Sunday, November 19, 2017

Karma: What It Is. What It Isn't. Why It Matters

Book Review: Karma: What It Is. What It Isn’t. Why It Matters – by Traleg Kyabgon (Shambhala, 2015)

This is an important book which considers the idea of karma from the pan-Indian perspective and specifically from the Buddhist perspective which has its own unique features. The late Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche died in 2012 but was one of the knowledgeable lamas of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Having lived much of his life in Australia and traveled quite a bit he was also dialed in to Western perspectives and studied Western ideas and so was great at bridging East-West gaps. He was also a fluent English speaker. This was his final book. In the introduction by Orgyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa, he notes that:

“It is very important that we understand the intricate, multifaceted relationship between cause and effect. What we do as individuals in daily life will affect not just us but other people, the world at large, and even the universe.”

The author first mentions that the idea of karma is one among many explanations, both religious and secular, that explains both the relationship of the past to the present and human suffering. He notes that Buddhism particularly addresses the issue of human suffering in depth without over-relying on religious faith as most religious explanations do. He notes that in pre-Buddhist India karma was seen more as unchangeable predestination. Buddha taught that karma was changeable and that it involved complex relationships between causes and conditions, each affected by our thoughts, words, and deeds. Buddha’s idea of karma emphasized that we are responsible for our own suffering and we in turn can liberate ourselves from it.  While some may argue that the idea of karma is simply a superstitious remnant Traleg notes that on the contrary it is a central pillar of Buddhist thought. While religionists may perform acts with the idea of improving their karma the whole notion is much more complex than that. He suggests that rights and justice rather than ethics dominate current discussions partly due to the religious dogma that often appears around ethics. He suggests that ethics can transcend religious dogma.

“Basically, the Buddha defined karma as action, in the sense that we ourselves are responsible for our own condition in the world and that our thoughts and actions from here on determine our future. We are a product of causes and conditions – we are what we are due to past actions, simplistically stated.”

Unfortunately, he notes, such views can be used to justify those in poor conditions as deserving them, and although in a sense this can be true those conditions are not unchangeable and with the interdependence of all phenomena can be quite complex and difficult to understand. Throughout our lives we develop habit-patterns, propensities, dispositions, and tendencies that further imprint us. He emphasizes that karmic theory is not predetermination (determinism) but also involves choice. It is both deterministic and choice-based, the determinism having been forged by previous choices that have embedded the patterns and tendencies. The deterministic aspect may be difficult to overcome but the choice aspect makes overcoming it possible. We are conditioned beings and as such we can overcome previous conditioning. We can change the course of our karma. Through mindfulness practice we can peer into our conditioning and begin to change it. He laments that karma is often seen as some natural law that binds us. Hindu ideas of karma may suggest this or ideas of being judged by some external being or order of nature. It is important to note that Buddhist karmic theory is not theistic as previous Brahmanistic and Vedic karmic theory can be.

Considering the history of karmic theory in India he suggests that the idea was native to pre-Vedic India before the arrival of the Aryans and then was incorporated into the Vedas. One’s position and duty within the natural order maintained by a creator likely defined a theistic karmic belief in pre-Buddhist, pre-Hindu India. This can be considered as the Brahmanical belief system that predated later developments of karmic theory. Brahmanical karmic theory emphasized effects of karma on groups: family, tribal society, or cosmic order, over effects on the individual. Thus, notions of collective karma preceded notions of individual karma. Karma as ‘action’ often referred to performing the prescribed sacrifices of Vedic priests so such sacrifices could be called ‘performing karma.’ The priests did the rites to restore cosmic order. At this point there was no morality attached to this idea of karma, not yet concrete notions of good, bad, or neutral personal karma. He suggests that because of the deeper family and clan ties of tribal society, the notion of collective karma was much stronger in the past. Early karmic conceptions were more material and less spiritual than they would later become. Children were seen to suffer the fortunes and misfortunes of their parents and vice versa. Inability to have children, particularly sons, was seen as bad karma. These ideas, he says, predated ideas of rebirth and liberation (moksha). As rebirth entered thought it added much to karma as one’s caste, physical appearance, and tendencies could be attributed to past actions in past lives. Later ideas came of physical immortality through one’s progeny and spiritual immortality through one’s unchanging soul. Such an immortality of the soul does not indicate that it is our personality in any form that is reborn but some higher, more refined, and unchanging aspect of self-soul.

