August 30, 2011

Do you believe in Karma?

For last Thursday's Daily Dharma, we sent out this excerpt from an interview with Stephen Batchelor, "Starting from Scratch":

What, then, did you conclude were distinctly Buddhist ideas?  Four things stand out. One is the principle of dependent origination, or “conditioned arising,” as I call it; the second is the practice of mindful awareness—being focused upon the totality of what is happening in our moment-to-moment experience; the third is the process of the Four Noble Truths, which includes the Eightfold Path; and fourth, the principle of self-reliance—how the Buddha really wanted his students to become autonomous in their understanding of the dharma, and not to generate dependencies upon either the memory of him or upon some authority figure within the monastic community.

As you can see, not listed above is the Buddhist teachings on Karma, which Stephen rejects, citing that they were popular beliefs in the Buddha's time and that this is why they ended up in the Buddhist Canon, and that they were not part of the Buddha's unique teachings.

This aspect of Stephen's work and teachings has long been a point of controversy, which is reflected in the recent debate that ensued after we sent out his recent Daily Dharma,

One community member writes,

Batchelor is selling snake oil by the river. I can agree with some of his criticisms of Buddhist "elites" and such, but he makes them in a context that I can not agree with. Rejecting karma is like rejecting the idea of light waves because you can't see the peaks and troughs.

To which another member responds,

Your analogy doesn't work. We've never needed druids or wizards to observe gravity or electricity before the advent of science, apples always fell from trees and lightnings happened. In order to consider the traditional notion of karma we'll probably always need someone to tell us that if a bird shits on our shoulder it's because "we" did something wrong centuries ago.

And another,

Karma is not some secret mystic power, and is as observable as gravity if it is understood correctly--that is, is observable only in its effects.

Then, as I was reading through the debate I was very struck by this post,

I turned 60 this year. Eight years ago I was introduced to "The Power of Now " and it changed my life. About that same time I met a man who had studied in Tibet for twenty years an he gently led me into Buddhism. At first it seemed to be like Christianity with many different styles and avenues to follow and being new my opinions were flying and judgements clouded my mind. I went to a dharma center and there were three chairs positioned on a platform above the floor where we were to meditate and lots of very ornate wall hangings. The people chanted and I knew that this was not for me. But something wonderful happen. For once in my life I wasn't saying this is wrong...I was saying this is not for me. What a wonderful difference. Being more or less on my own I have sought out the basic simple ideas that attracted me to Buddhism an bring them to my heart and out of my head. Words seem to get in the way of that process and I've discovered this is not an academic exercise for me. A vision of the nature of existence and the transformation to a place of peace and compassion seems to be what the Buddha experienced and what he lovingly shared so that if we want we can give it a try. The four noble truths and the eightfold noble path keep me very busy as I attempt to " cease to do evil, learn to be good and purify the heart". I understand that as people we want to put our own stamp on things. And when others agree with us it seems to allow us the belief we are " right" and my mind translates that to mean you are "wrong". Buddhism has helped me with that. For the first time in my life I am not at odds with the world. I exist with and in partnership with people and all things. I have discovered I actuarially know nothing...and it's a wonderful relief. Oh, and about karma...maybe...maybe not.

I found this whole discussion to be quite interesting, and I think it is important for people to contemplate these teachings and make up their minds on their own. This is one of the things I love about working for Tricycle— there is room for all views here, and as long as people treat each other with respect, there is much that can be learned through discussion and debate. With this in mind, I'd like to invite community member to share their views on Karma. How do you view Karma? Is it a teaching you accept on faith? Is it something you feel you can observe? What teachings about Karma (or lack thereof) make sense to you?

Secondly, as an aid to anyone who is in midst of contemplating karma, I'd like to offer some resources for further reading:

"Karma in Action" by Andrew Olendzki

"Rethinking Karma" by David Loy

Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo on Karma

 

Image via anarchosyn (Flickr)

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Jonathan.s's picture

If you left the word 'karma' out of it, and said 'do you believe actions have consequences?', then I don't think anyone could demur. Actions obviously do have consequences, and habitual attitudes and actions affect your whole life. The idea of karma is also inherently liberating, because it means that what arises is a consequence of one's actions (in important respects) and not something that 'just happens', which puts one in a position of complete powerlessness.

