March 28, 2011

Bad Karma

In the Tricycle office this morning we discussed karma and rebirth at our morning meeting and how, while opinions vary widely on the subjects, the concept is freely used and often with little understanding. Most of all karma (which literally means "action") is thought to be responsible for fortune and misfortune in our lives, an attitude that is no different than calling natural disasters "divine punishment." (We heard this from the governor of Tokyo about the tsunami, and also heard that 4 in 10 Americans believe natural disasters are signs from God.)

But in the Tittha Sutta, the Buddha explicitly rejects the idea that our good and bad circumstances are the result of past actions:

"Having approached the priests & contemplatives who hold that... 'Whatever a person experiences... is all caused by what was done in the past,' I said to them: 'Is it true that you hold that... "Whatever a person experiences... is all caused by what was done in the past?"' Thus asked by me, they admitted, 'Yes.' Then I said to them, 'Then in that case, a person is a killer of living beings because of what was done in the past. A person is a thief... unchaste... a liar... a divisive speaker... a harsh speaker... an idle chatterer... greedy... malicious... a holder of wrong views because of what was done in the past.' When one falls back on what was done in the past as being essential, monks, there is no desire, no effort [at the thought], 'This should be done. This shouldn't be done.' When one can't pin down as a truth or reality what should & shouldn't be done, one dwells bewildered & unprotected. One cannot righteously refer to oneself as a contemplative. This was my first righteous refutation of those priests & contemplatives who hold to such teachings, such views. ("Tittha Sutta: Sectarians" (AN 3.61), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

As Nagapriya points out in Exploring Karma & Rebirth, holding to the view criticized here by the Buddha denies not only free will but also the possibility of bettering ourselves in this lifetime. There are numerous example of the Buddha discussing karma in the Buddhist canon that point to alternative readings: In other words, some passages suggest that everything that happens in our lives is a consequence of past karma. Nagapriya attributes this to the multiplicity of sources in the early tradition, and the continuing evolution of ideas both in and around the Buddhist tradition in the fertile intellectual climate of Axial Age India.

As Richard Gombrich and others point out, karma was conceived of as a kind of dust or impurity that clung to souls by the Jains, and was connected with the performance of ritual in the brahminical tradition. The Buddha reversed this: Karma is not something to be cleansed of or that we must live under the yoke of, karma is intention.

Thanisaro Bhikkhu in his recent visit ot the offices suggested we run a special section on all the various views of karma within Buddhism. There's certainly enough to make rich reading.

Two recent Tricycle articles on karma:

"Karma in Action" by Andrew Olendzki
"Rethinking Karma" by David Loy

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wtompepper's picture

I came across another marvelous example of how karma works. I was rereading a chapter in a book by Russell Jacoby, who as far as I know is not Buddhist at all, and he talks about how some disasters are structurally caused, and others are not. His example is automobile accidents. Actuaries can predict with very small margin of error the exact number of automobile-related deaths that will occur on any given weekend. We call them "accidents" because we like to think they are, to some degree, uncontrollable, or at least the fault of some of the people involved. That way, we don't have to do anything about them.

However, if we can predict the deadly outcome of a changeable human behavior, and choose not to, that is exactly what is meant by bad karma.

We could change our society, and develop less dangerous, less wasteful, and more rational means of transportation. But it wouldn't be profitable for those in control of the wealth right now, so we don't do it. We choose, as a group, to needlessly kill people instead of cutting into Warren Buffet's billions.

However, when a tornado passes through a town and kills a dozen people, we are all shocked, horrified, and devastated, and people say it is bad karma. Tornadoes don't happen because of karma. Car accidents do. Not the bad karma of the poor guy on his way to work who got hit by a kid talking on his cell, but the bad karma of every one of us who contributes to a world in which such a destructive and dangerous means of transformation is not only permitted but necessary to make a living. That's bad karma, and we aren't bothered by it at all. Nobody organizes vigils for the 600 people who will die this week in car accidents.

