Saturday, October 15, 2005

# Karma Talk

Quoted from Samyutta Nikaya I (227):

"According to the seed that's sown,
so is the fruit ye reap therefrom.
Doer of good will gather good.
Doer of evil, evil reaps.
Sown is the seed, and
thou shalt taste the fruit thereof."

From a wise friend's blog, Pacific Islander, we got into the discussion of karma. Simple it may seem, but the intricate layers of meaning, and complex field of karmic force, are yet to be understood, and explained by human.

Many of us see karma as 'reaction' upon one's 'action', harvest of our good deeds, comeuppance upon our bad deeds... This is a very common misconception, if not, violation of meanings of karma. We treat the subject too lightly and we simplify it to just like any other physic laws. Although there are some people's effort to categorize the karma into various types, like supportive karma, obstructive karma, destructive karma, etc, the truth is, we still have not completely fathom the idea of karmic interaction, and cannot explain it just like a subject in school.

Definition ot Karma includes "action, doing, word, deed, thoughts, etc". According to Buddhism, there are two types of existence - current existence and transient existence. The first one refers to the form of being currently, although not permanently, existing, such as human, animal, self. The second one constitutes of the fleeting form of mental and spiritual processes which are forever changing, being transient and impermanent. This leades to the five Aggregates in Buddhist teaching - Matter, Feeling, Perception, Mental Formation, and Consciousness. Karma is a process that happens in these entities. Some see it as the result of actions for past life, some treat it as the reaction of our actions, some say it is just a fleeting moment of process, the moments we think, we act, and react.

Classification of karma is hard. Not only we need to take into account of the various types of good/bad karma, we need to realize that there are far more complex interaction among the karma, the cumulative effect, supportive effect, or sometimes, annulling effect. We have to take into account the factor of time of the effect to take place, be it immediate, subsequent or even indefinite. And from some books, karma study even involves the many planes and dimensions of the karmic consequences, the forms and fields the karmic processes take place. Sometimes, karma is treated as some kind of reserve, where good and bad karma decide the content of the reserve as a whole in a cumulative way; but sometimes, an action is independent of the others.

With such intricate net of Karmic conditioning, there might be questions whether it is worth studying, or even worth believing. It is, and it should be. Though the workings of Kamma surpasses our understanding, it provides a teaching of moral and spiritual responsibility for us. The fact that the Law of Kamma does not operate with mechanical rigidity allows us to have a moment of choice to rise above our bad karmic past, instead of being doomed to predestination and definite fatalism. Also, even for good people, there might be a bad karmic past which has not reaped yet, somewhere from past moments/times/lifes. It is with wisdom, and mindfulness, that we can understand the very transient moment, and make our choice.

I still don't know how to explain karma, and I admit I still do not understand karma; but by writing these down, I hope I can arrange my thoughts and have a better understanding about it. Karma, is not just a religious or philosophical topic, it is in the many moments in our life, it is the unseen force that revolves around us, senseless, tasteless, colourless, formless, yet, it is there.


Pandabonium said...

Excellent post. You have stated it well, YD. It is not just our actions but our state of mind and thoughts leading to those actions which create karma. In order to skillful acts which create good karma, we need to be mindful and aware that we are all one. There is no separation. It is that illusion, that one person is separate from others, that leads to errors in thinking and deeds.

Like electricity, we can define it and talk about it, and measure it, but even a scientist will admit that no one knows what electricity "is". We can only see its consequences.

There are two movies that I think of in regard to karma and I like them both and recommend them. Both are comedies.

The more recent one (1993) is "Groundhog Day" which stars Bill Murray as news weatherman who is forced to relive the same day over and over again until he figures out how he should be living his life. It reminds me of samara, the endless cycle of birth and death all sentient beings must go through until they break the cycle by following the eight fold path. As well as have this meaning to me, I think it's a very funny movie.

The other is much older. It is the movie starring Jimmy Stewart, titled "It's a Wonderful Life" which was directed by the great Frank Capra. It's a comedy as well a drama. It is about a man who has always felt that others controlled his life and in middle age he finds himself in a deep financial and spiritual crisis. He decides the world would be better off without him and to jump off of a bridge into an icy cold river.

