I want to ask you about What is the meaning of Karma in Zen perspective?
Because it's quite confusing for me.... (There are some versions about its interpretations)
Gassho, Shui Di
I want to ask you about What is the meaning of Karma in Zen perspective?
Because it's quite confusing for me.... (There are some versions about its interpretations)
Gassho, Shui Di
Hi Shui Di,Originally Posted by Shui_Di
A BIG question, and just right before I was gonna head for bed! :wink:
Well, Karma means "actions" or "deeds", and means that all our actions (and specifically our volitional words, thoughts and deeds) have effects.
Now, in its most traditional meaning in Buddhism, it was believed that "Karma" would work in some way to determine one's rebirth after death, whether as a god or human being or fox, as a Bodhisattva or hungry ghost, in a good place or in some Buddhist hell. As I said, this is "Karma" in its most traditional form, and is actually a belief originating in Hinduism and long pre-dating Buddhism. It is probably what Shakyamuni Buddha himself originally taught, which is not so surprising as he himself was a man living in ancient India, believing that the universe functioned in the way that ancient Indians of his time believed.
Buddha also taught that he had found the means to "cut off" Karma, and that (because he had done so and, thus, was a "Buddha"), he would be reborn no more.
Through the centuries, Ch'an/Zen teachers have had an ambivalent relationship with such a traditional view of Karma, because our way tends to emphasize Practice in the "here and now". So, we are not as focused on after-death and "rebirth" as many other types of Buddhist. However, that varied from teacher to teacher, and some Ch'an/Zen teachers were very traditional in their view of Karma and rebirth. In the case of Master Dogen, he seemed to have an ambivalent relationship, meaning that sometimes in his talks he would say something indicating a belief in Karma and rebirth ... but most of the time, he seemed to ignore the subject completely.
Many modern teachers of Zen, particularly in America and Europe, seem to have moved to a more modern interpretation of Karma and rebirth (although many many are still pretty traditional on the subject).
Now, I teach a rather "modern" and skeptical version of "Karma" and "rebirth" (I tend to doubt the literal view of reincarnation, or an overly mechanical system of "Karma" whereby good acts bring good effects, bad acts bring bad effects) ... yet I think I am faithful to the Buddha's message. Let me explain how:
In my case, I teach that, yes, our volitional words, thoughts and deeds do have effects. They have effects on our life now, on our families and the other people around us, on the world we live in. "Good" acts are those that are meant to be harmless, helpful and healthful, and tend (no guarantees ... life is very complicated) to have beneficial effects. Harmful, angry, greedy actions tend to do damage to ourselves, other people and the world. I teach that, in that way, we can often help make a bit of "heaven" or "hell" around us though our own behavior. We can choose to act like compassionate and wise beings (Bodhisattvas) or greedy and angry beasts (hungry ghosts and sly foxes) in this life.
As was discussed yesterday on another thread, I believe that (in one sense) all of us are "reborn" instant by instant by instant. I am not the same Jundo who began writing this message to Shui Di. That is one form of "rebirth" that I am sure of. I also believe that something about us "continues" in some way after we "die", although I dare not say what or how. My actions now will have ramifications long after I am dead. But I do not really care what happens after I die, and will allow that to take care of itself. I will live my life now as best I can, and let the universe handle the rest. I will try to be a good husband, father and friend now, and do no harm now ... and that is enough.
Finally, I also believe that in our Zen Practice, we realize a state in which "Karma" is "cut off" and "rebirth" is no more ... in other words, a perspective where there can be no harm (a state where there is no "self" to do harm, no "self" to be harmed), and of "no birth no death" (in Zazen, we drop those concepts). At the very least, that "instant by instant by instant" rebirth is "cut off", with "no comment" by me on the effect of other forms of "rebirth" (after we get hit by a train "rebirth").
So, if you look closely at my view of Karma and "Rebirth", I hope you see that it is faithful to what Shakyamuni Buddha taught ... although maybe we differ in our interest on what happens after the heart in our chests stops beating.
Now, I am off to bed!
