I have been asked to say something about karma. Tall order in 5 minutes! So, here it goes:

Karma is our entanglement in the world of conditions. Buddha said that the whole world is on fire. We can easily be consumed by that fire. It is as if every object one encounters desires to possess you, and heedlessly you wander into the trap, into the blaze.

We tend to think of karma in terms of gains and losses: to gain merit and to pay off our debts of negative karma from eons of wrongdoing. However, that is a bit like digging a pit on the beach below sea level: it fills in as fast as you dig it out.

Further, and I suppose this is an especially Buddhist point, even good karma ties one more tightly to samsara, just as possession of riches does not make a wealthy person less greedy. Greater benefit only encourages greater enmeshment.

For several years before his enlightenment, Siddharta Gautama sought to pay off his karmic dept by mortifying the body. It did not work. However much penance one does, or, conversely, however much good work one accumulates, the balance sheet never comes out of the red. The world remains on fire. So, one must find a way to walk through the flames. This is the Path of Faith.

In the larger Pureland Sutra it says that faith will enable you to pass through the fire at the end of the kalpa, when the whole universe is consumed. But one does not need to wait until the end of the kalpa. Karma is burning already.

But, while karma can be seen terms of a calculus of gains and losses, Amida is measureless: no gain – no loss. To place one’s faith in Amida is, in a sense, to become invisible to karma. You can see it, but it can’t see you. This is the Yin position. Good happens: Namo Amida Bu. Bad happens: Namo Amida Bu.

Everything in the world is burning with desire for you. It wishes to pull you into it’s drama. Karma is drama. Drama has a momentum. Each story enraptures, and it unfolds and it leads to a denouement. And in this denouement there is irony. And this irony is the telling of the Dharma – but in negative form. Karma brings dukkha and dukkha is the gateway, but mostly we don’t go in. We run back into the smoke and get snapped up by the next desiring object, only to start the next cycle all over again.

Karma is a cunning predator. It’s nice to be desired until it eats you. Then you are torn apart. Ever hopeful of happiness and pleasure, ever fearful of unhappiness and pain, one is vulnerable to every seduction. Karma – the confidence trickster will soon empty your wallet and take everything you have.

The person of faith smiles at the desiring world and he is not trapped by it. The daughters of Mara roll out their routines like prostitutes at the roadside, but the Buddha sees them only as beautiful flowers fallen from the sky to decorate the path.

The person of faith looks on karma with the eye of a wise friend: “Karma, you are seen. I enjoy your display, but I have no need to buy anything today. I give you a blessing.”

Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much



There is another podcast (#85) on karma. Follow this link to read the transcription. 


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