SuttaCentral

Homeless fellow humans having a bad karma issue?

Dear all,

I had a discussion weeks ago with a fellow meditator that struck me. I could not sleep that night. We did not know if being homeless and if what happens to us in our lives in general, is always a result of karma. I came to understand that not all is related to karma and not all is related to external factors. And that I don’t need to understand exactly how it works to live my life and care about others. In all respect to you all, if you want to continue this topic, it is no longer related to the concerns we had at home. Thank you for keeping that in mind. If you nevertheless like to continue this subject, you may as well start a new topic yourself and go on discussing it with others. But I don’t feel the need to discuss about it any longer. Enjoy your day with metta :pray:Teresia

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This is an opportunity for developing the knowledge of suffering being a basic condition of existence which should be consolidated. The Buddha first encountered and understood suffering when he saw old age, sickness and death in the street. He then did not rest until developing the other three noble truths. He did not stop to give physical aid on that occasion in the street. So understanding the truth of suffering is the first step on the path, and further development cannot occur without it as a foundation. Each of the noble truths has a duty, and the duty with regard to suffering is to understand it.

“Without having broken through to the noble truth of stress as it actually is present, without having broken through to the noble truth of the origination of stress… the cessation of stress… the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress, as it actually is present, I will bring about the right ending of stress,’ that would be an impossibility. Just as if someone were to say, ‘Without having built the lower story of a gabled building (knowledge of suffering), I will put up the upper story,’ that would be an impossibility”—SN 56.44

Practitioners must look to their own liberation by understanding the inevitably of suffering on this plane of existence before they can help others.

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:+1: :sun_with_face:

The Buddha didn’t teach fatalism.

I can’t really elaborate much right now. I am too tired and am actually hoping to get to sleep soon. But just a few words.

The Buddha did certainly act out of compassion and help others. There is this famous example where he and Ananda wash a sick monk who is lying in his feces.

But at the same time the Buddha also says that there will never be any perfection in this world. So what we have to find is a balance that avoids indifference on one hand and unrealistic expectations about one’s own power on the other hand.

This kind of action is always described as negative in the canon.

And now I have to go… :sleeping_bed: :first_quarter_moon_with_face:

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"Both renunciation and compassion share a common root in the encounter with suffering. The one represents our response to suffering confronted in our own individual experience, the other our response to suffering witnessed in the lives of others. Our spontaneous reactions, however, are only the seeds of these higher qualities, not their substance. To acquire the capacity to sustain our practice of Dhamma, renunciation and compassion must be methodically cultivated, and this requires an ongoing process of reflection which transmutes our initial stirrings into full-fledged spiritual virtues.

The framework within which this reflection is to be exercised is the teaching of the Four Noble Truths, which thus provides the common doctrinal matrix for both renunciation and compassion. Renunciation develops out of our innate urge to avoid suffering and pain. But whereas this urge, prior to reflection, leads to an anxious withdrawal from particular situations perceived as personally threatening, reflection reveals the basic danger to lie in our existential situation itself — in being bound by ignorance and craving to a world which is inherently fearsome, deceptive and unreliable. Thence the governing motive behind the act of renunciation is the longing for spiritual freedom, coupled with the recognition that self-purification is an inward task most easily accomplished when we distance ourselves from the outer circumstances that nourish our unwholesome tendencies.

Compassion develops out of our spontaneous feelings of sympathy with others. However, as a spiritual virtue compassion cannot be equated with a sentimental effusion of emotion, nor does it necessarily imply a dictum to lose oneself in altruistic activity. Though compassion surely includes emotional empathy and often does express itself in action, it comes to full maturity only when guided by wisdom and tempered by detachment. Wisdom enables us to see beyond the adventitious misfortunes with which living beings may be temporarily afflicted to the deep and hidden dimensions of suffering inseparable from conditioned existence. As a profound and comprehensive understanding of the Four Noble Truths, wisdom discloses to us the wide range, diverse gradations, and subtle roots of the suffering to which our fellow beings are enmeshed, as well as the means to lead them to irreversible release from suffering. Thence the directives of spontaneous sympathy and mature compassion are often contradictory, and only the latter are fully trustworthy as guides to beneficent action effective in the highest degree. Though often the judicious exercise of compassion will require us to act or speak up, sometimes it may well enjoin us to retreat into silence and solitude as the course most conducive to the long-range good of others as well as of ourselves."—Bikkhu Bodhi

It is wise to reflect on impermanence applied to human history. The Vietnam war for example was big news at the time but few think about it now. Such events are rising and falling successively as the decades turn.

