over on the always fascinating blog of @Jayarava there is an article about an article that I read with much interest and wanted to comment on here.
I think Buddhists noticed certain problems in early Buddhist doctrine and responded. In particular I noted that there was a problem I called “action at a temporal distance”. Let’s say that I make a great donation to a Buddhist monastery and earn a vast amount of merit (puṇya, aka “good karma”) in the process. Some Buddhist texts say “I am the heir of my actions”, i.e. the person who experiences the consequences is the same as the one who acts. And this can stretch across lifetimes. This is the main theme of the Jātaka and Avadāna literature and one of the main ways that Buddhists talk about morality.
At the same time, however, most readings of the doctrine of dependent arising say that I am not the same person from moment to moment, let alone from lifetime to lifetime. So the one who experiences the consequences is not the same as the one who acts, but only arises in dependence on their actions.
If the action of giving is a discrete event which lasts for a few seconds (maybe) and then ceases, how can that be the condition for some effect in the future given dependent arising? The standard formula is
This being, that becomes. When this arises, that arises.
This not being, that does not become. When that ceases, this ceases.
I argued that this means that the condition has to be present for the effect to arise, and if it is absent the effect ceases or never arises in the first place. The Theravādins in academia disagreed with this extremely enough to reject my article outright, but it is undoubtedly how proponents of sarvāstivāda understood it.
Thus Buddhist morality tales and Buddhist metaphysical texts tell a very different story about continuity over time. Standard modern interpretations of karma don’t acknowledge this dichotomy and thus do not explain it. When I looked at historical accounts of karma I did not find a good explanation, but I did perceive a pattern.
This reminded me of one of the undeclared points suttas discussed in my thread:
at SN12.17 it says:
“Suppose that the person who does the deed experiences the result. Then for one who has existed since the beginning, suffering is made by oneself. This statement leans toward eternalism.
“‘So karoti so paṭisaṁvedayatī’ti kho, kassapa, ādito sato ‘sayaṅkataṁ dukkhan’ti iti vadaṁ sassataṁ etaṁ pareti. Variant: paṭisaṁvedayatī’ti → paṭisaṁvediyatīti (bj, pts1ed, pts2ed, mr)
Suppose that one person does the deed and another experiences the result. Then for one stricken by feeling, suffering is made by another. This statement leans toward annihilationism.
‘Añño karoti añño paṭisaṁvedayatī’ti kho, kassapa, vedanābhitunnassa sato ‘paraṅkataṁ dukkhan’ti iti vadaṁ ucchedaṁ etaṁ pareti.
Avoiding these two extremes, the Realized One teaches by the middle way:
Ete te, kassapa, ubho ante anupagamma majjhena tathāgato dhammaṁ deseti:
‘Ignorance is a condition for choices.
Choices are a condition for consciousness. …
saṅkhārapaccayā viññāṇaṁ …pe…
That is how this entire mass of suffering originates.
evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti.
the parallel at SA302 appears to omit the explanations beginning with “suppose the” but does include the oneself, another, both, neither undeclared formula. This is good evidence that here we have an example of exactly what @Jayarava talks about in their blog post, here we appear to have an example of the Theravadins noticing a problem and trying to solve it.
I would love to hear from people about what they think of @Jayarava 's article, and what they think about the proposed “solution” given in the sutta but absent from the parallel, it certainly seems to me that the tension is real, for a person who is heir to their actions in the distant future seems in some sense to continue, while a person who “arises” moment to moment and has no continuity at all seems not to be able to act for themselves at all.