Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clashes with the concept of individual karma?

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Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clashes with the concept of individual karma?

Post by Brunelleschi » Wed Apr 17, 2019 6:37 am

Hi,

I'm currently doing religious studies at university and encountered an issue I had not though about. Previously studied Mahayana in a religious context.

So, apparently there is a critique from the Theravada school that absolving karma through hearing the name of a bodhisattva clashes with the concept of karma as something strictly individual. This gave me some food for thought. How would you respond to that? How is the process explained in the texts?

Edit: Definitely not asking for help regarding studies - this is just a personal interest.

Thanks!

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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clases with the concept of individual karm

Post by Grigoris » Wed Apr 17, 2019 7:32 am

Brunelleschi wrote:
Wed Apr 17, 2019 6:37 am
...absolving karma through hearing the name of a bodhisattva clashes with the concept of karma as something strictly individual.
How/Why?

Hearing, meditating on, and understanding, are actions carried out by an individual.

Hearing the name of a Bodhisattva may set off a whole chain of dependently related event leading to the maturation of karma as Bodhisattva represent qualities inherent to all sentient beings and hearing the name of the Bodhisattva may lead to the personal ripening of karma associated to, or realisation, of these qualities.
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clases with the concept of individual karm

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Wed Apr 17, 2019 7:35 am

Brunelleschi wrote:
Wed Apr 17, 2019 6:37 am
Hi,

I'm currently doing religious studies at university and encountered an issue I had not though about. Previously studied Mahayana in a religious context.

So, apparently there is a critique from the Theravada school that absolving karma through hearing the name of a bodhisattva clashes with the concept of karma as something strictly individual. This gave me some food for thought. How would you respond to that? How is the process explained in the texts?

Edit: Definitely not asking for help regarding studies - this is just a personal interest.

Thanks!
In the Mahayana ripening Karma can be transformed. As far as I know this is not so in Theravada, Karmic fruits are "set" there, almost like a form of predestination. So a large amount of Mahayana practices assume that one can transform or purify negative Karma in a way that Theravada does not.

I would suppose part of this would come to to the notion of "seeds" with the Alaya Vijnana, which again is of course a Yogacara thang and so far away from the Theravadin conception of how Karma ripens...which is "binary" in a sense.
His welcoming
& rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
Knowing the dustless, sorrowless state,
he discerns rightly,
has gone, beyond becoming,
to the Further Shore.

-Lokavipatti Sutta

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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clashes with the concept of individual kar

Post by Wayfarer » Wed Apr 17, 2019 8:49 am

Brunelleschi wrote:
Wed Apr 17, 2019 6:37 am
Hi,

I'm currently doing religious studies at university and encountered an issue I had not though about. Previously studied Mahayana in a religious context.

So, apparently there is a critique from the Theravada school that absolving karma through hearing the name of a bodhisattva clashes with the concept of karma as something strictly individual. This gave me some food for thought. How would you respond to that? How is the process explained in the texts?

Edit: Definitely not asking for help regarding studies - this is just a personal interest.

Thanks!
I think it’s very much more characteristic of Mahāyāna teaching, and not something that is found in the Theravada canon, at least to my knowledge.

But this is one of the respects in which the Mahāyāna does differ from Theravada. Similarly, Theravadins don’t generally recognise the Mahāyāna sutras.

As to how ‘enlightenment through other-power’ is explained in the texts: the original source for such teachings are the Mahāyāna sutras concerning the vow of Amityus. Amityus was a Buddha ‘from ancient times’ who as a Bodhisattva had vowed to save all sentient beings, and who is now venerated as Amitabha (meaning Boundless or Limitless). Amitabha provides a focus for the devotional form of Buddhism that later became highly influential in the form of the Pure Land schools of East Asian Buddhism which venerate ‘other-power’ (as distinct from ‘self-effort’. Dharma Wheel’s Pure Land forum has big resources list with links to many books about this topic.)
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clashes with the concept of individual kar

Post by Astus » Wed Apr 17, 2019 9:19 am

Brunelleschi wrote:
Wed Apr 17, 2019 6:37 am
absolving karma through hearing the name of a bodhisattva clashes with the concept of karma as something strictly individual.
Karma is strictly individual in Mahayana as well.

