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I found your site accidentally. Even though I am not familiar with ARO , seems contemplating I’ve “caught up” so much of the same teaching. I do not believe in justice, considering humans as 90% (at least) robots. IF I AM RULED BY THE BELIEFS, DISBELIEFS AND WORLDLY SAYINGS - then WHO AM I AND HOW CAN I BE RESPONSIBLE?
I am pretty sure we were originated by a dangerously sick (deeply schizophrenic) intelligence, who can’t be better to humans than to ITSELF (OK, Himself/Herself). If my native could be English, I’d probably be braver to share some of my experiences with something what considers itself a GALACTIC ARBITRATION (seems we are approaching change of some of the basic laws). Being “subjected” to that ARBITRATION , OMG!!!!!!!!!!! I have learned enough to CONSIDER MYSELF A GIANT for still loving life :)))).
Also I MORE THAN AGREE WITH YOU : NO HOLINESS - VASTNESS!
Thanks for sharing those beautiful things. You made my day (and more :)).
Branka Babic, Belgrade, Serbia (former Yugoslavia)
(1) Controversy additions
You should add the below to your list on Dzogchen controversies.
Dzogchen explicitly rejects the Law of Karma [not "orthodox" Buddhism].
(2) Heart Sutra Orthodoxy
Isn’t the heart Sutra considered a typical Mahayana text and would not be embraced by some Theravada groups who would also not agree with its implications?
Interesting that you said you have been a long-term atheist. I have not. But ironically, opposed to you, cosmic justice was what took me out of Christianity. I guess I was always a mystic Christian only to discover that other Christians were into it for the rationality, the certainty and the morality – none of which drew me. It just goes to show the varieties of temperaments. Thus my Atheist temperament is different from many atheists – thus I started my site. Seeing how our temperaments often create our philosophies is the first step toward wisdom (IMHO), the second may be seeing the emptiness of our own temperaments.
(1) Done, thanks!
(2) I don’t know enough about Theravada to say. I think the Pali scriptures have substantially equivalent statements about certainty, eternity, and so forth, although expressed in slightly different terms.
(3) I think your point about temperaments is a very good one.
Is it possible that Dzogchen does not really reject karma, but simply sees it from a higher perspective? I.e., to say that the universe reflects our mental orientation because it is a mirror of mind, or mind itself, isn’t really that different from saying that positive thoughts generate positive experiences and vice versa is it? Or is it? Are there any books discussing the Dzogchen view of karma at greater length? I also find it perplexing to read that the law of karma violates the Buddhist view that all existents are essentially changeable, since the very exception given - space/emptiness - shows that in fact this is only true of existents, and karma, like space/emptiness, is not an existent. It is a universal principle ultimately identical with space/emptiness itself.
Yes David I’ve never read that Dzogchen rejects the law of karma. Sources?
Since Buddhist ontology posits karma as the universal primum mobile of becoming, rejecting karma begs the question of what causes phenomena? I also don’t see how the theory of karma necessarily posits a creation and therefore a creator? Why can’t the universe run forever, as in Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence for example?
Hi, Alexander, thanks for your comments!
This page has confused a number of readers, and revising it is on my to-do queue.
Key phrases in it, apparently is easily overlooked, are that “Dzogchen does not deny karma altogether” and “the Dzogchen view is that karma is a matter of habit”.
The context for the page is that many Tibetan Buddhist leaders have opposed Dzogchen and tried to ban it. I’m trying to explain why that is. One of the standard reasons they give is that Dzogchen denies karma. This is not actually true, but it is true that Dzogchen makes it difficult or impossible to make an ethical theory out of karma. (That is not their only reason for rejecting Dzogchen; I will go into the politics soon in my Wordpress blog.)
For Dzogchen, liberation (enlightenment) is synonymous with “rigpa”, which literally means “vision”, but in context means “accurate perception”. Because rigpa is perfectly accurate, it is not conditioned by karma (i.e. previous actions). It simply reflects reality.
The thing is, rigpa is potentially available to everyone at all times, regardless of karma. If you are a mass murderer and you can maintain rigpa, then your karma is irrelevant.
Dzogchen is called “the path of instantaneous liberation” because the moment you hold rigpa, you are a fully realized Buddha. There is nothing more to be done. In particular, there is absolutely no need to purify past karma.
Within Dzogchen, there is a doctrine called “grol lugs bzhi”, which means “the four aspects of liberation”. (To understand this, it helps to remember that “liberation” in Tantra and Dzogchen is synonymous with “destruction” of samsara.) The four modes are:
Some readers have somehow misread this page as denying rebirth, which it certainly doesn’t. The Tibetan bardo teachings, which are the most detailed Buddhist account of rebirth, are part of Dzogchen. According to those teachings, the circumstances in which you are reborn depend only on how you perceive phenomena in the between-lives realms. If you perceive them accurately, then you can choose to be reborn however you like.
Ordinary perception is muddied by perceptual habits, which accumulate as a consequence of habitual actions (karma). Tendencies of misperception are what cause involuntary rebirth. Particular patterns of misperception tend to produce particular kinds of rebirth; anger will lead you to the hell realms, and so on.
The point is that this isn’t a “Law” imposed by some sort of external cosmic force. It’s just a matter of psychological tendency. The “Law” can be violated at will, and utterly obviated at any moment, by remembering your true nature, i.e. rigpa.
Regarding your second question, Dzogchen has its own cosmogony and ontology, in terms of the trikaya. Briefly, the dharmakaya primordially self-manifests as the sambhogakaya, which self-manifests as the nirmanakaya. This is prior to any karma, which only arises late in the game as nirmanakaya misperceives itself. It’s acausal; there’s no “why” about it.
I’m not sure where you got “the theory of karma necessarily posits a creation and therefore a creator”. I didn’t intend to say that, and I can’t find it in what I wrote…
Regarding sources. I don’t recall an extensive discussion of this; and so, for the time being, I’ve removed the word “explicitly” from the page text. When I do the revision, I’ll hunt through my books and see what I come up with. If anyone else wants to do some research, I’d suggest three possible starting points. One would be Nyingma defenses against the sectarian polemics that wrongly claim that Dzogchen denies karma altogether. Second would be the Bardo Thodol, explaining how rigpa liberates one from karma in the between-lives. Third would be Mipham’s Beacon of Certainty, which explains the Dzogchen view of emptiness and liberation.
