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Buddhist Quote of the Day: What Kind of Karma Do You Drive?

posted by Ethan Nichtern

karma_buddhism_meditation.jpg

“There is another issue that has important implications for how Buddhism will adapt to a more global role in the future. Karma has been used to rationalize racism, caste, economic oppression, birth handicaps and everything else. Taken literally, karma justifies the authority of political elites, who therefore must deserve their wealth and power, and the subordination of those who have neither. It provides the perfect theodicy: if there is an infallible cause-and-effect relationship between one’s actions and one’s fate, there is no need to work toward social justice, because it’s already built into the moral fabric of the universe. In fact, if there is no undeserved suffering, there is really no evil that we need to struggle against. It will all balance out in the end.

“I remember a Buddhist teacher’s reflections on the Holocaust…’What terrible karma those Jews must’ve had…’ This kind of fundamentalism, which blames the victims and rationalizes their horrific fate, is something no longer to be tolerated quietly. It is time for… modern Buddhism to outgrow it by accepting social responsibility and finding ways to address such injustices.”

–David Loy
Money Sex War Karma



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Jon Rubinstein

posted September 17, 2009 at 10:00 am


Obviously, karma is not the same as the “divine will” that’s been used to justify so many things for so many centuries. Rather than being disempowered by karma, we can choose to be empowered by it, by knowing that our words, thoughts, and actions plant seeds that will blossom in the future. Interdependence shows us that there are infinite causes and conditions that lead to a given manifestation which naturally leads to questions like, “why was I born in one of the wealthiest nations on earth rather than in Sierra Leone?” And they’re valid questions to ask. But we can sit on the mountain pondering these questions or we can use the fact that we know karma works – everything has a cause – to make a difference for others in the world. Take a look at the Five Mindfulness Trainings for inspiration; everything we do, say, or even think, has an effect, and we’re empowered when we recognize that and live our lives mindfully.



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gza

posted September 17, 2009 at 10:39 am


I think that Loy distorts the traditional understanding. It does not “blame the victims.” It just acknowledges that all of us, over the course of our countless lives, when we were essentially different people, have, in our ignorance, done enough harm that bad karma can ripen for us at any moment. That does not mean that we “deserve” it.



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Jon

posted September 17, 2009 at 11:10 am


Agreed – and of course we know there are many different interpretations of reincarnation; so much of what’s infused into traditional Buddhism comes from 3000 year old Indian beliefs. But if we’re really to believe in no-self, then we’re waves on an ocean, and the waves show up a certain way, and they disappear, but they’re all still part of the ocean. Given that interpretation, I’m more inclined to look at any genocide as a result of collective karma. We, as sentient beings, created it, and we have it within our grasp to end it.



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Your Name

posted September 17, 2009 at 11:20 am


I think any amount of these assumptions – that a person’s present state is any direct indication of some quality or lack-of-quality in one’s past actions – is complete idiocy. Whomever that teacher was that made the holocaust comment is, clearly, an idiot, and far from worthy of teaching, based on that observation alone at least. I really don’t think it takes a mystic nor a rocket scientist to clearly understand that “karma” by any remotely correct definition would not AT ALL follow a clear and concise linear logic that we could easily follow and understand. Without any amount of “buddhism”, it is painfully clear that one’s actions in this life do not at all bring the assumed effects; that people can to seemingly terrible things and reap seemingly wonderful rewards, and vice versa. I have no question that this apparent “unfairness”, meaning simply the “fractal” and nonlinear characteristics of karma, would extend no differently into past lives we cannot see and know. So, it takes next to no intelligence nor imagination to clearly see that overwhelmingly negative circumstances in this life are not at all necessarily connected to equally negative actions in a past life. And, also, what about “group karma”, or a more “social karma”. Is it a result of past non-merit to be born black in America? It is certainly a less-than-the-best circumstance. But to say so is to say that there’s an inherent negativity to being black, as well, and completely forgets the only reason that being so is a remotely “negative circumstance” is because of the complete stupidity, ignorance, and blatantly merit-less views of others besides that black person. No different with Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Why would a person bypass any amount of intelligence and observable influences to jump to some over-mystified conclusion that simply cannot be known, neglecting all that is obviously knowable? It is clear that the Jews weren’t being punished, not ultimately, not “spiritually”. They were the victims of evils actions of evil men. We should be far more concerned with the karma of those that did the evil, not those that suffered it. I don’t see buddhists around the world, namely the most traditional, reaping many worldly rewards. In fact, to be brutally honest, buddhists generally look down-on-their-luck, they are not the obvious subjects of reward and benefit so many countless others are. According to the fundamentalism Loy points out, buddhists themselves, including masters and teachers and so on, have lived considerably worse past lives than countless CEOs. Even Bernie Madoff lived better than almost any buddhist, materially at least, and will in fact continue to do so. So his name is tainted now, so what? So is mine, and I don’t have the money and power to not care as he does. Apparently, Bernie is better at karma than even the Dalai Lama, who has been chased around the world and has yet to achieve an ounce of his political goal. Somehow, that just seems too simple. And it is. We cannot know the profoundly complex web of karmic interdependency. It is foolishness to even attempt it. All that matters is the merit of your own actions, and you will never fully know the merit of others’ actions, just as they cannot know that of yours.



