Thursday, September 26, 2013

Karma O Karma! (action)

Ashin Narada (Sitagu Int'l Buddhist Academy), Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Wisdom Quarterly
Karma Man to the rescue by cartoonist-comedian Dan Piraro (
“All beings have karma as their own, as their companion, as their inheritance.”

Karma is the law of causation in a moral (sila, virtuous, ethical) sphere. Rebirth is its corollary.  
Karma and rebirth are fundamental and interrelated teachings in Buddhism.

These two doctrines existed, mostly kept from the public, in India prior to the Buddha. But it was the Buddha who formulated and explained them in the manner we have today. Seers (rishis) clearly knew of them from their own meditative attainments, but what they made of, what they deduced and concluded

What is the cause of the inequality that exists among people?  How do we account for the unevenness in this ill-balanced world?

"Karma Man" (
WHY, WHY, WHY ME? Why is one born into luxury, endowed with excellent mental, moral, and physical qualities, and another raised in poverty and abject misery? Why should one be born a millionaire, another a pauper? Why is one a prodigy, another an dimwit? Why is one born with virtuous characteristics and another with criminal tendencies? Why are some artists, mathematicians, linguists, and musicians from the cradle while others toil congenitally blind, deformed, or inept? Why are some blessed and others cursed from birth?
The ripening of karma is, of course, not the only reason why things happen. But it is constantly there sustaining and modifying conditions. We may be helped or harmed by others, pulled from misery or thrown into it unfairly. ("Fairness" plays in both directions, though we rarely complain aloud about our unearned gains and advantages, and we bask in the pity and sympathy others may bestow on us in our presumed helplessness and how "unfairly" we are being treated by the world as if everyone were born equal in merit and opportunity).

Either there is a definite cause for this inequality or there is not.  If there is not, the inequality is accidental.

Good sense precludes us from attributing this inequality to blind chance or chaotic accident.  Rather one senses that in this world nothing happens to anyone who does not for some unknown or unclear reason or other deserve it.
But "deserve" is a troublesome word, connoting that the universe or society or others are trying to "teach" us something, when it is simply the impersonal working out of actions attracting their consequences and/or us meeting ourselves again and again. We may be trying to teach ourselves something, but the impersonal world without is simply going along as it wishes. To impute a purpose or plan out there is dangerous and misleading. To see one in here may be helpful and may accord with pre-birth agreements or plans to undergo types of experience in one or more lives.

Our lives are shaped by our intentions/volitions rooted in benefit (nongreed, nonhatred, nondelusion) or harm (greed, hatred, delusion). When our hearts/minds are purified of these harmful elements, joy follows us like a dependable shadow.
Usually the actual reason or reasons why things happen cannot be comprehended by ordinary intellects. The definite invisible cause or causes-and-conditions of the visible effect may not be confined to the present life. What is happening to "us" is not happening because of who we are but rather who we have been, often very-very long ago. A cause may be traced to a proximate or remote past birth. With the aid of past life regression, hypnosis, telesthesia, and retro-cognitive knowledge, it may be possible for a highly developed seer to perceive events that are ordinarily imperceptible to the physical eye. Buddhists speak of such a possibility.

The majority of people ordinarily attribute inequality to a single cause such as the will of an all-powerful creator being, gods (devas) at play, or Fate. In place of the whim of an almighty being (an uncaused cause), or the caprice of the universe, the Buddha explained the impersonal law of karma as the cause of many significant events.

How do modern scientists account for the inequality among people? Confining themselves to sensory data, they attribute inequality to heredity (genetic dispositions) and environment (social and chemico-physical causes). In 1926 the distinguished biologist Julian Huxley wrote:

“Some genes control colour, others height or weight, others fertility or length of life, others vigour and the reverse, others shape or proportions. Possibly all, certainly the vast majority, of hereditary characteristics are gene-controlled[?]. For mental characters, especially the more complex and subtle ones, the proof is more difficult, but there is every evidence that they are inheritable, and no evidence that their inheritance is due to a different mechanism from that for bodily characters. That which is inherited in our personality and bodily peculiarities depends somehow upon the interaction of this assorted battery of genes with which we are equipped at fertilization” (The Stream of Life).

What questions can science even tackle?
How or why we are thus equipped is not discussed, as science has little to say beyond simple empiricism. To say that it is mere “chance” is the same as saying that there is no reason for it at all.

One may be read to admit that the phenomena revealed by science are partly instrumental as mechanisms more than actual "causes." Could mechanisms be solely responsible for the subtle distinctions that exist among individuals? Why should identical twins physically alike by virtue of inherited genes -- enjoying the same privileges and disadvantages of upbringing -- be temperamentally, morally, and intellectually different?

Heredity alone cannot account for the vast differences we observe. Strictly speaking, it would account more plausibly for a few of the similarities than for most of the differences.

The minute chemico-physical germ (fertilized ovum) inherited from parents, thought to be about 30 millionth of an inch across, explains only a portion of a person, that is, the physical foundation.  With regard to the more complex aspects, one can search and search the environment and still not find a satisfactory explanation. Karma -- when understood correctly rather than assumed to mean immediate mechanical cause-and-effect as postulated by Newtonian physicists -- provides just such a satisfactory, and at least personally verifiable, explanation.

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