I think the real problem is not with karma, but with ideas of retribution and punishment. If you say 'well that happened because of your karma' it is like saying 'serves you right, you bad person'. This is really a misuse of the whole idea. Karma should only be a way of encouraging you to take responsibility for your actions, not a means to blame other people or make excuses for your own shortcomings ('my karma made me do it!') That kind of superstitious attitude ought never to be indulged in (and I don't think it is represented in the original teachings at all). But none of that means that actions don't have consequences. And I don't think that Buddhism is meaningful without that idea, which is the very basis of the concept of moral responsibility.

Another important doctrinal point that is made by Richard Gombrich in What the Buddha Thought, is that the Buddha vastly expanded the concept of Karma to cover 'all intentional actions'. The Brahmanical tradition, by way of contrast, associated karma nearly exclusively with the appropriate performance of ritual actions. In this sense, the Buddha made karma a moral principle in the life of every individual.

Accordingly, I don't really accept Steven Batchelor's reading of the role of Karma in Buddhism.

charlie2go's picture

For me, the question of belief in karma is relevant. In the context of my understanding of karma i.e. the fruit of action is echoing the duality of our mental conditioning. We all know that for every action there is a reaction, it’s what we overlay on to the experience that causes suffering or discontentment. As long as I grasp or reject the experience I’m keeping the wheel of dependent origination turning. The mind is a marvelous tool, applying logic and time based reasoning, trying to make sense of events. The simple act of unconditional acceptance of experience, feelings and the paradox that our conditioned conclusions are limited by our unique point of view can stop or at least slow the wheel. The act of being present with whatever arises provides freedom from the mind based perception of reality. In this space of unlimited possibilities beliefs do not exist.

dharmagita's picture

I think the notion of karma as a cosmic or metaphysical scoreboard is a misuse of time and energy. However, if it is understood as a coloring of our experience or a turning of our mind, then it can be very useful. What makes us see our moment to moment experience as "not perfect?" Karma. How do we change that? Work with karma. Karma is a much more subtle concept than "if I kick a dog, it may bite me." What happens if you kick a dog and it doesn't bite? Why did that happen? If we perceive someone yelling at us to be an act of anger or aggression, that's because, in our past, we have yelled at others with angry and aggressive intentions. When we cease with those intentions, a person yelling at us becomes something else, perhaps a teacher or a lesson in patience. Perhaps karma can better be understood and used as our instantaneous reaction to our experience.

As someone who keeps vows (which all relate to the concept of karma) and daily documents keeping and not keeping them, I've seen radical changes in my reactions to experiences. And I do believe that yes, I'm keeping track of how "good" I've been, and it has made me happier and more generous, etc.; but there are causes for those effects, and that is the karma of my experience.

If one would really like to find logical "proof" of karma, one can investigate the Tibetan debates on the subject. They've hashed this out for over a thousand years. I think their understanding is pretty solid. Again, while there is no empirical proof of karma, there is no empirical proof of quite a few things we believe in. So if we can agree on the concept of cause and effect, what caused the Big Bang? What caused your first thought? What caused these wonderful discussions to appear on a rectangular screen for us?

bendorje's picture

I have been a follower of Tibetan Buddhism for some 15 years now. I have always thought of karma, along with the knowledge of rebirth, as being the guiding light that one needs to attain Enlightenment.

We are each given a mind of our own that we use to reason with. We use it for the greed that has perpetrated our world and caused such hate amoung the social classes. Man, not just Buddhists, have the ability to think for themselves, and thus suffer the consequences of their actions. But without a guiding light, we just wonder through Samara, lost with all the other souls that have allowed their karma to go unchecked by them for their entire lives.

Christians entire religion is based on faith. There is no evidence ever found that Jesus ever walked the earth, or was the sin of the God they also take entirely on faith. They have a light they are supposed to follow through life in order for them to enter Heaven. That's karma in all its glory.They know that that if they lead an unChristian lifestyle, they will end up in hell. Even though there is no scientific evidence to support the theory.

There is just way to much written the past 3000 years that support karma, and rebirth. How else is the Dali Lama reborn if not for the karma he has amassed here on earth? I believe with my entire being that Karma is real. I am so sure of it that I look forward to my death and coming rebirth. I have worked hard at keeping my Karma where it should be for my next life. I hope all others have as well, even if they don't beleive in it.