An angel is sent from heaven to save him. The angel shows him his whole life, then shows him what would have happened in the world if he had not been born. There were many people whose lives he touched, some of whom would have died were it not for him. The movie clearly shows, in an entertaining way, how we create karma by our thoughts and deeds. Although it was not a hit when released in 1946, it has since become a classic and is aired on television in the USA around Christmas time each year.

YD said...

Thanks so much Pandabonium! You have given a very comprehensive explanation of karma. I would be happy to learn more from you and share learnings about the Buddhism, and also different ideologies and religions.

I love Groundhog Day too! You have put it well, samsara, the cycle of reincarnation and rebirth until we gain enlightenment to break away from it.

Speaking about reincarnation, it reminds me of the definition of it. While we commonly see reincarnation as a process of death and rebirth in the cycle of samsara, there is actually a way to look at it as a concept that reincarnation and rebirth happen every second, every moment. At every single moment, when our thoughts, mind and feelings change, we are being reborn into different selfs. The feelings, the state of mind determine what we are now. We can be animal at some instance, while sometimes our state of mind can rise beyong human level (with wisdom of course).

This is consistent with the concept of transcience - Rebirth happening in terms of 'moments' instead of 'lifes'. And the aim of self-cultivating is to let go of the mundane attachments, and gain enlightenment.

This leads to a moral principle/ teaching that what matters the most is not what we did in past life or present life, what is important is that we maintain a wholesome mind and behaviour every moment and every split second. This teaches us to think good, do good, and feel good.

Pandabonium said...

yd, I am so happy to have a friend like you who understands so deeply.

Your discussion of rebirth happening moment to moment is so true. I remember hearing a teacher, the Sensei Taitetsu Unno, whom I have had the privilage of meeting several times, speaking about life being moment to moment, and it is the same idea.

We only exist now. Right now, each moment, and that is where we must live. It is all that we have. The past, the future, they are both now. I am sorry I cannot express it so well. But I am happy you understand when I write about such things.

As I started to write this, I felt a strong earthquake here - 8:45pm local time. It was centered about 40 km from here. I grew up in California and experienced quakes there. Here, it seems we have them regualarly. This one was quite strong and frightening, but thankfully, no damage here. But earthquakes certainly get one to focus one's mind(!) and in this case make me mindful that we live moment to moment.

Anyway, thanks for your post and interesting thoughts on on subject. There is much I can learn from you too, and I look forward to sharing our ideas.

YD said...

Dear pandabonium, i am so glad that you are all right after the earthquake! It would have been terrifying for me, as I have never experienced any earthquake before...

Do take care and may you be safe and happy. My prayers are with you.

Thanks for compliment, but I am also just still a student learning the dhamma. I am happy to have someone to share thoughts and learnings, and I look forward to have a good discussion with you, if we meet in the future. :-)

Take care, my friend.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Wow...I'm really learning a lot from these blog discussions! Now I'm almost embarrassed as to the comparatively bland content of my own.

I mentioned in a comment on Pandabonium's blog that I consider a good metaphor for karma to be the "chain forged in life" by Jacob Marley in Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Anything you do, say, or even think adds another link. So, does that mean more weight to lug around, or does that mean more reinforcement for the structure of your soul and your life?

I guess it depends partly on what those links are made of and partly what you choose to do with them.

I don't intend to drag my chain. I intend to wear it. If it gets to be too heavy, well, I guess I need to either make myself stronger or lighten the load.

YD said...

Nice way of putting it in terms of 'chains', Moody. I haven't really thought about it in this way. It's a good comparison.

Sometimes, thinking karma as chains links to the idea of 'burden' and 'attachment'. How closely this relates to the Buddhism concept that every living thing carries the burden of attachment, and the aim for enlightenment is to shed away the burdens and the attachment through the Eightfold paths.

Sometimes, I do get confused, whether to carry the chains, or find my way to shed them. I am still searching now.

Thank you for sharing!

Happysurfer said...

Interesting discussion. From my understanding, I might add that actions in present life are important as they determine future lives. Humans have an advantage over other sentient beings in that humans are able to exercise a choice as in a choice to take the course of action, good or bad. What we do this life is what we will get later on as in what goes around comes around. I subscribe to this.