What is Karma?

Many Buddhist believe in a ‘Pre-deterministic future‘ in that Karma is playing out and you are all but an actor on a stage in a play leading to your part in a great saga. Any notions of “Free will” are illusions. Zen and the Mahayana come along and state that “Free Will” has always been here, that you are already in enlightenment/nirvana/heaven and that Karma is only an illusion of mind.

From Sayings of Joshu #171

A monk asked, “A sendai [one who because of his bad karma cannot attain enlightenment] – what is he like?”

Joshu said, “I will answer you. But will you believe?”

The monk said, “You are being very careful with your words. Why shouldn’t I believe?”

Joshu said, “Try and search for even one sendai. He is very hard to find.”

A lot of Chinese, those who are influenced by Taoism believe in pre-destined futures. There are many that believe that no matter what you do, what you attempt, karma has already sealed your fate. If you are destined to be enlightened or not in this lifetime is Karma, not your own actions. In this, many pray to the Mahāsattva Bodhisattvas for good Karma that will alter the life streams so that they can be reborn in the Western Paradice where they can learn the dharma and become enlightened.

Mahayana Zen comes along again – From the VIMALAKIRTI NIRDESA SUTRA

Then the venerable Sariputra said to the Brahma Sikhin, “As for me, O Brahma, I see this great earth, with its highs and lows, its thorns, its precipices, its peaks, and its abysses, as if it were entirely filled with ordure.”

Brahma Sikhin replied, “The fact that you see such a buddha-field as this as if it were so impure, reverend Sariputra, is a sure sign that there are highs and lows in your mind and that your positive thought in regard to the buddha-gnosis is not pure either. Reverend Sariputra, those whose minds are impartial toward all living beings and whose positive thoughts toward the buddha-gnosis are pure see this buddha-field as perfectly pure.”

Thereupon the Lord touched the ground of this billion-world-galactic universe with his big toe, and suddenly it was transformed into a huge mass of precious jewels, a magnificent array of many hundreds of thousands of clusters of precious gems, until it resembled the universe of the Tathagata Ratnavyuha, called Anantagunaratnavyuha. Everyone in the entire assembly was filled with wonder, each perceiving himself seated on a throne of jeweled lotuses.

Then, the Buddha said to the venerable Sariputra, “Sariputra, do you see this splendor of the virtues of the buddha-field?”

Sariputra replied, “I see it, Lord! Here before me is a display of splendor such as I never before heard of or beheld!”

The Buddha said, “Sariputra, this buddha-field is always thus pure, but the Tathagata makes it appear to be spoiled by many faults, in order to bring about the maturity of the inferior living beings. For example, Sariputra, the gods of the Trayastrimsa heaven all take their food from a single precious vessel, yet the nectar which nourishes each one differs according to the differences of the merits each has accumulated. Just so, Sariputra, living beings born in the same buddha-field see the splendor of the virtues of the buddha-fields of the Buddhas according to their own degrees of purity.”

In this metaphorical story, we see that Karma is not absolute and that it is only the mind deceived by karma that creates the suffering. I will also point out that this same sort of notion plays out in Calvinism , a belief that god has already selected those who will go to heaven, and there is nothing you can do to change that. Arminianism comes along and says that man has free will and can choose if they go to heaven or not. 99% of the western Christian churches follow Calvinism or Arminianism.

Does karma exist? Yes, you are standing in it. This body, this world, this phenomenal arising is all ‘old karma’. Karma continues with the mind of the sentient being dwelling in it, yet when the mind abandons this Karma, then it is transformed into enlightenment.

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Otomo

Non-aligned Zen Teacher currently living in Las Vegas, Nevada USA Youtube Channel Website

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