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Buddhadharma : Fall 2010
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 10 76 Reviews What is the connection between karma and social justice? It is a fair question. After all, the Buddha had much to say about the practice of being “just” but much less to say, particularly in comparison with the Abrahamic religions, about justice. Rethinking Karma takes a hard look at the relationship between karma and social justice, in which the concept of karma is too often used to justify political and social oppression and exploitation. It also offers a way to think about karma as a collective phenomenon, with implications for social action and change. The volume is edited by Jonathan Watts—cofounder of the Think Sangha, a loose-knit Buddhist social analysis group linked to the International Network of Engaged Buddhists—and grows out of a 2003 meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand, looking at the social nature of suffering and of karma. It includes essays by eleven authors who have been involved in social justice issues, and in some cases have suffered greatly for their activism. In Watts’ introduction, and in a powerful essay by Sri Lankan scholar Nalin Swaris, we find a close investigation of the Buddha’s early teachings on karma and also of the context in which he lived. In his time, the Buddha made a practical, logi- cal, and, for the most part, equitable case against the dominant Brahmanic powers. He relied on clarity and direct experience, never on principles of righteousness or domination. The Buddha’s teachings on karma and rebirth arise within his brilliant discov- ery of dependent origination—paticcasamuppada. Karma is, essentially, volitional action, including thoughts, words, and deeds. There are other forms of causation that manifest in the world, but karma is “preceded by mind.” So it is something we can work with and do something about. It is a field of practice. Hozan alan SenaUke is vice-abbot of the Berkeley zen Center and former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. He is a founder of the Clear view Project and Think Sangha. We’re all in iT TogeTher rethinkinG karMa: the dharma of social Justice edited by Jonathan s. Watts silkworm Books, 2009; distributed by university of Washington, 2010 272 pages; $24.95 (paperback) reviewed by alan senauke