He suggests that at the time the two famous Indian epics: the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, were composed, there was not yet a codified idea of karma but several competing ideas. He explores the idea from the Mahabharata of jiva as essence, ‘divine spark’ or animating principle of man that we get from primal or cosmic man, mahapurusha. In the Ramayana death is explained in Ayurvedic terms as commencing in a disturbance of the wind energy which upsets the balance between wind, phlegm, and bile. The jiva is not affected even by death and exits the body unharmed at death. The Ramayana also suggests that at death all our karmic debts are credits are accounted and we somehow begin anew at the next life. It is different in Buddhism as karmic imbalances from all lives are always still in play.

The Brahmanical Dharmashastras discuss karma as related to one’s caste. The Laws of Manu is such a text. Here are also accounted what acts are virtuous and what are unvirtuous, causing good and bad karma respectively. These are pretty standard designations like killing/injuring, lying, stealing, coveting, idle talk, adultery, etc. and have made their way into the Buddhist tradition (among many others) as well. Also discussed are the three gunas: sattva, rajas, and tamas – revelation/light/lightness, activity/passion/movement, and inertia/darkness/concealment. In guna theory all three of these principles or modes of material nature are in living and non-living matter in different proportions with more sattva and less tamas in more awakened beings. He suggests that sattva is god-like, rajas human-like, and tamas animal-like. The Dharmashastra thus contains information about levels of incarnations of different beings, which forms are preferable and which actions are encouraged or abhorrent. The Mahabharata says that karma is processed within a limited time period and in very specific ways. This is at variance with the Buddhist idea of karma:

“Buddhism, by contrast, strongly stresses the fact that we carry mixed karma and that we process our karma gradually and incrementally.”

After the death/paranirvana of the Buddha his teachings were collected in the form of the ‘three baskets:’ the Sutras (Buddha’s discourses), the Vinaya (monastic rules), and the Abhidharma (metaphysics, philosophy, logic, and sciences like medicine). Many scholars believe the Abhidharma was added later. The Sutras were preserved in the earlier Pali language. A new idea of the Buddha was that of the five skandhas, or aggregates: form, feeling, perceptions, dispositions (aka. volition, impulses), and consciousness as composite aspects that we commonly see as aspects that are our ‘selves,’ or rather that we commonly mistake for ‘self.’ He rejected ideas of jiva or atman as an innate divine self. He arrived at the aggregates through meditative observation, through searching for the essence of self while in states of meditative absorption. By thus paying attention to these aspects that seem to be synonymous with self he developed his technique of insight meditation (vipassana). He also noticed that all these aspects, these skandhas, were affecting the others and so they were always changing. Thus, there was no fixed aspects to the skandhas, to any of these components that seem to make up the self and further there could be no fixed self or abiding soul. He called his observation anatman, or ‘no self.’ While he did allow for an operational self, based on the changing skandhas, he rejected the idea of a permanent unchanging fixed self as the Brahmins asserted. The Brahmins analogized the atman as the seed with body and mind being the husk. What creates karma, according to the Buddha, is not some fixed soul or self, but an impermanent and constantly changing set of aggregates (skandhas). He rejected the notions from the Dharmashastra that people born into high-caste or low-caste deserved such fates due to their birth alone. He thought that we become noble through deed rather than through birth into nobility even if such birth was caused by previous good deeds. He allowed for transcendence of initial karmic situation such as birth into low-caste, through good deeds. He spoke in sutras of becoming a ‘true Brahmin’ or noble being by deeds rather than just by birth-right. Buddha was emphatic that good deeds were never truly lost and always led in some way to good results and the same with bad deeds. He often used the analogy of seeds as sprouting under the right conditions of soil, moisture, and sun. However, he also noted that sometimes a seed would not sprout even under ideal conditions so that there is also an aspect of unpredictability. The seed might remain dormant and sprout later. It might sprout a sickly seedling and soon die. The idea is that cause and effect can be quite complicated and unpredictable.

“… two of the Buddha’s principal assertions on karma are that we are personally responsible for our actions in life and that the consequences of these actions are not fixed.”

He also noted that one’s character or karmic disposition inherited from past actions, also affects how results manifest. Acts of selflessness build one’s character. Buddha emphasized personal karma over collective karma, suggests Traleg Rinpoche. Buddha also noted that not all of our experience is due to karma. How we deal with our experiences is what is most important and that is a reflection of our character, our karmic disposition. Thus, true nobility is based on character.

