There is a nice little book by Than. Geoff titled The Seeds of Karma that might help. Here are a couple of relevant quotes:
6. Is it true that “If you want to see a person’s past actions, look at his present condition; if you want to see his future condition, look at his present actions.”
That’s much too simplistic. It implies that you have a single karma account, like a bank account, with your present situation showing the running balance.Remember that karma is like seeds in a field. You’re planting karma seeds in your field with every intention, and those seeds mature at different rates. So you’ve got lots of karma accounts at different stages of development. All you can see at any one moment are the seeds that are currently sprouting. As for the other seeds that haven’t yet sprouted, good or bad, you can’t see those at all.
7. Doesn’t the teaching on karma teach people to be callous toward the sufferings of others? Knowing that you have both good and bad seeds in your field that haven’t yet matured, the teaching on karma teaches you to ask this question instead: What’s the wisest way to view other people whose bad seeds are currently sprouting? And the answer is: with compassion.
*8. But can’t karma be used to justify social injustices? * Only by people who don’t really believe in karma. If someone has the karma that tends to poverty or a painful death, there are plenty of natural causes or accidents that will provide an opportunity for that karma to bear fruit. But if you decide to oppress that person economically or bring about his painful death, that bad karma now becomes yours.
“First you relied on faith, now you speak of oral tradition. These five things can be seen to turn out in two different ways. What five? Faith, preference, oral tradition, reasoned contemplation, and acceptance of a view after consideration. Even though you have full faith in something, it may be void, hollow, and false. And even if you don’t have full faith in something, it may be true and real, not otherwise. Even though you have a strong preference for something … something may be accurately transmitted … something may be well contemplated … something may be well considered, it may be void, hollow, and false. And even if something is not well considered, it may be true and real, not otherwise. For a sensible person who is preserving truth this is not sufficient to come to the definite conclusion: ‘This is the only truth, other ideas are silly.’”
The citation links are a little wonky. Just search for faith and you will see it.
Bhikkhu Bodhi explained that not everything that one is currently experiencing is a result of one’s own karma - the view that “everything is as a result of past karma” was outright rejected by the Buddha for the very reason that you hinted at (“To me, it is just another way of being reluctant to act upon homelessness and injustice in general.”)…because it leads to and culminates in non-doing:
“Bhikkhus, there are these three sectarian tenets which, when questioned, interrogated, and cross-examined by the wise, and taken to their conclusion, will eventuate in non-doing. What are the three?
(1) “There are, bhikkhus, some ascetics and brahmins who hold such a doctrine and view as this: ‘Whatever this person experiences—whether pleasure, pain, or neither-pain-nor-pleasure—all that is caused by what was done in the past.’
I have found many beings in western buddhist meditation circles (myself included since this is how I approached Buddhism too) to be quite unaware of what exactly the Buddha said on many issues - thus I would continue to suspend judgment on what you hear from fellow meditators and try to compare what they say directly to the early Dhamma-Vinaya sources.
I think I read in some Abhidhamma texts (which seems to be what influenced western buddhist meditation circles more than the Dhamma-Vinaya does) that the “far enemy” of compassion is cruelty and the “near enemy” of compassion is pity.
Cruelty: increase harm (experienced by oneself and/or others)
Pity: condescendingly look down on those who suffering harm, there seems to be a quality of wanting to distance oneself from them, perhaps because developing true compassion is not easy and the suffering experienced by others could be distressing even to just acknowledge - it’s easier to explain it away than to develop compassion and try to help.
Compassion: decrease harm (experienced by oneself and/or others)
Bhikkhu Bodhi said that the same way when one wakes up in the morning, they may see that their lawn is wet. They might infer that it rained last night. However, this might not be true - the lawn could wet for other reasons such a sprinklers, flooding, overflowing sewers, etc. - the point is that it could be due to their past karma, but not necessarily.
The Buddha explained that the way to poverty is developing stinginess and the way to wealth is developing generosity - so it is quite possible that those who are homeless could be currently experiencing the bitter fruit of certain past actions. But that doesn’t mean they are currently stingy or that one should not develop compassion towards and help them.
It begs the question: what is the best way to help the homeless. This seems to be a question worthy of investigating and understanding fully.
Helping the homeless by giving them homes could be like metaphorically giving a man fish to eat - you can feed them for a day.
Helping the homeless by giving teaching the Dhamma could be like metaphorically teaching a man how to fish - they can learn to feed themselves for a lifetime.
The latter seems far more valuable albeit difficult.
