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Pat Robertson’s Comments, The Earthquake in Haiti and Karma

posted by Ethan Nichtern

pat_robertson_earthquake_in_haiti.jpgposted by Ethan Nichtern

Did anyone see TV Evangelist Pat Robertson’s comments Wednesday on the Earthquake in Haiti, from which it is believed a death toll of more than 100,000 people may come? He called the event a possible “Blessing in Disguise,” and linked the tragedy to a “Pact with the Devil” the Haitian population made long ago. His representatives released a statement on Haiti later backing away from the comments. Wow.


At the same time, I have been pondering the situation in Haiti from the
perspective of karma, or cause and effect. The simple question I keep
turning over is why do desperately poor people keep getting screwed
karmically?

In the Buddhist tradition that I practice and study, karma is the study
of habitual conditioning in the mind, and the relationship between our
minds’ perceptions and how the world “out there” appears to us. That’s
all it is. That’s actually plenty for it to be, because examining our
habitual mentalities and perceptions takes a whole lifetime.

A few (deeply) wrong views about karma:

1. Karma is An Invisible Boomerang – and what goes around comes
around (which is how I interpret Pat Robertson’s Pact with the Devil
comments). It is not nearly as simple or one-to-one as this, because
interdependence causes us to live in a huge web of causality.

2. Karma is a Cosmic Bank Account Somewhere – this is a subtle
and deeply materialistic view, and it’s not surprising that the
dominant view of karma in our society attempts to commodify it
spiritually, rather than use it as a way to look deeply at our own
acquired habits.

3. Karma is a Way to Play The Blame Game – The idea that when bad things happen, karma allows us to place blame on the victim. “You were robbed at gunpoint solely because of your negative actions in the past.

Robertson’s comments seem to fall into #1 and #2 here.

Still, I can’t help but wonder, heartbroken at Haiti, what these events
mean karmically. The first thing that came up for me was a feeling of
guilt. Combine that with projections on the effects of global warming
on Earth, where poor countries will be hit the hardest the soonest, and
rich countries (which created the problem), will be less effected by
climate change. In fact, some argue that the Northeastern US will
become more and more eden-like as global warming advances.

What’s up with Pat Robertson? And what’s up with poor people always getting the short end of the stick? And by that I mean, with no stick at all…



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bob

posted January 14, 2010 at 10:53 am


No I didn’t but am not surprised…..If there ever were a man who needs to find God it is Pat Robertson…..The sad thing is this lunatic still gets gets press…people listen to him…..I weep for him and his groupies.



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Andy Bean

posted January 14, 2010 at 11:11 am


Here is a great response from the Haitian ambassador to the US
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/ns/msnbc_tv-rachel_maddow_show#34849156



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Robert C.

posted January 14, 2010 at 1:03 pm


I feel the same way Bob does about Pat Robertson and then some.
But who is he to judge the spiritual well being of of anyone! Just because somebody may be poor in material things dose not mean the are poor in spirit. And the people of Haiti will need all the spirit they can muster to get through this natural disaster.



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Greg

posted January 14, 2010 at 1:19 pm


I’m not so sure the “cosmic bank account” analogy is false. In Yogacara at least, karmic seeds (bija) are said to be stored in the storehouse conciousness (?layavijñ?na). And of course there is much emphasis on “accumulating merit” ie positive bijas. That could all be reasonably construed as a cosmic bank account.



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Anan E. Maus

posted January 14, 2010 at 1:37 pm


I, guess, much like watching a train wreck, we can look at the comments of some of the most insane people on the planet, but I don’t think it is really going to inform much…other than that, indeed, there are insane people on the planet.
99.99% of the Christian community in America and around the world is, I am sure, horrified by what happened in Haiti. And, I would bet, a huge amount of these people will make donations to the Red Cross and other agencies to offer help.
My girlfriend’s old secretary was a Jehovah’s Witness. She and her husband, spent a tremendous amount of their free time, collecting items to ship to the poor.
That is, and has always been the spirit of Christianity toward the poor, suffering and disasters. And that has not only been an expression of the purity of the spirit of Christianity…but it is, far and away, the most common expression of Christians towards these problems.
So, sure, we can find a few wackos who say insane things. But to think that has anything to do with the other 99.99% of Christians, is just an exercise in futility.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted January 14, 2010 at 3:54 pm


Hey Greg, I think that’s where the perversion lies. In Yogachara, there is no quantity of bijas or commodification of karma. There is no magnitude of bijas described. It is more discussing tendencies and forces, rather than a verifiable tally.
But I think with karma, we sometimes act like we get certain amounts of points or credit for certain acts. This is the Cosmic Bank Account view I am challenging here.



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Greg

posted January 14, 2010 at 5:10 pm


Well, you certainly don’t get a bija monthly statement with your balance on it! But I think there is indeed some sense that one does get a certain amount of merit for certain acts, even though it can’t be quantified. Which is why, for instance, people are directed to do X number of mandala offerings. And the rhetoric reinforces this with talk of “completing the accumulation of merit.”



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Matt

posted January 14, 2010 at 6:25 pm


I’d like to offer another perspective to the discussion Ethan and Greg began regarding the “cosmic bank account” account of Karma. From one perspective within the field of neuroscience, the accumulation of merit, e.g. the accumulation or storage of Karmic Seeds, can be thought of as the neural byproduct of engaging in certain actions. The old addage “the neurons that fire together wire together” is instructive here. The more one does something, the more it enables one to do that thing with greater ease then next time one engages in that task. The more one attends to particular aspects of their environment, the quicker they will attend to those things when next oriented in those directions. The brain is marvelously neuroplastic in this regard. And it’s neurons (read: bija)configure in differing densities (e.g. amounts) and various patterns (resulting from past action), to allow those patterns to become streamlined for adaptive ends. As I read it, the accumulation of great merit refers to the intentional engagement in particular ways of relating to one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, in order cultivate specific patterns of being in the world that benefit other sentient life, that will increase the likelihood that those tendencies will propogate.
That said, I am quite open to being persuaded that that there is a cylo filled with bijas in a dimension I cannot experience, though I have not encountered any compelling evidence that would lead me to adopt such a view.
Lastly, what I see as most problematic about the comments of a Pat Robertson, is that by propogating a spiritually materialistic rhetoric re: cause and effect, it decreases the speaker’s need to draw connections between himself and others in seemingly disimilar situations (e.g. Haiti), and moreover, decreases the responsibility to engage in helping to aid those in seemingly disimilar situations who are in pain. Robertson, seemed to realize that this distancing was not a good move politically, hence the retraction of his statements.