Dominic Gomez's picture

"if we can predict the deadly outcome of a changeable human behavior, and choose not to, that is exactly what is meant by bad karma"

National policies directed toward choosing warfare rather than peaceful means such as negotiation and dialogue come to mind here.

wtompepper's picture

Somewhere, a few days back I think, somebody posted something about being unable to know karma through experience. What do others think of this? It certainly seems to me that I CAN know karma directly, through experience. I don't always know all the karmic causes, or effects, of everything, because I haven't got the mental power to achieve that kind of knowledge. However, whenever I have seriously, with extended effort, attempted to understand the karmic causes of specific event, I eventually could do it.

I suppose, if you think karma is like "My Name is Earl," and if you kick a puppy today then tomorrow you'll get hit by a bus, then it would be highly unlikely that we could see directly any causal link at work. But it seems to me that if we understand karma correctly, we can see it through direct experience.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Re: "if you kick a puppy today then tomorrow you'll get hit by a bus".
Today's bumper sticker mentality gives rise to many such simplistic, easy-to-Google-up short answers to much Buddhist philosophy. A bit more thought on the subject would indicate that said puppy-kicker is that way due to his or her karmic "balance sheet" even before the present lifetime.

andrewjcampbell's picture

Do Buddhas have experiences? They are without karma right? How did they purify their karma? By doing good deeds?
Those with understanding know that nothing really happens. You can only see karma when you label it as being something and this is true of all experiences. They become something when they are labelled. Karma and concepts are equal. But should we become nihilists? No. Because when you see people suffering through taking things as real then you can't help but have compassion. I feel sorry for those who don't see the illusion.

wtompepper's picture

andrewjcampbell,

Reading your posts makes my head hurt. Do you mean to be incoherent and self-contradictory? I'm seriously asking. Is it meant to be profundity through paradox? If so, I'm not getting it. If not, you really need to find a teacher to help point out the errors in your thought. Either way, I have doubts that you are "one of those with understanding." If everything is only what we label it, then when you 'see people suffering,' your label is causing their suffering. Why not just redefine misery as happiness?

You seem to have some insight, but no discipline. I hope you do find understanding.

andrewjcampbell's picture

It's absolutely a case of seeing the essential nature of misery and happiness as being equality. If you accept that the self has no essential nature then experiences have no essential nature either. What else would be the case? Are you suggesting that experiences are real? If experiences were real then how would enlightenment be possible? Surely you don't think enlightenment is an experience do you? Wouldn't it be strange if a buddha had the karmic experience of enlightenment? That would be monstrous.
I'm sorry your head hurts. Perhaps I should stop replying to your posts.

wtompepper's picture

Yes, of course experience is real. Not having essential nature does not mean something is illusory! I still cannot tell if you mean to say contradictory things or are doing it inadvertently. How can we "see the essential nature" of something that does not have and essential nature?

Once again, you may believe suffering and equanimity are the same, Buddha did not. Suffering can be ended, because it really does exist, and can be ended, because, while real, it does not have an essential nature.

Philip Ryan's picture

More on karma, this time from Dosho Port's site Wild Fox Zen (the very title of which alludes to a famous koan about karma): http://wildfoxzen.blogspot.com/2011/04/where-have-i-gone-wrong-karma-and...

andrewjcampbell's picture

What is real past thinking mind? What aspect of mind isn't brain-based? Can we have thoughts and concepts without the brain? Can there be causality without brain-based awareness of causality?
Is karma brain-based only?
All of these questions get answered in different ways depending on the faith and beliefs of the person doing the observing. My beliefs are as follows:
1. Science doesn't prove an existent self nor does does it disprove a self. The self is 'mere' construction. For buddhists the self is illusory.
2. Scientists don't know what time is. For buddhists there is no time as such.
3. For scientists there are the laws of thermodynamics. Simple to complex with no information lost. For buddhists there is impermanence and enlightenment. Impermanence as complexity and complexity as equality.
4. For scientists there are brain waves and neurons firing. For buddhists there are thoughts empty of essence - clarity and awareness.
Put all the pieces together and scientists are not really saying much that is different from buddhists. Be a scientist or be a buddhist - in terms of understanding reality and karma it's much the same. Rest relaxed with out brain effort - or rest relaxed in open awareness - nothing different there.
But Karma leading to rebirth? Who knows - it hasn't happened yet. Ones conceptual understanding of karma and rebirth must be framed by an understanding of reality whether it is a scientific understanding or an understanding based on buddhist logic i.e there is no time, experiences are illusory, there is no truly existent self. If one accepts the logic that experience is illusory and one has that understanding based on experience and contemplation then it is difficult to find time for a belief in the next life or that ones current situation is karmic.
The only consideration ones needs to make regarding karma is this: will my illusory actions be of illusory benefit? That's it.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Re: "will my illusory actions be of illusory benefit?"

