Refrain From Evil

Daniel Scharpenburg
3 min readNov 9, 2021

“All the sufferings of the lower realms, so extremely difficult to bear,

Are taught by the Sage to be the fruit of one’s evil actions.

Therefore, it is the practice of bodhisattvas

To constantly refrain from evil actions, even at the cost of one’s life.”

-the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva, verse 8.*

Today we are talking about karma. Specifically there is this belief that the good and bad things you do in this life will have an impact on you in future lives. And if you do things that are really really bad, you can be reborn in a place of true horror.

I have wildly oversimplified this and I want to make that really clear.

But there are a couple things to address. This kind of teaching is really hard for us to wrap our minds around. It’s really difficult to relate to “i better not do this because in a future life i’ll be harmed.” Even if we believe wholeheartedly in future lives, it’s still hard to really think about. And many of us don’t believe in future lives. When teachings like this were written in Tibet and India the people receiving them believed in rebirth as a part of life. In this time and place many of us have a more ambivalent attitude toward rebirth. We didn’t grow up hearing about rebirth all the time.

But that doesn’t take away from this teaching. Why?

Because harmful effects of negative actions ripen in this life too.

In ‘Way of the Bodhisattva’ Shantideva says:

“Misery, mental discomfort,

All different kinds of fear,

Being separated from what we desire-

All happen because of our evil behavior.”

We don’t need to think about future lives to see how some actions have negative effects on us. We can see it now if we’re paying attention.

Actions have consequences and when we pay attention we can see how when we meet the world with aggression and negativity that’s what we get. When we come from a place of openheartedness we can relate to the world in a more helpful and meaningful way. People may say this view is naive and you have to be a shark to get ahead in life. But the truth, I think, is that sharks aren’t happy.

You touch a hot stove and your hand gets burned. You gossip about people and people don’t trust you. You post mean spirited things on…