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interpreter

posted January 14, 2010 at 6:48 pm


Pat Robertson does not speak for the majority of Christians.



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sophie

posted January 14, 2010 at 9:02 pm


Hello
Has anyone had a good look see at PHD. Rick Hansons book
Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom
http://www.rickhanson.net/
sophie



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bob knab

posted January 14, 2010 at 9:47 pm


alas ——————————-
the arch bishop of Haiti was killed
bricks fell on him i guess it was
God getting read of the bad guys
Pat you better get a hard hat
a_men to that sisters —-
bobknab



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sophie

posted January 14, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Jeff

posted January 14, 2010 at 11:23 pm


A general question to anyone and everyone – I’m curious to see what people come up with. In Buddhism what is the ultimate origin of suffering, delusion, ignorance and so on. How did that ball start rolling? How did good and bad karma get going Is it just the down side to what is perceived as the up side to give contrast and interest to things? Or is it always some sort of timeless now, so to speak of a beginning of ignorance and suffering is meaningless, it just is, and the point is to get out it via the eightfold path? Which to my mind would be avoiding the question



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Dominique

posted January 15, 2010 at 12:50 am


Thanks for your thoughts. I’m Haitian-Amer & Buddhist and was thinking deeply about karma similar to your post:
“The first thing that came up for me was a feeling of guilt…and rich countries (which created the problem), will be less effected by climate change.” We’re very fortunate in the States & I hope we don’t settle in apathy.



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Lance

posted January 15, 2010 at 3:38 am


I think this guy is stupid in the comments that he made. Jesus himself never judged anyone like this especially during a time of need!!!! I am of Christian belief but this is why I don’t claim a religion. Religion just messes with what GOD really wants and we sit here and act like we are better than everyone else. The last thing that the world needs is another sermon. He should have been there trying to help and showing how great GOD is instead of being foolish and condeming people.



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abba

posted January 15, 2010 at 3:46 am


Where does one draw the line with Karma??By the same token 9/11 and the GEC=Global Economic Crisis would be taken as God/dess wrath against America for being the bully boys of the world.



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abba

posted January 15, 2010 at 3:55 am


This is typical of evangelist like PAt Robertson.They are blinded by their white superiority complex and can only view the world through Christ-centric lenses.



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Lance

posted January 15, 2010 at 4:00 am


I don’t believe in Karma, because I feel like I have a strong relationship with God. I don’t believe in RELIGION, because I think religion makes people act just like that movie Religulous. God, in my opinion doesn’t want us to act like this, and people who make comments like this really don’t have a relationship with God like they should. They end up being just like the suicide bombers! Ignorant!!!



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judishi

posted January 15, 2010 at 8:19 am


there’s an old testament story about a prophet who was ordered by god to make dire predictions to the people and once the foretold disaster had struck to go back to the people and tell them it was god’s wrath that caused it and they should change their ways
and the prophet complained to god that doing this would make people angry at him and he begged to be released from this obligation, but like a faithful servant he did what he was told
i have no idea what pat robertson is thinking but if he believed in the bible he wouldn’t take back the things he said. but more importantly, if he believed in the bible story, he’s be predicting these things before they happened, then following up with the pronouncement from god. i don’t see that happening



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Rob the Rev

posted January 15, 2010 at 10:31 am


During this time that we are focusing on Haiti and the terrible disaster there let us use this moment to inform ourselves about its agonizing history and how the past and present policies of the the U.S.A. toward Haiti have contributed to make this disaster much worse than what it should have been had we treated the Haitian people in a more just manner up to this moment. This disaster did not have to be as bad as it was!
Read about the agonizing history of Haiti and how the United States has contributed to its misery in the book “An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President,” by Randall Robinson



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Margaret

posted January 15, 2010 at 10:32 am


We can not judge whether an even was karmic or a random even. Innocent people suffer. Even if an even was karmic (which is not in our ability to know), the results are to be met with compassion for the victim. I would say that the compassion extends to Pat Robertson, who felt it was necessary to make hurtful comments. It also extends to ourselves as we observe the terrible suffering of those in Haiti.



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Your Name

posted January 15, 2010 at 10:43 am


To see karma as simply the result of one’s actions misses the deeper point. It is more ciruclar than that. For every karmic result, there is an opportunity–which continues to be offered. May Haiti find a way to recover and see clearly how to proceed in their life as a country.



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Grams

posted January 15, 2010 at 10:43 am


Has anyone had the thought that this was nothing more than a geological occurrence? A few of you need a refresher course on geology: in no way in anyone’s abstract can this earthquake be even remotely linked to Global Warming.
Come on, where is your collective common sense?



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parentcoach

posted January 15, 2010 at 10:43 am


Why don’t we look at this global catastrophe in a new light. Perhaps these things happen to people who are less fortunate in an effort to wake up those of us who have been living a life of splendor. My family has fallen on hard times like a lot of working families in this country (I am speaking of the states here), but we still have far more than people in countries like Haiti. I don’t see this event in their life as karma nor do I see it as projecting something out into the world. This was a natural disaster and one most likely caused by countries like ours.
My mother in law had the nerve yesterday to send an email to myself and the other sibling families in our world, discussing whether we wanted to “buy” a gift off of her to give to my father in law. His birthday is THREE months away! Are you kidding me? We just suffered a natural disaster of epic proportions and her concern is what to give her husband (who mind you is in his mid 60’s and has money) for his birthday in April. In my mind, uncontientable!
This is the mentality of the people who have been in control of our world and its time we make the changes necessary to move forward in love. Forget karma, judgement, opinions, or explanation. Start changing the stories you create and the outcome will begin to look different too!