'The third point is [ownership — the fact] that actions determine your personal lot. The consequences of the actions that someone has done will be experienced by that person alone: they come to maturity in the aggregates of their doer and in no one else.'
(Gampopa: Ornament of Precious Liberation, IV.6, tr Holmes)
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clashes with the concept of individual kar

Post by Wayfarer » Wed Apr 17, 2019 9:38 am

How is that reconciled with the Pure Land principle that the recitation of the Nembutsu is all that is required for rebirth in Sukhavati regardless of one’s acts?
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clashes with the concept of individual kar

Post by Astus » Wed Apr 17, 2019 10:34 am

Wayfarer wrote:
Wed Apr 17, 2019 9:38 am
How is that reconciled with the Pure Land principle that the recitation of the Nembutsu is all that is required for rebirth in Sukhavati regardless of one’s acts?
Not even recitation is required according to some, only faith and vows. However, faith and vows are the individual's action (karma) to attain birth. What Amitabha made possible through his vows were the conditions sufficient for attaining birth. So it's like a school that accepts all applicants, but it does not mean non-applicants enter. As it's expressed in Honen's famed stanza (source):

'There is no place where the moonlight
Casts not its cheering ray;
With him who has the seeing eye
Alone that light will stay.'


On the other hand, if one being could actually change the 'karma' of another, then buddhas would have already saved everyone.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clashes with the concept of individual kar

Post by Wayfarer » Wed Apr 17, 2019 11:56 am

Thanks. Beautiful verse.

:namaste:
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clashes with the concept of individual kar

Post by Brunelleschi » Wed Apr 17, 2019 1:25 pm

Astus wrote:
Wed Apr 17, 2019 9:19 am
Brunelleschi wrote:
Wed Apr 17, 2019 6:37 am
absolving karma through hearing the name of a bodhisattva clashes with the concept of karma as something strictly individual.
Karma is strictly individual in Mahayana as well.

'The third point is [ownership — the fact] that actions determine your personal lot. The consequences of the actions that someone has done will be experienced by that person alone: they come to maturity in the aggregates of their doer and in no one else.'
(Gampopa: Ornament of Precious Liberation, IV.6, tr Holmes)
Hi Astus,

Yes, thanks for clarifying this. I felt the view presented by my professor as karma not being strictly individual in Mahayana as incorrect - but I couldn't express it adequately. Thanks for sharing that verse.

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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clases with the concept of individual karm

Post by Brunelleschi » Wed Apr 17, 2019 1:32 pm

Grigoris wrote:
Wed Apr 17, 2019 7:32 am
Brunelleschi wrote:
Wed Apr 17, 2019 6:37 am
...absolving karma through hearing the name of a bodhisattva clashes with the concept of karma as something strictly individual.
How/Why?

Hearing, meditating on, and understanding, are actions carried out by an individual.

Hearing the name of a Bodhisattva may set off a whole chain of dependently related event leading to the maturation of karma as Bodhisattva represent qualities inherent to all sentient beings and hearing the name of the Bodhisattva may lead to the personal ripening of karma associated to, or realisation, of these qualities.
Hi Grigoris,

Yes, that was my viewpoint as well. The change that takes place due to faith in a Bodhisattva (the example was Amithaba/Amida) happens due to the fact that there is a change in the individual --> the karma is still individual.

But, the argument was that the power (from faith) was coming outside - from Buddha Amithaba himself. This seems (to me) to be conflating the view with Abrahamic ideas of faith.

Cheers.

