology (and Chinese astrology) can often tell you the times when romance is likely to enter your life, and those might be the times to step up your searching efforts. James Braha, in his Ancient Hindu Astrology for the Modern Western Astrologer, lists several mantra for the deities in charge of your various astrological houses, and when you find the one responsible for your seventh house of relationships (the marriage house), Hinduism suggests performing remedial measures and asking the appropriate deity for help in finding your mate.

James is a great person to consult for your very first Vedic reading if you've never had one, and his website is at www.JamesBraha.com where he specifies his contact information. Some other great Vedic astrologers include Pat Hayward, Chakrapani (www.Vedicastrology.com), and James Kelleher (www.JamesKelleher.com) as well.

Frankly I would rather rely on the Zhunti mantra to help find a relationship partner, but it's my duty to inform you how yet another cultivation culture handles this seeking situation.

Furthermore, you must also remember that attracting someone and then getting along with that someone are two different things altogether. You cannot just perform a ceremony or say some prayers and presto, disagreements are solved and you get along harmoniously. The quality of your relationship will be a function of your past karma, and how much work you both put into making it better.

There is suffering in the world, there are some situations that will not change or improve for the better (which is why it's wise not to get involved with them in the first place), and solutions to most situations will often require wisdom and consistent, long-suffering, disciplined long term effort. That's where the factor of spiritual cultivation comes in.

Think of some of the issues people have to match on just for a marriage to work. There's the desire for children, sexual appetites (you need to see eye-to-eye in the bedroom), conflicting professional goals (countless movies show that when one party puts the ambition of career above the marriage then it's bound to suffer, and whereas in olden times the rarity of divorce would keep a couple together, that's not the case today in this type of situation), financial matters (you might have different altruistic goals), spirituality and religion, family backgrounds, health concerns, hobbies and interests (do you like to do things together or independently) and travel (including where both of you want to live). Disagreements or conflicting objectives in these areas cannot be solved with the recitation of a mantra.

I remember reading somewhere (I wish I knew where ... if you know then send it to me) that most people divorce because they cannot match in one of five areas ... they divorce because of (1) sexual reasons, (2) because they cannot talk with, communicate with, like or respect one another anymore, (3) because they don't do things together or have few common activities of mutual interest or enjoyment, (4) because they have no common goal, dream, purpose or vision upon which to build the marriage and (5) because of money matters.

If you have a relationship problem, mantra isn't going to solve this. Solving things will involve getting to the root of the problems.

Most people want things to just fall down on them as gifts from heaven -- such as potential partners and solutions to problems -- but most of us just don't have good enough karma for that to happen. The lucky ones who do make it into the news or are mentioned as stories in popular books on positive thinking, but these are the exceptions rather than the rule. Everyone loves success stories, but for most situations and problems you're going to have to work hard to make things happen. So if you really want to find the right partner, you will probably have to put some energy into the effort.

What this once again means is that to create a better situation when there is no relationship (or a relationship is in trouble), the help will not come from heaven but from your own individual efforts. "Heaven" can help create an opportunity for you to improve things, but you have to spin the wheels and do the legwork. If you don't do it, then things will remain the same they are. A rule in life ... even in the heavens .. is that you have to rely on yourself to make things better; heaven cannot brainwash another party for you.

Behind all this I want to say once again that there is therefore no such thing as a destined nor perfect partner ... who you end up marrying is a matter of your personal choice rather than a fate or destiny imposed upon you from without.

So there is no perfect mate. There is only your karma with other people which has qualities of good and bad, and while we all hope for and expect the good, we often have bad karma that needs to be worked out from many lives past even though we're good people in this life. So in this life your partner may be this person, in another life another. There's nothing constant about it, nor about your marriage karma. There's only the chance to make things better for as long as the relationship lasts. Remember that

Husbands and wives were connected in the past
Whether their connections were good or bad,
those connections never fail to meet.

Therefore, your marriage is not God's will but your own karma coming to fruition. That's why we have great marriages and why we have divorces. What you do with your relationship is also up to you as there are no rules written down in heaven ... there's only karma that you will have to reap from what you've done and do at the moment. That's why the world has all sorts of forms of marriage relationships.

Shakyamuni Buddha always taught that there is no God who imposes these things on you, but only you yourself who creates your own karma through life after life, reincarnation after reincarnation, act upon act, and decision upon decision. So there are no "rules" you have to follow in life or even marriage, but just your own wisdom on how to behave and act.