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carolj

posted January 15, 2010 at 10:48 am


Pat Robertson is a very good example of why I do not identify with Christianity anymore. I have found the closest to the truth is the Unitarian Universalist Church. He is so far off base and ignorant – God (the God of your understanding) did not purposely wake up the other morning and say “I’ll have a devastating earthquake today – haha_. Let’s stop giving Robertson anymore publicity – it is exactly what he wants!



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Mykael

posted January 15, 2010 at 10:52 am


If it walks like a duck . . . etc.
It’s simple . . .
the man is an idiot . . .
and saying THAT is an insult to idiots, because he is worse
. . . he’s an imbecile.



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Lady

posted January 15, 2010 at 10:54 am


Pat Robertson should be found under some of the ruble in Haiti, SMASHED!!!!!



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Sandy

posted January 15, 2010 at 10:58 am


Pat is the devil himself, what does 200 years ago have to do with the innocents of today? Hey Pat, use some of the money your CULT members send you and help these poor people.



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C Traylor

posted January 15, 2010 at 11:13 am


The only cause and effect issue here is that the infrastructure in Haiti wasn’t able to with stand the quake. Therefore, we see increased death tolls. We’ve had huge death tolls here in our country over the past 100 years due to natural disasters, and one can not say that rich or poor or more spiritually fit or not is the result of such devastation. And FUCK Robertson, he is the reason why I’m no longer a Christian. We are all on a spiritual path whether we realize it or not. We will see seasons of overwhelming abundance and goodness in our life and seasons of heartache and loss. That is LIFE!



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Gail Sustare

posted January 15, 2010 at 11:20 am


It is a disgrace for anyone to think evil and destruction is what the choice of a G-d would be for anyone. How dare anyone think they know what is in the mind of G-d. I do not believe in the devil,,,,but to me this is the devil at work…kind of like rush limbaugh, only sees darkness, it is sad they are both in any kind of leadership position…the pied pipers to hell. I pray for the people of Haiti



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Your Name

posted January 15, 2010 at 11:23 am


Yes, Brit Hume was right- Christians are much more accepting and forgiving than Buddhists and Pat Robertson is living proof of that…



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vi

posted January 15, 2010 at 11:23 am


Pat Robertson in a lost soul. He has no clue about what karma is or isn’t. He is just expressing his outrageous ignorance once again!



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Kerry

posted January 15, 2010 at 11:30 am


It is just a sad comment that people, supposedly Christian, make statements such as this. At a time when people are suffering, rather do something to help or at least send your prayers for their assistance…you just try to lay blame on invisible forces for bringing this judgement on them.
I am fairly sure that the people lost in this tragedy would be pleased to hear that they deserved what they got.



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C Traylor

posted January 15, 2010 at 11:34 am


This is all a JOKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



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Red Silver

posted January 15, 2010 at 11:39 am


what if there was NO reason at all why these things happen , and if there was a reason , as I’d be inclined to think , what if wasn’t so easy as karma , God or the devil , and what if we are NOT – or not yet – able to understand it ?



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Your Name

posted January 15, 2010 at 11:42 am


This is to be expected with Pat Robertson, who made a killing in revenue from day one in “God’s name.” First off, with him saying such crap, who is his God, and why do some ppl feel so sanctimonious with their so-called faith when a tragedy happens? What happened to “Let us pray for the children and their families?” Who’s to say the earthquake wasn’t man-made? PR, his true name, knows what hes doing and it aint for the good.
I remember looking at his demonic show one night and one of his devils tried to justify the murderous, tyrannous acts his faith he claims to have done…in the past. So with his comments about Haiti, should that mean we Amaericans should prepare for the worst because of terrorist acts we didnt perform but was commanded by the name of God? When I was growing up (and I speak for a lot of spiritualists I hope)my parents taught me of a loving, kind God…in all of us. Where is that in PR? If his “god” teaches hatred and depreciation then to Hades with his god. Cuz it sure aint the God I or anyone else was taught!!!



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Francesca

posted January 15, 2010 at 12:12 pm


We live “in” this world… but our godhead is not “out there somewhere” it is within us. Natural events happen. Poverty in a country like Haiti… and even here in the US… is not a life choice. Our spirit lives despite the world situations, not because of them. To condemn an individual, or a people is only a condemnation of self. We are not the judge of what happens or why. To judge, as Robertson did, is to condemn self for not being connected to his godhead, for not knowing spirit… for being of the world and disconnected from love.



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ACHILD

posted January 15, 2010 at 12:40 pm


At first I was mortified that he’d say something so hurtful to so many people. But my heart says maybe prayer for enlightenment on a large scale is needed. Not sure that makes sense, either. Maybe witnessing or experiencing hurtfulness helps us value compassion and allows for human growth toward understanding. Maybe compassion will grow from our heartaches. Random pain and horror will always be a part of the human existance. What we do as induviduals with it is where there is growth….. we are only babies in the realm of great understanding.



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David

posted January 15, 2010 at 12:40 pm


sometimes things just happen. perhaps it is the poorer populations that stick in our mind more because they are less able to deal with these things on their own. To answer the other question asked. Pat is a rabid hate mongering money worshiper(in my opinion)
Just a little something from the pagan point of view.



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krista

posted January 15, 2010 at 12:46 pm


It seems to me that PR could likely be suffering from some sort of age related dementia or has, over the years become mentally unstable. This could be due to many factors we aren’t aware of, such as drug or alcohol abuse. I remember watching his show when I was a child at my grandmothers house and I don’t recall him spewing such hateful vitriol back then (mid to late 70’s if I remember right). Although it is easy to become filled w/anger by his ridiculous statements, we must remember that he is still a fellow human, and could very likely have a health issue that is contributing to his increasingly bizarre behavior. Be Love, Krista



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Marc

posted January 15, 2010 at 12:56 pm


There are many aspects to this other than the fact that Pat Robertson is completely insane.
One, the Haitian practices are based on the Christian religion. So Pat Robertson should be wary of the next lightning bolt.
Two, and more disconcerting is that we as a people in general are subjected constantly to the influences from both extremes of any event. It is sad that those people that represent the views of less than 15-20% of the population get the most press. Shame on the media for even recognizing these people. That is not the middle way and that is bad karma.



