In a recent discussion, a friend asked me about my thoughts on the nature of karma. Quoting an excerpt from Cosmic Trigger by Robert Anton Wilson, he referred to karma as a “blind machine”. He asked me if I could validate this take on the subject. I’ve never read any work from Wilson, but I have at least read enough on Buddhism for said friend to come to me for an answer. I’m certainly no expert on the dharma; I often refer to myself as the world’s worst Buddhist (see the title of this blog). In fact, I would be hesitant to refer to myself as a Buddhist at all. However, that’s not enough to deter me from elaborating on my own modest take on Karma.
Buddhist texts, much like that of any other religion, are often interpreted several ways, but I feel that Wilson was accurate when he described Karma as a blind machine. While Buddhism may preach kindness, one must remember, it is also a religion without God. Therefore, free of much of the rigid dogma of most western religion.
Karma does indeed align with the scientific concept of natural law. The word karma has no theological or religious connotation. Remember that the word Karma literally translates to “action”… and much as in physics, each action has an equal and opposite reaction. Karma whether good or bad yields fruits of action and this is all tied up in the wheel of life and reincarnation. While people (myself included) may debate reincarnation or the idea of an afterlife at all, I think everyone can agree on Newton’s third law. Buddha said:
“According to the seed that is sown, So is the fruit you reap The door of good of will gather good results The door of evil reaps evil results. If you plant a good seed well, Then you will enjoy the good fruits.”
In short, whatever you send out into the universe you will receive back.
Of course, Buddhism splintered over the years into many schools and some traditions added theological aspects such as treating Buddha as a God, and adding the caveat of heaven and hell to the Karmic concept.
I mostly studied the Zen tradition, which elaborates:
“Our karma has no self-nature, but is created by our minds. If our mind is extinguished, our karma is extinguished. When we see both our mind and karma as empty, this is true repentance.”
That might make it more complicated or clearer depending on how you look at it. For me it is an illumination. It makes Karma something I can grasp in my daily life, independent from concepts such as reincarnation, samsara, etc. The above quoted paragraphs explain why Buddhas are free of karma, because mind is extinguished. Accordingly, I do not wish to accrue good or bad karma, I wish to be free of karma. I wish to be empty, which I do not mean in a nihilistic sense, rather empty like a starless sky, like a blank canvas, like everything and nothing. Much like the bowl made useful by what it is not.