In fact there are no rules for life either, just karma that presents us with situations we have earned, and our free will for how to act which constantly battles with our habitual propensities created by our past karma. That's why altering habits is the way to create better fortune.

What we call "God," Shakyamuni Buddha simply called "our original nature" while Taoism calls it the "Tao."

What we call "fate" or "destiny" is simply the karma of our past actions together with the results of our actions performed in this life. Hence any marriage that you say is your "destiny" is simply the karma you have personally built with another person -- for better or worse -- until you work to change it.

In the high stage Buddhist teachings on the alaya consciousness, such as in the Lankavatara sutra and Sandhinirmocana sutra, the fact that you create your fortune yourself, and that therefore everything rests on your own shoulders of responsibility, is made very clear time and again.

In these sutras Buddha explained the alaya foundational consciousness as a "first-stage" projection of the Tao, and in so doing it breaks away from all subjective views of faith, superstition, God or religion. However, the alaya teachings themselves are so very high that Buddha rarely spoke of them. Buddha would say,

The alaya consciousness is very profound and subtle;
All its seeds are like a torrential flow.
I do not explain the alaya to the ignorant,
For fear they will cling to it and consider it a self.

The alaya consciousness is what ultimately gives birth to the idea of being a self, of there being a you and other, but we cannot go into this in detail in a little talk on relationships. That's better left for a more detailed work such as How to Measure and Deepen Your Spiritual Realization and The Various Stages of the Spiritual Experience. So what we have to do is leave the realm of metaphysics, and turn to the topic of relationships once again.

Now if you are in a society with arranged marriages, of course the arranged marriage will reflect your past karma. For good or bad, you'll have karma with your selected mate which is why you can marry in the first place, and why those marriages last just as well as marriages which aren't arranged. For instance I once saw statistics showing that the divorce rates for arranged Indian marriages were just about the same as for those in the West. Your karma will absolutely assert itself through the selection of that arranged marriage relationship, as will the fact that the marriage lasts a longer or shorter period of time.

Remember the fact that you were born into that society is karma as well. Once again the karma you experience is karma that YOU have yourself created and forged with other individuals.

If you build up any type of karmic debt, that debt has to be repaid and the marriage relationship is one type of repayment, although if you do succeed at cultivation, you can achieve the ability to determine how you will repay your debts. For instance you may "owe" someone a marriage relationship, but can pay it off in other ways by providing all kinds of continuous support until the debt is paid.

As ordinary mortals, we rarely have such powers to determine how things will go, and "fate" seems to toss us this way and that. As ordinary individuals we simply get tossed along by the waves of karmic fate, and can control hardly anything unless we devote ourselves to disciplined action, merit making and spiritual cultivation to go against what we have already built and have in store.

In other words, people really have to work hard at it to change their fate and destiny -- which is a topic I have written extensively on elsewhere -- but it's a fate and destiny people have karmically built themselves through the sum of their past lives rather than something imposed upon them by God or any other spiritual being.

You can read the positive thinking stories of people changing their fates, but that's simply the time when a change in fate was possible and came due because they chose to act. In actual fact, even when people think they are exercising their free will, those decisions are usually made with the ordinary mind subject to the karmic pull of thoughts and emotions. Only if you cultivate can you detach from the pull of karma and habits and truly exercise free will.

One more thing along these lines as well.

You also have to remember that in life after life the person you end up marrying will change, as will your sex and number of children you have, until you can succeed in your cultivation and choose to work through things as you wish. Even the work by Dr. Brian Weiss, who regressed people hypnotically and then wrote Many Lives, Many Masters, revealed that people often keep reincarnating in groups where the husband in one life can become the mother in another, and children could have been previous parents or spouses or relatives or best friends.

A number of popular books have been published with this sort of research conclusion as well.

This is simply catching up to exactly what Shakyamuni Buddha taught, and what a great number of other Zen masters have also said throughout the ages after verifying the karmic composition of families that they could see with their samadhi attainments. Hinduism says this, Taoism says this, Judaism has reincarnation and Christianity used to have it as well until it was expunged from the Church for political reasons. It's 2,500 years later and only now are people catching up with this logical explanation (which you can easily verify if you cultivate hard enough).

Here's the main point of all this dialogue.

There is no "Mr. Right" or "Miss Right" out there for you. There is only a set of possible candidates you can marry in this life, and whomever they turn out to be, you have a certain amount of both good and bad karma with them. What you make of it is all up to you and your skillful or unskillful behavior.