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Ethan

posted September 17, 2009 at 1:10 pm


@GZA: I don’t think Loy is talking about traditional teachings. He is talking about traditional Buddhist cultural understanding of karma, in terms of how karma became superficially popularized in Asian Buddhist cultures (and also to a large extent how it is being misunderstood here in the west) and I think he is spot on in that.
One thing he doesn’t mention is also how sexist the popular view of karma often was in Buddhist Asian cultures, where women were (and are) often told that the best they could do is get reborn as a man, when the real work of progress would begin.



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Iris Baron

posted September 17, 2009 at 1:15 pm


As a jew, I have always been conflicted over this issues. I do believe that everything happens for a reason and we are all here to learn. I believe that no matter what, every hardship or trauma can teach us a lesson. I don’t think it’s accurate to believe that bad things happen to people because they deserve injustice based upon some wrong doing in the past. Bad things happen to good people and vice versa. The most important thing about inflicted pain or hardship is to learn from it and observe what it reflects about your inner self.



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Jonathan

posted September 17, 2009 at 4:04 pm


This original thread isn’t really an argument with the actual concept of Karma but more our popular notions of it. Its the misinterpretation of Karma that’s causing all the controversy here.
From a buddhist point of view when we are clumsy with thoughts words and actions we wind up in situations that are not as ideal as they could be. @Your Name from a buddhist point of view the best karma is not material success as you seem to indicate but obtaining a precious human birth (buddha appeared, teachings are still alive, you encounter them, and you have time and faculty to practice these teachings etc.) So Madoff, name tainted or not, does not have better Karma than past buddhist masters per the buddhist ideal. From a buddhist point of view madoff has squandered his opportunity to practice at a time where the teachings are available and he had the resources to make the time to use them.
Back to this idea of being clumsy. Since the publication of the book ‘The Secret’, and even before, our popular notion of Karma is totally distorted. Many confuse Karma (cause and effect) with the christian notion of divine judgment or the materialistic view espoused in The Secret that says we get what we want the most. Both from a Buddhist point of view both views are not accurate descriptions of Karma. I remember reading a Q&A transcript from a The Secret seminar where it was said that those born in war torn countries or victims of holocausts had that happen becuase ‘That’s what they really wanted’. I can understand @Your Name’s incredulity over this point as its totally insane to think that way. (Why would anyone WANT to suffer?) From a buddhist point of view its better to say we get into negative situations by being clumsy and out of them by gaining some control over our mind via meditation and a correct understanding of the way things are (aka dharma). Enlightenment would not be possible if we didn’t have ultimate control over our situations becuase if we did not we could never change anything. Those with better circumstances would really be ‘better’ and than those with out, and as we all know this is fundamentally opposed to the buddhist view that all beings have the buddha nature. Its taught that one would have to be a buddha (eg have that level of clear seeing of the way things are) to see precisely how karma functions in all its specificity. From a non-buddhas point of view the old adage “karma is for you, compassion is for others” makes a lot of sense. Those who judge others who suffer becuase they think karma is ‘getting them back’ for past bad actions hold a very wrong view. As buddists we should endeavor to gain enough insight to help others out of their difficulties as we use the methods to gain more space in our minds to help them.



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MrTeacup

posted September 17, 2009 at 5:00 pm


This is definitely an important issue and I’m glad to see it being discussed, but I wonder if this analysis doesn’t go far enough.
The claim is that this popular understanding of karma is a kind of accidental inheritance from Asia that leads us to accept injustices. Westerners are looking for spirituality, and they also get some of these other ideas along with it.
But shouldn’t we consider a much more disturbing possibility: that Buddhism (and other enlightenment-oriented spiritual practices) is appealing to some people BECAUSE it enables us to rationalize injustice, using karma and other concepts like “Be the change you want to see.”
The Asian values of harmony and preserving the status quo are appealing because, when faced with injustice that demands our political engagement, it allows us to spiritualize our disengagement. We can say that our failure to address these injustices isn’t a moral failure, but instead, comes from a commitment to a profound truth that transcends mundane, material considerations.



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gza

posted September 17, 2009 at 5:23 pm


@Ethan
Yes, it looks in the first part like he is talking about the superficial example. But the holocaust example that he labels fundamentalism is what I disagree with.
This came up in “The Jew and the Lotus” when a group of Jews meet with the Dalai Lama. They ask:
“What was the Buddhist explanation of the Holocaust?
He answered, that ‘from the point of view of the Buddhists, the Holocaust itself is a result of past karma. Those people were not necessarily Jews in their past lives when they created the actions that they reaped in that form. But when your karma ripens there is nothing that can protect you.””
I don’t think that is, in itself, fundamentalist or blaming the victims, although I do agree that it could be distorted that way.



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Jen

posted September 17, 2009 at 7:06 pm


so …the suggestion is that we build our own buddhism? throw out the parts that aren’t comfortable? karma is what it is ….it might make us squirm …it might possibly wake us up.



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Ethan

posted September 17, 2009 at 7:22 pm


Jen,
I think the suggestion made by Mr. Loy, is that karma has often been very problematically determined throughout history as fatalism, and we need an understanding of karma that is less materialistic and has more applications toward social justice.



