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submitted 1 month ago by [email protected] to c/[email protected]

A Buddhist was saying to me that anything bad that happens to someone is deserved because they must have had bad karma as a result of having done something bad, either in this life or a previous incarnation. I don't believe in any of this personally, but I think it would be helpful to understand the idea of karma a bit better, because this seems problematic to me on its own.

Wouldn't it logically follow, then, that it's fine for any person to choose to commit harmful actions on another person, since if those harms did happen to befall the person (even if it was as a consequence of our willful decision to cause them), it would be deserved due to bad karma they had from a previous life (even if they were a young child/baby in their current life for example)? And then couldn't we use this to justify literally any harm we choose to do as being deserved due to assumed bad karma, making the idea of avoiding causing harm (ahimsa/nonviolence) meaningless or pointless?

Also, another way that this idea seems to contradict for me, is that if us choosing to harm someone else automatically means that they'd done something bad in a previous life to "deserve" it, then since we're physically capable of doing that to any individual that exists, wouldn't that mean that literally everyone has done something wrong in a past life, has bad harma and is deserving of that punishment? What if someone bombed all of humanity, would that mean that everyone had been bad in their past lives? Surely there would be some individuals that hadn't done anything particularly bad even in their past lives, didn't have bad karma and didn't deserve that punishment? Or is everyone just terrible (or has everyone been terrible in a past life) and therefore we all deserve to be punished for it, and it's okay for anyone to enact this punishment as they see fit?

By the way, I also believe in forgiveness and mercy even for those that DID do something wrong, but that's a separate idea I guess.

If I was going to try to rationalise this idea of karma in a way I was more comfortable with, I guess I would interpret it that if someone does something wrongful, they may bring bad karma back upon themselves, but that's something for the universe to decide how to address (it may even come about in ways that don't involve decisions of individuals) and it doesn't mean it's acceptable for us to choose to dole out punishments on any individual because we assume they deserve it. Not only does that seem highly likely to be causing injustices to innocent individuals, or at least showing a lack of mercy, but it also just seems like a way to justify or rationalise the harm we cause that we're actually doing for other reasons that have nothing to do with a perceived duty to serve karmic justice.

By the way, for context, the Buddhist person I was speaking to used this idea of karma to defend the evils humans cause to other animals in factory farming. Supposedly, all those animals must have had bad karma from a past life and therefore it was okay what we do to them. Which seems like a pretty gross idea to me, and very far away from the principle of ahimsa/nonviolence...

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[-] [email protected] 31 points 1 month ago

Imo, your friend, and some in this thread, misrepresent, or simply do not grasp beyond the very surface meaning, the nature of Karma. It is not good or bad - it simply is. It is the cause and effect in all of universe and existence as we perceive it. It is not that your individual bead on the chain will suffer or be rewarded for actions your previous bead form took (if you even believe in reincarnation), but rather that all of nature and all of existence is inextricably tied together, the influence and impact of one bead reverberates through the string that connects all and thus impacts all. Put another way, suffering and discord put into the universe will impact all future events, some to lesser degree than others. That impact may not necessarily be negative on the micro level for any given individual or life being, but on the macro level it nonetheless adds to the overall entropy and disharmony in the universe. The idea of nirvana is reaching a state where one is attuned to a state of consciousness and existence that does not generate Karma, but rather simply exists and floats on a universal wave, existing as an inseparable and fully necessary part of the wave, simply observing and letting what was, is, and always was going to be be.

[-] [email protected] 28 points 1 month ago

The first thing to note is that Buddhism is a broad term that contains a lot of different belief systems. It is also plagued by poor translations of terms that don't translate well into English, especially without looking meanings of the original terms.

Imo, your friend has distorted and misrepresented Buddhist teachings in order to justify not changing their behavior regarding meat-eating.

I'd challenge the use of the term "deserved" altogether, and I'd say "caused" might be a more accurate interpretation. Karma is not about an intelligent, all-powerful being passing judgement and smacking you down. It's sometimes referred to as "the law of cause and effect." It's described as a function of the universe, the same way that physical laws makes objects fall to the ground when dropped. The exact way in which this works is up to interpretation. More secular-minded Buddhists might point to logical and observable consequences to explain it, while more spiritually-minded ones might argue that it's more of an invisible, unexplainable force that carries over between lifetimes.

To use an example: a child that is fed a hamburger by their parents does not have knowledge of the animal's suffering that was required to make it, nor do they have agency to control their diet or to prevent the animal from being harmed. But, an animal is still harmed through the process. The intent and agency of the actor are not important in the same way that it doesn't matter if a ball on top of a slope is pushed or knocked over. It would only really matter if you're dealing in terms of judgement.