The only people who can possibly fall into this set of possible spouses you can marry are those with whom you have sufficient past karma. They also have to be people through whom marriage in this life will cause you experience the karma you are due to experience this life through the marriage relationship.

Vedic astrology, for instance, can tell you exactly what the quality of that relationship is likely to be and it's only when you work very hard at cultivation that you are likely to be able to change the quality of that experience for the better.

If you want to change it, you really can change your fortune but it's done only by working on yourself and changing your behavior in how you act in certain situations. As Socrates and Confucius taught, working on yourself is really the same as spiritual cultivation so make no mistake that cultivation is really the root solution to eventual happiness and the means to bring about a better life and better relationships.

If two people marry and decide to help each other cultivate through the ups and downs of life, that's really one of the highest sorts of relationships there can be. As my teacher once told me, the relationship between people who cultivate -- even those of the opposite sexes -- should always be one of help, respect and friendship.

Therefore, just because you have the past karma that produces a marriage in the present life, it doesn't mean the marriage will be good -- despite your best wishes, great expectations and a good start -- although most people assume it will be so. No one ever suspects that they've earned some bad fortune from maybe the millionth life of the past whose karma has not yet had the chance to manifest. But that's how things work. Everyone of us has killed someone in a past life, or stolen, or cheated other people and every other sort of thing imaginable. We've all been leaders, followers, soldiers, monks and nuns, businessmen, artists, animals, scoundrels, whatever.

To expect that your karmic history is a clean slate and that your marriage is destined to bring happiness is just ignorance, pure and simple.

Because of past karma you get what you merit and have earned. What rebounds to you is what is due to come (whether the direct causes seem to come from this life or are largely due to the unseen past). So if you marry someone you owe from a past life or who must pay you back for your help and kindness, the quality of the marriage will to a large degree reflect what you have done for them and what they have done for you. Cultivators view things in this way because it's the underlying foundation of the karmic connection.

This may sound so cruel, but it's not. It's just really the way a universe without selves operates. It just the way karma operates.

In fact, when you realize what the Diamond Sutra explains -- that there is no such thing as a being, an ego, an entity or self -- it really makes perfect sense. In the realm of interdependent origination there is only karma, and infinite nexus points of skandhas that think they are independent sentient beings. Those "individuals" are just intersections of experience that blob back and forth experiencing what they have been involved with in the past.

The New Age crowd tries to put sugar over this entire process saying we choose the lessons we are to learn in life and so forth, but frankly, whether you choose them or not you are going to get what you gave when the circumstances are opportune for that karma to manifest. That's why Shakyamuni Buddha said we should always be careful of our actions because they will create a future that might one day jump up and bite us. Even Buddha said he could not escape the clutches of karma as it rules the entire realm of material existence. The only thing it doesn't rule is your original nature, for the nature of karma itself is empty. Karma is just empty interdependent arising.

You can never get rid of the realm of karma, but you can never get rid of your fundamental original nature either. What you can do is obscure your realization of your true self through desire and clinging, and that's what causes the most problems in marriage relationships. Once again, cultivation is an avenue that can dissolve some of the problems in relationships.

Joseph Campbell often said that marriage is an ordeal because each party has to give up or sacrifice its ego not to the other party, but to the marriage, and people just aren't willing to do this in this new world of materialistic relationships we've created. That's where the problem arises, especially now that "yang is not brilliant, and yin is not reverent." Spiritual cultivation teaches you about selflessness, emptiness, compassion and non-ego, so it can certainly help with marriage.

Of course it's not necessary that you have to get married in the first place, because that particular decision is also of your own choosing. Don't get married for your parents or because of other expectations, but stay true to yourself. In fact, most people today get married for the wrong reasons.

Let me tell you what I've personally observed over and over again, and I'm relating this because it has to do with the topic of spiritual cultivation once again.

Many times people start out on their career in their twenties, and eventually wake up to find out that the job, status, career and money are all empty. They realize that life is empty and to fill up that void or loneliness since they haven't cured it through the job or career, they think "maybe marriage and having a family will cure the pain." So they look for a spouse -- whether it's from like, love, hormones, infatuation or whatever -- and get married thinking it will fill that hole.

After they are married awhile the same major question appears once again ... Is this all there is? So then they try to fill in that emptiness by having kids, thinking it will answer the question, and while having children will keep them busy for some twenty years or more, it still never answers the fundamental question that keeps bothering them.

