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 Post subject: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Wed May 30, 2012 9:37 pm 
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I've noticed that many Tibetan lamas talk about "purifying karma" (usually referring to doing something painful or difficult with good motivation which will supposedly negate some of one's bad karma), but this concept isn't found in Theravada teachings as far as I'm aware (except as a Jain concept which Shakyamuni refutes).
So are there any Mahayana texts which support this idea of "purifying karma" or is it just an idea that Vajrayana teachers borrowed from the Jains and Hindus?


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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2012 5:20 am 
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Looks like a question for a teacher well-versed in the Mahayana tradition.


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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2012 12:33 pm 
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This related thread may help:

"taking someone else's negative karma"

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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2012 1:37 pm 
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In all the normal pujas we have the section of confession of downfalls, mistakes, & sins. This includes that one retakes one's moral training, i.e. one promises to abide by the five precepts and the precepts one has taken to observe, like the mahayana precepts and the bodhisattva precepts. This is considered to be a purifying ceremony, and it is included in many pujas. Then we have also the Sutra of Confession Before 35 Buddhas.
The attitude of purifying karma exists also in the Sravakayana or Hinayana schools, it is not something peculiar to the Mahayana. The whole Puja itself is considered to be purifying the obscurations and gathering the accumulations of merit and wisdom, in traditional parlance. Recitation or reading of sutras in general is said to be purifying one's sins and obscurations.

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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2012 3:42 pm 
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I have not heard or read of the idea of purifying karma in a Theravada context, however the related idea of transferring merit is present in that tradition. People who become monastics usually do so dedicating the merits to their parents. Dedicating the merits of donating something to the sangha goes right back to the oldest Buddhist inscriptions, roughly the beginning of the Christian era.

It is clear from the stories of the arhats that not all karma needs to be worked out as heavily at is was created. This goes back to old Buddhism. Consider the case of a former murderer who becomes a monk and merely gets a few sticks and stones thrown his way. Come to think of it: that does come pretty close to purifying karma in the context of old Buddhism.

One of my teachers of Buddhism at Leiden university remarked that the evolution of the idea of karma might be an interesting topic: how old is the idea that good karma cancels out bad karma? What's the relationship with the growth of a money economy at the expense of a gift culture?

From a doctrinal perspective it's important to remember that motive is essential here: sincere regret, sincere devotion, making a sincere effort to undo what's been done or thought wrong. From a western perspective it's essential to realize that while we should regret the negativities still in our system, we should also rejoice at what we did do and feel well. No use oppressing ourselves with guilt. The most effective and only lasting purifying force, so my teacher stresses, is the realization of emptiness.

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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2012 10:54 pm 
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Spirituality wrote:
One of my teachers of Buddhism at Leiden university remarked that the evolution of the idea of karma might be an interesting topic

I agree. I'm fascinated with detailed information about how karma works.

Spirituality wrote:
From a doctrinal perspective it's important to remember that motive is essential here: sincere regret, sincere devotion, making a sincere effort to undo what's been done or thought wrong. From a western perspective it's essential to realize that while we should regret the negativities still in our system, we should also rejoice at what we did do and feel well. No use oppressing ourselves with guilt. The most effective and only lasting purifying force, so my teacher stresses, is the realization of emptiness.

Yes, yes, everything you say sounds correct, but can you think of any examples in the Mahayana sutras which support this idea of "purifying karma"?


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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2012 11:06 pm 
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Luke wrote:
Yes, yes, everything you say sounds correct, but can you think of any examples in the Mahayana sutras which support this idea of "purifying karma"?


The 35 Buddhas practice is derived from Sutra of the Three Heaps which is a Mahayana sutra.

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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 10:10 am 
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Spirituality wrote:
I have not heard or read of the idea of purifying karma in a Theravada context, however the related idea of transferring merit is present in that tradition. People who become monastics usually do so dedicating the merits to their parents. Dedicating the merits of donating something to the sangha goes right back to the oldest Buddhist inscriptions, roughly the beginning of the Christian era.


There is the Chapter of Impurities (Malavagga) in the Dhammapada, which discusses the spiritual path as a process of purification. Then we have Buddhaghosha's Path of Purity, which is based on a sutta that describes Seven Stages of Purification. The idea that one should cover one's bad deeds with good ones occurs in the Dhammapada. One should not grasp at the word "karma", the principle is certainly included in the Path of Purification. One purifies the cause of karma, i.e. ignorance, and one also purifies one's habits that are another form of karma-result, this is called purifying ethical behaviour. Purifying "karma", as cause and result, is certainly there even without that baneful word.

Dedicating and creating merit is older than that, I think it is there in some form in the inscriptons of King Ashoka, and ofcourse in the Dhammapada.
Why can we not accept that the Dharma really existed as an oral tradition for hundreds of years? Why do we think that only written things are real, which is contrary to the basic tradition?

