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Buddhadharma : Spri 2007
spring 2007| 50 |buddhadharma robiN korNmaN: That’s right. Cause and effect creates the equivalent of what Westerners would call responsibility. Only Buddhists don’t operate ethi- cally in terms of responsibility the way Westerners do, in my view. NormaN fisher: Each of us, given our tradition and personalities and the students we encounter, will emphasize different points with respect to karma. Here’s how I often put it. Because of our inten- tions and actions of the past, we find ourselves in a given situation in every moment. A great deal of that is due to our personal deeds and thoughts in this lifetime. Some of it is due to a given condition that predates this life. For example, I didn’t create myself. In any moment, then, I’ve got a determined situation in which I am fully responsible to act. From one point of view, you could say there’s some determinism in karma and also some respon- sibility. Buddhism points to that place of responsi- bility. We cultivate the past so that we can be clear and responsible in our actions going forward. The slogan I often use with people is, “The situation you’re in is not your fault, but it’s absolutely your responsibility to take care of it going forward.” And then they ask, “What do you mean it’s not my fault? If I did actions in the past that led me to this place, how can you say it’s not my fault?” I respond that the person who did those things in able, determined pattern. Karma preconditions our present experience, but what we do with that is entirely based on the choices we make – and the degree of wisdom or good-heartedness, or greed, hatred, and delusion, we bring to our experience in the present moment. robiN korNmaN: Yes, karma has nothing to do with fate, predestination, providence, or destiny. In the West, there’s a tendency to hold to a religious belief of one’s destiny. Karma has nothing at all to do with that kind of thinking. Quite the contrary, karma means that the world could be operating in a terribly impersonal way, not in a way that gives your life meaning through destiny. I’ve been comparing notes with an Hasidic Jew lately, and I keep insisting that karma is the reason we have an ethical system in Buddhism. If you didn’t have a teaching on karma, you wouldn’t be a Buddhist, no matter how much you believed in the Buddha otherwise, because without karma we would become nihilists ethically. Karma is what tells us what’s good and bad; nothing is inherently good or inherently bad, but some things lead natu- rally to states of suffering and some things lead naturally away from suffering, and that’s how you define good or bad karma. buddhadharma: So there’s no ledger anywhere, so to speak, only cause and effect. courtesyofJackshainmanGallery,nyc The Buddha said that if you tried to figure out the workings of karma intellectually, your head would explode. The thinking mind doesn’t have enough dimensions to encompass the reality of it. — Ajahn Amaro Windmaker, 1997