General Question

jackfright's avatar

Anyone else think the concept of karma is inherently flawed?

Asked by jackfright (1180points) May 26th, 2009

Karma basically states that over time, a wrong that is done to you will also be experienced by the guilty party. this implies that there is a balancing force at work.

so here’s the false scenario;
if jack breaks tom’s leg, how are we to know that jack deserves any bad karma? what if he was simply an agent for this balancing force, because tom had wronged alex a week before? in this instance, jack should be rewarded.

no believer in karma has ever provided a compelling answer to a scenario like that.

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31 Answers

Bobbydavid's avatar

I asked the same question three days ago. The general agreement was that there is no such thing as karma

anthelios77's avatar

Karma means that any wrongdoing or gooddoing will affect how your next life will be, not that deeds will affect the current life.

jackfright's avatar

@anthelios77 i’ll keep that in mind the next time i see a cripple or a handicapped person.

anthelios77's avatar

I don’t know if mainstream Hinduism explains a condition like those with only karma but maybe it does. I think Hinduism contains trials of the Gods as well though, but like I said I don’t know.

whatthefluther's avatar

As @Bobbydavid stated, this subject was well discussed by @dalloon , @Harp and others in the earlier thread. I would just like to point out that the belief in karma and the power of suggestion can have interesting results. A former friend, who had lied to and cheated many people had begun to experience some back pain. When I cut myself off from this person, I suggested that her back pain was the result of karma from all her misdeeds, and that until she came clean to all she had wronged, that not only would the pain not go away, but would continue to worsen. I suggested that medical treatment and religious confession would do her no good. I have heard that her back pain has continued to worsen and is now quite severe. I can only hope that should she finally come clean, she will experience a reduction in pain. I hope by being honest with herself and others, that she will experience a general wellness of being and that this feeling will have the power of suggesting to her mind that her back problem has improved, whether it really has or not. Of course should the pain be all too real and should her belief in karma erode, I suspect I best be looking over my shoulder for awhile…wtf

pikipupiba's avatar

Im not saying that I believe in karma.

It seems to me that it would still work, the only problem is that we could never understand it in every real world application because we would have to know every good or bad thing that happens to everyone on Earth. And even then, we could never know what is compensating for what.

So, in conclusion, karma still works.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

I agree, the idea is rubbish. The simple reason for this, is that it assumes an absolute standard of ethics. The idea of karma is the result of humanity’s lust for ‘justice’ (read revenge), and the fact that it does not occur. Since it does not occur, in order to keep our comforting delusion we must assume that ‘justice’ will occur at a later date that we will not be able to make a connection with. This must be in the next life, since it just doesn’t happen in what we know to exist.
I prefer to act knowing that the world is a harsh place, and know that I can make it that little bit better for others who are not as able as myself.

Harp's avatar

As I mentioned in this thread, there are many different interpretations of karma. The kind of mechanistic, “bookkeeping” version that your scenario exemplifies is certainly a common conception but, as you say, it doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny. I can’t speak for the Hindus, but Buddhist texts paint a far more nuanced picture of karma.

First, karma is just one of many forces that shape our experience. Buddhists recognize that sometimes shit just happens. Having your house taken out by a tornado or getting rear-ended by someone yacking on their cell phone may or may not have anything to do with karma. It would be impossible to know, and therefore it’s not worth trying to sort out. Health issues and disabilities too may or may not be related to karma.

Trying to explain one’s fortunes and misfortunes in terms of karma, then, is impossible and ultimately not at all useful. No judgments can be made about someone simply because good or bad things happen to them.

What can be useful is the recognition that by our actions we condition our mind, and that the condition of our mind conditions our experience. This is something that everyone with a decent measure of introspection can attest to, and this is at the heart of the Buddhist conception of karma.

To take a simple example, a single act of selfless giving will produce a slight change in the giver’s attitude. It feels good and right, and will increase the likelihood that this person will give again when the opportunity arises. A chain of transformation is set in motion that, over time will certainly shift the person’s subjective experience of the world (the result of his focus shifting from himself to others) and may alter his objective experience as well (causing others to be more kindly disposed toward such a person, and willing to come to his aid). It’s just as easy to see how a pain-producing chain could be set in motion by solitary actions.

There’s nothing magical about karma when seen in this light.

fireside's avatar

You can read the other thread about karma here

There are also writings in the Baha’i faith which may be relevant to this subject:

When we speak of the soul we mean the motive power of this physical body which lives under its entire control in accordance with its dictates. If the soul identifies itself with the material world it remains dark, for in the natural world there is corruption, aggression, struggles for existence, greed, darkness, transgression and vice. If the soul remains in this station and moves along these paths it will be the recipient of this darkness; but if it becomes the recipient of the graces of the world of mind, its darkness will be transformed into light, its tyranny into justice, its ignorance into wisdom, its aggression into loving kindness; until it reach the apex. Then there will not remain any struggle for existence. Man will become free from egotism; he will be released from the material world; he will become the personification of justice and virtue, for a sanctified soul illumines humanity and is an honor to mankind, conferring life upon the children of men and suffering all nations to attain to the station of perfect unity. Therefore, we can apply the name “holy soul” to such a one.