Finally, the assessment made by meditators that sad/unhappy outcomes or misfortune (“dukkha”) is caused by “past bad kamma” is a faulty misunderstanding of the second noble truth - the cause of dukkha is tanha, or psychological thirst for conditional happiness.
Even if one does exclusively good deeds and no bad deeds, as long as psychological thirst (tanha) remains in one’s mind, sadness, aging, death, etc. (dukkha) is certain to follow in due time.
So karma is known to be a natural law. No one created it or willed it to be, because some need punishment. Its said to be like if you don’t eat healthily long enough, you will fall ill at some point. Also karma is not the only thing that can affect a person’s wellbeing: other people’s intentions also adversely affect a being’s life. The actions of the slave trader, drug lord, weapons dealer or oil merchant can all affect an innocent bystander.
The meaning of the word ‘Kamma’ is ‘Intention’. As intention is a mental act then the results or fruit of Kamma (Kamma Vipaka) is also mental. In fact Buddha-Dhamma itself is to be found in the Mind. So it is no god looking for it in monasteries, temples or robe clad monks. According to statistics, " The pyramid shows that: half of the world’s net wealth belongs to the top 1%, top 10% of adults hold 85%, while the bottom 90% hold the remaining 15% of the world’s total wealth." But if we go looking for the fruits of Kamma in the material world, we are looking in the wrong place.
For the heart of Buddha-Dhamma is Compassion and Loving Kindness. If our intentions are motivated by these powerful forces then of course we will do all that we can to alleviate the suffering of ourselves and others. The motivating force behind Prince Siddartha Gautama’s transformation into Gautama Buddha was the sight of old age, sickness and death. Although the Buddha devoted 45 years of his life teaching; he also practised many other kinds of good deeds. He prevented at least two wars from taking place; advised those with power and wealth how to be of most benefit to the general population; he cared for the sick and consoled the grieving. He obviously went through his life performing good deeds; but we have texts which almost exclusively record only his formal teachings.
So of course we should do what we can to help the homeless and anyone else who is suffering and to whom we can be of help.
Reading posts on this forum it is sad to see just how many people seem to spend their lives looking up their own backsides. The Buddha- Dhamma is something to be PRACTISED: Not something to be pedantically STUDIED.
Welcome to the forum Phraalan
If you have any questions about how this forum works please don’t hesitate to ask. You can tag 'at’moderators or send us a PM
Also FYI this forum was established for the purpose of translating the suttas, EBTs, into as many languages as possible and to make them freely available. As such it involved the collaborative work of scores of people, scholars, translators and buddhist practitioners among them. So this was never meant to be a practice forum, but one for study of EBT’s. Over time and as the work began to be completed the usage of the forum broadened out, but it is still focused on more academic discussions, and discussion of personal practice is discouraged. There are many forums where personal practice is the focus, but only this one that focuses on study of EBT’s.
There is, of course, no doubt that the Buddhas path is one of practice - but the work here helps clarify what the Buddha said about the nature of that path.
I think it’s good to be reminded of this, and to be inspired and guided by it. Welcome, Venerable.
I’m grateful for the preservation and teaching coming from the Sangha and scholarship especially of the EBTs, that gives us knowledge which leads to practice and (eventually) insight. It’s marvelous, and living, for 2500+ years in this dispensation.
Dear Bhante Viveka
I am very sorry if you thought I was criticising SuttaCentral for being merely academic. I have found some of your articles to be extremely valuable. In fact I recently made a Face Book posting on the article concerning the age of the Suttas based on Pali word length: Please see Alan James Cooper | Facebook
My comments were made concerning the question of helping the homeless and the fact that many people get too attached to Pariyatti (Study) with issues concerning the Pali language, Abhidhamma etc. and lose sight of the fact that the Buddha emphasised Patipatti (Practice) above all else.
Of course I value the work done by the contributors to SuttaCentral and I am sorry for any misunderstanding I may have caused
Bless you and all the good work you are doing
May you be well, happy and peaceful.
Phra Alan (Pannavuddho Bhikkhu)
I am not sure if the Buddha’s view regarding what kamma leads to poverty and wealth can be used to backward-reason that the Buddha claims that all poverty is caused by stinginess and all wealth is caused by generosity - but it seems like it can be used to reason that the Buddha claims that stinginess leads to poverty and generosity leads to wealth (in the future):
"Here, student, some woman or man is not a giver of food, drink, cloth, sandals, garlands, perfumes, unguents, bed, roof and lighting to monks or brahmans. Due to having performed and completed such kamma, on the dissolution of the body, after death he reappears in a state of deprivation… If instead he comes to the human state, he is poor wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to poverty, that is to say, not to be a giver of food, drink, cloth, sandals, garlands, perfumes, unguents, bed, roof and lighting to monks and brahmans.
