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