There is, however, a faculty in man which unfolds to his vision the secrets of existence. It gives him a power whereby he may investigate the reality of every object. It leads man on and on to the luminous station of divine sublimity and frees him from all the fetters of self, causing him to ascend to the pure heaven of sanctity. This is the power of the mind, for the soul is not, of itself, capable of unrolling the mysteries of phenomena; but the mind can accomplish this and therefore it is a power superior to the soul.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 120)

[edit] i see Harp just posted a link to the other thread as well

oratio's avatar

Very good inputs. In this thread and the old. Thank you. Really.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Your assumptions of Karma are incorrect. After reading this thread, there are some basic misconceptions of Karma that are being thrown around.

Karma is not a reward/punishment system.
Doing good things leads to happiness. Doing bad things leads to suffering.

However you must understand that the concept comes from Buddhism and the #1 Noble Truth according to Buddhism is that “life, is suffering”.

Doing good thing for others will not prevent you from breaking a bone at some point in your life because bones break. That is the nature of our world.

Harp's avatar

Actually, the concept of karma originated with the precursors of Hinduism, long before Buddhism appeared and adopted it. The retributive version of karma is far more in keeping with the Hindu view because it implies the involvement of some external deity who’s keeping track of who deserves what.

Buddhism has had to look at karma differently because it has no deity running things.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Hinduism and Buddhism are very similar in many ways except for the 13 million gods and the caste system. So while the Hindu’s came up with the idea first perhaps, I don’t subscribe to their view of karma, what with the divine retribution and all.

oratio's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic Yes, but what is bad or not is a moral question, subjective and differs between cultures and time. Is doing something bad something you know is bad in the context but do it anyway, or is it what society around considers wrong even if you are unaware of it? Is it only intent?

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@oratio I used “good and bad” perhaps in an over-simplification.

Now that we’re discussing it in more depth, Buddhism doesn’t have such clear cut definitions of good and bad as we do in Western society. Those concepts are illusory.

Basically, there’s actions that lead to liberation and actions that lead to bondage.

wundayatta's avatar

Would you rather live in a world where people behaved as if there were karma, or in a world where they didn’t?

fireside's avatar

I’d pick the first option, daloon.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@daloon There’s plenty of both. People who act as though there are no repercussions for their actions do so at their own peril. There’s little that’s mystical about that.

wundayatta's avatar

It’s a useful idea, and @The_Compassionate_Heretic, I agree with you. There’s little mystical about it, but mysticism does help sell a lot of ideas.

I have my problems with that sales technique, and I think it has outlived its usefulness, but I can understand how the idea of karma would come into existence.

shrubbery's avatar

But @Harp, there are gods in Buddhism too, aren’t there? They are also just trapped on the wheel, and sometimes Karma can be used to get to heaven where these gods are, but it is in fact harder to gain enlightenment from there? Is that right? Or is this still Hinduism…

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

The are no gods in Buddhism. Buddha is a teacher, not a god.

Buddhism suggests that the essence that gives living beings life stems from
a divine source. So in some sense we all have our divine selves but we do not fully realize our nature as such becase of our attachment to impermanent things which. This attachment causes us to suffer which keeps us in the perpetual cycle of rebirth and death.

Enlightenment is the way out of this cycle.

Hinduism has millions of gods but other than that, the idea of escaping the cycle of suffering is similar to Buddhism.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

To elaborate further on the concept of karma, good karma will cause you to be reincarnated as a higher life form while bad karma will cause you to come back as a lower life form. Good karma is not going to get you to a state of Nirvana. It will make your next life better but as life is suffering, you will still suffer. The idea of enlightenment is to expel ALL karma, good and bad (although there is that good/bad concept again which is illusory).

Harp's avatar

@shrubbery Yes, you’re exactly right. The “deva” realm is, like all the others on the wheel, an unenlightened realm, and so the god-like beings that inhabit it are still caught up in the karmic cycle. Like the hellish realms, it’s extremely difficult to escape from this realm because the Devas lack the awareness of suffering that goads humans to seek release. In other words, they’ve got it too cushy to want to get out. They pass eons in heavenly bliss until their karma pulls them down once again to the lower levels.

Buddhism basically folded much of the Hindu pantheon into its own cosmology, but it treats these deities as just another life form, not as relevant to Buddhist practice. They just play bit parts in the occasional suttra.

Lest all of this sound overly magical, let me reassure whoever might be reading this that this scheme is generally not taken literally, but as an allegorical representation of states of mind.

Wow shrub, you sure did your World Religions teacher proud :)

Harp's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic
“Buddhism suggests that the essence that gives living beings life stems from
a divine source. So in some sense we all have our divine selves…”

What branch of Buddhism holds this view?

Harp's avatar

You might want to reexamine that.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@Harp Now I’m going to have to ask for elaboration. You obviously have something in mind.

Buddhists call it the “Buddha nature” and believe we all have it. It’s not a new thing.

Harp's avatar

That’s not Buddha nature. Buddha nature is not an essence, is not divine nor does it come from a divine source. Even thinking of Buddha nature as something that we have is misleading.

Consider how Bodhidharma answered the emperor Wu when asked what the highest truth of Buddhism is (another way of asking “what is the essence?”):

Bodhidharma said, “Empty, without holiness.”

The Emperor said, “Who is facing me?”

Bodhidharma replied, “I don’t know.”

I’m sorry to start an off-topic tangent, but we owe it to the Dharma to use words carefully

oratio's avatar

@Harp We don’t have the bud of Buddha in us all?

Harp's avatar

Expressions like this have been used through the millenia to bolster the confidence of students and to keep them from seeking some external Buddha, but the truth of the matter is far simpler than this. It’s what Joshu’s was pointing to with Mu.

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