Having a less fixed self also means we can change for better or worse. Buddha was pragmatic in this regard. He rejected the ‘eternalist’ notion of his place and time that the self was fixed and unchanging. Rather than an eternal self, changing costumes with each life, he suggested that the wearer and the costume are the same – the agent and the action are the same. The agent is a product of previous actions. Since we are (or seem to be) a composite of feelings, thoughts, emotions, memories, perceptions, dispositions, and cognitive capacities – all of these have influence on agency – then the whole karmic process is quite complex. Indeed, although Traleg Rinpoche does not mention it in this book, Buddha said in one sutra that the exact mechanisms in determining karmic results are so complex that it is not even worthwhile for an unenlightened being to even ponder them. Thus, the mechanisms of karma are also said to be imponderable. Agent and actions are inseparable but so complex as to be imponderable. However, he did say that we should look closely at our actions and our circumstances. The idea of interconnectivity based on the doctrine of interdependence or dependent arising is one way he explained how things occur. Our actions shape us. Everything is interconnected and affects everything else. Traleg notes that understanding the general framework of karma can allow us to reduce our suffering. Another point/observation is that since we are constantly changing we are never really the same person as our previous or younger self and never reborn as the same person and due to conditions we are much different in subsequent births. He distinguishes between the terms ‘reincarnation’ and ‘rebirth’ with this argument: reincarnation indicates the same person being reborn while rebirth indicates that there is continuity but the new person is much different due to time and to new conditions. The continuity is more in terms of mental dispositions and tendencies that are carried from one life to another. These are also variously called karmic stains and propensities. Thus, we are the same yet different. Buddha referred to those who asserted the existence of an eternal unchanging soul as eternalists and those who refuted any idea of life after death or continuity as nihilists. He proposed a ‘middle way’ between these extremes.

Buddha taught that we are the heirs to our karma and that how karma ripens is variable. It may ripen in individual or collective ways. Some groups have mutual karmic influences and histories. Karma is a complex web or network of actions and reactions. It is sometimes said that we as humans experience reality in more or less the same way due to the similarity of our karmic propensities. Buddha emphasized that we can change our karma and our karmic dispositions. He taught that free will and determinism are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps some neuroscientists and philosophers are also coming to realize this as they continually debate either/or determinism vs. free will questions. While certain things about us are predetermined we also make choices. He says that Buddha distinguished between ‘old karma’ and ‘new karma’ with old karma being that predetermined from our past actions and new karma deriving from the choices we make today. While one may say it’s all free will since the determinism derives from previous choices those choices are quite removed from current situations and in the context of vast amounts of time and changed conditions can be depicted as predetermined. Buddha also allowed for other factors than karma. Adventitiousness, or luck, could apply to some situations, or at least be involved in how karma ripens or is exhausted. Our karma is mixed. Good people do bad things and bad people do good things. If we have no fixed self-identity then the concept of character is more important as a sort of proxy to a self. If two people perform the same action the karmic effects are often different and the main reason for that difference is difference in the character of the two people. Apparently, Buddha noted that the main fruition of karma generally occurs in one’s next life.

An important key to the Buddhist concept of karma is intention. The intention is more important than the act itself. This is a little different than the Jain idea of karma which posits that the intention has nothing to do with consequences, which is why their practice of non-harming, or ahimsa, is done with such extreme measures. If we regret a good deed or rationalize a bad deed, we are in effect negating intention and changing the karmic effect. The Buddha taught that virtue was the result of ethics, meditation, and wisdom. Generosity and patience are also important factors. Gradual, continuous, and determined action to break our bad habits is what erases the effects of bad karma. Through such methods we strengthen our noble character. Simply working authentically on our actions can change our karma and karmic propensities but the change is often slow. The ultimate aim of Buddhism, he says, is to exhaust or transcend karma. He also says while we can demystify karma to some extent by studying it, it remains mysterious by virtue of its complexity and its infinite subtlety.

