The Law Of Karma
idea behind the Law of Karma is simple- what we do affects what happens to us.
I feel I may safely assume that there are no serious disagreements so far.
The application of the Law of Karma is choosing the causes that will give you the effects you want. Now, that doesn't sound like superstition to you, does it?
Naturally, there are many types of karma. This just means that there are many ways that your actions can have an effect on you. Most of them can be examined more conveniently by dividing them into four groups:
" Psychological, and
The principle behind the first type, physical karma, is obvious. If you jump off a tall building, you will probably get hurt. If you expose yourself to germs, you may get sick. The results of this kind of karma can be gain or loss, comfort, discomfort, pain, or even death.
The practice is as detailed as the situation you are in. Driving a car has one complex set of ways you can influence what happens to you, spelunking has another. You've just got to develop the skills needed wherever you are.
Physical karma overlaps psychological karma, in that we have psychological reasons for jumping off that building. This in turn overlaps social karma, because social pressures are among the most popular reasons for doing something stupid.
Psychological karma can work through physical karma, causing you to be careful or accident-prone, or through social karma, causing you to have friends or enemies. This also leads to gain or loss, etc.
But psychological karma also affects your emotions. Whether the glass is half full or half empty is not a physical question, it's psychological. This kind of karma affects how content we are with what we have. Being discontent is what the Buddha was talking about in the First Noble Truth. He mentioned several situations that can set off this discontent, like birth, sickness, old age and death, not getting what we want, getting what we don't want, etc. But all this is just pain or loss- the emotional reaction you get to them is where suffering comes in. The scrapes and bruises after the big game hurt a lot less if your team won.
Now we're getting into the question of "grasping". .If your standard is a full glass, then that other glass is half empty. If you were expecting an empty glass, then it's half full. "Grasping", on this level, means your assumptions.
Social karma just means you have a whole new set of things to be careful about when you're dealing with other people. The payoffs are the same as for physical karma, gain or loss, comfort of pain. Any suffering depends on your psychological karma- being socially ostrasized might be suffering to a party animal, but the average cocktail party would grate on a hermit.
The reason social karma is important enough to consider as a separate type, is because it's often phrased as morality. Throughout human history, people have often noticed that certain activities have bad results. They called these acts "bad acts" for this reason. Notice I do not say these acts have bad results because they are bad. I say they are called bad because they have bad results.
Morality is basically tactics.
Mark Twain observed that people who lie need better memories than those who tell the truth. Mark Twain was honest, not because he believed in a giant invisible magic person who would punish him, but because he understood cause and effect. Or, to put it another way, he understood social karma. Well, in his case it was probably also because he could make more trouble that way.
If you kill, other people are going to defend themselves. If you steal, they will lock things up, or come after you. In general, if you always cause trouble, the only thing you can be sure of is that you will always be in a troubled environment. Is there anything at all about that that seems superstitious?
And it's not all the "fault of society", either. There are primitive societies that don't have some of our basic moral rules. They are all isolated, because those that tried to compete with more moral cultures all died out. And even in isolation, they sure aren't doing well. It ain't "Live wrong and prosper"!
final kind, spiritual karma, means that what you do affects your religious situation.
If you've been following me so far, the only questions you might have would be
"What is a religious situation?" and "Is it real?".
In Mahayana Buddhism, there is the idea of the "Buddha-nature". That means that way down inside, our basic consciousness is not warped by likes, dislikes and assumptions, but is clearly aware. It is not deluded into thinking that satisfaction can be granted or denied us by outside events, so it is serene and blissful.
" Our basic nature is pure of itself. Bodhisattva-Sila Sutra
" Now when I view all beings everywhere, I see that each of them possesses the wisdom and virtue of the Tathagata, but because of their attachments and delusions, they cannot bear witness to that fact. Shakyamuni Buddha, in the Avatamsaka Sutra
" But though the light of the sun is veiled by clouds and mists,
Beyond the clouds and mists there is brightness, not dark. Shinran Shonin, in the Shoshinge
The Theravadins reach the same point by saying that there is really no "good" karma- since it all leads us away from the uncaused enlightened state. Enlightenment, according to them, is uncaused. If it were caused, it would be impermanent. So, although they refuse to speak of it using nouns like "Buddha-nature", they tacitly admit that there is a state already within us (because it doesn't have to be caused) that is enlightenment.
In this sense, karma is whatever distracts us from being aware of that pure level of the mind. That is, any action that is motivated by attachment..
This Buddha-nature is hard to point out, but maybe I can mark out the limits of the area within which you will find it. The ordinary daily deluded mind may not know the law of gravity, but your body obeys it every moment of every day. So, on the atomic level, you are in full contact and full accord with reality. That's the lower limit.
If, like me, you like to go into used book stores, you will have noticed their shelves are in a jumble. Do you read every title? No! You scan the shelf, and somehow the name of a favorite author or a word in a title catches your eye. How did your eye know to be caught? Somewhere below the conscious layer of your mind, there is a consciousness that is aware of all those titles and authors. From my own experiences I estimate that that layer is about three hundred times as aware as your so-called "conscious mind". At least. That's the upper limit.
Somewhere between there lies the Buddha-nature.
So for religious purposes, applying the Law of Karma means to give up attachment to anything that would distract you from that pure, serene awareness. Karmic results on this level are not products of our attachments, like a broken leg or AIDS in physical karma. They are a function of attachment. The difference is, when you give up the attachment, the broken leg still has to heal, and the habits that have been etched into your nervous system still have to be broken. But the suffering caused by psychological karma and the unenlightenment caused by spiritual karma disappear as soon as the grasping is gone.
Theravadin monks do this by living a lifestyle wherein they perform no actions that would constitute an investment of time and energy in things of this world. They contemplate the impermanent nature of all things to help keep from getting attached to them.
Mahayana Buddhists express the ephemeral and distracting nature of all physical things a little differently.
" Everything with form is unreal. If all forms are seen as unreal, the Tathagata will be perceived. The Diamond Sutra
When the Buddha-nature is depicted as Amida Buddha, who is said to have "reached Enlightenment ten kalpas ago" (the point being that we already have Enlightened Mind available within us), we try to give up self-power(karmic acts) and "rely on Amida" (function naturally from our inner Enlightened awareness).
So as a Buddhist practice, we do good as a practical matter while we are still in this world, and because "good" karma is often easier to let go of than "bad" karma, but we don't depend on our deluded efforts for awakening.