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ENLIGHTENMENT AND KARMA:
Their Role in the Awakening Experience



Whether the Enlightened person is subject to Karma is an important philosophical question. If so, what's the use of Enlightenment? If not, then the law of causation is not universal.


the Wanderling


I. The Good or Bad Effect Is Neither Reward Nor Punishment

The so-called good effect or bad effect is not a judgement nor is it given as a reward or punishment by a supramundane authority such as God. The good or bad effect produced by good or bad Karma is purely and simply a natural phenomenon governed by natural laws that act automatically, with complete justice. If God has anything to do with it, then God must also act according to this natural law. This cause produces this effect. That cause produces that effect. God would not change this natural path because of his like or dislike of a particular person.


II. Good and Bad Are Not Defined By A Human Code of Law.

The good and bad referred to here are not defined by any code or law created by human being unless such a code or law follows the natural path. For example, when democracy was first established in the United States, women did not have the right to vote. At that time, women who complied with that status were considered good and those who fought against it were considered bad. The judgement was incorrect, however. The natural path is that human beings are all equal, and thus the system which gives women equal voting rights with men is truly the just one. Therefore, those who opposed the unequal voting system were actually the good ones.

This law of Karma, or cause and effect, is so powerful that it governs everything in the universe, that is, according to Buddhism and Zen, except the one who is Enlightened. Upon Enlightenment, the round of cause and effect loses its significance, just as Samsara, or the round of birth and death, ceases with Enlightenment. Since basic nature transcends all duality and is ultimate, there is no one to receive the effect, whether it is good or bad, and no one to whom any effect can apply. Cause and effect, just like birth and death, lose their significance at the Enlightened level because at the level of basic nature there is no one to receive the effect of the Karma, whether it is good or bad. Therefore, at the extreme, when one is Enlightened, the law of Karma is not applicable. All that the Enlightened one does, says, or thinks is through free will, a manifestation of basic nature, and not the effect of past Karma. This unique explanation by Buddha of the nullification of the law of Karma is very important.

The above, rewritten, updated, and edited by the Wanderling for our purposed here, has been excerpted from The Truth of Karma: Lecture 2



To the above two qualifications suggested by the Buddha I would bring forth a third qualification...although, taken with the two plus all of the above, it really doesn't stand alone as a "Number 3" as much as being an overlooked, underestimated interwoven integral of the Whole:

If you have read Zen, the Buddha, and Shamanism you will be familiar with the fact that many years ago I was apprenticed under a Jamaican man of spells called an Obeah. In the process I learned that in the scheme of things all things must return to a balance. If you create any movement in the normal flow of things somehow somewhere there must be a return to equalibrium. That is to say, in the spell-making realm of the Obeah for example, if you are a Medium between the person wanting the spell given and the person receiving the spell, the person wanting the spell is responsible for the consequences. If, on the otherhand, YOU are the perpetrator of the spell for your own reasons on your own behalf, then YOU must accept the consequences. Nothing is free, there is always a payoff somewhere. It either case it does not violate the Karma premises as presented. Spoken from experience.


Justice is not postponed. A perfect equity adjusts its balance in all parts of life. Oi chusoi Dios aei enpiptousi, -- The dice of God are always loaded. The world looks like a multiplication-table, or a mathematical equation, which, turn it how you will, balances itself. Take what figure you will, its exact value, nor more nor less, still returns to you. Every secret is told, every crime is punished, every virtue rewarded, every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty. What we call retribution is the universal necessity by which the whole appears wherever a part appears. If you see smoke, there must be fire. If you see a hand or a limb, you know that the trunk to which it belongs is there behind.

Ralph Waldo Emerson -- "Compensations"



Once Ejo asked: "What is meant by the expression:'Cause and effect are not clouded'?"

This expression is found in the famous Koan known as "The Wild Fox" or "Hyakujo's Fox" and the following is the first part of the story as it appears in the Mumonkan:


When Hyakujo (also known as Pai-Chang Huai-Hai) delivered a certain series of sermons, an old man always followed the monks to the main hall and listened to him. When the monks left the hall, the old man would also leave. One day, however, he remained behind and Hyakujo asked him, "Who are you, standing there before me?" The old man replied, "I am not a human being. In the old days of Kaashyapa buddha, I was a head monk living here on this mountain. One day a student asked me,'Does a man of Enlightenment fall under the yoke of causation or not?' I answered,'No, he does not.' Since then I have been doomed to undergo five hundred rebirths as a fox. I beg you now to give the turning word to release me from my life as a fox. Tell me, does a man of Enlightenment fall under the yoke of causation or not?" Hyakujo answered, "He does not ignore [cloud] causation [cause and effect]." No sooner had the old man heard these words than he was Enlightened.

