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11 Jun 2010

The power of imprints

Be aware of the positive or negative imprints we have in our minds and that you can create new ones for the kind of future you want to have.

The other night, I was wondering what to write in today’s column when HE Tsem Tulku Rinpoche paid a surprise visit to a small group of us and shared about the the power of imprints.

But what are imprints? They are the environmental effect that circumstances and actions have on us which mould our characters. For example, if we were born in a family where our parents are always fighting, we may fight with our partners because that is the way we were ‘programmed’.

If we had an abusive father, we may always feel attracted to men who are like our fathers, even though we realise that the childhood we had was not a positive one but somehow we just cannot help it. We objectively know that certain behaviour is not good for us but we just act from the imprint. That is the power of imprints. Of course, we are able to break from these imprints but only if realise why we are behaving a certain way and our mind is stronger than the imprint.

With homosexuality, there is the eternal debate whether homosexuality is caused by nature or nurture and this question will probably never be resolved because there are homosexuals who traverse the whole spectrum. Some from nature, some from nurture – same as for heterosexuals. The important thing is to know that whatever the cause of homosexuality, it is neither positive or negative. It just is a state of being – like everyone else.

As human beings, it is what we do with our lives – whether we are gay or straight – that will show whether we had positive or negative imprints in our minds. If you are only attracted to fame, money, sex, food – anything to satisfy our senses – then your imprint is only that and it is a result of negative karma. Why? Because this makes us no different from animals, who only seek comfort, food, sex. When we die, which is the only thing certain in life – do we think about what imprints have we created for our next life?

If we believe in reincarnation, we believe in karma. If we believe in karma then our own selfish concerns become unimportant. For example, if we are supposed to do something but we don’t want to do it because we’re lazy or it’s unpleasant or both. So we let someone else do it. We don’t want to do it and we hope someone else will do it. That is pure selfishness. Whether others know that you have shirked your responsibility or not doesn’t matter, because even if no one sees, your karma will ‘see’. If you can avoid responsibility and feel no guilt, or if you even feel happy and rejoice that you ‘got away with it’, the karma is very heavy because you will do it more and more and the imprint to be lazy and selfish becomes stronger and stronger.

On the other hand, if you do positive actions, for example, reciting the Lamrim (a text which is like a Buddhist bible), it purifies your negative karma. The Lamrim was originally written by the Indian Pandit, Atisha, who presented the complete path for gaining Enlightenment by Buddha Shakyamuni. This was further condensed by the Tibetan Buddhist scholar and saint, Lama Tsongkhapa, and the iconic text is also known as Lamrim Chenmo, the ‘The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path of Enlightenment’. By reciting the Lamrim, it puts a karmic imprint in your mindstream, which cannot be lost. The Lamrim is said to be so powerful that you can bless someone who has passed away just by putting the text on top of their head. At the right time under the right conditions, this imprint will open and all negative emotions of anger, selfishness, unhappiness will disappear. Whenever we do our prayers, Dharma work, cleaning the Dharma centre, feeding the homeless, helping someone - we are planting positive imprints.

It is crucial to be aware of what kind of imprints we are creating for ourselves. If we make Dharma a lower priority in our lives, this is the imprint we are creating for our future. I have heard so many people say I’ll do Dharma later, but later never comes. Death may come first and then it’s too late for regrets.

Whatever state we are in today, know that we have created the imprints for it in our past. So if we have any idea at all, of what kind of future we want to have, we had better start creating the imprints for it today.

Sharon Saw is a writer / editor at Kechara Media & Publications, which focuses on publishing the teachings of H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, a high incarnate Lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. A selection of Buddhist and non-Buddhist related books from Kechara Publications is now available on Fridae Shop. You can follow Sharon on Twitter. This column appears every other Friday.


1. 2010-06-11 15:20  
Thanks for sharing Sharon.
2. 2010-06-11 15:44  
"If you can avoid responsibility and feel no guilt, or if you even feel happy and rejoice that you ‘got away with it’, the karma is very heavy because you will do it more and more and the imprint to be lazy and selfish becomes stronger and stronger."

This is so true, if u sit there and waiting for others to pave the way to do your job while u never take the initiative to learn, that PLAIN SELFISHNESS. You might hide your laziness, selfish action from other, but you cannot hide it from your karma!
3. 2010-06-11 21:39  
Interesting article. You're a bit out of date on the nature/nurture thing, though. The evidence for nature has been overwhelming for a while now.

On Karma, my view is that it is neither negative nor positive, it's just the natural result of cause and effect. All events are neutral,we just choose to perceive them as positive or negative according to our previous "imprints" as you call them, or conditioning, as others might. The ability to see and to stand back from those imprints is very useful.

Adding guilt to the equation is pointless. Guilt is a form of violence against the self, and tied into the ego. It's also a tool of control in some religions. Awareness is much better than guilt. So is empathy. If we can learn to see ourselves as not-separate from others in the first place, we are less likely to do harm.

There's also a gay-as-karma issue. I suppose many in Singapore will see being gay as the result of "negative" karma. But one very elderly heterosexual Buddhist there I know took a very positive view of it. He saw gay people as souls on a journey migrating from one gender to the other over a number of lives. He also saw gay people in the world as a good thing, bringing more compassion and understanding to society. This may not be evident from the comment columns of Fridae, but it seems to be true that a higher percentage of gay people are interested in spirituality, than straight people are.