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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 11:54 am 
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I think the issue isn't so much with us not accepting that there is a long oral tradition. The problem is that purification practices are, for westerners, a cry back to catholic confession boxes and guilt. Most of us became Buddhists to learn to meditate and here are these Tibetan guys telling us we need to purify instead. In the process of trying to deal with that the easy solution is simply to say: well, it doesn't go back to the Buddha himself. Of course that's made easier because popular Buddhist books generally ignore the ritualistic side of Buddhism as it exists in ALL Buddhist countries.

As an aside: you mean the Theravada Dhammapada I presume?

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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 9:46 pm 
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Another sideline and the reason that I do occasionally practice purification practices, though not nearly as much as the lama's would wish, is that it makes sense to remind oneself of the 10 non-virtues. http://buddhistsutras.org/rules/10nonvirtues.htm

Quote:
I.  Three physical misdeeds
1) Killing, the taking of life
2) Stealing, Taking which is not given
3) Sexual Misconduct
II.  Four verbal misdeeds
4) Lying, stating something which is untrue.
5) Instigation, speech which cause division between friends, relatives, etc.
6) Gossip,
7) Harsh words
III.  Three mental misdeeds
8) Covetousness
9) Ill will
10) Wrong Views


I have only come across this list in Tibetan Buddhist circles, but there can be no doubt that it is Buddhist in spirit: ethics are at the heart of the Buddhist path, going right back to the Pali Canon.

purification practices are a great way to counter the natural tendency to slip morally and excuse every mistak we make, making it likely we'll make it again. Combined with the tibetan advice to rejoice at what we do well, and dedicate the merits, the result is, I think, psychologically balanced and can help us stay on the path. The main problem in trying to change is after all not good intentions, but keeping them. Purification rituals counter the guilt of making a mistake while encouraging us to try again.

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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 10:03 pm 
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In the Theravada tradition and the Sutta-pitaka there is no idea of purifying kamma per se but one can certainly change the way in which akusala kamma manifests as vipaka by living a virtuous life by abiding by sila, and practicing samadhi and thereby developing panna. It's the salt in water metaphor: if you put a teaspoon of salt in a glass of water it will be undrinkable but if you were to place the same teaspoon of salt in a lake you couldn't taste. The cases of Angulimala shows that the Buddhadhamma offers a way to transcend kamma but until parinibbana even the Buddha had to live out his past kamma...he just didn't suffer for it. Take the example of Maha-mogallana, the Buddha's left-hand man: http://www.indianetzone.com/22/mahamoggallana_buddha_s_disciple.htm Mettaya.


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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 10:20 pm 
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Spirituality wrote:
I think the issue isn't so much with us not accepting that there is a long oral tradition. The problem is that purification practices are, for westerners, a cry back to catholic confession boxes and guilt. Most of us became Buddhists to learn to meditate and here are these Tibetan guys telling us we need to purify instead.

Perhaps some people feel that way, but this is not at all an issue with me. I have a very traditional Tibetan lama (who I see seldomly, unfortuntately) and I enjoy Tibetan Buddhist rituals.

My concern is avoiding Jain and Hindu views of karma which Shakyamuni showed were incorrect. I have no problem with faith, but also believe that it should be backed up by correct understanding.

Nor do I have a problem with the word "purify"--the question is just what it exactly means. Is it the Mahayana view that bad karma is actually removed by purification practices or are the effects of the bad karma simply minimized? It's the mechanics of karma that I'm really interested in...


It seems that Theravada does have the concept of past bad actions being "diluted" by serious Buddhist practice. I wonder if the concept is the same in Mahayana...

"'Now, a trifling evil act done by what sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment? There is the case where a certain individual is developed in the body [i.e., pleasant feelings cannot invade the mind and stay there], developed in virtue, developed in mind [i.e., painful feelings cannot invade the mind and stay there], developed in discernment: unrestricted, large-hearted, dwelling with the unlimited. A trifling evil act done by this sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment.

...'Now suppose that a man were to drop a salt crystal into the River Ganges. What do you think? Would the water in the River Ganges become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink?'

'No, lord...'"

AN 3.99
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

EDIT:
Khalil Bodhi wrote:
In the Theravada tradition and the Sutta-pitaka there is no idea of purifying kamma per se but one can certainly change the way in which akusala kamma manifests as vipaka by living a virtuous life by abiding by sila, and practicing samadhi and thereby developing panna. It's the salt in water metaphor

It appears we were thinking the same thought!


