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 Post subject: Mechanism of retribution
PostPosted: Sun Jan 06, 2013 9:34 pm 
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Hello,

I have a problem with understanding some aspects of link between karma and karma-phala especially as taught in the Mahayana.

Can anyone explain how is it exactly that my past deeds are able to cause external events to become their fruit. In is common to hear teachers talk that if I experience something bad from another being - let's say a dog bites me - I was somehow karmically indebted to this being and I am just reaping what I sow. Then, I suppose that other fortune and misfortune that I may experience because of events that are totally outside of my field of control can be a result of my past karma.

I looked for answers in the scriptures. The Nikayas seem to support the view that not everything that I experience is the result of karma. It seems to me that the result of past karma is mostly the sanskaras and the realm of birth. In other words, the Nikayas do not seem to support the idea that if a bird defecated on my head it's my fault. The kammaphala in this situation would be the mental dharmas that appear because of sanskaras.

I've read Ven. Huifeng's thought here and in the old e-sangha that later systems tended to include everything in their karma theory.

I went through Abhidharmakośabhaśyam and Karmasiddhiprakarana and those writings didn't really say that. There is one passage in the Kośa where a question is posed: "is the result of karma only sensation?" The answer is: not only the sensation, but also the organ. Still, it doesn't answer the question how I caused the bird to defecate on my head.

Can anybody point me to a scripture where this aspect of karma-phala is explained? In the stuff that I read the fruit of karma are sensations, sanskaras, some aspects of my current physical and form, many things related to the actor. The common mahayanist understanding seems to include more stuff: China occupying Tibet because of Tibet's past warfare, natural events such as earthquakes, random events that are pleasant or unpleasent for the person experiencing them. I think it was Ven. Shengyan who wrote that the fruit is not only the sensation but also the link of events that lead to it. Many events that lead to a sensation such as being defecated on by a bird, being rained on or being invaded by another country depend on other beings volitions, or to put it bluntly, free will. I don't get it.

Can someone explain it to me?


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 06, 2013 9:56 pm 
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I've been reading some HHDL books and he mentioned something relevant. There is a principle that; causes tend to have related effects. Sunflower seeds cause sunflowers. Anger breeds anger. And so on. So that illuminates the mechanism a bit. Retribution does not enter into it at all. There is no judge acting.

I think he also spoke about there being different kinds of karma, some of which are purely mechanistic, like gravity. The bird could be one of those kinds.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 07, 2013 5:46 am 
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For me, the largest part of this is "internal" - one person may hate being rained on while another may accept it with good grace, another may have an umbrella and waterproof clothing while another may not - so one's own reaction to events plays a large part of this.

Someone may be born with no legs and yet they are unaffected by this, while another may see themselves as an unfortunate victim and indulge their self-pity. So it's not just about external events, but also about what meaning we give to them - nothing is inherently good or bad outside of our mental labelling.

If you fear being bitten by a dog then you react with fear and run away - the dog chases you and bites you. If you realise the dog is just feeding off your fear then you may be able to change your reaction. If you just indulge your fear then you will reproduce that and react the same way every time - which encourages the dog to chase you and bite you.

Another aspect to willing is in regard to the past - if you assume that everything was willed by you - including things apparently out of your control, such as the circumstances of your birth, then you put yourself in a position of control.

For me, this is the essence of the idea of karma - that one is fully in control and no one or nothing else is to blame. (there is almost a Freudian aspect of this which is like - maybe you didn;t realise you willed it - maybe it was "unconscious desire" (whatever that may mean) but right now, you have little choice in the matter - either you accept or you fight it - and the paradox is that by accepting you take control, while trying to fight puts you in the position of being at the whim of "fate".

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 07, 2013 11:28 am 
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@catmoon
I used the word retribution because it seems accepted among some scholars. Sure, there is no judge acting and what you wrote is true.

@futerko
Of course, the largest part is internal and the emphasis in the teachings is put on the internal aspect. But there is also another 'field' of the work of karma where karma is a cause for the events to happen and these events cause a sensation that is the fruit. And for this, I can't even think of a model of how it should work.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 07, 2013 11:42 am 
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bulhaeng wrote:
@catmoon
I used the word retribution because it seems accepted among some scholars. Sure, there is no judge acting and what you wrote is true.

@futerko
Of course, the largest part is internal and the emphasis in the teachings is put on the internal aspect. But there is also another 'field' of the work of karma where karma is a cause for the events to happen and these events cause a sensation that is the fruit. And for this, I can't even think of a model of how it should work.


I was thinking about that myself. Say for example there are two people who's cars both get scratched and also their flowers in their gardens get trampled. If one person is attached to his car but not his flowers - the other is attached to his flowers but not his car... There's a kind of self-selection at work there. So "bad" things may well happen that we don't even notice because we have no real investment in them, so no real fruit there.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 07, 2013 2:39 pm 
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I think that what you wrote falls under the category of the fruit of karma being modified by other karma.

I try to find the answer whether any of these people's past actions could cause a chain of events that lead to what happened with cars and flowers.

I am starting to suspect that it might be a folk or traditional belief.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 07, 2013 3:13 pm 
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bulhaeng wrote:
I think that what you wrote falls under the category of the fruit of karma being modified by other karma.

I try to find the answer whether any of these people's past actions could cause a chain of events that lead to what happened with cars and flowers.

I am starting to suspect that it might be a folk or traditional belief.


The very nature of impermanence means that all composite things will fall apart eventually - it's just a question of time. So it's only the idea of destiny that makes it seem like it has some kind of external meaning, when really it is inevitable, and the only thing bringing the idea of meaning is the one that feels its impact.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 07, 2013 3:33 pm 
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I apologize, you have asked for references from sutras.
I can't provide any right now, but I will share my limited understanding.