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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clashes with the concept of individual kar

Post by PadmaVonSamba » Wed Apr 17, 2019 1:57 pm

Another point to consider in understanding this is that karma is occurring within the context of relative truth,
meaning, within the parameters of confused or ignorant (unenlightened) perception of things,
the experience of sentient beings referred to as samsara.
Ultimately, there is no individual self, and thus, no self where any karma can stick,
and it is the experiential, non-conceptual realization of this referred to as awakening or Nirvana.
So, it isn't just that the sound vibrations of the word "amitabha" (I'm assuming we are talking about PureLand Buddhism)
magically removes karma. If that were the case, then any time anyone mentioned the Famous Bollywood Movie Star Amitabh,
everyone hearing it would have all karma erased.
But, reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha is a means for attaining realization and liberation from suffering.
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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clases with the concept of individual karm

Post by Brunelleschi » Wed Apr 17, 2019 2:09 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Wed Apr 17, 2019 7:35 am
Brunelleschi wrote:
Wed Apr 17, 2019 6:37 am
Hi,

I'm currently doing religious studies at university and encountered an issue I had not though about. Previously studied Mahayana in a religious context.

So, apparently there is a critique from the Theravada school that absolving karma through hearing the name of a bodhisattva clashes with the concept of karma as something strictly individual. This gave me some food for thought. How would you respond to that? How is the process explained in the texts?

Edit: Definitely not asking for help regarding studies - this is just a personal interest.

Thanks!
In the Mahayana ripening Karma can be transformed. As far as I know this is not so in Theravada, Karmic fruits are "set" there, almost like a form of predestination. So a large amount of Mahayana practices assume that one can transform or purify negative Karma in a way that Theravada does not.

I would suppose part of this would come to to the notion of "seeds" with the Alaya Vijnana, which again is of course a Yogacara thang and so far away from the Theravadin conception of how Karma ripens...which is "binary" in a sense.
Hi,

Yes, right. You can experience bad karma in the form of dreams and such. Transformation of the seed of karma is not a thing in Theravadan Buddhism? Wow, I had no idea. Thanks for enlightening me.

I have to say, I'm not that familiar with Theravadan concepts of karma and karmic ripening. I'm "schooled" in Tibetan Lam-Rim so...

Anyway, my point is that I felt my professors way of explaining this was quite incorrect but I couldn't really put my finger on why.

Cheers

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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clases with the concept of individual karm

Post by Astus » Wed Apr 17, 2019 2:37 pm

Brunelleschi wrote:
Wed Apr 17, 2019 2:09 pm
Transformation of the seed of karma is not a thing in Theravadan Buddhism?
Not so. See e.g.: Lonaphala Sutta

There is no real difference between Buddhist schools regarding karma, only about how the functioning of karma is explained.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clases with the concept of individual karm

Post by Grigoris » Wed Apr 17, 2019 4:08 pm

Brunelleschi wrote:
Wed Apr 17, 2019 1:32 pm
Grigoris wrote:
Wed Apr 17, 2019 7:32 am
Brunelleschi wrote:
Wed Apr 17, 2019 6:37 am
...absolving karma through hearing the name of a bodhisattva clashes with the concept of karma as something strictly individual.
How/Why?

Hearing, meditating on, and understanding, are actions carried out by an individual.

Hearing the name of a Bodhisattva may set off a whole chain of dependently related event leading to the maturation of karma as Bodhisattva represent qualities inherent to all sentient beings and hearing the name of the Bodhisattva may lead to the personal ripening of karma associated to, or realisation, of these qualities.
Hi Grigoris,

Yes, that was my viewpoint as well. The change that takes place due to faith in a Bodhisattva (the example was Amithaba/Amida) happens due to the fact that there is a change in the individual --> the karma is still individual.

But, the argument was that the power (from faith) was coming outside - from Buddha Amithaba himself. This seems (to me) to be conflating the view with Abrahamic ideas of faith.

Cheers.
To which I would answer: and what about faith in the Triple Gem? Theravadins have faith in the Triple Gem.

It is always the individual that displays faith in an object, it is not the object that projects faith onto the individual.

