Saturday, December 4, 2010

Karmic Propensities: An Uncomfortable Cause and Effect

Even after Jesus said “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also," we still are quick to condemn. (Matthew 5:38-39.) I never find it acceptable to let a convicted criminal to walk guilt-free. However, Hinduism's definition of karma is loosely "action or work." Buddhism takes the notion of negative karma a step further. This blog's namesake define how negative karma effects our lives: kleshas (कलेशा) consist of Three Poisons: greed, hatred, and delusion. Tanhas (तन्हस) are cravings or desires. Both of these fuel our negative actions which in Catholic terminology translates to sins, both venial and mortal. However, where Catholicism believes in the forgiveness of sins through the sacrament of Reconciliation/Confession, Buddhists believe that the negative karma remains with you. 
I write this because until recently redefined by my Comparative Religions teacher, I always assumed that karma would come back to you for the sake of its harmful effects on the sinner. However, loosely summing up what he said, negative karma reaches the doer in the long run so that they may be more aware of their sins or kleshas. By being aware of their sins, similar to how Catholics acknowledge their faults through an Examination of Conscience, both Buddhists and Catholics attempt to achieve equanimity. "Equal mindedness" is a step closer to Buddhahood, or in Western terms, enlightenment. 
Why, or rather how, can be accepting negative karma be uncomfortable, especially for Americans? I was reading my local newspaper today, and one of the front page articles read: Attack suspect found guilty, Man faces 30 years in beating of elderly woman. This by no means justifies or liberates the attacker of his crime, but by Buddhist beliefs, the 87 year old woman had done something within her past that was now being brought into light through karma. What I find hard to understand is did the woman's past sin that caused this- was it equal to her being blinded in one of her eyes? And returning to what my teacher said, karma, doesn't necessarily fall into this "eye for an eye," equal punishment, or even (Western) justice. But, not to ignore the reality of an 87 year old woman being beaten blind, the crime of the guilty man will cause him to receive negative karma in order to understand what harms he caused to obviously his victim, but also to himself. I think it's within this point in which the guilty doesn't receive negative karma as a handed-down judgement, it's uncomfortable for us to think that the man isn't being punished for the woman's injuries, but rather the injuries he inflicted upon himself for the act of violence against another human being. The magnitude to which the karma will reach in the criminal's life is uncertain, but it, going off of what I've summarized my teacher for saying, will be to the extent by which the man will fully understand his sins. 
Again, to highlight how this is uncomfortable, for me especially, the woman doesn't seemed "revenged" or accounted for in the world of karma. But an interesting aspect that plays into Buddhism as well as Catholicism is life after death. Both concepts are fairly similar: Buddhists believe (in simple language) that the criminal will return in his next life as a victim to such violence he committed. An analogy that better describes this is if one harms dogs in this life, they will return as a dog that receives harm from its owner. Catholics believe that you will be judged on the Final Day. This relates to Buddhism because God, acting as the judge, reviews your actions and sins that are within your heart. Both faiths have a negative response to sinful actions done within this life. And while Yahweh did indeed say "But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise," Jesus did contradict this with the idea that God, or rather love in a karmic fashion, will ultimately judge the sinner's action. 


  1. I understand the point you are making, but how does getting beaten when you are 87 make you aware and repentive of your past sins/kleshas?

    ("...negative karma reaches the doer in the long run so that they may be more aware of their sins or kleshas.")

  2. @Bella
    Inversely using what I later said of the dog analogy- according to my loosely defined version of karma, the woman was on the receiving end for one of her past "actions" that would have directed a violent "reaction."
    Not to be confused as judging or condemning the woman for her sins, but rather it was what she was bound to within one of her past actions. By partaking in it, she was inevitably tied to it. This is where tanhas become actual poisons: like sins, when they both enter our lives, they tend to have harmful effects both psychological and spiritual.