Marriage was just a way to keep the mind busy and fill it up with concerns that block that emptiness, without ever solving the question as to where it came from. After the kids grow up and move away, the question reasserts itself again, and people still find that life is empty.

This isn't an observation that holds for everyone, as it usually holds moreso for those who are more self-aware than others. These are the people who didn't know they were looking for a means of cultivation, and marriage was simply one of the vehicles they used to try to fill that feeling of emptiness!

For others, "ignorance is truly bliss" and they never experience those feelings or concerns at all. The more you cultivate and the higher the stage you reach yourself, however, the more you will realize the truth of these words and realize why the lowest levels of society cannot understand or accept the highest level cultivation teachings.

But we're veering off into another subject with this digression.

In old age, people typically turn to the fields of art, charity and religion to fill that emptiness they sense, and end up still chasing around here and there without recognizing that they are actually searching for a means of spiritual cultivation. They are actually seeking the source of their own mind and being. The whole point of this is that people often get married for the wrong reasons -- they misinterpret the stimulus -- and they would often have changed their fortunes for the better by not marrying at all.

Edgar Cayce, the famous American psychic, once said that most people have the potential karma to marry perhaps twenty to thirty people in this life, but I want to say again that the potential for a bond as strong as marriage is mostly due to past karma rather than the efforts you perform in this life in courting a mate. Some people just won't consider you as a potential spouse, and there's no spark or chemistry there because there's no karma.

In that case, just forget it, and continue cultivating a good relationship for a better relationship in the far future. If it doesn't work out it's not meant to be because the karma isn't there. Guess what? ... So what? Work on making things better, and better luck next time if by then you're still interested.

It's funny that people also often make exorbitant demands on what they expect in a spouse, but these shopping lists won't guarantee anything at all unless by karma you merit it. In fact, people are generally extremely unrealistic and too ready to ask so much of others and not too much of themselves. Just look at your own character, behavior and situation to see what you merit.

I remember a persuasion expert, Ken Hogan, once writing that when one of his bald, overweight, aging male clients wanted "an exciting girl like Britney Spears" in his life, Kevin asked, "Yes, but what are you going to offer her?" That was a kind way of saying that people want a hundred points from others, and demand very little of themselves. You may want all these things from others, but what are you ready to give in return? Actually it's not what you are "ready to give" but what you are giving all the time without any expectation of return.

Potential lovers or spouses you are really more due to your karma from the past than from your actions of the present, and hence there is no way to expect something called the perfect relationship. Everything has bumps and twists; fortunes rise and fall, and even the king and queen argue in the palace. What you can have in terms of a quality relationship will have part of its basis as the foundational karma you have laid with the other party in past lives, and on the actions you perform in this life to make it better and keep it going. If you want to marry someone this life with whom you lack the karma, you can only dream about it because it isn't going to happen.

And if you are considering marriage, I would recommend you buy the following book (or equivalent) featured on the Oprah show, The Hard Questions: 100 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Say "I Do," by Susan Piver. This will help the two of you work through a number of possibly contentious issues even before they arrive, which will help both of you align your dreams for the future.

As I previously stated, somewhere I once read that couples divorce for five reasons, and that you better match in these areas if you want your marriage to last, so let me now go into these areas in detail.

The first important area was in the pleasures of the bedroom and sexual fidelity. More marriages break apart because of problems in this area than due to almost any other cause. You'd be surprised how different can be the bedroom expectations of men and women. When one party cannot satisfy the needs of the other, the frustrations build up often leading to extramarital activities and divorce. When you learn Taoist methods of lovemaking, they can help in this particular area. Taoist arts teach chi communication rather than sexual yoga which helps a marriage stay fresh and vibrant with both partners helping one another. On the other hand, if your relationship is initially based on sexual excitement and attraction, then both partners are going to get bored after awhile.

The second point is that both parties must truly like and respect each other, as well as talk to each other and communicate with one another. In other words, they should be friends. I've seen quite a few couples where, after a few years of marriage, neither party respects the other and there's no communication between the two. They're not friendly anymore, or even respectful of one another. While the couple may not divorce, I would hardly call this relationship a marriage. The best marriages are marriages between friends. If you are not friends, I wouldn't even consider marriage.

The third reason for divorce is not having anything you like to do together and failing to have some common interests. Sure you can be great lovers and friends, but that's not enough for marriage. You need some common pastimes and interest, some common pleasures you can enjoy together. Which brings us to the fourth reason for divorce.