It is not your responsibility to enforce karma on others. Karma isn't a positive or negative force, and just because something happens that doesn't make it good or fair or deserved. Rather, the idea is to navigate the world in such a way that you minimize undesirable consequences. Buddhist precepts are a list of guidelines that are intend to do just that, the precept about nonviolence being the first. The idea is: "Bad things seem to happen a lot when people go around killing living beings so it's probably better to not do that, generally speaking."

You are correct that your friend's interpretation and worldview is a mess of contradictions that could just as easily be used to justify harm to humans, and that they're blatantly violating the first precept. But I would argue that they're not accurately representing Buddhist teachings, and their views shouldn't be held as representative of the belief system, though admittedly, like I said there are a lot of different traditions and beliefs.

[-] [email protected] 10 points 1 month ago* (last edited 1 month ago)

While not buddhist myself I have a lot of exposure to it in my life and from what I know this is the best answer in this thread atm. Thank you for the nuanced approach to their question. Especially important is your point about judgement; western society especially tends to think strongly in abrahamic terms like that when trying to understand other philosophies. I would also like to point out how important the first precept is for OP's question - that seems to be where the buddhist view regarding karma separates itself from, say, hinduism, where karma becomes the entire basis for the caste system and reinforces the very logical ends OP was wondering about. One simply uses it as an explanation while discouraging any judgement or negative action on the part of the practitioner, while the other built injustices into their class structure with "you earned it in your past life" as an excuse. OP's friend absolutely seems like the type that's just loosely using Buddhist ideas to justify what they want to do without understanding the source material...

[-] [email protected] 7 points 1 month ago* (last edited 1 month ago)

Yes and/but -

that seems to be where the buddhist view regarding karma separates itself from, say, hinduism, where karma becomes the entire basis for the caste system

"hinduism" (itself a colonial term with little basis in material reality regarding actual practices and beliefs) is just as multifaceted and diverse as buddhism, if not moreso. i largely agree with your comment, i just think it's important to point out that among vedic traditions you will get very different thoughts on the caste system and it's justifications and it's relation to karma. a dualistic vaishnavite will likely see the castes very differently than a follower of non-dual tantric shaktism. both are likely to have perceptions of karma, but one might argue that it justifies castes, another might argue that castes are entirely an illusion as is the whole imminent world (as in some forms of advaita vedanta), and yet another might argue that castes are merely part of god's play but don't have any more significant implications than that.

[-] [email protected] 3 points 1 month ago

I'd just like to interject for a moment. What you're refering to as Buddhism, is in fact, GNU/Buddhism

[-] [email protected] 26 points 1 month ago

That's a populist belief marred by just world fallacy.

The end goal of Buddhism is to achieve Nirvana, which means no more Karma and no more continuous rebirth amd suffering whether they're "deserved" or not. It can be implied that continued rebirths are itself suffering. So the only peaceful path is to stop it somehow.

I've stopped being Buddhist a long time by now but I did discuss a lot of it's philosophy with some studied Buddhists and monks.

Also a lot of populist Buddhists are actually scared of Nirvana. They just want to be reborn into a nicer life than they have now.

[-] [email protected] 9 points 1 month ago

Bodhisattva option is the only right option.

That's why I can't Buddhist.

[-] [email protected] 8 points 1 month ago

Bodhisattva is one of the first beliefs where Mahayana (East Asian) and Hinayana/Theravada (South/South East Asian) sects differed.

While precursors to Mahayana tradition held belief that anybody can achieve Buddhahood by becoming Bodhisattva, the conservative Theravada sects claim layman can only achieve the status of Arahat at most.

[-] [email protected] 2 points 1 month ago

In that case, I guess it's important to avoid Nirvana if you're a layperson.

[-] [email protected] 4 points 4 weeks ago

Check your local weather channel daily to avoid getting caught in unexpected nirvana hotspots

[-] [email protected] 2 points 4 weeks ago

Wear nirvanablock.

[-] [email protected] 7 points 1 month ago

I have always thought similarly. If you are aiming for buddhahood--an escape for yourself--then that is selfish. We should all, ideally, aim to be bodhisattva.

[-] [email protected] 9 points 1 month ago

I think there's something important in Buddism in separating the bad events you experience from the bad actions others do. I can burn down a building or I could be caught in a house fire - in both cases I'm either executing violence or suffering from violence without a clear second party. I think you can resolve the dissonance you're feeling by considering a universe where someone's bad karma will inevitably be paid - if they suffer harm from another then that harm will serve to balance their bad karma... but if they didn't suffer that harm a more nebulous harm would end up occurring to repay that debt.