SEE: NO DUCKS: The Koans of Pai-Chang Huai-Hai


"Causation" in this passage refers to "moral causation." The Buddhist concept of Karma acknowledges that good/bad deeds, thoughts, and so forth result in good/bad effects. Thus the import of the question posed by the "fox" is whether or not the Enlightened person is subject to Karma. Hyakujo's answer, in effect, affirms that the Enlightened person is subject to moral causation. Katsuki Sekida offers a common Zen interpretation of this passage in his comment: "Thus to ignore causation only compounds one's malady. To recognize causation constitutes the remedy for it." See Karma and Free Will.

Dogen Zenji's employment of this story in the "Daishugyo" chapter of the Shobogenzo implies that, on one level, he thinks Hyakujo's answer indeed provides a "remedy" for the old man's predicament. Yet Dogen was rarely content with merely citing traditional Zen interpretations of passages; typically, he sought to push his students to a further understanding by a creative reinterpretation of a passage. Lest his disciple therefore think this not-ignoring/recognition of causation is de facto a release from it in an ultimate sense, Dogen answers that the passage means "cause and effect are immovable." In other words, moral causation, for Dogen, is an inexorable fact of human existence.

Given this fact, Koun Ejo Zenji (1198-1280), the Dharma heir to Dogen Zenji, asks how we can ever "escape" moral causation. Dogen's response is enigmatic: "Cause and effect arise at the same time." Nowhere in the Shobogenzo Zuimonki does he further clarify this passage. However, the key to understanding this statement can be gleaned from his discussion of causation in the "Shoakumakusa" chapter of the Shobogenzo, wherein he observes that "cause is not before and effect is not after." As Hee-Jin Kim explains, Dogen saw cause and effect as absolutely discontinuous moments that, in any given action, arise simultaneously from "thusness." Therefore...no sooner does one choose and act according to a particular course of action than are the results thereof (heavens, hells, or otherwise) realized in it.... Man lives in the midst of causation from which he cannot escape even for a moment; nevertheless, he can live from moment to moment in such a way that these moments are the fulfilled moments of moral and spiritual freedom and purity in thusness.

The above "Ejo-Dogen" comentary is courtesy of: Moral Action and Enlightenment According to Dogen

See also: What The Buddha Said



HYAKUJO'S FOX: An Elaboration of the Commentaries from the Mumonkan:

Summary: A Zen master had been reborn as a fox because he taught that a Buddha is not subject to his Karma. Hyakujo liberated him by correcting that a Buddha was united with it. The disciple Obaku asked what if Zen masters always gave the right answer. Then avoided a slap by giving one.

Whether the Enlightened man is subject to Karma is an important philosophical question. If so, what's the use of Enlightenment? If not, then the law of causation is not universal. The Buddha taught that philosophy is not the way (Tao) since it inevitably leads to such contradictions. Hyakujo's solution was ingenious and correct. It demonstrated that an Enlightened man can perform philosophical manipulation, but it was not Zen. By solving his dilemma philosophically, he encouraged the "fox"'s reliance on such means which will lead him to new contradictions. Thus Obaku's rejection was correct. Nevertheless the "fox" was Enlightened. Hyakujo was lucky. Five hundred times a "fox" had so well prepared the soil that the defects of the seed couldn't prevent the germination. What he should have said was: "The Enlightened man is one with the law of causation."

In the "Daishugyo" fascicle, Dogen finds a number of problems with the fox story. We are not told, for example, what happened to the old man after his liberation from the body of the fox. Dogen also questions the probability of a Zen master being reborn as a fox for such a cryptic answer since traditional Zen koans are replete with such cryptic phrases. Dogen goes so far as to say in one place that he doubts the veracity of the fox story itself and later asserts that Pai-chang was not telling the full story. The crux of the "Daishugyo fascicle is Dogen's argument against fundamental misunderstandings of the fox story:

All of those who have not yet seen and heard the Buddha Dharma say that after the end of his rebirths as a fox the "old master" [or whatever he was] attained Supreme Enlightenment (daigo) and that the fox body was completely absorbed into the ocean nature of original Enlightenment (hongaku no shogai). This meaning implies the erroneous notion of "returning to an original self" (honga ni kaeru). This has never been a Buddhist teaching. Moreover, if we say that the fox had no original nature (honsho), that the fox was not originally Enlightened (hongaku nashi) : this [also] is not the Buddha Dharma.

We see here Dogen's traditional affirmation of Original Nature and Buddha Nature, but a rejection of any substantialist or transcendental interpretation. Dogen continues to argue that it is not the intent of the story to say that "not falling into cause and effect" is to "negate cause and effect" (hatsumu inga). Dogen is here affirming the traditional Buddhist teaching of cause and effect, but calling into question our understanding of cause and effect (Karma) and its relation to liberation.