Thank you very much for your clarification. In fact, I have come to exactly the same view: after ten years of Buddhist study I had come to the same view of Buddhism as that of Dzogchen, which I accepted immediately. With respect to my reference to karma and creation, I conflated your article with a discussion of the same topic on Youtube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyDaznDqjhc. Hence your confusion.
I’m glad I make sense sometimes!
I wrote this page four years ago, and re-reading it now, I can see that it’s confusing. Really does need a re-write.
David.I see that the latest thread you started on Dharma Wheel has been closed.
My suggestion would be to contact David H Snyder who is actually the owner of both Dharma and Dhamma Wheels.
He has no time at all for the any form of Vajrayana including Dzogchen…which might mean ironically that he will respond in an even handed way..
He is interested in fairness I believe. And I suspect that he is sensitive to charges of exclusivism..
He may of course want to leave severely alone..but it might be worth a try.
What was the thread? Link please.
“The ArogTer Some Answers And Questions” In The Dzogchen subforum.
Thank you very much for this!
For anyone lacking context: Dharma Wheel is a Buddhist forum. There was some discussion of the Aro Ter there a few months ago, which referenced this page about karma and Dzogchen.
The moderators of the Dzogchen subforum of Dharma Wheel include some of the same people who used to run the e-Sangha Buddhist forum. Some of them were, and apparently still are, hostile to Aro, for reasons that remain mainly unclear.
Discussion on Dharma Wheel was twice cut off by moderators. In both cases, my impression was that this was to prevent me from continuing to respond factually and neutrally to inflammatory misinformation. That certainly was the explicit policy on e-Sangha at one time.
My impression was that the Dharma Wheel moderators felt they had to be somewhat less one-sided than they had been on e-Sangha, probably because they had full control of that forum, but are essentially guests of the owner on Dharma Wheel.
I would have liked to post a reply to the final round of hostile, factually incorrect comments in the Dharma Wheel thread. However, my feeling was that the moderators knew they were on very thin ice, and that another round of Aro-bashing was unlikely to occur there.
If it does erupt again, I will appeal for fairness up the chain of moderators and eventually to David Snyder. Thank you very much indeed for the suggestion.
I think your reading of the situation is correct.
Namdrol was very much the prime mover and shaker on E Sangha. He is, as you say, just another guest on Dharma Wheel.
Given a more balanced overview of things than was possible on E Sangha for the reasons you imply, David Snyder is likely to have no reason to favor one Dzogchen group ( as he would see it ) over another. Although as I said he might be wary of the politics…
It looks like it was locked more because it the thread sputtered into nonsense for two days. If you have something more to add, I think you would not have a problem getting it unlocked again.
Well, your post seems to be okay until some point. I believe there exists evil in the world and evil men. To those, I would like to, yes, call upon justice on them. There are horrible things in this world happening all the time. Your way of just “this is just hipocrisy” is just another nonsense. Without justice there´s no ethics. You claim ethics is selfish, but what to make of true evil that, yes, exists ALL AROUND US?
To me, your text is fail. Sorry.
I agree with what you have to say. My view is that Cosmic Justice is another name for cause and effect. something that is constant and is universal . Cause and effect are the motivation for ethical law to be developed. It is simply knowing that an action can have far reaching consequences .
I do not believe there is divine Cosmic Justice that is another thing altogether . That is an egocentric way to force behavioral compliance. Taoism has a very simple philosophy based on taking responsibility for all actions and knowing there will be consequences according to the action. It emphasizes preserving harmony within the world and universe.
I do not see the need for fairness or consider that a benevolent action will reap another benevolent action. That may be true often, however that is just looking at one and one’s own and not the big picture. For example, the planet has been struck by asteroids which caused entire species to disappear in less time than it took them to evolve into complex lifeforms. Was that fair? Does it matter if anything is fair. Fairness is a perspective based idea. It has nothing to do with cause and effect.
Something in space sent those asteroids on their destruction path. It would be tough to have to live through that. I would not ask “Why me?” . who to ask ?
Cosmic Justice sometimes seems coincidental. Like when someone wrongs you and then you find out they were wronged by someone else. It is not about legal or religious justice. It is Cosmic because all our actions affect someone or something else like a domino effect. It is similar to Karma only because of the existence of consequences in that philosophy . It is to encourage good behavior. But why should people have to be rewarded for something they should do because it benefits all ?
Everyone should be taught to be responsible for their own actions. No free pass. They don’t have to wait to die to pay back what they took from the universe.
Keeping this view, it is interesting to reread the gospels; Jesus often seems to teach the same thing, to transcend our assumptions about cosmic justice in our approach to one another and to god; this is even anticipated by Job and the late prophets. Suffering is not necessarily the cosmos punishing wrong doing, and prosperity no sign of goodness, though there is of course the same explicit connection between right view, right action, and genuine well-being (the kingdom of heaven, understood as a condition of being now) as one finds in Buddhism. The gospel of Thomas is very interesting and inspiring....
Your point of view is quite special and corresponds to what I was looking for. But you need to realize that this concept is too advanced for the majority of people, then the usual form of how karma is understood can be seen as a skillful mean to motivate people to practice the Dharma and avoid social conflicts.
My personal opinion is that three factors are crucial to understand the positive and negative situations in a person’s life: the accumulated karma of their past actions, time cycles and chance.
These factors are interdependent, giving rise to all the suffering and joy of life of a person.
From the point of view of Dzogchen, the suffering it would be caused because of dualistical attachment , so it would be only necessary to cut this attachment to put an end to all suffering and experiencing all reality as one taste.
I recommend the book “Heart Essence Of The Khandro” that brings the point of view of Bon on the subject is, the teachings of Bön really clarify the concept of karma.