The fourth area of mutual interests holding people together should be the desire to build something together -- some common bigger purpose, objective or goal. Whether it's the desire to build a business, a family, a home, to cultivate or travel together, that common joint dream of personal growth and development is probably the most important reason to get married. If you have no joint dream or vision of what you wish to build together, then what's the point of marriage? Why are you together if not for this?

If you're thinking of marriage, just liking the other party, having a great time in the bedroom and being able to talk is great karma, but not necessarily the glue of a 50-year marriage relationship. So if you want to get married, you better buy Susan Piver's book (The Hard Questions) and determine what you want to build together remembering that you cannot change the other party, and they're unlikely to change. If what you are looking for isn't there now, it's probably not going to be there in the future.

Lastly, people sometimes divorce because of money. People usually think that money is the number one reason why people divorce, but while couples can argue over money matters, they rarely divorce because of money. They can marry or not marry because of money (quite a few individuals have told me their fiancee called off the marriage when their family threatened to disown them and cut them out of million dollar inheritances).


I remember reading a book long ago that said that the "forever myth of marriage" sprang up in times when our lifespan was about half of what is is today, so people could honestly say "until death do us part" because death would more often than not part them. Afterwards the other party would simply go on to remarry again ... quickly if they could.

In today's "me, me, me" world where the woman demands equal relationship footing with the man, we now have a lot of problems openly appearing whereas previously we just had silent suffering. Don't ever think that people had better marriages in the past, because they certainly had just as many problems as we do today. Perhaps even more as living was tougher in ancient times. However, society was structured in a such a way that encouraged the marriages to stay together despite the problems between the two parties that arose. Societies tended to keep two parties together, sometimes in a living hell, even when the differences were irreconcilable.

Perhaps the high rate of divorce today is actually a sign of the actual improvement in the woman's situation, for in the olden days, divorce or separation meant that no one would support her or her children, and so she often had to continue suffering unbearable situations just to survive. A woman often had to remarry quickly after the death of her spouse simply in order to make ends meet.

In today's world, however, a woman doesn't have to continue putting up with an unhealthy or abusive relationship but can actually get divorced, find a job on her own and make enough income to support a family by herself. Isn't this a big improvement in the woman's situation? On the other hand, because the sexes are now on more equal footings and the yin factor doesn't have to take second place and put up with the misbehavior of the yang, marriages are much quicker to break apart. Jokingly we can say, "Yin is not reverent, and yang is not brilliant."

I often compare the battle of egos in marriage to a knotted rope that (1) two people are struggling to pull apart while at the same time (2) society is trying to push the two parties together and keep them together. So you have internal forces of separation and external forces encouraging a joining. However, today the strength of societal forces trying to push couples together and keep them together is declining. In many cases those social forces aren't even there. Because a woman is able to make a living on her own and demands equal footing with the male, the inevitable troubles between husband and wife produce a marriage knot that is much easier to break.

Master Nan always said that in future there wouldn't even be marriages anymore, but that people would just have babies and then give them over to the state. I don't know if he was just joking, sadly commenting on the state of affairs in society or whether this was his actual prediction due to his samadhi insight. Nevertheless I always worry when I see lawsuits championed for new sorts of rights that actually chip away the foundations of the marriage and family relationship.

Don't we have enough rights already?

I know that the lawyers celebrate these victories and yet they don't have any clue as to the society they are actually building through the end-stage ramifications of their efforts. Despite the unfairness we sometimes see, some areas of life need to be kept free of the legislation arena as legislation often does more harm than good, and some inefficiencies in society are best left open to the corrections of karma.

If you were to ask me what can keep the marriage relationship together, I'll tell you that it's not karma that will do it. Karma is the manifestation of retribution or reward from the past, and any trouble in a relationship is a difficulty of the present. It's a difficulty of human relationships. Therefore it's all up to you and your actions in this life -- your degree of skill of mastery of human relationships -- as to whether you can keep a relationship on course. If you want it to get better you're going to have to learn how to manage it better, and that requires some training.

Along this avenue, today we have lots of relationship training books, the best of which include:

Spiritual cultivation has the natural byproduct of letting you better handle marital and other situations, so over time it's actually the premier form of relationship training. Confucius taught that you have to cultivate awareness, and learn how and when to stop. It was through that stopping that one could develop samadhi and bliss.

If you cannot repair a relationship and it is now producing more bad karma than good, you should question whether to stay in such a situation. No one can tell you to divorce or not divorce -- the decision and responsibility is 100% your own. But if you do choose to go that route, I'm told that two of the best books to help you through it is:


Children and reincarnation

What about children?