Those strongly motivated towards compassion and unable to follow the path of insight should join Buddhist Global Relief:
https://www.buddhistglobalrelief.org/index.php/en/

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AFAIK, without a rather specific gift some arahants can develop, this is unknowable.
The Buddha taught that not everything is due to kamma; if it were, the spiritual life would not be possible.
Callousness is not detachment.

Metta :slight_smile:

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When one reads the 5 nikayas/EBTs, the Buddha clearly and constantly teaches that one of the results of not giving to others is poverty. However, this issue at hand is “What does that mean for how I act in the world?”

It sounds like your friends are answering that question by saying, “That means that their poverty is their fault, therefore it is not necessary/appropriate for me to help them.” But when we look at the teachings in their entirety, the meaning we should be getting is, “That means that I should constantly be looking for people to give things to if I hope to avoid poverty in the future.” So an appropriate response to seeing people in need is to want to help them. The Buddha even taught us a form of meditation, cāganussati, that we can practice based on our own generous behaviour/nature.

There is a lovely quote in the Petavatthu where someone basically says that the only time they are sad is when they can’t find someone to give something to.

That said, if we ourselves are suffering from seeing the overwhelming poverty around us that we cannot remedy, that is the time to practice equanimity. Keep giving, but know that people are owners of their karma.

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Helping others is good for our own kamma. :+1: :+1:

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Dear Teresia, I have a few sutta quotes for you:

AN4.77:0.1: Numbered Discourses 4
AN4.77:0.2: 8. Guaranteed
AN4.77:0.3: 77. Unthinkable
AN4.77:1.1: “Mendicants, these four things are unthinkable. They should not be thought about, and anyone who tries to think about them will go mad or get frustrated.
AN4.77:1.2: What four?
AN4.77:1.3: The scope of the Buddhas …
AN4.77:1.5: The scope of one in absorption …
AN4.77:1.7: The results of deeds …
AN4.77:1.9: Speculation about the world …
AN4.77:1.11: These are the four unthinkable things. They should not be thought about, and anyone who tries to think about them will go mad or get frustrated.”

So there is no point in speculating about which deed could have led to which result exactly… unless you want to get crazy!

When the Buddha talks about kamma this is rather about what we can do now so it will lead us to a good path in the future, no matter what our situation is, like for example:

AN4.85:0.1: Numbered Discourses 4
AN4.85:0.2: 9. Confirmed
AN4.85:0.3: 85. From Darkness to Darkness
AN4.85:1.1: “Mendicants, these four people are found in the world.
AN4.85:1.2: What four?
AN4.85:1.3: ~The dark bound for darkness, ~the dark bound for light, ~the light bound for darkness, and ~the light bound for light.
AN4.85:2.1: And how is a person dark and bound for darkness?
AN4.85:2.2: It’s when someone is reborn in a low family—a family of outcastes, bamboo-workers, hunters, chariot-makers, or waste-collectors—poor, with little to eat or drink, where life is tough, and food and shelter are hard to find.
AN4.85:2.3: And they’re ugly, unsightly, deformed, chronically ill—one-eyed, crippled, lame, or half-paralyzed. They don’t get to have food, drink, clothes, and vehicles; garlands, fragrance, and makeup; or bed, house, and lighting.
AN4.85:2.4: And they do bad things by way of body, speech, and mind.
AN4.85:2.5: When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell.
AN4.85:2.6: That’s how a person is dark and bound for darkness.
AN4.85:3.1: And how is a person dark and bound for light?
AN4.85:3.2: It’s when some person is reborn in a low family …
AN4.85:3.4: But they do good things by way of body, speech, and mind.
AN4.85:3.5: When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm.
AN4.85:3.6: That’s how a person is dark and bound for light.
AN4.85:4.1: And how is a person light and bound for darkness?
AN4.85:4.2: It’s when some person is reborn in an eminent family—a well-to-do family of aristocrats, brahmins, or householders—rich, affluent, and wealthy, with lots of gold and silver, lots of property and assets, and lots of money and grain.
AN4.85:4.3: And they’re attractive, good-looking, lovely, of surpassing beauty. They get to have food, drink, clothes, and vehicles; garlands, fragrance, and makeup; and bed, house, and lighting.
AN4.85:4.4: But they do bad things by way of body, speech, and mind.
AN4.85:4.5: When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell.
AN4.85:4.6: That’s how a person is light and bound for darkness.
AN4.85:5.1: And how is a person light and bound for light?
AN4.85:5.2: It’s when some person is reborn in an eminent family …
AN4.85:5.4: And they do good things by way of body, speech, and mind.
AN4.85:5.5: When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm.
AN4.85:5.6: That’s how a person is light and bound for light.
AN4.85:5.7: These are the four people found in the world.”