Glad you brought this up Shui_Di.
There was some discussion a while ago about it and how it only relates to volitional acts. I was sure I'd heard/read different and now I know where I got that from.
In Rev. Master Jiyu Kennets 'Zen is Eternal Life' she has translated some of Dogen's writing and in her translation of the 'Shushogi' amongst other things she translates:
"None of us have more than one body in this life time, therefore it is indeed tragic to lead a life of evil as a result of heresy for it is impossible to escape from karmic consequence if we do evil on the assumption that, by not recognising an act as evil, no bad karma can accrue to us."
I've bolded that bit. To me it suggests as I'd previously understood that an act doesn't have to be volitional for there to be a karmic consequence. Ignorance of it's 'wrongness' or outcome is no excuse? I'd be interested in other translations of it.
It also raises a previous concern over karma rebirth in an earlier paragragh:
"It is very difficult to be born as a human being and equally difficult to find Buddhism however, because of the good karma we have accumulated, we have recieved the exceptional gift of a human body ...."
This sits uneasily with me as it seems to go back to relating karma from one life determining the outcome of the next, and supposes that human form is above others and you have to be good to get it, or does it?
I guess I'm a bit of a black and white thinker at heart. I can quite happily go along focussing on the now until this topic raises it's head and different people/sources/organisations say different things or just sit on the fence and it just bugs me. ops:
There are many other things in there that I question. May be I should read less and sit more as there are also lots of referrences to erudition slowing ones training
I guess I need to just cease from evil, do good, and see what side of the fence I fall of eventually
In gassho, Kev
Hi Kev, I've heard that, too. The way I was taught, the intention helps to mitigate the bad karmic consequence but does not erase it entirely. (This make sense to me. When I unintentionally hurt someone, the one I hurt may not forget about it so easily.) This gives the practitioner the incentive to develop Wisdom (prajna I guess) so that pure action results from pure intention. So being a slug with good intentions doesn't get us off the hook. :wink:Originally Posted by Longdog
Jundo, Is this a correct interpretation?
Hi Linda,Originally Posted by lindabeekeeper
These discussions on "Karma" can become as tangled as discussions about "what is a 'sin'" in Christianity. Depends on how you read your Bible/Sutra, and different folks and clergy will teach all manner of things.
As I said about Dogen, sometimes he would make a comment in passing (like those cited by Kevin) that indicate he had some traditional idea of "Karma" and "Rebirth" ... but most of the time, compared to most schools of Buddhism that teach that a central point of Buddhist practice is to "get a good rebirth" (e.g., Tibetan Buddhism or Pure Land Buddhism) ... he seemed to completely ignore the subject. It was not a concern to him. In fact, as he was a person of flesh and blood like you and me ... I do not think he had much more of an idea about what happens when we die than you and I do. He was a man of the 13th Century, educated in conservative Buddhist institutions ... no surprise he sometimes spoke of the universe functioning in the ways people thought back then (just like, someday, people in the 28th Century might laugh at us .... "Ha ha ha, can you believe that in the 21st Century folks believed in "Darwin").
I, for one, do not expect my teachers to be always right and fully informed on every darn subject, just that they be right on most subjects ... and on the subjects that matter the most. I do not ask my biology teacher in school to teach me geography. This is true whether it is Dogen, Nishijima or the Buddha himself. (When I write this opinion of mine sometimes, it is really shocking to some folks, as if we expect our saints, religious teachers and heroes to be perfect in all ways. I settle for "gifted in the most important ways".)
Myself, I do not teach that there is no "rebirth" ... I teach that "I do not know for sure, and it is not vital to my Practice". I will let what happens take care of itself, because it will anyway.
