Basic Buddhist Teachings – III

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Understanding Karma

The Law of Action & Reaction

The teaching of Karma concerns the moral law of our voluntary actions and their consequences, as well as the mechanism by which we either create a world of suffering for ourselves and others, or reduce suffering and lead to liberation and enlightenment.

​The word Karma has entered the everyday vocabulary of many Western people. But it often has a misunderstood meaning: either as an occult, mysterious, metaphysical force, or as an inevitable fate.

Karma, according to the teaching of the Buddha, is in fact nothing more than our intention, or will (cetanā) expressed through a specific act. Therefore, it does not have the mysterious meaning it acquired in later times.

Karma or Kamma is an Indian word and means “action”, “action”, “work”. It comes from the verb kara which means “I do, I do, I act, I act”, etc. In Greek we also have the words “I do, I do, I did, I do, I do, I do”, etc. which are probably of Indo-European linguistic origin from the Indian word “Kamma”, or “Karma” and have the meaning of “done act”.

Essentially, Karma indicates our good and evil intentions (kusala-, akusala-cetanā). These intentions are manifested as good or bad deeds with our body, our speech and our mind. In turn, our actions bring about results called “karma-vipāka” (karma-vipāka), that is: the result, the consistency, the fruit of the actions, the maturation of the actions. But usually, the word Karma is used by ordinary people for both actions and results, which is not accurate.

Therefore, Karma (Actions) follows the natural law of cause and effect, the natural law of action and reaction. And there is no teacher in the world who has taught this law as thoroughly and clearly as the Buddha. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “If there was any teacher in the world who insisted on the relentless law of cause and effect, it was Buddha Gautama”.

The Law of Cause & Effect

One of the axioms of science is that the universe is governed by fundamental physical laws that operate as long as the forces or energies of nature are in manifestation.

The laws of nature are discovered through observations and understood by specific facts. In all cases they are based directly or indirectly on empirical evidence. It is generally understood that they reflect causal relationships which are the fundamental principles for the reality of phenomena and these laws are discovered rather than invented. Thus, the words “luck” and “coincidence” have no place in the vocabulary of a scientist or a person who uses methodical and systematic observation of phenomena. As the French philosopher Voltaire put it: “Words like luck, chance and coincidence were invented to express known effects of unknown causes”.

​Here we can add other words that were invented for unknown reasons, such as: fate, kismet, Divine will, God willing, Divine Harris, etc. That is, a higher, invisible, invisible, mysterious, mysterious, inexplicable force, which is considered responsible for what happens to each person – his happiness or unhappiness – as well as what this force has defined for each person, i.e., his destiny.

Such perceptions were developed by primitive, simplistic, gullible people and still prevail today. They are not based on observations and experiments or on empirical evidence. On the contrary, the whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not occur arbitrarily, randomly, without specific causes and effects, but that they reflect a particular underlying order. Thus, from the point of view of this particular law, each effect has a cause or a chain of causes and occurs according to a defined order.

All things are a series of causes and effects. It is a continuum, where everything is connected and interrelated. The laws of physics imply a cause and an effect, as well as an uninterrupted sequence of action and reaction between the observed elements. Every result must have a confirmed and verified cause and in turn this cause must have some effect. It is the continuous, endless cycle of cause and effect.

The Law of Ethics

What is of great interest, however, is that the law of cause and effect, of action and reaction, prevails not only in natural processes but, just as strictly, in moral acts.

Accordingly, the teachings of the Buddha emphasize that “ethics”- defined as skilful thought, speech and deed – result to happiness at a given time, while the acts that are morally awkward result in future pain, suffering and torment.

That is why the Buddha says:
“If one speaks or acts with a pure mind, happiness follows him, like his shadow that never leaves”.
“If with a corrupt mind one speaks or acts, misery follows him, as the wheel of an ox car follows the second leg”
. (Dh 1, 2).

That is, if someone promotes something positive, they will get back something positive. Conversely, if it displays something negative, it will take back something negative.

​Pure Mind – Pure Act = Result (Happiness)
Corrupt Mind – Corrupt Act = Result (Misery)
Good Cause = Good Result
Bad Cause = Bad Result

This is called the natural law of Karma, that is the natural law of cause and effect, action and reaction. It is also called the law of “moral causality”.

To understand how this law is working, it is good to see how other laws, operate in nature. Such a natural law is the law of weather, atmospheric, meteorological and thermal phenomena. Here belongs the law of action and reaction, of cause and effect in the natural order of phenomena, such as the perpetual cycle of the seasons, the regular order of the seasons, the causes of winds and rains, the causality of heat. Here also belongs the law of electromagnetism, light, the pull of gravity, etc. That is, meteorological, physical, chemical, geological, astronomical, etc. laws of inorganic matter governed by causality.

Another natural law is the biological and genetic law of organic matter, such as the relationship between seeds (cause), and fruits (result). For example, the seed of an apple tree cannot produce oranges as a fruit but only apples. The seed of a sugar cane gives a sweet taste and not a bitter one. This includes the law of heredity in plants and animals through cells, genes, and encoded genetic information within DNA.

Similar to the above natural laws, there is the law of cause and effect, of action and reaction in the human mind and in human actions called “moral law, or “moral causality”. How does this law work? Why do we become what we think we are?

Suppose a farmer has a piece of land that is good, fertile land. The land gives the farmer a choice: he can plant whatever he chooses on the land. The land will return what the farmer plants, but it does not care what is planted in it. It is up to the farmer to make the decision. We could thus compare the human mind with the earth, because the mind, like the earth, does not care about what we plant in it. It will return exactly what we decide to plant to it.

Let us now say that the farmer has two seeds in his hand – one is a corn seed, the other a strychnine, a plant with toxic fruits. He digs two little holes in the earth and plants the two seeds separately. He covers the holes, waters the two seeds and takes care of the earth…… what will happen? As a rule, the land will return fruit from the seeds he planted. Remember that the earth does not care. Toxic fruit will return with the same abundance as corn will return. And here are the two plants and their fruit: a corn and a stalk with a toxic fruit.

The human mind is much more fertile than the earth, and it works the same way. It does not care what we plant… success or failure…, good or bad…, a specific, worthwhile goal… or confusion, fear, stress and so on. But for sure, what we plant will be returned to us.

Eventually, the human mind will return to us what we want, what we choose, what we intend to plant, that is, what we intend to do: good or evil.

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