Of course. That is, if you are nothing more than an illusory 2D figure that can only exist inside an illusory world (i.e. the Sunday comics, Hollywood movies, video games, etc.).

andrewjcampbell's picture

Illusions are always 3D.

Dominic Gomez's picture

You describe what's commonly referred to as "denial".

andrewjcampbell's picture

Hi Dominic. Are you a buddhist? What is your view on karma?

Dominic Gomez's picture

Hi Andrew,
Thanks for asking. I've been practicing Nichiren Buddhism since 1973. My view on "karma" is shaped by my actual experience of it. Worrying about causes I created in past lifetimes is unproductive. What's done is done. The present moment and the future are more important than what has already passed under the bridge. Therefore, I give much consideration to my (present) thoughts, words and actions and the value they can create for the future.

Leo Pezzementi's picture

How does the stochastic, probabilistic nature of the universe fit into karma?

Dominic Gomez's picture

While we're on the subject, how does karma fit into the stochastic, probabilistic nature of the universe?

wtompepper's picture

"How does the stochastic, probabilistic nature of the universe fit into karma?"

This is one of those questions to which people tend to say the answer is "complex." Really, it isn't so much that it's complicated as that it is very long. Can I give some suggestion on where to look for the answer? First, the universe may not be quite as probabilistic as many popular books on quantum theory suggest. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics is just one approach. To paraphrase David Bohm, probability is just a term for acceptable level of ignorance. Try reading Bohm's book "Wholeness and the Implicate Order."

Second, there are things not necessarily caused by our Karma--they have other causes, but not human ones. An important part of Buddhism is acceptance of reality as it is. Impermanence, death, disease, natural disaster, these things aren't karma, they aren't punishments for bad deeds. As the serenity prayer says, we need the wisdom to see what we can change, and what we can't. Unfortunately, in our culture, it is common to get these completely backwards. We think we can change the fact of our own mortality, but cannot change the problem of poverty. This delusion causes us to choose the wrong actions, produces bad karma, and leads to suffering.

rinchen_wangmo's picture

To paraphrase Forrest Gump's mother: "_____ is as _____ does." IOW, "We are what we do." Here's what I think is a good reflexion on Karma as shaping of the self, on this site: http://www.tricycle.com/essay/karma-action
Also, I'd like to thank wtompepper for the study guide link.

avalmez's picture

also, it doesn't seem clear to me that an understanding of karma is based on experience. we all experience good and bad happenings and that experience in and of itself can be viewed as the popular (i almost wrote, vulgar) definition of karma. i dunno...very difficult concept for me to wrap my arms around in a way that makes sense to me. for now i am writing off an understanding of karma as not essential, at least not to the novice.

wtompepper's picture

You don't need to "write it off" to accept that it is a concept you don't quite understand just yet. That is what I meant when I said you can't get Buddhism from "google." Sure, it can give you some great information, but it is going to take time to understand some things, and there isn't a way to look up the "right" answer and read it in a few minutes. Like you say, for now, don't worry about it, but don't stop thinking about it. There are many Buddhist teachings I couldn't make sense of or accept years ago, but now I (almost) can't understand why I struggled with them so much.

As for the pointing at the moon metaphor--it is just one metaphor, and you need to think of it quite literally. Have you ever tried pointing at something and seen a very young child, or a dog, literally look at your finger? The child thinks you're saying something about your finger, when you are trying instead to get her to DO something, to redirect her gaze. That's all it means. The practice of Buddhism is not itself enlightenment, but will get you there. But you have to DO something.

avalmez's picture

in a literal sense i can understand experience as temporal in nature. but how does that notion stand up to the all importance of the present moment which is fleeting to the nth degree. yet, spiritual growth according to Buddhism (and i write this comment knowing full well i could be starting from the wrong point to begin with), is dependent upon experiencing the present moment in a very intimate way. back to the finger pointing story, the present moment is essentially a vehicle or perhaps more appropriately, a catalyst, to spiritual growth, to wisdom and knowledge. and in that sense, the experience of the present moment is everlasting? its effect, karmic? that seems to make sense to me - feedback appreciated.