Now, instead of teaching about "Rebirth", Dogen spent most of his time teaching about "No Birth No Death", which is not really the same thing (maybe, with his "simultaneously true" perspectives, he was teaching both at once). "No Birth No Death" is also something that we all can taste and experience for ourselves, and thus verify for ourselves in this world. It is more that, when we drop from mind during Zazen all thought of "Birth" "Death" "Self" "Other" "Kevin" "Linda" "Bees" "Trees" "Blades of Grass" ... and then even drop that from mind too ... well, I will let you figure out the rest for yourself. It is more the idea that we never "die" because we were never "born" ... and so long as the stars are shining, there is shining ... that clouds come and go, but the sky remains. (I say too much about something for which not much can or should be said).
Now, on to Linda's question about 'volitional acts'. I will turn to my training as a lawyer: There are some acts that are not done with intent in life that we are still responsible for. For example, if you do not maintain the brakes on your car just out of carelessness, and your car thus crashes and hurts someone, you are still responsible even though it was not your intent to hurt someone. Yes, we should apply the same idea to Karma, our thoughts, words and deeds. We should take responsibility not to do harm through our carelessness and inattention, and to develop Wisdom and care for that purpose. Thus my standard for the Precepts is [EMPHASIS ADDED]:
Live, as you can, so as not to harm, healthful and helpful to others, not to harm, healthful and helpful to yourself ... and to know that there is ultimately no difference.
May I add a few vines to the thicket?
Dogen Zenji was extremely well versed in the Suttas, so it’s fairly safe to rule out the possibility that he was unaware of the Buddha's definition of karma:
In the glossary of the Shobogenzo Zuimonki as translated by Ven. Shohaku Okumura, he cites the following definition of karma from Ven. Nyanatiloka’s Pali Buddhist dictionary:Originally Posted by Shakyamuni Buddha
As can be seen from the above, the ‚modern‘ definition above used by Ven. Shohaku Okumura (who is just as good a representative of contemporary Soto Zen as any, I suppose) doesn’t differ in the least from the ‚traditional‘ definition attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha.Originally Posted by Ven. Nyanatiloka
As for the citations Kev quoted, they have to be looked at in their historical context. The fact that those particular ones were from the Shushogi doesn’t make things easier, as Dogen Zenji didn’t write that treatise directly, but rather it was compiled from bits and pieces of various chapters of the Shobogenzo by the Sotoshu. When looking at that citation, we should keep in mind that Dogen Zenji never tired of criticizing the ‚naturalist‘ view, which said that „all things were generated spontaneously without karmic causation; the devastating implication of this was that spiritual efforts were dispensable“ (Hee-Jin Kim). Most certainly Dogen Zenji was aiming here at eradicating that view amongst his followers. In any case, if you look at the translation of the Shushogi provided directly by the Sotoshu, it becomes clear that an argument for non-volitional karma is not the intent.
http://www.stanford.edu/group/scbs/sztp ... shogi.htmlOriginally Posted by Sotoshu version of Sushogi
What we understand shapes our thoughts, which in turn shapes our speech and our actions, therefore I think it’s vital to undersand karma correctly. I'm convinced that Dogen Zenji would never have advocated a view which leads to harm - and you don’t have to think about it very long to see the harmful implications of a view of karma which is non-volitional.
Anyway, hope that helps.
Thanks for that input fron other sorces Ken Not sure that the sotoshu version's last sentence contradicts the one I posted though although the others do.
What we can be sure of though is if we sit and follow the precepts the lotus will blossom.
In gassho, Kev
i for one think that karma is irrelevant.
at least when it comes to the consideration of action. i never think " this will be goodbad karma "
i personally think that with practice one develops wisdom and compassion which is inherent in us all.
and besides karma is such a complex thing that one can not truly understand it or even if he does, karma could never be predicted.
there for i think it is irrelevant in a way.
i strongly agree with Jundo. we should live out life with compassion and do our best to avoid harm, while trying to do what we can to help others. ( Jundo you say it much better! ).
since wisdom and compassion arise in us as we practice and live our lives, i think we should just act without giving much thought to consequences, and trust that we are doing the right thing.
Hi Ken,Originally Posted by Kenneth
You are right, but it is still a very nebulous subject.