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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Sat Jun 02, 2012 1:12 am 
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Luke wrote:
Spirituality wrote:
I think the issue isn't so much with us not accepting that there is a long oral tradition. The problem is that purification practices are, for westerners, a cry back to catholic confession boxes and guilt. Most of us became Buddhists to learn to meditate and here are these Tibetan guys telling us we need to purify instead.

Perhaps some people feel that way, but this is not at all an issue with me. I have a very traditional Tibetan lama (who I see seldomly, unfortuntately) and I enjoy Tibetan Buddhist rituals.

My concern is avoiding Jain and Hindu views of karma which Shakyamuni showed were incorrect. I have no problem with faith, but also believe that it should be backed up by correct understanding.

Nor do I have a problem with the word "purify"--the question is just what it exactly means. Is it the Mahayana view that bad karma is actually removed by purification practices or are the effects of the bad karma simply minimized? It's the mechanics of karma that I'm really interested in...


It seems that Theravada does have the concept of past bad actions being "diluted" by serious Buddhist practice. I wonder if the concept is the same in Mahayana...

"'Now, a trifling evil act done by what sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment? There is the case where a certain individual is developed in the body [i.e., pleasant feelings cannot invade the mind and stay there], developed in virtue, developed in mind [i.e., painful feelings cannot invade the mind and stay there], developed in discernment: unrestricted, large-hearted, dwelling with the unlimited. A trifling evil act done by this sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment.

...'Now suppose that a man were to drop a salt crystal into the River Ganges. What do you think? Would the water in the River Ganges become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink?'

'No, lord...'"

AN 3.99
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

EDIT:
Khalil Bodhi wrote:
In the Theravada tradition and the Sutta-pitaka there is no idea of purifying kamma per se but one can certainly change the way in which akusala kamma manifests as vipaka by living a virtuous life by abiding by sila, and practicing samadhi and thereby developing panna. It's the salt in water metaphor

It appears we were thinking the same thought!


Haha...that we were my friend! :tongue:


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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Sat Jun 02, 2012 5:14 pm 
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Karma can be changed 100% upside down.

Good karma can be change 100% to bad karma.
Bad karma can be change 100% to good karma.

The view that karma can only be minimized, hold the view that there is a subtle karma that you cannot change and it has to occur. This is just another type of view who hold the view of self in karma.

If I put the salt in the small glass, the glass will be very very salty. By pouring the same glass to the lake, the taste of salt is almost zero, but you still have salt.

That view is the view of self, where the self of karma is symbolized as salt. Unremoveable or only be minimized.

If you drink a glass of salt, do you think your pee will still contain salt?

It completely changes. The structure of salt is completely change. 100% change until you cannot find any salt.

Purifying karma is like throwing the glass of salt to the fire. If you really purify your heavy bad karma with heavy good karma, that bad karma can change completely, like throwing the whole content glass of salty water to the fire. Completely change.

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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Sat Jun 02, 2012 6:54 pm 
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From what I've been told, it is not so much a matter of purifying karma as causing it to ripen here and now with awareness of the ripening this has the function of "weakening" the effect. Weakening in that being aware of its ripening we can deal much easier with the consequences. We don't just freak out, beat our chest and wail: " Why me???"
:namaste:

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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Sun Jun 03, 2012 4:55 pm 
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Luke wrote:
Spirituality wrote:
I think the issue isn't so much with us not accepting that there is a long oral tradition. The problem is that purification practices are, for westerners, a cry back to catholic confession boxes and guilt. Most of us became Buddhists to learn to meditate and here are these Tibetan guys telling us we need to purify instead.

Perhaps some people feel that way, but this is not at all an issue with me. I have a very traditional Tibetan lama (who I see seldomly, unfortuntately) and I enjoy Tibetan Buddhist rituals.

My concern is avoiding Jain and Hindu views of karma which Shakyamuni showed were incorrect. I have no problem with faith, but also believe that it should be backed up by correct understanding.

Nor do I have a problem with the word "purify"--the question is just what it exactly means. Is it the Mahayana view that bad karma is actually removed by purification practices or are the effects of the bad karma simply minimized? It's the mechanics of karma that I'm really interested in...

It seems that Theravada does have the concept of past bad actions being "diluted" by serious Buddhist practice. I wonder if the concept is the same in Mahayana...

I don't think Hindu concepts of karma were so very well developed yet to be something Gautama had to fight against. The main difference between (current) Hindu (and Tibetan Buddhist) rituals to create a good wordly result and purifying karma is the 4 opponent powers. In all these cases the idea is that doing or commissioning the ritual is good karma that might diminish or even stave off bad karma.

The purifying rituals done individually at home have a higher purpose: they are part of the self-purification process to speed up the path. That can, as already suggested, make the karma lighter so that a simple cold replaces a rebirth in hell.