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The Barking Unicorn, Denver, CO

posted January 15, 2010 at 1:00 pm


No, Karma is not simple. In fact, the full, terrible Karma is not even orderly. It is Chaos.
From every action arise multiple effects, each of which has Yin and Yang.
It is impossible to do a purely good deed. You can never predict all of the effects your action will have. You can never control the net Karma that accumulates from any act.
It is impossible to do a purely evil deed, for the same reason.
A thousand hoary cliches testify that people KNOW this true Karmic “Law of Chaos”:
“The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”
“You have to take the bad with the good.”
But we choose to deny the Law of Chaos. The mind continually seeks order that isn’t there; justice that doesn’t exist; fairness that is only one’s opinion of how things should be.
Scientists and religious people agree that the universe arose from Chaos and will end in Chaos. I do not understand why they insist that it isn’t in Chaos right now.
The delusion of Order and Law gives rise to expectations, which are inevitably disappointed. Belief in Order and Law is a source of suffering.
“Chaos is not dangerous until it begins to look orderly.” ~ Max Gunther in “The Zurich Axioms”
I am NOT saying that Cause and Effect are inoperative. Of course, every cause gives rise to effects. But the effects arise Chaotically and we do not have control over them.
Do not try to make sense of the Haitian earthquake and its many effects. The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you. The good news is, you are under no obligation to make sense of the universe.
But if you insist on asking the question which has no sensible answer, “Why do poor people always get screwed?” then here is an answer that conforms to traditional views of Karma:
The acts which bring suffering upon the apparently blameless poor now were performed in past lives. Being born poor in this lifetime is part of their screwing, their karmic debt if you want to use the bank account metaphor.



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Ian

posted January 15, 2010 at 1:33 pm


Barking Unicorn writes:
“Do not try to make sense of the Haitian earthquake and its many effects. The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you. The good news is, you are under no obligation to make sense of the universe.”
Why should we deny or ignore a basic human tendency to look for order or pattern within chaos..? What about acknowledging the interconnectedness between devastated social services and panic?
“But if you insist on asking the question which has no sensible answer, “Why do poor people always get screwed?” then here is an answer that conforms to traditional views of Karma:
The acts which bring suffering upon the apparently blameless poor now were performed in past lives. Being born poor in this lifetime is part of their screwing, their karmic debt if you want to use the bank account metaphor.”
I would question the responsibility of your interpretation and its use here.. It would be a sad outcome if a provisional understanding of Buddhist concepts would actually _prevent_ someone from doing the hard work of contemplating upon empathy and interconnectedness..



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Shirl

posted January 15, 2010 at 1:33 pm


I think there are certain events and experiences that have no explanation. As humans, we have a tendency to look for logic, rationale and explanations. We will tend to arrive at answers that make sense or don’t that we can feel comfortable with but not necesarily true. Earthquakes and other acts of nature are what they are, as well as people that think like Pat Robertson are who they are. There are many aspects or pieces of fabric, if you will, that are intentionally part of the quilt. As humans we are all here for a reason and as stated by another poster, perhaps Pat Robertson’s actions and comments are designed to allow us to look within to find the best of ourselves or decide to buy into his thinking and way of being. The times are such that we are being asked to take a good hard look at ourselves and if what we see is working for the good of the whole as we come to realize we are all connected.



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nlt

posted January 15, 2010 at 1:34 pm


the poor get hit more by natural disasters because they are forced by their lack of resources to live in the most dangerous and vulnerable places. those with money tend to have better houses in locations that aren’t as prone to natural disasters. I’m sure, however, the archbishop was in better than average housing.
why are people poor? because they did bad in a previous life? because they need to learn a lesson? I don’t accept that. my understanding of buddhism is that you learn to look for the root causes of a situation, not reflexively blame the victims. the root causes, however, are vast and complex and not easily addressed. but that does not mean we can write it off as the fault of the victims.
I can’t accept karma as a bank account or a tally of good deeds. I try to live ethically, in accord with the precepts and the eightfold path, because that is the best way I’ve found to make this life meaningful. I can’t take into account whether it adds or subtracts to my karma because that makes it all about me, and it’s not.



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U

posted January 15, 2010 at 1:48 pm


Very well initiated and expressed, Ethan!
I think Pat Robertson should be prosecuted to highest level for blatant hate-mongering.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted January 15, 2010 at 2:02 pm


@Greg: Yes, obviously there seems to be a tendency in the Tibetan tradition to quantify effects in terms of number of repetitions or accumulations of merit. I think this can give a “Cosmic Bank Account” materialistic misperception to a more approachable and less materialistic view of karma, since none of the teachings in Yogachara attempt to quantify the bijas or how they collect in the storehouse consciousness.
I think along these lines, this is precisely why Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, in our Shambhala community, has gone away from set-numerical repetitions of Vajrayana practices and more toward seeing the “signs” of karma or habit shifting into kindness and openness. I believe he did this to get away from all the faulty views that arise from the Cosmic Bank Account approach to karma and the self.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted January 15, 2010 at 2:06 pm


@Barking Unicorn: The basic sense of what I hear you saying is “we can’t understand the complexity, so just drop it.” Then at the end, I hear you saying “actually, we should blame the victim.”
Please let me know if these are misrepresentations.
The first seems to avoid the fact that the Buddhist idea of letting go of fixation on concepts actually comes from looking DEEPLY, not from choosing not to look.
The second seems to avoid the deep complexity of interdependence, which makes blaming the victim much more inappropriate( or for that matter, criminalizing an offender as some sole cause of evil without looking at environmental factors).