Another way to reconcile the dissonance is to figure that evil in the world is inevitable, some people will always do harm and that cycle can never be broken - but, as an individual, you can perhaps remove yourself from that cycle and lead a blameless life. You could do evil yourself, and it would pay down another's karmic debt, or you could abstain - there will always be another evil doer available to take your place.

Just a clarification, I don't personally ascribe to this and while I think it's a good idea to not harm others I take offense to the idea that something like rape was earned by prior lives actions - it strikes me as deeply unjust.

[-] [email protected] 9 points 1 month ago

Karma is not about deserving. It’s about cause and effect. If you are harsh with people they’ll be harsh with you. That’s karma.

[-] [email protected] 9 points 1 month ago* (last edited 1 month ago)

A Buddhist was saying to me that anything bad that happens to someone is deserved because they must have had bad karma as a result of having done something bad, either in this life or a previous incarnation. By the way for context, the Buddhist person I was speaking to used this idea of karma to defend the evils humans cause to other animals in factory farming.

Their point of view appears to conflict with the Five precepts of Buddhist lay people.

[-] [email protected] 9 points 1 month ago* (last edited 1 month ago)

I don't want to no true scotsman you, but your friend appears to have a really, really poor understanding of what karma is.

Edit: sorry, that was flippant.

Leaving that aside, just from the perspective of logic, basically youre saying if people deserve violence for past acts of violence then why not carry out more violence on them thus causing yourself to also deserve violence for past violence.

Like, why would you?

[-] [email protected] 7 points 1 month ago

Zuzak's comment is great and i wouldn't dare to suggest that I could do a better job - I just want to hammer on the point that you are not the agent of karma

when I say you, i don't mean you DragonWasabi, or you DragonWasabi's friend, i really mean anyone. especially in most Buddhist schools, there really isn't a "distributer of karmic justice" or what have you. it's just, as i understand the Buddhist perspective, a force of nature and it is how it is. it doesn't need an agent, and acting as if one is that is almost certain to worsen one's karmic load, hence ahimsa.

disclaimer that i myself do not identify as Buddhist or anything resembling a Buddhism expert. i took one intro to Buddhism class in college and that's all i've got.

[-] [email protected] 7 points 4 weeks ago

That's one seriously confused Buddhist.

[-] [email protected] 7 points 1 month ago

Wouldn’t it logically follow, then, that it’s fine for any person to choose to commit harmful actions on another person, since if those harms did happen to befall the person (even if it was as a consequence of our willful decision to cause them), it would be deserved due to bad karma they had from a previous life (even if they were a young child/baby in their current life for example)? And then couldn’t we use this to justify literally any harm we choose to do as being deserved due to assumed bad karma, making the idea of avoiding causing harm (ahimsa/nonviolence) meaningless or pointless?

Before I respond, I just want to clarify:

Are you asking if we can justify our committing harm based on our belief of another's state of karma and what they deserve?

It seems this is the crux of the your arguments.

[-] [email protected] 6 points 1 month ago

Personally, I think the most buddhist thing I have ever read was probably The Egg.

[-] [email protected] 2 points 4 weeks ago

TL;DR as it applies ITT: if you harm someone, the past or future incarnation of you will be on the receiving end.

[-] [email protected] 3 points 4 weeks ago

By harming another, you fundamentally harm yourself far more than you harm them. Even if they deserve it.

[-] [email protected] 3 points 1 month ago

Probably if there is some sort of universal intelligence evaluating our actions and decisions, it would turn anyone entertaining this idea into an worm in their next life. The premise that the good fortuned should be passive to suffering, and enable it, out of some misguided moral calculus is absurd. You can't game the system.

[-] [email protected] 2 points 1 month ago

This is exactly what karma is in the Buddhist system: a universal force that determines the consequences of all moral actions.

[-] [email protected] 3 points 1 month ago

Why would karma have to come from the self and not from nature?

[-] [email protected] 2 points 4 weeks ago

It's just that you are directly hurting yourself. The difference is an illusion.

[-] [email protected] 2 points 4 weeks ago

Suffering comes from 'thirst'. As I recall, not karma

[-] [email protected] 1 points 1 month ago

Karma is a weak excuse when used to justify bad behavior. I can see it as a useful tool for coming to acceptance for a unfortunate events, but I still think it's poor because it means that one has previously committed sins and that's ridiculous. As far as acceptance goes, some things just "are" and what's right or wrong will only cause mental suffering. Of course, I don't believe in reincarnation, so not everyone will share that.

I was going to expand and relate it to a violence bank one can pull from, but I'd rather not further dwell on this any further.

this post was submitted on 23 Apr 2024
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