Why does an apple suddenly fall from a branch at the very second that it does, and not one second earlier and not one second later? The wind, the Sun, the season, all these and millions of other factors interact, and these are all the causes that result in that apple dropping. Oh yes, and let's not forget gravity. This, in the simplest sense of the word, is karma.
Likewise, in the uncountable flickerings of mental activity that we regard as ongoing consciousness, millions of causes lead up to this very second, and continue to propel (what we imagine to be as a constant) us in the direction we are headed, unless we are suddenly steered into a different path.
If one has cancer in this lifetime, it is often more likely due to smoking than to being evil in a previous lifetime. This doesn't mean that the repercussions from actions in past lives are not still causing things to occur now, nor does it preclude the possibility that many of the activities which happened simultaneously, and in close relation to each other at one time are not also occurring together now, and for the same reasons that they did then.
But the 'self' that experiences these karmic effects is no more real than the 'self' that caused them.
But it is impossible to say that one's condition in this lifetime is fortunate or unfortunate, because you do not know what pleasures or miseries might have occurred had the situation been any different. We may not prefer to have the conditions we experience in this lifetime, but we do not know if they are better or worse than what they might have been.
There is the story before of a person who is rushing to the airport and misses his flight, and blames his misfortune on bad karma, of negative actions in the past. Maybe he was delayed because he was angry at someone and got into a fight and lost track of the time. But the plane crashes and everybody is killed. So, instead of being burned to death in a horrible crash, he is alive. So was missing the plane the result of positive or negative actions? the answer is too often a matter of convenience.
When people equate karma with reward and punishment of an independently existing "self", they miss the point. But when we understand it to be a constant reshuffling of the deck, then we can see where causes that we regard as negative produce results we regard as negative, and the causes that we regard as positive produce results we regard as positive, at least for the moment, and we experience these effects as very real because we experience this human realm as very real.
But unless we remember that these dualistic classifications are all projections of the imagination, we run the risk of using karma as a scapegoat.
Last edited by PadmaVonSamba
on Tue Jul 19, 2011 9:55 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Profile Picture: "The Foaming Monk"
The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth. Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.