I decided long ago to see my sexual orientation as a good thing. When we first realise we are gay, most or all of us are shocked and see it as a negative and go though all sorts traumas about it, having expected to be straight. But if we want a happy life we can't go on like that. We can instead choose to see it as "good" karma, or even just good luck; being different can give us a different perspective about many things and the opportunity, if we want to, to get off the usually automatic treadmill of life. Plus, these days we now have the choice of opting into a life of raising a family with a partner we truly love, rather than pretending to love/be attracted to a person of the opposite sex.

I got off track a bit there, so to return to the thrust of your article, there's a lot of good stuff in it, but what I don't agree with is your use of guilt and fear: "Death may come first and then it’s too late for regrets". That doesn't sound at all Buddhist to me, I'm sorry, from what I've learned about it. Maybe that comes from your own imprint! :)

修改於2010-06-11 21:43:32
4. 2010-06-12 01:33  
Thanks for your comments, JV :)

Thanks also Steve - lovely to read your thoughts... i just wanted to add that death is not a threat to create guilt or fear - it is a fact of life which my Guru, HE Tsem Tulku Rinpoche constantly reminds us - don't waste time because death comes quickly and you never know when it will come. A lot of us (I'm 41 so i'm no spring chicken) who are before retirement age, let's say, don't think about death or think that there is plenty of time for spirituality - later. Unfortunately, i have many friends around my age, younger and older who have literally dropped dead over the past 12 months. Very sobering.

Buddhists do talk about death a lot - not in a morbid way, but as a method to realise impermanence and make the best use of our precious human life as is said in the sacred Lamrim.

Which school of Buddhism are you from, Steve? Perhaps different schools lay emphasis on different aspects although all come from Lord Shakyamuni.

Lastly - i just wanted to say - our sexual orientation is definitely not negative!

Sharon :)
5. 2010-06-13 10:53  
Hello again Sharon,
How was Australia? :-)
I was there during that memorable night when Rinpoche gave the teaching on imprints, imputation and a whole lot of other stuff...my first time meeting him live in person...he is tall & still a comedian after all these years! LOL

It's scary to think that all that one has ever left behind after all these years of 'living' are imprints of stomping on others and oneself and are even totally oblivious to it...whether on purpose or unknowingly...

There are some who make trophies out of such...imprints of stomping on others and self until life comes along and gives an unforgettable karmic imprint where for some, it's an unforgettable lesson but then again...humans being humans...'manusia mudah lupa' and then its all over again...do cats get a better deal than us?

The unending mind of duality for some: spirituality vs self pursuits...
I guess in life some will walk through the main door, if not its the back door, if not it has to be the roof or windows...better late than never huh...

One is a saint or outcast, not by birth, lineage, status, sexuality but by one's own actions/deeds...I guess some just won't get this huh...

6. 2010-06-14 11:59  
Hi PL,

Your excellent karma to be there when Rinpoche surprised everyone at Kechara! Australia was excellent thank you - but I wish I had been there for Rinpoche's talk. Even though he already gave a talk on imprints, there would be additional teachings or a different angle. I must wait for the DVD :)

Duality is fascinating..

"Everything in life has false dualistic views. If we choose to enter the door of dualism, then we get hurt, disappointed, and bitter in the end. If we choose a better doorway which is emptiness, then the door leads seemingly nowhere yet everywhere. Emptiness of dualism." - Tsem Tulku

7. 2010-06-15 03:12  
About imprints left by parents, I have gone beyond this but here is a book which has had a tremendous impact on me:

"For your own good", by Alice Miller.
8. 2010-06-18 17:02  
maybe we are gay because we were homophobic in a past life?
I know I was very homophobic, as well as racist and sexist, however, my curiosity helped me to overcome my homophobia, racism and sexism- none so blind as those who do not wish to see, none so deaf as those who do not wish to hear, to think that my poor maternal grandmother was beaten for being left handed in the early 20th century in rural Poland for being left handed, whereas now being left handed barely raises an eyebrow, I freely admit to still being very ignorant and a total imbecile onmany fronts, however, what astonishes me is those who are so wise that they never have anything more to learn, whereas I feel I have been learning all my life, will continue learning my whole life, and will die still having much to learm.
Maybe 1 of our responsibilities is to teach others not to be homophobic?
My mother was, she thought things through, she isn't any more.
My HETEROSEXUAL brother was never homophobic at all- his reaction was: ''I knew, so what? You're not the first, you won't be the last.''
Historically, men were for recreation, women were for procreation, so seems strange that this level of acceptance in Ancient times has been overlapped.
Nobody has a problem with culinary preferences, so shouldn't be a problem with MUTUALLY CONSENSUAL sexual choices.
Homophobia is fear based, in many places its legality/decriminalisation is recent, and dreadful bigotry still exists, leaving us all with much work to do, most people my generation and those preceding grew up with this ignorance, my wish is that my 2 year old niece & all her generation, as well as those to come all grow up without such ignorance, which would only cause suffering to all.
9. 2010-06-20 10:19  
Homophobia won't be eradicated by being heterophobic, we can all do waht we can to eradicate the ignorance that causes all suffering, being pro gay doesn't mean being anti straight. Some of my best friends are straight, I also have straight relatives, they're OK, even if they lack rhythm, have bad hair and shoes, dreadful fashion sense and talk in monosyllabic grunts.
10. 2010-06-21 18:27  
with their knuckles scraping along the floor/ground




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