Bearing someone else’s karma

I read this excerpt from a selection of talks, called The Transformed Mind: Reflections on Truth, Love and Happiness, given by HH the 14th Dalai Lama.

Is it possible to bear somebody else’s karma for them?

Generally speaking, according to Buddhist teaching, you will not encounter the results of an action that you have not committed, and once you have committed the action, the result will never get lost, and you have to experience it. Here I think it’s quite important to make a distinction. When you suffer, you not only feel pain or discomfort at that moment, but also a kind of helplessness and discouragement. You are completely enshrouded in that suffering and there is a kind of darkness.


Compassion is when you have concern for others’ suffering, and share their suffering on the basis that others have an equal right to be happy. The suffering at that moment may make you unhappy or cause a little discomfort; but that discomfort is voluntarily accepted within reason because of these realizations and the decision to share others’ suffering. Therefore the discomfort and unease leave no trace of darkness on your mind. You have to be very clear, and very alert if you voluntarily take on others’ suffering. (72)

People with deep karmic debts gravitate towards me, and maybe I towards them, so much and so often that I am thinking that rather than oscillate between empathy and aversion (for the intensity of the emotion), I have to try and cultivate a coping mechanism that nurtures temperance, without descending into compassion fatigue. Since I’ve burned off so much karmic residue of my own in the past few years, I can empathise with those mired in their own darkness, but I’m not sufficiently able to shine the light or transform the darkness for them. And maybe it’s not even my place to do so. Nonetheless, I often feel the pain as if it were my own, and that’s not helpful in the long run. I am considering some training in Gestalt psychotherapy, but maybe I’ll write more on that later.

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2 Responses to Bearing someone else’s karma

  1. Ned says:

    I’ve often wonder if, in the end, the only real form of compassion we can offer to another person is the ability to free themselves.

    Like I could pay off a person’s financial debt, but I haven’t really saved them from making the same mistake again. In fact, I may have made the problem worse.

  2. hitchhiker72 says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Ned. You’re right, of course.

    Sometimes ‘helping’ is more about me helping, than the one being helped. Distinguishing the two is what I struggle with.

    Thanks.

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