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Thread: Jundo's Karma/Kamma Comments

  1. #1

    Jundo's Karma/Kamma Comments

    Hi,

    I did not get a chance to post today due to our own 'cyber-karma' (also known as an internet crash), so I want to now. I am starting a new thread, as we have several threads going in Parallel and I wish to comment on various aspects of the discussion... I am going to treat 'scattershot' a variety of topics in no particular order ...

    First, the article that Rev introduced by Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw. This represents a very typical example of a mechanical, literal, traditional view of the workings of Karma, much as found in Tibetan Buddhism too.

    Yes, personally, I find the described mechanism to be fantastic, highly imaginative and largely unsupported by empirical evidence, for example, in statements such as this:

    What is the cause of the inequality that exists among mankind? ... Either this inequality of mankind has a cause, or it is purely accidental. No sensible person would think of attributing this unevenness, this inequality, and this diversity to blind chance or pure accident.

    In this world nothing happens to a person that he does not for some reason or other deserve. Usually, men of ordinary intellect cannot comprehend the actual reason or reasons. The definite invisible cause or causes of the visible effect is not necessarily confined to the present life, they may be traced to a proximate or remote past birth.


    Such theories of Karma are very important in most schools of Buddhism. Fortunately, it is not so important to the Zen schools because of our emphasis on the 'here and now'. We live the life we have here and now, letting whatever happens after death largely 'take care of itself'. There are many mysteries that we do not know, and do not need to know in order to live our life. Karma is one such idea we do not require, ideas of 'god(s)' are another. Whatever is the mechanism running the universe, here we find ourselves ... nothing to do but chop wood and fetch water.

    I take pains, however, to emphasize that I am 'agnostic' on questions of mechanical karma and gods. That means that, while I have doubts on their existence, I do not know for sure ... and do not care, as I do not really need to know. But, just because I have my strong doubts, it still might be precisely as Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw describes.

    Like many here, I also think that the "inequality that exists among mankind" might perfectly be the result of accident and random events. [I will confess that I am writing a book in which I examine topics related to this that rejects some of the modern view that human life is the result of accident and random events without something to "load the dice". My book will examine all the "did not have to be, and by the odds should not have been, but nonetheless came to be" prior events that led to my sitting here as a human being with all the physical faculties to write this message, your being alive to read it. I believe that, in a truly random universe, I most likely should not have been born, and believe that my having been born (same for you) despite the apparent odds and endless opportunities for events to have gone in some other direction, leads to some suspicion of "loaded dice" hand in hand with the random nature of the process. Now, I do not then run to either a god or karma to fill in the cracks, but certainly a mechanism like karma was invented to explain this same mystery to people of ages past]

    But, as I said ... it is not important to our Zen Practice, and is just idle speculation. [Consider my writing that book just my hobby, not directly related to Zen Practice].

    I do believe, of course, that our actions have effects in the present moment that reverberate into the future, although not always the effects we intend. The baby we rescue from drowning through a good act may turn into a mass murderer as an adult. Some good effects come from even our worst actions. Still, generally, I believe that we should seek to act in ways that do no harm, and are helpful, as doing so will generally tend to produce a better life and world for ourselves and others [not two]. [The poem that Paige posted on this theme is simply so beautiful ... http://www.treeleaf.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=7516#7516 ]

    I believe that we are on the cutting edge of reality right now despite our lives being the product of past causes. We are not totally free (I cannot escape circumstances completely ... I cannot fly with wings like a bird given the genes I inherited), but I can largely guide the present and future by my thoughts, words and deeds. [Nishijima has a lovely description of this in the book of his I translated]:

    Gudo: ... The perspective of the ‘Law of Cause & Effect’ is that our every action, without exception, has its origin in a priori causes stemming from our actions, as well as environmental and other factors which occurred in the past.

    Sekishin: But if that is the case, I believe that there are some strange implications. For example, if we posit that we are so firmly bound by ‘Cause & Effect,’ by a priori causes, then we human beings truly lack freedom of action, freedom of choice and free will ...

