I used to think that much of the mundane part of my life just didn’t matter. After all, who would care? Who would know? But the Dharma has taught me otherwise. To quote the Buddha, “Whatsoever a person commits, whether it be virtuous or sinful deeds, none of these is of little import; all bear some kind of fruit.”
Surya Das, author of Awakening the Buddha Within writes, “The wisdom of cause and effect—or karma—teaches us that everything matters—every breath, every syllable, every sentence. As we walk the path to enlightenment, nothing is meaningless, and it all counts.“
Arnie Kozak in The Zen of Everything elaborates, “Buddhism teaches you to live in the moment, or more accurately, it reminds you how to live in the moment since you already have this natural talent. It shows you that everything matters: that work matters, that dinner matters, that walking the dog matters. The Buddha’s teachings can bring sanity and comfort, and help you to reclaim your life. Living mindfully elevates the mundane into the sacred and can give you the meaning you may be desperately searching for.”
Furthermore, with the understanding of interconnectedness, we understand that no action exists by itself. There are unforeseen consequences and ramifications to every action. These ramifications are internal as well as external. Everything matters because everything is connected. Everything that you do leads to something in the end. One cannot throw a rock in a pond without creating ripples. Everything you do is part of a chain reaction for everything else that happens in your life, your next life (if you believe in reincarnation), in the lives of those around you and even unimagined future generations.
If you teach something valuable to but one person, that one person may teach a dozen others who teach a dozen more. Such a chain may continue long after you are dead and buried. We literally create the world around us. This is why the teaching of the Dharma is considered highly auspicious. This is why we must be mindful and skillful with body, speech and mind. Even our thoughts, though they may seem small and inconsequential, are the wellspring for speech, action and everything that follows. To quote George Clinton, “Good thoughts bring forth good fruit. Bad thoughts rot your meat.”
Buddha speaks on karma and the importance of thought and intention,
Mind is the forerunner of all (evil) conditions.
Mind is their chief, and they are mind-made.
If, with an impure mind, one speaks or acts,
Then suffering follows one
Even as the cart wheel follows the hoof of the ox.
Mind is the forerunner of all (good) conditions.
Mind is their chief, and they are mind-made.
If, with a pure mind, one speaks or acts,
Then happiness follows one
Like a never-departing shadow. -Buddha, Dhammapada
Jesus also speaks on the importance of intention,
No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. -Jesus, Luke 6.43-45
Ratnadharini explains, “Sometimes it seems as though people [who act "out of evil treasure"] might get away with it or they are just lucky. But one explanation of the law of karma is that karma will always take effect, but you don’t know when, but it’s there. It’s as though a seed has been sewn and every time we act, a seed has been sewn on one side or the other.
There is a priority of karma taking effect. Most likely to take effect first is weighty karma. That is, something of big karmic consequence is likely to happen first. The most recent karma is next likely to take effect. Then there is habitual karma, which is all these little things we do that seem insignificant but which add up over a long period of time. Finally there is residual karma. Ultimately we don’t know when things are going to have an effect.
We tend to go through life as though a favorable outcome is most likely to happen if we keep [things] rather than if we give [them away]. If we think about the feelings of the actions, you probably realize it’s a more pleasant experience to give than to hang onto things. It’s topsy turvy, upside down. Spiritual life is a relearning, a turning upside down of our most basic assumptions. You might think to give something up, you will feel smaller to have something taken away. But in fact, you will feel bigger- more expansive and connected. As we reflect on this, we learn we will be happier the more we give.”
Sources for further reading:
Arnie Kozak: The Zen of Everything
Ratnadharini: Podcast: Karma and the Consequences of our Actions
Buddha: Dhammapa, Part One: Choices