What is "Kamma", what does it do, how does it work??? ... Is it just "cause" as in "cause & effect" in a physical sense? Is it related to a "good rebirth" (and is there such a thing)? Is there a one-to-one relationship of your "bad" actions in a previous life to the "bad" things that happened to you last week? It is not much of a concern to me, nor should it be.
I say that we should just concentrate on "not doing harm" here and now, and let the definitions and ramifications take care of themselves. After all, if I do something nice now and it has effect on my future life, or if I do something nice now and it has no effect except on the people around me ... well, in either case, I still have done something nice (same for doing things not so nice).
But on your point about "volition", I would assert the carelessness and inaction can rise to a degree that constitutes volition and action. A case in point is the one I raised: Being so careless and uncaring as to not bother to fix the breaks on your car, or to drive while intoxicated, is clearly selfish and volitional ... even if there is no specific intent to hurt anyone. I think it is "bad karma" ... not to mention, usually a criminal offense if you kill someone accidentally in that way.
Gassho, Jundo, Buddhist Lawyer
I think karma is extremely relevant, but not in the traditional (or the Sharon Stone) way. I think it is a wonderful metaphor for how our actions have repercussions beyond our understanding.Originally Posted by Zen
Take a simple situation - you say mean words to someone today, and ten years later, they remember those words, and you have consequences. Or a more vague situation - today, you ate in a restaurant, and, perhaps, talked more than usual to the waiter (or waitress), who you know because you eat in that restaurant often. Perhaps you said something that resonated with them - something loosely related to your dharma practice, something that, months later, will ripen and lead that person to question their life and to, perhaps, make a choice.
There are millions of examples; our lives are endlessly branching trees of decisions made and not made, of roads taken or not, and each branch could have led to an entirely different life...
Well, I just wrote a post about karma, but it is so absurdly long that I'm not going to post it. Instead, I'll just add this point to the discussion:
I think that talking about whether or not karma is volitional doesn't make a lot of sense. Volition is problematic for (at least) two reasons.
One is that it is often difficult to distinguish between a volitional action and a non-volitional action. And even if we can distinguish, a volitional action can cause suffering; a volitional action can alleviate suffering; a non-volitional action can do both as well. They both have actual consequences. What do we get out of calling the consequences of a volitional action 'karmic' but not those of a non-volitional action?
The other is that we always act on the basis of imperfect understanding and incomplete information. An action that is based on compassion or 'right' volition can have terrible consequences and cause suffering for many people. An action that is aimed at badly harming a person can have the opposite effect and do that person a lot of good. So we can't actually establish a direct, simple cause-and-effect relationship between volition and outcome. I mean, it's clear that volition precedes action which precedes outcome, but the nature of the volition doesn't cause the consequences in any simple way. So what does it mean to say that 'good' actions based on 'good' volition leads to 'good' karma, if the action hurts dozens of people?
Ken,Originally Posted by Kenneth
I don't disagree; but a volitional view of karma may have just as many harmful implications and be just as problematic.
I'm sure you're right Charles, the effects of our actions are too complex to boil down that simply, whether volitional or not, the old chaos theory variables can mean that an act that seems beneficial at that moment for that person could indirectly lead to something not so beneficial somewhere else.
As you say we all come from a certain view point and level of understanding that isn't perfect. I'd say our background: upbringing, class, education, culture, life beliefs, all alter what we personally see as acceptable or unacceptable and that the boundaries of acceptable or not are flexible depending on the situation you find yourself in.
As Jundo said we can only concentrate on not doing harm at each moment, it's not something to worry about, and may be in affect irrelevant, but it is interesting to discuss as you can't seem to get away from questions about it and the big ''R' in Buddhism.