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My Name

posted January 15, 2010 at 2:26 pm


The earthquake was a natural disaster. If you want to know more about earthquakes and why they occur, there’s enough scientific info on the net — movement of tectonic plates, faults on the earth’s crust,build up and break down of magma, and so on. For anyone who believes in a Supreme Being who created the earth, well, that’s the way he made it. For anyone who doesn’t believe in any Supreme Being, well, that’s the way the earth ended up after billions of years of evolution. Can we change that, basically? No.
That the Haitian people seem to get hit regularly by one disaster after another — civil unrest, hurricanes and typhoons, economic disasters (failed crops, etc.), and political upheavals — is, I think, partially a matter of mentality but also partially a matter of choice. If there is any karma at play here, I’d simplify its description, perhaps, to the Haitians ‘ability’, for lack of a better word, to regularly make the wrong decisions. That brings us back to the mentality bit. Is karma just a matter of mentality? In the BeliefNet website, we always get tips on how to do things better, including how to be more positive, get rid of stress, make better decisions … bingo! Maybe that is what they need — to learn to make better decisions — build better housing, improve education, stabilize governmental systems — instead of getting bogged down constantly by superstition.
But, as everyone knows, changing the mentality of an entire nation can take more than several lifetimes, as well as more than several disasters.



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ellen9

posted January 15, 2010 at 2:28 pm


Got to say I’m kinda fascinated by the chaos theory of Barking Unicorn. I’ve heard buddhist teacher Reggie Ray talk about “the chaos of the body” and didn’t know exactly what he meant, but finally can see a bit of it. I have also read some realized folk writing on chaos. So I’d agree that yes, causes have effects but the level of connection and interdependence that really exists is so much more complex than anyone or thing can predict.
I kind of agree that “Of course, every cause gives rise to effects. But the effects arise chaotically and we do not have control over them.”
However, I also agree that the Buddha was right about cause and effect regarding suffering. He traced the causes of the effect of suffering. And the path away from that cycle.



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My Name

posted January 15, 2010 at 2:30 pm


And as for Mr. Robertson, well, we all know better than to listen to what he says. Let him ramble on, poor dear. Gives him something to do.



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ellen9

posted January 15, 2010 at 2:44 pm


and the second half of that comment.
So the the causes of suffering–ignorance, aggression, attachment or whichever translation we go for–do not give rise to entirely chaotic effects; they give rise to suffering.
My “kinda” agreement comes from seeing how I and others can grossly simply the cause-effect action.
“Well, my grandpa smoked for 40 years, quit, and lived for 40 more totally healthy – so what was the effect there, huh? huh? [puff, puff, puff]”
or “Well, she was such an angry bitch; I’m sure that had something to do with her getting cancer.”
We misattribute cause to effect and effect to cause because we really not know and cannot control the effect our actions may have – i think that tons of speculative and time-travel fiction is a big wrestling match with this and how we feel about it.
I choose to live my life on the hypothesis that clinging, anger, and ignorance lead to suffering. The precise mechanism of exactly how, when, and where that effect will show up I would not presume to determine.
Giving aid that comes from attachment, aggression and ignorance will lead to suffering too. Damn. But I’ll also pick the hypothesis that it is better to give aid than not.



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Rebecca

posted January 15, 2010 at 3:34 pm


As a Buddhist, the issue is not determining whether the earthquake is “God’s wrath” or karma or just forces of nature happening in a way we cannot understand, but rather to feel and act with true compassion for the those impacted by this natural disaster and do what we can to alleviate the suffering of sentinent beings in Haiti and Tibet and all over the world.
The comments on who has the best defintion of “karma” smacks as a bit self-righteous, a little bit like the Pat Robertson comment regarding “God’s wrath”.



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Greg

posted January 15, 2010 at 4:20 pm


@Ethan – of course none of the Yogacara teachings attempt to quantify the bijas.
But you can’t possibly be suggesting that “the dominant wrong view of karma” today which you allege is the “Cosmic Bank Account” theory involves people who think they have precisely 1,332,521 units of punya somewhere, and they are just waiting to go dive into it Scrooge McDuck style.
No, rather people have a general sense of accumulating merit, which is very much in line with the orthodox teachings on karma. It isn’t particularly a wrong view at all.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted January 15, 2010 at 4:37 pm


@ Greg: I think people DO often report views of karma as quantifiable, either implicitly or explicitly. Actually, I think of the 3 I listed, the “blame the victim” school of karma is the most pervasive view, especially when we direct aggression at ourselves for how experience affects us.
Do we GET karma? Like we get a paycheck? That quantifiable view is wrong from the yogachara approach, I believe. Yet we talk about it that way all the time. I’m saying, karma is best viewed as an internal force, rather than an invisible external commodity. To say we accumulate karma, I believe, is a faulty way of representing the mind-only views, and it may’ve been a linguistic problem in Tibet, or at least in English translation.
It’s like saying we accumulate or “get” velocity or force. Karma is more like a mental force or a vector, not a currency, in the mind-only view.
If we talk about accumulation, we are talking about getting an external object and bringing it toward us. Whereas if we talk about force, we are talking about how the subjects ourselves moves and habituates, which is a more accessible, nondualistic, and less objectifying of karma.
Also, I do think there’s possibly a linguistic difference between karma and merit, and it may lie along these lines. Merit being the external manifestations of good karma, or good habits.
Thoughts?



