Rather than get bogged down in the theory of karma, I have been thinking about the seriousness of one’s Dharma practice with karma in mind. No doubt we will all be in agreement at least that to make any real spiritual progress, to obtain a higher rebirth and avoid the lower realms, a practitioner must strive to accumulate much positive karma. When you couple this idea with the fact that we really don’t have much time at all to practice Dharma in this lifetime, you can’t help but wonder why – even in recognition of our weak minds and human nature – we aren’t terrified into putting more of our time and commitment to the Dharma, and much less time into the inessential aspects of living.
I believe that the law of cause and effect might just be one of the most, if not the most important topics for meditation. The reason for this is that, everything we do has a consequence, and as Buddhists, the idea that karma rules over all (ordinary) beings should compel us to seek as much insight and understanding as we possibly can in the hope that we come to receive a complete realisation of karma. As with all things, there is a huge difference between intellectually knowing something and having a realisation of that same thing. For example, a person who has never burned their hand on a gas stove might intellectually know that to do so would be unwise, but a person who has actually had their hand burned on a gas stove with know completely and take greater care to avoid repeating the same careless mistake.
Therefore, it is essential for spiritual practitioners to put sincere and serious effort and commitment into their practice because otherwise, to carry on with any half-hearted commitment would be as ludicrous – in spiritual terms – as playing Russian roulette with half of the gun barrel loaded.
Sandy I COMPLETELY agree with this from direct experience. I think there is a difference between thinking of karma and experiencing karma.
Why aren't we terrified into straightening up? I'm sure some are. But the key is ignorance. It struck me when my puppy kept chewing on electric cords, "Hey that must be what I look like to a Buddha when I'm doing things ignorantly that will cause me major heartache"...
It's important to keep a beat on the reality of these concepts and not leave them concepts. I am not much of a Buddhist in many ways because I'm very ignorant of dharma. But I can try to be the best human I can be because I'm quite familiar with this suffering heartache. If I left karma as a concept to think about "later" I would probably be ok, just with more junk in my trunk.
But when I look at every moment and remember I'm also the puppy chewing on the electric cord completely ignorant of such realities as alternating currents and voltage, I suddenly trust that I know I'm ignorant and that I can discover what that is. This precious human birth is precious because we CAN have agency if we continue to forge a bond with our own "humanity" that quality of compassion and selflessness coupled with intelligent discerning.
However, if you're not there yet, no amount of ritual will give you the understanding. There has to be a point when the light goes on in your head, and I think looking at it not so much as present past and future, but just present. The present moment is agency for others on behalf of self. Carpe diem. You can't get much more "Western" than the Romans. And Horace was a great poet with strong dharmic tendencies, I feel. This line has lasted thousands of years. So I'm sure the concept of causality is actually built into Western thinking, it just took a different bent with Plato's (imo) erroneous conception of emotionality and intellect. He really was the father of that schism culturally.
I have nothing terribly wise to say on the matter, those were just my two cents and what it made me think of. I could not see a Buddhist practice without the essential contemplation of the 12 links and therefore a practice that doesn't account for karma.
I think if anything karma is like a compass. If life is really bad but you feel ok, you have decent karma, the reason is your mind is calm. It took a long time to develop that tranquility, and the beauty of causality is that nothing begun is lost. Ever.