And what about Abhidhamma teachings on faith:
(1) Faith (saddhā): The first of the beautiful cetasikās is faith63 (also translated
as “confidence”), which has the characteristic of placing faith in or of trusting. Its
function is to clarify, as a water-clearing gem causes muddy water to become clear; or its
function is to set forth, as one might set forth to cross a flood.64 It is manifested as nonfogginess,
that is, the removal of the mind’s impurities, or as resolution. Its proximate
cause is something to place faith in, or the hearing of the Good Dhamma, etc., that
constitute the factors of stream-entry (sotāpatti).
A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma: The Abhidhammattha Sangaha Of Ācariya Anuruddha

I do believe the person you are discussing with has no idea about what they are talking about.
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde

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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clashes with the concept of individual kar

Post by smcj » Wed Apr 17, 2019 10:17 pm

Guess the source:
If I am a clean vessel, when the milk of blessing is poured in, it will stay pure. If I am a dirty, sour vessel then even the snow lion’s milk will sour in me. We say that the snow lion’s milk is the most powerful, the most precious milk, but the minute it touches my sour vessel it will go bad. TheNuddha’s blessings work in the same way as the snow lion’s milk.

I don’t mind saying "god”; this is not a problem for me. One is spelt G. O. D. The other is spelt B. U. D. D. H. A. There is no difference to me; it is just a different language with a different terminology.

(edit for brevity)

For me the way we receive Buddha's blessings is the same way Christians receive "God's grace", and everyone has their own reasons for requesting it.
NB: There was a discussion about dualism vs. non-dualism before this. "God" here is non-dual as understood by a Shentongpa.
1. No traditional Buddhist sect, Tibetan or otherwise, considers deities to be fictional. (DW post/Seeker242)
2. I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against Lama abuse.
3. Student: Lama, I thought I might die but then I realized that the 3 Jewels would protect me.
Lama: Even If you had died the 3 Jewels would still have protected you. (DW post by Fortyeightvows)
4. Shentong] is the completely pure system that, through mainly teaching the luminous aspect of the mind, holds that the fruitions--kayas and wisdoms--exist on their own accord. (Karmapa XIII)

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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clashes with the concept of individual kar

Post by smcj » Thu Apr 18, 2019 1:26 am

Ok, give up? It's Tai Situ Rinpoche, "Ground Path and Fruition" p.102, 103.

Unlike Westerners, Tibetans are not religio-phobic.
1. No traditional Buddhist sect, Tibetan or otherwise, considers deities to be fictional. (DW post/Seeker242)
2. I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against Lama abuse.
3. Student: Lama, I thought I might die but then I realized that the 3 Jewels would protect me.
Lama: Even If you had died the 3 Jewels would still have protected you. (DW post by Fortyeightvows)
4. Shentong] is the completely pure system that, through mainly teaching the luminous aspect of the mind, holds that the fruitions--kayas and wisdoms--exist on their own accord. (Karmapa XIII)

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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clashes with the concept of individual kar

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Thu Apr 18, 2019 2:14 am

What on earth does that have to do with the subject of the thread SMCJ?
His welcoming
& rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
Knowing the dustless, sorrowless state,
he discerns rightly,
has gone, beyond becoming,
to the Further Shore.

-Lokavipatti Sutta

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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clashes with the concept of individual kar

Post by smcj » Thu Apr 18, 2019 2:28 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Thu Apr 18, 2019 2:14 am
What on earth does that have to do with the subject of the thread SMCJ?
From the OP:
So, apparently there is a critique from the Theravada school that absolving karma through hearing the name of a bodhisattva clashes with the concept of karma as something strictly individual
“Blessings” are what alters karma. That is issue that is criticized by Therevadans and questioned by the OP.

Blessings also alter awareness, however the do NOT alter Buddha Nature.
1. No traditional Buddhist sect, Tibetan or otherwise, considers deities to be fictional. (DW post/Seeker242)
2. I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against Lama abuse.
3. Student: Lama, I thought I might die but then I realized that the 3 Jewels would protect me.
Lama: Even If you had died the 3 Jewels would still have protected you. (DW post by Fortyeightvows)
4. Shentong] is the completely pure system that, through mainly teaching the luminous aspect of the mind, holds that the fruitions--kayas and wisdoms--exist on their own accord. (Karmapa XIII)

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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clases with the concept of individual karm

Post by Matt J » Thu Apr 18, 2019 3:02 am

I have not heard that. When I practiced Theravada, we were always told that the practice would eliminate residual karmic impressions. Otherwise, what is the point of practice?
Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Wed Apr 17, 2019 7:35 am
In the Mahayana ripening Karma can be transformed. As far as I know this is not so in Theravada, Karmic fruits are "set" there, almost like a form of predestination. So a large amount of Mahayana practices assume that one can transform or purify negative Karma in a way that Theravada does not.

