My Karma Ran Over Your Dogma

02007-01-03 | Brain, Buddhism, Musings | 13 comments

From Ken Wilber’s Blog
According to the doctrine of karma, in this life you are reading a book that you wrote in a previous life. Many people draw the erroneous conclusion that because, e.g., they used to yell at their spouses, they now have throat cancer-but that’s just not the way it works. As a matter of fact, from at least one angle, the “bad things” that are happening to you now actually indicate a good fruition-it means your system is finally strong enough to digest the past karmic causes that led to your present rebirth. So if you were reborn-that is, if you are alive in a body right now-then you have already horrifically sinned, and unless you work it off in this lifetime, guess what? You’re coming back. Illness itself does not cause more karma; your attitude towards illness, however, does. Therefore, if you are undergoing some extremely difficult circumstances right now, and you can meet those difficulties with equanimity, wisdom, and virtue, then you are doubly lucky-the causes that led to your being reborn now are starting to surface and burn off, and you’re not generating any new karma while you burn them (as long as you meet them with equanimity and awareness).

Meeting difficulties with equanimity, wisdom, virtue and a sense of humor is a reward in itself, without using the doctrines of karma. I mean, I will help the proverbial blind person cross the street because I want to, because it is nice to help another person, and not because it helps put a little bit of good karma on the plus-side of the big scales…

Really, shit happens and complex systems eventually develop faults, naturally. Cars break down, people get sick, computers malfunction etc… but, our brain likes to discover – or create – connections. That’s what brain does. So, naturally brain wants to discover/create connections between any given event and its own view. Why did I see a crow right before I witnessed the car accident? Why did my uncle get sick on my birthday?

Complex systems break down, naturally. A healthy complex system is one that can come back from catastrophic failure. I am very glad that the complex system that is Ken’s body fought back from such a failure, but I personally ascribe the failure as well as the recovery to this lifetime and the karma accumulated in this lifetime… no need for me to bring previous lifetimes or reincarnation into this.

In my own view, the concept of Reincarnation is akin to the concept of Heaven and Hell – it takes us out of this right here and right now. It also provides our ego with a false faith of extending itself beyond this lifetime. One could say Reincarnation and Heaven and Hell encourage people to do the right thing, but they used to say that Kings and Queens were selected by God himself and therefore one should not doubt their words. And the Emperor of China was the Son of Heaven and was the only one who would know what time it was. This, by the way, is the reason China did not develop watches: only the Emperor could know and announce the time and season.

PS: Really, it does not matter whether there is reincarnation or not. Reincarnation simply has no bearing on why I act the way I do. Discussing it feels like discussing whether the Earth is round or flat, before Galileo, or whether Gravity exists… in other words we will find the answer in due time. Until then both positions are just that – positions, possibilities, assumptions, opinions.

PPS: A friend commented:

I see Buddha as having addressed the question of the ego–the inherent human tendency to believe that we are a permanent self–but to have failed to address another equally strong inherent human tendency–to believe that there is justice over time for all actions done or not done. Christians and Jews and Moslems rely on heaven and hell, as did the Egyptians and others–good deeds not rewarded in this life, and bad deeds that go unpunished, will be dealt with by a divine judge in the afterlife. India developed the doctrine of karma–no need for the divine judge, the universe just keeps you being born again and again to equalize it all out. Buddha modified the doctrine from its form at the time of his life by saying that it was not the act that created the karma–the moral effect that manifested in the next life–but only the intention. (This is separate from the colloquial view of “karma” as the law of cause and effect–that, in fact, is a misuse of the term “karma.”)

So, a thorough job of addressing inherent human views that are anthropologically based, and not provably reality based, would do away with not only the permanent self, but also the idea of karma operating through rebirth.

Now, nothing I have said addresses whether or not there might be some form of “rebirth”, or a continuation of the energy that is me into another form after my death. Buddha was pretty vague on that point, as I understand it, saying only that there was some rebirth, yet denying that the “I” continued since it was insubatantial to start with.

I addition I would like to refer to my June entry Memory Leaks and the follow up, which was called Incarnate This. I’ll close with a couple of quotes by Stephen Batchelor:

Stephen Batchelor writes
A key source for Bennett’s and Costa’s view of the agnostic nature of Buddhism would doubtless have been this famous passage from the Culamalunkya Sutta in the Majjhima Nikaya:

Suppose, Malunkyaputta, a man were wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison, and his friends and companions brought a surgeon to treat him. The man would say: ‘I will not let the surgeon pull out the arrow until I know the name and clan of the man who wounded me; whether the bow that wounded me was a long bow or a crossbow; whether the arrow that wounded me was hoof-tipped or curved or barbed.’

All this would still not be known to that man and meanwhile he would die. So too, Malunkyaputta, if anyone should say: ‘I will not lead the noble life under the Buddha until the Buddha declares to me whether the world is eternal or not eternal, finite or infinite; whether the soul is the same as or different from the body; whether or not an awakened one continues or ceases to exist after death,’ that would still remain undeclared by the Buddha and meanwhile that person would die.