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Greg

posted January 15, 2010 at 4:57 pm


Traditionally, the main function of karma is, it is that which impels us into our next rebirths. And the quality of the actions we’ve accummulated, meritorious or not, determines whether or not we’ll have a favorable rebirth. How exactly the karma is “stored” has been a point of dispute always. But the general principle described above is agreed upon.
I’m not sure what you mean by “Do we GET karma?”, but certainly karma is said to ripen into specific fruit or results (phala or vip?ka) in terms of specific (seemingly) external pleasant or unpleasant experiences that we have, even in this life. Although only Buddhas understand the mechanics precisely.
Merit is one variety of karma. Good karma ripening (karmavip?ka) is the result of merit.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted January 15, 2010 at 5:10 pm


@Greg: That’s not really getting at the linguistic problem I am pointing out. I’ll try to summarize.
If we say that we take on karma (and yes I realize this is a conventionally used way of discussing), it makes it seem like karma is external to us.
But if we say the mind’s conditioning is ITSELF karma, and that this gives the mind certain perceptual tendencies and habitual forces, then karma is not external to our mind, not some etherial quantity. This is the mind-only yogachara view which is the basis of the Tibetan system of consciousness (at least in the Nyingma approach – even the schools that emphasize the freedom from elaborations of prasangika still buy the notion of karmic patterning in one way or another).
But we talk about karma as if it is external to us somehow when we talk about accumulation, and that is a problematic thing linguistically.
But if we say instead, gathering merit, that allows merit to actually be the external positive circumstances which manifest due to a shift in karmic conditioning. So there is a difference between karma and punya, or else there wouldn’t be two words, and the way it makes most sense with the least contradictions is if karma is the conditioning itself (unquantifiable), and punya is the beneficial outcome of that conditioning (which might be more quantifiable in some generic sense, which makes me prefer the term gather over accumulate).
That’s all from me for today.



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bUUdhistguy

posted January 15, 2010 at 5:52 pm


The only bad Karma here is Robertson’s. What a disgusting thing to say about a tragedy. BTW since when can a group of people make a pact with Robertson’s Imaginary Devil and have it be generational?
Three lives as a crippled beggar for you PAT.



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Noel

posted January 15, 2010 at 6:41 pm


If Karma is what Pat Robertson thinks it is we all would have reaped ours sooner including Pat Robertson. They say that 2010 is the year that the mirrors and the smoke will be stopping and many truths will be seen for what they are. What is Pat Roberston doing but projecting onto others more misfortunate than himself the shadow within himself. I just can not believe that he thinks he “knows all” and actually would say such a heartless statement and have so many BELIEVE him. If that is the true Christianity of Christ..heaven help us all.What happened to compassion and love and charitable acts.This is just his fear talking. What would happen if that happened to him and someone made the same statement? I just don’t understand why any one who is human would EVER be so heartless and unkind in his words as a Christian or of any other religion for that matter either. May God forgive him.



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Sue

posted January 15, 2010 at 8:12 pm


Evangelist maybe. Christian no, never! Pat Robertson is now claiming that his comments were taken out of context. Shame on him.
Neither though is kamma any kind of punishment visited upon an individual or group for wrongdoing and should not be viewed as such. This earthquake was a random act of nature visited upon Haiti because of its geographical position and nothing more, or less



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Greg

posted January 15, 2010 at 8:34 pm


Of course in Yogacara *nothing* is external to mind, and so talking about *anything* is a problem linguistically.
The problem is that you’re stretching and misapplying words and concepts when there are other words and concepts that cover what you’re talking about. The term that most closely describes karmic conditioning of mind in the Yogacara system is samskara, not “karma” itself. The mind’s karmic conditioning is itself samskara. Yes, there is a difference between karma and merit (punya)–the difference is that punya is good karma and not all karma is good, some karma is “papa”–bad karma. That’s why there are two words, karma and punya–the latter is a subset of the former.
The (seemingly) external good circumstances that manifest are not punya itself, they are the fruit of punya–vip?kaphala. To be really precise punya is the sort of the placeholder between wholesome action (kusala karma) and fruit (vip?kaphala), In Yogacara merit takes the form of bijas stored in the alayavijnana. Yes it’s not a “thing”–but then nothing is a “thing”–or a “self,” for that matter.
You can say, “it’s all nondual” but if we’re going to talk about it we inevitably have to make dualistic distinctions, so we might as well do it properly.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted January 15, 2010 at 8:54 pm


@Greg: I don’t think what you are saying is totally accurate.
Samskara, karma, and punya all refer to different aspects.
Samskara refers to basic grooves, or avenues of tendency (such as aggression), not the specific tendencies themselves, which are bijas (such as “I hate people who use too many sanskrit words”). Point being, none of that is external to the mind, all is within the notion of karma which is not an external, material phenomenon.
Use the terms properly? Come on Greg. You and I both know all these terms and know they have multiple interpretations, not one. I am trying to categorize the terms in a way that we don’t run into contradictions, which an external view of karma causes when viewed from a mind-only filter. That was the only point of the Cosmic Bank Account image, which you state about you agree is faulty.
I could accuse you of misapplying words as well, but then we get into a classic he said he said, when we both know words have a multiplicity of meaning. That feels a bit disingenuous in this case, unless I’m just misunderstanding you in this tricky online format.
Keep throwing out sanskrit, I know a lot of sanskrit words too :~) By the way, the word for “good” is kusala, which you haven’t mentioned. akusala is negative karma.
papa is another word that I believe means “brought down or degraded,” but i believe it’s a particular synonym for akusala, not a separate category.
Not always sure why you pick on points as if there was only one interpretation possible, one definition possible.
Love you!



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Greg

posted January 15, 2010 at 9:06 pm


Revised my comments before seeing your response – hence my mention of kusala.
The only reason to introduce Sanskrit words is because not all of them have an easy equivalent concepts and terms in English, so if we want to make distinctions properly there is no other way to do it, unfortunately. It’s hard to make a precise definition of one Sanskrit word/concept without introducing others.
I don’t question that karma is not an “external Cosmic Bank Account” somewhere in physical space. But I do question that anyone thinks that it is. Who really thinks that? My point is, in some sense it actually IS a Cosmic Bank account, so I wouldn’t call that a wrong view.



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Greg

posted January 15, 2010 at 9:15 pm


Another consideration is, bijas are actually *not* just tendencies in what we consider to be our minds, they manifest into experiences of what appears to be external, material phenomenon. As in, if I get hit by a car, that whole experience is the ripening of bijas, according to Yogacara–not just my conditioned response to it.
That’s why this is more than just petty quibbling about the Sanskrit lexicon.