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Jen

posted September 17, 2009 at 7:35 pm


I do understand what he is saying and it makes me feel warm and happy to think we can put our own spin on karma. But is warm and happy what it’s all about? Perhaps we can work with compassion in achieving social justice — it’s not that far of a leap. Guess it depends if buddhism is a religion or a lifestyle for the person that engages in it.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted September 17, 2009 at 7:48 pm


@Jen, the point is that when you study all of the actual Buddhist teachings on karma in different Buddhist philosophical systems, exactly none of them actually propose something along the lines that the Holocaust was the fault of the victims for example. The main thing lacking in this mistaken perspective is an understanding of interdependence. We are the primary agents of how we respond to our karma, but the actual cause and effect of how we got there is far more complex than individual blame for circumstance.
It’s not about being warm and fuzzy. The “apologist” view that Loy points out was always the mistaken view of karma, as any teaching on interdependence makes clear. However, when reading Buddhist texts, you might get the idea that your karma is “all your fault” because the Buddha wanted us to focus on what we can work with most directly, which is our very own mindstream. But that got misinterpreted in many cultures to mean things like, for example, “Women are inferior,” etc. That is not what the dharma is all about, and never was.



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Jen

posted September 17, 2009 at 8:22 pm


we have come to this conversation from the 5 personal advantages and 5 circumstantial advantages and that is karma. I am grateful to have been born into such advantages.
is it all “ones fault” of course not – that is misunderstanding – but to try to soften up the reality of karma is also a misunderstanding. do countries/society have their karma – of course. if you take a look at our own nations’ circumstances it is surely a karmic situation. just like taking a look at us sitting in front of glowing screen lifting our fingers up and down and discussing the dharma is a karmic situation.
Seems to me the argument is a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.



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Mu

posted September 17, 2009 at 9:59 pm


Loy is spot on. A reconceptualization of karma consistent with a modern socially-engaged Buddhism will entail discarding the crude retributive ethics of karma (which is indeed a perversion of the doctrine, as Walpola Rahula has strenuously pointed out) and retaining the core understanding of karma as willed mental activity that leaves a trace or karmic residue in the personality, wherein this residue is often accompanied by dispositional tendencies to act according to patterns established by reactions in the past (“karmic complexes”). Nation states, cultures, institutions all have karmic complexes. I see karma, from the perspective of a socially engaged Buddhism, as going toward an understanding that all of us inherit at birth certain karmic and other social conditions, a kind of collectively created past at work in the present.
Ethan: Loy takes up the problem of the sexist conditioning of women as a result of karma in his essay “The Karma of Women,” which is in his latest book Awareness Bound and Unbound (2009). Indeed, much of that essay, which originally appeared in 2007, is recycled in the “How to Drive Your Karma” essay you cite.
Beware the 3 daughters of Mara (lol)!



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Paula

posted September 17, 2009 at 10:23 pm


In an earlier version of this essay in Tricycle, http://www.tricycle.com/columns/my-view-rethinking-karma?page=0%2C0, David Loy refers specifically to a _Tibetan_ Buddhist who makes the statement quoted by Loy about Jews and the Holocaust. You link to Sharon Salzberg’s website. Why? The only reference I can find to anything Salzberg has said about karma and the holocaust online is here: http://www.tricycle.com/resources/ask-karma-queen/do-they-deserve-it. It hardly justifies the attribution, and in fact argues against her taking this position. I really think an article quoting someone on social justice should play fair with its links.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted September 17, 2009 at 11:01 pm


Paula, that was a copy and paste error. Sorry, will fix now. I have never heard or read Sharon say anything in this vein.



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 18, 2009 at 12:13 am


Personally I find the application of karma as it relates to Jews who died in the Holocaust as icky and creepy as the Mormons baptizing Jews who died in the same holocaust, as they have been doing (and been asked to stop by survivors).
Applying the notion of karma to people who do not practice Buddhism and who died by the millions (and let’s not forget, so did homosexuals, gypsies, “traitors”) seems ghoulish to me and like some sort of equation written backwards. “All these Jews were killed at once, so six million men, women, and children’s karma collectively ripened at once to cause this to happen?”
Can we leave application of karmic ripening to those who actually believe it in and let 6,000,000 dead Jews rest in peace in whatever afterlife they believe in?
Oy. I’m with Loy.



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Adele

posted September 18, 2009 at 3:32 am


Loy states: ‘This kind of fundamentalism, which blames the victims and rationalizes their horrific fate, is something no longer to be tolerated quietly.’
What an ignorant statement. Loy appears to misunderstand Buddhist teachings on Karma and mix them up with Hindu view of Karma which has much of the fatalist ring to it that Loy accuses Buddhism of. No Tibetan Buddhist teacher worth their name would ever state that the victims of the Holocaust were to ‘blame’ for their suffering. Loy doesn’t give the teacher’s name and only summarise what he taught. That’s pretty sloppy writing on his part. I think Loy probably wants to sell books to a gullible audience as opposed to state things accurately.
The law of karma is not something that can be changed or is subject to interpretation. It is a definitive teaching and in Buddhism its posited as a fundamental law of nature: ‘what goes around comes around’, cause/effect, whatever you want to call it. That means that anything that is motivated by ignorance or the afflictive emotions leads to suffering. This is on the relative level of reality. We are not talking here about the way things exist ultimately.
People experience suffering in many forms and guises, gross, physical, subtle, mental. Suffering is suffering. In fact, denying that Jews suffered or weren’t ‘victims’ of horrendous barbaric actions is also offensive. Whats forgotten in this discussion though is the suffering of the perpetrators of the holocaust. That’s never mentioned and yet from the Buddhist perspective that is what has been forgotten. Rather than just portray Jews as having terrible karma (i.e. suffering caused by ignorance and afflictive emotions) we should talk about the suffering of the Nazis, how they are ‘victims’ of their actions and ignorance as well. Loy seems to forget that those elites etc he talks about are ALSO suffering. Compassion is essential in the Buddhist perspective.
This statement by Loy strikes me as yet another example of western Buddhists trying to change the fundamental wisdom and essence of the Buddhist teachings to fit politically correct views. Everyone’s a winner right? Wrong. This kind of thinking has led to a society of depression, sexual diseases, drug taking, obesity and so on….Some people are naturally better at some things than others, people have different skills, talents and abilities. If they didn’t then what a boring world we would all live in. Someone with a PhD in Physics has a different ability to someone who is brain damaged from birth, those are just the facts. In fact, by not wanting to state these facts clearly, because of fear of offending people, actually makes these people more like victims who need to be treated in a special way.
I therefore totally disagree with Loy’s statement about this.