The two main schools of Mahayana are the Madhyamaka, or “Middle Way” school and the Yogacara, sometimes called the Cittamatra, or “Mind Only” school. The Madhyamaka focuses on emptiness. The focus here is the Yogacara school since they had great influence on Buddhist karmic theory. The Yogacarins asserted that our concepts of reality are mental constructs based on our own experience. They were influenced by non-Buddhist Indian schools of thought. They sought to address continuity and since the other Indian schools posited a soul-self they sought to address how there is continuity without such a proposition. The Yogacarins proposed the notion of a “storehouse consciousness,” or alayavijnana, as part of the eight consciousnesses theory. The storehouse consciousness is considered to be latent within so that we can only access it when we are awake or alive, when we are conscious. Here is where our karmic traces or latencies reside, said the Yogacarins. In the contexts of the various yogas these ideas also inform notions of karmic prana that affect dreams and other states of consciousness. It is the storehouse consciousness that enables transmigration from life to life. However, it was not considered a self-identity. They posited the ‘egoic-mind’ (or the klesha consciousness) as the mistaken belief that the storehouse consciousness is self. The eight consciousnesses are the five sense consiousnesses, the thinking mind that processes them, the egoic or klesha consciousness which is deluded, and the storehouse consciousness. How information comes through the first seven consciousness affects how imprints are received by the storehouse consciousness. Even though it retains karmic impressions the storehouse consciousness is not considered a permanent entity. The impressions are stored as ‘psychic energy deposits’ called vasanas. These are the basis of habits according to Yogacarin theory. In some ways the storehouse consciousness is like an unconscious. Most of the time the karmic traces remain dormant but ripen into conscious life when conditions are ideal. The Yogacarins also elucidated the idea of Buddha Nature and the notion that the eight deluded consciousnesses can mimic and transform into wisdom consciousness. These ideas are the basis of Buddhist Tantra. At enlightenment the eight consciousnesses are transformed into the five wisdoms, the five awarenesses (panchajnanas) represented by the five Buddha families.

The bardo teachings mainly about the intermediate state between life and death are distinctly Tibetan, being based on a terma, or discovered treasure text, mainly the one often called the Tibetan Book of the Dead, although The Book of Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo is a more accurate title. However, it is based on Yogacarin and Madhyamaka ideas. Usually four bardos are recounted: the bardo of life, the bardo of dying, the bardo at the time of death, and the bardo of reality (dharmata). Deity yoga practice is related to the bardo experience which is considered a karmic vision and an impure vision. The practice is transform the impure vision to a pure vision. If we practice the visualization of deities in generation stage and completion stage deity yoga practices we might recognize bardo visions as similar and through our habit then transform the visions. Both the deities and the bardo visions can represent aspects of ourselves. The goal is to recognize “clear light mind.” The bardo body is said to be a kind of subtle body but the being is not considered disembodied. The goal is to travel consciously in the bardo.

Karma is considered to be part of relative reality and is transcended so does not exist in absolute reality. Relative and absolute truth or reality are called the two truths. The Madyhamaka school began by Nagarjuna in the 2nd century C.E. expounds the idea of the two truths but I think there is evidence that this classification of truths were expounded also in the Vedas. Nagarjuna employed what is called the “Prasangika razor” which refers to cutting away every philosophical position and his successors like Chandrakirti went further by employing a system of ‘reductio ad absurdum’ without taking a final position so that reality came to be defined only by what it is not. All things arise dependent on other things so they have no real inherent existence without reference to those other things. Nagarjuna cautioned that we should not take the negative assertions as a form of nihilism and deny the practical existence of karma (even though he and his fellow Shunyavadins often argued that karma is illusory and there is no action and no (self-existing) agent). His teachings emphasized avoiding fixation and avoiding replacing it with nihilism. Nagarjuna’s logic is less useful than the practice of contemplation but can compliment it. Intellect and logic may support insight, once found, but does not lead directly to it. In contrast, developing loving-kindness and compassion is said to assist the development of insight, and so would be a more useful practice to pursue in that regard. Nagarjuna taught that cause and effect were mutually dependent, that the cause was not more important than the result and that this is due to dependent arising. Thus, it could be said that karma is not ultimately true yet it manifests. From the perspective of reality or ultimate truth karma does not exist but from the perspective of appearance or relative truth it does. Traleg notes that we need to balance these two truths in our experiences. Two of the Buddha’s bodies, the rupakaya, or form body and the dharmakaya, or truth body, represent relative and ultimate truth respectively. The two accumulations: merit and wisdom, lead to these two bodies, respectively.