andrewjcampbell's picture

It's very very important to figure out what is karma in you own experience. It's easy to accept a doctrinal view of karma but practically useless for liberation - although buddhist institutions certainly benefit.
In essence there is no karma - just clinging and that clinging is what one sees played out in experience.
Interestingly because of the temporal nature of experience, clinging isn't really possible and in that sense there is no time for karma to come into being.
But nature abhors a nihilist and to do good and be of benefit is a special necessary condition for 'liberation'. And so to know what karma is in your experience is the key point.

wtompepper's picture

David Loy's attempt to rethink Karma is very helpful; ultimately, though, I think it suffers from the same problems as the neo-freudians he quotes: a) atomism and b) voluntarism. a) His discussion tends to suggest that our karma is of our own making, and ignores the fact that the conditions which structure our actions and thoughts are the product of centuries of human history; whether we understand this as our previous lives, or the lives of others, we still bear the karmic effects. b) He seems to believe we can escape the consequences of our karma by changing our motivation. It is clearly much more difficult than that, since the structures of negative karma are much too pervasive to be evaded by good intentions. Buddha and his disciples left the householder life and started a sangha, in which sex, alchohol and money were proscribed. They didn't just go on living in their "palaces" with good intentions. Changing the karmic conditions in which we live will take a lot of effort, not just a change in "motivation."

I, for one, would love to see "a special section on all the various views of karma within Buddhism." There are serious Buddhist thinkers who hold widely divergent opinions on this issue, and it would be wonderful to see them debate the question. Nothing produces clarity and insight like a good debate!

Philip Ryan's picture

Barbara O'Brien comments on karma and David Loy's understanding of same (see link in post above). Worth your time: http://buddhism.about.com/b/2011/04/06/re-thinking-karma.htm

avalmez's picture

folks, i didn't understand the concept of karma (except at a very literal level - or, what i thought was a very literal level) when i began reading this blog, and now i understand karma even less in that i no longer know what a literal understanding of karma would be. for example, one interpretation of karma above seems to be that karma is conditioning of the individual based on past action. this interpretation avoids the use of harsh phrases as "pay back", "what goes around comes around", and 'you're screwed", but what else could a mellifluous phrase such as "conditioning of the individual based on past action" really mean? the discussion above is a very interesting read, but when the time comes, could someone just end with a summary of conclusions? and i mean that sincerely. also, can anyone recommend a good book or article dedicated to the concept of karma and another dedicated to the concept of reincarnation? with great appreciation! thanks!

wtompepper's picture

avalmez,

As Wisdom Moon says, people have very different ideas about Karma, but most
Buddhists would not agree that the teachings of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso are “traditional,” not even in his own “tradition” of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhists insist that they have the “highest” teachings, and other schools say they have the “authentic” teachings. There’s no way to give a “summary of conclusions.” In the Theravada tradition, Thannisaro Bhikku has created a study guide teachings on Karma from the Pali canon: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/study/kamma.html

I think one way to start is to read a survey of the different schools of Buddhist thought. Rupert Gethin’s book The Foundations of Buddhism is really good, and so is Peter Harvey’s An Introduction to Buddhism. Both are well written and attempt to remain as objective as possible.

Ultimately, there is just no “google” style shortcut to understanding Buddhism. And saying things like “the whole discussion is a distraction” (or a waste of time, or just semantics) and taking refuge in a few fortune-cookie platitudes, well, that’s not a Buddhist approach. It may take some work, and it isn’t always fun (sometimes you have to learn things you would prefer were not true—at least, I did), but really, the effort is worth it. And effort is a part of the Buddhist path.

avalmez's picture

I can appreciate that understanding Buddhism requires time and effort, and, above all as best as i can tell as of yet, an open mind. I can further appreciate that as a Buddhist experimentalist, I have yet to pay my dues, as it were. However, our hope/prayer/intention should be that someday one might well be able to "google" "the answer" and find it. Afterall, the Buddha didn't actually say pointing at the moon was in and of itself, wrong, did he? Forgive me the platitude. Thanks for the references...I'll google for them tonight.