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Adele

posted September 18, 2009 at 3:58 am


Paula: you are absolutely correct to raise the issue re accuracy and query whether these statements have indeed been made by Tibetan Buddhist teachers or whether they have been distorted. I for one would like to know which Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Loy is referring to and whether his teaching has been accurately represented as well. Maybe Loy’s not too concerned about the accuracy of his statement though as Tibetans very rarely sue for libel or slander unlike western teachers such as Salzberg.
Jerry: If you’re going to make a statement about Buddhism and karma, then please try and have a deeper understanding of it than ‘karmic ripening’. Admittedly it doesn’t help Buddhism that many western celebrities with little understanding of the deeper and subtler ramifications of karma and suffering, make public statements such as ‘that’s their karma’ about people who are enduring ‘blameless’ suffering, e.g. Sharon Stone. However, that doesn’t mean Buddhism itself is at fault at all. This clearly shows why study and debate is so essential in Buddhism (unlike other major religions). Without proper understanding so much misunderstanding arises.
Perhaps it’s you who need to leave Buddhists and their beliefs in peace. Authentic Buddhism does not harm anyone at all if one has a proper understanding of the teachings on karma and suffering.
Otherwise its you who potentially offends the beliefs of millions of Buddhists who have total confidence in the law of karma and the truth of suffering.



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 18, 2009 at 6:59 am


Adele,
To the families of Holocaust survivors, and survivors themselves, there is no appreciable difference between hearing their souls are being baptized by Mormons to save them from being Jewish, vs. the Buddhists can explain why this happened because of karmic ripening.
Re: the last line of your comments, Mormon response to being asked to stop baptizing dead Jews was “You potentially offend the beliefs of millions of Mormons who have total confidence in the law of Christ and the truth of salvation.”
Your answer may be that either one is okay – and I can tell you that either one of these stances causes pain for survivors and their families, so I wonder where compassion enters the equation. It’s entirely possible to believe in and understand karmic ripening, and even believe it applies to Jews who died in the Holocaust, in a way that demonstrates greater compassion than what we’ve seen on this board.
Thinking it through now, it’s not so much applying the concept of karmic ripening to the Holocaust that strikes me as icky, it’s discussing it in a public forum without so much as an expression of compassion or sympathy for the people it matters most to.
Just because this is a Buddhist blog does not mean that we should only consider the feelings of the millions of Buddhists I might potentially offend.
And this has nothing to do with my understanding of , or belief or non-belief in Karma.
I’m sure someone will now explain that if I had a less shallow understanding of the dharma, a deeper practice, or a teacher, I would understand that what Adele said was correct and that I am wrong. Please, whoever wants to do it, make your ad hominem attack to evade my central question – why so much concern about the feelings and beliefs of Buddhists, and none that I can see for the feelings of Jews and their families?
Is it just because Buddhism is right and Judaism is wrong? ??



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Mike

posted September 18, 2009 at 8:57 am


First time poster here, been reading a while. Thanks for all the excellent, fun, and relevant blogging that goes on here (and I’ll forgive the occasional silly article on three-ways).
Adele is back, and she brought her absolutist statements with her.
Like Ethan said, Loy is pointing to a trend in Buddhist history that skews the teachings on karma to justify status-quo political arrangements. Many who have traveled in Asia have felt this, as when my wife was in a monastery in Bodhgaya she was absolutely told that if she worked hard she might be reborn a man. Come on, people, in some Buddhist societies (and yes in some western minds, too), karma is treated incredibly fatalistically, losing the idea of interdependence of karma that dominates all Mahayana thought. That is what Loy is pointing out, and I’m actually quite surprised that folks don’t agree.
I think many who work in social justice shy away from Buddhism because they are wary of this trend in ideas of karma. I’ll take Ethan’s word that he knows a lot more on different karma teachings than I do, but I know enough to say that the “blame the victim” uphold the status quo take on karma has been used to justify a lot of rigid arrangements in so-called Buddhist societies. No way around that one.
Love the quote.



