August 30, 2011
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.
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
Image via anarchosyn (Flickr)