The position of the "Critical Buddhists" such as Hakamaya and Matsumoto is that in the "Jinshin inga" fascicle and other fascicles of the twelve-fascicle Shobogenzo, Dogen abandons the hongaku position still evident in the "Daishugyo" fascicle, which, as Heine summarizes, is a transformation... from a metaphysical view that draws unwittingly from animism or naturalism and seeks a single source of reality (dhaatu) beyond causality to a literal, strict karmic determinism that emphasizes a moral imperative based on the fundamental condition that karmic retribution is active in each impermanent moment.

But is Karma for Dogen really a kind of strict determinism, such that if cause "a" occurs then effect "b" must necessarily occur regardless of whatever other factors may come into play? The "Daishugyo" fascicle challenges our preconceived notion of Karma and cause and effect (inga), but the twelve-fascicle Shobogenzo seems to take a more simplistic stance. As Heine has pointed out, in the twelve-fascicle text, Dogen refers to miracles and magical deeds to illustrate the meaning of Karma. Yet, if we read beyond the mythical element of these tales to his conclusions, we find a clear rejection of a deterministic understanding of Karma.

Consider, for example, Dogen's "Hotsu bodaishin," in the twelve-fascicle edition, where he emphasizes the "arising of the "Bodhi-mind" (bodaishin), which entails the vow to save all others before oneself" (ji mitokudo sendota). If causality is nothing other than "if 'a' then necessarily 'b'," then "Hotsu bodaishin" becomes nonsensical, since no other causal agency other than the Self can then have anything to do with salvation. This would clearly imply a kind of personal atomic causality where the Self is isolated from all "external" influences--precisely the kind of position that Dogen is anxious to avoid.

We must remember that positive acts also produce positive Karma, and positive Karma interacts with negative Karma. In Dogen's "Kuyo shobutsu," in the twelve-fascicle edition, we read that "There is great fruit from small causes, and great benefit from small acts." The implication here is that soteriological Karma is more powerful than negative Karma. In "Sanji-go," in the twelve-fascicle edition, we read a story from the Abhidharma-mahaavibhaasaa-`saastra (sec. 69) that tells of a good man (throughout this life), who, upon dying, finds that he is to be reborn in a hell. At first he is resentful, believing himself destined for a heavenly rebirth. But he then realizes that the hellish rebirth was for evil that he had done in a previous life. This realization (wisdom) changed his Karma such that he was in fact reborn in a heavenly realm.

These passages show that Dogen by no means had a simplistic and deterministic view of Karma. For Dogen, Karma is not a static, substantial, linear series of causes and effects. There is always the possibility of change, especially through the attainment of wisdom. Thus Dogen, without denying the causal structure of life and practice, rejects a rigid interpretation of Karma in favor of a fluid, Karmic, interdependent universe that depends upon our actions and understanding as part of its causal structure. As Kagamishima has argued, Dogen was approaching the problem of causality from different standpoints in the "Daishugyo" and the twelve-fascicle texts. I have worked to show that the younger Dogen tended toward the dialectical (koan) mode of expression, whereas the late Dogen tended more toward a didactic and mythic mode. In the twelve-fascicle Shobogenzo, we must look to the larger context of the combined texts of "Kuyo shobutsu," "Jinshin inga," and "Sanji-go," and so on to find the positions already suggested in "Dai- shugyo." For the Dogen of the twelve-fascicle texts, "not falling into [the grip] of causality" was clearly being misinterpreted by many Chinese masters and students and, more importantly, by a significant number of Dogen's own students, to mean "transcending Karma." Although Dogen never suggests such a notion of transcendence in "Daishugyo," he apparently thought that the explicit rejection of such transcendence had by that time become necessary.



SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI: THE LAST AMERICAN DARSHAN
RECOUNTING A YOUNG BOY'S NEARLY INSTANT TRANSFORMATION INTO THE ABSOLUTE DURING HIS ONLY DARSHAN WITH THE MAHARSHI



Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.


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Karma and Free Will:

This topic has been discussed often. The question is: "Is there any room for free will under the law of Karma?" A more penetrating question is: "Might not free will be simply subjective opinion? So-called free will is also an effect of Karma."



For the most part Hindu and Indian-based religious schools of thought, especially early ones, believed in and promoted the concept that Karma operates in a straight line, with actions from the past influencing the present, and present actions influencing the future. As a result, they saw little room for free will. A lot of that interpretation has permeated into western culture and thought, with Karma ending up being an unbending "fate" or "destiny" type of concept.

However, Karma operates more closely with the Buddhist view as formulated by the Buddha, acting more or less in feedback loops, with the present moment being shaped both by past and by present actions; present actions shape not only the future but also the present. This constant opening for present input into the causal process makes free will possible. This freedom is symbolized in the imagery that Buddhists use to explain the process: flowing water:

Sometimes the flow from the past is so strong that little can be done except to stand fast, but there are also times when the flow can be diverted in almost any direction. (source)