FREE TIBET

Dominic Gomez's picture

Buddhist scholar T'ien-t'ai (538–597) reminds us "If you want to understand the causes that existed in the past, look at the results as they are manifested in the present. And if you want to understand what results will be manifested in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present."

bendorje's picture

Great thoughts from a great mind.

Thanks for reminding us how important ones Karma is in life, and in death.

alalaho's picture

i attended a weekend seminar with Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche a few weeks ago. the topic was karma, titled, "Chicken and the egg". Rinpoche said figuring out karma is like trying to figure out which came first, the chicken or the egg.

something that really struck me was his definition of "good" and "bad" karma. something he joked about and thought people have a misunderstanding about. Rinpoche said he felt good karma were actions that bring you closer to deconstructing the view. and bad karma were actions that take you farther away, from deconstructing, the view.

his point, i believe, was that ultimately we have to drop all views. even "dharma" views. Rinpoche said the instance there is a thought, there is delusion.

what i took away, is to not be so fixated. on anything. even the precious Dharma. or it becomes just another thing to grasp to.

amalkis's picture

My understanding of the original point by Stephen Batchelor is that Buddha used the already common concept of Karma but did not invent it. Therefore it isn't on Batchelor's list of unique aspects of Buddhism.
This does not say Karma is unimportant or that Buddha did not teach it, it only says that the notion of Karma is not original to the Buddha. That strikes me as pretty accurate.

Do I believe in Karma? I certainly believe in the association of causes and effects. Do I believe in Karma that causes past life misdeeds to create cancer for innocent young children today? No. I agree with the posters above (Dharma Sanctuary, and also Mehlinger333) who said believing that past life karma causes our current situation is much more metaphysical than the Buddha intended.

As the Buddha is reported to have said (and i paraphrase VERY loosely), if you are struck by an arrow, don't investigate the lineage of the person who shaped the arrow! Find a good doctor to treat your wound in the here and now.

wtompepper's picture

Buddha clearly didn't invent the term Karma, but he certainly did not teach the already existing concept of Karma. This is one place I think that Batchelor is just wrong; what Buddha meant by Karma was a completely new concept, involving intention, as opposed to the existing concept of Karma as purely a matter of action.

Dharma Sanctuary's picture

As an aside, I have been thinking a lot lately about the results of regarding the traditional view of karma, rebirth, and nirvana as unverifiable truths. In a similar vein is the questioning of the idee of building merit for earning rewards in future lives. By not relying on these beliefs, it is easy to feel that we have stripped out some important motivation to our practice. Have we reduced our emotional connection to our practice by doing this? Are we taking out the magic? What are we left with?

A lot of the great urges to build temples, give money to monasteries, and support teachers could be lessened by the tendency to reframe our practice to here and now considerations. It doesn't have to result in this outcome, but I sense that it does. In the West today, we are already quite scaled back in our support, compared to traditional Buddhist cultures in Asia. When I see the outpuring of resources in Asia for temples, stupas, Buddha statues, and monasteries, and know that much of the motivation for giving money is to earn merit, I wonder how all this manifestation could be sustained if there wasn't this grand connection to a yummy metaphysical view of the Buddhist cosmos?

My question is, how can we sustain the deep and all enveloping emotional connection with the Dharma that we all wish to have, yet not be dependent on metaphysical crutches? I still want to build stupas and have a great swoon over the grand aesthetic of Buddhism. How do we keep our ardor up, be motivated to give money, yet keep our feet planted on the earth?

For a great swoon over stupa temples in Burma, see my video slide show I made earlier this year:

http://www.dharmasanctuary.org/media/videos/

Once at my video page, scroll down to the second to last selection called Bagan Temples.

Blessings....

alalaho's picture

for mr. Batchelor to say that these were only popular beliefs in the Buddha's time and that is why it ended up in the Buddhist Canon should make one wonder about all the other popular beliefs at that time and why they were not also adopted in the scriptures but rather abandoned, very controversially at the time. Buddha was a real revolutionary.
while i do understand the debate on karma, i don't believe it is helpful to be too "stuck" to it, or disregard it completely. it is for us to study, reflect, and meditate on. not for us to justify why someone is born with an illness or in a war-torn country. i think it is up to us, as the Buddha said, to understand our own experience. if it is something that benefits, adopt it. if it is something that causes suffering, then it should be abandoned. he also encouraged debate, so this is wonderful.