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Suzi Starcana Dronzek

posted January 15, 2010 at 10:17 pm


Wonderful article. I seen the remarks he made on the evening news and was saddened by his perversed judgment against his fellow brothers and sisters. I pray for Haiti, but I will also pray for Pat Robertson.



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Mahatmacoat

posted January 15, 2010 at 11:59 pm


Hmm. I guess the majority of you are questioning whether the tragedy in Haiti is a consequence of the Haitian peoples’ karma. Well, it has nothing to do with their merit, or lack thereof. The quake and it’s aftereffects are a natural phenomenon. This is not a punishment nor a reward. Pat Robertson prayed for a hurricane to hit Mexico back in the 80s rather than come ashore in Texas, if I remember right. the man is an idiot; not an insult to idiots, but a sad fact. As Buddhists, our imperative is to speak to the spirits of the fallen, sending them on to the next lives in peace and knowledge. Impermanence is the life we endure. Our human imperative is to send our love and compassion to the troubled people of Haiti and their loved ones. Piss on the controversy of condemning Pat Robertson, a poor example of “Christianity”.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted January 16, 2010 at 6:53 am


@Greg: I don’t think you’ve really demonstrated how it “sort of is a cosmic bank account.”
Also, the alayavijnana contains many different types of seeds, which do not add up to a currency. It’s more like a grain storage with millions and billions of different types of seed, which do not have a transferable value. How are you missing the simple point that it’s not a currency?
Your argument seems to be built on the idea that all bijas are the same, which would be necessary to view it as a bank acct, where all currency is the same. It’s a bit of a lazy analogy to say it could be a bank acct, which would require a uniformity of bijas, ie, only two types of karmic seed.
There are infinite types of kusala and akusala.
I think I’m making a much simpler and more direct point than you are acknowledging, and I’m a bit surprised you aren’t seeing it, buddy.
A materialistic view of karma is deeply pervasive and causes people I meet a lot of problems. So perhaps I’m approaching this wrong view from teaching experience more than doctrine, but the doctrine does NOT support the cosmic bank account view, which is totally different from the idea of a “storehouse.”



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Ethan Nichtern

posted January 16, 2010 at 7:00 am


@Greg: also, in Yogacara, bijas are NOT external to mind according to any text I’ve ever read. That’s a problematic way of representing the school.



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Your Name

posted January 16, 2010 at 7:46 am


It is so hard to hear someone who is suppose to be respresenting the Love of Christ making an unnecessary unloving judgemental commit. Such a shame that God has provided and blessed you Pat with a venue to make a positive impact on million of his people ( And make no mistake, the people of Haiti are His, created in His image)and you have taken a position that is only turning people away and making you an uncredible witness for his kingdom. We have been praying for the nation of Haiti and their plight for years. We are now including you and your “ministry” in our daily prayers for dicernment and a softening of your heart to Gods truth and will for his children in Haiti.



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Dennis

posted January 16, 2010 at 8:16 am


Regarding Pat Robertson’s comment, I’ve read a George Bernard Shaw quote: “Christianity is the greatest religion ever, too bad it has never been practiced”. Now I do know many Christians who do get it and live it. But this is a wonderful example of what Shaw was trying to say.



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Mu

posted January 16, 2010 at 10:13 am


Hey Ethan & Greg,
I’ve only been reading the Tibetan schools for a few years now (I’m a Zen boy), and I am always challenged by the terminology. For example, is bija identical to vasana? I see them used interchangeably, and I often see vasana and the Tibetan word pak chak used synonymously to mean “karmic imprint.” Then you have the samskaras, the effects of which are called vasanas. But I’ll be darned if I haven’t seen these two used interchangeably.
Since we Z-boys like to simple styley, so my understanding of karma is that it is a cycle which looks like this:
Action (karma) –> Impression (samskara) –> Tendency (vasana) –> Thought Pattern (vritti) –> Action (karma)
For karma, you got six actions: seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, and thinking.
Samkaras are subtle imprints/impressions that are made in the mind-stuff (chitta). They aren’t memories; memories are formed from the imprints.
Vasanas are tendencies, the inclinations formed from samskaras, e.g., mental urges, desires, and feelings.
Vrittis are thought patterns created by vasanas. Our thinking becomes motivated by our tendencies. Vrittis support, and can rigidify, vasanas. Vrittis form our attitudes and mental disposition. (Connection to Ethan’s seminar on Buddhism & psychotherapy: this is where the psychotherapist mainly intervenes.)
Karma brings us around the cycle, where the vrittis “made you do it.”
Finally, my reading of the Tibetan schools tells me that most agree on the way that karmic imprints are created, but opinions differ about where they are based and stored (e.g., Chittamatra school says they’re stored in a separate consciousness while the Prasangika asserts that it is the mere “I” that is the base for the imprints). Certainly, the word “stored” gives us the impression that the karmic imprints are physical, but obviously that isn’t the case. The word is thus not the best.



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Mu

posted January 16, 2010 at 10:16 am


Whoops: Second paragraph should read:
Since we Z-boys like to roll simple styley, my understanding of karma is that it is a cycle which looks like this….



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Greg

posted January 16, 2010 at 11:08 am


@Ethan – well, yes, bijas are unlike currency in that they are not transferable and they are not all positive. In the broadest sense they are on of three categories – good, bad, and indeterminate but yes within that there is infinite variety.
So yes I agree that the analogy does not hold up in that sense. But again . . I just don’t see that being a very widespread misperception – that there is only good karma, and that it can be spent at will like money.
I don’t think I ever said bijas are external to mind. In Yogacara nothing is external to mind. But bijas definitely ripen into *seemingly* external experiences and circumstances though.
@Mu – yes vasana and bija are often used synonymously but bija literally means “seed” and there is a sense that it ripens into more than just the habitual tendencies of the mindstream.