Traleg Rinpoche makes the point that karma is a philosophy of life and its meaning and rebirth addresses death. The Buddhist point is that a greater degree of consciousness and awareness leads to the (inner) discovery of meaning. The fear of death makes us insecure and to seek out meaning. Religion may allay the fear of death but it can also exacerbate it. The Buddhist view is that we should accept death as an inevitable result of causes and conditions and attempt to come to terms with it. It is simply another aspect of impermanence. Fear of death is all-pervasive among humans and we all experience the death of others although we moderns tend to be removed from it compared to the past. We tend to fear pain and suffering but also extinction or non-existence and separation from our loved ones. Extinction is loss of self. From a karmic perspective death is predetermined in one sense but also the result of recent choices. There is uncertainty about how and when one will die. There is also uncertainty about how one will react to one’s impending death. It may be gentle or harsh. In one sense meditation and spiritual practice in general is preparation for death. Since it is said that at death our mind will be separated from our body then these practices can also be seen as preparation in existing without a body – since the practices often involve disengagement from sensory awareness. In Buddhism there are the three practices: hearing (or reading), reflecting, and meditating. This is a potentially useful way to approach the subject of death and impermanence.

Buddha noted that the nihilists considered death of the body to also be death of consciousness and eternalists considered complete separation of body and an immortal conscious soul so that the soul lives on after death. Traleg compares these two views to the humanist extinctionists and those who follow religious views. Buddhism holds a middle view: the continually changing body and mind (or soul) involve “a collection of psychic materials” that survives death but that collection is always in flux. The individual that is reborn is different than the one that died. There is a continuity but not continuity of identity.

“All physical and mental phenomena are compounded or conditioned, and whatever is conditioned is caused, and whatever is caused is impermanent and subject to change.”

Advaita Vedantists claim that the observer or “witness consciousness” endures after death but the Madhyamakas reject that notion as a mere mental construction based on atman as eternal soul-self. There is a concept of an observer consciousness in Buddhism, just not an eternal and unchanging one. Taken apart through meditative analysis the observer is found to be illusory, a bundle of the five skandhas. Perhaps it is that a bundle of parts intuitively suggests a whole but the whole cannot be found. Consciousness itself is the observer. Observation and construction of a self, he says, is a process rather than a “thing.” The skandhas are more processes than things – thus, this bundle of processes always in flux creates the illusion of self/observer. The impermanence of these processes is precisely what allows us to “become” enlightened.

Karmic theory may become a foundation and inspiration for ethical behavior. So too can religious dogma, philosophy, psychology, science, or other theories. Morality involves choices. The theistic view is that choices are controlled by belief in the religious dogma or even that the mere belief is all that is required to be ethical. Secularists appeal more to ideals of human rights and justice. While we can make our society’s rules, mores, and laws based on such ideals, those ideals can be different for different people and groups. The ideals are not universal enough to pervade all societies. The basis of karmic theory is that moral ideals and values need to come from within to be effective. Karmic theory suggests that it is in our self-interest to behave ethically. In Buddhism it is ignorance rather than sin that leads to unethical actions. We also notice that certain actions lead to certain effects. This is due to interconnectedness and is why we give meaning to things. Thus, cause and effect observation led to the development of karmic theory. He notes that karma is often created by seeing others in an objective manner, subjectively. We see them as separate through the lens of an illusory concept of self. Karma is most often created in our interpersonal relationships so that these ideas of self and other can be key to how it happens. When we judge things by noting them as likes and dislikes we begin to symbolize them in this way which tends toward creating karma. Here we can see that psychology and morality are linked. We assign meaning to things, ideas, events, and experiences. How we do this becomes our own “way” of personal habitual psychology. These assignments lead to emotions. We become mired in habits and create karma.

He notes that the idea of a ‘law of karma’ is mostly a Western notion. He thinks this derives from Thomism, the thought of Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas based on Ancient Greek philosophy, that seeks to find laws of morality and justice. Such ideas of universal laws lend themselves to dogmatism, moral obsessions, and even puritanism, he notes. However, I have noted that even Tibetan monks are not immune to moral obsessions, even though moral obsessions are mostly the result of following dogmas very strictly. He also notes that it is the effect of an action that determines whether it is good or bad, rather than the action itself. Whether an action is right or wrong is defined more flexibly as whether it is beneficial or detrimental in its net effect. Of course, our self-interest may be short-sighted and based on immediate self-gratification or we may take a longer view and delay gratification for a more genuine benefit. Cultivating equanimity is helpful in this regard as it can lead us to control our impetus toward immediate gratification. The emphasis on mental cultivation in Buddhist practice also leads to what is called good karma which is still karma but can lead to liberation, including liberation from karma itself. He suggests that negative thought, word, and deed is more habit-forming than positive thought, word, and deed. The negative is contractive while the positive is expansive.