"What you are is what you have been, what you will be is what you do now" - Buddha

cheers,
cesar

here are some teachings i found online( one of the beauties of the cyberspace!)
so believe it shows that it was something the Buddha did address, in the Pali text.

source: www.myspiritualquotes.com/buddhism-karma

These quotes are the closest we can get to the Buddha: they’re from the Tipitaka, the ancient Pali Buddhist scriptures. I’ve replaced the Pali ‘kamma’ with the more common Sanskrit ‘Karma’. The two words mean the same thing.

Monks, these four types of karma have been directly realized, verified, & made known by me. Which four? There is karma that is dark with dark result. There is karma that is bright with bright result. There is karma that is dark & bright with dark & bright result. There is karma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of karma.

Anguttara Nikaya,AN 4.235, PTS: A ii 235,Ariyamagga Sutta: The Noble Path,translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Monks, these three are causes for the origination of [karmic] actions. Which three? Greed is a cause for the origination of actions. Aversion is a cause for the origination of actions. Delusion is a cause for the origination of actions.

Anguttara Nikaya, AN 3.33, PTS: A i 134, Thai III.34; BJT III.34, Nidana Sutta

Student, beings are owners of karmas, heirs of karmas, they have karmas as their progenitor, karmas as their kin, karmas as their homing-place. It is karmas that differentiate beings according to inferiority and superiority.

Majjhima Nikaya 135: The Shorter Exposition of Kamma

So, Ananda, there is karma that is incapable (of good result) and appears incapable (of good result); there is karma that is incapable (of good result) and appears capable (of good result); there is karma that is capable (of good result) and appears capable (of good result); there is karma that is capable (of good result) and appears incapable (of good result).

Majjhima Nikaya 136: The Great Exposition of Kamma (Mahakammavibhanga Sutta)

Monks, a fool is characterized by his/her actions. A wise person is characterized by his/her actions. It is through the activities of one’s life that one’s discernment shines.

Anguttara Nikaya, AN 3.2, PTS: A i 102, Lakkhana Sutta: Characterized (by Action)

Wisdom Moon's picture

In the lamrim (stages of the path to enlightenment) teachings, the outline for this subject is "developing conviction in karma, the root of all good qualities and happiness", therefore it seems to me that if you don't believe in karma, it is impossible to develop good qualities and happiness. Without belief in karma, there is no wish to purify past negative karma or to accumulate merit for spiritual realizations and future happiness. Without such basic preparations, you can meditate for a thousand years without much result.

Also, meditation depends on karma. If intention has no effect, what's the point in meditating because there will be no results. If there are results, that proves karma.

It seems like a pretty crucial teaching to me.

Why don't Buddhists believe what Buddha taught? It seems pretty strange! How is someone who doubts Buddha a Buddhist?

mehlinger333's picture

If you don't doubt what seemingly wise people teach you, what makes someone choose the buddha dharma over christian gospel or any other faith?
I see what you are saying, but I disagree with your final statement-- how is anyone a Buddhist? Is the Buddha supposedly infallible? Doubt is a fundamental part of the Dharma, the way I see it. Doubt that the world is exactly as it appears, doubt that you are as solid and independent as you are prone to feeling, doubt that things that make you feel very good are as great or evil as you might think they are. Not certainty in the word of the Buddha, but enough doubt to follow the practice and see what comes of it.

But thank you for your perspective!

Dharma Sanctuary's picture

Thank you mehlinger 333 for focusing on healthy doubt. It feels liberating to "doubt that the world is exactly as appears" - I like that.

As soon as we think we've got it all figured out - that's when we have a problem. That's the trouble with coming up with any fixed belief system. There needs to be room for doubt, because what's going on around us is anyone's guess. We think we have a hard handle on it, but we know we don't, and that makes us uneasy. We can fight to maintain the rightness of our view, but this is a poor choice. We continue to spend most of our time tyring to stabilize our view by believing in something. We fear that if we don't believe in something, we'll be lost and not have any ground to stand on.

That's living your life out of fear. Better to be attentive to all things, and keep a healthy doubt as you go forward. You're not being paranoid, you're just paying attention, and witnessing more of the present moment without somebody else's overlay.

