Isn't Karma extrapolation?

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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby asunthatneversets » Thu Nov 07, 2013 3:49 am

Alfredo wrote:Karma is just another pan-Indic supernatural belief for which no good evidence exists. ("Like comes from like" is quite vague, and unfortunately representative of the quality of Buddhist argument in favor of an afterlife.) It is only an "inference" in the sense that "fairies make the flowers grow" is an inference.

You don't seem to understand what karma is.
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby smcj » Thu Nov 07, 2013 7:26 am

asunthatneversets wrote:Your karma is simply your habitual tendencies and propensities which cause a dualistic interaction with experience to arise.

Habitual tendencies is a facet of karma. In the traditional texts it is called, "the consequence which reflects the germ of the act". (Sorry guys, you've got to have a living lama to explain that in detail. I've never seen it in a text.) Obviously one can have a direct experience of one's own habits without having to rely on any kind of belief system.

In the negative habits can lead to things as bad as addiction. Anyone struggling with their own bad habits can be said to be battling their own bad karma. In the positive the same aspect of mind can learn something complicated like a musical instrument, which is a layered and cumulative accomplishment. You don't just have a habit, you get better at it. One could say a musician, by putting effort into learning and practicing his instrument, has 'created the karma to play music'. Other educational accomplishments also utilize the same thing.

So doubters can start with an understanding like that. But really the whole theory does break down if you don't allow for reincarnation.
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby futerko » Thu Nov 07, 2013 2:49 pm

smcj wrote:But really the whole theory does break down if you don't allow for reincarnation.


Without reincarnation there is no causality?
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Thu Nov 07, 2013 3:00 pm

smcj wrote: But really the whole theory does break down if you don't allow for reincarnation.


It is important in this discussion to distinguish between 'reincarnation", which refers to some kind of permanent essence, specifically a single entity of being that leaves one body and becomes another, and 'rebirth' which happens precisely because there is no such permanent being. It might seem like a minor distinction, but it is pivotal to understanding karma in the Buddhist context.

We are fortunate to live at a time when a perfect model for karma exists: the content on the page of the computer screen you are looking at.

For example, suppose you have an image, a .jpg file of a cat. It appears as a single thing, a cat. But in fact, the image is made of thousands or even millions of pixels which in turn are produced by the replication of binary code that leaves (copies) from one computer and travels to another over the internet ( To be precise, the code only exists in the mind. It is an electronic signal which travels).

There is, in fact no single image of a cat that goes from computer to computer. You look closely, it is just a lot of pixels. And if you change that binary code slightly, that image will also change. If I upload an image to the internet, send it to you, and then completely destroy my computer, the causes of that image to reoccur on another computer are still there. If the conditions are right, meaning that if that binary code can 'take root" (be downloaded) onto another computer, that image will once again appear. This is an analogy to how the Buddhist principle of rebirth occurs. If there is some alteration in the code, the image may be distorted. If it appears on another computer, the user can engage in activities to alter that image (Photoshop). Likewise, you can change the results of your actions by changing your actions.

The roadblock to understanding how the conditions for rebirth occur once the physical body ceases cell replication (when we 'die') comes from the common and popular belief that the material and chemicals in the physical brain alone produce the "person" who then ends up using that brain (the brain produces the mind). From this belief, then quite logically, a brain that ceases to function, ceases to produce its own user, cannot produce a user elsewhere. But this again relies on the idea of a permanent self (or to use our previous analogy, of an actual picture of a cat) that has been generated in the first place, which cannot then replicate. but that is not what Buddhism teaches.