And even if someone is living in poor conditions, and this is due to their past kamma, there is no reason not to help them. This sort of argument has been used so often by the privileged against the underprivileged, and I don’t think that by doing so one is creating particularly good karma for oneself… maybe such people belong to the “light bound for darkness”?

(And as a little personal aside: SuttaCentral Voice is dedicated to the dark bound for light… :wink:)

Even that monk has come into his bad situation because of his own actions—actions in this very life that ripened as “instant karma”, so to speak: He had never helped the other monks, and now they didn’t look after him in his illness. Which was why the Buddha found him in this desperate condition. And he firmly rebuked the monks for their behavior afterwards! But first he helped the sick monk.

(This story is told in the Vinaya, and I can’t remember the reference right now.)

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The issue of justice arises when there is a central authority, whether this authority takes the form of external abstract (political/legal government) or authority that takes the form of an internal abstract (the mind) where the law of kamma operates.

Both can be used skillfully by being consciously biased using non-harming as a guiding principle. For example, using law of Kamma to interpret reality at the individual level prevents the individual from engaging in harmful behavior by assuming himself responsible (heir of) his actions. The same non-harming principle would prevent him from translating individual responsibility of others to meriting/justifying their suffering (using worldly belief system skillfully). A theory has an explanatory power, but that does not mean it justifies the status quo as the same theory is meant to change reality in a way that is conducive to human well-being.

More generally, any law that utilizes reward and punishment for making people behave seems to be conducive to greed and fear as the main drivers for human behavior. This is why Kamma (both white and black) is described by the lord Buddha as suffering.

Well, actually, although we see karma differently, they do a lot of good things to the ones they love, the ones around them, that is why I call them friends. They do not want me to suffer from injustice in the world. It’s good they sometimes tap me on the shoulder and say: it’s not all your responsibility. They’ve got good intentions but as injustice out in the world is overwhelming, many good people tend to close down the curtains when they come home after work. They want to have some light shining in their lives at least. One can not be helpful to others if one suffers her/himself from what happens to others. I know what they mean. But on the other hand, it seems that as injustice is only increasing, many good people tend to close their doors, windows and curtains to be cut off from the suffering of others. Then I find that this should stop, we should open our homes and face the injustice and act upon it, for the sake of ourselves and others. I do not want to measure karma for the sake of getting a better life for myself or not coming back to this world (although I prefer not to come back). I just care that others don’t suffer because of injustice done to them. Take a young Syrian boy living in my town. His family got shot before his eyes, he fled his country with his uncle, nearly survived the boat trip to Europe and once arriving in a foreign country, he has to fight even more to survive. He did not do anything wrong. He did not create anything that caused his own suffering. Karma is a very mysterious thing to me. I hope it is not another way to make some feel guilty who did not do anything wrong and others celebrate the fact that they must be good as they live a happy life. It would remind me too much of a judge somewhere above that is a very unjust judge. But what I find most of all very annoying is that in the West (don’t know about the East) it’s very fancy to see “good karma” as an individual success-story like all other things: going to the gym, eating healthy, living ecologically - so you make sure to have an even better life for yourself. There is too much “I” connected to karma, I find. Karma - as far as I understand - is not there for oneself, it is there for humanity as we only get out of this trap once all are saved. As long as children get born, we will return to this world, I guess. And still many children are born in the end :slight_smile:

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Thanks all for you very warm answers :heart: I will struggle for a while with injustice & other people’s karma. Guess I have to make my own way out of this. Dear @sabbamitta, thank you so much for your very helpful Sutta-links, they are and you’re very supportive to me, thanks for that :four_leaf_clover:

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There is a saying in the used automotive and machinery equipment business, “The more you look the more you find.” I take that for injustice as well, it has always existed and will continue to exist, such as samsara.

You can easily use it to feel guilty about your life, but then that is a poor basis to address injustice kindly and wisely. I spent two years volunteering in an African village and many of my fellow volunteers got guilt from their privilege and how they benefited from the experience learning from our African colleagues. I am looking to continue working in the humanitarian field and I’ve also found many researchers feel guilt about the inequality as well. The guilt can taint your motivation–only helping people who you feel that you owe a debt to–or make you jaded and you quit or suppress feelings.
Honestly I got jaded, but enjoyed the work and that’s why I’m continuing along this career path. I was wondering what role kamma has, and the suttas that @sabbamitta quoted helped me a lot, it doesn’t matter if they doing materially worse than me due to kamma or chance, I can still help them as long as it doesn’t negatively impact my life materially (since I’m a lay person) or spiritually (since I take Buddhism seriously). This kind of middle way helped me overcome being jaded toward humanitarian aid but not overly optimistic about it, and remain compassionate. I think it’s best to let things be, unless you can actively attempt to improve their circumstances without hurting yourself or others.

This talk by Ajahn Brahmali explains the dhamma behind my view better than I could and is the basis for my view on kamma and chance and helping people. He mentions the 2004 Tsunami in Sri Lanka and some South Asian views on kamma which may be of interest to you.

Hopefully this helps somewhat. :relaxed:

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Thanks for opening an important reflection about exactly how to understand and relate to these things. This certainly isn’t the first time these issues have been grappled with, and while I’m not so into making forecasts, my guess would be this won’t be the last time, either!

Personally, I’d be hesitant to engage with these issues in a consolidated form; there may be some overlap somewhere, somehow, but to try and unravel exactly how would be, I believe, to get caught up in a fundamentally untangleable tangle.

It is good to consider how we may personally be able to alleviate suffering and injustice in ways that allow us to keep our own equilibrium. As a separate matter, it is also good, to consider whether or not it might be so that the actions we perform by body, speech and mind have results, and those results may be of exceptional existential profundity which, in turn, may be used to guide our behaviour in beneficial ways (that said, for myself, I’ve mostly found just letting the principle of kamma simmer for ages with the occasional stir, much more useful than giving it a wrestle).

Anyway, getting to the actual reason I wanted to post a reply, Ajahn Bhramali gave a great talk on Kamma & Rebirth a couple of years ago when he visited London, and just in case some of it helps with your considerations I figured I’d forward it along:


Added: lol, it appears while I was drafting this ZenKen beat me to it (this is the same talk as linked in their post)! I’ll leave this link though as it also contains the Q&A.

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Also, please keep in mind that ‘karma’ is often not used in the original sense - ‘kamma’ in the early texts means action, deed. It’s the input. When we nowadays refer to ‘karma’ people often mean vipāka-kamma, the result of action.

So when people say “s/he has good karma” they mean “s/he enjoys good results because of past-life deeds”. And that’s just speculative, and it’s self-deception to explain my willingness to help by a speculative metaphysical claim.

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When I think back to how much suffering I’ve had as a result of brief lapses in judgement, I come to the inescapable conclusion that noone “deserves” to suffer.

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This is really interesting, thank you for starting the subject!