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hood prophet

posted January 16, 2010 at 11:27 am


how do we know that it’s not satan who is responsible for the quake through his earthly servants the bilderbergs & there HAARP deathray



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Peacemaker

posted January 16, 2010 at 12:00 pm


Pat Robertson is not justified in making such statement about Haiti.
Christians as well as non Christians suffered in the Earthquake in Haiti.



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hood prophet

posted January 16, 2010 at 12:05 pm


i just did a little research & found that the quake hit the day before the bailout hearings what a coinkidink!!!



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Buddha Kitty

posted January 16, 2010 at 6:14 pm


Not unlike Jerry Fallwell’s comments eight years ago blaming the events of 9-11 on gays and feminists.
(Makes me wonder, would Mr. Robertson said that if the population were not 95% black? Never mind-somebody or something has to be a convenient scapegoat, whether it is karma, Satan, or whatever.)
They come from the same places, which is pride and ignorance.
They are to be pitied.



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Judy Wells

posted January 16, 2010 at 7:08 pm


No Wonder so many people are staying out of church, and have nothing to do with “religion.” People like Pat Robertson is chasing us away!
7qcppx



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Steve

posted January 16, 2010 at 8:13 pm


Mr. Robertson is, of course, mentally deranged and is deserving of more pity than anger. No one in his or her right mind would make a statement like that. He very desperately needs help. Ten years ago I would have been angry with him for saying something so completely off the rails of sanity. Now I realize he’s mentally ill and deserves a more compassionate response. My Buddhist practice, inadequate as it is, has helped me to accept that.



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Megan

posted January 17, 2010 at 2:08 pm


Is there anything worse than a judgemental, bigoted right-winger? I’m beginning to think they hate everyone, including themselves.



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Your Name

posted January 17, 2010 at 7:27 pm


Walking the path for me has been about progress towards greater compassion and service. As a Buddhist and a person in recovery I have looked inside myself and found the very same defects of fear and pride demonstrated in Mr. Robertson’s comment. At first I was angered, but a quick inventory of myself revealed no room for me to judge, and when we realize we are all subject to delusion arising from ignorance, I find it easier to hold compassion for him, as well as for the people of Haiti, and even for myself.



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steve

posted January 18, 2010 at 9:35 am


tragedy in Haiti
Cause – live in structurally unsound buildings on geological fault line
effect – suffer from effects of earthquake



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Richard Rudis

posted January 18, 2010 at 2:03 pm


‘Eye for an Eye – Pat Robertson?’
Dear Pat,
I recognize that we are all governed by karmic patterns – ingrained reactions and habitual conceptualizations, (some of us, it appears, are more infected than others).
Concepts such as ‘tooth for a tooth’ and ‘pay back’ are relevant only within the narrow mechanics of the Newtonian universal model; itself a world view that fuels our deepest sadness.
This view of karma is rooted in destructive concepts such as revenge, hatred and jealousy perpetuating an endless circular cycle of suffering. However, it is equality possible to abandon blame and substitute choice: Choose compassion as a response to negative situations and embrace our natural empathy for other beings. Choose to retrain the inflected mind in such a fashion as to support spiritual evolution.
Freed from the bonds of intolerance, greed and self-interest we can view phenomenon clearly; responding with discernment to benefit the lives of all sentient beings and providing a tool to change the course of this and future lifetimes.



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ajay

posted January 20, 2010 at 12:43 pm


The Devil Sues Pat Robertson for Breach of Contract
http://wp.me/pIP1s-2v



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Steve

posted January 20, 2010 at 12:53 pm


This is a good point:
“Cause – live in structurally unsound buildings on geological fault line
effect – suffer from effects of earthquake”
Karma in the Buddhist sense, from my understanding, is dependent on *intentional* actions and their results. No one did anything that intentionally made the earthquake happen. However people did chose to both build and live in structures poorly designed for their poorly-chosen location.
This does not mean that these people are experiencing the effects of bad karma. A caveat to karmic law that I don’t see emphasized often enough is that it only predicts the outcome of intentional actions made without ignorance. No one knew this earthquake would happen. Most of these people probably didn’t even know how unstable their buildings were even if they knew they were on a fault line. Since they were ignorant of confounding factors, karma does not state that these people must have done something to karmically “deserve it” (which as the article points out is kind of a bastardization of the concept anyway).



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Jana

posted January 27, 2010 at 7:57 pm


Here’s why I do not believe the earthquake has anything to do with Karma. I do think it has more to do with GREED and POWER. Read the following from a renowned Seismologist/Scientist, Steve Lendman.
“In regions with high tectonic activity, like northern California near San Francisco or Haiti around Port-au-Prince, extraction could trigger severe quakes. It’s believed Haiti has significant oil, gas, and other mineral deposits, including gold, copper, and coal. Perhaps drilling around Port-au-Prince bay, the Gulf of La Gonave, and the Island of La Gonave set off the quake, why US occupation and human neglect are related to it, and why America, France, Canada and other nations seek to profit from disaster. Also, a Haiti disaster relief scenario had been envisaged at the headquarters of US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami only one day prior to the earthquake (since) pre-disaster simulations pertain(ing)to the impacts of a hurricane in Haiti” were conducted”.
I’ve experienced several major earthquakes living in California.
Both local and nationwide televised rescue efforts ALWAYS request food, water, clothing, diapers, formula, blankets, and so on.
Haitian relief efforts requested $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.



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Patricia

posted February 2, 2010 at 6:44 pm


Natural disasters do occur, earth quakes is one of them. Karma has nothing to do with the Earthquake that happened in Haiti. No one did anything that intentionally made the earthquake happen, it is the natural disaster of the fault line.
However people did chose to both build and live in structures poorly designed, and engineered, for their poorly-chosen location due to economic situations. Needless to say, when our friends and family are affected from this horrible disaster, I am more than willing to try to help re-cover from this disaster, from giving blood, donating food, clothing, and money donation whatever money that I do have…I am not a rich person, but I will help whenever I can…



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