In gassho, Kev
Karma is volitional activities of body, speech and mind which are conditioned by greed, hate and ignorance.Originally Posted by Jundo
Well, in the case of unwholesome volitional activity, the answer is obvious: it causes suffering.Originally Posted by Jundo
That is described by dependent origination (paticca samupp?da). Among other places, it’s described in detail in the ‚Book of Causation‘ (Nidanavagga), which is part of the Samyutta Nikaya. The second link in the chain is karma formation (sankhara). So much for the theory, in practice we all have to find out how it works for ourselves. No getting around that, I'm afraid.Originally Posted by Jundo
No. We mustn’t forget that karma isn’t to be looked at from an ontological or physical standpoint, instead it must be assessed in terms of its soteriological value. If karma wasn’t volition, it would have to be described by things beyond our control, i.e. spontaneous, random, accidental arising or something like fate or destiny - all of which are foreign to Buddhist thought. What (soteriological) value could that possibly have for the Buddhist practitioner?Originally Posted by Jundo
Karma doesn’t necessarily imply reincarnation. In fact, as Edward Conze and Wolfgang Schumann have stated, it’s quite likely that dependent origination originally contained fewer links (7, if I remember correctly.) Those that were added at a later date were precisely those required to allow for the concept of reincarnation. (As you know, I personally do not believe in reincarnation, and there is ample evidence to suggest that the Buddha did not either, but that’s another subject...)Originally Posted by Jundo
We are what we understand, what we say and what we do. Just as warmth, color and light are innate and inseparable aspects of a candle flame, our understanding, words and deeds aren’t separate entities which we can pick and choose, but different aspects of our practice. Not the same, but also not different. Here’s what Hee-Jin Kim (in 'Eihei Dogen – Mystical Realist') had to say about Dogen Zenji’s view on the importance of understanding for realization of the Way:Originally Posted by Jundo
In relation to karma, this means the only way to overcome it is to understand it - and act accordingly.Originally Posted by Hee-Jin Kim
Anyway, I hope I’m not coming across as being overly argumentative. (The humidity is a killer here today!) If so, I apologize and will henceforth say nothing but ‚Mu!‘ for my next 500 lives. :wink: Seriously, all the aforementioned is said with respect towards yourself and the rest of the Sangha.
Hi every one, thanks for the respond....
Well, I don't know about the law in western country, but in Indonesia,
if some one who break the law, but the person do it accidentally (may be because ignorance), the punishment for that person is smaller than if you do it volitionally.
I think, that's the same about karma.
But, I also mention that our practice, is as well as we can not to do harm, that's enough. We also belief that, every action have the reaction. let the reaction come if it has to come, and just let it go.
I think we shouldn't think that I want to do a good action because I want to get a good reaction too, maybe in the next time, or in the next life (if it's exist).
I think, We should do a good action, because it's just come from our conscience .
About, whether there is a life after death, or there is a rebirth........
I don't know.... because I haven't died, and it's not so important for our practice I think.
Gassho, Shui Di
This is the kind of misunderstanding of karma that pisses me off:
Yep. Exactly.Originally Posted by Stephanie
Hi Ken,Originally Posted by Kenneth
Most of my questions were rhetorical, emphasizing the fact that opinions differ even within Buddhism on just what "Karma" is and how it works. Your definitions, Ken, are exactly right according to traditional teachings ... but when you go beyond those very general definitions you state in trying to nail these things down, it all becomes nebulous pretty fast. I agree through and through with certain definitions of "Karma", but I have great reservations about other ways of looking at "Karma".
(1) For example, If you are talking about just the basic principle that our actions motivated by greed, hate and ignorance will tend to cause (even then, I do not see a one-to-one mechanical relationship, and often greedy or hateful actions will have unexpected beneficial results together with harm) suffering for ourselves and others as their direct effect ... I am with you completely.
(2) But if you say that a hateful action will, through some unspecified cosmic mechanism, have effect on my rebirth after I am dead, I will express my most great doubt. It could be, but I see no evidence for that. Anyway, it is not important to my practice.
(3) If you even say that an action now will necessarily sit in wait somehow, to work its retribution on me years from now ... I will say that that is sometimes the case (that sometimes something we did years ago will come back to haunt us), but often it is not the case at all. In fact, my actions are often redirected or canceled out by other surrounding circumstances that are spontaneous, random, accidental. Sometimes bad things just happen to good people, and sometimes bad people walk away without a care (sometimes ... I think that, generally, folks motivated my greed, anger and ignorance will almost always muck up their lives). The waves created by the stones we toss in the pond often just blend together, and fade away. Again, it is not important to my practice: Whether the things that happen in this world "happen for a reason" and reflect a certain "cosmic justice" ... or whether many things don't happen for any reason at all and there is no "justice" sometimes ... no matter.
