Karma: part two

In the second installment of our conversation on karma, we start with a critique of Sharon Stone’s comments on karma, the Chinese government, and earthquakes, exploring the problems with her essentialist claims. We don’t linger there long, though, and wander off to discuss good versus evil karma and whether or not those who do intentionally bad things are beyond redemption. Questions of the “evil” person, of course, bring up Shinshu (and specifically Shinran’s) doctrine about akunin and the problem of evil.

1 reply on “ Karma: part two ”
  1. Thank you for another excellent podcast!

    At one point Dr. Scott wondered if failing to take action when a person observes an injustice could generate negative mental karma. According to the interpretation that I am most familiar with regarding the 3 types of karma (mental, spoken, physical), both the things you do and the things you do not do fall into the catagory of physical karma. You discussed the importance of intention in determing karma. I thought I would add that the three types of karma can also be divided in to thinking karma and post-thinking karma, such that mental karma is created by the process of thinking itself, and spoken and physical karma take place after thinking. According to this interpretation, it seems clear that failing to take action when you notice an injustice would generate negative physical karma.

    With regard to your discussion of evil and karma in Jodo Shinshu, I was reminded of the last line of the Eighteenth Vow made by Dharmakara Bodhisattva prior to attaining Buddha, which secures birth in the Pure Land for all beings who take refuge in Amida Buddha, excluding those who “have committed the five heinous sins and those who have reviled the true Dharma.” I heard a Shinshu teacher here in Kyoto explain this to mean that one must not commit grave trangressions after taking refuge in Amida Buddha, but that transgressions committed prior to embracing the teaching of the Buddha will not impede the power of the vow to secure your birth in the Pure Land.

    The person who I heard give this teaching didn’t unpack it much beyond that, but I would venture to say that a good way to understand the Jodo Shinshu perspective on correct behavior is that we should endeavor to live well, but not with idea that those good actions are going to be our ticket to liberation from suffering. To my mind, the locus for moral action in Jodo Shinshu should be a sense of gratitude our human life, the beauty of the world, the people around us, etc.

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