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Buddhadharma : Fall 2010
77 fall 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Reviews But according to the Buddha, our understanding of karma and its fruits is often distorted and confounding. We are confused about the suffering we see around us, why bad things happen to good people, and why good things hap- pen to bad people. In an early sutra, the Buddha listed the results of karma as imponderables, saying, “Whoever speculates about these things would go mad and experience vexation.” We may not untangle the results of karma, but Watts and Swaris, build- ing on a prologue by the late Venerable Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, argue that if the so-called self is co-created or co-condi- tioned by other beings and by non-self dharmas, then there is no such thing as “my” karma. Watts and Swaris argue that karma is a collective and social manifestation, just as our individual “self” is constructed within society and relationship. The idea of “collective karma” does not relieve individuals of responsibil- ity for their actions. But if a Buddhist understanding of karma allows for the transformation of individuals, collective karma therefore allows for the transfor- mation of society, which implies a role for social action. In addition to emphasizing the role of collective karma, Rethinking Karma looks at how the principle of karma has been misused, re-Brahmanized, and applied to validate systems of social and political oppression, and the challenges this presents. Looking at the entangle- ment of karma and power, Mangesh Dahiwale, a leader of India’s Jambud- vipa Trust, which trains young Dalit Buddhists, ex-untouchables, writes of the vital movement begun by Dr. Ambed- kar in the twentieth century, and the present-day struggle against entrenched Brahmanic values that twist karma into a rigid principle of caste duty. Scholar–activists Phra Paisal and Santikaro describe the commodification of dana in Thai Buddhism, which has transformed merit-making into acquisi- tiveness, as laypeople offer donations in the hopes of attaining a fortunate rebirth. Here dana echoes the function of Brahmanic sacrifices against which the Buddha took an unequivocal stand. Thai feminist educator and practi- tioner Ouyporn Khuankaew investi- gates how distorted understandings of karma have been used to justify family violence. Recalling her own childhood she says, “When my father was violent, my desperate mother, unable to protect her children, would cry out loud and keep saying, ‘What kind of karma have I done? When will this karma end?’” Thai women who approach Buddhist monks for help and spiritual guidance are typi- cally advised to “be patient and accumu- late more merit,” and told their problems are the result of bad karma from a pre- vious life. Khuankaew describes the workshop she has developed, structured around the four noble truths, which is designed to help participants deconstruct mistaken notions of karma and see the true root of gender inequality. Similarly, Burmese activist Khuensai Jaiyen rejects what he calls the “karmic fatalism” of organized Buddhism, as pro- moted by the Burmese state, in his essay “Liberation as Struggle.” According to karmic fatalism, he writes, “People expe- rience bad fortune, suffering, and death directly as a result of bad karmic deeds of the past.” In his discussion of the Burmese military regime’s treatment of the people of Shan State, Jaiyen explains how this oversimplified view of karma has been used to legitimize structural oppression, as well as “outright direct violence.” This collection of essays is full of pro- vocative thinking and writing and offers us voices that we don’t often hear in the West—those of Asian grassroots activists firmly grounded in their own practice and culture. We are fortunate to have this opportunity to listen to them and learn. Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Abbot Joy Jimon Hintz, Dharma Holder ✦ Sunday Introductory Program ✦ Daily Meditation Schedule ✦ Meditation Intensives and Retreats ✦ Residential Training Program ✦ Zen Teacher and Monastic Staff in Residence ✦ Lay-Training Center near Downtown Brooklyn To find out more about ZCNYC call (718) 875-8229 or visit our award-winning website www.mro.org/firelotus • zcnyc @ mro.org ZEN CENTER OF NYC Fire Lotus Temple