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Ethan

posted September 18, 2009 at 9:08 am


@Adele: Welcome back. I’d invite you to soften your language a bit. It just always seems like you are on the attack and make sweeping generalizations like “No Tibetan teacher…”
Loy is a revered Buddhist scholar, also worthy of respect. I don’t believe he is mixing up Buddhist and Hindu thought, and for you to come along and say definitively that he is doing that makes you seem a bit…well…careless in the way you treat ideas and dialogue. Remember how in your last dialogue you thought everyone was attacking you?
These sweeping and dismissive statements might have something to do with that.



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Iris Baron

posted September 18, 2009 at 10:01 am


Adelle,
I agree with Ethan. Futhermore,it seems as if you are just going off without even thinking about the implications of your words. Karma is not as cut and dry as you say, “what goes around comes around.” Like I said yesterday in response to this same quote: Karma includes being in the moment and having the ablility to deal with life and see things clearly, even imblances, so that you can learn the lesson life presents or reflects. While good things happen to bad people and vice-a-versa, karma is not nessisarily dependant on how so called “good” you are. Your statement makes you come across as anti-semetic.
What is important about Karma is being present, so that you can be aware of the problem or lesson you need to learn in response to reality. Just as Ethan discussed in class yesterday, Dukkah is Dukkah. Imbalance are imbalance and Germans were full of Dukkah during the Holocaust. Recognizing Dukkah is part of Buddist teachings. If you watch some of the footage from the Holocaust, you might recognize how disturbing and ungrounded the whole tradegy was. The jews were a reflection the destructive affects of Dukkah and the German people were the leaders of that destruction. What Jews and Germans mirror in each other needs to be considered, but not in the sense of “what comes around goes around” and that is why jews deserved to be tortured. You sound anti-semetic.



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Iris Baron

posted September 18, 2009 at 10:04 am


@ Adele,
The Hindu statement in your posting is also innaccurate. I have studied with Hindu teachers who would never even dare touch the Holocaust as a so called “what comes around goes around” issue.



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gza

posted September 18, 2009 at 10:46 am


I agree that it is offensive and insensitive to single out the holocaust to illustrate the workings of karma. But I don’t think it is analogous to Mormons baptizing them. If Buddhist held that karma was something that only applied to Buddhists it would be a totally incoherent principle.
The really critical point, I think, is that even negative karma is not an issue of blame or “getting what you deserve.” If we’ve all had millions of lifetimes, we’ve all been murders, pedophiles, and saints. We all have the potential for bad karma to ripen in awful ways.
Also, karma is only one element in why things happen – the creation of the causes and conditions for karma to ripen is said to be so complex that only Buddhas fully understand it.



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Karen

posted September 18, 2009 at 11:03 am


It is a shame that people with evil thoughts use something they don’t even understand such as “Karma” to justify their beliefs. We must as a conscious whole keep to our goal of universal consciousness.



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Jonathan

posted September 18, 2009 at 11:16 am


Its hard to use the Holocaust as an example of Karma, even though it is just as other events in human history are, becuase there are too many strong emotions and rhetorical assumptions about it for people to discuss the topic clearly. Its like talking about gun control or abortion, everyone freaks out and stops thinking once someone drops the keyword.
I think Karma has less to do with justice more to do with personal development. By shying away from the fact that we reap the impressions we sow, even when they are negative ones, we conversely take away our ability to change for the better. If we are not ultimately responsible for all aspects of our existence how could we become buddhas ourselves? If we make people into victims we take away their buddha nature.



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Dennis

posted September 18, 2009 at 1:30 pm


Karma simply means causes have effects. Skip the unproven moalizing touches.



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Adele

posted September 18, 2009 at 1:31 pm


Iris
I found your statement personally very offensive. Where on earth do you get the idea that I am ‘anti-semitic’?? If anything I was pointing out how Loy’s quote victimises Jews by denying their collective suffering. By having compassion for the Nazi perpetrators, does that make me anti-semitic? I think you’ll find in all the Buddhist teachings we should have compassion for our enemies and people who do bad things as well as the victims of those actions. Are you sure you understand Buddhism and the truth and origin of suffering correctly? seems as if you only reserve your compassion for ‘victims’. However, its sounds as if from your post that Ethan is your teacher and so I feel compassion for you as well. Ethan has previously stated that Tibetan masters have said it was OK to oral and anal sex in a previous post on this blog, so I’m not surprised that your understanding of Buddhism is seriously lacking.
I have to be honest, my experience of the posters on this blog is not a good one so far. There seems to be lots of knee-jerk reactions, projection and ignorance. On top of that a lot of personal insults as well.
Iris, I never said that the Hindus viewed Karma as fatalist, I just said that Loy’s interpretation of it in the quote given demonstrated an ignorance of karma that was more in line with the commonHindu interpretion of karma. I didn’t say that was THE hindu view of karma. Believe me I have studied Hinduism as well and I know it has a lot more depth than that.



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Adele

posted September 18, 2009 at 1:39 pm


Dennis
Karma does not simply mean cause and effect. Who is your teacher??
If it meant that then most scientists and westerners would believe in karma but they don’t.
I’m sick of these simplistic and ignorant interpretations of actually very deep and profound concepts.
Karma is created through ignorance (self-clinging) and the resulting afflictive emotions that result in negative actions, words and thoughts. It is far more subtle and complex than cause and effect.