    Gudo: [The] means of resolution [of this dilemma] was found in a concept of the ‘instantaneousness of the universe.’

    Sekishin: The ‘instantaneousness of the universe?’ ….. What is that?’

    Gudo: If I were to describe in a very few words the meaning of the ‘instantaneousness of the universe,’ I would say this: ‘Each and all of that which exists in this world in which we reside arises and take places moment by moment, all while vanishing and passing away moment by moment.’

    ...

    Let us imagine that we are standing atop a place as thin and narrow as the blade edge of the sharpest razor ….. Just as we would then have the freedom to fall to the left or to fall to the right, the time of the present which is the stage for all our actions, the one and only foundation for our lives, is also a momentary existence of the thinnest and narrowest width, whereby ….. although we are bound within the world of reality, the world of actions ….. yet, we are free, and although we are free ….. yet are we bound.
    Master Dogen's view of time flowing in multiple directions [e.g., future flows into past as past flows into future], and his "simultaneously true perspectives" come into play here. Dogen might say, for example, that not only does a killing act cause the effect of death, but death brings forth a killing act [not only can time's arrow be reversed, and the arrow fly back into the bow ... but one might say that there is no murder without a murderous act and no murderous act without a murder, so that murder and murderous act simultaneously arise and give existence to each other ... and also that further simultaneously true perspective with no one to do the killing, no separate one to be killed. There are other "simultaneously true" perspectives in "Dogen-think"too.]

    Doogie asked:

    I'm just curious. What is the Soto view of "good." Is anything really good? Or bad for that matter? If everything is just as it is, perfectly as it is, then nothing can be either good or bad. Though certainly someone can perceive a thing as being good or bad, and someone else might perceive that thing as being just the opposite.

    I do not know if there is only one "Soto view of good", and ideas will vary among Soto teachers. I personally perceive of actions which bring about harm to ourselves and/or others, versus actions helpful and healthful. Everything is perfectly "just what it is", even harmful actions. Still, it is best to avoid harmful actions where possible ... because they do harm. I also believe that no action is purely harmful or harmless, and actions have complex effects.

    I do believe that (as Will mentioned), from the viewpoint of a Buddha, all causes and effects are gone. Still, however, we must live as human beings in this relative world where causes will have effects, good and bad right and wrong ... even as the Buddha's perspective is true too. We drop all thought, in "Just Sitting" of "good bad right wrong", yet cannot survive in this world without some ideas of "good bad right wrong".

    In "Just Sitting", we can drop all thought of past and future, and view the past as fully extinguished. We are living perfectly in the present, and life is a clean slate. You might have been a mass murderer yesterday, but if you drop all thought of that from mind, the future is open to you. However, as true as that is, we must reflect on our past actions, and bear the weight of what we have done (I think). It is not that we should beat ourselves with undeserved and unnecessary guilt ... but we should truly repent our deeds that deserve repenting, learn from them, work to actively heal damage we have done. We might also "release without overlooking or forgetting" harms done to us in the past (for example, if we were the victim of child abuse, perhaps we should best release the past, and seek to understand and pity the ignorance of our attacker, yet not overlook our wounds and psychic hurt, and the need to prevent additional harm in the future).


    Anyway, enough for now .

    Gassho, J

  2. #2
    I'd love to hear more about Dogen's theory of "simultaneously true perspectives" you mention (or just point me to some texts)

    Thanks,
    Skye

  3. #3
    Hi Skye,

    The first few talks on Genjo Koan (focusing on the first paragraph of that writing) are a good place to see that ... They start here:

    http://treeleafzen.blogspot.com/2007/12 ... oan-i.html

    Really, the whole of Genjo Koan, and all the Shobogenzo, is a lesson in experiencing life in that way. We will soon get to another section of Genjo Koan that presents simultaneous ways of experiencing time and the events in our life (the section about "firewood and ash").

    A most important part of our Zen Practice is this "multi-level, not even one level" way of experincing life ... time flows yet stands still, accepting without accepting, dropping all likes and dislikes while having many likes and dislikes, having a self while dropping the self, etc. etc. If you can live that way, you will live a full and rich life as a human being, yet be free.

