Thread: Against Karma

  1. #1

    Against Karma

    This is an article from the "Jayarava's Raves" website. (Jayarava is a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order)

    Against Karma

    I have been revising an article on the problem of action at a temporal distance for publication and thinking again about karma. This has involved rehearsing my understanding of what karma represents and the internal conflicts that karma has caused in Buddhism. The last 2000 years have seen a constant stream of apologetics for different, mutually exclusive, traditional views on karma. There have been many attempts to reconcile karma with dependent arising, for example. More recently, attempts are being made to reconcile karma with naturalism, humanism, and other modernist worldviews. For 2000 years intellectuals have been tacitly admitting that there is something wrong with the doctrine of karma, with all of them treating it as a good idea that needs to be rescued.

    In this three-part essay, I take the opposite approach. I argue that that karma is a bad idea. Karma fails to explain what it is supposed to explain. Karma cannot be reconciled with or integrated into other worldviews, except as a floating signifier for whatever morality happens to be popular. Worse, it is based on a fundamentally flawed idea about suffering. It is the latter that is the premise of this essay. I begin with an overview of karma in terms of the just world fallacy and, in the process, highlight an aspect of the central problem: the idea that suffering can be deserved.

    Karma is the Buddhist myth of a just world. The just world myth is foundational in most religions. The myth says that everyone gets what they deserve, eventually. The final caveat has to be added because any observer of human life can see that few people, if any, get what they deserve in this life. Evil flourishes. Some argue that the world is getting better (Steven Pinker) or is at least not as bad as we think (Hans Rosling). But endless economic growth is a fantasy on a finite planet and even the status quo won't be sustainable if the climate becomes steadily warmer. And everything I've seen says that it will.

    The evident unfairness of life, or at least of most lives, has forced religieux to link the myth of the just world to another ubiquitous religious myth: the afterlife. Typically, the religious will admit that life is not fair, that there are many injustices and often no obvious way to tip the scales towards justice. How does one find justice for the thousands of sexually abused children or the millions of refugees? What can we possibly do to make those ruined lives un-ruined. We may ameliorate their suffering and we may make efforts to prevent future abuse, but some wrongs cannot be made right in retrospect. So the religious argues that justice will be found in the afterlife.

    Continues at the link below:

    Any thoughts?


  2. #2
    Forums Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2017
    I follow his blogs and they make a lot of sense, cutting through assumptions made about texts which are offered as the authentic words of the Buddha. He tracks them back to early examples of the texts, then discusses authenticity both of origins and of various translations of texts. This demolition of the idea of karma is a good example of his work and is well worth a read. Another good read is his series on the Heart Sutra, of which he has made a particular study in terms of origins and possible mistranslations.

  3. #3
    Technical Administrator woodscooter's Avatar
    London UK
    Jayarava goes on to suggest that the concept of karma follows naturally from the unfairness of the world we live in. It provides an assurance that wrongs will be righted, if not in this world, then in the next.

    I agree with him that there's no basis for this being true. Our sense of morality makes us wish it were true, that's all.

    Jayarava describes this as a three-part essay. The other two parts: Suffering & Justice, and Modern Buddhism also make good reading. I'm sure some traditional Buddhists would describe it as challenging.

    In his Conclusions at the end of the third part, he says this:

    Karma as it is taught by Buddhists is a false picture of the world that clouds the issue and makes the possibility of radical transformation considerably less accessible. Traditional Buddhism ignores the way things really are in favour of a fantasy that is fundamentally unfair and unjust.

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