Recently, I had the opportunity of interviewing Dr. Thubten Norbu, the brother of the Dalai Lama. It was one of the most fascinating times that I have spent. The interview took place over two days. During our time together, I asked him about the Buddhist concept of karma. Karma isn't what we in the West often mistranslate as "fate"-something over which we don't have control. Dr. Norbu said, "Karma is fate, but a fate that we control." He illustrated his point by speaking about the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the late 50s. The take-over of Tibet by the Chinese forced many thousands to flee Tibet including him and his brother. What was surprising was that Dr. Norbu wasn't caught up in anger. I asked him about his rather neutral tone of voice and emotions. He said that if he had allowed his life to be determined by hatred toward the Chinese, he would create for himself his karma-in this case bad karma. Had he responded negatively, he would have allowed himself to become obsessed with getting even which would ultimately ruin him and wouldn't have gotten the Chinese ousted anyway.
Having taught world religions at the college level, karma was a
concept that I understood intellectually, but it wasn't
until I spoke with the aging Dr. Norbu, a man who wouldn't
again be in Tibet, did it hit home emotionally. Had he been
able to single-handedly retaliate against the Chinese for all the
misery that the Tibetan people suffered, he would have changed,
and his karma would have been negative.
In addition, I asked about the hurt of never being able to return to Tibet. I asked him about his grief. Pointing poignantly to his eyes, he said, "They're all dried up." Here was a man who could have been extremely bitter with China getting away with murder, but even amid his suffering, he wasn't going to worsen the situation with murdering his karma with feelings of retribution-regardless of how hurtful it was never to go home again. Dr. Norbu's witness moved me. I didn't want to end the interview atop the mountain and return to the valley of my mundane life.
It was a week after the interview that I found myself in front of a client of mine who had just been fired from his job. He was mad and about to go ballistic. He had invested a lot of time and effort in his profession. But, for reasons beyond his control, he was now unemployed. In response to a question of mine, he blurted out, "They are getting away with murder, and I won't let them." Concerned about the intensity of his response, I asked him what he was going to do? I thought that he might do something violent. I told him that he could do what he could legally, but he needed to settle down. The contrast between the two men, Dr. Norbu and my client, was striking. One was tranquil and serene and the other was truculent and turbulent. Beyond this, the most profound difference was in their karma. Dr. Norbu created good karma, and my client was well on the way of creating extremely bad karma.
Had my client been given the opportunity to get even, he probably would have. I allowed him to vent for some time. When he paused, I began telling him a story, "Let me tell you about an old man who can't go home-ever again." I'm sure that I was well into my story, before he really began to listen. Finally, when I got to the part of the narrative about Dr. Norbu's tears being all dried up, I had his complete attention. I talked about karma and getting even. For the first time in days, my client was quiet. Suddenly, the light went off in his head as he blurted out, "I'm creating bad karma for myself. Right?" I merely nodded my head in agreement as my client applied Dr. Norbu's story to his life.
This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 9/22/00.