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Adele

posted September 18, 2009 at 1:43 pm


Iris
In fact, the ease with which you call someone ant-semitic is horrifying.
Anti-semitism is deep seated hatred of Jewish people that led to the slaughter of millions of innocent people. Please can you tell me where in my post I indicate any hatred or ill will towards Jewish people? If the moderators were unbiased on this blog then they should censor your post immediately.
To call someone that is not a light thing to do and I do not take it lightly either. It is you that do injustice to the Jews by throwing that term around with scant evidence.



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Adele

posted September 18, 2009 at 1:58 pm


i give up with this blog, all you get from it are lectures on buddhism from some people who run this blog who clearly don’t have a good understanding of buddhist philosophy rather than really trying to engage with the issues.
ethan, will all due respect, i wiil follow what hh the 17th karmapa says on any issue way before i follow your advice but thanks anyway. i’m not a child and you are not my teacher, i found what you said to me pretty patronising.
jen, gza and paula’s posts i concur with.



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Ethan

posted September 18, 2009 at 2:01 pm


Adele: Dennis is right. Karma means action, and just refers to cause and effect, how things function.



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Damaris

posted September 18, 2009 at 2:21 pm


Okay. Now all of you especially Jerry go back and read Jerry’s last blog, ” Buddhism is Not a Religion Pt 1. Buddhist on a Plane”.
Do you think thatuddhist would react any differently than anyone else in any other spiritual tradition.



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Damaris

posted September 18, 2009 at 2:22 pm


excuze me
thatuddhist = that Buddhist.



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Damaris

posted September 18, 2009 at 2:24 pm


also – all of you – find a cushion.



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Adele

posted September 18, 2009 at 2:25 pm


Your Name:
your equating material wealth with happiness and success would be worthy of laughter if it weren’t serious. I concur with Jonathan’s post wholeheartedly about that.
One of the central points of Buddhism is that material wealth cannot by itself bring genuine happiness. In fact, if it did , then people like Madoff wouldn’t need more and more when they already have a lot would they? Desire and greed are endless and Madoff is a very good example of that, as well as karma and the Buddha’s teaching about ignorance and suffering. Think about the mental suffering he must have had fuelled by greed to defraud so many people, let alone the suffering that Madoff has caused others as well.
That said, I disagree with you that Buddhists tend to be down on their luck. There are many well-known Buddhists who are famous and wealthy. However, many Buddhists choose to apply the teachings to their lives in such as way that they CHOOSE to live simple lives without excessive desire and possessions. That may look like being ‘down on your luck’ to you but to a practitioner, such people can be seen as simple, happy and wise people. It all depends on your own priorities and perspective on these things.



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Adele

posted September 18, 2009 at 2:30 pm


Iris and Jerry
Let us not forget that Jews are not the only cultural and religious group in the world to have suffered or to face tyrannical suppression and aggression. Lets look at Tibet for example. For the last 50 years Tibetans have been facing a cultural genocide by the Chinese government, thousands of monasteries, texts have been destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have been murdered or tortured to death. They live under the rule of martial law. I don’t hear or see much public solidarity or compassion from the Jewish community for their plight at all? Do you?
Is compassion limited only to the Jewish Holocaust victims and survivors? I can’t believe you really mean that. Compassion should be extended to everyone who is suffering in any way and that includes both the ‘perpetrators’ and ‘victims’.



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Adele

posted September 18, 2009 at 2:39 pm


Ethan
Karma is a Sanskrit word and is not limited to only action like your post suggests. Karma can be merely mental events as well, in fact most karma is mental. Karma is habituated types of thinking and reacting (motivated by ignorance and the afflictive emotions) , that often but not always then leads to negative actions.
The tibetan word for karma is ‘les’ which does not mean exactly action in english either. I do not know the Pali equivalent.
However, my point is that Dennis was saying Karma is just cause and effect. it it were then most scientists would believe in karma but they don’t.
Tibetan monks debate and study the concept of karma in monastic universities. it is a profound and deep concept not easily reduced as dennis suggests.



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Damaris

posted September 18, 2009 at 2:48 pm


Hi Adele,
I’m sorry. I really am truly sorry. I do not thing that what you wrote was anti-semitic.
@ Everyone – It’s important to understand how easy it is to misunderstand the tone and content of a blog. It’s easy to write something that doesn’t fully express what we are trying to say. So it’s important to be mindful of not only what we are saying but what we are reading.
It’s also important to remember that we are all in the same place. All of us.
This blog is a wonderful place of practice. We can learn and practice the right way to communicate and debate. We can also practice being a bodhisattva and remember that adversity offers us the greatest opportunity.



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gza

posted September 18, 2009 at 2:48 pm


I really wish someone would write a book about karma in the Buddhist tradition that takes a good comparative look at how karma is variously presented in the early Sutras, the Mahayana Sutras, and the various commentarial traditions. I think there would be a lot less confusion.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu has a nice summary of kamma in the earliest Suttas, although it is far from comprehensive.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/wings/part1.html#part1-b
There is an out of print book called “Karma and rebirth: post classical developments” By Ronald Wesley Neufeldt which has interesting essays by academics about karma in various Buddhist traditions.
http://books.google.com/books?id=iaRWtgXjplQC&pg=PP1&dq=Karma+and+rebirth:+post+classical+developments#v=onepage&q=&f=false



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ellen9

posted September 18, 2009 at 3:08 pm


wtf — what kind of karmic boil is about to ripen on our ass here?
“when your karma ripens there is nothing that can protect you”
Why do we all think “bad” karma is what happens to those Jews, those black people, those Mormons, or whomever we are currently considering “other”? This is US we are talking about here. WE are creating karma and we are experiencing our karma; it’s what we are doing right now.
We have all the advantages of being born in a time when the dharma is taught, and we can hear it, and we are practicing it and we still fling all this “other” stuff around. That’s what it’s like to be human.
There is something about the demateriality of blog conversation that lets it ripen into a whirl of concepts and often hurtful speech.
I don’t know whether blog conversation is an arena that exposes our aggression, ignorance, and attachment or intensifies them. Maybe that’ll be my next post: the Karma of Blogs.