Dharma Sanctuary's picture

I understand your orientation, Wisdom Moon. This is very much the traditional consensus view, and enshrined in Tibetan Buddhism as we have come to know it. However, it is still a conjecture, and not verifiable. Accumulating merit for spiritual realizations and purifying past karma is a belief. The Buddha cannot be shown to have promoted this view in his earliest recorded teachings. It is a later accretion and represents a metaphysical construct, which happened a lot in the later Mahayana era.

I suppose it all comes down to personal belief. I just feel it is better to stick to what one can apprehend oneself and to try and avoid adopting the grander views based on someone else's story telling.

I think you could look at merit building as a simple karmic cause and effect, which is not in doubt. If you lead a good life, yes, your remorse about events in the past will diminish, and your greater happiness and clarity will develop and lead you to "spiritual realizations". All that is true. I think though, that a problem gets created when we take this understanding out beyond our experience and start talking of future and past lives, and the reified states of Nirvana and all the other conjectures we make. That seems a waste of time and actually unhelpful. The Buddha mentions this again and again in the Pali Canon. A good resource to read some of these simple passages is Glen Wallis' Basic Teachings of the Buddha from Modern Library Classics

Dolgyal's picture

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What will your karma be?

Sabio Lantz's picture

If the critical, valuable teachings of Buddhism (be they under that name or others) are to survive in the coming centuries, some versions must persist that throw off these old superstitions.

DS689200's picture

The way that i view the concept of karma is in an abstract yet practical way. Because our every actions inevidiably will produce effects, therefore it is our actions that make us the kind of person you become. So, if you're compassionate kind and have a clear mind you will become a more 'buddha like' human, same goes with if you are selfish and mean you will become a bitter angry person. I dont look at karma as some underlying energy in our universe that hands out punishment or rewards, its just the natural flow of cause and effect in human experience.

mehlinger333's picture

While I've grown up surrounded by a thick western skepticism towards all things supernatural, I've never had an issue with the belief in Karma. However, I would not say that I believe or do not believe in it. I consider it another unprovable idea that may or may not turn out to be true-- but it has no bearing on how I live this life. If I live with compassion and mindfulness, I will have lived a satisfactory life regardless of the existence of the law of Karma. Like God, it seems to be an explanation for "Why?", but I can't help but feel that it is premature to ask that question before we have total awareness of "What?" and our place in all things. And when people ask me about it, I usually use the psychological model-- good actions improve my life by the simple virtue of them being good, and bad actions tarnish my life and bring me to worse states of mind and body.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Buddhism accords with the time and place in which it finds itself. In the case of Shakyamuni's society, certain extant concepts lent themselves naturally to his unprecedented philosophical realizations. Among these are the interconnectedness (oneness) of all universal phenomena (including that of human life) and the eternal cycle of life undergone by all phenomena (including the universe itself) as birth (origin), aging (continuance), illness (decline) and death (extinction). The principle of dependent origination, or “conditioned arising,” can also be a reference to "karma", in that human beings are born into this world (arise) "pre-conditioned".

Monty McKeever's picture

Thanks for posting Jigme and Dharma Sanctuary, good points.

Here are the responses we got on Facebook:
Luis *****: Do you believe in Dentist??

William ******: ‎"I don't believe Yoga, I don't believe in Gita, I don't believe in Jesus, or Buddha or Hitler or Elvis or Zimmerman or Beatles...I just believe in me" John Lennon

Nalanda LGBT Buddhist Cultural and Resource Center: Karma does and does not care

Jack **********: it doesnt matter if you do or not. The Ultimate law of Life, of the Universe, the mystic law of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is strict, absolute and impartial. No one can escape the effect of their causes due to simultaneity of cause and effect. What you believe has nothing to do with whether karma is a reality but it completely affects the quality of our passage through times of daunting obstacles, whether we suffer or not while "undergoing". Besides, Buddhism isnt concerned with reward and punishment. Buddhism is primarily concerned with Victory or defeat...if we continue our practice in the face of daunting obstacles we will as a matter of course attain the body of a Buddha and lessen our Karmic retribution. Buddhahood lies in continuing. By continually developing faith in our Buddha nature...WE HAVE ALREADY WON!!! Finally cause and affect is about this moment onward, not the past

William ******: in another life I did...

William ******: oh Jack, escape? Into another life? The beauty of karmic return: I become my own teacher, by default and return to consequences. No laws needed, no gurus or buddhas or books...just the nature of existence...as is. ciao!