“We need to use karma to free ourselves from karma, …”

It is also said that karmic imprints may be stored in the body and this is the basis for some tantric practices. One might see this as how various emotions affect our bodily processes. Another reason for cultivating these body purification practices in Tantra is to reduce the distractions from the body and these karmic effects it displays. We create karma through the three gates of body, speech, and mind. When we develop insight we can be able to practice ‘skillful means’ and this is a result of habit reorientation.

Traleg presents karmic theory as part metaphysical and part empirical. Dissociation from the body in phenomena like near-death experiences suggest that mind-body separation is possible and the materialistic view is incomplete. Cases of spontaneous recall of past lives also suggest we have an incomplete picture. In some cases the veracity of claims can and should be tested scientifically, he suggests. While some may see ideas like karma and rebirth as scientifically impossible there is enough uncertainty to hold off on purely materialistic approaches. While most religions seem to like joining their metaphysical dogmas to science in various dubious ways he suggests that Buddhism is unique in that some of its ideas can be tested empirically and have yet to be satisfactorily disproven. He reiterates that in Buddhist karmic theory it is not really “you” that returns in the next life but simply a continually changing psychic collection of propensities. Only faint traces of the previous entity remain. Rebirth theory suggests that consciousness attaches to a new body and the features of that body will dictate how bright the light of consciousness shines. Back to the notion of the three gunas, the more refined or sattvic the being the lighter and brighter will be its consciousness. It seems reasonable to conclude that humans have a more refined or higher level of consciousness than animals. “It animates whatever is there.” Consciousness is often compared to a stream or to electricity, both of which depend on what is conducting it. Buddhist rebirth theory suggests we can be born in any of the six realms of gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, or hell-beings. Each “realm” involves a shared karmic vision by beings in that realm. It is said that humans are ruled mainly by the mental poison of desire and thus our realm is considered to be part of the desire realm.

The author notes that we can work with our karma in several ways including training and through recognizing what are our latent influences. Karmic propensities propel us and until we can propel our own rebirthing through the enlightened powers of compassion and wisdom we will continue to go where the winds of karma blow us.

The priority in working with karma is to reduce the production of negative karma. Positivity is expansive and negativity is confining, he says, and negative actions are more predictable and more habit-forming.

He notes that a sense of enrichment, not just material enrichment but the enrichment that comes from positive action and disciplined conduct, is also depicted in the ornaments of the Vajrayana yidams and bodhisattvas. Feeling enriched we are less needy. Reminds me a bit of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – when basic needs are met and poverty is eliminated we can work on higher order needs. When we feel enriched we tend to grasp less. We are less desperate. Buddha avoided giving any kind of mechanical interpretation to karmic theory and emphasized its complexity. How it manifests is difficult to discern in detail. Buddha advocated using will to create favorable conditions by acting virtuously and avoiding non-virtue. Cultivation through practice is a means to add to our merit rather than spend it away on negative habits. Often it is hard to know whether the implications of our actions are good or bad, there is a huge gray area with mixed karma.

The goal of Buddhist practice is liberation from cyclic existence and its fetters. The methods are ethical conduct, meditation, and the cultivation of wisdom. Wisdom in this sense is not intellectual but the wisdom gathered through direct experience and mental and physical cultivation. Freedom from fixation is another way to state the goal. Even if one does not believe in Buddhist karmic theory the teachers still suggest we act is if it were true. Traleg suggests a kind of secular belief in the efficacy of karmic theory – that we need not lump it too much with religious dogma. Simple meditation, contemplation, mindful behavior, and inner examination and observation are ways we work with our karma. We observe to try and discover what are our karmic propensities to some degree. We explore and work with our habits.

Again, this is an important book on a subject that is often misunderstood, considering that karma is defined and elaborated differently by different spiritual traditions. This work explores and explains some of those differences and also includes modern ideas and approaches.

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