Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Law Of KARMA


The concept of Karma plays a very important role throughout Asia. Asian religions in general have established the famous universal moral code based upon this law, that good deeds produce good effects and bad deeds produce bad effects. However, it should be pointed out that Buddhism places additional qualifications on this code:

I. The Good or Bad Effect Is Neither Reward Nor Punishment
The so-called good effect or bad effect is not a judgement nor is it given as a reward or punishment by a supramundane authority such as God. The good or bad effect produced by good or bad Karma is purely and simply a natural phenomenon governed by natural laws that act automatically, with complete justice. If God has anything to do with it, then God must also act according to this natural law. This cause produces this effect. That cause produces that effect. God would not change this natural path because of his like or dislike of a particular person.

II. Good and Bad Are Not Defined By A Human Code of Law.
The good and bad referred to here are not defined by any code or law created by human being unless such a code or law follows the natural path. For example, when democracy was first established in the United States, women did not have the right to vote. At that time, women who complied with that status were considered good and those who fought against it were considered bad.
The judgement was incorrect, however. The natural path is that human beings are all equal, and thus the system which gives women equal voting rights with men is truly the just one. Therefore, those who opposed the unequal voting system were actually the good ones.

This law of Karma, or cause and effect, is so powerful that it governs everything in the universe except, according to Buddhism, the one who is Enlightened or who recognizes basic nature. Upon Enlightenment, the round of cause and effect loses its significance, just as Samsara, or the round of birth and death, ceases with Enlightenment.
Since basic nature transcends all duality and is ultimate, there is no one to receive the effect, whether it is good or bad, and no one to whom any effect can apply.

This unique explanation by Buddha of the nullification of the law of Karma is very important. I will discuss it below.
With this brief explanation of Karma as a background, let us now go a step further to see how Karma works.

In one of the Buddhist texts it is recorded that someone asked Buddha:
Why are some women ugly but rich?
Why are some women beautiful but poor?
Why are some people poor but with good health and a long life?
Why are some rich yet ill and short-lived?

The Buddha's answers were:
One who is ugly but rich was short-tempered in past lives easily irritated and angered but was also very generous and gave offerings to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and made contributions to many sentient beings.

One who is beautiful but poor was, in past lives, very kind, always smiling and soft spoken, but was stingy and reluctant to make offerings or help other people.

The person who is poor but in good health and enjoying a long life was, in his or her past lives, very stingy or reluctant to make donations, but was kind to all sentient beings, did not harm or kill others, and also saved many sentient beings lives.

The person who is rich but often ill, or who is short-lived, was, in his or her past lives, very generous in helping others but loved hunting and killing and caused sentient beings to feel worried, insecure, and frightened.

The above examples give us some idea of why people on earth, although all human beings, vary so much in appearance, character, lifespan, health, mental ability and fate. It is even more interesting to note how much the circumstances in which a person is born can influence his or her destiny. Which race, which nation, which skin color, which era all these factors make a great difference.
Would it not be more logical to think that something was going on before one birth that caused all those effects than to say that it is purely accidental or even to say that it is God's will? If a baby has no past life, then on what grounds does God judge whether to reward or to punish that baby by causing him or her to be born under different circumstances? Intent, thought and action should always be taken into consideration. Remember:


"Karmic effect is the incomprehensible!" This statement of Buddha suggests not only the complexity of karmic effects but also the difficulty of predicting when a karmic effect will mature.

Generally speaking, however, Karma is like the action of lighting a candle. The candle will light the whole room immediately and will last until it is consumed. Similarly, Karma has the following characteristics:

Karma not only affects the doer but also affects others. The magnitude of the Karma determines the sphere of its effect.

Most Karma produces an immediate effect which will last until it is consumed. The nature and magnitude of a karmic action determine the duration of the effect, which may remain many years, or may not even be felt until some other karmic conditions mature.

Karmic effects can combine and accumulate.