You used a phrase, "...the result of karma..."
Conceptually, this may be throwing you off.
What happens to a person isn't as much the result of karma, it is karma.
In other words, karma isn't meting out rewards and punishments.

Karma is the dynamic experience of the interdependence of all things.

So, there isn't really any 'retribution' to speak of.
If we assume that there is a "me" and that stuff is happening to "me"
and then try to understand how karma works this way, it won't really make any more sense
than to say it's the way things occur in a dream
where, in a dream, you imagine that it is really you, so whatever happens to you thus seems real.
So, because we imagine this 'real' me, we do things which perpetuate this.
And this perpetuity has been going on for a long time,
even before the body you have today existed.

If we begin with the premise that there is no actual "me",
but merely that what we experience as "my karma" is just the coming together of uncountable events,
resulting in, for example, the temporary existence of a human body,
it's the same with the bird who poops on your shoulder. That bird is a "coming together of events" as well.

So, the situation isn't really that you cause the bird to do that
but more that the two of you share the causes of this event taking place.

The way that karma flows from one lifetime to another is not because of any continuous "me"
that has unpaid karmic bills to pay.
Think of the whole sum of everything that you "are" as a big sack of rice being carried up a steep ramp.
--meaning uncountable component parts are heaped together.
When you die, its like the seam holding that bag breaking,
and all the rice pours out and rolls down the ramp,
where it gathers again as another heap, and scooped up into another bag.
Even though it is not the same single bag of rice it was before
it retains many of the same characteristics.
if it was short-grain brown rice at the top of the ramp in the old bag, it is going to be short grain brown rice at the bottom of the ramp in the new bag.

A mistake that people make is attaching arbitrary value judgements to the effects they experience.
For example, buddhists in some countries might say.
"because of my bad karma, I was born as a female"
I asked my teacher about this sort of thing.
What he told me that what one experiences as karma is one's mental attitude about the things that happen
and not the events themselves.
The events are empty of any intrinsic reality.

This is why it is written for example, that if you are greedy in a past life
you will be born into a life of poverty in this life.
People think that means if you were greedy before, you won't have any wealth this time.
But has nothing to do with how much wealth you have.
The point is, if you were greedy in your last life,
even if you are born into a very wealthy family in this life
you will always feel as though you never have enough!
That is because greed is the 'karmic seed' previously planted.
By contrast, many people have very little material wealth
but are quite satisfied, and very generous. They are in fact very rich.

My teacher also said that the conflict between China and Tibet
started before either China or Tibet ever existed.
That is how far back the "chain of karma" goes.

If you experience something like a dog biting you,
it must have causes. But those causes are not intrinsically positive or negative.
Suppose you are driving to the airport to catch a plane
and you get stuck in traffic and you miss your flight.
Your first thought might be "oh what bad karma!"
But then, you find out later that the jet crashed.
So now you have to change that to "oh what good karma!"
but then you find out it crashed into your house, where your family was.
So now you have to change that back to "oh what bad karma!"
But then you find out that everybody in your family had gone out to the mall just a few minutes earlier
So now you have to change that to "oh what good karma!"
...and on and on.
So, we can't actually look at the appearances of events and determine "good karma' or "bad karma".

How you caused "external" things to happen to you
is a very generalized way of expressing timeless interdependence
perpetually experienced as events happening to a continuous "me".
The more you let go of clinging to the experience of "me"
the less karma is produced.
However, you can also create circumstances unknowingly, such as accidentally killing something
Like stepping on a bug.
Even though these kinds of events do not leave a strong imprint on the mind, they will also produce effects later on
But they have more to do with things like the duration of the experience of other effects.

For example, if, because of good motivation you do good things and experience a favorable rebirth,
because of accidentally stepping on bugs, that experience will be shorter.
This has nothing to do with "right or wrong"
but merely the ordinary effect.
It's like if you mindlessly forget to put your car keys where they belong,
when you go to find them later, you will spend an hour looking for them.
.
.
.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 14, 2013 1:23 pm 
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bulhaeng wrote:
Hello,

I question how I caused the bird to defecate on my head.

Can anybody point me to a scripture where this aspect of karma-phala is explained? In the stuff that I read the fruit of karma are sensations, sanskaras, some aspects of my current physical and form, many things related to the actor.
The common mahayanist understanding seems to include more stuff: China occupying Tibet because of Tibet's past warfare, natural events such as earthquakes, random events that are pleasant or unpleasent for the person experiencing them. I think it was Ven. Shengyan who wrote that the fruit is not only the sensation but also the link of events that lead to it. Many events that lead to a sensation such as being defecated on by a bird, being rained on or being invaded by another country depend on other beings volitions, or to put it bluntly, free will. I don't get it.


In the teachings of the 12 Nidanas it is explained that the second link of samskaras is active karma, or producing karma, not fruit of karma. The fruit of karma are the following links: rebirth taking consciousness, name and form etc...
A Mahayana sutra about Dependent Origination is Sutra of the Seedling of Rice or Salistamba sutra. It has been explained and taught in Europe in the past, and there exist commentaries to it.
The Mula Madhyamaka Karika of Nagarjuna denies the absolutism of karma in many ways, he says there for example that if everything were dependent on the past it would be in the past!
Twelve links describe the subjective side of events. If a bird defecates on your head, how you react to it is a karma producing volition. A bird has its own volitions and its own links. Twelve links don't deny the existence of other beings!

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