Karma and Other Nonsense

The inevitability of death, as well as the possibility that there is no afterlife, are difficult pills for most of us to swallow. As a result, we look for evidence, no matter how unsubstantiated, that this is not the case. Complying with consumer demand, every religion contains teachings of a life after death, be it in paradise with 72 virgins, in heaven with mom and dad and the puppy you had when you were ten or in nirvana, a state of ultimate bliss. (Whatever that is.)

It’s unfortunate that current criticism of religion in this regard is limited almost entirely to the three Abrahamic religions - Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Certainly, Eastern beliefs are fair game, or should be, and offer much that deserves to be criticized.

Karma, for example, as a tenet of four major Eastern faiths - Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism, is well worth examining in the light of reason. As a former devout Tibetan Buddhist, my opinions are possibly not unbiased, but do have the advantage of coming from first hand experience.

The word “karma” means action and while there are some differences in the concept of karma between the four traditions, the basic idea is the same. Our actions create our life, past, present and future, making us each responsible for our own life and its effects on others. Religions that incorporate reincarnation, and Buddhism is one of them, believe that karma affects not only this life but future ones as well. However, this does not represent an endorsement of predestination in Buddhism. It is possible to improve regardless of one’s past with the ultimate object of paying off one’s karmic debt and, as a result, being freed from the “endless round of birth and death” Samsara.

Therefore, if you were born with a hideous deformity, into an abusive family situation or suffer a terrible accident etc. - cheer up. It will only affect you for life and besides, you must have deserved it for some negative karmic action committed in a past life. Remember, you’re paying off your karmic debt. (Hmm, I wonder who’s keeping score? Sam Harris’ cosmic accountant, perhaps.)

The concept of karma is intimately connected to that of rebirth. Tibetan Buddhism teaches that depending on our karma at the moment of death we end up in one of six states of rebirth or realms – deva (god), asura (demigod), human being, animal, hungry ghosts (unable to enjoy food or drink) and hell being (subject to incredible suffering – burning, freezing, being continually hacked to pieces etc.) Some interpret these as mental conditions only, while more fundamental believers see these as actual situations. Either way, the prospects are terrifying.

Some would like to believe that we live in an ultimately just and fair universe. Good people are rewarded, though perhaps not it this life – the bad guys get their comeuppance. The vector through which this moral equilibrium functions is karma. This is wishful-thinking. There is no evidence that the universe is just or fair and no rational reason that it should be.

Two years ago I questioned an on-line Tibetan Buddhist discussion group regarding the karma of the 225,000 people who died in the Dec. 26, 2005 Asian tsunami plus that of the millions left destitute. The answer – this was a result of group karma! All these unfortunate people had the same karma. No doubt this warped reasoning can be extended to account for the deaths in the 9/11 World Trade Centre attack and other disasters as well.

Think about it. The sheer idiocy of this concept is mind boggling.

Clearly, karma is another irrational religious belief offering nothing of substance.


Dave said...

The 2005 Tsunami was indeed the result of Group Karma.

Actually all of us human beings have lots of bad karma (and also good karma) built up over many lifetimes. So an event like the tsunami, even though it may be the result of group karma, it also helps 'burn up' our individual karma.

In any case, in the grand scheme of things, death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person (considering that we have hundreds of lives still to live).

For a more detailed discussion on Group Karma, see http://www.sentforlife.com/karma.html .

Dave said...

I need to elaborate a bit more on my previous comment:

I believe, the 2005 tsunami was the karmic result of the violence and conflict that has been going on in that region for several decades now. The worst affected regions were Indonesia and Shri Lanka. Indonesia has only recently become a democracy. Before that it was a dictatorship where almost one million people had been executed and many tortured as suspected communists. The Indonesian army has also been responsible for many atrocities in East Timor. Shri Lanka has also been the scene of a bloody conflict between the government and the Tamils. Both these regions needed some 'karmic cleansing'. Other countries involved in the area like India and Thailand on the other hand were less affected by the tsunami.

Malwinder Singh said...

Of course the tsunami wasn't any karmic outcome. It is highly ridiculous to limit the theory of karma to that. Natural calamities, as we call them, are the essential parts of earth's life cycle. Floods(If not stimulated by dams, land reclamation etc.), for example, are necessary to bring in the much needed silt and alluvial soil for the soil to remain productive.
If a person's intent is not just to gather a bibliography against the karmic theory but to understand the subject, I think Guru Granth Sahib shall be helpful for him/her. To read the scripture go to gurbanifiles.org