    Gassho, Jundo

  4. #4
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Jundo's Karma/Kamma Comments

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    What is the cause of the inequality that exists among mankind? ... Either this inequality of mankind has a cause, or it is purely accidental. No sensible person would think of attributing this unevenness, this inequality, and this diversity to blind chance or pure accident.

    In this world nothing happens to a person that he does not for some reason or other deserve. Usually, men of ordinary intellect cannot comprehend the actual reason or reasons. The definite invisible cause or causes of the visible effect is not necessarily confined to the present life, they may be traced to a proximate or remote past birth.
    This is exactly the view of karma that makes my blood boil. I think it's immoral and lazy. Believing something like the above means not having to worry about trying to correct injustice, because even the seemingly most innocent person somehow "deserved" what they got. This is the shame-inducing function of religion that makes perfectly decent people believe somehow they are horrible or tainted because of what has happened to them. I could cuss a blue streak about this all night long, so let's just say that in conclusion, I think that people who believe that going through a bad experience means that somehow some bad part of them "deserved it" are victimized twice, once by whomever or whatever harmed them in the first place, and in the second place by loathsome views. It is my sincere wish that all beings who suffer self-loathing because of this sort of propaganda be freed, and that those who promote such propaganda get whacked--hard!--upside the head with Manjushri's 2x4 of wisdom...

  5. #5

    Re: Jundo's Karma/Kamma Comments

    Stephanie said:

    This is exactly the view of karma that makes my blood boil. I think it's immoral and lazy. Believing something like the above means not having to worry about trying to correct injustice, because even the seemingly most innocent person somehow "deserved" what they got. This is the shame-inducing function of religion that makes perfectly decent people believe somehow they are horrible or tainted because of what has happened to them.
    Yes, I know what you mean. It is amazing how may religions feel a need to address this. Most people seem to be uncomfortable with randomness and chance even though it is a fundamental part of the universe.

    One interesting thing to note about traditional views of Karma is that it seems to be less shame-inducing than the traditional Calvinist approach. In my understanding, Calvinists say that if bad things happen to you, it is an indication that you are not "saved". Under traditional Karma, once the bad thing happened, you've worked off your "karmic debt" and can move forward from there.

    But, my view of Karma is more personal. Each of my actions will affect the world for good, bad or neutrally. So, I really need to be mindful of what I do. My good or bad actions may affect me directly or not. But the totality of everyones actions will affect us all, one way or another.

  6. #6

    Re: Jundo's Karma/Kamma Comments

    Quote Originally Posted by lindabeekeeper

    But, my view of Karma is more personal. Each of my actions will affect the world for good, bad or neutrally. So, I really need to be mindful of what I do. My good or bad actions may affect me directly or not. But the totality of everyones actions will affect us all, one way or another.
    So nicely said, I think. Gassho, J

  7. #7
    Stephanie
    Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by lindabeekeeper
    One interesting thing to note about traditional views of Karma is that it seems to be less shame-inducing than the traditional Calvinist approach. In my understanding, Calvinists say that if bad things happen to you, it is an indication that you are not "saved". Under traditional Karma, once the bad thing happened, you've worked off your "karmic debt" and can move forward from there.
    Excellent point. And that's why I find karma a less offensive doctrine. And when I read the teachings, it seems like the basic ideas of karma are devoid of those sorts of ideas about everything that happens having to do with someone "deserving" something or other. It's really the notion of "deserve" that I can't agree with. I think perhaps with this teaching of karma, there is less of a feeling of personal guilt, but I definitely think it can lead to social irresponsibility. One might have a hopeful and proactive stance about one's own life, but then one might start to see the things happening to others around one as "needed karmic debt pay-offs" instead of an invitation to work for social change.

  8. #8
    I don't agree that the "karmic debt" idea is the guiding principle - I view good karma as a state of stability and harmony. When your deeds or the actions of others disturb this state, you feel perhaps agitated, out of sorts, disconnected. When I let go of the disturbance, I then can get back to the "good" karma.

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