PadmaVonSamba wrote:I really do appreciate your thoughtful answer.
"past karma" is buddhism's answer for everything. Of course, past karma!!!
But so what? So, I specifically used the term 'useful'. "past karma' is not useful as an answer.
Suppose I am on my way to catch a plane, but I arrive late and miss the flight.
So, Buddhism says, because I didn't catch the flight, 'that was because of negative karma".
But, a moment later the plane crashes and everyone on board dies.
But because I didn't catch the flight, and not killed,
Now missing the flight must be due to: "positive karma".
But the plane crashed into my house and destroyed everything I had and killed my family.
Now missing the flight must be due to: "negative karma" again.
However, I had lots of insurance and now I will be able to get out of all my debt, and because I am free of all other obligations, I can finally go on that 3 year retreat.
Now missing the flight must once again caused by: "positive karma".
There is the "Mind-only" school, and then there is the "can't-make-up-my-mind" school!
Are you your brain? Am I my brain?
"who" is the one experiencing the chemical interactions of the brain?
I am inclined to think that somewhere along the way, people started using 'past karma' as a catch-all explanation for everything they did not understand. There is a problem associating 'past karma' with the appearances of things, and the value judgements we put on things. Like the idea that an accumulation of negative karma will result in being reborn as a snake.
What's wrong with being a snake? At least, you can make ends meet now and then!
Thank you for mentioning the error of the vaccine theory.
At least that could be tested and shown to be wrong.
But I think the karma theory, while essentially correct, is too often used to justify things the way we want to see them.
I don't think it's a given that everything
that happens is past karma. Like if you miss a flight or something, usually it is because you did not make sure to leave in time. Or you came across circumstances related to when you decided to get on the road, such as traffic or getting into an accident. To what extent this is just the results of one's choices and timing or is ripening karma, I have no idea, because karma is extremely complex and only a Buddha can really comprehend it. Also, when one commits an act, or utters some words, or thinks something, one can do so in several ways in terms of intention. One can do so completely purely and virtuously, one can do so completely negatively, one can do so with mostly good intention but tainted with negativity, or one can do so in a state of neutrality. So results can be purely good, or purely bad, or mixed, or kind of neutral from one's POV. Also, the fruition of one karma could function as the contributing circumstances for the fruition of another. So the plane crashes and it destroys one's house - this could be one karma's fruition - whereas the confluence of the destruction of one's house and having been able to purchase insurance are contributing circumstances for past positive karma to ripen and one gets a lot of money and free oneself of debt, etc as you said. Then the freedom from debt and the financial freedom could be a contributing condition for past karma and aspirations to be able to do a 3 yr retreat. I think in general, karma is much more complex than one cause having one result in a vacuum. Past causes and present results condition both our choices and our perceptions, so experientially it's like a web of interdependence. I don't know how well I managed to get across what I was trying to here, though.
I do agree, though, that even among Buddhists who understand that karma is simply cause and result, it is very often used as a "catch-all" as you say. The reason for this is that the theory is easy to understand, but the actual interdependent reality of it is beyond our capacity to understand.
Whether or not "past karma" is a "useful" answer to the question of why kids develop autism I guess depends on what one was expecting in asking such a question, i.e. what one wants to do with that information. If one is simply wanting to know why it happens, then it seems like explaining past karma and the contributing circumstances that enable that karma to ripen is a straightforward, matter of fact reply. In that way it is useful because it answers the question. But if one is asking because one wants to know how to cure kids who already have autism, or one wants to have a baby and one wants to know if one can do anything to decrease the likelihood that it will develop autism, then past karma is not a useful answer because past karma is inexorable, so focusing on any available knowledge of the contributing conditions that enable that karma to manifest would be what's useful.