Dominic Gomez's picture

"Buddha didn't actually say pointing at the moon was in and of itself, wrong, did he?"

Not so much "wrong" as wrong-"headed". Inferred in this example is that people tend to assume that the name, label or description indicating some thing is the thing itself. This would be the finger pointing at the moon. But the finger is merely a "bookmark" or a "post-it", so to speak. The actual moon is far above and beyond it. IOW, the essence of any thing (be it a dog, a human being, karma, life itself) can only be known through real-time, actual experience. Just pointing at it and talking about it is not the same as petting it, having a face-to-face conversation with it, experiencing it, living and breathing it.

avalmez's picture

thanks for your comments dominic. the story to my understanding is a wonderfully inclusive teaching that, exactly as you write, a name or label is not the object, and words and teachings are nothing if not translated into action. similarly, a path is not the destination (platitudes aplenty today!).

my request that somebody please summarize the discussion when all is said and done on this blog wasn't a request so much as a comment. i found it interesting (and somewhat humorous) that Buddhists can be as sectarian as, say, Baptists and Methodists (i was raised according to the latter).

so the comment about Buddhism not being something one can learn about by googling (i.e., cyberspace can not take the place of sangha (did i spell that correctly?)), while not causing me any harm, seemed a bit misplaced in that it is a lesson teaching delivered via cyberspace - an ironic situation.

long story that i can't now make short, thoughts and expressions delivered verbally, on paper, or via cyberspace, all point at the moon. the finger story can never have meant that pointing at the moon in that sense, is wrong. thanks again for giving me the opportunity to digest more deliberately what i meant to convey.

wtompepper's picture

"Thanks for the references...I'll google for them tonight."

Good one. Remember to always keep a sense of humor about Buddhism. Buddha could be quite funny at times.

Google and Wikipedia may be new, but we've always wanted quick answers. Someone once told me that about thirty or forty years ago, a self-styled Zen master opened a drive-up Zen temple in Vegas. You could apparently become enlightened while taking a break from the craps tables.

Wisdom Moon's picture

I'm not going to get into a debate about this, but no one in the Tibetan tradition would disagree with Geshe Kelsang's teachings on karma. You can compare with with other Tibetan teachers and see that they are the same and therefore traditional. It's sad to see the same old sectarianism being expressed yet again.

Also, as far as I am aware, there are no real differences between the Theravadin and Mahayana presentations of karma, they come from the same root.

Wisdom Moon's picture

avalmez, I would recommend reading the chapter on karma in Joyful Path of Good Fortune by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. This is a very comprehensive presentation of what the Buddha taught about karma. Karma is a very complex subject and people have different ideas about what it means, but if you read this, at least you will have experienced a traditional presentation of the subject - it's a good grounding for further discussion, meditation and contemplation.

Dolgyal's picture

The book was ghost-written by Lucy James, I wouldn't recommend any Tharpa book, period. unless you want a mish-mash of misconceptions. It would be like reading Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard, best steer clear of the getting sucked in to a web of deception.

Wisdom Moon's picture

More lies and confusion from someone who has an axe to grind. Sad.

Dolgyal's picture

Wisdom Moon/Lineageholder: anyone who has followed your career of harassment, and misinformation is chuckling at the irony of that comment.
In a parliamentary debate, one is ejected for calling another liar, ad hominem is all the NKT cult can muster when you can't sue for libel...sad.

iamuami's picture

This discussion reminds me of an old dharma quote that I hold (grasping/clinging) dear, as a central tenant to "buddhism": Suffering is not inevitable. If suffering is what happens when we struggle with our experience because of our inability to accept it, then suffering is an optional extra. The whole discussion re: deserving/not deserving, celebrating, etc. is in my mind a distraction. The first noble truth says simply that it’s part of being human to feel discomfort. The Buddha said, “Everything dear to us causes pain.” Suffering is an optional extra..As the saying goes "However badly things have just been going, one should take up again at the only place one can—where one is—and go on from there.This is particularly true when it refers to the"karma" of our actions/intentions. It is my understanding that karma is more like an accumulation of tendencies that can lock us into particular behavior patterns, which themselves result in further accumulations of tendencies of a similar nature....and that "bad karma" can be neutralized by the desire for "good", It has been said that our human lives are “ten thousand beautiful mistakes".It is said that the goal of [our] transformation is avoiding doing harm to others..

wtompepper's picture

Anreal,

It is hard to discuss something with someone who takes all sides of the argument! You say the statement “no one deserve to suffer” makes no sense, and suffering is not a matter of desert, but we do deserve our suffering and “If you are suffering, only you are to blame” and “we deserve suffering.” Is this supposed to be some kind of koan? I’m not zen, so I’m just confused.

