Thank you all for a very nice thread on a very important topic. My two cents;
I am an agnostic atheist. To me dharma is something to be utilized now and not a tool to alter some hypothetical future existence which may or may not be there. This have been said before by others and I'm just voicing my consent on that.
What I say next is not meant to offend anyone. I suspect this might be a sensitive issue since it's so fundamental for some people’s take on Buddhism. But I've chosen Treeleaf precisely because I think the vibe here is right for me to talk about stuff like this and not feel guilty for "disturbing the peace" or whatever.
Simply saying "the world and the cosmos is miraculously complex and wonderful!" is in my view not a good reason to believe anything and is not a valid argument to be as proof for any claim. All is does is reaffirm the fact that as of yet we have very little idea of what is actually doing on. It is merely an articulation of our ignorance regarding our own situation. The cavemen felt the same way when they saw a solar eclipse. That does not proof that a god ate the sun. It simply proves that we don't really know.
I'm all for the mundane principle of cause and effect. I see that at work daily. That traditional take on karma as a transcendent cosmic thing makes no sense to me at all. Maybe I haven't looked hard enough on here but it seems the implications following such a cosmic phenomenon are being overlooked.
What proof is there backing up this grand claim regarding the way your life, everybody else's life and indeed the entirety of the universe supposedly functions? If you want to have a rational discussion arguments that amount to things like "I feel it in my gut" or "I'd really wish it to be so" do not count. I can't give you (- rhetorical you. Not a specific person.) any credit for that and I hope you understand why.
Okay. Let's go with it. Let's say we're part of some cosmic game. Whether cosmic karma is the rules of the game or not it's still pretty cruel. I am made to suffer just by being here. We are then slaves of some cosmic Matrix or being. I do not wish to be a slave; to be owned or played with. I’m just here and trying to roll with life as it is. There are tribes in Africa who have never heard of the Precepts and others elsewhere who chose not take them up. Does this mean that by the rules of the game they deserve to suffer? One cannot inherit immoral actions. It is the equivalent of convicting me of a crime my distant ancestor committed. There's no way I could possibly have prevented it.
Just so with past lives. I am not involved with them and I do not remember them. How can you state that punishing me for something I did not do and could not possibly have prevented is okay? I cannot take you morally serious. It seems karma requires literal rebirth itself to be true in order to work out. In Buddhism there are no true “self” or soul. For the system to work it also requires some metaphysical repository where my moral records are stored and carried over. It must somehow be distinct from both the body and the mind since these stop at death. Can you prove that and if so how does it work? Who or what sets up the judging criteria for the morality of actions? Do we have objective moral values all of a sudden? How come they're set like that? Who gave whatever it is rights over my future existence that's still not really “me” according to Buddhism?
In conclusion: Following the reasoning of the traditional karma-doctrine as I see it is likely to lead to dark places that make no sense.
Also WAY too much thinking and missing of the point. But! It can never hurt to think an opinion properly through before deciding to adopt it or not.
Anyway. Each to his own. My big elephant in the room at Treeleaf has left.
Now the grumpy guy will go sit. Gassho all!