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Adele

posted September 18, 2009 at 5:01 pm


ellen9 – well said.



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Adele

posted September 18, 2009 at 5:20 pm


damaris – thank you. a voice of sanity and wisdom.



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Ian

posted September 18, 2009 at 8:06 pm


Interesting discussion to ring in the High Holy Days with..
Cheerful Rosh Hashanah, everyone.
Ian



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 19, 2009 at 5:08 pm


@Ian – Happy Rosh Hashanah!
@Damaris and Adele – My point here got lost again by virtue of other folks (not necessarily you) co-opting it to mean something else. Regardless of whether Buddhism is a religion or not, regardless of whether I personally believe in the traditional interpretation of karma or not, does not change the fact one iota that a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, or their family, being told on this blog that their relatives were murdered because of karmic ripening feels a lot like a punch to the stomach.
Maybe it’s accurate. Maybe it’s not. But to a Jewish person who has no familiarity with what karma means, hearing “your relative was murdered because of karmic ripening” sounds an awful lot like “they got what was coming to them”. That’s not what it means – I hope that’s not what you mean it means – but that’s what it sounds like to someone with only a passing pop cultural familiarity with the word karma.
We aren’t just conversing amongst ourselves at a Buddhist gathering where everyone listening has (hopefully) a more-than-passing understanding of Karma – we are talking publicly, yet maybe not honoring the intricacies of compassionate public conversation about an extremely horrifying event.
@Ellen – PLEASE write a post about the Karma of Blogs. You are so right on.
@GZA – Dude!! PLEASE write a book comparing the various presentations of Karma. You are the perfect person to do it with your understanding of the teachings and your ability to make them understandable to contemporary audience. It would be fascinating and very helpful.



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AZ

posted September 19, 2009 at 9:24 pm


@Adele,
I wish you could step outside yourself and hear for yourself the authoritarian tone you bring to this blog. I have read with great interest what the other people have said and mostly I feel ease at assimilating their points, I learn from them, and sometimes I agree or disagree with them, but your tone interferes with my doing so with your posts. I don’t accept you as an authority about Buddhism and I find myself feeling somewhat put out with taking time to reread your writing to try to find your real meaning between or beyond the lines of what you wrote. So I quiet my mind and focus compassion towards you so that I can better read your writing without judging you. What I keep coming up with though, is that you don’t truly care about the truth, but rather that you care to be accepted as an authority. I can’t see that you’ve earned that yet, and maybe that’s an example of karma. Adele, add some compassion to the mix, do some deep listening, adhere to higher principals of debate, and you might earn it someday. I am reminded of the story of the teacher, who at a retreat, paid a disagreeable person to stay at the retreat so others can practice compassion because of that person’s presence. That is what your present level of participation affords me. Is that really where you want to be?
Jerry, I agree with you. This is a public forum and I think we shouldn’t be trite on discussing the holocaust, nor issues like genocide against Tibetans, or untold multitudes of aboriginal peoples on our planet without the intention and language of compassion. However, I don’t think most of the people intended to be insensitive.
For myself, I am very interested in this blog continuing. It has revealed faulty thinking of my own regarding karma and I do want to learn more. It’s too bad it keeps getting tangled in self-serving rhetoric.



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Adele

posted September 20, 2009 at 6:05 am


AZ:
With respect, you say about my posts:
‘What I keep coming up with though, is that you don’t truly care about the truth, but rather that you care to be accepted as an authority. I can’t see that you’ve earned that yet, and maybe that’s an example of karma.’
The key words in your sentence here are ‘what I KEEP COMING UP WITH’. That’s your opinion about me based on my brief postings on a blog. That means your ‘opinion’ which comes from your mind and your projections. Thats a very good example of karma in fact. You have projected onto my posts what in fact you then do in your own post. You give me a little lecture about how I write and how that offends your sensibilities as if YOU were the authority on these matters. You are doing EXACTLY what you criticise me for doing. The pot calling the kettle black.
Karma is thoughts, speech or actions motivated by ignorance and afflictive emotions based on ignorance. Thats not me trying to be an authority on the subject…you can pick up any decent book on Buddhism and get that from it. Its a definitive teaching. That means in all the Buddhist schools you can find this kind of definition of karma. Thats not the same as saying that we all UNDERSTAND karma but the definition is clear and there for people to study. Of course, its a lot lot deeper than that and I certainly don’t make any claims to having any great knowledge of the subject.
That said, you don’t know who has the best understanding here either, unless you are in fact claiming you are an AUTHORITY on the subject. are you?