Buddhism does not teach that a self has been generated in the first place. In fact, quite the opposite. No actual self has been generated in the first place, but we mistakenly believe that it has. This mistaken belief ("wrong view") is what leads to attachment and suffering. Instead, a composite of uncountable causes (like seemingly endless binary code) arise "situationally", and it is awareness that experiences this composite as a self. Awareness in this context does not mean personal awareness generated by the senses, but rather a pervading context, like three-dimensional space, in which conditions arise. Rebirth is the experience of reoccurring conditions in the context of awareness. Karma is the tendency for reoccurring conditions to resemble their previous causes. The experience of that karma is the arising of mind.
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby dude » Thu Nov 07, 2013 3:40 pm

"Thought gives rise to action, repeated action hardens into character, and character becomes destiny."
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby Alfredo » Fri Nov 08, 2013 12:30 am

I don't say that we can prove karma to be false, or that nifty metaphors cannot be found for it, or that it is not crucial to Buddhist soteriology. I just doubt that there is any persuasive reason to believe that human ethics are hard-wired into the universe, so to speak.

Take the assumption that killing is wrong. Obviously humans have evolved to engage in it (whether we are speaking of other animals, or each other), at least under some circumstances, but also to be repelled by it, at least under some circumstances. If amoebas had a religion, it would be unable to conceive of such a rule. On the other hand, amoeba religion might ascribe great significance to dividing, even to the point of imagining that the universe itself shares these values. Watch / read Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead for sci-fi examples of alien species for whom "killing" has an entirely different ethical significance.

Meanwhile, some Christians believe that God disapproves of human masturbation. How is karma any less of a projection? This means that Buddhism is based on irrational beliefs (in the sense that they are unsupported by good reasons or evidence, not contrary to them).
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby futerko » Fri Nov 08, 2013 12:59 am

Alfredo wrote:I just doubt that there is any persuasive reason to believe that human ethics are hard-wired into the universe, so to speak.


An ethic is a voluntary personal code of conduct as opposed to a universalised normative rule. Of course it is not "hard-wired" into the universe.
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby Alfredo » Fri Nov 08, 2013 1:07 am

The oath you swear may be voluntary, but whether the universe rewards or punishes you for particular classes of action is supposed to be hard-wired.
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby asunthatneversets » Fri Nov 08, 2013 1:34 am

Alfredo wrote:The oath you swear may be voluntary, but whether the universe rewards or punishes you for particular classes of action is supposed to be hard-wired.

It is common to see karma as a form of universal retribution, and I think this is where your question of ethics etc., is coming from. Karma isn't necessarily that though, it's true application is in our moment to moment interaction with the unfolding of experience. The engrained habits which force us to relate to ourselves and the world in a certain way, and the positing of a self and world in general.
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Fri Nov 08, 2013 2:05 am

Alfredo wrote: I just doubt that there is any persuasive reason to believe that human ethics are hard-wired into the universe, so to speak. .... This means that Buddhism is based on irrational beliefs (in the sense that they are unsupported by good reasons or evidence, not contrary to them).


This idea that human concepts of good and bad are objective standards established by the cosmos or whatever is some new-age concoction and has nothing to do whatsoever with the Buddhist understanding of karma.
You're right...it is irrational.
and, that interpretation of what karma is has nothing to do with Buddhism.
"the universe" doesn't give a damn about what you do.
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby jeeprs » Fri Nov 08, 2013 2:34 am

Look at neuroplasticity. It has been demonstrated that the way you think actually changes your neural configuration. There was a great experiment some years ago which demonstrated that in graphic terms. The aim was to measure whether the changes involved in learning a new motor skill could be seen in fMRI scans of the brain. Subjects were divided into three groups and taught some basic piano drills - simple scales and the like. Then Group A were sent away and given pianos to practice on. Group B were sent away and told to do exactly the same practice, but only in their minds - i.e. no actual pianos. And Group C were told to do nothing. This went for a period of six weeks with around one hour's practice daily.

At the end of the period, when the scans were done, it turned out that the measurable brain changes in Groups A and B were nearly identical, despite group B not having an actual piano.