I say that (1) is perfectly sensible and visible to my eyes, but (2) and (3) leave me unconvinced.
Today I read in the paper a tragic story about a toddler that was killed by a drunk driver, and a beautiful family that was physically and emotionally crippled by the accident. It is heart-breaking. They encountered that drunk driver seemingly by accident on a dark highway.
Now, if you will say to me that the child and the family somehow "brought" the tragedy onto themselves by something they did yesterday or 100 lifetimes ago, I will say maybe ... but I do not think so.
But if you ask me whether I trust life to play out as it does, a mixture of smiles and tears ... I will say that I trust it completely.
Unfortunately I'm not aware of any specific book dedicated to the subject, although serious Buddhist literature of all kinds essentially describe what I've summed up in my posts. Sadly enough, 'popular' understanding tends to differ... Apart from that, I'm most indebted to 2 fellow Soto Zen practitioners (one of whom was one of the last students of Uchiyama Roshi) with whom I've had discussions and who've greatly helped deepen my own personal understanding.Originally Posted by HezB
Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I'd be happy to sign that one, so there's no need for me to address each point individually. Indeed, many of the things you've listed have nothing to do with karma. Whether they exist at all is a completely different subject. I think a lot of people get confused by thinking that everything that happens must somehow be related to karma, which is clearly not the case. Many things happen to 'good' and 'bad' people which have nothing to do with karma. The way in which those affected react to those events, the actions they take as a consequence - that is their karma.
Ken,Originally Posted by Kenneth
Supposing a bad situation in which a person responds with compassion, in a way intended to make things better and reduce suffering for everyone involved; but through no fault of their own, due to imperfect knowledge of the situation, their actions cause suffering rather than relieve it. On the view of Karma you're talking about, how is this to be understood?
By the way, I'm asking in a spirit of trying to understand this idea of Karma, not trying to be deliberately challenging or argumentative.
Kev,Originally Posted by Longdog
On one level it's not something to worry about; but I also have sympathy with what Ken is saying, that our understanding does help determine who we are and what we do. My main worry here, I guess, is that if we have a view of karma that implies, 'If I do X and it brings suffering, I've done something wrong' even when our actions have been motivated by compassion in accord with the best information we have at the time we act, we may second-guess ourselves far too much. Thus I'm trying to figure out how a situation like that jives with the view of karma that Ken's describing.
It depends on your perspective. Whatever person A thinks, says or does is and remains person A’s karma. If those actions were somehow directed (either intentionally or per chance) towards person B, that which was person A’s 'bad' karma may result in person B’s 'good' karma, or vice versa. That all depends upon person B’s tendencies towards greed, hate and delusion. Just as winning the lottery or losing your house due to fire may or may not result in good karma. They're just (karmically neutral) events. It all depends upon the recipient. Person X may respond positively to both, while person Y responds negatively to both. The way in which we experience the world, whatever may occur, and the actions we take (i.e. the karma we produce) as a response to those experiences are entirely up to us. A Buddhist practitioner who has insight into this should be less likely to create bad karma than someone who doesn’t – regardless of what he/she experiences.Originally Posted by Charles
Each individual has the freedom to choose their actions in a given situation, and therefore whether to create bad karma or not. If this wasn’t the case, there could be no liberation from karma, which, incidentally, corresponds to the (static) Brahmanistic view of it which was prevalent at the time Buddha lived. Of course, Buddha’s dynamic, volitional view of karma based on the freedom of choice was directly opposed to this, which is why he accepted anyone into his Sangha, regardless of their membership to a particular caste.
Thanks for the reply. That makes things much clearer for me.
This, in particular, makes a lot of sense to me.Originally Posted by Kenneth
Great, glad I could help.