Regarding karmic unfoldings, I think it’s wrong to assume that karmic unfoldings are a thing that happens to us rather than a thing that we do. And while it may be true that some actions take time to reap consequences, and we surely can be dealing with a lot of karmic baggage for extended periods of time as we refine our habits (hopefully) and ways of thinking about the world, there is a key point to be made here about karma, dependent origination, and the here-and-now suffering that we cause for ourselves.
I have direct experience of dealing with karmic baggage but my mental state being free of suffering. Without going into circumstantial detail, I made one mistake that cost me my a large chunk of my sense of freedom and autonomy in the world, was very expensive to deal with, and that one mistake led to a whole trail of karmic reckoning that I had to deal with. There were various consequences of that that reminded me every single day multiple times of that one foolish decision. This was a separate karmic reckoning than another reckoning I experienced as a result of a pattern of unrestrained relations with women. These karmic reckonings overlapped and I had a period of about a year and a half where I was experiencing very difficult feelings of shame, isolation, insecurity, on an almost daily basis as a direct result of my behavior. It directly affected my practice and that difficulty was both a powerful catalyst at times, and at other times a powerful hindrance. When people say things that seem to evade personal responsibility for their own shit it is understandable but it’s not what I did or experienced.
Rather than sitting in feelings of shame and insecurity, what I did was I took stock of the wreckage, made it very clear in my mind that my own bad decisions directly caused that wreckage, and then asked God to forgive me and give me the power and presence to make better decisions going forward. I literally did this every day as a practice. And in doing that genuinely, and repeating as necessary, being honest with myself, I kept the needless suffering to a minimum and avoided further wreckage. Whenever I hear people say that we are not really in control of our lives, it makes me want to rip my hair out because it’s antithetical to Buddhism. Buddhism 101- we have power to end dukkha.
During that period I learned that karma is most useful to practice as a here-and now phenomena and is not based on objective reality it’s based on subjective reality- a key distinction to be made in terms of practice. My mental actions in the here and now condition further mental actions in the here and now, and the good news is that suffering can be abandoned right here in the here and now. That’s correct- Buddhism as a method works right here and now. For a discussion of this, see Dhammarato’s videos. He teaches the end of dukkha now.
To end dukkha now, it’s really quite simple, the Buddha gives some pithy instructions but they work:
“I tell you, the ending of the mental fermentations depends on the first jhana… the second jhana… the third… the fourth… the dimension of the infinitude of space… the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness… the dimension of nothingness. I tell you, the ending of the mental fermentations depends on the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.
“‘I tell you, the ending of the mental fermentations depends on the first jhana.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’By ending the mental fermentations I think what is implied is that the mind has ended all useless chatter and fabrication of gross dukkha. This may be likened to a state of access concentration, free from the hindrances. The phrases “secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities” is a temporary state in the here and now that is conditioned by and brought about through intention. This mental state can be promoted and cultivated using simple techniques. It doesn’t mean you have to become a monk or give up sex, it just means in the here and now, your mind must be secluded from those unskillful, sensual qualities. What seems to be implied here is that certain mental states are required to end craving, and attain Unbinding. Almost like certain mental states are inherently related to Unbinding, whatever that means.
My point in writing this all out is not to say there’s something wrong with any of the previous ideas, but to offer a solution to the issue at hand:
The mind/reality/perceptual/subjective experience is a creation of our intentions. Cultivating a better mind state (better* meaning less dukkha) therefore is intimately related to and dependent upon intention (the theory of karma and dependent origination support this). Any foothold a dharma practitioner can get on creating their reality, they should consciously and intentionally cultivate it. Let’s just be authentic here folks- what we always want is to experience something in a most optimal way free of suffering and able to perceive the beautiful nature of existence. We want this experience over the experience of dukkha. Please admit this to oneself if you have not already. If this is not true for you my techniques might not be useful to you.
An easy way to have more, better, more fulfilling experiences, is to remember a good experience free of dukkha. Doesn’t matter what experience it is, just free of dukkha in a mundane sense (in the subjective experience of it at the time). Before anyone goes saying they’ve never experienced this, well if you’re a human being there are experiences in your life that are free of dukkha, we have a mix of pleasant and unpleasant experiences inherently as humans. Now taking that experience, your mind has a register of that experience and the mental qualities that were there and what was not there. The proper way to cultivate intentions is to take that experience, and intend for that experience to happen again or in a deeper way. Then you have more good experiences without dukkha.
People wander toward this knowledge subconsciously but often in a confused way until they are appraised of this knowledge. In meditation you cultivate good experiences, and you clarify the different levels of good experiences. You also encounter and deal with bad experiences but that should never me a main theme of meditation practice. Meditation practice toward awakening has the goal of cultivating good experiences in combination with sheer awakeness/alertness/brain power in a mundane neuroscientific sense. If you have these two qualities of mind you will be awake in the moment and you will realize mind nature in the process.
The TMI book is a perfect guide for how to craft this quality of mind and use it for its intended purpose. All you need is the capacity to set an intention. If you can mentally think to yourself “I want to wake up at 6:00 am” you have the capacity to set an intention and therefore the capacity to awaken in this moment and in this life.