So the old saw, 'you become what you think', is not folklore. There are of course countless more subtle ways this is happening in your mind, brain and body from moment to moment. 'Neural pathways' are nothing other than samskara, which in turn are nothing other than the habitual tendencies along which actions tend to flow anywhere in organic nature generally. The same reactive conditions underlie everything. I think there is a tendency to psychologize the understanding of dependent origination, like it is something that happens 'in the mind', but seen this way it precedes the mind.

The Western model which really allows for that kind of understanding is Rupert Sheldrake's 'moprhic fields'.

The problem with the Western mindset is that it believes the only 'natural laws' are those of physics. Within that picture, there is no way to account for intentionality - but that is only because the picture is deficient. That is the real, and dangerous, superstition in today's world.
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby smcj » Fri Nov 08, 2013 7:45 am

It is important in this discussion to distinguish between 'reincarnation", which refers to some kind of permanent essence, specifically a single entity of being that leaves one body and becomes another, and 'rebirth' which happens precisely because there is no such permanent being.

There is no immutable essence that goes from day to day either, being interrupted by sleep. It's just that the metamorphosis is much more gradual than between lives, so we believe that our identity is the basis for our existence. Between lives the metamorphosis has no limits. That is different than saying that there is not continuity.

Sense of self is mutable. People that have taken psychedelics have had their sense of self change on a fundamental level, yet there is no break in continuity. Upon sober reflection this experience proves 1. Sense of self is not stable, reliable, or the immutable essence of our being, and 2. There is continuity regardless of how much sense of self is altered. And yes, if you extrapolate it out and see it that way, this understanding reconciles the objection people have with the compatibility of no-self with reincarnation.

I feel the need to add the disclaimer that I do not suggest, endorse, or recommend that anybody take psychedelics or any other intoxicating substances.
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby Alfredo » Fri Nov 08, 2013 8:05 am

The basic conceit behind karma is not merely that causality exists, but that it has an ethical dimension. That is, (morally) "good" actions must have "good" results, while "bad" actions...you get the idea. This is held out as evidence of reincarnation, since otherwise the wicked might prosper, people might suffer unjustly, etc. I see all this as something like a category mistake.

As for "you create your own reality," well, if Buddhist karma were true, then it would be possible to interpret the world as something which originates in the mind of each perceiver (though often in a previous life--i.e., ethical / religious decisions --> karma --> phenomenal world). On the other hand, I understand that some Buddhist thinkers accept that not everything that happens to us is necessarily caused by karma--it might be just an accident. Or to look at it another way, if our perceptions of the world were pre-determined, then there would be no way for a Buddha to preach to us, unless we had already accumulated sufficient merit to hear / perceive him.
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby smcj » Fri Nov 08, 2013 8:10 am

The basic conceit behind karma is not merely that causality exists, but that it has an ethical dimension. That is, (morally) "good" actions must have "good" results, while "bad" actions...you get the idea. This is held out as evidence of reincarnation, since otherwise the wicked might prosper, people might suffer unjustly, etc. I see all this as something like a category mistake.

Ok, you don't buy it. That's ok, you don't have to.

Or to look at it another way, if our perceptions of the world were pre-determined, then there would be no way for a Buddha to preach to us, unless we had already accumulated sufficient merit to hear / perceive him.

That sounds like the classical position to me.
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby Paul » Fri Nov 08, 2013 8:24 am

Alfredo wrote:The basic conceit behind karma is not merely that causality exists, but that it has an ethical dimension. That is, (morally) "good" actions must have "good" results, while "bad" actions...you get the idea.


Personally I think that karma and reincarnation are probably real, although I do think that the logical arguments for them are not very well developed. It might be worth considering that there's no real reason that they should be able to be logically proved to be real and might be more like an empirical result arrived at via the Buddha's wisdom. Karma is of course meant to be even harder to have direct insight into than emptiness, which is saying something.
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby jeeprs » Fri Nov 08, 2013 10:02 am

alfredo wrote:The basic conceit behind karma is not merely that causality exists, but that it has an ethical dimension.