These three points are rather condensed. I do not have time to give you a detailed description of them. The following examples however, might help you to understand these points a bit more:
The discovery of electricity by Benjamin Franklin and the conversion of electricity into light by
Thomas Edison changed the lives of human beings tremendously, and the effect is still growing.
An action taken by the U.S. Congress to change the tax law will immediately affect millions of American pockets. The effect can be seen by many Americans in their lifetime, and it will also be felt by future generations of Americans.

The combined and cumulative karma of the system of slavery used by many Americans over a long period of time has produced effects which constitute a major domestic problem in the U.S.
The theoretical discovery of atomic energy by Albert Einstein and the joint effort of all the participants in the Manhattan Project produced such complicated effects, good and bad, that we are probably just beginning to realize the significance of these developments.

III. A comparison can be made of the magnitude of effects of various kinds of Karma.
Such comparisons are recorded in many Buddhist scriptures. I would like to give you some examples to enable you to form your own ideas on how you may create karmic effects of greater magnitude.

One day, while walking on the street, Buddha met a beggar who was a so-called untouchable in the strict caste society of India during his time. Not only was Buddha friendly with him, but he accepted the beggar as a disciple in his order of the Sangha. This action had an effect which was infinitely greater than the acceptance of a prince as his disciple.

When the monk Bodhidharma went from India to China he was welcomed by the Emperor Liang. The emperor asked him, "What merit have I gained since I built so many temples, erected so many pagodas, made so many offerings to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and did numerous other virtuous deed?" Bodhidharma's reply greatly disappointed Emperor Liang. Bodhidharma said, "Your Majesty, there is none whatsoever. You have gained no merit. What you have done produces only worldly rewards, that is, good fortune, great power, or great wealth in your future lives, but you will still be wandering around in Samsara."

Buddha often emphasized that to study and explain to others even a few sentences of the teachings that show how to be rid of samsara creates infinitely greater merit than making tremendous offerings to as many Buddhas all over the universe as there are grains of sand in the great Ganges River.

Buddha also taught these principles:
One who makes numerous offerings to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, helps sentient being, and does many good deeds, and yet dedicates all the merit accumulated thereby to one's own or one's relatives interest such as making more money or enjoying a longer or better present or future life produces limited effects.

One who does those same good deeds but dedicates all the merit to saving sentient beings from suffering in Samsara receives much greater merit than the one with selfish purposes.
Finally, one who does the same good deeds with no specific purpose or desire at all receives infinitely greater merit than the two cases mentioned above.

In a further elaboration to the above regarding the Buddha's words as well as the meeting between Bodhidharma and Emperor Liang, regardless of what action one takes in regards to deeds or any merits or non-merits that may or may not follow thereof, the following should underscore both:

Emperor Liang invited Bodhidharma to his capital in Nanjing. The emperor was very fond of Buddhism and often wore Buddhist garments and recited Buddhist prayers. He was, however, most proud of his unbending and unqualified support for Buddhism throughout his entire kingdom.

Proud of his knowledge and the contributions towards Buddhism, he asked Bodhidharma, "Since I came to the throne, I have built many temples, published numerous scriptures and supported countless monks and nuns. How great is the merit in all these?"

"No merit whatsoever" was his shocking reply.
Now, the emperor thought, he had often heard teachings from renowned masters who said, "Do good, and you will receive good; do bad and you will receive bad. The Law of Cause and Effect is unchangeable, effects follow causes as shadows follow figures." But now, this sage declared that he had earned no merit at all. Thus, the emperor was thoroughly perplexed.

The emperor had failed to understand Bodhidharma's words which means that one is not really practising the Buddhadharma if one does good with the desire to gain merit for oneself. It will be more like satisfying one's own ego, or promoting one's own welfare, or even for the sake of being recognized and appreciated by the public.

However, Karma operates more closely with the Buddhist view as formulated by the Buddha, acting more or less in feedback loops, with the present moment being shaped both by past and by present actions; present actions shape not only the future but also the present. This constant opening for present input into the causal process makes free will possible.

This freedom is symbolized in the imagery that Buddhists use to explain the process: flowing water:

Sometimes the flow from the past is so strong that little can be done except to stand fast, but there are also times when the flow can be diverted in almost any direction. (source)