As a nursing student I immediately started to think about how I’m going to approach my patients. I’m planning to work in the children’s hospital, the pediatric palliative care unit. Not once did it cross my mind that those kids “deserve” to die young, “deserve” to have the life limiting diseases because of some unskillful actions in their past lives. I never reflected whether it is fair or not that they and their parents have to suffer so much. I just don’t find those kind of thoughts useful, not something to help me become more kind and compassionate.

I think the same principle goes for homeless people or any other suffering we go through. To deny a person help just because they “deserve” to suffer goes against all I have learned so far as a Buddhist.

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Indeed. Few people are completely devoid of generosity. Most people, in fact, are at this level of helping some and not others.

“Now what, bhikkhus, is the kind of person who rains locally? Here, a certain person is a giver to some but not a giver to others. Food, drink, clothing, vehicles, garlands, scents, ointments, beds, lodging, and lamps he gives only to some recluses and brahmins, to some of the poor, destitute, and needy, but not to others. This is the kind of person who rains locally. (SuttaCentral Itv 75)

The only way karma and results make sense is if we believe that results can come in this life, our next life, and in any future life. This is one of the reasons that Buddhism minus rebirth just doesn’t work. So according to the Dhamma, there is an almost certainty that this boy did intentional actions in the past that have led to these results.

So we could indeed say that the workings of karma are mysterious in the sense that an ordinary person can’t see things directly. But that doesn’t mean that the principles don’t make sense.

People certainly do think that they must be good if they have a happy life now. However this is a misunderstanding. It really means that they must have done good in a previous life. If we believe that we are good in this regard, then we will not work to do good actions that lead to future good results.

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From the practice view, the Buddha repeatedly exhorted to “subdue greed and distress with reference to the world” (MN 118). If the mind is allowed to run its own course, it will go to themes of either desire or anger (aversion) depending on temperament. This is a consequence of the primal survival drives of the unwholesome roots. The aim of practice from the beginning in breath meditation is to stop the mind’s tendency to internal dialogue and focus on the body (first tetrad), and then the mind (second tetrad), and calm both. The wandering mind must continually be brought back to the subject, curtailing its ruminations on the world, which in not a long time will lead to tranquillity, a factor of awakening.

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If I understand it right - within great respect to you all as well as to Ajahn Brahmali - no-one can be a hundred procent sure about where to make the very distinction between which actions influence a human life and which are due to human conditioning and due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In most of the cases, humans who experience poverty experience also famine, inequality, lack of education, micro-violence, wartime and as cherry on top one natural disaster. And that is why I question this suffering of others. It’s strangely enough always happening in that ‘other’ part of the world. It is not logical that someone could have done so many unskillful actions - neither over the course of different lives - to cause so many catastrophes in one single life. That seems like a very sadistic calculation if karma lets humans suffer together with their loved ones. On the other hand, as some of this suffering is not caused by karma, explaining hardship in life by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, does not clarify either why entire families mostly in so called ‘undeveloped’ countries live many forms of suffering all at once. I wonder where the concept of forgiveness of past actions enters the field of human life.

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I think it’s clear where you’re coming from, and the ethical questions you have are important for our time. Just, I would distinguish what Buddhists have to say about it (i.e. people and their views) from what early Buddhism has to contribute.

I feel that with contemporary questions we overburden the historical religious systems (like ‘How would Jesus have handled climate change?’). In regards to kamma there is a certain science in early Buddhism, but it’s rather prescriptive than explanatory (exceptions are later fabrications in my view) --> do this and you’ll get that result. E.g. behave ethically and you’ll have a sound sleep. Meditate well and you’ll purify the mind. Prescriptions like these.

In this model ‘reverse engineering’ is not addressed. ‘I fell off my bike, does it mean I was unethical?’ ‘My neighbor died in a plane crash, was he a torturer in his past life?’ It’s not that there are more or less good answers to these questions - the questions themselves are in a prescriptive model nonsensical.

Of course I’m oversimplifying. Early Buddhism allows me to make personal psychological observations: Why am I irritable today? Ah, I’m annoyed because my partner thinks I’m lazy. Or, I didn’t say no when my boss gave me a silly task… Then I can break it down to Buddhist principles like honesty, compassion, and self-care and act on it so that I don’t feel irritable any more, etc.

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