Understanding Karma and the Universe

Sumitta,

As someone who studies Buddhism, the way I understand KARMA it excludes random and chance events, this reality(realm) is exactly as the Buddha described it to be.

Dear Dhamma Follower,

Upajjhatthana Sutta–“Kammassakomhi kammadāyādo kammayoni kammabandhū kammapaṭisaraṇo yaṃ kammaṃ karissāmi kalyāṇaṃ vā pāpakaṃ vā tassa dāyādo bhavissāmī”

[Translated: I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir]

From this simple understanding we would conclude that all things that happened are the result of our own khamma. However, there are many areas in the world that are NOT created by our khamma. There are other forces at play.

Many scholars in the commentaries of the Abhidamma conclude from the suttas that Khamma only creates “tendencies and conditions rather than consequences.”

The logical fallacy is that since all volitional action and volitional reception creates khamma, and khamma creates the conditions of our present and future…that all events must be the result of khamma. It is like saying “since a square is a rectangle by definition, then all rectangles must be squares.”

We are like helmsmen on a small ship at sea. Our mindfulness and skillfulness set our direction and make the decisions of how we run our ship, but there is entire ocean that is also working independently of us. We neither understand what happens below the surface nor the invisible forces of the winds around us. We may navigate to safer waters, we may make wise decisions to create better sailing conditions– but we heirs of our decisions in how and where we sail, but we are not the creators of all “events” that happen around us– just the tendencies that those events will occur.

We have only to ask the questions, “If Khamma is the result of volitional action– then if there was total extinction of Buddhist accepted conscious/aware life, would there still be action? Do the stars in other galaxies burn out? Would tornados no longer exist? If the mechanisms of the universe are dependent on consciousness to turn the gears– what happens if the consciousness leaves?” The erroneous answer is that believing that karma is the ultimate creator of all effect, then karma is the ultimate cause of everything. This would be no different than a Christian giving created to all action to God.

Even in Christianity, this concept is no accurate. If you read Kings Chapter 19: 12-13

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. God’s voice was in the whisper”

The universe has so much more going on in it than just khamma. Just as Christians should understand that not everything is “God’s Touch”, not everything is a Khammic punishment or reward. Such a fatalistic doctrine of Karma being the cause of all things is not the Buddhist law of Karma. According to Buddhism, there are five orders or processes (niyama) which operate in the physical and mental realms.

They are:

Utu Niyama – physical inorganic order, e.g. seasonal phenomena of winds and rains.
Bija Niyama – order of germs and seeds (physical organic order),
Khamma Niyama – order of act and result,
Dhamma Niyama – order of the qualities that are indivisible and true.
Citta Niyama – order or mind or processes of consciousness.

Khamma is only one process of the universe. Grass will grow, the seasons will pass, dhamma qualities will remain true– regardless of your actions. You may make a volitional action of going to Oklahoma in tornado season, but that only creates the condition to the tendency of you being caught in a tornado– it doesn’t make a tornado cross exist and cross your path.

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Categories: Buddha, Dharma, Ethics, Kharma, Mahayana, Meditation, Philosophy, Theravada, Tibet, Virajana

Author:Sumitta

Joshua Hudson is a license clinical social worker with post graduate certificates in mental health. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, he has worked as an healthcare advocate for the Department of Veteran Affairs, Director of Psychological Health for the Air Force, in-patient counselor for inpatient adolescents, child and family therapist; and currently is a Prevention Interventionist for the Air Force creating programs to reduce interpersonal and self-directed violence (e.g. Sexual assault, suicide, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, etc.) in the military Joshua spent twenty years in the Navy as a combat photojournalist and public affairs officers. He was a senior account executive for a marketing company and managing editor for various national publications. He continues to write on myriad issues from engaged living and resiliency to spirituality and meaning making. He is also an organized minister by the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center and International Order of Buddhist Ministers. Currently, he lives in Bury St. Edmunds in the United Kingdom with his daughter; but still keeps residence in Pittsburgh.

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3 Comments on “Understanding Karma and the Universe”

  1. August 24, 2010 at 7:35 am #

    Thankyou I really enjoyed your post, you made a difficult topic easier to understand.

  2. dave
    December 14, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    you are misrepresenting the law of KARMA. karma and chance can not exist in the same universe as they are mutually exclusive. you are heirs to your karma, and heirs of what you experience-period. Do you think you are a random victim of the dreams you have at night although the events seem to take you by surprise? karma is all encompassing and creates the reality experienced in all its flavors just like the Buddha explained.
    If you believe a random tsunami can kill off someone despite their karma then you do not believe in the Buddha’s universal law of cause and effect. A random asteroid is not going to kill a Buddha as that would make the law of karma a lie. you have to chose, you wither believe in karma OR you believe that chance and Gods control your fate. karma and chance are mutually exclusive and can not inhabit the same reality.
    ‎”What is the cause, what is the reason, O Lord,” questioned he, “that we find amongst mankind the short-lived and long-lived, the healthy and the diseased, the ugly and beautiful, those lacking influence and the powerful, the poor and the …rich, the low-born and the high-born, and the ignorant and the wise?”
    “All living beings have actions (Karma) as their own, their inheritance, their congenital cause, their kinsman, their refuge. It is Karma that differentiates beings into low and high states.”

    • December 14, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

      Dave,

      I understand your understanding of Khamma. I do not agree with it, and I do not believe that the Pali Canon supports your view. The properties layed out by the Buddha of the niyama’s and the fact that khamma is created by volitional action/intent indicate that we are all not just reactions to actions. The law of khamma is to speak of the mind’s development. It is a law of spiritual practice. To believe in the chains of khamma to ALL actions is to be almost fatalistic.

      Your strict mechanical view of the world would be that every Tsunami victim, Haiti earth quake victim, and victims of Katrina were not victims but just reaping the rewards of their past deeds– they “had it coming” in your view of spiritual physics. However, the Buddha also speaks of other factors for the arising and passing of phenomena beyond khamma. These factors (like nature) are also to be considered, and not to be attributed to personal khamma.

      There was a monk who had become arahant. He was also blind. One day the novice monks saw him walking and stepping on ants. “Would he not incur bad khamma?” they asked the Buddha. And the Buddha replied, “No. His actions are pure of intent and therefore will incur no further khamma.”

      Thank you for sharing. I know that some traditions and teachers preach differently, and I respect your belief. However, my education (from my teachers, Pali Canon and Abhidhamma) and practice have provided me a different insight. Khamma only creates the possibility of condition– it is the potential influence of which stage we will be playing out our life on.

      The concept of khamma in Hinduism is much more like your opinion. We can collect good khamma like a bank and ensure good things will happen. We can spend our khamma and risk misfortune. In Hinduism, all occurances are direct results of khamma. If you are robbed and shot, it was because you were bad to your mother as a child. If you win the lotto it was because you volunteer at a shelter. This is NOT the khamma of my education.

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