And to say that suffering should be celebrated, well, you can believe that if you want, but Buddha was pretty clear on this matter: he thought suffering was bad, and should be ended. There is nothing in the entire Buddhadharma less ambiguous than this. To celebrate suffering is just not a Buddhist idea.

Anreal's picture

Is this not exactly why freedom from the conditioned mind is the flowering of free will?

Phillip Ryan talks about the extreme of determinism, and how surely Buddhism does NOT espouse this view >>>
Up until the point where we are free from conditioning, we are certainly living out a type of 'pre-determined destiny' due to the cause and effects of conditioned thinking. So yes, the conditioned mind is the enemy of free will, and we remain enslaved to it as long as we continue to incur the consequences of wrong action/thinking.

One more thing, Wisdom Moon says "no one deserves to suffer, no matter how bad ....etc". My question would be, if people don't deserve to suffer where does this suffering come from then? If suffering is not the direct result of personal karma, are you saying there is some other 'outside force' that brings about suffering ....? This seems rather strange to me. Suffering exists only ever as the result of the conditioned mind. Full stop. If someone is suffering, it is their personal karma. Granted, they can change it, but the only way to change it is to be aware of the causes of suffering, no?

Dominic Gomez's picture

"Is this not exactly why freedom from the conditioned mind is the flowering of free will?"

Theoretically, this would make sense. But in reality, when does such "freedom" actually occur? When a person dies and is finally free from the fetters of real life? Or is it when a person is newly born, and (theoretically) has a mind still un-conditioned by real life?

Wisdom Moon's picture

Even free will is conditioned because freedom depends upon things other than it, so I would say that looking for an independent free will is like looking for a horn on the head of a rabbit - good luck!

So how 'free' is free?

Dominic Gomez's picture

Someone along this thread mentioned that the traditional (Western?) concept of "will" (vis-a-vis the freedom afforded to it) is an inherently flawed concept anyway. "Will" as independent of "conditions" (i.e. the push and pull of reality upon the individual) reflects dualism, an illusion as far as Buddhism is concerned. A fairer assessment is provided by the Buddhist teaching of dependent origination, wherein all phenomena (including the actions of a perceived "free will") are inter-related, or "conditioned". So how "free" is free? Someone once said long ago that not even lunch is.

Wisdom Moon's picture

No one would ever choose to suffer, but people suffer because they are under the power of their mind. No one deserves to suffer because suffering arises from mistaken actions, arising from mistaken minds. We can consider the example of someone who has a mental illness and who then murders someone. The law recognises 'diminished responsibility' in such situations because that person is not in their 'right mind'. It's the same when people are under the power of their delusions and they commit many negative actions - they have no choice, and the result of their action will be suffering for those around them and later on, for themselves. This is surely a powerful cause of compassion, seeing that no one actually deserves suffering but they have to experience it endlessly.

Anreal's picture

I don't understand the statement that 'no one deserves to suffer'.

It makes no sense whatsoever. Suffering is not something we deserve or don't deserve. It just is. We can find the causes of it, and relinquish its grip on us.
Deserving it has nothing to do with it whatsoever. Talking about 'not deserving' it is a bit 'theistic' in the extreme and a bit 'woe is me' in the least!

Talking about whether suffering is deserved or not is completely pointless, fruitless and utterly bizarre! Suffering is a Universal Law. It has certain conditions that ripen its existence, and certain conditions that bring it to an end.

Deserving or not deserving of suffering is a terrible way to look at it, and can only lead to further erroneous understanding. If you are suffering, only you are to blame. Yes it might sound harsh, but the only way to change it is to become aware of it, and the blatant truth would be YES, I'M SUFFERING, I DESERVE IT, I CAUSED IT, I CAN CHANGE IT.

