Some years ago in Korea, there lived a very devout Buddhist family. In his home, the father had a small room set up for meditation. He also had two teenage daughters. The older one was very responsible and always did the right thing. However, the younger one was quite wild. Perhaps today that would not seem so odd, but back then it was unheard of. She’d sneak out at night, go dancing, drinking, sleeping around—the whole nine yards. The older sister was always on her case about it, but the father was very kind to the younger daughter. Finally the older daughter went to the father and complained, “She’s no good, she does all these bad things. Why are you so nice to her? Why don’t you correct her?”
“No, no, no, you don’t understand,” said the father. “I used to check her room and see that she was gone and then stay up and yell at her when she got home. But one day when I was waiting for her to come back, I fell asleep. When I awoke she had already come back and she was in our dharma room bowing and later sitting. So afterwards I asked her, ‘What were you doing?’ And she said, ‘I know I have this bad karma, I just can’t control it. But I try to bow to Buddha every day 108 times and sit and hope that I can change this karma.’ So then I said, ‘Oh, very good. You just continue that way’.”
Still the older daughter was angry, “That doesn’t matter! She still does all these bad things!” But the father remained very kind towards the younger daughter. Over time, the girl’s desire started to calm down. Before she would run out every chance she got, then only a couple times a week and then only once a week. Finally, going out wasn’t that interesting to her any more. She even enjoyed bowing, sitting, and doing things to help others.
At the same time, the older daughter started to think, “Our father’s always nice to my sister even though she’s so bad… I’m going to do that, too.” So she started to go out at night and dance, drink, and sleep with guys. Then the father started to talk to her. But she would always say, “No! I’ll do what I want! I like it!” The sister, too, couldn’t get anywhere with her. Finally, the sister had to go with some relatives, grab her, tie her up, and bring her home.
That’s a funny story about karma. Everybody has karma. Some of it we consider good, and some bad. But if we have a practicing mind, then we can change our karma. But if we have an “I like it!” mind and don’t develop a practicing mind, then we will really have a problem. Zen Master Seung Sahn has always been a good teacher because he understands that people have karma. If you want to, you can change even the strongest karma. However, you can’t always do that immediately. But if you keep trying, if you keep developing a practicing mind, then finally you can become stronger than your karma. Then your karma will follow your direction, rather than you following your karma.
Zen Master Seung Sahn said that our karma is like a dog. If you take a dog for a walk, sometimes you walk straight, but the dog runs all over the place. He smells something, then runs over there; he pees and looks for food—round and round. But if you are the master and you keep going straight, eventually the dog will end up at the same place you do. The dog’s not going to run off completely; it will always come back to where you are. So our practicing mind is like that. If we make our practicing mind strong, then our karma will run this way and that way, but eventually it will come back to where we are; it will follow us. Then we can use our karma to help other people.
By Zen Master Dae Bong