Some quotes from this book: “How does suffering start? How does it increase? I have to tell you this briefly as it forms the first part of the text. Every being is endowed with consciousness. There are many different types of consciousness, but in particular there is one called Kunzhi Namshe, and we can say that it is like a blackboard, because whatever we do or think - whether good or bad - is kept here like a kind of trace, like a drawing on a blackboard. This trace is called a karmic cause.”; “Our various consciousnesses and perceptions are like ‘collectors.’
How do they collect karmic causes? There are two ways : acting and saving a cause; not acting yet saving a cause nevertheless.
There are two other possibilities here : not acting and not saving a cause; acting yet not saving a cause. So there are these four points about collecting karmic cause.”
Thank you, David.
Thank you very much! I didn’t know about that book—it looks interesting.
Nice! I expect that you enjoy that book.
I must say that I certainly have not been taught that karma is any kind of “cosmic justice”. What I have been taught is that it is a latent pattern in the mind from previous lives. I don’t really know enough about Dzogchen to understand if this is what you mean by habit. It goes back to the old question of whether a newborn baby is a tabula rasa and, if not, where does the pre-existing content come from?
Further, I think it needs to be pointed out that the full traditional teachings on the subject speak of “karma, cause, and effect” and what we in the West call “karma” is what these teachings mean by “effect”. Traditionally, karma means action and the sense in which it is used is that actions of body, speech, and mind leave residual imprints in our mindstream. There is very little understanding in the West of what is meant by cause. Traditionally, your actions alone do not create your future. It requires contributing causes and conditions to “ripen” into the future effects that we call karma. There are also contributing causes and conditions that permanently prevent the ripening of past actions into effects. Were this not so, any religious practice would be pointless because it exists in a totally predetermined present leading to a totally predetermined future. The point of teaching about karma, cause, and effect, is that we have some partial control of this process unless a past action is about to ripen immediately.
I would be curious to know if, put this way, Dzogchen would still deny this teaching of karmic process.
This quote from Buddha is quite interesting about the subject, I decided to share:
“If anyone were to say that just as a person does a deed, so is his experience is determined by it, and if this were true, then living the holy life would not be possible, there would be no opportunity for the overcoming of suffering. But if anyone were to say that a person does a deed that is to be experienced, so does he experience it, then living the holy life would be possible, there would be an opportunity for the ending of suffering. For instance, a small evil deed done by one person may be experienced here in this life or perhaps not at all. Now, what sort of person commits a small evil that takes him to hell? Take a person who is careless in the development of body, speech and mind. He has not developed wisdom, he is insignificant, he has not developed himself, his life is restricted, and he is miserable. Even a small evil deed may bring such a person to hell. Now, take the person who is careful in development of body, speech and mind, He has developed wisdom, he is not insignificant, he has developed himself, his life is unrestricted and he is immeasurable. For such a person, a small evil deed may be experienced here or perhaps not at all. Suppose someone throws a grain of salt into a little cup of water. That water would be undrinkable. And why? Because the amount of water is small. Now, suppose throws a grain salt in River Ganges. That water would not be undrinkable. And why? Because the amount of water is great” (Anguttara Nikaya I.249).
Thank you for that quote!
This point is a key to Buddhism: “If anyone were to say that just as a person does a deed, so is his experience is determined by it, and if this were true, then living the holy life would not be possible, there would be no opportunity for the overcoming of suffering.”
Sometimes it’s said that this is the biggest difference between Buddhism and Hinduism—that Hinduism has a deterministic theory of karma. I don’t know whether that’s accurate about Hinduism.
In any case, some Buddhists forget, and say that karma is fixed, which is an unfortunate misunderstanding.
Seems to me that the essence of the Buddha’s teaching is something very difficult and unattractive to people, but the dualistic mind can easily understand the concept of deterministic karma .
Anyway, this misconception is extremely dangerous, for example, I once visited a Buddhist center, one of Lamas was bitten by a spider and he said “this was my karma, I have to accept it”, because of that he almost lost his leg to not accept treatment.
My final opinion is that the Dzogchen teachings are dedicated to the essential point.
The gradual path says we should purify all our negative actions, but we all did not just accumulate negative actions, everyone have already done endless positive actions as well.
The point of Dzogchen is just cut our ignorance, the only negative act we have done in countless life is the act of ignoring the nature of everything. After all, how could a person accumulate karma to realize their own nature?
Ye grol (primordial liberation): liberation is timeless; with rigpa, karma doesn’t need to be worn away gradually; it always was an illusion, and once liberated it is gone forever.
I have a problem to understand this statement in Dzogchen. If that is the case, the “liberated” beings would not have any interest, means or even capability to help beings in Samsara, which still suffer.
The only chance would be a kind of lineage, or beings, whom they can influence, but how should that be possible, if karma has disappeared and “it always was an illusion, and once liberated it is gone forever.”
Hi Vander, I do not have a great knowledge of the Dzogchen, actually I’m only a beginner. But this issue of karma bothered me, because the way how it is explained makes no logical sense to me.
In the book Heart Essence of the Khandro, Namdak Tenzin Rinpoche says that compassion is not expressed in Dzogchen in the same way as in other vehicles: “Usually we talk about Bodhichitta and Refuge and say that they are the best practices, but here it says that anything we practice or develop using thoughts - such as creating the visualization of Yidams, reciting mantras and so on - cannot be better than simply remaining in the Natural State” in other part he says “if a Dzogchen practitioner has advanced very deeply or highly in the Natural State and some kind of help or act of compassion is called for, the practitioner will act spontaneously, you see, if it is possible” and then “It looks as though everything is nihilism, but in fact the Dzogchen View has nothing to accept, nothing to reject. It is not against anything. Whatever is needed can appear spontaneously as reflections appear in a mirror”.
If that is the case, the "liberated" beings would not have any interest, means or even capability to help beings in Samsara, which still suffer.
Why? (I’m not sure what seems to you like a contradiction in this.)
Annihilating karma doesn’t annihilate compassion. Enlightened people are motivated to help others for the same reason everyone is: compassion.
There is a view that the apparent world is created entirely out of karma. In that case, if there were no karma, everything would disappear. Is that what you are thinking about here?