"But here some woman or man is a giver of food, drink, cloth, sandals, perfumes, unguents, bed, roof and lighting to monks and brahmans. Due to having performed and completed such kamma, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he reappears in a happy destination… If instead he comes to the human state, he is rich wherever he is reborn. This is the way that leads to riches, that is to say, to be a giver of food, drink, cloth, sandals, garlands, perfumes, unguents, bed, roof and lighting to monks and brahmans. Cula-kammavibhanga Sutta: The Shorter Exposition of Kamma
So if you want to help others, including yourself, out of poverty towards wealth, perhaps try to help guide both yourself and others towards decreasing stinginess and increasing generosity?
Caveat: I have found this quite difficult for me to do. The view that laziness leads to poverty and hard-work leads to wealth seems to have such a strong hold over the minds of many beings, myself included!
This seems to be a liberal, socialist, or other such view - not the Buddha’s view.
The Buddha seems to clearly identify the cause of suffering in the second noble truth - tanha or psychological thirst.
The way to not accept and reject the origin of suffering seems to be to develop the Noble Eightfold Path - achieving the end of suffering, one cannot be hurt by anything nor anyone ever again either in this world nor the next.
The Buddha seems to teach the many ways in which the government can help stop harmful, unbeneficial beings from acting for the harm of the many. This seems to be the very purpose of forming a government in the first place.
The “greed of others” is not the true origin of suffering (according to the second noble truth, tanha is), nor is it the only way that one can get hurt.
Beings can get hurt by actions motivated by the greed, anger, and misunderstandings of others too - the spreading of false views that are contrary to the Dhamma-Vinaya is one salient exampled of the lattermost possibility.
An important and subtle point that is very easy to overlook and very relevant to this OP.
Not everything is due to kamma - thus, one cannot necessarily conclude that homeless is caused by one’s own past kamma - it could be potentially caused by kamma or other causes and conditions.
Very well said and explained!!
Or even more directly - IS our own good kamma!
Also a very easily overlooked, yet important point!
This might be commentarial, which is not to say it is definitely false, but it might be mere hearsay, which might turn out either way.
Hmm Interesting point.
The Buddha also figuratively “tapped beings on their shoulder” with the following message:
98(1) “Bhikkhus, there are these two kinds of foolish beings. What two? One who takes responsibility for what does not befall him and one who does not take responsibility for what befalls him. These are the two kinds of foolish beings.”
99(2) “Bhikkhus, there are these two kinds of wise beings. What two? One who takes responsibility for what befalls him and one who does not take responsibility for what does not befall him. These are the two kinds of wise beings.”
Anguttara Nikaya (AN 2.98-2.99)
Taking responsibility for “what does not befall you” seems to lead to “feeling the (crushing) weight of the world upon your shoulders” - according to the Buddha, this seems to be a foolish perspective.
Why? Would you wish unnecessary weight upon the shoulders of others?
It may seem like compassion, but it is actually the opposite - perhaps a lack of compassion towards yourself. Developing compassion towards yourself might help lead you away from taking up unnecessary burden and towards taking on necessary burden. I think the Arahants are sometimes described as those who have done their duties/fulfilled their responsibilities and thus have laid down all burdens (but not prematurely).
Whereas some being err to the extreme of selfishness (act only for one’s own good), your perspective seems to err to the opposite extreme: towards selflessness only - which, contrary to popular belief, is not considered the highest ideal in Buddhism: helping both oneself and others seems to be the highest ideal in Buddhism. To put it another way, both-selfishness-and-selflessness seems to be the highest ideal in Buddhism. Perhaps you are struggling to reconcile these two extremes in your mind.
Perhaps you are perceiving others who caution you against the dangers of selflessness to be in danger of the extreme of selfishness - it seems best to see the danger in both selfishness alone and selflessness alone - and develop the good parts of both by trying to help both oneself and others.
I totally agree.
This is speculation. It begs the question: how do you know?
While we cannot say for sure that he definitively did do bad kamma that led to reaping harm in his current life, we also cannot say for sure that he did not either.
Unless one has developed the mental faculty of seeing the law of kamma in operation, claims about kamma are mere speculation.
I agree. Also, it doesn’t mean that it is not actually true, even if one doesn’t believe that it is true.