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Adele

posted September 20, 2009 at 6:11 am


Jerry – I hear what you say and its definitely a valid point that needs discussion. We do need to be very sensitive to people’s feelings and pain and perhaps the way karma is often discussed is not helpful or benefical to non-Buddhists, its true.
I guess what’s needed is more sensitive dialogue about how the concept of karma in Buddhism should be publicly communicated.
That said there are ‘ugly truths’ that people simply don’t want to face and karma may be one of them. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true though and it doesn’t mean we should stop talking about it either. Do you agree with that?
What about my point about the Jewish community not showing much public solidarity and support to other cultural/religious groups who are being targeted for annihilation? What do you make of that?



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Adele

posted September 20, 2009 at 6:24 am


AZ:
Just picking up your point about my playing the same role as the so-called ‘disagreeable person’ paid to stay at a retreat. Its a well-known story and one worth discussing. However, the story as I was told it is that there was a difficult person on a group retreat who most people had difficulty getting on with. As a result, they ganged up on that person and basically bullied him into leaving. When the retreat master found out that the person had left the retreat he was very annoyed with the group. He went to find the difficult person and begged him to return to the retreat. The person then returned to the retreat to the annoyance of the rest of the group.
The question here is why did the Buddhist master beg the disagreeable person to be at the retreat? why did he want that presence there? What was the actual ‘problem’ with that disagreeable person? Ultimately, the problem wasn’t coming from the side of the disagreeable person at all but the people staying on the retreat who simply could not deal in a peaceful, wise and calm way with that person. That was why the master pleaded with the difficult person to stay on the retreat.
Many Buddhist texts talk about seeing the people who cause us difficulties as higher than our greatest teachers. Why? Because they give us the opportunity to develop patience and compassion. I am happy to play that role for you if you perceive me as diffcult. Not everyone I come into contact with perceives me that way though. That is your reaction to me. To some I am a very loving wife and mother. To some I am a great friend and colleague. To some I am an intelligent scholar. Thats what emptiness is….there is no singular truth about ‘me’ nor is there about ‘you’.
We might like to think of ourselves as buddhist practitioners but if you really cannot deal wisely with so-called difficult people then there is a long long way to go.
You think I am difficult. Thats your mind. This is a blog. I haven’t killed, tortured or raped anyone. I haven’t encouraged anyone to do so either. I think therefore you have a long way to go with your practice in terms of patience, wisdom and compassion. Like all of us.



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AZ

posted September 20, 2009 at 8:54 am


I tried to post this once, but I think my captcha expired and I lost it. I’m not sure if it posted but I don’t think so. If it did, I apologize for it appearing twice…
@Adele,
You are right: this is a case of calling the kettle black, but I knew that before I originally wrote. I just didn’t state it. I did present you with a plate full of my stuff. I’d hoped that if you were made aware of the way you come across to one reader of this blog that you might soften your tone and tighten your presentation of facts. But all is well as far as I’m concerned, and I wish you a fulfilling and happy life.
There are many wonderful people who post on this blog who adhere to high standards in both the way they present their views to others and in adhering to the highest standards about the truth of the material they present. I will continue to mull over the information and perspectives you share, and I’ll sit with my shenpa for the posts that try my patience. I’ll try, anyway.
Peace to all.



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Damaris

posted September 20, 2009 at 10:16 am


@ Jerry – It’s interesting that you addressed me on a topic I didn’t comment about. Please reread what I wrote and I look forward to reading your response.
Your comment has me wondering what you where thinking when you typed my name.
Where you implying?
Where you speedy?
Where you producing spin?
Where you basing it from an indirect experience?
I’m just curious about that. Would your response be the same if I was Ellen, Ethan or GZA……etc.



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Anan E. Maus

posted September 21, 2009 at 6:44 pm


Anyone can take any subject, and skew it so negatively that it loses all connection to any meaning it truly has.
That is just a game of rhetoric and spin and has no connection to anything real whatsoever.
Just because you can find a line of argumentation that makes Hitler look like a good guy, doesn’t mean there is any validity there.
Karma is a term used to describe an actual experience. It is a term used to describe an aspect of the Cosmic Laws that exist and function.
When Christ said, we will “reap what we sow” – he was talking about Karma.
When everyone of the major world religions talk about the price of sin, they are talking about karma.
Karma is simply the force of actions. All actions we take…whether in the physical world or the emotional or mental world, rebound upon us. That is the nature of how the Universe works. And that karma extends to the actions we took in previous incarnations.
If we did wrong to others, wrong is going to return to us. But it is not some simple math equation…because spiritual devotions destroy bad karma.
Karma is just describing some of the forces at play around us. Awareness of that is supposed to help inspire us to lead a highly moral life. That is why the saints who discovered the working of these laws revealed them to humanity.
But it is the great beauty of a pure life that is the purpose, not the “math calculations” of the universe’s ability to provide retribution or some other negative way of perceiving karma.



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Dick Donnelly

posted September 22, 2009 at 5:18 pm


A thought provoking exchange. Everyone has a point. I agree with the last comment and referance to reaping what you sow. It is such an easy definition about khamma and what it is.
PnL
Dick



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jeu sonic

posted October 3, 2009 at 5:58 am


Hi David…
Congrats on the new blog! I really want to appreciate your interesting blog. I hope you will updates this blog regularly. I am sure you really loved being in touch with the audience and speaking and spitting out around. You have done great work. keep it up!



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SudoGhost

posted November 15, 2009 at 10:46 am


It seems that the author in this doesn’t understand how karma works.



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