And here is another quote:

So what would be the features of an ‘agnostic Buddhist?’ Such a person would not regard the Dharma as a source of ‘answers’ to questions of where we came from, where we are going, what happens after death. He or she would seek such knowledge in the appropriate domains: astrophysics, evolutionary biology, neuro-science etc. An agnostic Buddhist would therefore not be a ‘believer’ with claims to revealed information about supernatural or paranormal phenomena, and in this sense would not be ‘religious.’ An agnostic Buddhist would look to the Dharma for metaphors of existential confrontation rather than metaphors of existential consolation. He or she would start by facing up to the primacy of anguish and uncertainty (dukkha), then proceed to apply a set of practices to understand the human dilemma and work towards a resolution. An agnostic Buddhist would eschew atheism as much as theism, and would be as reluctant to regard the universe as devoid of meaning as endowed with meaning. (For to deny either God or meaning is surely just the antithesis of affirming them.) Yet such an agnostic stance would not be based on disinterest. It would be founded on a passionate recognition that I do not know. It would confront the enormity of having been born instead of reaching for the consolation of a belief.

It’s easy to subscribe to an answer – every religion has lots of those. I think it is far harder to hold the mystery in our minds. Like becoming comfortable with discomfort. Like becoming used to being out-of-balance. Or something like that.

Completed on the last day of his life, Uchiyama Kosho’s final poem:

Just Bow

Putting my right and left hands together as one, I just bow.
Just bow to become one with Buddha and God.
Just bow to become one with everything I encounter.
Just bow to become one with all the myriad things.
Just bow as life becomes life.

Thank you Y.


  1. yumiko

    One of your best writings, I think. Getting “stuck in a way of thinking” is still getting, “stuck”, isn’t it?

  2. Carol

    “in other words we will find the answer in due time. Until then both positions are just that – positions, possibilities, assumptions, opinions”
    That is sure good enough for me. I just try to do what I think is right and I’m not going to worry about what I can’t do anything about. If it goes like my life has, I will be happily surprised.

  3. Rik

    The main problem with any belief system is those that hold to it. We are imperfect creatures and add our imperfections to our world-view. Because of this it would be incorrect of us to reject a philosophy due to noteworthy fan(or lun)atics that have taken their particular ‘faith’ past the lines drawn (loosely) around it. According to some beliefs, we are to be in and aware of the here and now with an eye on eternity and in due time we all will find out the truth. For too many it will be too late. The right thing is different in individual minds. There must be a moral compass by which we are guided or else what one man calls an injustice another will call a pleasure or a right according to his own feelings on what is acceptable.

  4. ottmar

    Rik –
    ah, the old religion as moral compass argument. Religion and faith supposedly keep us from stealing or from killing each other. I disagree with you. I think far to many people have been killed in the name of religion for that argument to hold. The world will not become a-moral if there is less “faith.”
    And there is only here and now – and that is eternity. No need to keep one eye on eternity when two eyes on here and now are all you need.

  5. Rik

    I can agree to disagree. What I was talking about was real relationship, not misguided religion. I agree that far too many have been killed in the name of religion or false religion to state it accurately.
    This is not really the forum for such debates, so I’ll say this…your diary is enjoyable, your photography beautiful, and I love your music and artistry. Keep bringing us you.

  6. ottmar

    Rik –
    Thanks for your kind works about my music, photos and diary.
    What do you mean by real relationship – parents, friends, society? Or maybe student-teacher?
    And another thought RE rejecting a philosophy – philosophy has to continue to change and adapt, like any view. If one philosophy does not adapt and change, maybe it will be rejected after a certain amount of time because it will be out of touch?

  7. Rik

    Student-teacher is pretty close. Since you asked, and I assure you I wasn’t trying to bait you in any way, the relationship I was referring to was a real and personal relationship with a true and Living God, Jesus Christ. Yes, as I mentioned in a comment several weeks back, I am a born-again Christian. But I feel that organized religion has done much to undermine what Christianity is really about. It is about freedom, forgiveness, and love among many other things. Freedom from the chains of sin, forgiveness of that sin and love that accepts everyone…Everyone. Not just the righteous.
    I have really enjoyed this dialogue with you.
    Best wishes for the perfomance at GIG if it is still on. See you on your next Houston stop.

  8. yumiko

    It is wonderful that Rik is able to speak about his/her love of a relationship with his/her beliefs. So many different ideas and as long as minds/hearts continue to stay open, so many possibilities. It surely is not about being right, is it? Let’s see…how many times have I been wrong?

    Thank you, Ottmar for writing/posting all that. Food for thought. Pure Ottmar.

  9. Ruth

    Great post and interesting responses! Thank you.

    The tricky bit about concepts and beliefs is how we hold on to them. They will always be there. But when they get frozen and the relationship between concept and thinker becomes static, the energy of the great Mystery can’t flow. It’s like you say, Ottmar, the work is to hold these things lightly so the mystery can continue to unfold and reveal Itself.

    A second thought: I have a lot of uneasiness about concepts that serve my ego-building project. There is so much in religion that is about making meaning and polishing the story of little me, e.g. God’s chosen people, and the implicit notion in karma that everything that happens to me is fraught with lifetimes of meaning. It feels so narcissistic. And there is no Mystery in that!

  10. ottmar

    Ruth –
    Yes, you express it beautifully.
    Hold on too tight and you strangle the puppy. Stay static and you deny the natural movement of life.
    Our brain naturally wants to hold on, which results in a funny dance of flowing freely…getting stuck…becoming aware of getting stuck…letting go…flowing freely…getting stuck… That’s where the title We Begin Again, Again from the One Guitar album comes from.
    I like your second thought as well. My Ego-Building Project would be a great title for something, maybe a band…

  11. Rik

    Wow! What a terrific and interesting discussion this has turned out to be.

  12. ottmar

    I agree – thanks everyone!

  13. Ruth

    Ottmar, I liked your idea about the band. It would have to be a punk band.

    And I love the way you’ve described the sweetness of redemption. I think I’ll go to the listening lounge and ponder what that sounds like…


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