My own (Gelugpa) lama stressed that only a full realization of emptiness purifies karma all the way. Anything else we do is good practice and if done with faith can help diminish it, not totally eradicate it, since the source of disturbing emotions isn't attacked, that is: attachment to self.

See also, for the four opponent powers especially. Though I don't do purification practices daily, I do think it is a powerful practice.
http://www.thubtenchodron.org/PrayersAn ... tices.html

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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Sun Jun 03, 2012 5:16 pm 
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The way I currently understand the Gelugpa position is that the main problem of karma is the effect on our consciousness. Everything else is secondary. The four aspects of karma include it's tendency to multiply.

Why does it multiply? Well, the way I see it karma multiplies because we seldom do a bad thing by halves: having cheated on our taxes once, we will rejoice at it, encourage our friends to do the same and repeat the fault the next year. For example. If done after taking lay vows the sin is even heavier. To counter the natural tendency a purifying ritual may help.

(same as my earlier point, but in more Buddhist terminology)

I guess I'd advice you to study the mechanics of karma a bit more.

There is the problem of ages of past karma, not just in how it affects our environment, health, success etc. but also in our tendency to repeat the same mistakes again and again. Each time we make that mistake without regretting it, or worse: rejoicing in it, we make it harder to change the pattern later.

All that is pretty universally Buddhist, though I haven't heard of the issue of rejoicing vs regret outside of Tibetan circles. Still, it makes sense doesn't it?

I do think the purifying rituals themselves are strictly Mahayana: they involve Mahayana or Tantrayana Buddhas. However I do think a case might be made for each of the 4 opponent powers having older Buddhist roots. Devotion to the Buddha as a source of good karma for instance goes back to our earliest sources. Regret is also nonobjectional in any Buddhist context. The same for resolving to do better for a fixed period of time. Taking refuge goes back to the Buddha himself and is a pan-Buddhist practice. Of course Bodhicitta as a practice is a Mahayana invention, however it's a logical development from the 4 immeasurable thoughts as well as Buddha's life story.

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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2012 9:16 am 
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I am quite sure that the idea of purification belongs to the very early buddhism, as does confession. In the Udana Vagga there is a sutta where Shakyamuni refuses to teach because the company of bhikshus is not pure. Then Maudgalyayana looks with his supernormal vision and soon finds who the culprit is, and then takes him by the hand and leads him outside of the congregation. So the idea exists also in the Sutta Pitaka. Hirakawa Akira & Paul Groner have said that the whole Abhidharma is just about karma, in a very detailed manner.
How does confession purify oneself, and the Sangha? It has been taught somewhere in the Abhidharma that confession purifies because one feels ashamed and one vows to abide by the precepts. It is thus not an outside figure that purifies oneself but one's own contrition. It is often difficult to believe in this, and people want more theatrical things to be convinced of it. I myself believe that the mental state of confession purifies oneself.
I think that confession belongs to the original Dharma, because the purity of the Sangha is a prominent idea in early buddhism, and because it is achieved through confession etc. Whereas dedication of merit has acquired in the course of time certain aspects that seem to me unnecessary and even negative in character. People do not trust that good deeds are good deeds by themselves, why is that? Where does the fear of losing them come from?
Collecting merit is present in the Dhammapada in the idea that one should collect a treasure in one's youth, during one's mature life, that one can enjoy in one's old age.

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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2012 3:41 pm 
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Good point: the vinaya contains a twice monthly (I think) confession ritual for monks. I had not thought of that, because it is so much more like our confession boxes and less like a purification ritual. Originally these were really public confessions, later the confession of faults happened with the abbot and the ritual became more tame.

Of course the monks have many rules to live by and as such, potentially more to confess to.

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 Post subject: Re: "Purifying" karma?
PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:35 am 
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Uposatha (Upavastha or Posadha) days are mentioned also in the sutras, there it is said that the twice monthly observance days were instigated after the initiative of King Bimbisara. They were common with the other spiritual traditions of the day, hence we find that the Jains also have a tradition of Posadha days. There is a Uposatha Sutta in the Udana Vagga, it is mentioned elsewhere in the Sutta Pitaka, for example when Tathagata teaches the six or ten Remembrances (anusmriti).
Posadha occurs in the Karanda-vyuha Mahayana Sutra, which exists in a partial translation in english, the sanskrit text has been published with the title the Supernal Virtues of Avalokitesvara, this translation includes a brief description of its contents in english. It is an important sutra because it is the source of the Six Syllable dharani of Avalokitesvara, but in several other respects difficult to digest for most modern buddhists.
The important days we have in the modern tibetan calendars are actually the Posadha or Uposatha days. As Mahayana increased their number from two to six days per month. They are the 8th, 14th, 15th, 23th, and the two last days of the lunar month. In japanese called six days of fasting.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uposatha

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