Martine & Stephen


Recently a person new to Buddhism told me that she liked meditation but did not find Buddhists very compassionate.  I asked her why.  She told me that she had been very ill and the people in her Buddhist group told her that it was her karma.  She did not find that remark very comforting.

Karma as a word has become quite popular and is often equated with fatality as in “too bad, it’s your karma!’  This attitude can lead to the popular notion that it is people’s faults “in their past lives” for what they are enduring now, and that little can be done about it, apart from behaving better and waiting for the next life to come around!  But the Buddha did not see karma as a fatality, nor did he see it in an exclusive manner. Moreover he did not think that rebirth was a good idea.  His aim was to get out of rebirth! 

Karma means ‘action’, it is a means to look closely at causality and conditionality.  As it is stated in a sutra:  “whatever arises, ceases” or  “When this is, that arises”.  Once someone stated in front of the Buddha that everything one experienced was due to karmic consequences.  The Buddha replied that it was not so, this was stretching karmic consequences too far.  He then went on to state that they were eight reasons for people to experience something:  phlegm disorders, bile disorders, wind disorders, all previous three together, seasonal change, improper care, exertion, and ‘ripening of former actions’ (i.e. karma).

Reflections on causality and conditionality can help us to look at how things arise, how we respond to them and how we become habituated to certain behaviours, and how to free ourselves from negative and destructive patterns.  We have to be careful not to use the idea of karma as a way to justify indifference or harsh judgements.

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