The view that the world is created solely by karma is not the view of Dzogchen. In fact, I think it’s probably not a Buddhist view at all. The quotation from Átila above, Anguttara Nikaya I.249, shows that it’s not the usual view of the Pali Suttas. I think it’s probably a Hindu view. However, Buddhist scripture is vast and self-contradictory, so maybe it’s found in some version of Buddhism too.
Thank you David for your answer.
My view is that an enlightened being is a being who does not have a dualistic view of reality, it is beyond concepts of subjective and objective , there is no longer a self and others, so she or he bring benefit to beings even without thinking about it.
Like Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche says “Through the understanding of emptiness, you will perceive no difference between yourself and others. You will be free of self-cherishing, compassion will arise spontaneously, and you will benefit beings without any effort. Even great bodhisattva acts like giving your life for another’s benefit will not be difficult for you, and you will be able to perform altruistic deeds effortlessly over many kalpas.”
Karma is only an illusion in the absolute sense, but it is a reality in the relative sense.
There is a Milarepa’s song that clarifies this concept of absolute and relative:
“An Authentic Portrait of the Middle Way
A VAJRA SONG OF REALIZATION OF THE LORD OF YOGIS MILAREPA
From the standpoint of the truth that’s genuine
There are no ghosts, there are not even Buddhas,
No meditator and no meditated,
No paths and levels traveled and no signs,
And no fruition bodies and no wisdoms,
And therefore there is no nirvana there,
Just designations using names and statements.
All animate, inanimate-the three realms,
Unborn and nonexistent from the outset,
No base to rest on, do not coemerge,
There is no karmic act, no maturation,
So even the name “samsara” does not exist.
That’s the way these are in the final picture,
But oh, if sentient beings did not exist,
What would the Buddhas of three times all come from?
Since fruition with no cause-impossible!
So the standpoint of the truth that’s superficial
Is samsara’s wheel, nirvana past all grief.
It all exists, that is the Sage’s teaching.
Then what exists appearing to be things,
And their nonexistence, reality that’s empty,
Are essentially inseparable, one taste,
And therefore there is neither self-awareness
Nor awareness of what’s other anywhere.
All of this a union vast and spacious,
And all those skilled in realizing this
Do not see consciousness, they see pure wisdom,
Do not see sentient beings, they see Buddhas,
Don’t see phenomena, they see their essence,
And out of this compassion just emerges
Retention, powers, fearlessness, and all
The qualities embodied by a Buddha
Just come as if you had a wishing jewel
This is what I, the yogi, have realized.”
David, thanks for that very interesting explanation.
“Annihilating karma doesn’t annihilate compassion. Enlightened people are motivated to help others for the same reason everyone is: compassion.”
What’s confusing for me is that I think that compassion is a very refined and significant form or aspect of karma itself. That means good karma leads to better rebirth, and ability to help others in various way (even acting provocative or negative as a show for a specific time, if that helps someone in the long term.)
However, it seems that the esential teachings separate karma and compassion…
Hmm… The Dzogchen view is that compassion (thugjé) is an inherent, pervasive, unchanging aspect of the basic nature of mind. Therefore, it is not produced by benevolent action, nor reduced by malevolent action.
However, “bad” karma creates habits of mind that obscure the always-present compassionate energy. Benevolent action creates its own habit (“good karma”). That can lead to greater power to help, and to better rebirth.
However, no amount of benevolent action is sufficient on its own to produce liberation, and in fact none is necessary. So mass murderers can, in principle, achieve enlightenment instantaneously. (This does not mean it’s OK to commit murder, of course!)
Once the wild borderlands of northern India were terrorized by a notorious bandit chieftain. His gang raped, stole, and murdered at will, because after the fall of the Gupta dynasty, there was no king to keep order.
One evening, after his men had waylaid a party of monks and brought their corpses back to their lair, he was feasting on monk liver and marrow. An old woman approached the camp, and demanded to speak with the chief. That happened, from time to time: mothers driven mad by the slaughter of their family would come to curse or beg. The men jeered, and were about to beat her to death, when the chief called to bring her over. The jeering grew louder: a worse fate awaited her.
The chief waved for silence. “And who are you,” he asked. Tomcat playing with a house-shrew.
The woman was extraordinarily ugly. Her face was the color of ash, and she had teeth like jackal.
“I am the ordinary state of your own thoughts,” she said, and fixed him a most peculiar stare.
“What?!” he said, momentarily off-balance, yet ready to strike.
She snapped her fingers in his face. “THAT!” she roared.
In that instant, he realized the nature of mind and was freed from all suffering. He achieved total insight into all dharmas, and dwelt evermore in perfect bliss.
A hundred miles to the south, the holy abbot of Nalanda Monastery gave teachings for the benefit of all sentient beings. For countless millions of years, his conduct had been perfectly stainless. He strove diligently for enlightenment in every moment of his life. He had not harmed another living creature for incalculably many lifetimes. Yet, he knew, billions more years would pass before he might be freed from suffering, because of the vast number of krill he had eaten when, in the Devonian Era, he had been a predatory fish.
One evening, when he had concluded the day’s teaching on Shantideva’s The Bodhisattva’s Way Of Life, and was giving blessings individually to a queue of lucky disciples, an old woman approached and strode directly to the head of the line. She shoved the monk he was blessing aside and glared at the abbot.
He regarded her with perfect benevolence. “And who are you?” he asked, gently.
“I am your worst nightmare,” she said, and fixed with him a most peculiar stare.
“What?!” he said, momentarily off-balance, yet ready to give her his blessing.
“You have wasted eons polishing a brick, when you could have seen THIS!” she roared, and snapped her fingers in his face.
"That doesn't seem fair," said the young monk.
"No," said the old man. "It isn't."
Vander, good and bad seem to me very confusion thing, for example, some people believe that being a vegetarian is a way of accumulating positive karma, but some researchers say that a vegetarian dish causes more death than a non-vegetarian dish, in the end, the good karma was illusory.
Perhaps the reason why there is an emphasis on the practice of positive actions is the fact that the dualistic mind feels more motivated to practice that way.