Charles ******: That depends on how you define it. Do I believe in some kind of mystical, supernatural, "balancing" force? No. Is it generally true that what goes around comes around? Yes, but not because of anything even remotely supernatural.

Stephen ******: My version of karma: If I keep throwing hammers in the air then should I be surprised when I keep getting hit on the head....?

Michael *****: why, what did you hear??

Bradly *** ******: Karma is the Law of Cause and Effect. Stephen Batchelor says he believes in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, but he does not believe in the Law of Karma. In this way Stephen Batchelor contradicts himself. The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path are based on the the Law of Cause and Effect, which is Karma. In fact, all of Buddhism is based on the Law of Cause and Effect, i.e. the teaching that there is a path from suffering to enlightenment.

The manifestation of the entire Universe, at every level, is the Law of Cause and Effect.

Dharma Sanctuary's picture

I agree with Jigme. Karma can be seen as a series of causal events, as in getting a result from a specific action - kick the dog and you're liable to get bit. Everyone feels the logic and truth of this, and this is backed by our experience. When we take this a step further and run it out past the end of our lives, we are taking a leap and drawing conclusions that are outside our experience. This results in a metaphysical speculation. We take someone else's words as our truth, and run with it. We start to have all kinds of assumptions of after-life realities and then declaring that karma operates in it. In this way we get further and further afield from our direct experience. The Buddha warned against this!

Read the Pali Canon. See how the Buddha's earliest teachings always steered the inquiring student away from this type of speculation! The Buddha saw such metaphysical beliefs as harmful and a distraction from the main work of becoming a happy human being and to lessen suffering. Anything that didn't contribute to this effort was a waste of time.

The Buddha did not confirm the truth of reincarnation or the grand metaphysics of karma in any of his teachings. Anybody who says he did, is falling into a trap of their own making. The human urge to create a mythology of events beyond our control or knowledge is great. As Buddhists, we do not need to fall prey to false beliefs. That is what attracted most of us to the Dharma.

We need to do the personal work and uncover what the Buddha really taught. Often, this is hard because there seems to be so many teachings that reinforce the belief in karma and rebirth. The Tibetans have even enshrined in in their tulku system and made it a centerpiece of their tradition. How are we to go against such overwhelming external evidence of people subscribing to these beliefs?!

This Buddhist path is not for the faint hearted. It is a huge shocker if you start probing deeper. This path is not about finding a safe, social consensus. Read my contribution to the discussion in my blog post:

http://www.dharmasanctuary.org/2011/08/08/cutting-through-the-underbrush/

Blessings, Andrew at The Dharma Sanctuary

jigme_phuntsog's picture

As a scientist, I find it difficult to accept any notion based on blind faith. To believe that a child is born with Down Syndrome because of some deed he/she may have done lives ago doesn't make any sense to me. I believe in karma in a limited way; for example, if I kick a dog, it is very likely that I will be bitten. That is my karma or the result of an action. If I insult someone, that person may feel inclined to speak badly about me and that, in turn, may bring "negative" consequences to me (I may be rejected after a job interview if the person doing the interview heard about my insults). But if I was born ugly or beautiful, in a rich or poor family, in Pakistan or Norway, it is simply because that is how existence happens.

I agree with Stephen Batchelor when he says that Buddhism is not supposed to be a consolatory philosophy. Our minds want to find comfort and solace in a world that is not as we think it should be. The world is perfect as it is, and events may be perceived as pleasurable or painful by the mind, but the mind is not our true identity. When one experiences pure awareness as the true identity (or non identity, more accurately), then all is felt as perfect, and karma -as well as reincarnation, by the way- cease to have any meaning at all.

bendorje's picture

That's a misconception of Karma. Being reborn with a medical condition isn't caused by ones karma. The way that person lives with their disease decides their karma in this life. I have suffered with an untreatable, degenerative disease for 25 years now. But I have always known that the suffering of others is greater than my own suffering, and should come first.

All of your other comments make sense, but they also only go so far. Karma, and rebirth along with it, are the guiding principles of Tibetan Buddhism. They are akin to the Ethics and Morals that other religions are always speaking about. Following a Religion that is based solely on Faith makes no sense to me, but it's the largest religion on Earth. They are guided by strict laws and rules that were said to be handed down from "God". Whether or not the go to heaven is based on how well they follow these laws. It's their "karma'.