Many people have told me that they want children so that there is someone to take care of them when they are in their old age, but who's to say that your children will take care of you when you are older or that they will even survive into your old age? Who's even to say that your children will be good children?

Those are perfectly rational, normal expectations, but who's to say they will come true? The karma behind those particular outcomes is a function of your stock of good merit.

Nowadays in many countries the parents also prefer baby boys over girls, but I've often observed that it's actually the girls who more often take care of the parents when they get old or become sick. Furthermore, in today's world women can earn just as much as men or even more, so the reasons to prefer males over females have lost much of their importance over the centuries. Children come on account of debt, so if I were to choose to have children in this life, I would personally rather leave the determination of their sex up to karma.

In some countries, the ability to do prenatal screening and undergo abortion has tipped the scales so much that significantly more boys are now being born than girls. This means that in the future the girls, who are not wanted at the moment, will actually be the ones in great demand in the future. Think about it for a second. At that time, which is just around the corner, it will be the men's families who will end up having to pay the dowries!

Anyway, whether boys or girls are born to you is all a function of your karma. As we said at the beginning,

Sons and daughters are basically past debts,
Whether seeking repayment or making repayment,
They only come on account of debt.

Some children come on account that you owe them a debt, in which case you will seem to be doing everything to help them during this life (in order to pay back the favor of a previous life), and they might even seem ungrateful. In other cases children come to take care of you and pay you back for what you've previously done for them. I have a pertinent quote I like from Light on Relationships, a Vedic astrology book by Hart deFoew and Robert Svoboda (two big names in the field) who jointly wrote:

A child who comes to you with a horoscope of destitution does so because your own destitution karmas have also ripened and are waiting for you to consume them. The child is as much an instrument of your karmic fulfillment as you are of its.

Similarly, a child who comes to you destined to enjoy prosperity has come to you because you, too, are destined to enjoy some prosperity. If you do right by that child, your mutual prosperity may develop yet further. If you mistreat it, you will be garroting the goose that is ready to lay your own golden eggs. Students of the law of karma marvel at the elegant sort of neutrality that involves both parties, often unconsciously, in creating their own situations.

The New Age crowd likes to say that we choose our lives, but until you actually reach a high stage of cultivation where you can control your birth and death, this is something of which you really have little control. Yes, you create your life because of your past karmic actions, but unless you cultivate high enough, you cannot control your death and rebirth -- you simply reap what you've sown in the past and what you've created from present actions. In short, you may think you can control your rebirth, but you cannot. Karma will force you to be reborn into situations where you have to repay or receive whether you like it or not!

Karma is like an inevitable chemical reaction that must occur simply out of the rules of physics, for there is no such thing as a real ego, entity, being or life in this universe of empty interdependent origination. Those are just names we attach on to the empty appearances of sentient beings.

We're winding up here in this short dialogue on karma and reincarnation, but I wish to add just one more thing.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do for your children is to provide them with a good education, as the story of Mencius and his mother illustrates, and to expose them to genuine cultivation teachings so that they can find their way in life. I always encourage parents to have their children start learning a second and third language when they are young, and also to read the following books to help them with life skills and life lessons:

    • Four Lessons on Karma, by Yuen Liao Fan (which teaches children how to change their fortune, fate and destiny; hint: the formula is merit + meditation + disciplined action, and the book is so famous that you can find various free translations on the internet)
    • Lao Tzu's Treatise on the Response of the Tao, by Eva Wong (which teaches various lessons about karma and creating good fortune, such as that good is followed by good and evil by evil)
    • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, by Benjamin Franklin (which teaches excellent life lessons on self-improvement and success by one of the most famous Americans), who provides the role model for the optimistic, pragmatic life of the disciplined individual who creates tangible accomplishments for the betterment of society
    • How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie (which teaches exactly what the cover says it talks about)
    • Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill (which has produced more millionaires than any other book I know of) reveals the map of reality of people who are successful and create what they want in the world
    • The Diamond Sutra and Sutra of Hui-Neng (to introduce them to the real road of genuine spiritual cultivation practice through two of the most beautiful literary pieces in existence)
    • Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Romans, by Plutarch (to teach them about virtue, morality, and that character is destiny)
    • As a Man Thinketh, by James Allen (which teaches that thoughts are things).

If your children are exposed to some of the lessons in these books, they'll be sure to pick up some major life skills and will have examples on how to conduct themselves in society, work to change their fortunes, and cultivate as well.



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