I believe that some people who are dedicated to accumulate good deeds are often motivated by the desire to feed their pride. Others, by having a polluted mind, end up committing negativity without notice. So the most important thing is to pay attention to the essential: to practice contemplation, to study on emptiness and to learn more about the nature of mind.
As Buddha Shakyamuni said:
“To enter contemplation for the time it takes for an ant to walk from one end of one’s nose to the other, will bring more progress towards realization than a whole lifetime spent in the accumulation of good actions [merit].”
I am so happy to see the conversation here pick up. ILOVE the parable, David.
Because things could go like that, but I think it’s far more frequent that violent gang leaders meet a violent end (often at the hands of their own men or a rival gang) As for Buddhist teachers, to achieve a state of perfect bliss may be equally rare (perhaps even less frequently than gang leaders) but the normal outcome (they continue teaching and maybe get involved in sex/money scandals) is preferable. Many people hear the call, but few are the chosen ones who get success (in either path, “good” or “bad”).
But this is the external view, we can’t really know how does it feel to be a saint or a sinner (unless we become one) but there are many records and tales (some of them classical, like Macbeth) about how fame, fortune and power are hollow and meaningless by themselves moreover if they are gained by “evil” means, because then you have no peace of mind as you fear enemies, traitors and thieves all around you. This connects with the approach to karma as a “view”: our perception of the world and the things that we experience is modeled by our thoughts, words, and actions (or omissions), that repeated again and again form habits which in time they make a way of life, which shapes our character (we could say our mental, emotional and physical equipment) which conditions the way we perceive what happens to us, leading to an increase or decrease of our suffering and happiness. So, two different people, even with apparently the same background and external situation, may feel and react in opposite ways when facing the same event. I think this is very close to the Dzogchen view as you explain it here. That’s not to say that it has got no influence in the external world, (it has, obviously) but it is not mechanical and, as you said, there’s no guarantee.
What strikes me more, is that in environments of “modernized” versions of Buddhism, I found a conception of karma that is antithetical even with the traditional ones (at least as far as I know): the believe that karma explains everything that happens (even natural disasters), that works in a reward/punishment way in a ethical pre-given frame, which makes necessary to believe in an afterlife for the self to work properly. I found this externally oriented conception dogmatic, archaic, contradictory and indefensible nowadays, whereas the internal oriented one, is more limited but comprehensible, useful and metaphysics-free (although some insist in put them in the mix). Maybe in the West the conception of karma is influenced by the traditional conception of fate.
So, from the internal point of view, the parable is not unfair, but maybe misleading, since people with the usual (mis)conception of karma will either reject it or adopt another false point of view: that you can get the bliss no matter how you behave, which I think it’s wrong: well, you can get the bliss, but it does matter how you behave because certain behaviors will make it much more difficult.
good and bad seem to me very confusion thing,...
Atila, yeah, for me too. It seems to be a relative thing. However, it also seems that well-mannered behaviour is appreciated in many cultures. And I think we as humans have a feeling for compassionate heart.
Vander, If you think it is necessary to be motivated by the accumulation of positive karma to practice compassion, it would not be a selfish act actually? You just want to make positive actions because of the return that this actions would have for you.
Well-mannered behavior is important, but there is different way of expressing compassion, it is not necessary to have a very closed mind on this subject. I believe that Buddhists should not separate compassion and emptiness, compassion emergence naturally from the realization of emptiness, and even actions that could be perceived as negative bring benefits to beings.
Atila, yes it seems that motivation for ones own benefit and happiness is also important, but why call that selfish? I don’t think that I am a holy person either.
A discourse by Buddha Shakyamuni which emphasises the aspect of benefit and happiness as result of good karma:
This text of the Buddha is in the level of “Hinayna”. At the level of the Mahayana, the instructions are very different, for example, this Patrul Rinpoche’s text : http://rickpdx.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/nine_considerations.pdf .
If a person is motivated to do good deeds only because of the benefit that such actions may bring to herself, it seems something selfish.
Anyway, it is better to focus on achieving a state beyond subjective and objective, I and others, so you work for the benefit of all beings and your own at the same time and effortlessly.
Tit Porngn went to visit the Venerable Abbot of the nearby monastery. At one point, he asked:
“Eh, Luang Por, the Buddha taught that everything is not-self, and is without an owner – there is no-one who commits kamma and no-one who receives its results. If that’s the case, then I can go out and hit somebody over the head or even kill them, or do anything I like, because there is no-one committing kamma and no-one receiving its results.”
No sooner had Tit Porng finished speaking, when the Abbot’s walking stick, concealed somewhere unknown to Tit Porng, swung down like a flash. Tit Porng could hardly get his arm up fast enough to ward off the blow. Even so, the walking stick struck squarely in the middle of his arm, giving it a good bruise.
Clutching his sore arm, Tit Porng said, “Luang Por! Why did you do that?” His voice trembled with the anger that was welling up inside him.
“Oh! What’s the matter?” the Abbot asked offhandedly.
“Why, you hit me! That hurts!”
The Abbot, assuming a tone of voice usually reserved for sermons, slowly murmured: “There is kamma but no-one creating it. There are results of kamma, but no-one receiving them. There is feeling, but no-one experiencing it. There is pain, but no-one in pain … He who tries to use the law of not-self for his own selfish purposes is not freed of self; he who clings to not-self is one who clings to self. He does not really know not-self. He who clings to the idea that there is no-one who creates kamma must also cling to the idea that there is one who is in pain. He does not really know that there is no-one who creates kamma and no-one who experiences pain.”
The moral of this story is: if you want to say “there is no-one who creates kamma,” you must first learn how to stop saying “Ouch!”
Bodhidharma says, “The karma of the Three Realms comes from the mind alone. If your mind isnt within the Three Realms, its beyond them. The Three Realms correspond to the Three Poisons: greed corresponds to the Realm of Desire, anger to the Realm of Form, and delusion to the Formless Realm. And because karma created by the poisons can be light or heavy, these Three Realms are further divided into six places known as the Six States of Existence”
Yin-shun says, “Karma is the residual force of actions. Whether actions are good or bad, they depend mainly on the mind. Thus, the presence of exceptionally strong wisdom or resolution can cause karma to change. Karma means what is possible not what is predetermined. Hence, it can be transformed. Thus, Buddhism stresses past karma but does not fall into the doctrine of fatalism”
I believe these two quotes really clarified the concept of karma to me, ending the doubts that I had about this topic. I wish that they will be of benefit to others also.