Why are you wasting your time with Buddhism, if you don't mind me asking?
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Nov 08, 2013 10:15 am

dude wrote:"Thought gives rise to action, repeated action hardens into character, and character becomes destiny."
Source please.
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Nov 08, 2013 10:30 am

Alfredo wrote:Watch / read Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead for sci-fi examples of alien species for whom "killing" has an entirely different ethical significance.
You are comparing Buddhas teachings on karma to a sci-fi novel?
The basic conceit behind karma is not merely that causality exists, but that it has an ethical dimension.
Karma (action) does have a relative ethical dimension. That is where motivation plays a crucial role. But it ends there. This statement:
...but whether the universe rewards or punishes you for particular classes of action is supposed to be hard-wired.
Is just plain wrong. The effect (vipakka) that follows the action/cause (karma) has nothing to do with ethics. Under most circumstances when you drop an object (regardless of your motivation for dropping it) it falls, right? Is the fact that it falls based on reward and punishment? On ethical factors? Ad nauseum... In the same way an action you execute (regardless of your motivation) will have a certain outcome. Your motivation may influence the outcome to a certain extent, but...

The bottom line is that samsaric existence is suffering. This too is neither a reward nor a punishment. That is just the way samsara is (until we change our relationship to it ie become enlightened).
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby Alfredo » Fri Nov 08, 2013 12:35 pm

smcj wrote:
Ok, you don't buy it. That's ok, you don't have to.


Thanks. Some writers think I do have to, though--that karma can be demonstrated logically. I understand that this is the position of Dharmakirti, for example.

Sherab Dorje wrote:
You are comparing Buddhas teachings on karma to a sci-fi novel?


I'm not saying the books are true! I just use them as examples to illustrate how the concept of "killing" is not as universal as it sounds.

The effect (vipakka) that follows the action/cause (karma) has nothing to do with ethics. Under most circumstances when you drop an object (regardless of your motivation for dropping it) it falls, right?


I thought the idea behind karma was that if I kill, I will be killed; if I steal, I will suffer theft, etc. Nobody ever thinks that it means that if I paint, I will be painted. It is only the ethically-salient actions (or, decisions) that are included. As for gravity, it is demonstrable. You can't compare a metaphysical / supernatural claim to a scientific law.

Source please. [For "Thought gives rise to action, repeated action hardens into character, and character becomes destiny.] "


It seems to have been an ancient Greek proverb. The last phrase is from Heraclitus. (Ignore online sources attributing it to Laozi.)

jeeprs wrote:
Why are you wasting your time with Buddhism, if you don't mind me asking?


Just because it can't definitively solve the secrets of the universe doesn't make it worthless.
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Re: Isn't Karma extrapolation?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Nov 08, 2013 12:47 pm

Alfredo wrote:I'm not saying the books are true! I just use them as examples to illustrate how the concept of "killing" is not as universal as it sounds.
You don't have to resort to sci-fi to do that. Capital punishment and legal wars are two very real (modern) examples.
I thought the idea behind karma was that if I kill, I will be killed; if I steal, I will suffer theft, etc. Nobody ever thinks that it means that if I paint, I will be painted. It is only the ethically-salient actions (or, decisions) that are included. As for gravity, it is demonstrable. You can't compare a metaphysical / supernatural claim to a scientific law.
Well your thought is both wrong and right. The outcome will have just as much to do with your emotional state (anger, stupidity, desire, greed, pride, envy, etc...) as the action itself. So if you paint for personal profit... If you kill out of jealousy...

The other thing of importance is that a certain action may actually never give (ripen to produce) an outcome.

I recommend you go to this site and type in the search term "kamma". Read the Suttas that come up before reading the commentaries. Learn about kamma/karma and then disagree/agree with it. Disagreeing with something you do not understand (the fundamentals of) seems a bit silly to me.
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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