Can we give the benefits of our good karma?

A clue to how one might answer this question is provided in the next to last verse of Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra. Recall that the verse said this:

10.57 May teaching that is the sole medicine for the suffering of the world and the source of all prosperity and joy remain for a long time, accompanied by riches and honor!

Here the message seems to be that all the transformations that are to be achieved in the long list of prayers of intercession that Śāntideva has given ultimately derive from the śāsanam, that is, from the institutions, the community, the rules of regulations and the body of inspirational teachings left by the Buddha for the welfare of the world. It is by participating in that entire śāsanam that an individual plays a role in the transformation of the world. The spirit of this advice anticipates the famous saying of Mohanda Karamchand Gandhi: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” It is also reminiscent of the Quaker saying: “There is no point in praying to God to offer help to people unless you are willing to be the means by which God gives that help.”

This module began with a quotation from the Puja Book of the FWBO (which has now changed its name to the Triratna Buddhist Order, or TBO). That tradition has an interpretation of the image of the thousand-armed bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, which is a common image in Mahāyāna iconography. The traditional story is that Avalokiteśvara had made a vow to work for the well-being of all sentient beings scattered in the ten directions of the universe, and that in making the vow he said “If my resolve should ever weaken, let me explode into a billion pieces.” After working with steady resolve for some aeons, the story goes, Avalokiteśvara realized that sentient beings find new ways to make themselves miserable much more quickly than anyone can keep up with. He realized, in other words, that he would never be able to bring all sentient beings out of their miseries fueled by their greed, hatred and delusion. On realizing that, he let his resolve weaken just for a moment, and in that moment, he exploded into a billion fragments. But the god Brahma saw this happen, and seeing how very valuable Avalokiteśvara is, he reconstituted the bodhisattva, but in remaking Avalokiteśvara, Brahma gave him 1000 arms, so he could do much more to help others than before with only two hands. That is the traditional story. The interpretation of it that one finds in the TBO is that a community is the embodiment of the 1000-armed bodhisattva. No one can do alone everything that needs to be done, but if everyone pitches in to help others, seemingly impossible tasks are accomplished. Perhaps the best way to give the benefits of one’s good karma to others is to join with others in helping to do some of the tasks necessary to create a harmonious society and a healthy natural environment.