David, a logical proof that the existence of some kind of cosmic justice is not in harmony with Buddhist teachings:
The erroneous statement that karma would be some form of cosmic justice imply the existence of an absolute good and evil in the universe; but Buddhism says that everything that exists is created by interdependence; so good and evil does not exist absolutely, but is created by the mind of beings interdependently.
I did a study on the concept of karma, because after our discussions i continued with some questions about the concept of karma. Now I will share some conclusions about it.
In my perception, karma and emptiness are the fundamental concepts of Buddhism. However, initially, the way people understand karma seemed to be a contradiction in relation to the concept of emptiness. After studying the different Buddhist schools, I noticed that there are different understandings about karma and the way people understand karma was wrong and limited.
In Hinayana, karma work in a dualistic way, negative actions will generate positive results, positive actions will generate positive results. However some parts of the Pali Canon texts, such as the one I posted earlier, shows that karma would not work deterministically. Hinayana teachings are dualistic and realistic, beings, phenomena and dualistic concepts are considered self-existent , and understanding of this school about karma reflects this.
In Mahayana, the determining factor would be the emotional motivation of the action. So it would be not only the act of killing, for example, that would cause a negative result, but if the person would be motivated by anger, attachment or ignorance.
In Mahayana, there are two main schools of philosophy: Madhyamaka and Yogacara, the former could be classified as a school of metaphysics and the second as a school of philosophical psychology.
The Madhyamakha school has three sub-schools, the last one, Prasangika Madhyamika, is the more relevant. This school claims in relation to karma and relative truth, that everything is product of interdependent arising causes and conditions, so virtuous actions would lead to positive results when causes and conditions arise. Virtuous actions would be actions not motivated by ignorance, attachment and anger. Not virtuous actions would be actions motivated by ignorance, attachment and anger.
In Yogacara school, there are two views on karma. The first is that there would be a warehouse consciousness called Alayavijana, and that every action would create a seed and that this “seed” would produce a result when the causes and conditions arise. This explanation can only be understood symbolically, for the idea of an immutable seed would not be in harmony with Buddhist philosophy, because it asserts the non-existence of any immutable entity. The second view would be that every action motivated by negative emotions pollute our warehouse consciousness and the goal of spiritual practice would purify our warehouse consciousness. An example, if we enter a room with a very strong scent our perception of the place ends up being affected by it; thus, after purify our mental stream, we would be able to perceive appearances in a non-conceptual way.
In the teachings of Anuyoga, karma is related to the karmic winds, if the energy does not flow through the central channel, we were limited to a dualistic vision. Karma is seen as an energetic context, being necessary to purify the energy channels and make the lung flow through the central channel.
Thus, the understanding that people often have about karma is completely wrong. Actions and reactions is only a product of self-attachment and ignorance, people create their suffering by clinging to a non-existent self. Master Chandrakirti said about it:
“Beings think “I” at first, and cling to self;
They think of “mine” and are attached to things.
They thus turn helplessly as buckets on a waterwheel,
And to compassion for such beings I bow down!.”
Now I want to analyze how equality is achieved in different Buddhist yanas.
While samsara is a product of interdependence, it is our self-attachment which binds us to samsara. As samsara is a collective illusion, would not really be possible to put an end to samsara, but we have to put an end to our self-attachment. Thus meditating on emptiness would be an antidote to our attachment to an illusory self. Conduit, you can not maintain our existence without live with others, thus noting the external emptiness would also be an antidote to the sufferings and difficulties we face.
The Tantric method of Mahayoga to transform appearance in the divinity would be another method of achieving equanimity, so it would be possible to turn all the situations into an enlightened experience. One example was the rape of Yeshe Tsogyal when she visualized her abusers in deities.
Finally, in Dzogchen, Rigpa is the realization of the union of emptiness and luminosity, just keep it in that state would be enough, because the practitioner would be free of attachment and would not experience the results of their actions. He could take birth in any of the six realms, but for him all the kingdoms would be viewed with equanimity, like a great illusion.
In Taoism, they possesses the concept of non-action. wuweiit would mean put an end to the concept of an individual self and unite with the great Dao. Some Taoist schools, which adopted Buddhist concepts, state that it would be necessary first to reach a state of no action and then purify the negative of past lives. Thus, Taoist also reach a state beyond cause and effect.
Another relevant point is in relation to conduct. Each person should adopt a conduct that would be best for their spiritual practice, however claim to be a Buddhist or yogi and use that to justify abusive and exploitative conduct is clearly something that will bring great suffering. But it is also impossible to live without making any mistakes, keeping the awareness of the illusory nature of everything, so it is possible to maintain equanimity, not matter what.
“Desire, hatred, ignorance, and The actions they generate are non-virtues. Non-desire, non-hatred, non-ignorance, And the actions they generate are virtues.
Desisting from all non-virtues And always engaging in virtues With body, speech, and mind— These are called the three forms of practice.
Through these practices one is freed from becoming A hell-being, hungry ghost, or animal. Reborn as a human or god one gains Extensive happiness, fortune, and dominion.
Through the concentrations, immeasurables, and formlessnesses One experiences the bliss of Brahma and so forth.
Thus in brief are the practices For high status and their fruits.
The doctrines of definite goodness Are said by the Conquerors To be deep, subtle, and frightening To the childish, who are not learned.
‘I am not, I will not be. I have not, I will not have’, That frightens all the childish And extinguishes fear in the wise.
By him who speaks only to help beings, It was said that all beings Have arisen from the conception of I And are enveloped with the conception of mine.
‘The I exists, the mine exists.’ These are wrong as ultimates, For the two are not [established] By a thorough consciousness of reality just as it is.
The mental and physical aggregates arise From the conception of I which is false in fact.
How could what is grown From a false seed be true?