Maybe those who have developed the mental faculty to understand the law of kamma completely might be able to discern these one hundred percent.
To claim that “no one is capable of discerning these distinctions” is making a definitive claim - I am not sure if this claim is true though.
I think it might help to take a look at all the perspectives that you seem to hold on this matter and compare them side by side in as objective and dispassionate (which does not imply uncompassionate at all) manner as possible and try to examine and consider each one of them carefully.
I agree, but I think it has to be done in the right way.
Both the asking for forgiveness and the giving of forgiveness must be done in the right/suitable way - or else it doesn’t actually work.
Confessing to a local pastor for an act of wrong-doing against someone else doesn’t work - one must ask for forgiveness and offer to make amends towards the being that one wronged seems to be the right way. This seems very different that indiscriminately forgiving beings.
The law of kamma is merely the law of causality/cause-and-effect applied to bad and good actions in relation with sad and happy outcomes.
I can’t think of a more logical explanation actually.
It seems significantly more logical than all of the competing hypotheses:
all that is experienced is caused by past actions***
all that is experienced is caused by God’s will
all that is experienced is caused by random chance
***Note: “past actions” is NOT the same as the “law of kamma” - it is fundamentally different, but too often it is treated as identical! The Buddha rejects the former and accepts the latter. Confusing these two different explanations might be explain the root of OP’s confusion. SuttaCentral
This is called a straw-man argument.
You simply drew up a straw-man argument (i.e. it looks like an argument made by the Buddha, but it is actually not so) and then went on to refute it.
What you are refuting is the “all that is experienced is caused by one’s own past actions”-hypothesis - which was clearly and explicitly rejected here by the Buddha - not the “law of kamma and phala”-hypothesis.
You seem to be perceiving what was not actually taught (“all that is experienced is caused by past actions”) by the Buddha as possibly having been taught by the Buddha (“law of actions/kamma and their fruits/phala”).
Either that, or based on speculation.
Very well said.
Does it matter what someone did yesterday?
Remember past lives seems just as important - for the purpose of learning from one’s own past experiences.
The Buddha seems to claim that remembering past lives is not necessary, but definitely helpful for the attainment of the end of dukkha.
Notice how YOLO (you only live once) philosophies are often used to excuse and encourage poor decisions and irresponsibility. This might be precisely because beings claim that after death, there is no existence - and therefore no possibility of reaping harm sowed in this lifetime.
Wouldn’t it be considered helping others take responsibility if one were to encourage them to take responsibility for their actions in this lifetime for the sake of their own welfare in both this lifetime and the next?
But does that mean that she was actually a great spiritual teacher? Is it possible that perhaps she was not actually, despite seeming present, content, and blissful outwardly?
Thank you for sharing.
Very good points!
Venerable, with all due respect, I think BOTH study and practice are important.
In fact, this very dilemma was directly addressed quite directly in this discourse (the Buddha rejected the view that “all experienced occur due to past actions”) among other discourses, but emphasizing “practice” alone might not clarify this dilemma as quickly as learning it from the Buddha, right?
I find that not studying the Dhamma-Vinaya to be just as harmful as not practicing it.
Without studying, how does one understand what to practice in the first place?
Without practice, how does one experience the happy results that one studies about?
It seems difficult to say that either one is better or worse than the other.
This has really strayed very far from the OP. I’m going to group the kamma as intention posts into a group and transfer them to a new Topic called Kamma as intention
However, @SeriousFun136 I can’t do this with your very very long post addressing all kinds of things from the whole thread - so I will leave it where it is. It would be good forum practice, to remember to make the replies from the perspective that they are archived and used for information about topics, and not really conversational… as a general rule, there is always some room for flexibility
This way the OP holds its integrity and the Kamma as intention discussion can be developed and accessed by those wanting this information
I tried to copy-and-paste all the parts of the post that were relevant to both OP’s on the other thread.
I also tried to cut-and-paste all the parts of the post that were relevant to the other OP over there only.
So hopefully my previous post here has reduced from ‘very very long’ to just ‘very long’ now…
Edit: nope, I think it went down from ‘very very very long’ to ‘very very long’ - u were just being polite before
Hi SF! This is seriously the longest Watercooler post ever!! I wonder if you really need to reply to so many different people? I would have found it much easier to follow the point that you want to make about kamma if you’d expressed it in one or two paragraphs without all the quotations and expressions of agreement.
I know you’ll take this comment in good part. & I look forward to seeing your next post.