I would suppose part of this would come to to the notion of "seeds" with the Alaya Vijnana, which again is of course a Yogacara thang and so far away from the Theravadin conception of how Karma ripens...which is "binary" in a sense.
"The essence of meditation practice is to let go of all your expectations about meditation. All the qualities of your natural mind -- peace, openness, relaxation, and clarity -- are present in your mind just as it is. You don't have to do anything different. You don't have to shift or change your awareness. All you have to do while observing your mind is to recognize the qualities it already has."
--- Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

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Re: Theravadan critique - absolving karma through Bodhisattvas (other power?) clashes with the concept of individual kar

Post by 如傑優婆塞 » Thu Apr 18, 2019 3:29 am

As far as I know this is not so in Theravada, Karmic fruits are "set" there, almost like a form of predestination.
If this were true, the infamous murderer Aṅgulimāla would not have merited the intervention of the Buddha & attained Arhatship in one lifetime. But he did

"And what is the cessation of kamma? Whoever touches the release that comes from the cessation of bodily kamma, verbal kamma, & mental kamma: This is called the cessation of kamma.

"And what is the path of practice leading to the cessation of kamma? Just this noble eightfold path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is called the path of practice leading to the cessation of kamma.
1

The second important point touched on in this sutta — how to put an end to pain and suffering — relates to the first. If the cause of present suffering were located exclusively in the past, no one could do anything in the present moment to stop that suffering; the most that could be done would be to endure the suffering while not creating any new kamma leading to future suffering. Although this was the Jain approach to practice, many people at present believe that it is the Buddhist approach as well. Meditation, according to this understanding, is the process of purifying the mind of old kamma by training it to look on with non-reactive equanimity as pain arises. The pain is the result of old kamma, the equanimity adds no new kamma, and thus over time all old kamma can be burned away.

In this sutta, however, the Buddha heaps ridicule on this idea. First he notes that none of the Niganthas have ever come to the end of pain by trying to burn it away in this way; then he notes that they have based their belief in this practice entirely on their faith in their teacher and their approval of his ideas, but neither faith nor approval can act as guarantees of the truth. As he illustrates with his simile of the man shot with an arrow, only a person who has succeeded in going beyond pain would be in a position to speak with authority of the method that actually puts an end to pain. (What is not mentioned in this sutta is the Nigantha idea that the practice of austerities, to succeed completely in burning away old kamma, must culminate in a suicide by starvation. Thus there could be no living person who would be able to vouch for the efficacy of their method.)
More here

Although the Jains, like the Buddhists, teach a doctrine of the moral consequences of actions, the teachings of the two traditions differ in many important details. This discourse points out two of the major points where the Buddhist teaching is distinctive: its understanding of the complexity of the kammic process, and its application of that understanding to the psychology of teaching. The Buddha shows that a simplistic, fatalistic view of the kammic process is logically inconsistent, and also leads to unfortunate results for any person who, with a background of bad kamma, believes in it. The actual complexity of kamma, however, allows for a way in which past evil deeds can be overcome: through refraining from evil now and into the future, and through developing expansive mind-states of good will, compassion, appreciation, & equanimity. In such an expansive mind state, the unavoidable consequences of past evil actions count for next to nothing. The Buddha also shows how his method of teaching is better than that of the Jains in that it actually can help free the mind from debilitating feelings of guilt and remorse, and lead to the overcoming of past kamma.

"Nigantha Nataputta teaches the Dhamma to his disciples in this way, lord: 'All those who take life are destined for a state of deprivation, are destined for hell. All those who steal... All those who indulge in illicit sex... All those who tell lies are destined for a state of deprivation, are destined for hell. Whatever one keeps doing frequently, by that is one led [to a state of rebirth].' That's how Nigantha Nataputta teaches the Dhamma to his disciples."
More here

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