It's called self-empowerment. All suffering is wholly deserved. It is also wholly personal, and entirely changeable. Idiot compassion has no place in liberation from suffering ....

Anreal's picture

And i don't know if anyone else is just missing the point here, but suffering is not the enemy. In fact, it is our friend.

Without suffering we would never have the urge to find a way out. Without suffering none of this would have any meaning.

We deserve suffering, because we CHOOSE it, and in fact the most wise ones are exactly that because they've chosen extreme suffering. Enough suffering to start finding ways out.

Suffering should be celebrated, acknowledged, loved and respected >> not talked about as if its some kind of curse.

We're not spoiled children after all. :)

I also don't agree with the following two statements:
1 >>> That people don't have a choice in terms of determining their suffering

2 >>> That they are bound to suffer endlessly.

The 'negative consequences' of ones actions are not determined by some kind of accounting system, as in 1 murder equals x-amount of suffering. Suffering is only, ever personal, and is measured as such.

And finally, suffering is not endless, isn't that the whole point of Buddhism? So maybe I'm misunderstanding the statement here .....?

wtompepper's picture

"Is this not exactly why freedom from the conditioned mind is the flowering of free will?"

I agree! freedom from the conditioned mind is exactly the goal--and is tremendously difficult to achieve, and maintain. I just wouldn't want to use the word "will," which suggests a deeper self that has desires and passions hidden under the conditioned mind. One trap of Cartesian thought is that we have separated our will (as free) from causes and conditions, and produced the belief that it is thought that is historically bound.

Certainly suffering is the result of karma--of intentional actions. However, I don't think this means anyone "deserves" to suffer. Everyone deserves to be shown how to stop suffering, right? Isn't that what you're trying to do, even with this post--to show people how to escape their suffering?

wtompepper's picture

Of course our intentions are conditioned. This isn’t completely unfamiliar to us today--this was Freud’s great insight: that even the supposedly private contents of our deepest unconscious mind are really a product of the culture that produces us, our “true self” doesn’t exist anywhere. In the essay mentioned above, David Loy cites Fromm’s criticism of Freud. Unfortunately, while it is true that Freud, like everyone, worked within the language and concepts of his time, Fromm “historicizes” Freud only in order to ditch this one central insight, and rescue the idea of an autonomous self, imbedded in but not produced by culture.

Even our unconscious motives are part of our karma; karma is simply actions taken without clear insight into the nature of reality. This isn’t anything transcendent, since the reality we have to have insight into is exactly our language, our own unconscious, etc. Marx said we make our own history, but we can’t make it exactly as we choose; well, we think, but we can’t think exactly as we choose. The contraints within which we can think and the limits within which we make our own history are our karma, and recognizing those limits and the possibility of agency that is left to us is liberation.

If it hadn’t been for Fromm, and the other revisionist psychoanalysts, it might not even be possible anymore to talk about freedom in terms of “will.” Our only freedom comes from understanding, from intellect, which allows us to see how our every intention is created by causes and conditions. Then we can begin, as Wisdom Moon suggests, to cultivate positive mental states.

Dominic Gomez's picture

I agree that "karma is simply actions taken without clear insight into the nature of reality". I would simply add that people with clear insight into the nature of reality equally "take action" in the midst of this world's reality (i.e. its languages, the human un-conscious, its history, etc.).

It seems the issue is whose conditioned (karmic) behavior and its attendant effects is the world to go on living with...those without clear insight into the nature of reality, or those with such "insight"?

wtompepper's picture

"I would simply add that people with clear insight into the nature of reality equally "take action" in the midst of this world's reality"

Good point--we need to remember that Buddhism is not Jainism, and not all actions are bad Karma. Buddha continued to act in the world for 45 years after he was enlightened--and so did many of his disciples. Freedom is always a matter of clear insight, not of free "will." As long as we cling to the concept of "will" we are still thinking in terms of a self that is buried underneath the "conditioned" part of the mind. We have insight into the conditioning of the mind (our own and others'), and then can act without producing bad karma. Simply escaping conditions is not possible in life.

Dominic Gomez's picture

"Escaping conditions is not possible in life."
Nor in the practice of Buddhism.