Having seen thus the aggregates as untrue, The conception of I is abandoned, And due to abandoning the conception of I The aggregates arise no more.”
From Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland - Jeffrey Hopkins
How’s this for a manifesto for Cosmic Justice?
Cesar, the idea of a creator god who controls everything was what kept order during the medieval time. With the rise of science, natural explanations have emerged about the origin of the universe and humanity. ‘Death’ creator created a void and a battle between creationism and science. The principle reason is the ethical aspect, because without a creator people feel they have no reason to behave, which leads to nihilism. In Eastern culture, they solved this dilemma with the concept of karma and the firmament. However, the way karma is understood is actually a distortion, the reading of texts written before demonstrates this. The German philologist and philosopher Nietzsche wrote his books with the intention of demonstrating how a society could exist free of dualistic concepts of good or evil.
Hey David, I’ve been reading your various blogs for the past couple years and just had to make a comment this time.
Basically, I have to disagree with you on this one and here’s why: in order to show that karma is only a “habit” of the universe, something that can be overruled, you’d have to show at least one case where a truly “bad” karmic action leads to a positive outcome for the agent involved (and for the sake of ruling out woo-woo explanations, restrict the outcomes to this life only). Maybe it’s naive of me, but I don’t see too many cases where that’s likely, if any at all. As you say here:
“The Dzogchen view is that karma is a matter of habit—and therefore empty. If we habitually act in particular ways, we tend to view the world in corresponding ways. If we act aggressively, out of anger, our victims are likely to retaliate. Then we will find the world dangerous. Our anger and paranoia are likely to increase, and this may escalate indefinitely. If we are generous, others may be inclined to reciprocate. So we live in a world partly shaped by our actions and perceptions. However, there is no guarantee in this.”
So you say that, but then you don’t list any examples to support your claim…
In other words, when are these habits of the universe NOT the case? The only example I can really think of is that of the socio/psychopath. People that can act negatively and not feel bad later. However, I’d counter that these people are actually living in a hell realm of sorts - i.e. sociopaths, in their lack of empathy, are fundamentally cut off from humanity in that they can’t form real friendships.
So what example comes to mind for you?
Namaste, first thanks for your web work. I just found your site, but found the aro site previously. What discouraged me from studying with them are their expensive monthly fees, which makes their teachings suspicious. I do not get that, but anyway, onto the topic of karma. So help me if u can. I get how there is no cause and effect from the ultimate view of perfected nature, where there is only other-emptiness. But there is certainly cause and effect from the relative view within imaginary nature and dependent nature. And it is this interdependent web of cause and effect which allows non-self and ordinary-emptiness to be valid turth claims. What am i missing? Is dzogchen just refusing to discuss relative reality and only making ultimate truth claims?Skillful conduct is useful in manifesting more pleasure and less suffering in the relative worlds, but obviously conduct doesnt get one to ultimate Reality which is ever present.
Skillful conduct is useful in manifesting more pleasure and less suffering in the relative worlds, but obviously conduct doesnt get one to ultimate Reality which is ever present.
Yes… this seems like it might go a long way toward answering your own question?
(I’m not really sure what your question is.)
Dzogchen does not deny the importance of right conduct. It only says that there is no immutable Law according to which your rebirth is entirely determined by previous actions.
This post was from seven years ago… I’ve written more about Dzogchen and ethics only seven months ago! Perhaps that post will help?
Also, I recently wrote about how karma is not an adequate theory of ethics.
David, Dzogchen texts say that only to keep the awareness is the practice, so everything a person could do in a state of awareness, the natural state, is right, that is kind of similar to Daoism in fact.
And I don’t truly think that there is a opposition between the sutric tradition and Dzogchen. In fact, a solid knowledge about Indian Buddhist philosopher is a great support to Dzogchen and others esoteric practices, that was Mipham Ripoche position.
Now, I still researching to know from where this common language about karma come. What Mahayana texts truly say is that suffering is caused by self-clinging, and the concept of dependent origination is the Buddhism explanation about how Samsara works and also why it is empty of own existence. The Mahayana position about ethic it is similar with Machiavelli position, even if it is so often misunderstood , that it is ok to do any negative action if that could bring some benefit for beings, that is what Patrul Riponche express in his text ‘Nine Consideration to Help Beings’. In the end, the common way of talk about karma only reinforce self-clinging.
I see as somewhat unconvincing that you wish that even war criminals and other bad guys be in paradise.
This is beautiful to aspire, but it seems a little hypocritical and shows that fortunately you were never a victim of a war thug or any other violent criminal…
Anyways, it is stramge to say what I’m going to say, but the whole world should be grateful for the Chinese having invaded Tibet.
Otherwise, Tibetans could still be keeping Vajrayana and Dzogchen hidden from the rest of people, as they were xenophobous.
Wangpo, Indian Mahayana was never a Manichean spiritual path, but this kind of discussion is not so simple, Mahayana Buddhist only see like ‘evil’ what cause difficult to the progress on the path to enlightenment and Buddhist was never a social doctrine, like Confucianism, for an example.
Also, if not self evident, you must be really truly closer to evil, since you may think that all the suffering of Tibetan people under communist may be good in anyway, and, if you think that Tibetan are xenophobic, why are you interested in Tibetan Buddhist by the way?
And the only thing that teaching Dzogchen and Vajrayana in the West is serving is to help people to feed their self-clinging, negative emotions and the attachment to the eight worldly Dharmas, like in this Machig Labdon prophecy: “People these days use whatever little dharma they know to augment afflictive emotion, and then engender tremendous pride and conceit over it. They teach the Dharma without taming their own minds. But as with a river rock [that sits in a river but is never soaked through], not even a hair’s tip of benefit penetrates the other people. Even worse, incorrigible people [are attracted] to this [false] dharma that increases conflict. When individuals who could be tamed by the Dharma encounter such incorrigible, their desire for the sacred Dharma is lost. It is not the fault of the Dharma; it is the fault of individuals.”
Alipio, first things, first: I don’t know if you thought that I was responding to you, since the comment before mine was yours; just to make this clear, I was commenting on David’s last lines of this post. Secondly, you conceptualize too much and this has nothing to do with the simplicity of Dzogchen. Maybe you’re a good philosopher, but very attached to your intellect, to doctrines and authorities, as you need to summon all that to support your confused thinking, even having to quote Machig in order to appear as a paladin of the Truth.. Sooo boring!
Let’s get three points of your comment on my comment to turn this magic of “self-evidence” into your neck: (A) I don’t care about your view that I’m “closer to evil”, because I was just taking this thing of being grateful for the Chinese invasion on Tibet in the same fashion, mutatis mutandis, as David’s was taking the thing on war criminals deserving paradise. From an major point of view (or even absolute view, in David’s case), we’re both right, David and me. This was a simple hypothesis to provoke reflexion. This is not my belief, but thanks a lot for judging me in such a great way. It’s comical to be put “closer to evil”, as if I were some Count Dracula for expressing that hypothesis…ha-ha-ha; (B) You confuse Vajrayana with Tibetan culture and this is a sign of how caducous is your intellect. Tibetans were just the custodians of Vajrayana and Dzogchen for a few centuries, not their owners and there was xenophoby there, such as not easily allowing foreigners into their lands as well as there was (and still there is) a lot of chauvinism which has nothing to do with any Vajra view. The way you say, I couldn’t be interested in Sufis because Muslim nations are so full of deranged behaviors. Dzogchen is not something that someone owns a copyright of…; (C) You say by looking to yourself that “the only thing that teaching Dzogchen and Vajrayana in the West is serving is to help people to feed their self-clinging, negative emotions and the attachment to the eight worldly Dharmas”. Your comment clearly shows this, but I see the contrary: in the West as in Tibet, that there is always very few people really engaged in the spiritual practice to really honor the path. All the others are imitative idiots, as Kyabjé Künzang Rinpoche says in Wisdom Eccentrics. Idiots that think that by quoting Machig or Mipham in any context, their point of view is authenticated from the scratch. This is valid for Sufis too and I suspect that in every stance that could be called genuine spirituality. So, I give your presumptuous asking back to your big fat belly: “If you really think like this [that Vajra in the West only causes increase in kleshas, et caterva], what the f**king hell are you doing here?!? What’s your motivation, man?!?”
Your quote on Machig reminded me of one from Saadi, a great sufi, in his Gulistan: “Do not judge a path by the ones that traverse it”.
Well, having said that, I can get back to the track I was talking about, that it’s very easy to talk about compassion towards “real bad people” (from our relative point of view, because I’m not enlightened) such as the ones that killed Jews in WWII or such as the ones that raped and slaughtered my 9-y-old cousine with firework on her anus, but it’s very, very hard to really feel like that in one’s heart.
BTW, I agree that there’s no cosmic justice and that Dzogchen or even Vajrayana – maybe even the Theravadin – do not talk about karma in the way that Hindus talk, as a just retribution for good or bad deeds. It’s just a method to point to your habits and how they influence the way you see reality. Dharma is never about a philosophical concept of truth (even if temporary), but just about methods for taming one’s mind (removing the arrows before asking questions about their origin).
I know you were not talking to me, I only could not avoid to answer such level of nonsense. And you were only proving my point, you accuse me of being the paladin of truth, but it is your who is talking like to be the owner of truth, because, in the end, your are the great Dzogchen practitioner. And indeed, I’m kind of interested in logic and rational thinking, just like great Dzogchen and Mahamudra masters of Indian and Tibet were too. The funny thing is that, while in Indian, China and Tibet Buddhists would have to go through tough training, people in the West people are instantaneous great yogis, with a high level of arrogance, and don’t even need to learn anything about logic and reasoning, because they have great realization. And, in fact, anyone need to even know about logic and the so to be good in argumentation, Milarepa is still well known for his rhetoric, even he had no formal education. So, you argument seems to me only to show a kind of nihilist tendency, since rationality is not truly against the Buddhist and esoteric Buddhist spirit.
And about Machig Labdron, she even go further in the text: Machik’s Complete Explanation, go description of both Tibetans master and their western followers.
Oh, I see. Thanks a lot for showing my lack of logic. I’m just a wacko, anyway! It’s very interesting indeed to see your great omniscience assuming that I had no training. It really demonstrates your profound logic.
Hey David. I really like your view on criminals, punishment, and justice. It’s rare to see someone that will actually come out and say things like this. Does your teacher feel this way too? Could you direct me in the way of any lamas that teach this? I’d like to have a teacher that thinks this way. Thanks.
Hi Frank, glad you liked this…
That was a personal view only. If I had to guess, it would be that the Aro Lamas would agree—but that is only a guess.
This view about karma is some sort of justice is not part of India Buddhism.
In early sutras the Buddha appears attributing this sort of view to Jainism.
The ground of first and second turning teaching causality is the concept of interdependent origination. The view of all a person experience is the result of a previous life action would contract the doctrine of multiple causes. So a person suffering can’t be said to be only a their all action results.
In the Yogacara teaching, consciousness is the focus. While often called a idealist school, Yogacara is not neither denying a out of mind world or affirming it. However, in this school, the position about karma is that a person would collect a seed and ripen is into a experience. So the seed of attachment would ripen as the experience of suffering. Not as an action result.
Asian Buddhist master use this concept of karmic punishment to control people. But it’s not a India Buddhist concept.
I can offer a bit of pedantry here (as I myself am not really a practitioner or necessarily believe any of this stuff…), but as per the part about Dzogchen rejecting the law of karma, I just read “A Treasure Trove of Scriptural Transmission : A Commentary on The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena” by Longchen Rabjam – one of the most important (if not THE most important) text on Dzogchen – and he definitely says that karmic actions ripen unfailingly.
He also says neither karma, samsara, nirvana, or the mind itself actually exist. So I guess “awakening” in this context really is ultimately about loosening the knots of self-reifying illusions and then realizing that they, as well as their apparent functioning according to causal determinism, never existed to begin with (like waking up in your bed and realizing the dream you just had isn’t anywhere to be found).
It’s subtle and can easily be interpreted as nihilism (hence all the warnings).
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